Follow the journey of the editors of this complex documentary.
It will debut at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival Independent lens Documentation Philadelphia DA on PBS follows Philadelphia Attorney Larry Krasner as he struggles to stay true to his campaign promise to change the culture of the criminal justice system.
From the eye of this political storm, the filmmakers gained unprecedented access to Krasner’s office and behind the scenes of the criminal justice system. In eight episodes, the series examines some of the most pressing social problems of our time – police brutality, the opioid crisis, gun violence and mass incarceration – through the lens of an idealistic team that seeks to fundamentally overhaul the system.
We sat down with Philadelphia DA Editor Dita Gruze to talk about her way to Documentary editorwho sifted through hours of footage to piece together the eight-part documentary series, and how Productions in the Premiere Pro facilitates collaboration while editing.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
While studying film and media arts, I took an editing course at Temple University. Although the course itself was very easy, I realized the editing, especially the documentary cut, is something I could get very good at – I loved the attention to detail it takes and how much of the story is created in the editing room. Although I initially worked mainly as a producer or assistant director on various short and feature films, I continued to work on my editing skills on smaller projects and commercials until I switched completely a few years later and became a full-time documentary editor.
How do you start a project / set up your workspace?
Every new project is always a little intimidating, as it usually requires a complete change of subject and it takes a while to reorient myself in the new story world. I try to do that by researching the new topic, learning as much as possible, asking the directors as many questions as I need to understand what they are up to with the story, and looking at the newspapers and taking notes .
When it comes to setting up my actual project file, I make sure it’s carefully organized into bins – we all use the same bin naming convention to make it easier to navigate each other’s project files when needed. I describe my workplace in post-its, in which I write reminders of useful recordings, ideas for stories, questions for directors and anything else that could be helpful when editing. I also have note paper that I would scribble on when thinking about an editing challenge – it helps me think.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why you noticed it.
It’s very difficult to pick a favorite scene or moment from a project I’ve been working on for three and a half years, especially when a lot of really great moments didn’t get into the final cut for time or plot reasons.
But if I had to pick one that made it onto the series, I’d probably pick Dionne Galloway’s story in episode two. It is a story about a mother whose son was killed by gun violence and the accused murderer was released because the detectives carried out an illegal search. While the police misconduct was in the foreground here, I treated the scenes with Dionne and her younger sons very sensitively. Through the choice of recording, tempo, music, sound design, and image (thanks to our brilliant DP Yoni Brook), I wanted to convey the immense damage that police misconduct can do to victims, and I think I succeeded.
What were some specific post production challenges that were unique to your project? How did you go about the solution?
The biggest challenge was the sheer amount of footage we’d shot in three years of production. After receiving footage from the directors every day for about a month, I realized that this project was going to be huge and I’d better come up with a good system of organization before it all got out of hand. So I did that – I carefully organized the hard drive folders, project files, and synced sequences within the project files. It really paid off two years later when it was time to dive into the actual editing phase with ITVS.
Creating an eight-part series is a huge creative challenge. I’ve worked with five other incredibly talented series editors, each with a focus on an episode or two. We were assisted by several assistants and assistant editors who synchronized the footage, organized our database, and helped create assemblies. We used different apps to work together—Storyboarding on Mural, Airtable to manage our footage database, share edits on Frame, Dropbox for synchronizing files, an SNS EVO server system for the terabytes of files and Adobe Creative Cloud Programs for the actual editing and creation. And of course zoom, so much zoom!
What Adobe tools did you use for this project and why did you originally choose them? Why were you the best choice for this project?
I use Premiere Pro– We always used that at All Ages Productions, and all the other editors were familiar with it. It was also a good choice because the directors were familiar with it, and if the going got tough before tight deadlines, they could help with the rough cuts of the scene. Premiere Pro productions made it easy to collaborate virtually between the editors, assistant editors and directors, which was essential during the pandemic when we were all working from home.
What do you like Premiere Pro, and / or any of the other tools you’ve used?
Premiere Pro is very intuitive and easy to use, and over the years I’ve gotten good at solving technical puzzles when needed. With other programs, I don’t even know where to start. The dark surface is easy on the eyes, which is very important to me.
I pay close attention to my project schedules – I need to be able to navigate them quickly and easily, hence one of my favorite and most used tools during Philadelphia DA was color labels. I created my own color system which made it very easy to find a particular scene on the timeline – each storyline had its own hue and the scenes within that storyline were labeled in the colors of that particular shade. I can’t imagine how much time this saved me as I had to jump back and forth between scenes and storylines that took months to change order until we completed them.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
When I first saw Jim Jarmusch dead man In 1995, I was still in high school and dreamed of studying law. After watching dead man I can always say that Jim Jarmuschs dead man is the main reason I went to film school instead. I thought I had to find out the secrets to make a film that is so perfect in everything – writing, acting, cinematography, editing, set design, symbolism, sound design, film music – I could go on like this.
Can’t say I’ve discovered every single secret why Jim Jarmusch is as brilliant as him, but he’s still one of the greatest inspirations in my creative endeavors.
What was the hardest part of your career and how did you cope with it? What is your advice to a budding filmmaker or content creator?
One of the hardest things was finding the path that I can do best and that I feel most comfortable with. Film school didn’t fully prepare me for any particular career – it was a little bit of everything, so a lot of searching, trying out, sometimes burning out. I loved working as an assistant director or producer, but it was also incredibly stressful and physically demanding. It took me a while to find out that working is the job I enjoy doing for the rest of my life.
For aspiring filmmakers, I’d say find the path you want to go and stick with it, but also work hard to learn the craft and excel in what you do. There are so many young and aspiring filmmakers out there and the competition will be fierce in the beginning, but if you find your way and gain the trust of your co-workers, you will never be unemployed.
During the pandemic, all of our team worked from home and my guest room became my office. My workplace is by the window facing the back yard, and during snowstorms I loved opening the drapes and drapes (on sunny days I would keep them almost completely closed) and see the snowfall behind my screen. It was very comforting during the high intensity editing days.
My other favorite pastime in my home office was the open house policy for my Golden Retrievers – every now and then they would remind me with a nudge nudge on my elbow or a loud snore at themselves. My workplace is pictured beforehand Philadelphia DA and right in the middle.