Friday, December 11, 2009

6th Cut Finished!

Wow. That was fast.

The other day, the film's editor, Beth, and I sat down to watch the pickups and edit the film one more time. We were done with everything in about 3 hours.

Why? Because we rock it like that.

First I watched the much dreaded pick-ups. But there was no dread. The pick-ups looked amazing, thanks to our amazing cast and crew. As usual, Beth cut them in a way I had not even anticipated while shooting -- and of course it was better than what I had imagined. We had a quick discussion about sound design for the scene, matching the cut to our ideas about the sound design, smoothed out the transitions between the other scenes, and presto! We had seamlessly integrated the pick-ups with the rest of the film!

Then we watched the film, scribbling our notes throughout... and we were kind of taken aback that we didn't have any major notes for the film. The only notes I had were tweaking sound design here and there. Beth had some notes make a polished fine cut on a few edit points. We incorporated our notes and called it a day.

Yesterday, Beth met with her mentor Norm. He suggested a few quick little tweaks to the pick-ups and a few scene transitions that streamline the film, and I agree with all of his notes.

And this weekend, we export the film and have our last test screening. BAM. This picture is soft-locked, baby!

I'm totally amazed at the sheer magnitude of progress this film has experienced from the past 6 cuts in 4 months. I am so deeply grateful to Beth for lifting this material to the next level and higher, making the film exponentially better than either of us could have dreamed of on our own. She has helped me grow as a director and a human being, all the while making "Another Life" into a riveting and powerful short film. Also, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to everyone who lent us their eyes, ears, hearts, and minds in watching early cuts of the film and giving constructive feedback in shaping a rough cut into the polished gem it is today. So to the cast, crew, supporters, and fans of "Another Life," thank you. We could not have enjoyed this much success so early without you.

So that's it for 2009! See you after New Year's when we polish the final cut, hard-lock the picture for good, and move into sound design! Happy holidays!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pick-Ups Shot and onto 6th Cut!

Egad, it's been a while. Because I've been up to so much:
  • enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving vacataion!
  • locked our sound crew!
  • shot our pick-ups!
  • jumped back into editing!
  • and got an internship in a TV series writer's room!
And much success and progress was enjoyed by all!

My thanksgiving vacation was cut short when we lost our location for our pick-ups, I had a 24-hour deadline to find one more sound designer for our team or else we wouldn't be allowed to continue on to the sound design semester, and I had to turn in 12 documents filled-out and signed -- all in one day. So I spent that day on the phone in front of the computer, much to the annoyance of my vacationing family members, and after a lot of work, lo and behold I had a full sound design team and all my paperwork turned in!

Later that week, the full sound design team met with Rich, the head honcho of the sound post-production facilities, and he approved all the sound designers and our schedule, gave us a brief talk-through of the sound design process, and we were greenlit! I'm so proud of my team! I can't wait to work with them in January!

But actually, to be honest, during that meeting I was mostly stressed out of my mind planning for the pick-ups. We ran through a five different locations, two camera houses, a different script, a different production design for the scene, a scare with the loss of cast/crew, running around and changing permits and insurance paperwork less than 24 hours before shoot... pretty stressful... but it all came together in the end.

And the shoot was such a breeze! It was like getting back on a bicycle. We all seemed to fall back into our rhythms of happily working together. Once we started shooting, it only took us about two hours and then we started packing to leave. Working with such talented and amiable filmmakers is so great.

Yesterday, I met with the film's editor, Beth, for the first time in almost 10 days. Kind of weird to admit that it felt too long to be apart. We're so used to seeing each other every other day!

Over the break, Beth tried two things to much success: slowing down the first flashback and taking out two lines of dialogue in the garage poker scene. In the first flashback, just that slight change, and we feel like we're watching Angela falling in love. In the garage poker scene, we don't even miss the lines of dialogue and it streamlines the scene, straight into Doug pushing Angela around and controlling her.

I had a few notes here and there, just tweaks to the overall film: trying titles over the first flashback, changing a take in the garage poker scene to add to Angela's panic, giving some air between scene transitions, and shortening the ending. Beth also had a Fine Cut meeting with her mentor, apparently a great session on how to polish *every* *cut* and so after we revised a scene from my notes, she took a fine tooth comb to the scene, worked on every edit point... and the scene was ten times better but I couldn't put my finger on what was different.

Guess why? Every. Frame. Counts.

You ought to know that one by now.

We're inserting the pick-ups on Wednesday! And we have our final test screening this weekend! Wish us luck and stay tuned!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

5th Cut Finished!

This morning, Beth and I watched the film, discussed a few things, tried a few things... and then we were done before lunch.

I love days like these.

After reviewing the cut, we found that the only problem areas were the transitions between the flashbacks and the present. We put in just a little more time after the flashbacks, resting longer with Angela's reaction in the present... and the rest just flowed. Also, we finessed some of the music and sound in key scenes and slightly modified the beginning scene-let, just to bring up the level of emotion that much more.

We also covered some essential business: ideas for the pick-ups, preparations for screenings and meetings, and some initial plans for the transition from winter break to picture lock on January 10th.

Run time? 15min57sec!

I will be on Thanksgiving break next week, but this weekend we'll be having a test screening, and over Thanksgiving break, we'll lock our sound crew and prep for pick-ups. So stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

5th Cut Almost Done!

So over the weekend, Beth, my editor, incorporated all of our outlined notes into a rough cut. I met with her yesterday... and after 4 hours of work, we have a new cut.

Are we that good? Really?

So the overall idea for the new cut was to develop a new structure of interspersing the Angela's flashbacks to her traumatic war experiences throughout to put Angela's moral dilemma in context with her survivor's guilt, bringing us closer in line with her mental and emotional experience.

The majority of our work was smoothing out the transitions between the flashbacks and the present-day scenes, putting in temp ADR lines of dialogue that make these new juxtapositions really resonate, putting in some new material, and then revising some dirtier edit points in the balcony and final scenes. And then Beth found some fantastic ways to trim down some overlong scenes without taking out any story or much dialogue really.

We were kind of amazed that after all our work, we watched the whole film through, and we were pretty damn pleased with it. So we decided to step away, get some fresh perspective on this intermediate cut, review it on our own, and meet again on Thursday with new notes to revise and put finishing touched on the 5th cut.

Oh yeah, and the run time now is 15min56sec!

Maybe we just are that good.

I'm also keeping VERY busy preparing for pick-ups and meeting with sound designers. But stay tuned as we finish the 5th Cut on Thursday and have a cut screening this weekend!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Screenings and Meetings and Mentors, Oh My!

This past Sunday, my editor Beth and I screened the 4th Cut for a very small audience...

We got some very hard notes. Very hard. It's always difficult to hear people you deeply respect as fellow filmmakers tear your film apart.

Screening your film is like standing naked amongst a room of strangers and hear them tell you exactly what parts of your anatomy they hate and want to change.

So I spent the past few days doing a lot of soul-searching... re-connecting with the core of the film, what it means to me and its intended audience... conceiving plans for shooting pick-ups... trying to find the right way to improve the film and ultimately make a movie that people will enjoy watching...

So after developing some elaborate plans for pick-ups and re-editing techniques, I met with Beth's editing mentor, Norm... and he brought us back down to Earth.

We do NOT need to drastically re-edit the film

We do NOT need to drastically re-shoot the film.

A long conversation with Norm helped us figure out a new structure for the flashbacks -- every time we see Angela on the verge of making a critical decision, we cut back to another piece of her experience in Iraq -- that will engage us more with Angela, make us sympathize and understand her all the more, and pull us into the emotion of the film.

