The War Tapes Blog

The War Tapes: What goes in a movie, and what doesnt?

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What goes in a movie, and what doesnt?

I’m Steve James, a producer and editor of THE WAR TAPES and this is my first time blogging. I always try to stay behind the cultural curve, I guess. Normally, I only edit my own films (HOOP DREAMS, STEVIE, among others) and I told Robert May that when he first approached me about this project. But once I saw how terrific the footage was from the soldiers, I decided I wanted to be a part of it. Of course, when I signed on, nobody knew quite we would end up over 1000 hours of footage! (I should have asked for a raise.) Fortunately, besides the usual suspects (Deborah, Robert, Chuck Lacy, Lauren Timmons), we had this incredible crew in Chicago where the editing took place including co-producer Adam Singer, associate producer Aaron Wickenden, and fellow editor Leslie Simmer.

People always ask me how filmmakers decide what goes in a movie and what doesn’t. It’s hard, but for me it always starts with the subjects. Who are they? How does their journey affect them? Change them? Or not change them? And what does their personal story have to say about the larger context of the film? In this case, soldiers at war. Once you answer these questions, you can begin to distill all that footage down to its essence. Make hard choices about what’s key and what’s not. We spent an entire year editing this film – challenging each other’s assumptions, arguing passionately, rearranging sequences, trying different openings and endings. If the story we end up with works, it should seem obvious and self-evident. But believe me, its anything but. Still, editing is the consistently most satisfying part of the filmmaking process for me. When a scene or sequence comes together, its awfully sweet.