Category:souvenir (november 2001)

July 23, 2002

Whew!: After a few weeks

Whew!: After a few weeks of fits and starts, a full day of editing followed by a full week of output-to-video frustration, I finally got the "finished" version of Souvenir (November 2001) on tape tonight. It's not drastically different; in fact, it may be hard to spot the differences at all from the preview screening version. But it feels very different to me. Except that I'm kind of burned out on it tonight, I feel really good about it.

One change I'm still mulling over: a new song under the first scene. It's called "I'm Coming Home on the Morning Train," an acapella gospel song performed in 1942 by the Rev. E. M. Martin and Pearline Jones. While I've had it on CD for several years, it only occurred to me recently to try it in the movie. It turns out to have been recorded--like so many other incredible artifacts--in the field by Alan Lomax, the godson of American folk music (assuming his father John is the godfather, you see). Lomax just passed away over the weekend. Here is his obituary in the NY Times.

July 17, 2002

Music: Spent most of the

Here's a link about rights and a song that I'm thinking of using, a possible replacement for Zabriskie Point.
http://www.loc.gov/folklife/cg.html

I've collated all Documenta 11-related entries in one page, which I'll keep updated. There's been a steady/increasing number of Google searches for Documenta and participating artists; rather than add a new index ("Shows I've seen" or something), I'll try this compilation page idea.

Rights, On: I've been digging into rights issues for both the new project (which will get a highlights list soon) and for Souvenir, getting ready to meet with a lawyer referred by a good friend at Universal (until he just busted out). The two bodies of rights I'm working on are life rights and music clearance. Here are some highlights [up front, let me point you to Michael Donaldson's straightforward book, Clearance & Copyright: Everything the Independent Filmmaker Needs to Know. It's not flawless, but it's certainly an informative reference for getting up to speed. It doesn't replace a lawyer, but it's quickly useful for working with one. And if you're serious about making and showing a film, you shouldn't go forward without at least talking to a lawyer at some point.]

Life rights are a perpetually ambiguous aspect of the filmmaking process. I'm trying to determine the most feasible approach to life rights for the new feature project, an (at least partially) animated musical. The key benefits of life rights seem to be 1) getting co-operation and insight from a party, which could improve the accuracy and entertainment value of the project, and 2) lawsuit insurance, since a valid life rights sale basically precludes any chance someone has to sue you for making a movie based on their life.
There are plenty of ways to make a movie without life rights, of course; the Law & Order universe clearly thrives without them. It ultimately comes down to the equations used by potential backers and distributors, who will weigh the value (or cost) of having (or not having) life rights agreements in place.
Some execs flatly state that rights must be in place before they'll even consider a project; not having them is one sign of amateurism and a definite red flag. [Here is a Q&A with Angelique Higgins, the VP of Pierce Brosnan's production company. Go down about 60% for the answer I'm referring to.] The story of Brandon Teena and Boys Don't Cry shows however, that people are happy to move forward--even to rush forward-- without rights in place if the project is hot enough. [Here is one account of the rights race around Teena's story, but just about any of the Google results make for interesting reading.] The conclusion: you absolutely need life rights for a project. Except when you don't.

Music clearance is at once more humorous and more grim. I don't know if advice is suddenly coming in from everywhere, or if I just think everyone's staring at me, knowingly. Whichever, the Slamdance FAQ came through twice with some good, hard advice: In Part 1, they talk about "festival rights" vs comprehensive usage agreements; a lot of short films screen with festival rights in the hope that a distributor or whoever will pony up the dough to get the full music rights or to remix the music altogether. "So what happens is that those music issues will often single-handedly preclude a film from getting distribution." Hmm. No icebox.com for you. Do not pass go.com, to not collect $200. Instead, "using original music from your uncle's Bar Mitzvah band is usually the best bet." And in Part 2, there's this great bit of advice on filling out the festival application:


Q: Where it says music, is that the composer or what band is on the soundtrack?
A: It can be either. But if you've got the Rolling Stones on your temp track and don't have the rights, it's best to stop kidding yourself and stick to your cousin Joey as the composer.

And the only article from Filmmaker Magazine I haven't mentioned yet (until now, that is), talks about the dangers of "falling in love with your temp track." It's apparently too easy and too common to spot indie films that have been edited to the soundtrack of The Mission. You can buy it here. As if you didn't have it already... Donaldson's book also has a very useful, sobering read about getting rights squared away and the importance of sticking to the letter of the agreements. Music clearance services never looked so good to me as they do now.

The Takeaway: Tracks on Souvenir where we're already making progress on securing rights will stay, but the ones I've been deluding myself on (Pink Floyd's Heart Beat, Pig Meat and Wu Tang) are O-U-T, or O-T-W (On The Way), anyway. My Zabriskie Point/Antonioni homage will have to come from the box office instead (D'oh!).

July 11, 2002

Not only did I finish

Not only did I finish all the tweak editing I mentioned earlier, the momentum picked up. I worked on the pacing of some dialogue scenes, changing some breaths/gaps and taking out a few tiny lines here and there. It makes a noticeable difference (noticeable if you've seen the movie a hundred times; otherwise, it's just smooth.) I was a little wary, though, since I just read an interview with Soderbergh Filmmaker Magazine. Talks about The Limey writer Lem Dobbs, who "fumes at Soderbergh for gutting his script to such an extent that Dobbs was blamed by critics for the thinness of the characters and the lack of backstory." [It's in the DVD commentary; buy it yourself and find out. I did.] Then I redesigned the credits, added some parentheses to the title. (It's been Souvenir (November 2001) on a few submissions lately.) For good measure, I made a few audio level adjustments, pulling up some lines that could get a little lost.

