Editor Jamie Boyle chose Adobe Creative Cloud to craft Tribeca Doc “Breaking the News”
Image source: Tribeca Film Festival
“Breaking the News” immerses its audience into the lives and steadfast pursuits of the members of The 19th* – the first nonprofit nonpartisan news agency in the United States – as they launch the agency and work to gain traction for their newsroom amidst shuttered news outlets and an upended America in 2020. Documentary filmmaker and editor, Jamie Boyle, used Premiere Pro and Frame.ioto bring this film to the big screen.
We sat down with Jamie to hear more about the making of “Breaking the News”, and learned how her passion for filmmaking came to fruition. Read on to hear how she found purpose behind the camera (and screen) using film as a tool to witness, protect, and navigate through difficult experiences.
Can you tell us about your experience as a filmmaker and how you got started in the industry?
During my junior year of undergrad, after being rejected twice from my university’s prestigious journalism school, my dad suggested film production. His reasoning was as simple as it was astute, “You’ve always loved movies.”
That same year, I made a short doc for my 'Intro to Film Production’ class that followed two of my family members as they grew increasingly sicker while being prescribed massive doses of opioids. A week after I finished the film, my sister went to inpatient rehab, and six months later, my mom got off them as well. I’ll never know how much I did or didn’t do, including making that film, helped or hindered them, but having the camera with me as a witness, protector, and tool, was what I needed in order to navigate through it. I knew that behind a camera (or when I have my editor hat on, behind the screen) was where I wanted to be.
How and where did you first learn to edit?
My undergrad film program required us to film on Super 8 and 16mm cameras and edit the analog film itself. I fell in love with editing during those many nights spent in the dank basement of the film building – cutting and splicing and dreaming things into being. The inky smell of freshly developed film, the whir of the machines, the tangible feeling that you were crafting something into existence – I was enthralled with the entire process. And nothing will teach you how to cut with intention, like having to physically untape a splice and change it if the cut isn’t working. I’ve now worn every hat imaginable, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, but editing is where my heart lies, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Image source: Tribeca Film Festival
How do you begin a project/set up your workspace?
My physical workspace is very peaceful and tidy. It makes the inevitable messiness of starting a new project easier to bear. It’s always a huge relief when a stellar Assistant Editor (AE) has been on the project immediately before and backed up, transcoded, synced, organized, and logged all the footage. Every feature edit I’ve done has been on a tight, independent budget, so the aforementioned work is usually incomplete and understandably so.
We were lucky enough to have an incredible AE, Anna Ramirez, part-time on Breaking the News. This film would simply not have gotten done without her. There’s always time spent getting a large project as prepared as it needs to be in order to dive in fully and not have to worry about it again for the duration of the edit. It took me a while to learn how creatively freeing it is to never spend any time or energy hunting down a piece of footage or audio that was never logged or put it in its rightful place. Once that’s out of the way, I insist on watching everything myself. It’s a step that is being increasingly sacrificed in favor of quicker turnaround times, and it’s not worth it in the long run. I’ll never be convinced the film doesn’t suffer without that precious time of discovery.
Tell us about a favorite scene or moment from this project and why it stands out to you.
It’s really hard to choose. I have so many favorites. Some of the most enjoyable scenes to cut were the montages. The opening montage lays out how the white male lens has dominated the news industry in the United States since its inception. In order to fully appreciate what The 19th* was up against and dive into the lives and work of the individual journalists as quickly as possible, I knew we needed to accurately frame the historical bias of mainstream media in the U.S. and do so in around 90 seconds or less. I was screening some particularly upsetting news coverage from 1964 about the three civil rights workers killed in Neshoba County, MS. I came to a section when the anchor in the studio was handing off to two field reporters (all three of whom were white and male) and that simple interaction spoke volumes. I lined up a bunch of those handoffs from different points throughout history. It ended up dictating the tone and shape of that montage; a kind of dark absurdity that energizes as much as it enrages.
Image source: Tribeca Film Festival
What were some specific post-production challenges you faced that were unique to your project, and how did you go about solving them?
Where to begin? This project had four main participants, each with their own area of expertise and critical storyline. They were all spread across the U.S. and almost never interacted in-person due to the pandemic. All of the main narrative points unfolded over video calls, of which there were somewhere around 500 hours worth. There was a bounty of riches in terms of deeply moving and powerful material.
