By Randi Altman
Utopic editor Katherine Pryor didn’t grow up a racing fan, but a recent short film for an iconic car company turned her head. New York City-based production company ADDigital and Chicago edit house Utopic teamed up on a documentary-style film for Porsche. Director Sam Ciaramitaro and Pryor worked side by side on the web offering, via agency Cramer-Krasselt Chicago.
The five-minute-plus film, called The Enduring Bond, is the first of two long-form projects Ciaramitaro and Pryor are slated to collaborate on. The second one will shoot at Road Atlanta this fall. The Enduring Bond, which shot over four days this past March, offers a “fly-on-the-wall style and features two personal stories: one showing how much the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race means to the crews and drivers from Porsche, and another following a family that attends the race year after year.
We reached out to Pryor to find out more about editing the project, and working through 25 hours of footage, as well as her collaboration with the director.
How early did you get involved in the project?
I had several conversations with director Sam Ciaramitaro prior to production. I had worked with him before, so when we knew we were teaming up again for this one, he would send me ideas and we would discuss things like music, style and pacing.
Can you talk about how you worked with them before the edit process began?
I was given some “homework” before production. There were a few docs I watched as examples of great techniques for fly-on-the-wall-style documentaries. In addition to that, I had a learning curve for what endurance racing actually is. I had never seen a car race or understood the culture with fans and drivers, so I watched the feature film Le Mans (Steve McQueen) and Senna, a documentary composed entirely of found footage about Formula 1 driver Ayerton Senna. This all helped to get me into the driver’s seat POV, so to speak.
You mentioned that you and the director had worked together in the past. That must have made things a bit easier?
Sam and I have a great short hand. There was a lot of collaboration back and forth during post. Also, it was great to be on set and see him come back from a location excited to tell me what they just captured and what to keep my eyes open for as I looked through footage.
So you were on set, not near set?
The set was the entire track — 3.74 miles — and the surrounding areas where fans were camped out all weekend. We were set up in a room where media and TV people were stationed, behind the grandstand. I was editing on set with my assistant Christen Nehmer. On several occasions we were able to hop in a golf cart and head out to a location for parts of the shoot. I really couldn’t have done this without her there – she was syncing interviews and logging wild sounds right alongside me so I could focus on pulling selects.
It was essential to be there to have a grasp on where and how everything was shot, and how sound was captured. We were also able to go into the pit area to observe. Having been at a race track for four days, I can now distinguish the sound of a Porsche engine from any other race car!
What was the piece shot on, and how did they come to that specific format/camera?
We had two very agile and talented DPs — Anthony Arendt and Steve Huber — who shot on Sony A7s combined with Atomos Shogun 4K. These cameras are great for their small size and ease with getting around quickly. The footage looks fantastic. And with everything at 4K, I had a lot of opportunity to blow shots up and move around the frame.
When did you start getting footage, and what was the workflow like?
We started getting footage on the second day of the four-day shoot. We were set up near the DIT, and as he transcoded the footage, we would then copy to our drives. We worked off of 15-inch Apple MacBook Pros, running Adobe Premiere CC, with 4TB G-Tech G-RAID Thunderbolt drives.
It was a 12-hour race on Saturday, day four of the shoot, so we had lots of footage trickling in as the day went on. We spent most of Saturday organizing the three days of footage we had already gotten. By Sunday morning, we had everything in hand, which was around 25 hours of footage. Then we got on a plane and flew back to Chicago. Sunday night Christen and Jarrad Quadir, another rockstar Utopic assistant, transferred all the footage over so I could continue editing on Monday without missing a beat. Sam came to town Tuesday and by Thursday we had about a nine-minute working cut.
What kind of direction did you get about the edit?
The race itself was never the focus of the piece. Nor was the goal to sell Porsches. The focus was to tell the human side of motorsports. To let the personal stories unfold, side by side. I knew that the meat of this was going to be the family’s story, followed by the driver, Jörg Bergmeister. With this kind of documentary style, there are always surprises. There was no traditional board or script to work from, so I started with the director’s treatment.
How would you describe your creative process on this one?
I watched every frame before I started laying anything into a timeline. I was extremely disciplined. With 25 hours of footage, it would be tempting to skip through a lot of it, but I made sure to screen everything, pull selects and really just digest all of it. With that amount of footage, I wanted to be sure of everything we had to work with.
Next, I started with Sam’s treatment as my roadmap. Everything in his treatment was captured. It came down to finding the most essential and best moments to tell the family’s story, and to balance that with the driver’s perspective leading up to the race. It was also important to fill it in with cinematic moments — like Jörg shaving and then driving to the track with a fellow race car driver. The goal was to create tension and build up the characters, then end with the beginning of the race.
Was there a part that was most challenging?
I think the challenge was what to do once we got to the actual race! Since it was not a focal point, I wasn’t quite sure how to wrap it all up. I felt like we could just keep building and building. Once I saw what an emotional story we had from the Diaz family, I knew we had to end with that. In fact, Sam discussed it with me on set immediately after he shot it — that was the ending… Javier’s tears. So I definitely had that in mind from the beginning when I started cutting.
The actual race result was a bit of a surprise. Porsche ended up having a rough last hour of the 12 hours and they lost despite holding leads throughout the day. Later in the post process it became important to get their message across, which ultimately ties back into the theme of Enduring Bond. Creating the drama of this losing moment but still maintaining their will to win was a bit of a challenge.
What are you most proud of?
I absolutely love this piece. I’m so thrilled to have been brought into this project by Sam, ADD and CK. I would say I am most proud of the sound design that I built with the variety of elements I had — original music, ambience, pit-to-car radio communication, track announcer voices, wild track audio of the race and sync sound from interviews. It was definitely outside of how I normally work on projects. I really pushed myself to build and layer the audio especially during the rough-cut stage. Then, of course, I worked closely with Brian Leitner, Utopic’s sound designer and music composer.
Can you talk more the music?
Before production we created an original music track, based on direction that Sam had given us. I wanted a track to cut with that could eventually be post scored. Instead of doing a traditional music search or getting hooked on a song from a band or soundtrack, I asked Brian Leitner to create something. It turned out to be an amazing piece of music, and perfect for this film.