Elizabeth Klinck and the “Tingle Principle”

Elizabeth Klinck (Left) accepting the FOCAL Lifetime Achievement Award from Sir David Putnam. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Klinck.

This post originally appeared as a DOC Member Spotlight.

“Digging, digging, digging.” That’s what visual researcher Elizabeth Klinck identifies as one of the key aspects of her job. At once hunter-gatherer and artistic collaborator, Klinck works with filmmakers to source and secure images that will complement their final work. What does this include? Klinck tracks down anything from photographs to Hollywood film clips to satellite images to logos. “Everything that you have not shot yourself as a filmmaker,” she explains.

Although visual research might be an under-the-radar role, Klinck has always been curious about graphic material. (“When people would be showing slides of their vacations, I was always the one that said ‘let’s look at them’ when other people would be going ‘ehn,’” she explains.) She was first drawn to visual research while working at the Winnipeg Film Group in the early 1980s, then honed her craft at the National Film Board, where she spent four years as a researcher.

As a freelancer, Klinck now services clients from around the world via her desk in Collingwood, Ontario. Recent credits include How to Change the World (2015), a feature-length documentary charting the founding of Greenpeace; an episode for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series about Ben Johnson; Jamie Kastner’s The Secret Disco Revolution (2012); John Walker’s Arctic Defenders (2013), and Stories We Tell (2012), Sarah Polley’s acclaimed cinematic memoir. While Klinck occasionally jumps onto an assignment to source a last-minute visual wish list, her work is often integral to a film’s development. She says her best relationships happen when filmmakers engage her in a project at the early stages—so her research can help shape the narrative and aesthetic.

“It’s nice to be part of the whole organic process from the very beginning to the end,” she says, “So you’re really bringing in imagery that will be complementary to the filmmaker’s style and to their story. But also trying to find something that hasn’t been seen before, that will bring something new to their character development. That’s part of the fun.”

This sense of fun reflects Klinck’s knack for sleuthing. To locate various visual elements, she uses a assortment of sources: books, radio docs, news footage, and public and private archives (including one collection that just contains storm footage) are all among her investigative arsenal, plus YouTube, Google images, and the gamut of resources available online. For Klinck, gratification comes from the “tingle principle“—the feeling she gets when she knows she’s landed a gem.

“I think the most rewarding aspect of my job would be finding something that I just know will absolutely delight the filmmaker that I’m working with,” she says, “The footage almost becomes a character in their film. That gives me a lot of delight.”

Teacher and Advocate
Klinck’s enthusiasm for her work has driven her to become both a teacher and an advocate within her field. In addition to regularly leading workshops on research and copyright, she is also founding chairperson of the Visual Researchers’ Society of Canada (VRSC), which has grown from 5 to 98 members since its launch in 2005. Another sign visual research is on the rise: the Canadian Screen Awards recently added honours for Best Editorial Research and Best Visual Research to their list of accolades. “It a bit of my life’s pursuit to have that role recognized,” Klinck says, “And it’s been very satisfying.”

On Klinck’s current plate? A biopic about Frank Zappa—she says that music docs, while rare, might be her favourite genre—works-in-progress with Canadian documentarians (and fellow DOC members) Jennifer Baichwal and John Walker, and a project for a new client out of Iceland. It’s a detail-oriented juggling act, but tenacity is part of the game for those in Klinck’s discipline. As she puts it: “A slightly compulsive behaviour is probably not a bad thing.”

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