So. It’s been a few years since my last post here. Back then, the movie was all done except for the soundtrack. Not much to report on that front. I did make a new trailer for the old film:
We’re going to make some posters as well, just for fun. Retro style, of course.
The barber video I talked about in the last post failed due to a technical error. I’ve made a handful of vacation videos over the last few years: France, Spain, Tokyo II, Laos, Malaysia, Xiamen, etc. I’ve been working two jobs during the day for the last year or so and haven’t made much progress in filmmaking otherwise. Dean went back to Canada after he finished his master’s degree. He lived and worked in Montreal and Vancouver for a while before coming back to Taiwan a while back. He’s living in Taipei now and working on his PhD.
Over the long period of inactivity, the blog was infected with something, and I had to hire someone to clean it up for me and update things.
Basically, this is just to say that we’re still here.
I got up at 5 a.m. this morning to go shoot my barber. Why is he worth shooting? Hard to say; he’s a barber because it’s the family business and his parents handed over the reigns of the shop to him, and he has a wife and kids to take care of. In the mornings, however, he works for the EPA spraying disinfectant around various parts of Guandu and Beitou. It seemed like an interesting combination, so I decided to do a little video of him, a mini documentary. I’d been thinking of trying something like that, and I happened to be getting a haircut at the time, so it just followed.
The people at the little office underneath the highway bridge, however, weren’t too happy to see me. They instantly went into full paranoid mode and told me I could shoot the little garbage huts. My barber, however, waved all of these warnings aside. I interviewed him in front of the spraying truck, and then we went out to a series of places, where I got footage of him doing his job. It was interesting. People would come up to the sprayers on the street and ask them to do their basements or alleys, and the sprayers would always comply. Maybe it was because I was there with my camera.
Eventually the crew got used to me and relaxed a bit. I don’t plan to make anything big out of this; it’s more of an exercise than anything else. I borrowed a friend’s Sony handycan, which worked ok, especially as I didn’t have a tripod. The next and final shoot will be at the barbershop itself one evening when I can find some time, and then I’ll glue it together and see what, if anything, I’ve got.
After we wrapped up this morning, though, I got a feeling that I haven’t had in a good while, though, the feeling that I’d actually done something. Maybe it’s not a big huge project, but it’s something. It felt good.
Not much has happened since the last post six months ago. I know, not the most exciting thing to read. I haven’t done anything but a couple of travel videos in the time since. Darrell is still working on the sound, and he expects to be working on it until the end of the year. After he gets all the dialog synced up he will hand it back to me for some final editing before he puts the music in.
In the meantime, I have a couple of ideas in my head for another project, a bit smaller than the last one and something I hope I can really sink my teeth into. A local project that takes advantage of the resources at hand here in Taiwan instead of trying to depict other places, a Taiwanese story with local actors. Something more intimate. Something I can get my head around, in other words. I’m not sure what camera I would use to shoot such a project, as my DVX100 can’t produce HD video. I have a Canon 5DII that can, but only at 30fps, and the production capabilities are limited without major investment in supporting equipment. I might make some music videos with the 5D just to see how it works.
But it’s not necessary to decide things like that at this point. Right now I just want to sketch out the story, fill in the details and make sure it’s not just a tale I want to tell, but a tale I can tell. I’m thinking a cast of maybe a dozen at most, limited to a handful of locations, all in Taipei. A small story with a big impact. Something I can tweak and manage. But I’m still working it out.
Darrell just left my apartment, the final edit of the film copied onto his portable harddrive. That’s it, basically. The film is comfortably under the two hour mark, and is pretty much as far along as I could get it. I could tinker with it forever, of course, and digital technology has made that all too easy (much to the consternation of film music composers everywhere, Darrell says), at least easier than in the days of film, where, when a film was cut, it was actually cut, and bits of frames were difficult to put back in.
In any case, I think there is a point where further editing only makes a movie worse. After a long period of time looking at the same scenes, the editor becomes tired, and any change appears better, fresher and more interesting than the original edition he’s seen so many times. Too great a familiarity with the project makes it almost incomprehensible to people who haven’t seen it before (see the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies for an illustration of this). I may have reached that point a while ago, but although no film is perfect and could always be made better, there is a point when a project must move on, and for me, that point is, if not several months or even years ago, at least now.
