¡COLORES! September 16, 2017

Documentary Editor Paul Barnes, who has collaborated with Ken Burns on some of PBS’ most celebrated documentaries, shares how editing impacts a film, his experience creating The Vietnam War and his love for storytelling.

AIRED: September 15, 2017 | 0:27:09

Funding for COLORES was provided in part by: Viewers Like You





>>It’s time and again you get inspired by the story of these great American men and

women who really have helped to develop and create the democracy that we have and the

kind of country that we have and I think it’s made me a better person.



>>Gustavus: What do you love about editing?

>>Barnes: I went to NYU film school, and the school, to their credit, would allow freshmen,

sophomore students to try all the different roles, so that they could figure out, "Am

I a cameraman?

Am I an editor?

Or, am I a director, am I a writer, and I producer, whatever.

So, we were switching roles on these little tiny films we're making, two-minute films,

three-minute film, and I suddenly discovered that I just loved being in the editing room.

I loved taking the raw material that was shot and figuring out how to put it together to

make it dramatic and dynamic, or comic, or you know, to make this raw footage that when

you look at it often seems very dull, but then by the judicious editing of it you can

suddenly bring it to life.

And I thought this is fabulous.

I just love doing this.

I'm a bit of an introvert anyway.

I'm not an extroverted character, and so the other roles in film, usually you had to be

much more social, and much more aggressive, and much more interactive.

And, I'm not really that type of person, so I found that the role of the editor, because

you are one person sitting in the dark like a mole, and just doggedly, you know, cutting

away and watching that screen hour after hour after hour, it just felt like a natural fit

for me.

And, I get into this funny kind of Zen headspace in a way, where the world disappears and honestly

all I can think of is what's in the screen, and I'm totally absorbed in that, and it's

like how do I make this work?

What's the next shot?

I should go to what's the best piece of music.

Do I need a sound effect here to punch something in?

Should I put in the close-up here?

Is that the right image?

And, the wheels in my head are going like crazy.

But there's something about the creativity of all that, that, it's very satisfying to


And when you see the end product, when you finish the scene and it's working well, and

you've taken all the things that weren't working out and all of a sudden the directors intention

was coming through, the actors intention was coming through, the story intention was coming

through, it's very gratifying.

It really is and in terms of the crafts role, you're the last person, the last creative

person before it goes out to the audience, really, of major importance.

And so, what the audience is watching is what you the editor, working with the directors,

has finally decided.

This is the film, and there's something very nice about that, being the final, you know,

creative collaborator to help achieve that goal.

>>Gustavus: As technology has changed over the course of your career, has that changed

your process?

>>Barnes: You know, actually not.

I did used to cut on film you know, with a blade splicer and tape to cut, hold the shots


It seems so primitive now the way in which we used to edit, and I learned that way, you

know, because I started to learn in the late 60s early 70s.

But when we switched over to electronic editing I found it pretty seamless for me.

I'm not a big computer person, so it took me a couple of months to learn the computer

software and so forth, that makes the editing process work, but once I got the hang of it

it was actually faster and easier and I could, actually I had time to try more things and

because I wasn't grappling with tape splices and broken sprocket holes and things like

that, it actually enhanced the creativity for me I think.

So, I think the advance in technology, in some ways it's like you look at many films

now, and you look back at a film made thirty years ago, and you can feel that there's a

difference, you know.

And I think that has a lot to do with the digital technology.

I mean there are people who romanticize the old days of cutting on film, but I'm not one

of them (laughter).

>>Gustavus: How can the art and style of editing change certain stories?

>>Barnes: First of all, you know the script is like a blueprint, and then the dailies

are like raw material.

They're not finished works in and of themselves and if there's problems in the script, when

you're in the cutting room, you can start to correct some of those things and make the

story better.

If an editor is really attuned to acting they can see that, oh, in this particular scene

this actor is really much better than this one, and so I'm going to cut it just a little

bit more towards this actor who's giving a better performance and then it makes the scene

a little more dramatic.

And, in fact, I as an editor, I feel like editors should study acting, because if they

can notice the nuances of gesture and facial expression then they can look at the takes

a little more judiciously, and really select what's best about that.

And in documentary it's all in the editing.

Everything is so raw (laughter).

I mean, if you watch some of the raw footage of Vietnam it's like some of the sequences

where they were shooting, you know in in a battle area, there's a lot of dull stuff where

the cameraman was hiding behind a tree and you know following some troops but nothing

was happening.