Shaping it all into a cohesive whole that simultaneously did everyone’s experience justice was an enormous challenge to say the least. Instead of focusing on one individual’s journey as the primary narrative arc, I looked at The 19th* news itself as the main character, i.e., how it was challenged and shaped by the people within it who put themselves on the line time and again in order to fight for something better for everyone. I also looked for the places where the participants were experiencing something similar and used those to inform and expand on each other. For instance, when one journalist was covering societal bias, another might have been struggling with the bias in their immediate environment. Pairing those together created space for the breadth and complexity of the individual experience while also functioning as a critical narrative point in the story of how this singular news organization came to be. These journalists were living what they were reporting on and it was shaping The 19th* in real time. I felt like that had to be at the forefront of this film.
What Adobe tools did you use on this project and why did you originally choose them?
I edited on Premiere Pro, and we used Frame.io for screening and feedback. I had just recently switched from a different editing platform, and I tend to be somewhat change-averse, especially when it comes to tech. I’m not a techy by any stretch of the imagination, and what is paramount to me is that I can edit without having to think about or spend any energy navigating the tool(s) I’m using. As everyone who has made the switch knows, the transition to Premiere Pro was incredibly seamless. I found it particularly impressive that Premiere Pro allowed users to adjust the quick keys to match those of other editing software. That kind of thought and attention to detail is so appreciated when time and energy are precious commodities.
As for Frame.io, I don’t know how we would have finished this project without it. One of the directors recommended it for screening cuts and giving feedback. She had used it on past projects and liked it because it keeps versions organized, allows the viewer to add notes on exactly the corresponding timecode, and comment on all other notes. I usually prefer to have conversations about feedback so I was hesitant at first. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. We developed a process whereby unless anyone else on the team disagreed, the note was executed. Anything there was disagreement over was either settled within the back and forth on Frame.io or was flagged for phone discussion.
“With three directors, a producer, and myself all weighing in on every decision, [Frame.io] was a life and sanity saver. I don’t think the edit would have been finished in the time it was, and certainly not at the same caliber, without it.”
If you could share one tip about Premiere Pro, what would it be?
I talked to a young filmmaker the other day who wasn’t aware of the syncing function in Premiere Pro. That one is incredibly useful and has negated the need for messy third-party syncing programs. Toggling between proxy and raw files is also especially helpful, but with larger projects, I wouldn’t use that until the very end because it becomes too cumbersome with a huge sequence. When it comes time for finishing though, it cuts down the time necessary to reconnect back to your raw footage by a massive amount. Auto-transcription and captioning is also surprisingly accurate, making it easier and less costly to make everything widely accessible.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
Like a lot of people, I tend to find inspiration really everywhere. While the inspiration I draw from my colleagues and the documentary community at large truly knows no bounds, I often look outside of the documentary form for inspiration. I’m not as interested in making documentaries per se, as I am in making art that connects and moves people. Until recently, and with a few notable exceptions, documentary has been so restricted in form and function. So looking outside of it for alternative ways of conveying an experience or telling a story is really crucial to what motivates me to work in this field. I’m most excited by projects that are actively challenging what we previously thought documentaries to be.
What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to overcome in your career? What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers or content creators?
Rejection, rejection, rejection. I know it’s been said time and again, but nothing can really prepare you for the amount of rejection that will inevitably befall anyone trying to forge a career for themselves in this industry. It is an industry chock-full of gatekeepers, nepotism, favoritism, and all of the other “isms” that ensure a lack of objectivity on the part of decision makers. Amazingly, it is equally full of kind, creative people with an insatiable appetite for seeking out new and underrepresented talent, lifting it up, and making sure the powers that be sit up and pay attention. Find those people as early as possible and keep them around you. They will be the same ones who help you navigate your entire career and the many difficult choices you’ll inevitably face throughout it.
Share a photo of where you work. What’s your favorite thing about your workspace and why?
Image Source: Editor Jamie Boyle.
One of my favorite things about my workspace is my plants. I talk to them frequently. I also spend way too much time in my workspace, so I try to make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible. I have a lot of meaningful objects surrounding me while I work – a photo my sister took that my partner had framed hangs right behind me, my mom’s paintings are set on the bookshelf, a feather and seashell from my dad, other odds and ends from travels and friends and loved ones. I tend to obsess over whatever project I’m on, and they’re the best reminder that life exists outside of my computer screen.
I also have some awards nearby. A documentary edit can be paralyzingly daunting. There are times in the edit room that you feel very much like you’re being asked to do the impossible. Proof that I’ve tackled this beast before is a huge help in those moments.