There are some essential tweaks to the first scene to shape the tone, but most importantly, to make Angela's dilemma more clear and accessible. We also need to smooth out some transitions and add some temp sound design to enhance the emotion in some scenes.

And a One Day Shoot pick-up of Angela outside her door.

And that's it. Great notes from great mentors are SO great.

Beth and I had a State of the Cut meeting after all the notes sessions, and after a strangely short discussion, we found that we had just put together a pretty cohesive outline for the 5th Cut's new structure.

Beth will take the weekend to cut the film to this new outline. So stay tuned for Monday, when we'll get back to cutting together!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

4th Cut Finished!


Today, my editor Beth and I finished the 4th Cut! Hooray!

I came to Beth's editing suite this morning to a happy surprise -- she had already started work on Scene #15: Angela and Scott share their war experiences over dinner. She cut out 20 minutes, trimming the fat of the scene... and it works really well. Each moment feels just right and the scene just flows right along.

Then there was the always the dreaded climax, Scene #16: Angela pulls a gun on Scott. I came in expecting major surgery on this scene... and it didn't need it. I was just over-stressed from the thought of pick-ups and over-analyzing the scene. Beth found a great solution: she trimmed down the lingering moments on Scott, so there was an even amount of time on both Scott and Angela, and a natural pacing and organic suspense took over the scene. With this faster rhythm, the ending with Angela staring down Scott at her feet in near silence had us at the edge of our seats -- and with the small tweak of focusing on Angela's close-up when she pulls the trigger... shocking... powerful... We put the wide shot over the top of the scene to orient the audience, shaped a few edit points, and it was done!

Scene #17: Angela runs into Kaylie. Didn't touch it. Perfect.

Now Scene #18: Angela smashes her apartment needed some significant changes. A lot of the footage in this scene rhymed with footage we cut out of the film -- footage mostly on Angela's back, packing, falling apart, drinking, smashing the glass, throwing pots and pans, throwing papers, tearing apart all the pictures on the walls... and it was just too much. The scene felt too long and overstayed its welcome. Beth and I tried a lot of stuff, and a lot of stuff didn't work... but then we found a way to cut from Kaylie to Angela in the kitchen drinking, then smashing up her kitchen, and a powerful new close up of Angela stopping in her tracks and staring at the picture of Tom... we left the rest of the scene as is with a new piece of the final close up at the end... and damn, what a riveting ending...

We re-mixed some sound, shaped some cuts, and that was it!

Oh yeah, and the new and improved run time is 16min33sec -- we cut out 2 minutes and 45 seconds since the last cut! BAM!

Stay tuned for a long week of screenings and notes! Posting soon!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

4th Cut Almost Done!

What a session! 14 out of 19 scenes finished!

Yesterday, my editor Beth and I picked up where we left off at the Scene #5: Angela meets Scott. We took one more pass over it, Beth doing all the hard work cleaning up edits and shaping cuts. Trying to incorporate a note to linger on Angela longer, we added a few more frames of Angela listening to Scott's pick-up monologue... and she gives this evocative, emotional glance to him...

Every. Single. Frame. Counts.

On to Scene#6: Angela stalks Scott at home... major restructuring here. We re-shaped the scene to focus it from Angela's point of view. We dropped the classic intercutting suspense structure and just went from Angela leaving her car, marching up to Scott's window, seeing him inside, getting her gun out -- the machine-like speed with which she prepares to kill him is so much more real and suspenseful. Plus, the sound of a gun cocking at the window really works!

And for Scene#7: Scott sees Angela outside Kaylie's room... we cut it. Instead, we ended the scene on Angela's face, staring longingly at the heartwarming scene between . Not only an emotionally effective cut, but it brings us deeper into line with experience of Angela's dilemma: she can't do this, but she has to.

Then for Scene #8: Angela prepares to kill Scott. This scene wasn't working. With this new organic structure, we felt emotionally sucked into Angela's experience: following him, liking him, going ahead with anyway, seeing him with his daughter, then unable to do it...

But then we don't have anything that pushes Angela back into trying to kill Scott. We need some reminder of Doug's hold on Angela's life. A story beat that shakes Angela to her core, lets her know that Doug could kill her right now if he wanted to...

It's just not in the footage. So we have to do pick-ups.

That's right. Pick-ups. More on that later.

As for Scene #9: Angela and Scott connect over war experiences... we could barely touch a frame of their conversation. It was near perfect. We tightened a few moments in the beginning that felt overlong, cut out an extraneous line of dialogue, but this scene is working so well... my heart wells up every time I see it.

Scene #10: Angela starts to fall for Scott over drinks. This started to feel like, "Hey Audience! Here's the love montage!" And that's probably because the music fades in strong right at the top of the scene. We tried hearing the start of the conversation, watching Scott gush over Kaylie, how it plays on Angela's face, and then fading out Scott's dialogue and gently bringing in the music... just magical.

Moving on! Scene #11: Scott asks Angela out on a date. Near perfect. Just some shaping and trimming here to boil the scene down to a size that matches the pacing of the other shortened scenes... god, I'd go out with Scott if he asked me like that!

Now Scene #12: Angela prepares for the date has some major structural changes. Instead of talking to Scott on the phone, she's talking to Doug -- telling him that she will be going over to Scott's house tonight and "getting it done."

Then, when Angela finishes her make-up in the bathroom -- HERE is when she flashes back to Tom's death in Iraq. We tried so many different ways about it: what pieces of the flashback to use, what sound design to use as an audio flashback... but when we found the right pieces of the performance of Angela in the present alone in the bathroom, synced up with gunfire and shouting, and bringing us right into the moment Tom dies in Angela's arms... really powerful. Wow.

Scene #13: Doug threatens Angela. Again, near perfect. This just needed some trimming.

Scene #14: Scott invites Angela in for dinner with Doug outside. We cut out all the flashbacks here and put them into Scene #12. This is *so* much more effective as we get a real sense of Angela's terror and conflict, that she's stuck inside here with this loving, caring father who is prosecuting Doug as a district attorney, and she can't leave until she kills him. We feel that here, and throwing in flashbacks is just too much for one scene... Some shaping, trimming, and we we're done!

Stay tuned as I meet up wtih more sound designers during the week and we finish the 4th cut by Friday!

Monday, November 2, 2009

We Have A Composer!


Good news!

After a rigorous search, over 300 submissions, and extensive interviews, we are happy to bring John Jennings Boyd aboard as our Composer! Please feel free to check out his website at:


This week, we'll close in on locking a sound team and the 4th Cut! Posting soon!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Into the 4th Cut


This week, I held back a tidal wave of midterms with my bare hands and just now resurfaced. But the cutting has been going very well!

Monday, my editor Beth incorporated our long, comprehensive outline for the 4th Cut and started cutting on her own. Yesterday, I came in to see her work... and damn, is it working.

Cutting out a few scenes and significantly trimming others -- down to the bare bones of what's emotionally riveting for Angela and the audience -- really gets it to work. Whatever keeps the pace flowing...

Editing is all about the small things. Like so:

Scene #1: Angela drinks away war memories
We received a lot of notes that this scene feeling too jarring, like we're thrown into an intense story and we're reeling to catch up. We added one shot -- a wide shot of Tom and Angela playing cards in the Iraq poker game flashback -- tweaked and re-shaped some of the edit points, and the first scene started to work so well. The scene felt clear, well-paced, and engaging. Loving it.

Scene #2: Angela begs Frank to let her in
This scene is perfect as is. No need to touch it.

Scene #3: Doug forces Angela to kill Scott
Beth cut out some dialogue and changed the ending with some re-purposed footage and it was already working very well.

