It's been a while, but then I have been busy. If the shoot was relatively quick – three days – then the edit has been where Against The Clock has finally taken shape. And this is hardly surprising because I really didn't have any idea of what I would capture at the beginning of the shoot, except a tight, five minute day-in-the-life of Nigel Holland, drag racer. The sort of film that would be a training wheel exercise and a decent little Vimeo movie. The fact he was disabled, I hadn't really thought about because I figured his condition would be a fairly fixed attribute. This was not the case – but not in any huge defining way. It was more of a routine aspect of his life.
The edit is finished, but the film isn't. We've got to recapture on HD and then do a sound mix and grade. But the majority of work is done.Then it's distributing it out to festivals, and of course planning the next one.
At the end of filming I had ten little DV tapes lined up on my desk. I got them captured – a good thing because my desk now is considerably smaller. Then I started poring through what I got.That was November. I figured for five minute documentary I'd have plenty. It would be case of chucking most of the stuff out. And to an extent that was true. There are hours of boring shots, shots were the inevitable drag car screamed by in the background and drowned out everything anyone said. There was one great sequence I had to let go when Nigel is talking about supporting his family, as the radio in the part stand we were hanging around starts playing 'Lean On Me'. But a Pro ET car burning out 500 metres away mushed everything up. I think I mentioned Santa Pod was loud. And finally, let's not forget the grey shots, the out of focus ones and of course the shots I thought should be thrown away, only to realise there was some interesting nugget to be gleaned.
After a bunch of false starts, I started to cut the film together. I realised the film was not about drag racing, but Nigel Holland. That still left the issue of all these shots of sexy muscle cars I had lying around. The cars were a problem. Everyone I spoke to about the project, wanted to know about the cars. The cars had to go in there. And yet it was all at odds with Nigel and his ride – which although a Mustang was not the big squat, hunkered down beasts that got anybody who saw the rough footage excited. So I had to work out a way of getting the car porn out there and then bedded down into the back of the viewer's mind, so it was a context and not a diversion.
I also had the same problem with the sport of drag racing and the technical aspects of engines, chassis design and racing classes. Nigel spoke eloquently about all these, but the more I watched the footage, the more it became apparent that this would be just too dense for the average viewer to get their head around. I found myself racing through the first few minutes to structure the film so that Nigel got in his car and raced. Once that was out of the way, the more interesting angles of his story – namely his condition – could come into focus. Quite the opposite of actually racing, where there's a lot of hanging around for your turn.
All these elements helped to shape the themes of the film, which are that Nigel, despite his condition (which makes him extraordinarily determined), is an everyman. Drag racing is his hobby and he escapes the pressures of his working life and condition to indulge in a passion in which he is exactly the same as everyone else at the strip. That's what bracket racing is all about. It's not the car you have, but how well you know it. During the edit I started to uncover the pressures everyone faces at the track. Drag racing is a sport anyone can do. But it's not cheap and it chews up time and space.
After three months, I was left with a twenty minute edit. It didn't feel flabby and I was happy with the structure and arc of the stories I recorded. It's an honest portray into the life of Nigel and his friends at the track. It's what I wanted for my first documentary: a balanced slice of life. Well as balanced as you can be with muscle cars and burning rubber.
Ha, finished. Yeah right. My edit had to go into Final Cut Pro (FCP). I'd put everything together in iMovie. There really was no other way of doing it at the time, but if you have a choice, go straight into FCP. You could cut out all the sitting around. You won't get that sinking realisation that iMovie timecodes are not really proper timecodes. You'll avoid format roulette. But, I have to say I learnt a whole bunch sitting beside somebody who knows what they're doing. I learnt about the grammar of editing. And sure, I got a FCP Inside Out book, but there really is nothing better than someone saying 'oh right click, properties, check 16:9 – yeah I know, it doesn't look like a check box. But it is'.
The trailer is the first thing I've edited in FCP. So excuse my grammar. But it tells the story – like any good trailer should. Question is, do you want to see the film?