I just got the first cut of my feature film this week from the editor in NY.
I still don’t have a title so it’s called Dinner Party. Still untitled. It’s a rough assembly of the first 32 minutes.
Watching rough cuts, especially that first one, is never really pleasant. Mostly I was dreading it, dreading that it would be bad or stupid or terrible or a waste. That’s self-doubt of course, but the fear is real. Sometimes what you make is not good.
Some of it works really well, some of it needs work. I’m relieved. It’s going to be OK. With a lot of work, it might be better than OK or perhaps good or very good or excellent or even great. I won’t know until we put in the work.
Making a film (can be) complex.
Start with something very small, a microshort.
Then with each additional project, add another layer of complexity. If you’re feeling bold, you can add many layers at once. Too little challenge and you’ll get bored. Too much challenge and you might get overwhelmed (or rise to the occasion).
Either way, you can add something new every time you go out:
- SAG actors
- Asking other people for money (crowdfunding)
- Getting investors
- A bigger crew
- Locations that you don’t own
- Professional post-production
- A camera that you have to rent
- Enough lighting equipment to require a truck
- An art department
- A composer (instead of free music)
- Special FX
You can also up the creative difficulty:
- More developed characters
- Blending improvisation with scripted work
- A larger cast
- More visual storytelling (or more dialogue-driven)
- Adapting an original work
- Challenging material
- Risky, personal material
My sweet spot is where I’m pushing myself and it feels like there a real risk that it will fall apart but I’m also having fun and experiencing the joy. Suffering and stress don’t have to add up to unhappiness.
Post-production is humming along nicely. Right now I’m working with the composer to create the soundtrack. I’m also talking to a music label about licensing a couple songs that I want to use in the middle of the film.
After that, we’re going to mix the sound and color grade the picture (we shot it flat, although the teasers have a LUT on them to bring out the color a little bit better).
Right now, we’re hoping to have it done by the end of October so we can start submitting to festivals.
I like to get feedback on my work throughout the writing process, by doing readings (in front of audiences of other writers or live audiences, depending on what stage the script is in) and I started getting feedback on my rough cuts when I did Words Fail Me last year. Last weekend, I had six friends come over and we watched the latest version of the rough cut of The Deadline.
I prefer to do the screening in my apartment because then people will actually sit there and watch without distraction–it’s hard to sit through a short film when you’re home alone and your phone is beckoning to distract you (at least it is for me).
I thought it was going to take about an hour — 15 minutes to watch it and 45 minutes to discuss, but we ended up talking for about 2 hours. The feedback was really great and it allowed me to see things that were in front of me but had become invisible through repetition. And there were a couple of beats that I loved but everyone said that they should be cut. It’s heartbreaking because I really loved those parts, but they just didn’t work for the story.
And there were some notes that I will not be using. I think you shouldn’t take everything, otherwise people will feel too much responsibility when they give a note, because they know you will take it.
And sometimes there are secret reasons for doing something and you just have to trust your gut that they are for the best. Feedback should make the work stronger and make you a better editor. I wonder if mastery of editing would mean that your instincts are so refined that all feedback would be superflous.
Who needs film school when you have Every Frame is a Painting? This couldn’t have come at a better time for me, as I’m getting into the exciting but difficult part of editing The Deadline.
When I was working with the colorist on Words Fail Me, he asked me to export my sequence in ProRes 4444 format. ProRes is an Apple format. And I was working on Adobe Premiere on PC, which as of July 2015, doesn’t natively support exporting to ProRes.
There is a solution however–a company in Spain, Cinemartin, sells a plugin called Plin.
Once you download and install it, it adds a menu item under File in Adobe Premiere and you can now export to ProRes.
A few things about it:
- A few times it froze and I had to cancel the export, restart Premiere and start over again until it worked. It froze on me 2 or 3 times total.
- There is a bug that some people have mentioned where it won’t work if you don’t have enough disk space (1 terabyte) on your C Drive it won’t work. I only have 250 gigs on my C Drive and it worked fine.
- Their website isn’t generally user friendly and I think their English probably isn’t great.
If you’re OK with all that, then I recommend the plugin because it works well. The alternative would be to find someone with a Mac and export from their machine, but that’s a bit of a pain in the ass, unless it happens to be your roommate or you have one at work that your company doesn’t mind you using for this sort of thing.