Now that I’ve relinquished the project into Darrell’s able hands, the only thing remaining for us to do is color correction, opening and closing credits, and of course promotional materials such as a kick-ass trailer, posters, viral marketing, and film festival research. I will need to revamp the website to reflect the current state of things as well. But I’m done with the editing, which is the main thing. Done! I say. Done, really, with the film, at least while I’m still in my 30′s.
Now I’m off to Japan for a few days to unwind and decompress. It’s been a long haul; thanks for your patience. We’re almost there.
And…..four months later I’m still editing. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train, I’m afraid. Whenever I think I’m getting close to the end, something happens to make me realize that I have a lot more work to do.In tiny, incremental, eggshell-tiptoeing steps as I wait for Premiere’s inevitable missive that there is an error and it needs to close now, thank you very much.
Last night, a friend of mine was over, and I showed him part of the film. He said it was too slow and I should cut more out. I told him I’d already cut a third of the movie out, including several entire scenes. But watching your film while sitting next to someone else is an entirely different experience from watching it alone. I was hypersensitive to the slightest indication of discomfiture, confusion or disapproval. He recommended a showing to a small group of people before locking the edit.
I don’t know how I feel about that. While the effects are all done, the music and sound have yet to be included, and I’m afraid I would be getting input on a whole different animal. Have you ever tried watching, say, Star Wars with the sound off? Ideally a good movie should be exciting and interesting even without sound, but there’s no denying that sound and music make a great deal of our movie experience. However, once we have the music done, the movie will be locked in; no more editing will be possible, so we’re screwed either way.
In any case, I’d thought this would be the last major edit, but it seems I (surprise) have more work to do. It is as Lucas says, that movies are never finished, merely abandoned.
The editing of the film is wrapping up, I’m happy to say, at least in that I think I’ve done all I can do with what I have at this point. The movie’s still over two hours, but not by too much. Titles still need to be added, of course, front and back. Since we don’t have the cast and crew of thousands that most Hollywood movies use, both should be fairly short.
Right now I’m working on the fight scenes, which are an entirely different problem. The fight scene in Clay Soldiers was the biggest challenge to pull off in any kind of convincing fashion, and it also caused the most rancor within our group as well as by critics of the film. I’ve learned a bit from the last one, and hopefully this time around will be smoother, but we are still hampered by the same limitations as last time. My job in the editing is to hide all of these problems without making it look like I’m hiding anything. It’s not easy.
Another thing we need are establishing shots for the various locations we have around the globe. Dean and I were chatting online and discussed possibly utilizing Flickr’s new video capabilities to look for such footage. Basically, we need some footage of a Central/South American city at night and a Middle Eastern city by day.
We also discussed what we both basically agree is a good final title for the film, which is a relief as none of the placeholders we’ve been using so far have really inspired me. I won’t say what it is yet as we’re still mulling it over, but I think we’ve got our title.
So there’s a light, I guess, that could be the end of the tunnel. It’s time we started to climb in any case.
I must apologize for not writing in such a long time. I’ve been editing, or trying to, for the past six months, and couldn’t bring myself to write because I felt ashamed. During that time, if I wasn’t editing, I was feeling guilty about not editing, not enjoying much else because I thought I should be editing instead, and every long editing session seemed to bring me no closer to finishing. No sign of progress, really, nothing to show except for a slightly tighter scene here and there. I can’t just do a bit of editing every day. It takes a solid block of many hours. You can’t just edit for a few minutes a day. I can’t, anyway. I’ve spent the last several months hating myself for not being able to just get it done. The rest of my life has been backing up against this project for several years now, forming a thick dam of scattered, inferior goals.
I went through and made all the changes we talked about when Dean was last in town. I took out entire scenes, drastically cut down dialog in others. Switched things around. People ask me how much I’ve done, how much longer it will take, when will it be done, etc. I have no idea at this point. Dean’s been working at the special effects, and doing great work, but it’s slow for him as well. Darrell can’t really even start his job until I get him a final cut.
My 3.2ghz duel-processor computer with its 2gb of RAM and almost 1tb of hd space is struggling to handle the project. Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 is unstable, crashing occasionally and forgetting the last few saves, sometimes an afternoon’s worth of work will disappear. Even when it doesn’t crash, each little cut or change takes several minutes to churn out, and I find myself staring at the message “Rendering Required Files” for a considerably longer time than indicated in the unhelpful Help section in which Adobe says I shouldn’t be seeing this message at all because Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 features smooth, seamless previews. My entire system is bogged down, though I find it hard to believe that nobody ever edited a 2+ hour project in Premiere before. Even the normally helpful folks at dvinfo.net don’t seem to know what the problem is. Maybe my computer is just worn out. Maybe it’s not just my computer.