We only needed to shape the scene to make the poker game clearer, connect us more to Angela's emotional experience, and make Doug more menacing. We spent a little more time on the wide at the top of the poker game, and then the game made so much more sense. Cutting out one sentence of Doug's speech and overlapping dialogue a little more, really ratcheted up the suspense and scared the hell out of us. We went for a subtler, quieter ending: Doug speaks softly, saying "Then we'll kill you and find someone else to do it." Then he chuckles a little and just leers at her... and god, was it terrifying.

Scene #4:
Angela follows Scott to the bar
Right now, we're smash cutting from Angela's horror-struck face as Doug looms over her, saying "You have three days" to Scott leaving his office and Angela sitting right outside. And it's fantastic. Also -- gasp! -- we cut out the whole middle bit of Angela trailing Scott as he turns the corner. Losing that piece keeps the tension up and the story charging forward and we don't miss a beat.

Scene #5: Scott asks Angela out
Beth intuitively cut out some dialogue -- and now the scene no longer lags in the middle, keeps the tension up, and only contains the most emotionally riveting moments. We re-shaped it for a while, using the best pieces of each performance, and trimming here and there to keep the rest of the scene's pacing in line with the new cuts.

Then we were 35% through the new cut and called it a day!

We also made some radical cuts with the scenes later on, and they're working very well! I'll be reviewing the footage over the weekend so I can come up with solutions to new problems and make sure we're using only the very best takes.

I'm excited to get back to work next week. We've got a 4th cut deadline by the end of next week, so we've got a lot of work to do to finish the cut in time. So stay tuned for Monday!

Oh yeah, the Total Running Time is now 17min25sec. BAM.

Happy Halloween! Here's something to get you in the spirits.

Friday, October 23, 2009

State of the 4th Cut


Notes, notes, notes...

What a busy week. Beth, my editor, and I spent the past seven days getting thorough and transformative notes from Beth's editing mentor, my directing mentor, and our producers.

In the past three cuts, we have been very faithful to the script. We've moved a few scenes, cut lines, and repurposed some footage, but the overall emotional experience of watching the film closely resembles reading the script.

The most unanimous note: forget the script.

French director Robert Bresson put it best:

My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.
If Beth and I were to remain entirely faithful to the script, we'd kill the film. So we have to walk into the editing room as though our film never had a script, write the film with the footage, with cuts instead of words, and develop an organic, emotional editing structure that has nothing to do with page count or inciting incidents.

Yesterday, Beth and I met over a late lunch to discuss all the notes. Wracking our brains on how to incorporate the each note got our juices flowing and ideas started to bubble up. We kept discussing, flowing, throwing out ideas, and after 2 hours or so -- lo and behold, we had a comprehensive outline for how to restructure and revise the entire film, scene by scene.

Aren't great editors great?

There are some exciting changes ahead. Cutting scenes, moving them around, reshaping for emotional impact... the film will get leaner and meaner and have a whole new look and feel from the 3rd cut. This is going to be exciting!

Also, I've narrowed down 300+ submissions for composers to about 6 top composers and I've met with nearly all of them. I've contacted many, many, many sound designers, and it's getting down to the wire before I pick the new crew!

Last night I saw Tracy Coogan in the scary new thriller Dark Woods. Check it out. As usual, she's amazing. A riveting performance and a treasure to work with. It's only a matter of time until I'm saying "I knew her when..."

Not only that, I ran into Kharrison Sweeney at the screening. God, that man makes me laugh non-stop. Any of you would be lucky to have him on your project.

So, next week we'll be adding sound designers and a composer to our crew and jump right back into editing. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Third Cut Finished!

After two more nights of cutting with my editor Beth, this past Tuesday and Wednesday, we're done! And the new running time is 19 minutes 15 seconds!

Tuesday, we spent most of our time working on the dinner scene.

Somehow, we only needed to tweak the pre-dinner scene with Angela's flashbacks for a half an hour. We applied some earlier ideas for shortening the long, uncomfortable pauses with new uses of footage. The scene clicked and we moved on.

The dinner scene... we spent hours on this scene. All night.

The scene started to free itself up from some of its flaws once we cut out a few lines. With the removal of polite transitions in dialogue, we could try to just see the two of them flirting, just see Scott open up out of his own connection to Angela... then we were able to shape the scene into a full-bodied, emotional connection between two souls.

But the lesson learned here was giving into a bad cut to make a good scene. Not even a bad cut really... a less than stellar cut. We kept circling back to the same problematic cuts, where we wanted to linger a little longer on a moment or realization, only to discover a complete shift in the footage just one frame later... so while a few cuts feel less than perfect, the scene is great.

Wednesday, driving through rainy rush hour traffic to Beth's editorial suite, we found that we had very little to do. She had already shaped the final two scenes much to our liking and we were left with re-shaping the Balcony scene.

The balcony scene felt like it was missing a beat. We re-shaped it, spent more time on Angela between Scott's lines, and re-shaped his dialogue... then we felt more connected to Angela and the full arc of Scott's surprise, anger, fear, and begging for his life and Kaylie.

Then after a few music tweaks we were done!

Now, I have a whirlwind week of meeting mentors, producers, composers, and sound designers with story notes and job interviews!

Stay tuned till next week for more cutting and crewing up!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Two Days, Third Cut Almost Done

Yesterday and today, my editor Beth and I cut for 12 hours.

We cut 13 out of 18 scenes.

All in two days. Editing is going so well.

Here's the so-called "edit list" of everything we wanted to improve with the pacing and overall quality of the film in this upcoming cut:
  • Scene#1: Angela drinks away war memories. Restructure to begin with Iraq Poker Scene with Angela and Tom, smash cut to Angela looking at Tom's picture in her apartment, then intercut Angela drinking with her flashbacks of Tom.
  • Scene #2: Angela begs Frank to let her in. Feels too long.
  • Scene #3: Doug forces Angela to kill Scott. Make the poker game clearer, make Doug's entrance more organic, get a clearer sense of Frank, draw us into Angela's fear.
  • Scene #4: Angela follows Scott. Didn't touch it. Perfect.
  • Scene #5: Angela meets Scott. Draw us closer into Angela's nervousness sitting next to Scott, heighten the romantic tension, a little long.
  • Scene #6: Angela stalks Scott at his home. Feels too long, needs more suspense. Craft a better arc for Scott from depressed to elated, and a better arc for Angela from ready to kill him to shock at Kaylie's entrance.
  • Scene #7: Scott sees Angela outside Kaylie's room. Raise the suspense of Scott protecting Kaylie, like a bomb went off.
  • Scene #8: Angela prepares to kill Scott. Didn't touch it.
  • Scene #9: Scott and Angela connect over Iraq experiences. Make Angela coming up the steps and getting seen by Scott more suspenseful and the ending feels too long.
  • Scene #10: Angela starts to fall for Scott. Didn't touch it.
  • Scene #11: Scott asks Angela on a date. Shape to show the scene from Angela's POV and build a stronger arc from liking Scott to thinking about calling him.
  • Scene #12: Angela prepares for date. Didn't touch it.
  • Scene #13: Doug threatens Angela at Scott's house. Too long.
And over two days... we did just that. All of it. And so, so well.

And we watched all of it today. Beth and I got chills watching it.

My task as a director is to effectively communicate, and I'm having serious difficulty communicating to you how we accomplished all of this over two days. I can only offer up one possible explanation:

Every single frame counts. Every single shot counts.

