Paris, lqnd of screzed up typezriters qnd keyboqrds% zell, qfter eight missed/rescheduled flights (including three yesterday, Tuesday), I got here with the < fingers making quote marks>finished< no more quote marks> version of the film, now officially titled, Souvenir November 2001. Dropped the screening copies off at Cannes Festival offices and the Director's Fortnight. Tomorrow morning I'll take the third copy to the Critic's Week competition; Qs you may know, the Cannes Festival is paralleled by two other events/series, Festival de Cannes being the most easily recognized. For a sense of the odds/competition, there are about 900 films in the pool for Cannes, most of which also submit to the other two competitions. (The others have about the same, I guess, but with some longer films as well; "short film" = <15 min. for Cannes, <60 min for the others. Academy Award category is cut off at 40 min.)


There's a whole story in the final final editing and outputting to video crisis, which will probably only interest someone who gets stuck with the same technical glitches we faced and is trying to overcome them. That tutorial can wait until I get back to a regular keyboard. Suffice it to say, Jonah the editor/DP rocked. rocks. we've still got some audio/music issues to iron out, but those can wait a few days. The last week has been like Groundhog Day, excruciating repetition of the exact same activities until we got it right. And the movie? I think it may not be half bad; there certainly are some really good moments, visually, aurally, or idea/emotionally. Someone else will have to say if it actually succeeds, though. Maybe if there was a big gathering of film experts somewhere, they could tell me...


I plan on falling asleep somewhere in the 3-hour screening of Atanarjuat, the first Inuit-language film, which is an epic masterpiece, apparently (and which was awarded the Camera d'Or for best first feature at last year's Cannes). I'd downloaded their press kit a couple of weeks ago to use as a model for ours. It doesn't open in the US for another three months, and i (obviously) missed it at last weeks' New Directors/New Films in NYC.

Editing, Last Day 3: Well, we go on, editing through the Friday 9PM shipping deadline. (There go my 80K miles. And because of the Easter holiday, I have to fly through London to deliver the tape by Tuesday.)
Thursday night, we called a few friends over to screen the cut with fresh eyes, to see if it made sense, had any unintentionally unclear/unexplained parts. Good thing we did. A couple of key moments didn't come across as I'd hoped. People wanted to see more at the memorial itself, for one thing. While in one sense, the "shortchanging" of experience at the memorial was an intentional contrast with the preceding experience at the crater, it was apparently overdone, an unconscious underestimation of the audience's ability to identify the differences.


On that note, there were moments and ideas caught by new eyes that I hadn't consciously considered. Dennis liked a physical contrast between the comparably scaled crater and the towering arch (positive/negative, raw/manicured, random/precise). Of course, Dennis is a sculptor, well attuned to such things. Patrick caught the naivete of the character's quest, the "not knowing what he'll find but needing to look anyway". And the emotional ambiguity of the end, being left to feel what you will, not just what you're made to feel. Andrew was the sharpest on spotting continuity & narrative flow issues, even spotting a sequence I'd put in of cutting back and forth from driving in the rain and searching online. "I want to see more rain. I know she's still searching; she just said it." And he was right. All in all, it was an extremely nervewracking but valuable session; if it's this tough to show something to someone I know, what's it going to be like to show something to the world? Or to the world that stumbles into the VFW hall where it screens on a Saturday afternoon?

Editing, Last Day: Synched the sound, mostly. Almost halfway through cleaning up stray dialogue and sound (voices in the backseat of the car, feeding lines to the person onscreen, etc.), and always trimming down where it's obviously needed. The movie stands at 17.5 minutes, and we still hope that half of the cuts to come from general tightening, but aesthetic- and story-affecting cuts are getting tougher (and more necessary) to make.


One phenomenon that came up yesterday: what people notice/latch onto in a movie. Jonah and I were tweaking the crater scene (2nd to last, an emotional money shot), and he wanted to cut away to a wide landscape shot for a bit during the caretaker's explanation of the crater. Doing so would've cut these gestures the caretaker was making that I really liked. After I pointed them out, Jonah said he'd never seen them, even after watching the footage a hundred times. (Needless to say, we kept the gestures, laying in the landscape at a different spot of the conversation.)


