Picture Lock

In this long week before the winter holidays, I've been combing through the edit one last time going over scenes, moments, and performances with perhaps more scrutiny then I've yet done. We are locking our edit tomorrow and delivering he remaining media and XML file to our colorist/on-line editor, Seth. Once we conform the edit to the original RAW footage, we are pretty much committed to all the edits of the film. That's it. No more changes. No more tweaking. No more testing things out to see if they hold up. I've had a list of notes from myself and Alex Kopit that I've been working through  and each new adjustment I make has me reflecting a great deal. These past two weeks, if I had a new thought or an idea of how a scene might play better, I'd put in the hours to retool it and then play it back  against what I already had. Most of the time, I would end up going with the original edit and remembering how I had arrived there in the first place. The edit is becoming cyclical! I think that is as good a sign as any that it is time to move on.

Of course, there are the odd tweaks here and there that have had significant impacts on how things play and I'm baffled that I've only noticed them this late in the game. All in all, this final pass is just about refining the film as a whole and making sure that I can squeeze as much as I can onto the screen in the way I had envisioned once upon a time.

I have mixed feelings here. It's hard to accept that the story-telling part of the process is done. When I was writing, I took comfort in the fact that I could make new discoveries while shooting. When shooting, I took comfort in the fact that I could make new discoveries while editing. Now that I've completed the edit, that's all there is to discover. It is what it is aside from color and sound and music. Obviously those things will have a big impact on the final product, but the story is there. The things we see will be the things we see.

The flip side to this sense of finality is the supreme sense of accomplishment: We are completing a very cool movie. It's the culmination of a year's worth of work and lifetime of of collective ambitions. I am also eager to have a finished product to submit to and screen at festivals.

There is plenty of work yet to do with the movie until we have a final sound mix, color, etc. But with the editing done...well, I don't have to edit anymore. That will free up my time for other producery tasks as well as permit me to begin working on my next project. Naturally, there will be plenty of blogging along the way.

Happy Holidays!

Watch Me Watch Some Movies

In the breaks between working on Blumenthal, I've been devouring as many of this year's independent films as possible. I often watch movies in search of inspiration as much as I do for entertainment, and at this point in the post process, I feel I could use a little boost. I still have a lot to see still including some of the higher profile ones including The Artist and Shame. There have been a couple of films that have really stood out to me, though. Mainly because they are breaths of fresh air in relation to my own material. Ironically, I've been turning to much weightier material than that of my own recent work. By weightier, I'm really referring more to the mood of the films than the subject matter  itself.  The following aren't so much reviews as much as they are  just me sharing what is moving me to continue my own work at this point in the process.

A few weeks ago, I received a screener DVD of Jeff Nichols's Take Shelter.  The film is a slow burn of a man's descent into apparent paranoia with his family and his nagging premonition of an apocalyptic storm approaching. Nichols and his cast do a terrific job with a fairly simple yet substantial story. He's extremely deliberate with what he shows you and how he shows it. Subtlety and restraint are demonstrated in every shot and the more heightened moments of drama never have to work too hard to have an impact on the viewer. I was so intrigued by the film, that I sought out Nichols's first feature, "Shotgun Stories". I liked it even more.

Made for very little money (still more than Blumenthal), the film follows a family feud in small-town America. The writing is superb, specifically the character development. Nichols has an important gift of showing compassion and sympathy for all of his characters, good guys and bad. With that solid foundation, his actors, cinematographer, and designers have a wealth of specific choices to make and the support they need to make a really good movie.

The other film I stumbled upon on the flight back to LA from NY was Mike Mills' second film, The Beginners. First,  let it be said that an airplane is a terrible place to watch a movie. The sound and picture couldn't be worse and the seats are anything but comfortable. Even with these elements working against it, The Beginners really landed with me. With a story that could easily have been told in a conventional narrative, Mills consistently makes inspired choices with how he conveys the action and mood of the film.

The movie is filled with sad characters that search desperately for love in whatever way they know how. But Mills doesn't let this bring you down, he fills the movie with humor, light, and grounded reality. It had me hooked in mid-air, and got me all sorts of excited to come back and work on my own film. The Beginners was also shot on the RED One like Blumenthal, so I was also interested in the picture quality and overall aesthetic.

Lastly, I saw Sean Durkin's first feature,  Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene. Some really impressive work in there. Two scenes in particular were brilliantly bone-chilling. But, I have to give a huge shout out to my producer, Garrett P. Fennelly and his/my Act Zero team who worked on that film. Terrific costume work from our own David Tabbert as well. Congrats, guys!

So while watching movies isn't really an active part of me making my own movie, it certainly is integral. At different points in the process, I tend to focus on different elements of other movies, depending on what part of the process I am currently in. Now that I am nearing the end of the edit,  I'll soak up anything and everything I can latch onto for inspiration, particularly when it comes to the tone of a film.

