Saturday, 20 October 2012

(Not So) Short Cuts

Ah, editing. Such sweaty sorrow. It brings new meaning to Paul Valery’s famous remark about poems never being finished, only abandoned.

Picture this; you have managed to knock out the montage sequence the musicians require to get on with their work, you’ve rendered it, you’ve popped it into a Dropbox folder and they’ve acknowledged receipt…and suddenly you have a MUCH better idea how to do it.

So you play with the footage, and yes, it’s looking snappier and pacier and much more fun. So you render it. And then suddenly you see how you could move another bit of footage, and if you do that, then...

Alice helped out last time - now it's her turn on camera

And so it goes on. So what I considered a more-or-less finished sequence of the film ends up taking another whole day. It’s worth it, of course it’s worth it, but when do you stop...? I’m reminded of the sequences in the splendid All That Jazz where Roy Scheider’s character continually tweaks the stand-up footage he’s editing, exasperating his colleagues but finally drawing a groan of: ‘It’s better. Oh God – it is better.’ (I quote from memory, so excuse paraphrasing.)

For those of you who care about such things, here’s the contrast between the original edit (left) and the revised version. The single-take scene is broken up and the end redistributed among the other clips, and as a result the music can come in earlier.

Blue columns at the bottom represent text titles inserted for bits I haven’t shot yet – as you can see those have moved, too. (Click on pic to enlarge)

My tired (three year-)old computer will not handle a 100-minute edit of such complexity (at least not without taking so long to auto-save I could go off and shoot a short film while I’m waiting), so I’ve broken the film down into twelve sections, most of them approximating 7-8 pages of script. This makes the mammoth task ahead seem slightly less terrifying, though there are bound to be moments when I wish all the edits were in the same project so I could more easily cross-check things.

Nina Ross reads in and helps Leah Remfry-Peploe with her eyeline

Elsewhere – well, about three metres away in the same room – filming continues on the final interview sequences. I have just two pages of script remaining, involving five or six actresses, depending on whether I feel I can cut a character.

The enormous looming shadow of this final stage job has daunted me, I admit, and as a result I’ve taken some time to get down to this, but now I’m more or less back in the swing of editing, and looking forward to getting into some more complex scenes.

Nina Ross

The next scene in the story involves characters watching TV, and due to our shooting schedule I didn’t have time to edit the footage they were watching, which meant we had to run different takes of the same scenes on the screen over and over again, in disjointed excerpts until I was sure which takes I’d be using. I may not tackle the scenes in story order.

These two things are in no way connected.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Tuesdays With More Actresses

More interviews under the belt, a few more to follow…

Editing was supposed to start this week. And it did – sort of. Part of the problem with a job this big is where to start. One could just begin at the opening shot of the film and work on through, but that just seems to make the whole thing more daunting. Plus I have musicians poised to compose and the parts of the film that would be most useful to them are the sequences without dialogue. So, so far, all I’ve done is nibble at the edges.

So, for now, a stocktake of sorts. What have I learnt from this experience?

There was a point when I thought I’d learnt that you simply don’t do this sort of thing, but I seem to have forgotten that lesson. It will no doubt come back to me with some force when I embark on the next one.

Well, after watching the light change during a brief shot I realise why professional films always use artificial lighting, but I still don’t regret my decision to use natural light 90% of the time. We barely got some of the scenes shot as it was; time spent fiddling with lights would have meant rushing even more. (Plus, I had no money for them, and using someone else’s would have meant factoring yet another person into the scheduling. NO.)

I’m not sure what I learnt about issuing call sheets – except maybe I should have had some. I did find that certain members of the cast got easily confused about what we were shooting and when, and if I ever made the mistake of explaining why something had to be done at a certain time or in a certain way because of something to do with another scene, that compounded the confusion. This of course was where having a producer or some sort of assistant would have been really handy, although the one member of the cast who most strongly suggested that then immediately realised: ‘but of course you’d have to tell them everything to start with’. Realistically, no one was ever going to have even a fraction of the time needed to really support me on this. Since I was re-casting right up to the wire, I was really the only person who could deal with cast liaison.

One thing I learnt was to keep an eye on the bigger picture, script-wise. Several times during shooting I was challenged about particular lines or actions, and on one or two occasions I gave in to suggestions, only to realise that there was a good reason for what I’d done based on the preceding scene or the subsequent one. I simply didn’t have the time to keep going over the script to remind myself how it all fitted together, and that’s something I should have made time for. Fortunately I don’t think any real damage was done.

To say I would have liked a lot more rehearsal time with the cast is an obvious one; the circumstances of the shoot simply didn’t allow for it. We were fantastically lucky to get Jess’s scenes shot in the two weeks we had available (to add to everything else she was moving house at the time) and we couldn’t have done so had Megan not been so flexible about her other work. Jess was cast about a week before we shot, Megan a day or two later.

And I was also supremely lucky that the two weeks I booked off from work when I thought (falls off chair laughing) I’d be editing turned out to be that same fortnight when we had to get a full third of the film shot. It was an absolute nightmare and probably my favourite two-week period of the whole year. And I would be remiss not to mention the other two stalwarts of the production, my leading lady, Talia, and the nearest thing we had to a production assistant, Sophie, who filled in wherever and whenever needed. That fun-filled fortnight would not have worked out without their whole-hearted cooperation.

But probably the most important lesson I learnt was about myself. I started off as a writer. I have written eight or nine novels, but I’ve abandoned many, many more. Once I’ve begun to shoot a film, I’ve never failed to finish it. This one was so nearly the exception. SO MANY times during this process I would happily have walked away without a backward glance – if I had been the only one to be affected. But I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t, let the work of so many other people go to waste. So I now know that it’s easier for me to let myself down than disappoint others. In this case, that was a good thing, because it forced me to keep going and the film got made. For other areas of my life, though…I shall need to watch that.

In the meantime, you can watch this: music by the ├╝ber-talented Emily Baker, a little mash-up of shots from the film.

That will do, won’t it? I don’t need to edit the entire thing, do I…?