When it felt too long, we trimmed it down to the most essential frames, cut it for suspense, and threw out extraneous shots. When a performance or scene arc felt a little off for that moment, we tried a different take or different pieces of the same take until the scene improved. And so many scenes that felt too short, after we started trimming, felt just right.

And Beth is the master of tweaking it till it works.

There was some wizardry in restructuring the first scene -- starting in Iraq, with Angela smiling and having fun with Tom, then smash cutting to Angela present day in her lonely apartment was the strongest opening we came up with. Luckily, I rolled long on a wide shot of Angela to the point where she picked up the picture of Tom -- and we were able to cut around so much of that footage to just used Angela looking at Tom's picture and then going to drinking and avoiding the bad memories... it just started to sing...

Beth and I will edit Monday and Thursday next week.

And we might finish Cut #3 a week early! See you then!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Wife Always Knows

Two days ago, I asked my wife, Alexis, to watch the 2nd Cut.

She hasn't seen any of the footage. She went in completely cold.

The verdict? Shorter. Everything shorter.

"Thats it?" I talked her through the cut, scene by scene, asking about pacing, tone, performance, digging for any more notes...

"Stop lingering so much on her and move on!"

So we're continuing with pacing as our chief concern for Cut #3 as planned. Looks like we're heading in the right direction. Right now, I'm listening to over 300 submissions for the film's composer and looking for more potential sound designers!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

3rd Cut Begins!

It began not with a bang, but a whimper. More like a cough.

Beth, the editor, is sick today. So we had to call it a half day and focus our efforts on cutting the re-imagined Scene 1: Angela drinking away her war memories.

This scene used to be Scene 3, so Beth and I spent some time asking questions about how to establish the space, introduce Angela, and finding the right pacing so as not to disorient or confuse the audience -- but to make them engage and identify with Angela immediately.

Not an easy task.

We tried starting in Iraq, watching Tom and Angela laugh over a game of poker, then going to Angela remembering Tom in an alley, marching into her apartment, getting a drink, remembering Tom again... and it just felt too long.

And it made us care less about Tom the second time. Not good.

The real challenge here was in the flexibility of the footage. We wanted to introduce Angela in her space, intercut between flashbacks and Angela drinking and reacting, and then watch her drink herself to sleep.

But most of the footage was designed to show Angela at a distance, watching her drink, interact with her apartment, and gaze at her picture of Tom. So we tried killing our darlings and used just the footage that kept Angela on the bed.

And it was working for us. But not quite.

Beth picked up on the idea of intercutting the flashbacks with Angela drinking even more (in the 2nd cut, the flashbacks were more like watching Angela remember entire scenes). Once we found the right takes of Angela's reactions to the flashbacks and constructed an arc to her performance, then it really started to sing. We were really feeling engaged with Angela and her relationship to Tom.

But sound design had a big part to play. The enormous shift in environment -- from ghetto L.A. to war-torn Baghdad -- is missing since we haven't built these atmospheric sound backgrounds. Also, as we shifted the music around, we noticed how we become less/more engaged with Angela. Weird...

So Beth tweaked and tightened, and we left with a damn good cut of the new Scene 1 with strong ideas on how to put in sound backgrounds and music before we move on.

Ten minutes later, as I was driving away, it hit me like lighting.

I figured out a new, invigorating way to cut the scene using footage that I totally forgot we had! I conjured up a way to start with Angela and Tom playing poker in Iraq, then going back to Angela, and continue the flashback/apartment intercutting from there -- in a way that will engage us with Angela even more!

Wednesday, we're back at Scene 1 and moving on to Scene 2!

Monday, September 28, 2009

2nd Cut Screening and State of the Cut


Today, Beth and I watched the 2nd Picture Cut of Another Life.

Usually, the first 4 cut screenings are depressing for a director.

But I got choked up. Beth and I were elated. It's so damn good!

The dinner scene is beautiful to behold. The scene where Angela drinks away her memories of Tom dying had tears in my eyes. The ending was just as powerful as when we cut it. The relationships, the character arcs, the mounting suspense... it's all there.

However, I feel like I'm too close to the film right now. The film is running a little over 22 minutes, which is a lot longer than the patience of most studio execs and festival audiences. But I love the film so much, I can't think of what to cut out right now.

I feel like (I can only guess) a father seeing his baby walk for the first time -- I'm just so proud to see her standing up on her own two feet and walking in a straight line!

Beth, as usual, brough me down to Earth. We had the official State of the Cut talk and discussed how to improve this film from hereon out. Here are her notes:
  • It takes a while before we get engaged in Angela, somewhere around the scene where Angela remembers Tom dying and drinks those memories away. Start the film with this scene, then go to the poker scene.
  • The tension dissipates in the first bar scenes. Use different takes of Angela than the ones we have in there now to show her seething with nervous apprehension that Scott is sitting one bar stool away from her.
  • We're missing a beat in the balcony scene. Perhaps this scene's structure is too similar to the dinner scene? Too elegant, free-flowing, and lingering? Beth and I have some ideas to use other takes of Scott to show his anger and the scene's inherent violence.
  • Then there's some general tweaks and trimming to do.
Some of the stronger notes came out of conferences with Beth's mentor, Norman Hollyn. He has an uncanny sense of good taste, a great eye for story problem, as well as clear and consise solutions to these problem areas. A director's best friend, really.

But what do next? Make that one essential change for the first scene, cut out redundant dialogue and moments, trim wherever we can, tweak the scenes just right, and carefully shape the rise and fall of the suspense throughout the film with a big picture perspective.

And that's it. Pretty damn good progress, for a 2nd Cut, I'd say.

So I'll be watching the 2nd Cut a few more times with more a critical and objective eye. There's also dishes, laundry, writing, homework, emails, and business to attend to.

Stay tuned for Thursday, when Beth and I first dig into the Third Cut!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finished 2nd Picture Cut!


Today, the editor Beth and I finished the 2nd Cut of Another Life!

And we're a week and a half ahead of schedule!

As this is the Director's cut, I spent the last four weeks visiting Beth's Editing Suite, cutting the film together, crafting the available footage into the story that best fit my original vision -- the closest thing that comes to "watching the movie in my head."

Usually, the Director's Cut is a depressing affair.

Usually, the Director realizes in this cut that the footage does not and will not match their original vision ever.

But this Director is very happy with his (and Beth's!) Director's cut!

We finished the day with shaping the transitions between scenes, putting in temp music, and smoothing out audio. We glimpsed some of the scenes we haven't looked at in a while...

And the rest of the scenes are just as powerful (if not more so!) then when we first cut them.

The big challenge of the day was re-cutting the climactic balcony scene -- at the end of a romantic date, Angela pulls a gun on Scott, her only way out of her lethal bet with Doug.

And guess what? We fixed it. And it rocked.

How did we do it? We did our homework.

Early this morning (too early), I wrote down a moment by moment emotional beat sheet for both Scott and Angela's character arcs. Then I reviewed the footage. Beth and I agreed on a thesis for a cutting style where we focus on Scott, building suspense by watching him beg for his life and then showing little snippets of Angela with a stoneface on the verge of cracking.

I cracked how to reconfigure the scene on watching the climactic begging scene at the end of the Korean action masterpiece, Oldboy. My favorite film. See it.

In the climactic scene of Oldboy, the hero begs his nemesis for one last shred of mercy, and instead of intercutting between the hero and the nemesis -- we never see the nemesis' face. The editing focuses only on the hero begging and we watch his face fall and contort with fear, sadness, rage, and desperation every time he asks the nemesis something, and the nemesis doesn't answer. One of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen.