There's some distant shooting, but, you know, and then every once in a while there would

be a little scuffle, a little skirmish, and you know when you pull out all the dull stuff

and figure out a way to put all the dynamic stuff together, it suddenly pops and you can

make the audience feel like they were really there by the way in which you cut it.

>>(From Film): One of the things that I learned in the war is that we're not the top species

on the planet, because we're nice.

We are a very aggressive species.

It is in us.

And, people talk a lot about how well the military turns, you know, kids into, you know,

killing machines and stuff, and I always argue it's just finishing school.

What we do with civilization is that we learn to inhibit and rope in these aggressive tendencies,

and we have to recognize them.

I worry about a whole country that doesn't recognize it.

Does it think of how many times we get ourselves in scrapes as a nation because we're always

the good guys.

Sometimes I think if we thought that we weren't always the good guys we might actually get

in less wars.

>>Gustavus: When's a time that you felt editing has helped tell the story in a more impactful


>>Barnes: For example to go back to the Civil War, which was, you know, the second film

I worked on with Ken, you know Gettysburg is an important pivot in the war.

And I think the way in which it was both written and then the way in which Ken and I cut it,

and we had to rely on paintings which is a difficult thing to do, but there are some

very famous Gettysburg paintings.

There's the Gettysburg diorama that is preserved at the park now, and we went there and shot,

and shot a lot of close-ups of different actions from the battle, and I think the combination

of the voices that related a part of the battle with the strong narrative that Jeff wrote,

but in conjunction with the battle sound effects and then the quick cutting of even the painting

images, it brought the battle to life in an incredibly interesting way.

And he and I were both thinking you know it's so hard to make paintings work.

We didn't, we were really scared.

We thought, we're not going to be able to do the Battle of Gettysburg really well.

But I think by the great way in which his eye works to pull apart an image, so that

you've got this big wide thing, but he zeroes in on this close-up, and zeros in on that

close-up, zeroes in on the horse bucking and, you know, zeroes in on this, or pans and does

his moves, the combination of that and the way in which it's cut it just, it worked like


(From Film): Suddenly the Union artillery on Cemetery Ridge and Little Round Top opened

fire and a great moan went up from the Confederate line.

We could not help hitting them at every shot, a federal officer recalled.

As many as 10 men at a time were destroyed by a single bursting shell.

A Confederate lieutenant cried out to his men, "home boys, home.

Remember home is over beyond those hills."

>>Barnes: But if you looked at the raw paintings, you'd probably get bored.

But you looked at them edited and you suddenly felt like I'm in the Battle of Gettysburg,

and I am experiencing what those guys were experiencing.

>>Gustavus: What are some things that stand out for you in your career as an editor, when

you look back?

>>Barnes: The opening of the Statue of Liberty, which was the first film I worked on with

Ken, it's this perfect little opening to the film.

It starts with a Jefferson quote.

It goes to narration with immigrants coming over.

There's a Paul Simon song on it, and it just is this beautiful prologue that sets off what

the statue is all about.

And, by opening with the Jefferson quote about Liberty, he establishes the theme which is

what Bartholdi was thinking when he created the statue, as a gift for America, and what

he thought America was really all about.

And we were so attuned to the images and the music and a way in which it was all woven

together, I still feel like that's one of the best openings that I had ever worked on.

I think on Vietnam, there's a lot of sections I'm very, very proud of, but there's a sequence

where the famous photograph of the little girl who was napalmed by accident.

That's a sequence that I'm particularly proud of the way in which it was put together, because

we had the photographs that the photographer had taken.

We had footage, because the incident was actually filmed by newsreel cameramen, and so I could

intercut between the photographs and the newsreel footage and the photographer basically told

the story.

Again where Jeff, what our screenwriter decided, you don't need my words, just let Nick the

photographer tell it.

And again, I'm incredibly proud of that sequence, and I think it's very powerful, because again

that was a kind of turning point in the war, where that photograph went all across the


And at that point in the early 70s, it was worldwide.

Everybody just said enough.

We can't do this anymore.

Look at what you're doing to these children.

And so, again, it's just, it's nice when you can create the drama, bring the drama of that

event to life, and show people how much of a turning-point it was.

>>(From film): On November 15, 1969, half a million citizens turned out against the

war in Washington, again.

This time buses provided an impenetrable wall around the White House.

