Meet the documentary team: Emily von W. Gilbert, Editor Extraordinaire

Listen to this post: 

We got almost everyone on our team to writ e a guest blog post so you could meet them. The timing of this newest one is great because it’s been a long time since this blog had any info on the documentary! Please meet our Editor, Emily von W. Gilbert. The audio recording is my voice. Emily’s really a behind the scenes person, not one to steal the attention by projecting her voice in the microphone. Please enjoy this creative post to introduce you to Emily’s experience of the editing process. (Also, I tried putting the image descriptions right into the post like I usually do. But after more than 30 revisions to get the formatting correct, and it still was super wonky, I took them out. Click on any photo, and the typed image description should pop up with the picture as alternative text.)

For any of you readers on the more literal side of things like I am, be warned: this post has a lot of metaphor and spoof, and it isn’t really what our process was for editing this film. In fact, I didn’t even understand this was a spoof even after the 45th revision of the page. Thankfully, Cynthia clued me in. So funny, that. We all have such different ways of processing images and words, which makes collaboration and community so neat. And this is precisely what makes Emily such an incredible editor, that she can see a series of pictures of just about anything and tease out a story from them. That’s why I often work in collaboration: as sarcastic and satire-oriented as I am myself, I often don’t recognize it when other people use it!

If the pictures Emily chose for this post don’t look familiar to you, they are all from the TV show “Twin Peaks.” If they do look familiar, double-enjoyment.

What Is Editing?

by Emily von W. Gilbert

What does the editor do? The editor chops all the footage into little pieces and puts it back together into a film.

How does the editor do it? The editor channels his or her inner Log Lady.

Let’s start at the beginning!

A producer or a director tells the editor that they have a project, a little bit of what it’s about, how it was shot, what they’re hoping to turn it into, and how much money they have to do it.

Agent Dale Cooper looks up and is sitting next to Sheriff Harry S. Truman, who looks down. Caption reads "Who's the lady with the log?" A woman looking serious and holding a log turns off a light. Caption reads, "We call her the log lady."




The editor listens:

[A close up of The Log Lady, cradling her log, looks intently at the camera and listens closely.

And then says “Sure, why not?”



The director/producer hands over a hard drive that has all the materials on it. The editor picks up the hard drive and morphs it into a log that can talk (but only to the editor.)

Time passes during which the editor talks to the log and the producer/director wonders what the hell happened.

One day, the editor comes back to the producer/director and explains that the Film is not really about what the producer/director thinks the Film is about:
The same image as above, showing how The Log Lady cradles her log. Caption reads, "The owls are not what they seem."
…And disappears for another one to two months.
…………………[♫♩♫ musical interlude]
After this time, the editor returns with a rough cut of the Film – as the editor sees it.
The producer/director notices right away that a lot of things are very different about this Film from the Film in their head – the one that they shot. People have disappeared. Time is warped: things that happened after now happen before. What seemed like someone talking about one thing now seems like they’re talking about a whole other thing.
The Man From Another Place wears a red suit, sits in front of an undressed female mannequin and looks seriously at Dale. Caption reads, "When you see me again it won't be me."






The producer/director points this out to the editor:
Pete Martell points accusingly at The Log Lady, who holds her log and a jar of burnt engine oil. Deputy Tommy Hawk Hill is behind her.


But what has happened is easily explained! For while the producer/director sees a log with some bark on it, the editor sees this:
Screenshot of the "Who Am I To Stop It?" timeline in editing software showing colored bars that represent the film's scenes on three tracks of video and eight tracks of audio
And although the log gets upset by such misunderstandings, the editor knows that the producer/director cares just as deeply about the Film as the log does, and that this is just part of the process of going from a rough cut to a finished Film.
The Log Lady sits at her dining room table in a room filled with books, looks down at her log lovingly, and strokes it reassuringly






The editor responds with a really thoughtful breakdown of all the important themes and plot points, ideas about arcs and counterpoints, and how to shape the Film to reflect its inherent truth:

A chalkboard drawing of all the cryptic clues gathered from the cave that will lead the team to The Black Lodge.
NOW the director/producer really GETS it! They sit down and watch the Film together:

The Log Lady at home, getting snacks. Caption reads, "I've got tea. I've got cookies." The Log Lady carries a tea pot and plate. Caption reads, "Shut your eyes and you'll burst into flames."


After the screening the director/producer and the editor have long, productive conversations about the Film, and if what the Film says is indeed what the Film is intended to say.
The Log Lady sits at her table, holding her log, looking thoughtful. Caption reads, "One can never answer questions at the wrong moment." The Log Lady at her table in a different sweater with log. Caption reads, "In a dream, are the characters really you?"




The editor relishes these moments that heighten our collective understanding of why we’re making the Films we’re making, and how we can make them even better. Film-making truly is team work!

At the police station, Truman stands near the chalkboard with clues. Cooper holds up the jar of burnt engine oil for Truman to smell. The Log Lady, Pete, and Hawk watch them from across the room.
And so, with every stone turned and every question answered, the Film has now transformed from a loose collection of possible moments into an elevated totality of its own, and the editor’s work is done.
*Thank you brianandkatz for the sound clip from