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May 3, 2015

US film editor talks to media students


May 3, 2015

Eric Neudel, an American film editor and producer of several public broadcasting service programmes was in Islamabad. He was invited by the Riphah Institute of Media Sciences to talk to the media students about documentary film and journalism. The event was organised jointly by the US Embassy and Riphah International University.
Eric Neudal, at present associated with the School of Cinematic Art at the prestigious University of Southern California, Los Angeles, has an impressive portfolio. His major work includes ‘After the Crash’, ‘The American Experience’ and ‘Vietnam: A Television History.’
Eric Neudal revealed that he worked as a cleaner to earn his way to the college and then a newsroom librarian. That is how he learnt about journalism and criticism, how reporting can be done with a story where facts must be your basis. Dearth of opinion prevails in the world of journalism. Passion can take you away from facts and proper story must be knit to tell the problem.
Excerpts from his documentary on disability ‘Lives Worth Living’ was shown during the talk. For many years, physical disability in the United States (and around the world) has been considered a curse. If you were disabled, you had no dream of living. ‘Lives Worth Living’ changed that concept. Challenged people gathered in Washington in a march and that march on Capitol Hill made the change. March of Dime, a movement to fight polio was questioned by a polio patient. The patients here were being displayed to collect money. This slanted view on polio had to be eliminated. People who were pitting the disability were now to change their attitude.
According to Eric Neudel, it takes lot of work to bring a change in the society. When one is dealing with a sensitive subject like disability, there is lot of gray area and one must never jump to opinion without checking facts. Journalists and filmmakers must not discredit their own story. The change through writing and

film means a lot. Even while people in the media are working on an assignment, they are changing. This change should come without preference for one side and must be seen. Journalists and filmmakers must bring in this change carefully because errors can discredit the whole assignment. Doing a job as a journalist is difficult.
Coming back to ‘Lives Worth Living’, Eric Neudel pointed out that many protestors did not know the challenges of legislation in the US House of Representatives. (The legislative body). It was journalist who helped them to tell their story by walking up 88 steps of the Capitol Hill, a personal way of getting to the truth known. The film shows the courageous men, women and children becoming a chain of protest to deliver their point. And to film this both emotions and accuracy was essential. The filming team had to bring out absolute truth. Crawling up the steps of Capitol Hill, the protestors in a way were humiliating themselves and they were ready for this insult. The respective members of the House of Representatives could no longer ignore them. The point was being delivered loud and clear. Emotions were played by power of people. There was no deception. Journalists and filmmakers should use these instincts in their work. To make a good scene, one must use emotions and intellect. People whom they talk or film must be genuine.
When it comes to reporting and filming, every culture has its own way of telling a story. Facts just exist. Journalists must collect those facts, mould and process them. To land on your specific audiences, you have to target them without being carried away. A journalist grows with instincts. The brain never stops growing and the key to success here is self-instinct. Checking yourself out. Many of us get carried away because nobody is every perfect.
Eric Neudel emphasised that in film and journalistic assignments, the entire stakeholders must be included. Film on TV brings people in your living room. Everybody’s perspective must be included and the person behind this work must be able to defend what is being done.
Talking about education today, Eric Neudel said that this was the age of information. One should look at the entire spectrum. Strategic alliances are need of the day which would take you in the correct direction.
Documentary film can change the attitude of the audiences. There was a change of attitude after people watching ‘Lives Worth Living’. Before this documentary, little information was available and no studies had been carried out on disability. With the screening of the documentary discussions took place in the relevant quarters and history of disability became an interesting subject with the passage of time. It exposes the truth. Suddenly such a story can change the life of people and attitude.
Journalists and documentary filmmakers must regulate themselves by checking out the facts. Intellect drives them and emotions help them. Facts and emotions play and fight against each other but journalists should always be on the side of facts. Becoming irrational or getting carried away means getting away from truth.
‘Lives Worth Living’ is first and last an American film targeted at American TV audiences which apart from the special people who are protesting, includes references to the president and two houses of legislature. This is also universal. People with disability have the same issues all over the world (excess to job, discrimination, movements at public places, commuting etc). People in general look down upon disability. Eric Neudel pointed out that people who are no disabled must not consider themselves superior, just little specs in the universe. Humans are great in generating meaning because that is life and that is how we live in this world.
We come to awareness and how to create this awareness. The media students were curious to find out how to get funding for challenging subjects like use of helmets by the motorcyclists. The answer is to expose the faults of not wearing helmets while driving. Injuries to neck, head and spinal code must be publicised widely. Interviews with the patients must become the headlines. Date on such accidents should also become integral part of the campaign.
Question was asked about the indicators for research. Eric Neudel informed the audience that journalists and filmmakers are never ever really done. They run out of time and money. The key is to always follow the story. Watergate scandal in the seventies is a great example where two Washington reporters covering the story did not give up. The deadlines are always there but one is never really done. What is more important in documentary film-content or technical competence? To this question Eric said story and audio are most important elements of a documentary film. Poor sound is always irritating. The filmmaker himself spent five years in sound recording five years in photography. Sound in a documentary should always be monitored. Over 80% of the effect in a documentary comes from audio.
Importance of story cannot be over-emphasised. As for style, your prettier shots get out of the film first and these are the cruel decisions about the filmed footage. Stupid mistakes should not be made over and over again. The journalist and filmmaker must keep clam and always be oneself.
This was a useful session for media students of RIMS (Riphah Institute of Media Studies) who took keep interest in the entire session and came up with intelligent questions.

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