Our World Premiere

Well, here we are.

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A badge, a bozo, and a bourbon-based beverage (photo: Catia Ojeda)

It’s been a long journey to get here. No, I’m not talking about this entire process, I’ve said that frequently and you can read past posts to back that up. No, I’m talking literally getting here. We left our house at 6:30am and it took 90 minutes to get to LAX, then a struggle of getting three suitcases, two shoulder bags, a stroller, a car seat, a monkey backpack filled with kids books, and a three-year-old from the car to the shuttle bus to the terminal. Then a cross country flight (no nap for any of us), a frustrating 10 minutes of installing the car seat in my parent’s car, and then a rush hour drive to my parent’s place.

But we did have something to ease our travel woes: our first review. While I try not to hold too much stock in reviews (if you listen to the good ones, then you’ll listen to the bad ones) I was pleased that the critic understood what we were trying to achieve. He had positive things to say about the cast, the script, and the tone. Maybe there is an audience for us out there.

So here we are, a day later, attending our first festival. The D.C.I.F.F. team has been very gracious and responsive to all of our questions, so I was glad to finally put faces to names. Catia and I grabbed our quick dinner, watched a movie, and then went to the afterparty where we met more filmmakers. Milena Govich, who plays Prudence, joined us as well, as she also has a short film she directed in the festival. And it was great to hang out, have food and drink, and just talk film. An added bonus: since we were staying with my parents there was built in babysitting for our kid.

The next day was our premiere. Very excited not only to show the movie to an audience, but to people I know throughout my life as D.C. is my home town. Family, friends, even a few teachers were planning on coming. The big wrinkle: after days of pleasant sunny weather in the 60s, it got colder. And snowed. And then warmed slightly. And turned to ice. Some people starting texting and calling in their regrets. Would anyone show?

After leaving our kid with a sitter, my parents took us out to a great dinner before the screening. And as nausea set in, we made it to the venue. And there were people there! And a bar, and food, and live music as pre-screening festivity. It’s the Saturday night and the festival staff pulled out the stops.

We gathered our team for a photo:

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From left to right: Milena Govich (Prudence), producer Beau Genot, Catia Ojeda (Nina), composer Jamie Christopherson, me, and producer Katie Rosin. (Note to self: get the photo from the camera where we were all looking.)

In addition to me, Catia and Milena, our composer Jamie flew in from Los Angeles. Beau left his vacation early, departing from a cruise stop in the Caribbean. Katie drove down from New York with her family.

The prior movie and discussion ran long, so we continued eating, drinking and talking, which was a blessing as there were so many people from my past with whom I wanted to reconnect. And then, it was time.

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D.C.I.F.F. Executive Director Deirdre Evans Pritchard introduces our movie.

Beau, Catia and I took our seats in the back of the house. The lights dimmed. Here we go.

I have sat in the audience for many of my plays, ranging from full house opening nights to sparsely attended matinees, and it is always a gut punch. Some jokes don’t get a laugh as big as you want. Some don’t get laughs at all. There can be shifting of seats, indicating boredom. There can be stillness, indicating that an audience is on board. Usually, my nervousness ebbs and flows throughout the performance.

But tonight the nervousness vanished pretty quickly. The laughs came where I intended them. The audience was focused and into it. Beau and I looked at each other in the first few minutes and nodded; they were with us. When I grabbed Catia’s hand she didn’t recoil or tense up, a sign that she was comfortable with what she saw (as comfortable as one can be, seeing themselves projected 20 feet high). We were doing it.

Knowing that the Q and A would immediately follow the screening, I ducked out to go to the bathroom. On my way back in, I watched the crowd for a moment:

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Nina (Catia Ojeda), Franklin (James Andrew Walsh) and an audience’s gaze.

The movie ended. Applause. And the questions began. Comments were positive. Questions were insightful. I was pleased to see two former high school teachers of mine in the audience, my film teacher Bill Blackwell and one of my drama teachers, Frank Shutts. It meant a lot to me that they made it, and they certainly had a great influence in the work I make today.

And then, it was over. I fielded a few more questions and then a tall, thin guy tapped me on the shoulder.

“This is yours.” He handed me a box. In it, a hard drive. Our movie.

I thanked the projectionist for his great work (not everyone can accurately screen a movie, it’s harder than you think) and walked out to the lobby, clutching five years of work.

That next few days consisted of viewing features, dozens of shorts, attending a brunch and a closing night party. I only saw four of the ten narrative features so I had no idea if we would get an award, but I naturally liked our movie the best.

And then, the announcement.

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My first acceptance speech. Don’t let the shocked face fool you: I’m thrilled. (Photo: Elias Savada)

A shock. Pure joy. Our first festival. Our first award: Best Feature. A great start to our festival tour. I gave a little speech. When I finished Beau grabbed the mic and THANKED THE FESTIVAL. Oops. Note to self for the next time. If there is a next time. God, I hope there’s a next time!