Everything went well, smoothly. Output my new master and slave DV copies, WHICH WERE BLANK when I got them home for dubbing. Apparently, FCP didn't recognize the camera. CHECK YOUR TAPES BEFORE YOU LEAVE. Now I've gotta make an emergency run Fri. morning to re-output it. It looked good, though, and it felt good to be squarely in the "making" process again, even if it's only for a day

Editing: After a couple of false starts, we're finally set to make the editing tweaks on Souvenir November 2001 this week. (Since I only have FCP 1.0 loaded, and the project got saved in 3.0, I couldn't open it without 3.0.) We really worked to balance the documentary "vocabulary" of the movie, that is, the degree to which the filmmaking process asserts itself: lighting quality, high-contrast exposure rates, handheld camera movement, crew and equipment appearances. Post-preview screening, we heard strong reactions to the contrast between "performed" scenes and "documented" scenes which went to the heart of the story. The two major editing tweaks deal with this balance:

  • slo-mo: The opening airport montage's smoothness needs to be equalized. There are 2-3 shots in the opening airport sequence that are a little too fast. There's also one shot at the memorial where the camera bobbles a bit; Slowing the shot down about 10-20% will smooth that out. This goes in the "performed" column, or the "in control" column, to be more accurate. Fluid and reassuring.
  • documentary "fixes": There's a shot at the crater that Jonah and I debated over endlessly. It was an utterly unscripted, unexpected incident that turned out to be one of the most emotionally charged moments of the shoot (and, hopefully, of the film). Because it wasn't blocked, planned, or anticipated, the camera just flew around for a second or two when we got caught off guard. We'd taken that section out, but I'm going to put it back in; the combination of unexpected occurrence and documentary vocabulary is what people responded to.
  • dialogue/titles: There's one exchange when the guy's asking townspeople for directions. We'd cut off the preceding question, but I think I'll add it back. A little repetition may enhance the rhythm of the sequence.
  • sound levels: A couple of audio files need to be relaid; there are some weird level changes that don't appear in the original tracks.
  • ambient sound: In one of the ambient sound loops (a 8-second clip of background sound that plays under a scene), there's just the wind. And me sniffling. Someone asked if it was supposed to be crying; since it happens every 8 seconds, it's a little annoying. And once it's pointed out, it's even more annoying. So, it'll be a 7-second loop soon.
  • music: I'm thinking about swapping out one of the tracks for another one by the same artist. And I have to add a music credits screen.

    The changes should only add 15-20 seconds or so to the film. Now that it's not constrained by the Cannes 15-minute limit, it's fine. Also, we'll output it to DVD and Beta SP for the first time--a definitive version, suitable for screening at your local film festival (local if you live in Park City or one of the places listed at left). Stay tuned.

  • This morning, I did a driveby at the Iwo Jima Memorial (there had been a big formation of Marines there earlier in the day). Whatever Americans know of Iwo Jima today, it's almost certain they recognize the statue. It was based on a photograph by Life Magazine combat cameraman, Joe Rosenthal [Iwojima.com has good background information.] Within 72 hours, the first 3-dimensional version, sculpted in clay by Felix deWeldon. The monument followed on a wave of popular sentiment.

    As I drove by, a busload of Chinese tourists was busy snapping pictures of each other with the monument in the background. Only, they were all at the "head" of the monument, on the "wrong" axis of the sculpture/photograph. At first, I smirked at their cluelessness, but then its source became obvious, and the monument's utter dependence on the photo alarmed me.

    I would bet they had no knowledge of the monument's (formal) origins. A monument that is inextricably linked to an image will eventually have to serve people who have no shared cultural experience, who haven't been "trained" through repeated viewing of an image (and through history taught with this image). It ends up serving as a monument to the WWII-era American public's media-driven remembrance; we are still living in the shadow of that memory.

    Iwo Jima is at least one or two generations closer, historical distance-wise, than the WWI memorials in Souvenir November 2001, but the separation of the memorial and the cultural memory is already showing.

    May 23, 2002

    Director's Headshot

    One of the reasons I'd delayed submitting to some festivals was (of all things) my lack of a "director's photo (B/W)," which some festivals require. Last week, Roe Ethridge, a friend and artist whose work I've collected for three-plus years, took some photos of me. In the pinch, I scanned in a Polaroid and printed it out for the submission packets, but there are real prints on the way.


    Roe works as a photographer for a huge pile of magazines. While the photos he took with Julian Laverdiere to develop the Towers of Light/Tribute in Light may be more widely seen, his extremely smart style shows through much better in the photo he took of Andrew W.K., which is everywhere, including on the cover of I Get Wet, and on T-shirts.


    As if that weren't enough, he's got a show of his work at Andrew Kreps Gallery which got great reviews in Artforum, The New Yorker [note: time sensitive link], and The Village Voice[inexplicably, there's no link to their picks].


    As if that weren't enough, the show's selling like crazy. I even got smoked when I was too slow to commit to a photo; the last one sold to the Mexican billionaire collector (you know the guy). Check it out until June 01.

    Private screening has been set for Monday, June 3rd, in NYC. For those who expressed interest, look for email in a day or two as details gel. Stay tuned.

    Submitted Souvenir November 2001 to the following festivals today:

  • Locarno Int'l Film Festival
  • Short Cuts Cologne
  • Siena Int'l Short Film Festival

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    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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