We recently sat down with Kelly Webster, the team’s post-production supervisor of all of our documentary style videos, to discuss not only her approach and techniques in assembling and footage but also to give insight to other filmmakers into constructing a story from troves of video and audio content.
Q: How did you get your start in documentary filmmaking and editing?
Kelly: The first documentaries I worked on were indie films, and I was an assistant editor on a number of those projects. I worked on several of these early in my career and learned how to organize tons — and I mean TONS — of footage, both on my computer and in my mind. I found that mental organization is incredibly important. Going through that much footage requires you to recall shots in an order that will tell the story, or, even more complex, possibly discover a new one. Directors have a number of shots they prefer to use and learning these allowed me to help build out my edits in different ways to evoke certain emotional responses. This is crucial to powerful storytelling.
The first project that I had the chance to work on with 3DR was the “Solo over Sicily” documentary, which was a lengthy but satisfying piece. It was my first experience working with Solo footage, and my introduction to Smart Shots. I’d worked with drone footage in the past, but I found that Smart Shots created really engaging footage, and that was refreshing to work with. What I really liked about this particular video was the story-arc of the Italian director learning and mastering Solo for his own personal work. At first he seemed unsure of using drones, as he was a traditional filmmaker, but after a week of using it you can really see his excitement with every shot he captured. I always try to find an emotional element that people can relate to in my videos, and telling his story in particular helped me understand what was really special about 3DR.
Q: How many documentaries have you worked on with the team at 3DR and what’s coming for future projects?
Kelly: We’ve created five short documentaries so far. With the “Life After Gravity” series, each video had its own corresponding “Field Notes” video that went beyond the episode and walked you through the Smart Shots that we used for our specific sci-fi design. These were cool to make because each episode features a different director, and each director had their own different corresponding style.
Our “Miami Art Week” documentary explores our week at Art Basel following around a mobile art truck. This was an awesome collaboration because it was a fast-paced project with multiple locations each day, and Solo was really the perfect tool to capture all the action.
With most of our shoots, we like to release behind-the-scenes videos revealing how we created the shots. This helps us make it transparent for other drone pilots — we don’t just want to wow our audience, but also teach them how to use Solo as a secondary pilot to create truly cinematic video. We’ve got four documentaries in the works at the moment. We’re never working on only one project at a time. What I’m working on now focuses on the versatility of Solo as a tool for different types of industries.
Q: What’s your overall process from start to finish? Does the process vary from one doc type to another?
Kelly: Several factors influence my workflow. I first have to find out who the storyteller is. This drives the storyline, whether it’s more of an educational film or a journey we’re going to experience with the narrator. So sometimes it’s a narrative, other times it’s a recorded voiceover, but going through that audio and constructing the storyline creates my foundation for the piece. From there I go through the video footage, that includes the drone footage, ground DSLR, and B-roll. It’s a ton of footage. My edit only really begins once I’ve constructed my storyline and have all my best footage selections organized. At this point, I’ve already familiarized myself with the footage, and it becomes much easier to know which shots pertain to each moment the narrator describes. I always keep my eyes open for any hidden representation of the storyline, too. Often I’ll find footage that perfectly conveys a moment or sentiment that wasn’t even intentionally produced. Sometimes I’ll find there’s a story beyond what the narrator reveals, too, and finding those emotional moments or natural metaphors can really push the story into a whole new direction.
For our use, what really makes a video pop is finding the right audio track to complement the feel of the piece. The music will always complete the construction for me; that’s when I really start to feel the energy of the piece. It’s also the part of the process that usually takes me the longest. I know exactly what it is I’m looking for, but it takes time to find the perfect licensable song. One trick I’ve found is to contact the band’s manager directly to negotiate a fair cost along with cross-promotion with the video. You can find some great original and affordable music this way, and create stronger relationships to use in the future for an original composition. Finally, our team puts all of the finishing touches together with sound design, post production, and graphics to complete the video.
Q: When editing and working with the interviews in the pieces, how do you keep the original intent of the narrative?
Kelly: I’ll usually listen to the entire interview before making any of my selections. When I do begin to cut the interviews, I lay out the order of the story first: How do we begin, what is the objective, were there risks or surprises (usually yes!) and how were they handled, how did aerials influence the shoot, and what did we learn? Once the full arc is laid out, I’ll go back to make it more concise, make sure there aren’t any redundancies, and that important moments are highlighted. Of course, the full process varies depending on the shoot and direction of the piece.
Q: A ton of work goes into editing after the shoot. How do you decide what makes it in and what doesn’t?
Kelly: When I’m going through footage, I’m usually partial to camera movement, framing, timing and of course how it corresponds to the story. My top picks almost always have a striking subject in the shot: a sunset, perfect line structure, color formations, abstract shapes; anything thoughtful and cinematically composed. When it comes to timing, my eye will automatically catch parallax motions, revealing shots and dynamic movements. These shots really help the videos pop.
I love whenever Solo helps tell the story with movement, like an action that comes in the middle of an Orbit, or a scene introduced with a Cable cam tilt, or a location expanded with a Selfie reveal. Those are my absolute favorite types of shots to work with. But there always has to be a nice flow to the edit, so if you are using a very intricate shot, it’s nice to follow up with something that grounds the documentary with some structure. Many of my edits at 3DR are made exclusively with drone footage, so finding a nice flow with the movement and composition is really what makes it work.
Q: How do the aerial shots lend themselves to telling the stories that you’ve put together?
Kelly: The aerial shots we use are always unique to each piece: “beauty” shots for a travel or action reel; introductory shots to a location or character that pushes the story forward; they educate through their construction, or they bring a surprising, new element into play. These kinds of shots truly make my job inspiring! Our team has traveled all over the world with Solo to capture video footage, and sometimes viewing it makes me feel like I was there, too. I’ve seen some really magnificent shots that Solo has captured in the most exotic locations.
Aerial footage can also really amplify the production value of any edit because not only are you getting an elevated scenic shot, but that complex camera movement in the sky can really incite an emotional response, and that helps us connect our stories to the people we’re creating them for.
Q: What’s your documentary style? How do you want people to feel after they’ve watched one of the documentaries?
Kelly: Well, the great thing about working with drone footage is that the views are always so breathtaking that they provide an extra element of wonderment. So before releasing any videos, we share them internally, and we know we’ve hit the mark when we feel a sentimental connection to the work. And this approach really complements my own style, which usually revolves around trying to find some kind of conflict/resolution or illuminating a certain aspect of the subject to teach something more. I guess I developed this after years of working odd editing jobs in reality tv and commercial production, where I never really got much out of the story. Now, when I make videos, I really want to them to be meaningful and leave the viewer with some kind of emotive response.