The editing process and tools to bring Plan C to the screen with Adobe Creative Cloud

Plan C Still.

Image source: Plan C documentary.

PLAN C, a documentary directed by filmmaker Tracy Droz Trago (co-director of Rich Hill, U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, 2014 Sundance Film Festival), follows activist Francine Coeytaux and her team of providers at Plan C — a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access to medication abortion. Per the SXSW synopsis, the film “accompanies the team as they look for ways to distribute abortion pills while following the letter of the law. Unmarked vans serving as mobile clinics distribute medication to those who cannot get help in their own states. The team of Plan C works tirelessly to make sure they are not alone.”

In order to tell the organization’s story, and to protect the participants in the film, the film’s editor, Meredith Perry, found Adobe Creative Cloud and Premiere Pro to be an essential editing tool.

“I love how collaborative and intuitive Premiere Pro is,” said Perry — “Premiere Pro helped us stay on track while editing and offered specific features that were essential to the making of this film, such as mosaic blurs, which offered a flexible, artistic option we used to blur out faces and proved crucial to protecting our participants identities."

Perry and her team used to work almost entirely remotely and share progress over the internet. Disappearing links in made it possible to control who had access to their footage and for how long, which helped protect many of the individuals in the film.

PLAN C aired at Sundance Film Festival on January 23 around the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and will be playing at SXSW. Read on to hear more from Perry on how her team edited the story.

How and where did you first learn to edit?

While I was attending The Evergreen State College I made several short films and fumbled my way through the edit process just trying things out and leaning heavily on “undo.” After that, I brought home a 1000-page manual during winter break and read it cover to cover. I didn’t need the program in front of me because I’d already been using it and wondering, “What does that button do?” Working on my next film, I was lightyears ahead of where I’d been. Even now I’m always looking things up and learning new tricks.

How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?

If I’m editing at a post house, I plug in a thumb drive attached to my keychain that has my custom keyboard shortcuts and window layouts. It also has a project with empty folders organized and ready to be filled with sequences, raw footage, audio, etc. That way, I’m immediately comfortable and ready to get to work wherever I am. I like a super clean desk and a lit candle.

Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.

There’s an audio montage using phone interviews with people who took abortion pills cut with images Tracy and Derek shot across 14 states. The sequence tells the story of abortion pills as an anonymous and comfortable way of managing your healthcare at home without being bothered by protestors or forced to undergo medically unnecessary procedures. The visuals of houses began to conceptually connect to the person speaking, and I found myself thinking things like, “The pink house goes with the soft-spoken person”.

Plan C Still.

Image source: Plan C documentary.

What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project? How did you go about solving them?

PLAN C is a true ensemble documentary, with many people and places. Stitching it together from 300 hours of footage in a digestible and entertaining way was a real challenge. To manage, we cut the film into what we called “pods”. A pod consisted of a stand-alone character and/or concept that had a beginning, middle, and end (or “button”). When we began to look at structure, we did it based on connections between our pre-built pods, which we called “baton passes”. This mode of thinking about the film really broke it wide open and allowed our audience to feel held in the flow of ideas from one scene to the next.

What Adobe tools did you use on this project, and why did you originally choose them? Why were they the best choice for this project?

Blurring became something of a character in the edit. For certain anonymous faces or items we used mosaic blurs because they drew your eye to them saying, “Hey! Look at this — we’re blurring it.” Calling attention to the places and people we had to blur to protect upped the stakes, making the audience realize that our participants were risking violence and prosecution to provide basic, life-saving healthcare in this “free” country. was a super important tool in the making of PLAN C. Since we were working almost entirely remotely, we needed to share progress over the internet. We also needed to have complete control of all the footage that we uploaded online. There were many participants whose locations or faces needed to be anonymous. Disappearing links in made it possible to have control over who had access to our footage and for how long, and they were clutch as we strove to protect the heroes in our film.

Plan C still.
Image source: Plan C documentary.

If you could share one tip about Premiere Pro, what would it be?

I love the Rate Stretch tool. I’ve got it programmed into my shortcuts and use it all the time with footage and text blocks, graphics, and nests. It allows me to quickly and easily adjust the timing of a piece of media to an exact window within the timeline. I love you, Rate Stretch.

Who is your creative inspiration and why?

Unconventional documentaries give me life, films like Casting JonBenet and The Act of Killing. I’m so inspired by the way these films turn the traditional fly-on-the-wall documentary process on its head. These films affect their participants through the filmmaking process, revealing deep, sometimes even subconscious, truths. Pure magic.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to face in your career and how did you overcome it? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?

This probably won’t come as a surprise but getting established as an editor after grad school was challenging. When you haven’t done many projects, and you need to make money and connections — how do you do it, and where do you even start? I volunteered to look at cuts and gave notes and edited shorts for free or very little pay. Because of my directing background, I thought about what I would want in an editor and modeled myself after that. I am patient. I say “yes”. I will always show you what you want to see even if I strongly suspect it won’t work. I collaborate and solve problems before a director even knows they exist.

Editor Meredith Perry

Image source: Meredith Perry.

Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?

My father Steven C. Young was an English and Theater professor at Pomona College for 35 years. On the homestead in the San Juan Islands where I live now, Dad built a large barn with a cozy loft to be used as rehearsal space for theater projects. My edit bay is a room in the back of that barn loft with a shaggy, colorful wool rug on the floor. It’s one of my favorite places to be in the world. My father passed away in 2014 having only used his rehearsal space for one project — a community theater production that we co-directed here on island. I think he would have been so proud that I edited a feature doc that went to Sundance and SXSW in the barn he built. Love you, Dad.