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!