The celebration was short-lived. The party ended at 10:00pm. The next morning we were up at 4:45am to fly back to L.A. Back to the grind and the hustle. Back to more festival submissions. Back to writing more scripts. Back to finding more work. But this helps:

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Looking forward to the next steps on our journey. Stay tuned!

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And with the quickness it was over.

Our screening day approaches. This Saturday.

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Put down that book and get dressed, we have a premiere to go to!

This means that last week we had to finish the movie. We had to color correct, add the credits, place music under the credits, create a DCP (which is how the movie projector reads the film and puts it on the screen) and send the hard drive off to Washington D.C.

And of course, there were complications. Point 360, where we were doing color correction and the DCP, would proof the audio files from Stand Sound, our audio facility, and lines of dialogue would be missing, or there would be original temp music playing simultaneously with the permanent music, or other oddities would occur. I had to zip back into Hollywood and do some audio correcting, then back to Burbank for more proofing. Again, I was fortunate to live so close to Point 360. The producer calls, and I’m there in five minutes.

Finally, everything was straightened out, a DCP was made, and we went back into our edit room one final time.

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Our edit room. Since this facility lives and breathes movies and TV, the decor is refreshingly rock and roll. Lots of rock art on the walls, and every edit suite is a different iconic album.

It was a small group: me, Beau, Senda the D.P., and Justin Kelley, our intrepid Unit Production Manager, who hasn’t seen one frame of this movie but it’s always good to get fresh eyes in the room.  And for 90 minutes we sat and watched the complete movie for the first time.

There are still some mistakes; we noticed a misspelled name, there is the wrong music during the closing credit roll, and a few other tiny gaffes that no one will likely notice, but I noticed. For the premiere, what we just watched is what will be screened (there is no time to make changes now).

We walked out of the room, blinking in the midday Valley sun. Well, I realized I forgot my sunglasses so I walked back in and alone, looked around the edit room.

This was it.

Even though there might be further tweaking, this is basically the last time in the room on Closure. It really hit me; I put in nearly five years of work, with the bulk of it happening in the last twelve months. Three weeks of shooting, and then nearly ten months of editing. And once I walk out of the room, this chapter is over.

I soaked it in and briefly considered stealing all the snacks on the table, grabbing the bottled waters, the comfy rolling chair, holding on to ANYTHING to keep it going. (I have hoarded food before; Catia and I are still using the large bottle of hot sauce that was on the craft service table back in April). But it’s time. Time to walk out of the room. Time for the next phase.

So tomorrow Catia and I get on a plane (with our three-year-old “assistant”) and cross the country to attend our festival premiere. Hopefully we can make changes in the coming weeks, but for now it’s time to soak in the festival experience and have a good time. It’s time to show our baby off to the world.

 

Heading Towards A Finish Line

It’s Tuesday. Our movie screens in 11 days. There is so much to do.

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Photo courtesy Katie Rosin

It has been a lot of fun receiving congratulation texts, calls and emails. And I’m getting excited for friends, family, and even some cast and crew to see our movie on the big screen. But we still have one slight hurdle to jump:

We have to finish the movie.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why would you submit your film to a film festival if it’s not finished?”

It’s a common practice. Film festivals are used to looking at unfinished cuts and can anticipate what the final product will look like, just as long as your running time is very close to final, and your music is in the same ballpark. Since September we have submitted our unfinished version, which was missing audio mix, score, color correction, VFX, and contained many temporary tracks in place of score and permanent placed tracks.

In the past few months we have finished our audio edit, approved almost all of our VFX, put together all our music, and are halfway through with color correction. But the clock is ticking. And there is no better deadline then actually having to screen the music in front of a live, ticket-buying, audience of 250 people.

This afternoon I will return to our lush Burbank post-production facility (they have snacks within reach of my greasy fat fingers! Fresh berries! And someone to get us hot or cold beverages whenever we want!) where we are in the final days of color correction.

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Another day, another edit bay.

Color correction involves going shot by shot, cleaning up the images. For example, if the streetlight in the background is too distracting, we can turn down the intensity. Or, if an actor has a zit poking out through the makeup, we can zap it. Or it can be big picture stuff like deciding how blue we want the sky, or the ocean.

It’s time consuming, but at the hands of our colorist Jake Weathers we are moving along. It helps to have our Director of Photography Senda Bonnet sitting in. She knows far more than I do about coloring (and filmmaking in general). My mantra for this process has always been “surround yourself by people who know more than you.” And that mantra has been working out for me.

But we are under the gun.

The plan is to finish color correction tomorrow, sync up the audio mix, work in the VFX, then add the credit roll and music to go under it. We on the production team have been scrutinizing our credits, double-checking all names. Getting information wrong in the credits would be embarrassing (and expensive to fix) so the time is now.

Once everything is imported we need to watch it in its entirety and make sure there are no glaring errors or admissions. Then we need to create DCP (Digital Cinema Package) which is a collection of files on a hard drive. These files, combined, make up the movie. The hard drive needs to be shipped to Washington D.C. this Friday so they have plenty of time to test screen it.

Going to be a busy week. Let’s hope we make it.