But it’s 2008. Deep down, I had really hoped not to be still working on this by now, to have moved on to other things, but here I am, seemingly no closer than months ago. I’ve stopped guessing when it will be done, or trying to tell people when it will be done. “Eventually,” is about all I can muster at this point.
Former ICRT mainstay (before it went down the drain) Brian Lynch showed up at Darrell’s on Saturday afternoon to do some pickup shots as well as his looping. Though he’s lost a bit of weight and is looking better, no one would accuse him of being excessively sprightly. The dogs were a bit apprehensive about Brian. The cats were nowhere to be seen. Doug, who played one of the many guards and lent us his jeep for the jeep scenes, also showed up to loop his (one) line as well as a series of fighting-related grunts.
After all of that, we piled into Doug’s jeep and made our way to JB’s, the site of the long-awaited cast party. To call it a wrap party would seem kind of silly as we finished principle photography in December. A number of people were already there, and the place filled up quickly. I was asked the same question approximately 389 times: “When will the movie be out?” My answer is a no-doubt overly optimistic six months, whereas Dean thinks it will take another year. The second most-ofted asked question was “What the hell are you going to do with it when it’s finished?” For this I have to be a bit more vague. My current plan is to submit it to some film festivals, show it to a few industry people I know here, and try to get some kind of distribution deal. Dean’s going to do the same in Canada. Although it’s possibly we could both end up in an elevator behind someone we think is a movie mogul, talking in exaggerated whispers about what a “sleeper hit” the movie is and how we’re “just going to leave a DVD right here next to the railing.”
At one point Dean dragged me by the ear over to the microphone setup, where he gave a short, humorous, well-scripted speech, as he is wont to do. Then he shoved the microphone at me, and I stuttered a few phrases into the awkward silence that followed. Actually, it was only at that moment, looking at the crowd of faces looking my way, that I realized not only how many people we’d managed to rope into helping us with this thing, but how wonderful they all are. I attempted to say so, and was surprised and moved when my remarks were met with enthusiastic applause. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I have to admit that it was a wonderful moment. It also impressed on me once again the fact that we owe these people the best movie we can make, and we shouldn’t let sentiment get in the way of that in any way. Maurice summed it up rather well when he said, “I’d much rather have a nanosecond-long role in a spectacular movie than a huge role in a mediocre one.” I hope everyone else agrees, because I plan to make that my mantra when I cut further versions of the movie.
The party ran past midnight, the crowd diminishing until only Rowan, Brian Asmus, Lisa and I were left, pleasantly drunk, at a table in the darkened bar. The owner suggested that we depart, so we did. I was fully intent on going home, but the others were in the mood for yet more revelry, so we took a brand-spanking new taxi to Watersheds. Brian marched straight in, but Rowan and I held back, regarding the young fashionable types strolling around outside the tiny space. Not our crowd, we decided, and began walking down the rainy alley towards Bliss instead. Lisa followed.
Bliss was still open, thankfully, and we had more drinks, and more, while sitting amidst the green carpet of the downstairs lounge area. Rowan grabbed a diminutive bartender and began dancing with her. Her Harry Bellafonte collection had been kidnapped, so we listened to Billie Holiday. I don’t recall much of what we talked about through the rye whiskey; I’m reasonably sure most of my state secrets survived intact.
Eventually they stopped serving drinks, and the bar prepared to close. We were ejected with a suitable amount of grace and caught taxis to our respective homes. “Where was the other fellow heading?” my cabbie asked me as we hydroplaned in the general direction of Bitan.
“Yangmingshan,” I answered. The driver grimaced.
“Damn, I live on Yangmingshan. I could have dropped him off and gone straight home,” he said. Outside, the sky was lightening into a dull, wet blue. After arriving home, I took a shower and slept to the sound of the rain until Buddhist chants woke me up at noon.
We started doing the ADR (asynchronous dialog replacement, or looping) on Sunday at Darrell’s, with Jacques and Dean. Jacques’ session went quickly as he has relatively few lines. Dean’s lines, more than anyone else in the movie, took us late into the night. Halfway through we feasted on Judy’s d�ners, which are meat wraps dripping with a white sauce sweet enough to be donut frosting. The first few bites were delicious, but they were so filling I struggled to finish just one.