Then I saw something in the third take of Scott's close up: he tells Angela "I'm a father. Kaylie needs me," and then as we watch Scott wait for an answer, and he doesn't get it, we see his face shift to heartrending desperation as he shouts "You can't do this!" Powerful performance by Robert W Evans.

This one moment became our inspiration for cutting the scene. Long, lingering shots on Scott begging, getting no answer, and watching his emotional transition -- but also cutting to Angela when we feel the need to get a succinct, suspenseful reaction.

Then, since this scene was so complex in tone and performance, I made a cut list -- exactly which pieces of which takes to use from beginning to end.

Beth and I went through the cut list. She had a very similar impulse to linger on Scott to amp up suspense and shaped certain moments in ways I hadn't imagined that heightened the romance, the performances, the suspense, and the ending.

What an ending. Very powerful... wow...

Stay tuned for Monday -- when we watch the 2nd Cut with fresh eyes, have a "State of the Cut" meeting, and discuss where to go next with the film from here!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interacting


Yesterday, the editor Beth and I started out in the late afternoon to cut the even more dreaded dinner scene: Scott opens up to Angela about his war trauma and encourages Angela to open up to him.

Why so dreaded? Again, not the footage. In fact, the footage was FANTASTIC. Perhaps some of the best footage in the film.

Amazing performances.

Rob Evans as Scott in this scene is at the top of his game, tender and heartbreaking at the same time as he relives his dark past to try to inspire Angela to hope. We watch Rob go from making genial first date chatter to confronting his inner most demons with the chops of an A-list movie star.

Tracy Coogan as Angela was just as fantastic, but her performance was a deeply moving in its subtlety. As Rob carries most of the dialogue, watching Tracy is like watching an example of a professional actress being present in the moment -- she hangs on every word Rob says, and with the slightest movement of her eyes or her lips parting, we feel the truth of her character washing over us.

Again, why so dreaded?

The challenge was in cutting it all together. Let me explain: in the first cut, Beth very religiously cut back and forth from Scott saying his lines to Angela's reactions... and somehow, all of that resonant energy in the seperate takes on Rob and Tracy... just vanished.

It looked like Scott and Angela were talking *at* each other. The connection wasn't there.

I had an idea: from the footage, we see them truly listening to each other, heart and soul, and we can cut this together to create moments where we see them falling for each other.

Great! We started cutting it on instinct. Going with our favorite pieces of each take. Shuffling them around. Using only the frames that worked for that particular moment in the scene (every frame counts, remember?).

We stepped back, watched it and the scene improved... only for Rob's performance. We instantly felt conntected to Scott, experienced a full emotional arc for him, and saw him connecting and falling for Angela.

But Angela still wasn't connecting to him -- even though she does in the footage! Filmmaking is so weird.

This is what it came down to: Beth and I workshopped each beat of Angela's emotional arc in this scene -- What do we want her to be feeling when she says this line? What do we want her reaction to be here? We came up with an emotional map of exactly what Angela is feeling/thinking for each beat in the scene.

Then we studied the takes of Angela with the sound off. Over and over and over again. We stopped on every imperceptible nod, blink of the eyes, tilt of the head -- any shift in movement or emotion -- and figured out where it fit into Angela's arc of the scene.

We cut that in... the scene improved. A lot. But there was STILL something missing. We had to step away. We paced. Got a drink of water. Tried talking about other things.

We came up with the idea that what if we focused on Angela over some of Scott's best lines. But his performances were so good to watch! But we tried it...

And it worked. It REALLY worked. Using the dialogue as sound bridges to long takes of Angela listening and Scott talking set this beautiful pacing, watching how each moment resonates in the other person, builds in emotion, motivates the next moment...

At last, Angela and Scott were interacting.

After all 4-5 long hours of headache-inducing work, we tried to cut the climactic balcony scene, but our brains were just fried. We gave each other our homework to do -- develop written-down emotional maps and game plans for cutting the scene -- before Thursday.

Stay tuned for Thursday -- when we finish the 2nd cut!

Oh yeah, and I went to an event called Comic Book Sunday this weekend and traded business cards with several film producers interested in my action feature script, Furious Angels.

So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flashing Back


Today, my editor Beth and I cut the dreaded Scene 19 -- Angela remembers her war buddy Tom dying while she's on a date with Scott. Why so dreaded? Well, in this one 2-page scene:
  • Angela just saw Doug -- she must kill Scott tonight
  • Scott reveals the babysitter canceled so the date's at his house
  • Angela blushes at Scott complimenting her (she likes him!)
  • Angela sees Scott has a file on Doug's criminal record
  • Angela overhears Scott talking to his adorable daughter
  • Angela flashes back to Tom dying in Iraq
  • Scott asks Angela if she wants to talk about her war trauma
As you can see, there's A LOT going through Angela's head. And each of these beats are important to the story.

To be honest, I was secretly planning on cutting this entire scene.

When I first looked at the footage, I was embarrassed. The cinematography was great, the performances were perfect -- but I was rushed that night, I combined a lot of shots, and I was certain that I had made an unusable mess with some hastily chosen angles.

That's where Beth comes in.

We had some trouble getting Angela in the front door -- again my gap in the footage -- but after the placement of the sound Angela's high heels walking in and some careful use of intercutting, the whole beginning of the scene worked seamlessly. We see all these beats washing over Angela's face and we could watch the story play out.

Then the flashbacks.

I had invented this creative rule that all the transitions between Angela on the date and Angela in Iraq would be sound cues -- sounds of Scott cooking that could resemble the sounds of gunfire, etc. But because of the lack of footage, we couldn't sync each of these moments up exactly.

Beth stepped back and looked at the four most important moments of the flashback: Tom falling over, Tom bleeding, Angela pinned down by gunfire, Angela shooting the insurgent and going over to Tom's side -- only to watch him die.

Once we identified those four pieces, we found the right sound transitions between the scenes, like Scott slamming a fridge door and Tom's helmet hitting the ground. But Beth found better transitions elsewhere -- Tom shouting over Angela's reactions on the date and then Angela In Iraq answering in Voice Over, an audio memory playing over Angela on the date and leading us right back into the final flashback.

It sounds confusing. Believe me, it got confusing. But after shaping a few cuts, dropping a few redundant shots, and tightening things up, Beth made this scene sing.

We banged out scenes 17 and 18 -- Angela preparing for the date and then seeing Doug outside Scott's house -- after a few minor tweaks. And we were done only after 4 or so hours of editing.

In fact, we finished early.

Word to the wise: Don't edit your own stuff. Hire a kickass editor. Better yet, hire Beth.

Stay tuned for Monday, when we'll cut the thrilling climax scenes!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"F*ckin' Around With Images"


In the legendary documentary on editing, The Cutting Edge, director James Cameron talks about the Terminator Experiment. In editing Terminator 2, they were trying to cut down the overall length of the film and Cameron suggested cutting out one frame of out every minute. The editors tried it.

And it sucked. Horribly. You can see the experiment here at 0:22 seconds. Today, Beth and I encountered the answer to the Terminator Experiment:

Every. Frame. Counts.


The day started out with the scene where Angela goes in to kill Scott and walks off with him to the bar to get drinks together. And it was good, old-fashioned editing at its best. Beth and I put our heads together on the scene, but I credit her with all the hard work and smartest ideas :)

We were able to build back-and-forth suspense of Angela walking up the steps to kill Scott. Then we took our time picking the right takes for the dialogue part of the scene, building pauses between lines, focusing on Angela to see her watching and listening to Scott...

And then we turned around and we had a scene where to the two characters were engaged and interacting with one another.