Later in the day, we were laying music down on the airport scenes where the New Yorker calls home. He's riding a conveyor belt, and I made the comment that the people on the opposite conveyor are so perfectly spaced and cast they look like extras. Jonah said, "yeah, but almost every one of them looked at the camera." And it was true. I'd seen that shot "a hundred times," and I'd never noticed. Yet in the gas station scene, when the attendant glances at the camera for a split second, I caught it right away. How is it that people notice, remember, and give significance to things so differently? What tiny things do people remember from movies, and when (if ever) did the director decide to put it in?

Editing, Day ??: I've lost count. Is it as tedious to read about editing day-to-day as it is to experience editing day-to-day? Since it consumes every one of my 20 waking hours/day, I'm left with little else to write about, though...


Jonah locked almost all the CD (formerly Mini-Disc) audio tracks to the clips used in the rough cut. This, after a long night and early mornings searching for an automatic way to synch up the video and CD audio. Basically, I think it comes down to this: If you have a lot of media, synch AFTER you make a rough cut, and then just synch the clips you use in the cut. If you have a lot of edits in that rough cut, though (and with the kids and the MTV, who doesn't have a lot of quickfire edits these days?), take a pass through your raw material, whittle it down to a small-medium sized batch that you're likely to use, and SYNCH IT BEFORE YOU EDIT.

Some metrics for you schedule-building filmmakers out there:

  • it took about 3 hours to cross-reference and capture 35 CD tracks into Final Cut Pro.
  • we missed another 6 tracks, which we captured ad hoc as we found out we missed them.
  • it took film school grad and intermediate/advanced FCP user Jonah about 5 hours to match up the CD audio to the 12 video clips (which you accomplish by making a new sequence, fyi, which doesn't include ANY of the in/out, subclip, speed, filter, sizing, or other editing data that you may have already spent a couple of weeks putting together).
  • it's taken novice "Can I borrow your user manual?" FCP user Greg 4 hours to re-place the CD-laden clips throughout the intricately woven rough cut. That, for about 25-30 individual cuts and subclips.
  • Even so, it's only about 75-80% done.


    Wednesday is the last 20%, tightening the edit down (gotta get down from 20 min. to 15, remember?), and sound editing/effects (i.e., taking out extraneous sounds, laying down background noise, adding phone rings, Charlie's Angels-style speakerphone effects, etc.)[note: that Angels link is about the movie, not the TV show, and it's slow to download. Oh, and it's in Vietnamese. Hey, Google, recommended it. What can I do?]


    Other: On a positive scheduling note, the Cannes Film Selection Committee said it'll be alright if our tape arrives Tuesday, since Monday is a holiday. No need to bring the tape to the office in person, then (the seemingly excessive backup plan). We now have until Friday, and I save $1700 or 80,000 frequent flyer miles. But I was looking forward to that 6-hour sleep on the plane, though...

  • Editing: Finished the (second?) rough cut, re-editing the middle scenes and editing the final ones (the crater and the memorial), which had previously been only barely sketched out. Learned how to do dissolves. Picked up the Mini-Disc audio, now transferred to CD, which Jonah's going to start laying down tonight. As soon as I generate a list of all the CD tracks he needs to load onto the hard drive. To do this, we created what's called an Edit Decision List, or EDL, which contains all the clips--and their corresponding information, like in and out frames-- and effects in the project/sequence. Check it out. If one is doing final editing on a different editing system, this code-like information would direct the editor (or the system) precisely how to do each shot and cut. It's sort of like the source code of the movie. Huh. I'd better write that down somewhere...


    Other: The production company under which this movie will live is now called First Sally, and I just created a placeholder page for it. The name comes from Cervantes, ostentatiously enough. Don Quixote's journeys were chronicled as "The First Sally," "The Second Sally," etc. At least, they were in the edition I read. (I got it online at Project Gutenberg.) And by naming my company after a famously deluded misfit, I'll be a step ahead in the "manage expectations" department. Much like Philip Johnson calling himself a whore before anyone else got the chance.


    The illustration is the earliest known depiction of Quixote, from an edition printed in Paris in 1618, a choice made for 1) aesthetic and 2) copyright reasons (I wanted something more linear and spare than illustrative, something more logo-like. An early 20th century edition of Don Quixote was one (as yet unfound) possibility, and then Picasso's dorm poster doodle version is good, but see reason #2 above...