Looping the audio can be risky on one hand, as you’re jeopardizing the best performances of actors who are into the situation and the dynamics of the scene by replacing that dialog with stuff you record alone inside a small room, all in one go. On the other hand, it’s also a chance to improve some of the more lackluster performances. The challenge is to come out ahead, not just with pristine audio, but with improved dynamics that add to the scenes.
Darrell prepares for ADR by taking all the dialog and chopping it up into easily managed bits, playing them for the actor, and then having the actor repeat it as closely as possible, minus any special instruction. Once we got going it went fairly smoothly, though Dean’s Chinese lines were a bit bumpy. He would hear his line from the rough cut, and then I would pronounce it more correctly for him, and he would try to match it all up. While we didn’t make him native-speaker fluent, I think we improved his pronunciation over the original. He also improved his Scottish accent.
I checked off the lines as we went through, offering ideas whenever I had them. We also recorded some alternative lines for edits that we’re considering. It’s good to have Dean’s stuff finished, because his was the largest part, and everyone else has less than that. Next weekend we’re planning t0 do Rowan and April’s ADR. There are a lot of people in the film, so the whole ADR thing is going to drag out quite a while, I think. Dean’s going to do some of the extra voices, like that of Shirzi, who has disappeared, as will Darrell. From what I heard, the sound on this movie is going to be pretty amazing.
Dean and I have shown the rough cut to a few people to get an idea of what needs fixing. Paul, Darrell, Dean and I had a long discussion on the subject as well. So far, the reactions have been positive and the input helpful. Rowan said he was shocked at how good it was. Some of the advice is contradictory, and we’ll need to work out what to do about those areas. One definite problem, however, is that the rough cut is well over two and a half hours long. That means that some characters and even entire scenes are going to have to be cut. I hate to do it, but it’s got to be done. In this age of “Deleted Scenes” sections on DVDs, however, it’s not as devastating as it could have been.
After an exhausting weekend, I was so close to finishing the rough cut that I decided to not go in to work and just stay at home editing. Also, Dean came over and we downloaded a basic DVD authoring program so I could make copies for the core crew members to review. Then he left, and I began working on the last scenes as the sun went down.
Countless times during this process I’ve run into what appeared to be insurmountable walls. Mostly my fault, of course, for not realizing that something I’d planned wouldn’t work, or just the result of a rushed production schedule. Each time I had to come up with a fix, and if I did a good job, nobody would ever know there had been a problem. If I did a poor job, people might notice that there was a bit of clever editing, the reason for which critics would eventually assign to some childhood psychosis of mine if they were ever set loose on the film. In any case, I was stopped cold many times, but eventually pushed through. Lack of exercise and poor sleep lately have made me sluggish and cranky, and the pressure of getting the rough cut done has been looming over me for months. Rodriquez had four hours of footage to work with on El Mariachi. We had over 50.
The last scene seemed very long, though it’s not, really. But it’s especially important to me, as it’s what you give to your audience to take with them out of the theater. As I’ve mentioned before, I cut to online music to keep me in the mood. I had just pasted the final bit of footage, which centers on an element rising from the bottom of the screen to the top, into the editing line and was watching it when Last FM kicked in with a song from Ernie’s radio list, and in my mind I saw a list of credits following the element up the screen and a fade to black as the music shifted gears from the broad swells of the ending to the pumping techno of the end credits. A thrill went up my spine and I jumped out of my chair. For the past five months I’ve been watching this movie, and now, finally, I’ve seen the whole thing. It lives!
Not quite, however. Much remains for me, Dean, Darrell and Paul to do, to put it under the cold light of reason and figure out where the many problems are and think of what we can do to solve them at this point. The running time is over two and a half hours, something we hope to get down to 90 minutes. Regardless of the runtime, making it the best, most entertaining movie it can be is the top priority.
After setting up the program to burn the DVD copies, I went down to JB’s, where Dean was waiting for the good news. I found him there, sitting at the bar in between an older fellow who somehow mistook me for Gavin and a foreigner who was practicing his Chinese with the bartenders, and he proceeded to treat me to a series of whiskey ginger ales. We talked with the boss and arranged to hold a cast/crew/wrap party at JB’s on June 9th at around 8pm.
As usual, my mind is still getting around going from one phase to another in this production. There’s always something to be doing, though. Next up on the plate is ADR work, which I hope to use to improve some of the performances.