Completed Driggs Mansion documentary in GJ filmmaker’s sights

Completed Driggs Mansion documentary in GJ filmmaker's sights

Mara Ferris, a local environmental filmmaker, has spent hours editing interviews and footage for her documentary on the re-stabilization work at the historic Driggs Mansion, located off Colorado Highway 141 between Whitewater and Gateway.



This is the final in a series of stories following local environmental filmmaker Mara Ferris as she works on a video chronicling the re-stabilization of the Driggs Mansion on the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. Ferris is making the video for the Western Colorado Interpretive Association. The first two stories in the series can be read at

Mara Ferris sat cross-legged on her office chair, elbows rested on the desktop, staring at a 25-inch, high definition Apple monitor.

Over and over again, Ferris, an environmental documentarian, listened to the interviews and watched the video she collected, making first cuts, second cuts, third cuts, etc., on her editing program of choice: Final Cut Studio.

“It’s a pretty powerful program,” Ferris said.

The Western Colorado Interpretive Association hired Ferris last fall to chronicle the re-stabilization of the historic Driggs Mansion, located off Colorado Highway 141 between Whitewater and Gateway. The local filmmaker responded by shooting more than 11 hours of footage.

The final video, however, needs to be five minutes long, and Ferris has spent the past two months editing. It is the final stage in her filmmaking process.

“In my process, the way I work, editing is when it comes together,” Ferris said. “It’s the part of the process I love the most.”

Ferris edits in her studio, a room in her Grand Junction home. In that one room, she stores all her video on a hard drive and uses one computer screen with external speakers to turn hours of footage into a finished product.

Ferris started the editing process by writing an outline with the main themes to address and important topics to highlight. Then, she logged more than 11 hours of footage, separating all usable interviews, photographs, etc., in folders to access later. She kept all footage with optimum quality and content and trashed everything else.

Throughout the making of the video, Ferris returned to the footage folders countless times in a seemingly never-ending routine of thinning down hours of video.

“Do I really need that?” Ferris asked.

“Will I really use this?”

“Does this fit the story I’m trying to tell?”

Ferris repeatedly made tough decisions about what to use and what not to use.

She started with interviews because “they are the way I tell the story,” Ferris said.

For example, when making the initial cut of Tom Carr’s interview, Ferris listened intently with one hand on the mouse ready to click and cut. She eliminated clips with her voice first because, well, “I get tired of hearing my voice.”

Then, Ferris further edited audio clips that offered nothing of value. But Carr, an archeologist and grant program manager for History Colorado, which helped fund the re-stabilization effort, had an interesting perspective.

“In only three minutes, I’m pleased with it,” Ferris said. “I like the sound. I like the look. This is a really good interview. There are some good sound bites.”

She repeated the editing routine on nearly one dozen other interviews.

“You learn so much,” Ferris said.

In addition to interviews, Ferris had to edit hours of raw, natural footage, which Ferris called B-roll. Ferris first saved the clips with the highest quality. Then, she saved clips that physically showed the things that were talked in the interviews.

Because the editing process requires so much attention to detail, she reserved plenty of time for it after she finished shooting the bulk of the video in November. “I used to be hard on myself, about getting done, but eight hours of staring at a computer intensely,” doesn’t work, at least at the beginning, she said.

Once Ferris hit the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, she worked in longer, focused stretches to refine the video.

Her husband, Joe Neuhof, executive director for Colorado Canyons Association, frequently is her most critical editor, no matter the project.

“Once she kind of has a skeleton together is when I’ll first come in ... and give her overall feedback on how the story flows, if anything’s missing or doesn’t fit,” Neuhof said. “When she gets closer to having a final product, she’ll have me come in again for a more detailed look” at audio levels, grammar and other more specific things.

Admittedly, Ferris, an environmental documentarian for nearly 10 years, continues to learn lessons about filmmaking and stories about interesting places, particularly historical places such as Driggs Mansion.

“I think she’s really enjoyed this project,” Neuhof said. “She likes the historical documentary genre a lot. She’s pretty excited to work on telling the story of our local history.”

Up next for Ferris is finishing a project for the Conservation Lands Foundation involving a video about its conference attendants. She also has two future assignments scheduled with the interpretive association, and a larger project with the Western Slope ATV Association in the spring or early summer.

The public can view the finished Driggs Mansion project video at the association’s website in March or attend the association’s annual meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 14 at the Bill Heddles Recreation Center in Delta. Three of Ferris’ documentaries will be screened at that meeting: the Driggs Mansion re-stabilization video, The Hanging Flume reconstruction video and the longer “Stories from the Land: The Northern Dolores River Valley,” said Christ Miller, the association’s executive director.


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