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!