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.

 

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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.

…Bring the Jazz

I had a vision. An audio vision, if you will.

As we were gearing up to shoot the movie I thought about the music that would become basically an additional character to the film. Since this movie is a detective story, and we would be paying homage to some film noir traits, I wanted to have a jazz score.

But how to do that on a limited budget? In his excellent book about ultra low budget filmmaking Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez says the answer is simple: write your own music.

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Robert Rodriguez: a one man band.

One problem. My six years of piano and five years of saxophone in my formative years did not translate into actually being able to WRITE music. Unless I want the score to be REALLY minimalist (and out of tune), I had to think elsewhere.

Enter Zak Shelby-Szyszko. He lives and breathes jazz. He works or has worked for jazz-dominated record labels such as Resonance Records and is a consultant for the Angel City Jazz Festival. I came to him with a crazy idea: does he know any up-and-coming jazz artists who would be willing to place their original compositions in our movie for… ahem… VERY cheap? And the emphasis on original compositions. We can get an artist to donate their music for free, but if they are recording a John Coltrane song, we’d still have to negotiate with and pay the Coltrane estate. Zak watched our rough cut, said he could certainly help, and so we hired him.

Very soon I spent hours listening to dozens of recommended musicians. All VERY talented. And fairly quickly we were able to pick songs that reflected the tone of scenes. Some songs were clearly just temporary tracks, like we’re not really going to use this Miles Davis song for the climactic fight scene. But the tone was right. After a few months we had filled our rough cut with dozens of songs, about half from artists who might be willing to license their music for very cheap.

As for the rest, enter Jamie Christopherson, a talented and seasoned composer who had worked with our producer Beau before. He, Zak and I watched a cut together and discussed the music arc, including various tracks and themes for different characters. It was very easy to figure out what would be scored and what would be placed music.

Fast forward a few months. The score is finished and beautiful. Jamie recorded in his home studio, bringing in a jazz guitarist and horn section to round out some tracks. As for the placed music, we are still in negotiations with some of the artists but I am optimistic that we have our music.

We might not have a finished movie yet, but for now, the soundtrack exists on my computer. And if all goes well, it can grow up into a soundtrack album someday.

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Can’t publicly share the songs yet, but if you want to come over for a drink some evening I’d be happy to play the soundtrack for you.

Next up: color correction, visual effects, and a VERY BIG EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!

Bring the Noise…

Now our film is a film.

Well, it’s not finished yet. And it was shot on video, not on film, so it was never technically “a film.”

But you get the point.

What I meant is that Closure is now officially picture locked. The movie is what it is. The story is there and is not changing any more. Or is it?

We move on from our lush edit suite in Santa Monica to a post production facility in Hollywood to focus on audio. This excites me for two reasons: first, the drive to Hollywood from Burbank is MUCH easier than the 60-90 minute commute each way to Santa Monica. I mean, all I have to do now is take Olive to Barham and then sneak through the Cahuenga Pass into (EDITOR’S NOTE: no one outside of Los Angeles cares which route you take to get places. Move on).

Second, the nature of the work excites me. The movie is locked, for better or better. Now it’s time to expand the aural universe. This means adding foley, which is the reproduction of everyday sound effects. I get to ask and find answers to a lot of fun questions like these:

  • How angry can we make the seagulls in the first beach scene? (Answer: very angry by the end)
  • What sounds can we add to get across that Jack’s apartment smells and no one has been there in a week? (Answer: flies!)
  • How loud is the music coming from the car stereo? (Answer: louder than I first thought.)
  • How much of Marco’s panting (played by producer Beau’s heroic dog Buddy) should we hear? (Answer: exactly what we recorded during production, no more, no less.)
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The view from the director’s seat of the amazing comedy duo of Iskandar (Marcelo Tubert) and his dog Marco (Buddy Bubstein). (Photo: Alex Goldberg)

And of equal fun, we get to fix some of our problems. That air mattress noise during the bedroom scene? Gone. The leaf blowers from our first day of shooting? Erased. And the dialogue we can’t hear well?

Well, fixing dialogue takes an extra step. We brought in a few of the actors for ADR, a.k.a. automated dialogue replacement, a.k.a. dragging actors back in to look at themselves on the screen and try to match what they are saying. Sort of like this:

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How the magic happens. (Photo: Alex Goldberg)

Much of our dialogue was well recorded from the shoot, but we still had to bring in five actors. Each one spent roughly 15 – 30 minutes filling in dialogue holes, and helping us fill in logic holes.

Wait, what?

