I think it's the editing. If I could turn it around, I have three things that just make me glad to be alive. There's a moment when I'm out shooting. It's usually late, late at night or early, early in the morning and you're carrying heavy equipment and suddenly the light is just so and you're able to frame a shot that you know will get into the film somehow. And there's a great exhilaration. It's not dissimilar to the same exhilaration when you're in a dusty old archive and you've got your easel, which we've been using for twenty-six years with little magnets from the hardware store holding up a still photograph. It's not even an easel; it's just a sheet of metal placed into a two-by-four with a groove in it that we made in 1978. And you're moving your tripod and the prime lens with a close-up attachment and you're inside a photograph and you realize you're gonna spend half a roll taking maybe ten or fifteen shots within that old photograph. Say you're at the Library of Congress—that is just amazing.
Then there's a second thing, which is really inspiring for me, when we're editing. These are all essentially detached static, moribund images. And we're trying to tell a story. We're trying to make the past come alive. We're trying to do a little bit of a sleight of hand where we can push through the raw materials that we're using—the newsreels and still pho-tographs—into a moment where history is not was, but is, as William Faulkner says. And somehow, either the subtraction or the addition, the rearrangement, the getting rid of something that's a favorite, the moving something around, the rewriting of a line of narration to make it better, more poetic, the editing of a first-person quote into something that is streamlined, the rearrangement of a scene within the context of the fifteen or so scenes that might comprise an episode—it's something that in a moment coalesces, and what had been that morning an incoherent story suddenly gels and everybody looks at each other and goes, "Whoa."
And it's a process that our audience never sees. There's a kind of assumption I've divined over years of speaking in public, that people think you just go into the editing room and you just put in the pictures and you let it go. But we're talking about incubating and massaging and struggling and crying and taking out things that are great because they slow down something later on. I've just gotten through a Twain film where one of our favorite quotes of Mark Twain was one of the highlights of an early biographical scene. When it was about twenty minutes later there was a kind of fatigue like, "Why haven't we gotten out of this early biography?" And when we took it out, nobody ever had that feeling. So we had to make the hugely painful decision to take out something that was so beautifully edited and so wonderful because, in the words of Franz Joseph in the movie Amadeus, there were too many notes, and you take out a beautiful note. So that is the second thing. When story and moment and art coalesce in the editing room seemingly out of nothing, and you feel a great deal of satisfaction and excitement about that.
And then finally as I intimated, I love the evangelical part. I love traveling with my film or even traveling alone to engage a public that is so bombarded with so many other stimuli. To say, "This could be worthwhile, this might be helpful for you to learn about the Civil War or how wonderful a writer Elizabeth Cady Stanton is, or what a schmuck but genius Frank Lloyd Wright is, or how important Louis Armstrong is apart from It's a Wonderful World and Hello Dolly. " All of these missions become a kind of thing and when you're speaking about it, and proselytizing or evangelizing, I take great satisfaction, and you could have blown me over with a feather twenty-five years ago if you told me that that would be a hugely important part of what I did.
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