Then we moved onto the scene where Angela and Scott meet for drinks. Music rides over Scott talking as Angela listens and smiles. A 15-second scene. Simple, right?

We spent the better part of 90 minutes going over this scene. Adding or taking a few frames here and there replaced nervous blinking with rapt attention, revealed slight smiles, and created an adorable romantic interaction. But damn, we had to do it just right.

Then we came to the scene where Scott asked Angela out. I hadn't seen it since the first cut. And it was near perfect. Less than an hour of tweaks and it was right where we wanted it to be.

Aren't great editors great?

I also met a great sound designer today. Very good first impression. Fingers crossed and will continue to follow up with him.

To wrap it all up, I give you this -- as Beth was trying to show me the Terminator Experiment, we stumbled across Quentin Tarantino's version of one of the most significant developments in global film history -- the creation of Montage editing:
The crazy Russians start fuckin' around with images, awright?
Oh Tarantino. If Only I were as eloquent as you.

More editing on Saturday! More eloquence on editing then!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Johnny Depp & Hats

THIS JUST IN

A new Box Office study proves that Jonny Depp's most successful films feature Johnny Depp... in a hat.

Here are categorized lists of the Box Office grosses of Johnny Depp's films in the last ten years (figures from boxofficemojo.com):

Movies Featuring Johnny Depp Without a Hat
* Sweeney Todd (2007) -- $52.9 M
* The Libertine (2005) -- $4.8 M
* Corpse Bride (2005) -- $53.4 m
* Finding Neverland (2004) -- $51.7 M
* Secret Window (2004) -- $48.0 M
* Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2002) -- $ 56.4 M
* From Hell (2001) -- $31.6 M
* The Man Who Cried (2001) -- $ 0.75 M
* Blow (2001) -- $53 M
* Chocolat (2000) -- $71.5
* The Ninth Gate (2000) -- $18.7 M
Johnny Depp Without a Hat Total Grosses: $442.8 Million

Movies Featuring Johnny Depp in a Hat
* Public Enemies (2009) -- $97.1 M
* Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007) -- $309.4 M
* Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (2006) -- $423.3 M
* Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) -- $206.5 M
* Pirates of the Caribbean 1 (2003) -- $305.4 M

Johnny Depp in a Hat Total Grosses: $1.34 Billion

Think about it...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Finding Focus


Learned something today -- the cool, Hollywood way of saying, "I get what you mean" is:
I smell your cheerios.
All the cool cats in L.A. are saying it. You should too.

Today was another good solid editing session. Beth and I worked through the Bar Scene, where Angela meets Scott, and the following scene, where Angela spies in on Scott's life at home, gun in hand. Two very challenging scenes in terms of nuance, performance, pacing, style, continuity, etc.

And we rocked them out. Director's Cut style.

We unlocked the bar scene when we realized that although the movie is Angela's story, and she's pushing the action forward in every scene, the bar scene is Scott's scene. We introduce Scott to the audience.

Once we shifted the scene's focus to Scott, we let his good takes set the scene's pacing. Then the whole scene started to sing and everything else fell into a wonderful, delicate balance of charm and fear found in subtle performances.

Beth admitted to me she was concerned about the scene where Angela spies in on Scott at home. There's so much going on! Back and forth dramatic irony -- she's going to kill him! -- the shock of Scott's daughter appearing, the natural shift of Angela's determination to kill to a tender curiosity for a warm, loving home, and the chaotic explosion of Scott seeing Angela outside.

Once we developed a cutting style for each of those three segments, and forced oursleves to linger a little less longer on their beautiful faces, the Scott's Ho scene just came to life.

Or you could say the scene developed... another life.

You smell my cheerios.

More editing this Thursday! I'll be reviewing the footage in preparation for the Ext. Law Office dialogue scene.

What makes a woman intent on murdering a man agree to go out for drinks with him? I'll tell you once we've cut it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cutting the Director's Cut


This past Tuesday, I saw the first rough cut of the film -- the Editor's cut. There is a saying in Hollywood that goes:
The best day of a director's life is the final day of the film shoot. The worst day of a director's life is watching the first rough cut.
I watched the director's cut... and it was not the worst day of my life. There were certain scenes I was terrified of -- I thought they would go over too long, lose momentum, lack emotional impact -- and they were near perfect.

Many other scenes "needed work" as executives often say in development -- the story and hard work is there, it's just a matter of building and sculpting moments to heighten the peaks and valleys of the emotional experience and characters' arcs.

This past Thursday was the first day of the Director's Cut. I sat in with Beth and in the course of 7 short hours, we were able to make a solid, strong rough cut of scenes 1-7 -- from the beginning to Angela seeing Scott at the bar.

There's some mental strain on my part... I'm so used to translating the story in terms of talking to actors and crew members, using action verbs, "as ifs," shot sizes, light quality, and colors valuable to the story... now that we have the whole thing in front of us, we can have thesis statements for the film's emotional experience, the emotional experience of each scene (e.g. from lonely to furious determination), and then take it down to the minutia of each moment, each shot, how long it should last, what do we cut to next...

And it's been going very well. I'm terrified of Doug in the first scenes, I feel awful about what happened to Frank, I feel so bad for how lonely and depressed Angela is, but in the next scene, watching her march after Scott, I know she's going to kill him...

It's all coming together. Tonight, I will be going over the footage and preparing to find new, invigorating ways to cut the film to best tell the story.

After I sort laundry, do dishes, respond to a flurry of emails, and read papers for my other classes.

I'd like to say that the everyday, mundane chores of my daily life do not mean much to the glories of editing "Another Life." But then I'd be lying. It's only in our most grounded and human moments that we discover true emotional experiences that make good cinema.

Arrivederci, my friends. Until next cut.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Initiative

Two weeks into the semester, with our schedules solidifying, the editor Beth, the post producer Liz, and I met to take on responsibilities for the Post-Production phase of the film.

Here's what we carved out of the Picture Editing pie:
  • Maintaining & Updating the Credits List -- Liz
  • Compile Production Book Materials -- Nate & Liz
  • Find Sound Designers -- Beth & Nate
  • Find Composers -- Nate with help/input from Beth
  • Find Audiences -- Liz, Beth, and Nate
  • Reserving rooms/theaters for screenings -- Beth & Nate
  • Plan, prepare, and execute Pick-ups -- Liz, Beth, & Nate
I put together a Post-Production schedule months and months ago that's thoroughly figured out. We have exact dates for all the cuts and setting milestones for progressing in all of the responsibilities listed above.

So I've got a lot of work cut out for me! This week, I will be making sure the film crew is free for pick-ups for the weekend of Dec 4th, I will be looking up sound designers and composers, I will be booking rooms and theaters for the screenings, and helping to compile all the production book materials.

Speaking of which, might as well make the shout-out:
If you are interested in sound designing or composing for this film, please contact me at anotherlifefilm@gmail.com
Yes, I should've been doing this all this past week. Yes, I should've been working on my horror script.

Ever since the shoot took place though, I've been moving in and out of this kind of Post-Partum Depression. There's a violent emotional intensity that takes place in the creation of your story on film during the production phase and the lull that takes place after a film shoot, just because of the sheer drop off in mental activity, results in a chemical depression.

So if you're a filmmaker, be prepared. You will experience depression after your film shoot. It's part of the life you've chosen.

But now with all this fun work to do, spending time with my wife, family, and friends over Labor Day weekend, I'm getting that pep back in my step and I'll be back off to the races this week.