President Nixon claimed he was too busy watching football on television to pay attention, but

he did suggest that army helicopters might be used to blow out the marcher’s candles.

Hundreds of thousands of others demonstrated in San Francisco and New York.

>>Gustavus: You're shaping how people see these stories.

Does it have a personal significance to you that stays with you after it's done?

>>Barnes: I am so proud of the work I've done with Ken, because it combined for me the two

things I love the most, which is film and history (laughs).

I mean it couldn't have been a more perfect job.

I mean my father was a history nut and I grew up in a household where I was hearing stories

about history constantly.

He and my mother were Roosevelt Democrats and, you know, Franklin Delano could do no

wrong, and I heard all about them.

You know, we would sit down and watch documentaries together.

I was born in 51 so I missed the war.

The BBC did a series called the World at War and my father said let's watch this together

because I want you to see what your mother and I, you know, had lived through in the

40s, and it was a great experience to do that with him, and I feel the same way.

It's like I think Ken's work and the historical work that we have done on film, we get such

great feedback from people who have those same kind of experiences, where they watch

them with their kids.

The baseball series for example, it's like there's so many stories of fathers and mothers,

you know, watching the series with their sons and daughters year after year.

I mean it becomes a family ritual in a way, and Ken and I feel like the more the American

public knows about the history, the better informed they are about what's happening in

the future, what's happening now.

And so, it's very gratifying that the films are seen so widely.

They're used in schools over and over again in history classes, and we get letters from

the kids all the time about what they've learned, and what struck them.

So, the body of work that he has created in my collaboration with him has been a very

gratifying experience for me.

I mean, I couldn't be happier with my career.

>>Gustavus: And for yourself as an editor what has been your goal in being involved

with these projects?

>>Barnes: When you find a filmmaker who is committed to a certain subject, and is so

passionate about wanting to present it to an audience, and if I feel that from the filmmaker,

then I want to help them.

I want to help them achieve that goal.

I've never felt myself capable of directing or creating a film from scratch on my own.

I just don't quite have the personality or the passion to be able to do that, but to

help someone else do it, it's incredible fun and, you know, when you get to see the filmmaker

achieve that goal, and it's often not for them.

It's like, if I go back to an early film I did called "No Maps on My Taps," about three

black tap dancers who were getting old, the art of tap dancing was dying.

This was in the early 80s and the filmmaker George Nierenberg he just, he was so in love

with jazz tap, he wanted to make a film that might help preserve the art and maybe help

revive the art, and I was so taken with his passion for this project, and I love dance


And then, when I saw some of the footage with the dancers and they were amazing, I thought

yeah I want to do this with you.

I'm as committed as you are now, so let's do this, and tell the story of these three

guys and see if we can't get people interested in tap again.

And it actually had that effect.

I mean there still is a revival of jazz tap dancing going on ever since George you dancing

going on.

You know, we released that film in the early 80s.

You know, a lot of tap dancers who are working now will say I watched "No map on My Taps"

and it inspired me (chuckles).

So, when your work, you know, does that, it's just a great feeling.

>>Gustavus: You have for many years brought the human experience to these films and projects.

How important is it to tell these stories?

>>Barnes: Oh it's hugely important.

I think what Ken does that I love is, and as he describes it, he calls it emotional


It's like, if you want people to learn history make them feel it.

So it's not just tell the facts and figures, but it's explore the underlying emotions of

what was happening at the time, with the individual characters, with the events, and if you can

bring the feeling out then it really hits an audience, and so that, you know, the experience

of FDR having polio, I think you really feel that in the Roosevelt series.

I mean, there are tons of moments in Vietnam that you're going to feel like gangbusters

because you feel like you're in the Battle of Ia Drang or you feel like you're on the

street photographing the girl who got hit by napalm.

You're in the moment when that Vietnamese police officer shot the man in the street.

It's all of those moments just come alive and hit you in the gut and hit you in the

heart and when you affect the audience emotionally.

And, bringing history alive like that, then it means more and people think about it more.

They remember it more and it becomes more part of their consciousness, and I think they

carry that with them into events that are happening now and what's going on in the world


So, I think it's vital to be telling these stories.

>>Gustavus: Is there a danger, or ever a concern where you worry about the emotions that you're

encouraging people to maybe feel while they're watching something?

How do you think of that as an editor?

>>Barnes: There's actually a bit of a delicate balance, especially when you're dealing with

a war film.

