Creating an interlude in a documentary film is, for me, about creating space.

I usually want to create a space for a transition between acts or themes, for example. You may be asking: But isn’t the transition itself this “space” of which you speak? Well, no. I’m using the concept of “space” to indicate a place where a particular thematic goal that I wish to achieve occurs in a documentary film.

An interlude helps me bring the audience out of one way of thinking and feeling into another way of thinking and feeling by way of a route I create – a space I create – in the film.

There are, obviously, many other reasons to use interludes.

For example, interludes can also be used to tell a powerful visual story as an extended sequence. In other words, give your audience a break from words – especially when you have strong visuals that get the job done. I’ve used interludes for this reason, too.

While an interlude can be a transition, not all transitions are interludes because “interlude” denotes an intervening period of time. Transitions are typically fleeting. When they move beyond fleeting, we have entered the space of interlude.

How long should an interlude last? The answer depends entirely on the story you’re telling and the journey you wish your audience to make.

I prefer musical interludes with cues written or chosen, specifically for the audience’s journey to make across space in the frame. Now is not the time for talking.


You’ll see two interludes in the example video. The first is from the latest film by Carbon Trace Productions called A Vietnam Peace Story. It is the transition between acts 2 and 3.  In act 2, the former Marines traveling to Vietnam visit tourist sites and interact with the Vietnamese people. But act 3 is about visiting the site of a desperate battle that affects them deeply, even traumatically, to this day. I want the audience to finish processing what they have seen in act 2: Vietnam is a place and a people and no longer a war.

The concluding shot of the transition – the time-lapse of Hanoi at night – contrasts with and leads into the close-up of checking the map at the amphibious landing site where the men first entered Vietnam. I like that movement from the concluding, establishing shot to the detail. I like the finality of the concluding shot and how it works naturally with a fade to black.

The second interlude is a work in progress for an experimental documentary short about riding Trans-Siberian Railroad.

I’m using this interlude for the second reason I stated above: to create a short visual story. The interlude is illustrating some of the things the subjects are talking about preceding and following the interlude. I’m using the interlude instead of b-roll over the short interview sections in part because – on the bumpy train with the ever-changing natural light and constant train ambient – the interviews are visually interesting in themselves. I chose classical music by a Russian composer and slowed all the footage to create a dream-like, memory-like feel. The concluding shot of the guy moving back into his cabin will take us back into a cabin to speak with the subjects.

The first interlude has been precisely timed because the music was written specifically for the interlude. Since there’s no budget for original music for a short, experimental film, I chose music from our stock service, and I am editing to fit the music. As you can see (hear), I have more work to do.



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