Stay tuned for much progress in post and screenwriting!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Distractions

Just heard from the editor the other day that she's hard at work, everything's going smoothly, and the best thing a director can hear from an editor:
"Your footage is easy to cut."
While the editor is hard at work, my activities outside of "Another Life" are getting quite busy:

Classes started up this week. To great relief, I squeaked into the World of Television Class, taught by Ian Sander, creator-producer of Ghost Whisperer. He will not only be guiding us through the process of pitching and developing a TV show, but bringing in such guests as David Shore, creator-producer of House. Exciting!

Also, taking a Film History class -- Global Cinema after WWII. Should be good to get back to my critical studies roots. And see some good art cinema... mmm, film snobbery...

Also, just finished re-reading my horror script, Red Snow. It's amazing how much I've already conceived for rewrites since I put the script down last year. It's like I already know how to rewrite the whole thing. Just came up with a great idea for the monster too!

Oh? What's that? You want to know about my search for composers, sound designers, and post producers? About that... yeah...

I should get on that.

My wife's sisters are coming to visit. So time to be a good host. Check in with you soon!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Editing Begins!


This past Wednesday, I sat down with the editor, Beth, and watched all of the dailies. The day began with this overwhelming specter of apprehension and fear:

What if this perfect shot was actually poorly composed? What if a great performance actually winds up looking terrible? What if all the sound is completely unusable?

But as we went through the dailies scene by scene, we actually found the exact opposite: the cinematography was stellar, if not perfect. The performances were amazing. The sound was workable and clean. And there's just the right amount of material.

So we have a movie. All we have to do is cut it.

Editor's Cut is due SEPTEMBER 8TH. And now I have... nothing to do but wait. Which is odd for me.

So now I'm going to give myself too much to do (as usual). I just finished the final draft on my action feature script, "Furious Angels." Here's the logline:
A lone wolf hitwoman accidentally saves a teen runaway's life and now a powerful crime boss wants them both dead.
Now I'm moving on to rewrite and polish my horror feature script, "Red Snow," by Christmas. The logline for that one is:
A demure college student comes home to see her teen sister get kidnapped -- and she's next on the list.
AND I also have two classes -- Film History after WWII and World of Television. Told you I give myself too much to do.

Tune in next time as I look up composers, sound designers, and post coordinators, oh my!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Wonderful Party


My producer, Min, organized a helluva wrap party/fundraiser this past Sunday.

Over a hundred people came to this great house in Beverly Hills. We had three live bands -- an acoustic guitarist and singer, a jazz band, and a Brazilian band. Still photographs projected on the wall. Hand-crafted hors d'oeuvres and desserts. Cases of fancy wine. Tons of great wine. A raffle and a mini-auction. And some of the coolest people in L.A.

And it was one of the chillest, most relaxing, and enjoyable parties I've been to

And we raised roughly $2,000! Hooray!

Today, I see all the film's footage. Today is a good day.

Friday, August 14, 2009

That's a Wrap!


"Another Life" has successfully finished principle photography!

The acting was top notch. The cinematography was phenomenal. The production design was stellar. The costumes were perfect. The make-up was amazing. The sound was superb. The production team was awesome. The producers kicked so much ass. The crew was fantastic. And the shoot was smooth and fun.

Some of the very best days of my life...

For those of you who have actually been following, you will notice an enormous gap of time between now and my last post. It simply become untenable to invest my mind, body, and soul in the production of the film *and* spend every day on the internet. From now on, I'll post twice a week on the film's progress.

This weekend: wrap party & fundraiser!

This upcoming week: viewing dailies!

For those who cry, "pics or it never happened," I give you links:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/38234655@N07/sets/72157621879419745/
http://picasaweb.google.com/nate.ruegger/AnotherLifeStills?feat=directlink#

Now on to editing and writing my next films!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Day #19: Always Working


Happy 4th of July everyone!

While I am heading out to go see my little hometown parade with the wife, and I'll probably be enjoying the standard fare of barbecue and fireworks, I will still be working.

There's a great scene in a brilliant an little known foreign horror film THEM, in which a cute young teacher comes home to her loving husband, a writer, who's at work on his next book.

She asks him to stop working so they can eat dinner. He smiles and says, "A writer is always working." He saves his work and closes the application. "I'm still working." He shuts down his laptop and closes it. "I'm still working." He chases after his wife, laughing as he tickles her. "And I'm still working."

No matter how hard I try, in the back of my mind, I will always be thinking about Another Life. I'm always working. Which reminds me of an idea for a good shot... where's that pen...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day #18: Holiday Weekend Homework

Cinematography meeting is postponed to Monday.

Which is good. Kind of. The Tone Book is done, and I'm quite proud of it, but the shot lists aren't done and need some good, hard work.

I will be working all weekend on the shot lists as well as Camera Movement clips for the tone book and another draft of the script.

I met with my mentor, Pablo, Thursday at 6 PM. My dialogue scenes with Scott and Angela aren't quite there. He gave me some good pointers: Scott has the gift of the gab while Angela is never comfortable speaking. He also helped me figure out a more devastating and real dialogue exchange for the balcony scene.

And there's so much to do in the next two weeks: we have until July 17th to greenlight the film. To do that we need:
  • a final script (working on it)
  • a final budget
  • a final schedule
  • storyboards
In those documents is the built-in hard work that we have locked locations and all key crew members (stunt coordinator, make-up, studio teacher, and more), we've fully coordinated safety plans for all the prop-gun scenes, we have reached agreements or made purchases/rentals with all of equipment houses in every department.

That means lots of meetings and a location scout this week. All the while, I need to work on storyboards and rehearsals.

But tonight, I'm going to see Public Enemies and do laundry with the wife. I'm so whipped and I love it.

Tomorrow... I will be enjoying the 4th of July with my family.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day #16: Filmed in...

Our pitch at Panavision went quite well!

For those who don't know, we pitched our film to Ric Halpern at Panavision, Inc. who's in charge of the New Filmmaker Program there. To paraphrase, if they like you're film, they see artistic merit in the story and visual design, and they see that your crew and production plans are professional and well put together, they offer a top of the line camera package for free.

The producers -- Liz, Mitsuyo, and Min -- all got there early along with our cinemtagorapher, Jay. He just came back from shooting a doc feature in New Mexico on a Native American reservation, which sounded fascinating.

It was great to see all of us dressed up (looking so sexy) with a great pitch packet and some well-rehearsed little speeches.

We prepared for Ric to sit back and hear all of us talk, but instead, he asked each of us pointed questions, which threw us off guard at first, but I'm confident that in our words and in our packet that our experience, professionalism, and talent shined through and showed more than enough artistic merit to impress Panavision.

Fingers crossed!

After that, Liz and I met with Cheryl, our casting director, and we reviewed the audition tapes. After 2,000 submissions and around 50 auditioning actors, we narrowed it down to :
  • 6 Angelas
  • 4 Dougs
  • 3 Scotts
I was very impressed with Liz and Cheryl (and her assistant, Chance -- brilliant young talent) and their insightful input on all the actors. After viewing all the top choices, and talking with them, it was amazing how simple it was to choose those 13 actors and actresses.

Now I need to put together the Callbacks schedule, e-mail that to Cheryl, and get back on top of the production book and shot lists!

Tomorrow, I swear to the Higher Powers of Cinema, I will have my production book DONE. Stay tuned and take a look!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day #15: Moment to Moment

Another amazing day of auditions! After only two long (looooong) 8-hour sessions, I'm confident we can cast all the lead roles!

We saw some fantastic Scotts and amazing Dougs with many strong and varying interpretations. And damn, there are so many good Angelas -- we have no choice but to turn away some professional and talented actresses who look the part. We're going to have to choose between the top 5%!