There's so much blood and gore in this series, and luckily we had, you know, female co-producers.

Most of the males who were cutting, or myself and Ken would be more inclined to include

a little more gore, a little more blood and guts and often at screenings it would be Lynn

and Sarah who would be saying let's pull it back a little bit, you know.

You've got three horrible shots in a row of someone getting horribly maimed.

Let's just make it two.

And they would start to temper it because, and the feeling was, is that it was overkill.

It was just, you know, we're going to turn the audience off, because we're asking them

to watch too much blood and gore.

It's less is more, and I think that it was a very wise decision to constantly try to

balance it and balance it more in the direction of less rather than more.

Leave a little more to the imagination.

There was enough there that you could see and feel, and it hurt, that you didn't have

to go overboard and just really rub it in people's noses.

But again in terms of editing it's a delicate balance, but I was very, you know, Lynn and

Sarah were incredibly helpful in that regard.

And I think it just is a female perspective of you know, "I get it in the first shot.

Thank you very much.

I don't need to see any more."

>>Gustavus: Sounds like an argument for some diversity in the film and television industry.

>>Barnes: Absolutely (laughter), absolutely yeah.

>>Gustavus: What's significant about telling these stories on public television?

>>Barnes: First of all, you, know Ken is so, and myself, unbelievably grateful to PBS for

supporting these projects all these years.

You know, you guys give us total freedom.

It's like carte blanche.

It's you don't, you don't fight us on subject matter.

You don't fight us on editorial content.

You don't have commercials that breaks up, you know the intensity of the storyline.

And, the support has been just incredible and the fact that not only are they broadcast

to a wide audience all across the country, millions of people get to see these, but then

they have this wonderful educational outreach program that's attached to every one of our


And so they develop teaching materials that go out to schools, so that the schools can

then use segments from the films as a part of the history classes that are done in schools.

And so they get used.

It's not just a one-time viewing, but there's an intention that it lives on as a real educational

tool, and if that's one of the missions of PBS to be an educational television station,

that's perfect.

And we're so happy to be a part of that, honestly.

You know in the early 90s I co-produced the film on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B.

Anthony with Ken called "Not for Yourselves Alone" and we still get letters from, you

know, junior high school girls writing to us and saying I didn't know women couldn't

vote back then, you know.

I didn't know that Susan B. Anthony was trying to get equal pay for equal work in 1850, you


So when you, when you get those responses from, you know, kids who are in school now,

it's wonderful.

It's in many ways more of a reason why we make the films than the broadcast itself,

you know, that they live on as an educational tool.

>>Gustavus: As an editor you spend all this time with other people's stories and looking

back at history, people's stories now, people's stories in the past.

What has that taught you about yourself and about being a human being?

>>Barnes: I mean I think it's just made me a better human being.

I mean to be able to really study the ins and outs of these people's personalities,

the complexity of these historical decisions, and the fraught politics in so many periods

of our history, it's a struggle.

It's hard.

It's not easy.

It makes you appreciate the bravery and courage of these people to want to continue to go

on, often in the face of you know terrible odds.

For Lincoln to had been able to figure out how to pull that divided country together

in a certain way, to watch FDR, you know, lead the country through the depression and

World War Two, while he was crippled from here down, and hiding that at the same time,

because he didn't think people would have faith in him if they thought he was as disabled

as he really was, it's time and again, you get inspired by the story of these great American

men and women, who really have helped to develop and create the democracy that we have and

the kind of country that we have.

It's incredibly inspiring and I think it's made me a better human being across the board.

I'm much more compassionate.

I'm much more empathetic.

I'm much more willing to look at the gray areas of things and not immediately go to

the wider black of any issue, to want to see what the other side's point of view is, to

figure out a compromise.

I think all those things, history can teach you, and so yeah it's been a great journey

in that regard, so I'm, you know, I do feel like it's made me a better person.

>>Gustavus: It was so nice to talk with you about editing process and your career.

Thank you so much for being here today.

>>Barnes: Oh it's my pleasure.

Thank you so much for having me.




>>We all have stories to tell and everybody’s story is unique and beautiful and it’s that

telling of the story that not only can heal us, it can heal those who are listening to



1960s AMERICA.

>>I think within the civil rights community was a sense that now all of America and the

world can see what we have been experiencing for decades.





Funding for COLORES was provided in part by: Viewers Like You


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