‘Savvy’ Filmmakers Tackle Finances and Remote Editing for Documentaries
$avvy, Robin Hauser’s newest award-winning documentary, investigates the gender dynamics behind money and the cultural and societal norms that prevent women from taking charge of their own finances.
We were lucky enough to interview the film’s director, Robin Hauser, and editor, Shirley Thompson, about their experience adjusting to filmmaking and remote film editing during the covid-19 pandemic.
Keep reading to learn more about Robin’s inspiration and how the film inspired Shirley to take a look at her own financial situation!
If you’re a new editor or filmmaker, there’s a lot to learn from their advice, including some tips about how Adobe Premiere Pro and Google Meet were instrumental in her remote editing process.
What was your creative inspiration for the project?
Robin: At the age of 50, I got divorced. For the first time in 24 years, I found myself solely responsible for my financial wellbeing. Like many women, while I was married I abdicated financial decisions to my husband. He was the primary breadwinner; he handled the money. $avvy is a film that I wish I had watched many years ago. It’s a film full of information and inspiration for women – for everyone – to get savvy and take control of their financial lives.
How did the Team Projects feature in Adobe Premiere Pro help you make your documentary?
Shirley: When the Savvy editing team members suddenly found ourselves in COVID-19 lockdown, it became clear that we would need the best cloud-based productivity tools in order to collaborate closely as creatives while working safely from home. I am based in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, director Robin Hauser is based in Marin County, CA and assistant editor Anne Munger is based in San Francisco. Robin had used Adobe Premiere Pro Team Projects on her previous film with good success, so she approached Adobe about coming on as a film sponsor. Adobe provided the Savvy team with Adobe Creative Cloud software, including Premiere Pro Team Projects. I’ve been cutting documentaries with Premiere Pro since 2015, so it was an easy adaptation for me. We received training and support from Adobe staff, so we were able to quickly come up to speed on the additional Team Project features.
Premiere Pro Team Projects provided a simple and elegant way for Annie and I to collaborate on the same project and even the same edited sequence without having to worry about writing over each other’s work. So, with identical media on our respective media drives in San Francisco and Honolulu, we could both work on the same cloud-based project. The software does all the tracking when there are changes to upload or download and it even helps resolve conflicts in the event that we both accidentally make changes within the same scene.
How did covid-19 change your directing process or approach?
Robin: When COVID-19 shut down the world in March 2020, the $avvy team was in the middle of production. We had scheduled shoots in New York City and Brooklyn that we had to postpone, and eventually cancel. COVID restrictions required us to quarantine for 14 days after arriving in NYC and we could not afford to comply. Thanks to our amazingly flexible and accommodating cast, we were able to film most of the east coast scenes in California in the summer of 2020. But this delay put us behind schedule and we did not have a refined fine cut for submission to film festivals.
On set, once we resumed filming, we incorporated COVID-19 protocol. We reduced the number of crew on set and we had PPE stations and health safety briefings. Directing and interviewing through a mask was something I had to get used to.
We also had to rely heavily on stock footage, since we were not able to capture b-roll of everyday life outdoors. Not only were restaurants, parks and most stores closed, anyone out on the street was wearing a mask. We didn’t want to date the film by having too much footage of people wearing masks, so we needed to find b-roll that was shot pre COVID-19. Thanks to Adobe Stock and a couple other stock libraries, we were able to find b-roll footage which resembled footage we would have shot ourselves, had we been able.
What was a challenge that came about during the remote film editing process, and how did you figure out a solution?
Shirley: I think the thing we all missed the most was the synergy that happens when everyone is working in the same physical space. How could we capture the feeling of being in the edit room together with that elevated meeting of the minds? Through a student mentoring project I was working on, which also had to go virtual, I learned that Google Meet was handling video streaming perfectly. We started using it for screenings, and found that we could all be in a virtual meeting and see each other while we watched edited scenes. It allowed us to watch and talk and discuss changes with a free app that was just an extension of all the other Google Drive features we were already using for scripting. So, Google Meet became our virtual editing room. It’s almost hard for me to believe, but Robin and Annie and I have not yet met in person! Nonetheless, we managed to collaborate very closely to edit a feature documentary of which we are very proud.
What did you discover about how gender dynamics keep women from taking charge of their finances?
Shirley: Oh my goodness, where to begin! You have to watch the movie!
I began working on the film thinking I was fairly savvy with my finances. Although, when the pandemic hit and the stock market dipped and my freelancing work began to look a little uncertain, I was personally very shaken about my finances. As a woman and a freelancer, I realized how financially vulnerable I was. I took the lessons of Savvy to heart as I edited each scene. In the course of editing the film, I started saving money into an emergency fund for the first time (after 30+ years of freelancing!), updated my will and advanced medical directive and I hired a Certified Financial Planner to help me think through some longer term goals. The Savvy documentary changed my life for the better and I hope it helps many other women as well.
Are there any particular challenges working with real people as opposed to fictional?
Shirley: As a long-time documentary editor I just think it would be amazing if somebody gave me a script of the story to edit where they actually knew the ending! Documentary films are largely written in the edit room. We start with a central idea or theme, we cast our characters, and then we head into the field with our cameras and whatever happens, happens. We can’t really know the story until we come back to the edit room with the footage (hours and hours and hours of footage) and then the treasure hunt begins. We sift through the soundbites and look for the gold and begin moving media around, juxtaposing ideas until the story begins to coalesce. We edit and re-edit and refine until there’s a polished, finished piece.
What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker interested in making a documentary?
Shirley: Filmmaking is a very rewarding, very competitive, very challenging field. It’s filled with long hard days of work, sometimes drudgery, sometimes the most fun days you can imagine. You have to be willing to truly commit yourself to mastering your craft, which will take years and for which you will never stop learning. Find great people to collaborate with. Work for people who truly like you and truly want you to succeed. Be willing to move on if you aren’t being treated fairly, but recognize that you are going to have to pay a lot of dues for a lot of years before you reach any level of competence and security. If you succeed, filmmaking is a wonderful way to move through the world: constantly learning, always collaborating and having that magical experience of creating something new that did not exist before.