Had a proud director moment today -- I discovered a great intention while listening to an actress who was rushing through the scene:
Angela has never been in a warm, loving home like Scott's. Savor every moment you have in this safe space until you have to pull the trigger.
I loved it so much, I used it all day!

But there's so much more ahead of us:
  • finishing shot lists and production book
  • cinematography meeting
  • sound meeting
  • location tech scout
  • making equipment deals
  • preparing and scheduling for greenlight meetings in 2 weeks
  • making film processing and telecine deals
While I could stay up all night working on those, I'm heading straight to bed and getting up early for the big pitch to Panavision tomorrow. Fingers crossed! Afterwards, we'll be meeting with Cheryl our casting director, going over the tapes, and scheduling callbacks.

If all goes well, Panavision will donate us a top-of-the-line camera package for free. Stay tuned tomorrow and see what happens!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day #14: Entertaining Angelas


I have never seen so many talented actors and actresses in such a short period of time. So, yes, the auditions went quite well!

We saw some amazing Angelas and Dougs today. A handful of great Scotts. But there's more work to be had tomorrow.

I also noticed that I'm a bit rusty with directing. Need to get some oil in the gears. When I find a fellow filmmaker with a passion for characters, I tend to blab on and on...

But a director's whole life is about condensing! So with several talented actors playing Scott, I gave the following intention:
When Angela pulls a gun on you, as a father, your first thought is not of your own life, but to save Kaylie's life. She will have no mother to turn to, you're dead, and she'll wind up in a terrible foster home. So do everything you can to break down Angela's emotional barriers to get through to her and make her put down the gun to save Kaylie's life.
And a lot of actors did their best but left the audition confused by the overload of information. My fault. But when I used this:
swallow your pride and beg for your life
The actor's performance just came to life. Liz, one of my producers, literally performed a victory dance after the actor left the room.

More auditions tomorrow! Rumors of more locations found. More staying up and working on shot lists and production books!

Well I guess that it makes it two weeks straight of daily blogging! Just 50 more short weeks to go!

Stay tuned tomorrow -- I think we'll find our top candidates for Angela, Scott, and Doug tomorrow! Then it's off to pitching Panavision, callbacks, and more!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day# 13: Quiet Before the Storm


In just a few short hours, fifty actors and actresses will descend upon a small room in the USC film school to try out for the lead roles in Another Life.

I have spent most of today reading the script over and over and coming up with a few short adjustments to give the actors/actresses after their cold reading. The Dougs will be reading their only scene (threatening Angela to kill or be killed) and the Scotts and Angelas will be reading the date scene followed by the shooting on the balcony. Here are some adjustment ideas:
  • Doug: You just killed someone not ten feet away from her. She's a scared, shivering little bird in her your hand. Toy with her. Watch her squirm.
  • Scott: swallow your pride and beg for your life. Beg for Kaylie's life.
  • Angela: Tom loved you. He gave his life for you. If you don't pull the trigger, if you let Scott live, then Tom died for nothing. Get through this, survive, then you can start over and do something with your life that would make Tom proud.
A director has to get used to the fact that your whole day's hard work gets condensed into tiny little snippets. And they have to count.

I also did some human things today too. Spent a few hours with my brother and father. Cooked a nice dinner with my wife. Washed some dishes. Watched Magnificent Seven again. These ordinary activities are necessary to my sanity.

I will be staying up all night working on the production book some more. I know it's late, but I'll have it done by Wednesday, when I'm meeting with Jay.

Stay tuned tomorrow to hear how 50 thespians fared in 9 hours!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day #12: Shaman in Central Park

...and even less luck today.

As a back-up, we can use my producer Mitsuyo's back room as Int. Angela's Apartment NIGHT. But then we'd have paint walls, change furniture, add fake walls... lots of time, effort, and money.

But today's production insanity was all my fault. A while back, I told my Dad that we could go see a Dodgers game two weeks from now... and completely forgot to put it up on the calendar. Now I have created a conflict for our biweekly production meeting.

FRAK.

So after a flurry of calls, emails, texts, and g-chats for several hours, my super-awesome producer Liz was able to reschedule a production meeting for Tuesday morning before the second round of auditions.

But with the game tomorrow and auditions early Monday morning, I have to get a lot of work done tonight:
  • actors' intentions for auditions
  • production book
  • shot lists
Because we'll be doing auditions all day Monday, rehearsing our pitch for Panavision Tuesday morning, more auditions Tusday afternoon and evening, doing the pitch Wednesday morning, and having a full-crew production meeting Wednesday afternoon. Busy much?

Someone smart once said that being a film director is like being a wise old hermit in the middle of a bustling city. You need to be available to every member of the cast and crew to answer their questions at all times, so they can keep the production moving along, but you also need to shut yourself off from the world, go deep into your Fortress of Solitude, battle your inner demons, and come back with a perfect, beautiful, and cohesive vision for the film.

So tonight I will be calling upon my muse to guide me to the perfect tone and shots for Another Life. But I have to keep my phone on :)

Stay tuned tomorrow to read some intentions for actors in auditions!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day #11: A View to a Kill


Not so much luck today. We did get one location though!

After ample discussion on physical production issues from parking to sound recording to the actual quality of the filmed scene, we decided to shoot the Ext Balcony NIGHT scene at the USC-owned parking lot just east of the 110 freeway.

A daytime view from the "balcony" can be seen above.

At a privately owned balcony, we'd have to pay a police officer to monitor the prop gun use and the crew's safety for $1,000 a day.

But at this USC parking lot, the parking, permits, and safety costs are free (no police officer required). I think we can construct a fake balcony and rent quality sound equipment for well under $1,000.

But the Int. Angela's Apartment NIGHT location still eludes us: small, grubby studio-style apartment with cool colors in a film friendly environment at student discount prices. Not easy to come by.

So my producer Mitsuyo just woke up from a nap and we're checking one last apartment possibility tonight. After that, I am heading home to work on some "Under 5" character breakdowns and enjoy a night out with the wife :)

Stay tuned tomorrow when we lock our locations!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day #10: A Whirlwind of Awesome


An hour after my last post, my producer Mitsuyo called to tell me about her progress with our ideal bar location: the owner agreed to let us shoot there for free and at any time we wanted.

Good producers are so, so, SO good.

It gets better. We went to the Iraqi House Location this morning -- a house in East L.A. that caught fire in a meth lab explosion. And as you can see in the pictures below, it's perfect for an Iraq War flashback. The owner will only be charging us a little over $200 -- a steal since we're getting so many locations for free.

As we were having breakfast, Mitsuyo mentioned that she talked to the owner of an auto body shop near her apartment. She knows the owner really well and he'd let us shoot there on a slow day like Saturday. And I took a look at it. And I loved it.

And all of this before noon!

So now we have 6 out of 8 locations! Pictures below:

Scott's House (Kaylie's Room still needs photographing):
http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherlifefilm/sets/72157618424784522/

Sketchy Sidewalk:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherlifefilm/sets/72157620375256433/

Drab Law Office:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherlifefilm/sets/72157620375875451/

Bar:
http://picasaweb.google.com/thresholdmovie/McMurphyS#

Iraqi War-Torn House:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/filmanotherlife/sets/72157620561972846/

Seedy Garage:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/anotherlifefilm/sets/72157620563201616/

I just finished watching Battlestar Galactica: Razor and made over 60 screenshots. Now I just need to compile them all into the production book and get started on the shot lists. I could also finish off the "Under 5" character breakdowns and camera house submissions...

Just 2 more locations to go! And it's only Thursday!

Stay tuned tomorrow. I've got a strong feeling we'll be locking locations before Friday night!