Anniversary

A year ago, I wrote the first blog post for WatchMeMakeaMovie.com. It was a minor effort that said very little. I had spent so many hours going through the technical setup of the site that when it finally came time to write something, I started with just a small introduction. It was a simple beginning to a journey I was determined to take. If that journey proved to not to be one of making a film, so be it. It would at least be a worthy attempt.  But even now that the movie is nearing completion, the word "trying" comes to mind often.

Of course the filmmaking process can be trying, but that is not the actual meaning that has been striking me. The kind of trying I am speaking of is that of the attempt.  From the very beginning, I have been trying one thing after another trying to write, trying to fundraise, trying to produce, trying to direct. The reason this has been on my mind as of late is that I look back on the whole process as just a matter of doing all these things. There were tasks before me and I executed them. Simple as that, right?  Well, at this one year anniversary of my chronicling the experience of my first feature film, I am reminded that these were actually all just attempts to do something I hadn't done before. I had no certainty that anything would ever get done. In fact, all I had was the worry that it wouldn't get done.

Well it did get done. So far.

Thanks for following along, everyone. There is still more to come. More obstacles, more work, more trying.

Yawn

"Coffee feels like love." Producer Alex Cendese tells me this as I brew a third pot of coffee for today's/tonight's editorial extravaganza. For the whole week, I've been working with  editor Alex Kopit to refine the current cut of the film. It's been extremely helpful to have someone liberate me from my restrictive knowledge of Final Cut Pro. "Yeah, we can do that" is an amazing thing for a director to hear, and Kopit is generous with the statement. The daily routine has been me and Kopit at my desk in my bedroom with Ryan or Alex producer-ing on their laptops behind us. We break for dinner around 7pm and move the entire operation out to the living room so my wife can sleep. I'm cranky and irritable from start to finish. Not sure why.

 

Much of the focus has been on cleaning up audio, integrating music cues, and generally polishing what's already there. But that's not nearly all. Alex (Kopit) has really opened up the editing process by continuing to ask challenging questions and insisting on trying out every option of an edit. I brought him on for just this reason. I needed some fresh eyes, a boost of energy, and some technical know-how to polish what I already have.

Things are going well. But our schedule is tight. Festival submission deadlines loom and I am moving my life across the country amidst all of this (why not, right?). We are going on our 15th hour for today and there is still plenty to do before I start a DVD compression for a screening tomorrow for my team of producers. No one has really seen the full cut of the film yet. After all, we only finished shooting the thing last Friday. It will be nice to hear a small audience for the current cut.

Everything is coming together very well, but I do feel like it needs more time. It needs not just more time to work and tweak, but time to walk away, think, and return with fresh ideas. There are so many versions of this film that can work and work well, it's just a matter of being specific about each plot point, character, and moment. Without time and without breaks it's incredibly hard to make bold creative decisions because I don't want to risk  wasting time on something that may not work. But taking the time to take these chances is where the good stuff comes out.

The next few days are about tightening the current version of the film in order to diminish technical distractions (sound, edit, color) and make it easier to focus on story. From there, I will be able to take aim on all the other specifics that need to be explored or honed. For now, I am taking aim on my Chock Full O Nuts and hopping back in the edit chair with Kopit.

Editing Notes

Sincere apologies for the absence of posts over the last couple weeks. Things have been even crazier than ever with round the clock editing, prepping for reshoots, and actually taking the time and energy to reshoot. Last week began with a couple of screenings of the rough cut. I was certainly at a point in the editing process where I wanted some fresh eyes on the film, and was eager to have some respected opinions weigh in. One such significant audience was Kate Sanford, the editor of HBO's Boardwalk Empire and The Wire.

Kate was generous enough to have us over to her editing suite at Steiner Studios where she watched the movie with us. She made us popcorn, grabbed a pen and some paper, and watched. Afterwards, she gave us incredibly positive feedback and some very helpful ideas for going further with it.

