Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Made A Movie: Part 5 of ?: Editing - the Hidden Monster

Previously, on part 4

After a long break in shooting due to weather, we finished!
In the interim, I had edited together one scene.
But now it was time to put it all together...

The shooting was done. I had all the footage on my computer. I subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud to have access to some of the best film editing software out there. I knew it wasn't going to be easy and I would have to learn while I was going along. I read some tutorials, re-read some tutorials, and re-re-read the same tutorials when issues popped up the tutorials told me would pop up. But I was enjoying myself to an extent. Editing has its own system of mini rewards. Once you finish a scene, or finalize a transition, seeing it again in its final version as a standalone piece of work is rewarding.

Unfortunately, that reward only takes you so far. The farther I got into the film, the more times I had to see it from the beginning, and the more I grew tired of seeing the exact same thing. Another problem was that I just wasn't really sure if what I was doing was the right thing. Unlike a painting, I didn't really have a final idea in my mind. I mean, I kind of did, but I couldn't see the way to get there. There was one good sign - I was still laughing.

After a long slog of editing and laughing by myself in an empty room. I had a first cut of the movie finished. I was very proud of that first cut. A little too proud. It got me through a lot whenever I would mention the movie in conversation or one of our cast or crew members asked me how the editing was going.

"I just finished the first cut."

"Well, the first cut is done."

"I have a first cut!"

And so on.

But I was stuck with my first cut, not knowing what the next step was. I quickly realized, as much as I thought I had to do it alone, and as much as I pride myself in doing things alone, I couldn't do this alone. So I asked for help.

I reached out to one of the original directors who didn't have time to direct the film to see the first draft and offer notes. The notes I received were a big learning point from me. I was expecting a big pat on the back "this was your first time? good job!", "there were a few little things here..." and I thought the process from first draft to final would be easy.

That wasn't what happened. My first draft wasn't ripped to shreds but the notes and comments were much more extensive and critical than I expected. And it was the best thing to happen to me.

It felt like I was trying to look at a painting by zooming in close and identifying colors and brush strokes. The notes I received was akin to a hand pulling me back and letting me see the painting at its entirety. And I had the same kind of epiphany. The notes and comments pointed to the storytelling aspect of filmmaking, something I wouldn't have even thought of.

A film is a story. And I kind of forgot that. I thought just the script was the story. But that's not the case. The actors, the cinematography, and the editing, are all part of the storytelling, and those tools are just as essential to the script. The notes and comments were pointing to the fact that my editing was weakening the story in certain points, which brought down the film as a whole.

So that meant I had a lot of work to do between the first draft and the subsequent draft. But it was refreshing to know that I had a lot more freedom and there was a lot I could do to make sure certain story points were hit as high as they needed to. Unfortunately, just knowing that wasn't enough and I still needed help. I hit a wall pretty far into the editing phase and the actual work that editing was made up of was starting to really hit me hard. So I solicited help from my two co-stars.

This was a HUGE help because they brought an entirely new perspective and were also looking at the film from a film perspective, not a script perspective, which is a distinct difference. What I was doing with this editing was 'how can I make the best kind of movie given our script?' when I should have been thinking 'how can I make the best kind of movie given our footage?' What I shot was following the script but the end product doesn't have to match the script word for word. And that was a freedom I wasn't aware I had. With that in mind, we cut a lot of different scenes and trimmed down some of the dialogue, making for a cleaner and more streamlined video. I would be lying if I feel a little weird knowing my script was cut heavily but overall, it was the right move.

So even though it took a long time, I kept at it and ended up with a new cut of the film. But I didn't release it. Why?

That's a big question. So big, it needs another blog post. But on the plus side, it's probably my last one on the project!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

How I Made a Movie: Part 4 of ? - I've never said I'm NOT ambitious

Previously on Part 3...

Shooting went somewhat smoothly for our first day
I had to take charge as a director, but I also had to listen to my crew
Now, I had the confidence or the foolishness to shoot a big, big scene...

If you play Mugging: The Show, at time 3:13, you can see the beginning of the audition scene. In my head, I knew it would be a quick-edited scene and be a little crazy. But I had no idea what the process would actually be like. Production-wise and process-wise, I had to figure it out on the fly.

We put out a casting call for a mugger on Backstage. This served two purposes. We were hoping to find someone for the final scene but also use the audition as an improved scene using most, if not all, of the people who auditioned. The improv would become the scene that made the final cut.

I was basically unsure of every factor involved in this shoot.
- would the actors be okay with us filming?
- would the improv work?
- would the cameras give us the right footage?
- what about sound in a very enclosed area?
- would we able to hide under the cameras?
- what if we didn't find a mugger?

It was nerve-wracking to say the least and I wasn't even thinking of the normal factors involved in shooting like cinematography, lighting, and cast performance. We had no script and 90% of the used footage, with the exception of the beginning and Randall's audition, was improvised.

Surprisingly, the day was my favorite of the entire shoot. We were having a TON of fun. Everyone who came to the audition was willing to participate and each of them brought something different to the scene. With every audition, all I could think of was 'this is gonna look great!' Because every audition was a different improv, we (the cast) was very much getting into the groove of improvising to the point of doing it for standalone reasons.

So, it was onto the next day of shooting which posed its own set of problems. There was a large span of time between shoots and winter came on stroooooong. We were scheduled for one full day of shooting near Riverside Park. Afterwards, we would wait until nightfall and then shoot the mugging scene in the park. But we didn't foresee how bad the winter weather would be. The daytime scene was extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved and no one thought the nighttime shoot was possible as the temperature was expected to drop even more dramatically.

We called it off and decided to wait for another day.

Unfortunately, the temperature did not let up and when I looked at the footage we did have from that day, it was unusable. Everyone was in thick coats, rubbing their hands, shaking. It didn't look good and we essentially wasted an entire day. It took a huge toll on my morale and worse still, we would have to wait until the weather got warmer before we could even think about shooting. That meant waiting until Spring, which would take months.

To not completely drop all my momentum, I decided to edit the audition footage we had recently shot, the majority of which stayed as the final. It was the one thing I could really hold onto while I waited for the warmer weather.

We finally shot the last two scenes easily with one large exception. I didn't realize how heavily the change in daylight affected footage. Just an hour made a huge difference (and an hour goes by REALLY quick). If I were to do it all over again, I would start shooting once the sun went down, rather when it started going down.

It was here when I learned another thing about filmmaking (a lesson I've learned about writing, drawing, and acting so it was only natural I'd learn it here as well) - lose your ego.

There was a scene I had written that both my actors thought were something else. The beginning of act three originally had a scene where, in part of the pumping up of Daris, he smacked him for motivation. I had written it as one of those standard scenes where a trainer is giving the trainee a good motivational talk and then slaps him for motivation. BUT, both the actors thought it was a spanking scene similar to when athletes smack each other on the butt. That also made sense and I thought it was funnier. I had zero hesitation in realizing that what the actors thought the scene was was a funnier representation of my written scene. So we shot it with that scene in place.

Unfortunately, because I hadn't storyboarded that specific scene, I totally forgot a key aspect, which was having the camera on our principal actor. Despite our best efforts, in the editing room, the entire scene was cut.

After a long night of shooting, WE WERE FINISHED.

It was amazing to know we were done filming but it dawned on me that the next step would be one I would take by myself. I'd have to edit all the footage we shot into a 9-12 minute short. How the hell was I going to do that?

Looks like that's a story for another blog post....