    A casual browse, a refreshing visit through the Cannes website yielded some helpful information: the deadline for submissions is BEFORE April 1, not BY April 1. Good to know. That shaves two days off our calendar, and I rebooked my ticket to deliver the tape Thursday night instead of Monday. Also, the other two Cannes competitions, Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Circle have their own registrations. Also good to know. Moral: Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Scroll early and often.

    March 24, 2002

    Oy vey. Where the hell

    Oy vey.


    Where the hell have I been? Thursday night was a hectic rush to deadline, but we got the (interim) press kit pulled together, sans publicity stills, along with a 22-minute version of the movie dropped as-is onto VHS, out to the LA Film Festival in time. Note: the office in the Kinko's location is a godsend. Now if they'd just get rid of the Pepsi...


    Dialogue retakes went alright, quickly dumping sound from the Mini-Disc to the computer did not, however. We couldn't get ANY computer (mac or pc) to recognize the MD player when we were done. Late night beating our heads, then we gave up, logging all the tracks by hand (into Excel), and scrambling to find an audio/video transfer house who could turn 5 hours of MD audio into 5 hours of CD audio.


    Jonah's proposal for The Public Art Fund is getting announced Monday (congratulations!); since he's crazy with finishing his images, I took back the editing suite? kit? set? for the weekend, and have re-cut and re-ordered a lot. It now stands at about 21 minutes, with the final scenes still little more than piles of "raw material" shots, but the town scenes and the third, very info-heavy conversation got a complete makeover.


    It's a fascinating view of things, to be involved at so many stages of the story's development. What works in the script--what's necessary in the script, in fact--may be superfluous or a drag on the screen. The goal of editing is to craft the movie experience itself, while a script is arguably for driving the acting/production experience. If all this sounds elementary, it certainly feels like a revelation to me, if only because my interest/involvement doesn't end with delivering just the script, the crew, the production, the money, etc.


    On another note, Friday night was the opening of New Directors, New Films at MoMA. The opening feature was heartfelt and very well-produced, grace a HBO Films, and it had won a big award at Sundance. A. O. Scott wrote about the Project Greenlight movie, Stolen Summer, in today's Times. His (painful to hear) quote of Bazin: "It is as difficult to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one." Both Elvis Mitchell's review and Scott's discussion of "the System" and the "fight" against it to realize director Pete Jones' vision seem a little beside the point, though. Whatever flaws may be attributed to the production and the System don't really come into play when the story, the director's vision is treacle to begin with. Those guys made exactly the movie they set out to make.


    With no System to blame if my movie utterly (or lamely) sucks, I know the importance of the vision all too well.

    Editing: Jonah got about one third through the rough cut. That puts us in good standing for the LA Film Festival deadline Friday. Sound won't be done by then, obviously, but LA's down widdat. One thing we're sure of, though, is the need for some quick reshoots. In the NY location has it already been a month?], you may recall, there was a buzzing sound caused by grounding problems with the Mini-Disc player. Turns out we needed the cuts that were unusable. We'll crank it out pretty quickly, though (as if we have a choice). AND we need to shoot some more insert cuts of searching the web. Right now, it's a little rushed.


    For sound, I'm meeting with a former colleague who has moved to Elias Arts, a sound design and branding firm. It'll be good to scope out the sound mixing/editing job we face and see if another set of hands (and ears, I guess) will be helpful.


    Music: Bjork's out. I think I have to agree with Jonah that the music is just too emotionally laden. After all, this isn't a piece on Public Radio (at least not until we get the publicity machine rolling). When we were talking about Antonioni and the Caetano Veloso song I heard (called "Michelangelo Antonioni") and tracked down for the soundtrack, Jonah suggested the soundtrack from Antonioni's epic failure, Zabriskie Point. Specifically, Pink Floyd's opening track, "Heart Beat, Pig Meat," which is all but cemented for our opening scene at the airport. It's got an amazing, light keyboard and a faint, moaning vocalist, with an undercurrent of bongo drums. In the film version I downloaded from Gnutella, there are clips from TV shows, commercials, and overheard conversations interspersed throughout. It's awesome.


    Other Stuff: I've been working on the press kit and on completion of the festival submission form information. I'm going ahead with WithoutABox registration, a festival submission service. So far so good. Anyone have any experience with them? Please let me know.