To my surprise, none of her notes were really technical, but rather character related. Her notes were subtle but very constructive. They were all things that could actually be refined and worked further. She didn't just simply raise issues with parts of the film, she suggested solutions, options, and specific opinions. One particular point she made that resonated with me was how a few subtle tweaks, additions, and/or omissions can have a huge effect on the story and characters. In editing, it is easy to have the urge to edit -- to do, to try, to work. Her angle was to think and to consider. Sounds easy, right? It is!

Thinking about the edit more broadly in terms of character and story can really liberate you from the distractions of the technical edit. I'm certainly finding this to be true now and I am plowing forward. Kate provided a much needed boost of energy. It has put me back in the mind-set I had when I was writing the screenplay, which is thoroughly refreshing. Having reflected on all this, it does seem pretty obvious. I'm sure the more seasoned filmmakers/editors out there are saying "Duh, Seth". But sometimes, people can give very broad notes and reactions that don't provide any constructive insight as to what you can actually do about it. Kate gave specifics and an approach to live by.

Obvious, here I come!

Movie Music

Although we are nowhere near having a locked picture edit, I have begun to explore possibilities for music. This is fun stuff. With original music, the film will really begin to define its tone and hone its ultimate effect on an audience. I like the idea of building a soundtrack of popular music, or at least already-produced music. This would be the soundtrack that I had in my head all along. But such a soundtrack can be limiting, and in some cases impossible. Licensing rights to well-known music can be insanely expensive so it really wasn't/isn't an option. Now, the idea of an original score gives me an opportunity to tailor the music to my film. Not only can I tailor it to the moments and the edit of the picture, but also the orchestration, the vibe, the vocals, etc. Each track can serve a specific purpose to what I need in the edit.

Music tends to be at the forefront of my mind in all stages of the filmmaking process. When I write, I listen to music or at least have specific songs in my head. I can even remember times when  I would be listening to my iPod while walking the streets of New York, get an idea, go home and write a new scene. On set, there were particular songs that I would play for actors and our cinematographer before certain scenes. Some of these songs became a means to direct the action without needing to articulate anything myself.  It can set the tone for a performance or the tempo of a camera move.

A while back,  I began talking with my longtime friends and fellow Kickstarter crowd-funders, Noah and Josh Lit. They are the talented team behind the former Oliver Future and the up-and-coming Noah and the MegaFauna. Noah and I have been kicking ideas back and forth for a few weeks now and are starting to move into laying down some demo tracks for us to test against the current cut of the film. Ultimately, the music will be orchestrated and mixed to the locked picture edit. For now, we are exploring possibilities, tones, sounds, instruments, etc.

While Noah and Josh have distinct tastes and styles, they are very eager to explore a wide range of genres to adequately cover all the bases of the film's musical needs. I'm not even sure what I want the music to sound like. It could go many different ways, but I'll certainly know it when I hear it (What a "bad director" thing to say.... "Bring me ideas and I shall choose!")

Noah recently sent me a little theme that I'm particularly excited about. It's the first idea that's been floated, so I'm  looking forward to what else they might have in store.  More on the music to come!

Shooting Journal - Day 21

With less than a week to scramble everything together, we had an awesome Day 21 in the studio. We shot at Fireproof/Nutroaster Studios in Bushwick and had a grand time. Lots of last-minute pieces had to come together including:

  • Garrett hiring a crew and securing a stage for the day
  • Alex and Ryan buying and assembling and disassembling  and returning a table from Ikea
  • David pulling upwards of ten outfits for actor wardrobe
  • Alex finding an actor to play our Interviewer, losing him and then finding another actor
  • Nicole flying Brian back to NY from the UK for 12 hours to shoot
  • Me writing and rewriting and hoping no one gets upset about the last-minute new material

Everything went famously. The vibe on set was the most relaxed of the entire shoot by far. The crew and production team were able to set everything up, sit back, and watch the actors work. Because our lighting and set were going to be the same for the run of the day, we set up a few rows of chairs behind the monitor and everyone sat and enjoyed the performances. 

Speaking of performances, I feel like I should have charged admission to the shoot. To watch Brian Cox and Bill Sage sitting at a table working for six hours is exactly the kind of thing I would pay top dollar for. Bill was our last-minute savior for the Interviewer (a small but awesome part, I think) and he really took all of the scenes to their full potential. Brian had actually worked with Bill before so they had a bit of a report together.

