This was based on my experience with An Inconvenient Truth. When editor Jay Cassidy and I cut the slide show and the little movies about Al Gore together, I would say things like, "Well, we'll cut to Roger Revelle when Al's talking about such and such a topic," looking for logical, natural connections among ideas and themes. That's the traditional way of planning cuts. But the funny thing is that, in the final movie, those weren't the most powerful links. Jay and I discovered that most powerful links were places where we intercut scenes that appeared to have very little to do with each other.

Now working on Waiting for "Superman," Jay and his fellow editors Greg Finton and Kimberly Roberts began to experiment with these strong "collision" cuts. We deliberately chose to create "random" cuts between the two independent movies. Now, when we jump from the problems of young Anthony and his grandmother trying to find a decent school in Washington, D.C., to President Bush giving a speech about his No Child Left Behind legislation, the big collision of ideas that results has an effect that I'd never seen before. In storytelling terms, I found that, surprisingly often, one plus one equals three...the unexpected connections between two unrelated ideas produce an amazing resonance that deepens the audience's experience in a way that's hard to describe.

By contrast, going back to The First Year, which is a much more traditional documentary, what's powerful about that movie is the experience of spending a year immersed in the lives of a group of young teachers and the tremendous challenges they face. It works very well in its own terms. But what you lose is the larger social, historical, and political context. Why is teaching so hard? Why are these kids coming in to the classroom with such enormous deficits? Why is the educational system so blind to the needs of teachers? I came to realize that a film has to start to answer those questions, yet somehow shouldn't avoid losing the intimacy of a personal experience. So why not address both goals, and let the two collide in the finished film?

As we cut the two films together, the strategy started to pay off. The emotional story of Other People's Children became more heartbreaking and real in contrast to the frustrating and ridiculous story of The Folly of the Adults...and vice versa.

FROM: Waiting For "Superman": The Movie That Could Revolutionize Schools
Published on September 20, 2010


Next Story