    March 18, 2002

    !!! LOSE 6 LBS IN

    !!! LOSE 6 LBS IN *30 MINUTES** !! Guaranteed*



    *Note: those 30 minutes are the duration of your movie, spread out across 10 days of editing. Also, if you were to position a mini-fridge near your editing station, you are guaranteed to gain 6 lbs instead. (I *have* lost 6lbs by sitting, nearly inert, for 10 days, BTW. At a final fitting yesterday it was noticeable enough to provoke concern from the tailor. TMI, I guess.)


    Back to the movie: The rough cut is now complete, rough apparently translating to, "twice as long as it's supposed to be." Jonah, Alice and I tried to watch it last night on his iMac, but the program was temperamental; I brought the hard drive home to debug and check the filepaths, settings, etc.


    It's slightly daunting, the idea of having to cut half the movie out, although that's a somewhat false crisis; on the last three scenes, I left in almost entire takes, easily 5-8x longer than we'd ever use. That should mean an easy 7-8 minutes, leaving a hard 7 minutes to cut. Figure half of that will come from overall tightening; that means cutting out 3-4 minutes of script. Can it be done? Yes. Will it be done by Friday? I hope so. The submission deadline for the IFP/West LA Film Festival is Friday.

    March 17, 2002

    Editing: When I went to

    Editing: When I went to bed last night, I thought the village montage was nearly done. But watching it this morning, I wasn't satisfied at all, so I recut the whole thing. Now, at least the raw material for a strong montage of village residents is in place. Most of the afternoon was spent stumbling over the crater. There were strong dialogue scenes with the caretaker and emotional scenes at the crater itself, but no real logical way to sequence them. AND, since the guy didn't set out looking for a crater, there's basically no context for the audience; what's this got to do with anything? why is this guy there, seeing as how no one's ever mentioned it before? and so on.


    Well, a really simple, straightforward solution presented itself, and I've been flying through the scene for the last hour; everything seems to fall right into place. The audience should get information about the crater (and in a powerful way) and the guy's reaction to it is actually set up and enhanced by the way it's cut. Or at least it will/should be, once it really gets cut. That leaves only Thiepval for tomorrow morning. Nearly on schedule.


    Not to turn this into a Soderbergh shrine or anything, but I'm sorry, I was at Sundance in 1989 (and managing the foreign film program at my university); I've been influenced. On Avid's site, Soderbergh talks about editing his films, including Ocean's Eleven and Traffic. A "radical" change editor Stephen Morrione made to one scene in Traffic illustrates the potential power of editing. [scroll down to "Half a Step Ahead"]. I felt that tonight. (Although so far, the closest I've gotten to Traffic is scoring one of the promo t-shirts that's wrapped like a brick of cocaine.)


    Tonight, I've been editing to TCM's showing of All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1930 war/anti-war classic, directed by Lewis Milestone. Milestone was a lion of filmmaking, starting way back in the silent era (remember, sound movies only really came out three years before AQOTWF) and continuing into the sixties. His second to last film? The original Rat Pack version of Ocean's Eleven. Hey, I don't make this stuff up; it just happens.

    Editing: Met with Jonah today to review the rough cut. As it stands, there are really only the two last scenes remaining to do, and I'm going to finish them tonight and Saturday (repeat after me: "loooozah"). Sure enough, Jonah showed me some quick/instant tricks that made things sing: slowing down a cut by even 10% to smooth it out, subtle enlargement of the image to crop out vignetting, and rapidly executed cuts and changes in the rhythm of scenes that made them work better than before. Once I get the rough cut to him Sunday, he'll have quite a bit of liberty to fashion the whole thing.


    One thing that I was unsure about was how to really make jump cuts well, a technique I wanted to use, especially in the town sequence, where the man finds out about the town's role in the war as he asks several people for directions. Then tonight, as I was capturing a few remaining clips, I turned on The Sundance Channel, and Steven Soderbergh's film, The Limey was on. Terence Stamp had a scene where he's telling it like it is to some DEA agent or something sitting at a desk. The monologue/diatribe was such a massive series of jump cuts, executed so well, that it was a shot in the arm. The cuts set a rhythm in the speech, subtly causing the viewer to stay on edge, waiting to see what the next cut is going to be. Even though every one is of Stamp, in the near center of the frame, the cuts keep the viewer's attention pinned to the speech, whereas a long, single cut--or intercutting with an unmoving/nonspeaking agent--could cause viewers' minds to wander. Interesting. Here's a Google cache of an EditorsNet.com interview with Sarah Flack, the editor on The Limey. About halfway down, she talks about this exact scene. Very interesting.

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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