 

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We shot 6-8 takes of each scene with two sizes. We changed lenses only once and I am thrilled with that decision. For 95% of the day we stayed with the 35mm and switched to a 50mm only for the final shot. If I had to pick a single lens to live with for an entire film shoot, It'd probably be  the 35mm.

Technical hiccups reared their ugly heads as they always do on a low-budget shot. We had a couple of issues with some corrupt sound files, but we are sorting that out now. We also had a pain-in-the-ass fly that would fly into frame whenever the take was really great.  That's all though.

After the wrapping the film shoot. We transitioned to a still photo setup, where I took photos of Harold in various different outfits to be used in the film. We used a simple 2 light setup against a gray seamless backdrop. We fired all of those off  within about 20 minutes and then called it a day. A very good day.

Revving Up Again

A couple of days ago, we had a mini-production meeting for our remaining two shoot days. Specifically, we focused on our studio day coming. This coming week, will be on a small sound stage in Brooklyn to film several scenes in an interview setting. This will be a completely different vibe from the rest of the film, both creatively and logistically. The look will be simple and stark, with a deliberate  "TV" aesthetic. The logistics will be simple and clean, with a small crew of about ten or so people. The lighting setup will be basic, the camera will not move, and only one character will be seen.

The additional task for the day will be to shoot some staged stills of the character to be used in the film. This should be quick, simple, and fun. The real work will be done in Photoshop later on.

We've been planning our lives around this shoot day for many months now, so part of me can't believe that we are actually going to get there (knock on wood, please). After working for six weeks or so on the edit, I am desperate to integrate these remaining scenes to tie the whole story together. When writing and shooting the film, I never thought that this single day of shooting would be so essential to telling this story. The nice part of shooting these connective scenes after spending some time in the edit, is that I have a much clearer sense of what I need. I know what I'm after with the character and performance. Hopefully one day is enough to capture it. I think it will be plenty.

Beyond this upcoming shoot day, we are waiting on a location and date for the remaining tidbit scene for the film. All we need is a theatre with a stage and a set we can borrow for 2 hours. Some irons are in the fire, but we'll just have to see how things pan out. Beyond securing the time and place, this will be the simplest thing to shoot. More on that as I have it.

First Assembly

The past week has been busy with work, editing, syncing, and life in general. The hard work came to a head over the weekend when I powered through the last few scenes in my film and completed the first assembly. The hard part is over.

I sat down to watch the assembly after dinner last night. I initially thought I'd watch with a pen and paper and take thorough noted on any and all thoughts, but I quickly thought better of it. I knew it was a given that every scene would need to be revisited and re-edited, so why try and address the minutia this point? I decided to pay attention only to overall impressions. After all, that is really all that matters when someone asks a movie-goer, "What did you think of that movie?"

I was admittedly a little apprehensive, and wasn't really in the mood to watch a story I've already lived with for so many months. I felt like already knew the problems I had with this assembly and that I'd prefer to just jump in and shape it into a true rough cut. So I sat down, watched, and listened and was surprised at some of my reactions.

  • The story moves fast. Maybe too fast. Need to give the characters (and us) time to breath and enjoy the world of it.
  • We are still missing some of the biggest elements of the story (to be shot on our pickup day next month. Hard to judge certain things until that's in there.
  • I love the moments of silence. Silence can be funnier that dialogue.
  • Some characters need some shaping in the edit. SPecial consideration should be paid to what we learn about characters and when.
  • Overall, the film looks pretty slick. We squeezed a tremendous amount of production value into this otherwise tiny package.
So now the fun part begins. Within this imperfect assembly, there are the bones of my film. In some cases, bones will be swapped out for better ones, but the overall structure is there. Now, I can focus on shaping the content and deciding exactly how to present the story. The plan is to hammer out at least two legitimate cuts of the film before we shoot the missing scenes. From there, I will drop in the new stuff and do a general touch up. Lastly, I will run the edit by some editors who may have some worthwhile insight to any problem areas there may be. 
That's the plan. That's where I am. More soon!