We’re Back! or: What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Has it really been four months since the last update? Huh.

The reasons for the absence are many, but it mostly boils down to two factors:

1. Shortly after filming wrapped, the movie was unofficially backburnered as those of us still involved had to deal with job loss, alternate projects, and what can best be labeled as “personal stuff.” All of this made the film a low priority in the wake of real-life problems.

2. Given the time we knew would be required for post-production (especially effects work), our filming end date left us on a curious border: we could super-rush the film to get it finished just under the wire for submission deadlines to many of the festivals we’ve been eyeing, or we could take our time and focus on next year’s deadlines. Naturally, we chose the latter, figuring we did enough racing during shooting. Since we have no release date or other such deadline, the rest of the work on the film can be tackled at our leisure, ensuring we not only get it right but also don’t stress ourselves out in the process.

And so, aside from a few instances of notes-sharing here and there, editor Matt wound up working alone in his spare time. (He did call in Ryan and Jack to help edit the picnic sequence, which seems to have helped lighten the workload.) I got the occasional percentage update (80% done! 95% done!) until Saturday evening, when he called to say the first complete rough cut of the film was ready for inspection. And so the two of us spent five hours going over the footage scene by scene, sometimes cut by cut, to see where we stand.

As it stands, the movie is very problematic, but all movies look problematic in their first rough cut, so I’m trying to stay optimistic. Aside from a major continuity issue regarding the varying length of Jake’s beard from scene to scene (dammit, Robinson!), almost all the issues I have with the film can be traced back to me – or, that is, my directorial inexperience. We’re missing some vital coverage, and that leaves Matt scrambling to cover the gaps with clever editing cutaways. Some of the framing and pacing in the early scenes just don’t work at all; you can actually chart my progress as you watch the film, seeing where I became more comfortable with the cast and the camera. Scenes shot on days where we were crunched for time definitely display a “well, good enough, I guess” vibe, and I’m reminded of Peter Davison’s comment about making Doctor Who and how the folks watching at home don’t know you were racing the clock and therefore think you just didn’t do a good job. Which is to say, unless you want to interrupt the film every five minutes to explain why it doesn’t look as good as it should, you’ll just have to do accept that once it’s finished, you’ll just let the movie speak for itself. And by “you” I mean “me.”

On the other hand, many of the performances I knew were good remain as good, and sometimes better, when I saw them again with semi-fresh eyes. The cast added plenty of detail and nuance to the ridiculousness; the film is peppered with oddball glances and silly reactions that make me giggle. It’s nice to see the acting still holds up long after the jokes have gotten old and the excitement of filming has faded.

Most importantly, though, Matt’s knack for visual storytelling has definitely improved the project. The best way to work creatively is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are and trust them when they say they have a good idea. Indie film is no place for an ego, definitely no place to say “well, it’s not my idea, so no thanks.” As an editor, Matt not only knows when to cut the “chuffa” (a Bruce Willis-inspired term for unnecessary dialogue and action), but his ideas on rearranging a few shots and scenes has given the movie a better sense of flow – and added several new laughs, too, which never hurts. He figured out how to make some of the later scenes’ slower moments move more quickly, and he and Ryan discovered how to keep the picnic scene from grinding to a halt. (Both instances involve overlapping two separate actions, condensing the timeline while maintaining the information. In retrospect, it now seems wrong to have even considered it the original, slower way.)

We still have plenty of work to go. In addition to all the little tweaks, Matt has to figure out how to tighten some of the dialogue (mostly removing gaps to create a faster rhythm) without sacrificing too much running time (we’re currently at seventy-five minutes, not including the introduction and credits; cutting too much more will push us into the dreaded “technically still a feature but much too short” territory). Once we get a rough lock, we’ll hand the picture over to Ryan for effects, then re-lock it before it goes on to Jim and John for sound and music, respectively. Each stage will take weeks (at least), so bear with us as pauses remain lengthy between updates.

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