Most of what is out there in the indie-sphere right now is a good deal darker than the film I've been making. But when a film edit is handled well and the tone is set from the first frame of the film, there is a universal skill at work there. This is the craft of shaping the final product that I am interested in at present. In other words, what is the final hand that serves up the movie and tells us how to take it in? As we move into more music, color, and sound work I can't wait to further define the world of Passing Harold Blumenthal.

Title Design

The past month has been  a mix of strategizing the remainder of post-production and sending off the first wave of festival submissions. I'll talk specifics as much as I can, but for now I wanted to share a bit about our title design.

Opening titles or credits for a film can be awesome, exciting, fancy, boring, forgettable, complicated, or simple. When I wrote the screenplay for Passing Harold Blumenthal, I wrote down the specific point where the opening titles came up. I even described briefly how they would be presented. Ultimately, we went a slightly different route. As the we prepped and shot the film, Zak and I discussed some different ideas of how we might set the tone with a simple, yet effective opening sequence.  We grabbed some footage for this purpose on the tail-end of a lighter day in Midtown and chopped it up in the editing room. For the rough cut of the film, I made some basic (lame) titles in Final Cut Pro. But footage and music alone weren't enough to set the tone. The titles themselves needed to be much more specific.

Once I landed in LA, I was chatting with my filmmaking friend Adam Nee who I asked for references to title designers. He pointed no further than his older brother and co-conspirator, Aaron. Aaron runs a motion graphics company G.R.O.W. with offices in LA and Boston. I called Aaron and told him about the project and shared a cut of the film with him. He gave me his thoughts based on what he saw and what I wanted and we took it from there. Amidst more talking, I told him the sort of sensibility I wanted the sequence to have and the sort of vibe I wanted from the font. He then sent me a bunch of samples and gave his ideas and input as well. I've seen a couple low-res demos of the work-in-progress and everything is looking rather awesome. Simple to be sure,  but awesome. It's amazing how effective even the placement and size of a title can be. Title design is it's own amazing art form to be sure.

The other titles that need doing are some "fake" titles of a TV program within the film. This calls for some cheesy creativity, and with the exception of some required photos that must be integrated, I'm letting Aaron surprise me a little on this one.  I've seen one mockup of this one so far, and I'm eager to tie it all together in the edit.

All of this is has really had me focused on the issue of tone. Not just for the titles, but for the film they are supposed to reflect. These final stages of post are all fine-tuning that tone in every way possible. Whether it's music setting the mood or color setting the look, these last details aren't just to polish the product, but to tell people exactly how to consume it. While the edit of the picture is nearly locked, I have a feeling that these next several weeks will really add a lot to the film.

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.

Watching People Watch My Movie

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we've held a few small screenings of the film as we've made our way through the edit. While a large part of me wants to keep the film under wraps (at least for now), I'm finding that sharing it with others can be a huge help.

Before leaving New York, I held one final screening for my producers and creative team to see where everything stood. It went very well, but the audience was basically family. So, I decided to hold a screening for less a less biased group.

While traveling through Texas visiting family, I held a last-minute screening for a crowd less affiliated with the project. It was terrific. I had a great time watching people watch my movie. I'm not just listening for laughs, but watching for fidgeting, smiles, sleeping, grunts of approval, and even recoils in shock. I learned where things worked, where they were  a little slow, where things landed, and where things didn't land. After the screening, I asked some questions to get a pulse on some particular elements and angles I'd been concerned about. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive, I finished the screening with only a bunch of tiny tweaks here and there. Surprisingly enough (or not) the next cut felt very different and marked a huge step forward in the edit. During the pass, I actually ended up re-ordering a good deal of the scenes in the third act of the film. The thing is running so smoothly now that I'm starting to run out of things to tweak and touch up. The more I watch it, the more I want to surprise myself and re-do something. Ultimately, I will be doing some more test screenings in the near future before making any major changes.

Quick Catch Up!

 The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of work and life. Amidst all of the scrambling to meet our first festival deadline, I picked up and moved to Los Angeles. Why not? The timing couldn't have been worse or better. Moving is never easy, but momentum is key and California marks a relevant step forward. There are still picture edits to be made as well as a polished title sequence and VFX.  After we lock picture, we will move into our color grade and sound mix.  For now, the next major task ahead is finishing up the score for Blumenthal. Conveniently, my composers are based in Los Angeles so the nitty gritty of working that out will be much easier than it has been. I'm incredibly excited about the music for this film. It blends the old with the new and rocks a terrific main theme. Noah and the Megafauna (helmed by brother songwriters Noah and Josh Lit) have created a unique sound that threads this crazy story together really well.

This month marks the beginning of film festival submission madness, so I'll definitely have a post on that topic soon. We've also been holding small screenings here and I've got plenty to share about that experience, too. Now that the heating and plumbing are working in my new place, I can get back into the groove of blogging to you good people!

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.