Working with completely improvised dialogue was probably similar to editing a documentary. The story has to be assembled and rewritten from what was captured.
Adobe Premiere’s sync function works well about 75% of the time. It’s more convenient to use than Red Giant’s PluralEyes but not as reliable.
I always back everything up to multiple devices and at least once to the cloud. If a fire or robbery happens, I’ll only lose a day of work. Same if DropBox or Google Drive loses everything.
Part 1 – Surveying the footage
For each episode, I opened up my outline on a 2nd screen and created sequences in Adobe Premiere for each of the story beats.
Then I went through the footage, cutting clips and filing them away on the sequence related to their beat. This was easier on some episodes than others. As I watched, the story changed and I rewrote the outline and reorganized the sequences, sometimes 7 or 8 times, until I got to the end of the unlogged footage and had everything sorted into a beat sequence.
This was the most mentally exhausting part of the editing because it’s slow, it involves a lot of “writing” and it because at this point I was watching footage that was slow and having to watch it for very specific issues of content, then decide where to put it, and then possibly rewrite everything based on what I was seeing.
When I was done, I had six or seven sequences in Premiere, one for each beat of the story.
Part 2 – Putting together the beats
Once I had the raw footage sorted into beats, I would work through the individual story beat and massage that. These sequences would have anywhere from 30 seconds (for an intro or outro beat) to 15 minutes of material.
I would comb through them and start to piece together a rough story for the beat, moving any material that I didn’t like or didn’t want to use to a “discards pile” sequence so that I could go back to it later without searching through one of the raw clips.
This took a long time as well, and it also triggered some rewriting of the beats. Occasionally it would spawn new beats as I realized that more than 1 major thing was going on in the sequence.
At the end of this part, my beat sequences would still be rough, but they would have a few minutes of the best clips for a given beat and a lot of discarded clips that I left on the timeline (just in case) but separated from the good footage.
Part 3 – Rough Assembly
The next step was to drop the various beats into a master editing sequence, which would eventually become the rough cut. This first assembly would clock in at a more manageable 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the episode.
Then I would start to watch the rough assembly, making bigger cuts as I went through it, and sometimes rewriting the story beats again. Sometimes one beat would have a good transition to another beat, so I would want to get the good transition lined up. Or sometimes the story just played out differently than I imagined, and the order had to be re-arranged.
This part was more fun than the previous part, but still involved a lot of writing work.
After I had the story solidly in place, I would go through the sequence over and over, cutting away the fat and the things that didn’t work. I cut beat repetition (when the same joke or story beat or tactic was used again without any variance in emotion, tactic, tone, physicality, etc.). I cut extra space at the beginning and end of clips. I cut out frivolous words or false starts to sentences (although I left some of these in). And I cut anything that just didn’t work or seem to fit the story.
After doing this for a while (hard to say how many hours this part took, somewhere in the range of 3 to 8), I would export a rough cut.
Part 4 – Getting feedback
I wrote a separate post about getting and interpreting feedback here.
Part 5 – The final polish
This is the most fun part. By this time, watching it 50 times in a day wasn’t so bad because the story was flowing and the only things that remained to be cut were things that I loved but had to go anyway.
I tackled the feedback and made any changes based on that. I didn’t take all of the notes and I paid special attention to notes that came up for more than one viewer – if multiple people are saying the same thing, it’s probably not a matter of personal taste.
Next, I worked on the pacing. I developed a specific style for WFM, using a lot of jump cuts and quick cuts, stacking the lines of dialogue on top of one another. It’s not naturalistic, but I think it works well for the medium and keeps the viewer moving through the story. On the web, 5 minutes is a long time, and I wanted to keep viewers on their toes and make sure that there was enough novelty from moment-to-moment that would tickle their brains and keep them engaged.
Did I succeed in that? I’m not sure, but I did my best. And it wasn’t just about pandering to a web audience. I really like the style I used and it was a good way to manipulate a long story in a short time frame.
Once I was done the final polish, I didn’t lock the picture. Instead, I slept on it for a night and came back to it the next day to give it another pass. If I watched the whole thing without making any changes, I locked picture and sent it off to the colorist.
If I made a lot of changes in the final pass, then I would sleep on it again because I knew that I might look at it differently the next day. If this happened three days in a row, I locked it anyway and shipped it off (otherwise I’d still be tweaking some of them…).
I feel like a kid in a high end post-production facility (at Periscope Post & Audio).