As I said at the top of this entry, “the movie is what it is. The story is there and is not changing any more.” Except it is. Remember those story issues we had? Now’s our chance to change dialogue to help the story.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the movies and TV: whenever you hear someone talking but don’t see their mouth move, only the back of their head, chances are you are hearing something they did not say in the moment. If you can’t see their lips move, we can make them say almost anything. Go ahead, put on your favorite show now and watch two minutes. Right? See it now? No, I didn’t just ruin your viewing experience, I enhanced it! You’re welcome.

And that’s what we did. A few moments where characters are in a scene but not on camera or facing away from us, we made up new dialogue. Cleared up some sticky plot points. Streamlined the story. AND YOU’LL NEVER KNOW WE DID IT.

Except I just told you we did it.

So now our audio track is clean, shiny, and sounding great. All that’s missing is the music.


Coming up next: the highs and lows of getting music into your film for no money.

 

CLOSURE: In Post

When you talk to film veterans, “post” only means one thing: post-production.

Post-production is exactly what it sounds like. “Production,” i.e. the actual making of the movie, is complete. Now we are in the phase of what comes next.

Movies are actually made three times: Writing the script, shooting the movie, and editing. Each part is instrumental and very different, and what’s important to note is that in each era of a movie, the movie is created. Each time. And differently. By the time production is complete, the movie is very different from what was in the initial script. And after the edit…

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…well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

“Post” can also refer to post-traumatic stress a.k.a. “PTSD.” A caveat: I use this term with much respect to people suffering from actual PTSD following much more horrifying situations. While making a film has been described in this blog (and in many other places) as akin to going to war, it is not the same. At all. Days are grueling, but lives are not risked (usually).

But I was showing similar symptoms. For weeks I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering what shot I missed, what mistake I made, and dozens of other ways I ruined the movie. I would wake up to the angry voices of fellow crew members, collaborators, or even one of the dozens of investors yelling at me, only to hear their voices fade as my darkened room came into focus. Then I’d breathe, and relax. It was over. We got all of our shots. Except for some b-roll…

…well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once my life returned to normal (i.e. taking care of my kid, various writing jobs, having wine with dinner, not waking before dawn) we geared up to edit. As the anxiety and fears of production subsided, new fears crept in: sure we got all our footage, but how does it look? Does the sound hold up? Is the story clear?

Fortunately, my fears would be addressed quickly. The day after we wrapped I met our editor, Jeff, in a scene worthy of any Coen Brothers movie. Jeff agreed to edit our movie for an extremely cut rate, provided we could fit it in to his other conflicts, namely a TV show he would be working on for the next month. We agreed, and he said in the initial weeks he would work on his own time. Totally fine. When you have no money to spend, you get creative. And Jeff liked the footage he saw and felt he understood the tone, which is very important in picking an editor.

While we were shooting, Jeff had started cutting together footage on his own time. He even “employed” a friend as his assistant to cut some scenes together. The bit of footage I saw was good; he understood the tone of the movie. The day after we wrapped we needed to get the last drive of footage to Jeff, and since I was free I volunteered so I could meet the guy shepherding the next phase of our movie. He was working in Hollywood on his other project, so I had the address and was told to text him when I got there. He would come out and meet me, since he was technically working on another project and I couldn’t just drop in and talk shop. Fine.

So I park my car on one of the seediest blocks in Hollywood, which is a big claim since most of Hollywood is seedy, and walked past multiple homeless people to the address Jeff provided. The address was for multiple bungalows behind a security gate, and sure enough the names on the buzzer were legitimate companies; this wasn’t a flophouse but a legitimate film chop house. I texted Jeff that I was out front, and I waited.

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The scene of the handoff.

Parked next to the gate was a faded VW Beetle, and a heavyset driver sat behind the wheel, staring at me.

“Hey. How’s it goin’,” the driver called out to me through the open passenger window.

“Pretty good.” I looked down the street. The homeless were unfazed.

“Waitin’ for someone?” Why the third degree, bub?

“Yeah.”

“Me too,” he replied. Great, glad we had this talk. Stared at each other awkwardly for a few moments until the gate opened. A lanky, long haired guy in flip flops walked out, holding a drive identical to the one I was holding. He looked at me, nodded, and walked to the car, holding out the drive.

“Have fun with Dee Wallace,” he said, handing the drive off to the guy behind the wheel. Then they both looked at me. What’s going on here? Dee from my movie? Is that one of OUR drivers? The other car spun off, as quickly as a decade old VW Beetle could speed off.

“Ah. You must be the director,” said the surfer dude. For months, our movie had been compared to The Big Lebowski. And here, standing in front of me, was a very Lebowski type of guy. And our movie was now in his hands.

And that, my friends, is a true Hollywood story.


Up next in Closure: The edit, a.k.a. reinventing the movie a third time.