Hearing Feedback

“I create art for art’s sake.”
“My opinion of my art is all that matters.”
“When I stop caring about what other people think is when I create my greatest work.”

Bullshit. Bullshit. And mostly bullshit.

I’m not speaking for everyone, only most of us. Yes, there are those out there who exist in a void where they can live and breathe their creative life, without a worry about money, commerce, and anyone else’s opinion of their creative works.

And if you want to meet these people, visiting hours are between 3pm – 6pm on Saturdays.

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The entire process of making a movie involves the feedback of others. While the script and story began in my brain and my brain only, it has been greatly improved by collaborators. Smart actors round out their characters and motivations. An experienced producer has an eye on making sure the story makes sense. But all that collaboration is theoretical until we actually see it on the big screen.

Since I am relatively inexperienced at making feature films, it is important to surround myself with people who have more experience (read: know what they are doing). And it worked. My game was elevated because of the wisdom of others.

A friend once gave me some amazing advice regarding receiving and processing feedback: when one person gives you a note, it is only their opinion. However, once three different people independently give you the same particular note, then it is time to seriously consider what is being said.

Now that we are editing, it is especially important to bring people in throughout the process who have more experience. Our editor Jeff frequently sought the advice of two mentor editors who would give him notes. When we had a rough cut we’d invite in members of our production team to watch and give notes. Then after taking in their notes, we would bring in people unfamiliar with the story to watch and give notes.

From the feedback sessions we received a lot of notes, most of which were either immediately addressed, incorporated, or ignored. However, some big concerns were raised. These concerns were brought up by multiple people. In some cases, almost everyone:

  • The first act of the movie (the first 25 minutes) is too long. And way too slow.
  • One of the supporting characters’ motivation is completely unclear until it’s too late.

The first note was easier to address: cut, cut, cut. Lines of dialogue and even entire beats were cut. Beginnings and ends to scenes were removed. Even individual frames were snipped from moments. Some of my favorite jokes: gone. We scrutinized everything and managed to shave over seven minutes from the first 25.

The second note was a little tougher. How do we reveal more information about a character, specifically how do we tip off to the audience that this character might be playing for the bad guys? And how do we do this now that the movie is shot? We can’t go back to a location and do re-shoots. Even if we could magically get our locations back and convince actors to come in for free, the cost of crew and equipment would push us well past what little money we have left.

But thanks to editing tricks (what our editor calls “fakery in the bakery”) there are subtle steps we can take: we can reframe a shot to focus on a detail that otherwise might haveĀ been overlooked. We can blow up a shot to capture an emotion better that the original framing. Add a music theme that repeats, which subtly reminds the audience. Add sound effects. Hopefully using these tricks and others we are able to fix the problem.

Notes, adjust, notes, adjust, notes, adjust. After a few months of this we were ready for our next level of feedback: producers.

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We sent our movie out to those who make movies. People with experience doing exactly what we are doing. I won’t name names, but roughly a dozen people agreed to watch our film, and we got their thoughts. Most of it was positive; we were on the right track. Surprisingly, some of it was contradictory (one person thought we didn’t see enough of one character, another person thought we saw too much of the same character). Much of the feedback was constructive. We were on the right track.

Was all this feedback seeking worth it? After all, we didn’t get the feedback we really wanted. The comment that EVERY artist craves. Feedback like this:

“It’s perfect. Don’t change a thing.”

Does that unicorn of feedback exist? If not, we didn’t find it. But we did find a place, months into editing, when the three of us (producer, editor, director) looked at each other and said “this is it. This is our movie.”

So now our movie is picture locked. That means that while we still have sound to enhance, colors to correct, effects to create, the basic edit of the movie is done. Roughly 90 minutes of entertainment.

Is it perfect? No.

But it’s a movie now. And we are getting closer to showing it to you.

Notes…and more notes

“There are three primal urges in human beings: food, sex, and rewriting somebody else’s play.” Romulus Linney

I enjoy rewrites. I enjoy taking the puzzle apart and putting it back together to make a different and hopefully better image. At this stage of the game it’s good to get another perspective, or in my case, multiple perspectives. Scripts percolate so long in my own brain that I have learned to ignore flaws (all babies are beautiful, especially mine) and take leaps in logic that might not read to an outsider. Or every outsider.

This week I turned in one script, and like a revolving door in a farce, notes came in regarding my other script that I completed last week. These notes came from trustworthy sources: generally when I finish a script, there are usually a handful of people who I trust to give feedback at this early stage. Also, and possibly of more importance, these are people who I don’t feel are bothered by reading an early draft. They don’t feel put upon, and they are also close enough to tell me that they can’t get to it right now. You need honesty. But kind, gentle honesty.

So, after sending the script to the director for his notes, I also sent it to three people for feedback: one is an actor, one is a director/writer, and the other is an editor/director. A good balance, each with a different perspective on how they look at scripts. They took their time reading it, and each sat down with me, either in person or on the phone, and spent 30 precious minutes out of their own lives going over their thoughts. I am grateful for their feedback. Much of it was very helpful. Well, it was ALL helpful, but I will not utilize all of the notes.

But how to choose what works and what doesn’t? Due to my improv background, I’m a very “yes and” person. Someone takes the time to read my work, I want to assume their suggestions will make the piece better. But that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the feedback comes in the form of a suggestion that stems from the reader’s own artistic sensibility and skill set. These notes can be rewritten so they can start with “if this was my script, I’d…” Recognize these notes, and file them away.

Here is the best advice I received on taking notes: if one person offers a note, it is a suggestion. If three people give the same note, then something needs to change. This is why I seek the counsel of three or more people. Sure enough, there were a slew of notes that each reader had in common. And so I listened. And now I rewrite.

Of course, none of this has to do with the notes of the director. If he wants a change, and it fits with the world of the story, then he shall have it. Because unless I am directing the script myself (and hopefully this blog will detail that process down the road) at some point I have to give up this baby and let someone else raise it.