Director’s Journal: Postproduction, Part 1

Postproduction.  What would it mean for Triumph67?

We wrapped production of Triumph67 in early August of 2009.  Immediately after production, the producers sat down and bludgeoned our way through numerous meetings on how to proceed into post-production.  The first question at hand was how we would approach finding the right editor.  The three of us producing at the time deliberated for several weeks to determine the best approach, often coming up against disagreement.  We eventually landed on an interview process in which we would figure out who would be the best candidate for the role of editor.

After all the fuss, two editors (including Jeremy Wilker, who was the director of photography) were available to meet to interview.  We met with both, and both seemed quite capable.  After a couple weeks we chose Jeremy Wilker to edit the picture.  Being new to filmmaking, I hadn’t heard until recently that conventional wisdom frowned upon the cinematographer editing the film, but our budget, needs, and personal experience with Jeremy left us most confident with him for the job.  We decided that I would co-edit (also frowned upon amongst the traditional approach to filmmaking), and we began meeting at his home in Golden Valley.

It was the end of summer, and we worked in the shared home office space with Jeremy’s wife Meghan.   Eventually we would move to the basement where Jeremy set up a makeshift office where there would be more room and less distraction.  We worked on Jeremy’s two year-old Mac Book Pro, and viewed the progress on an external monitor.  We backed up all of our data on various external hard drives, and used Final Cut Pro to edit.  In our first couple of sessions we crafted an unofficial trailer for our wrap party.  Jeremy’s wife, Meghan gave us some brutal but much needed feedback, and we ended up scrapping the original for a second trailer that worked significantly better.  We set it to a Nick Drake song for ambiance.  The wrap party trailer was a success, and set a mood for the film that we felt was appropriate.

The next couple of sessions were spent projecting all of our developed Super8 footage in Jeremy’s projection room, where we captured the projected Super8 footage on Jeremy’s Sony EX3.  We discovered that the capturing of this footage looked brighter and better without the adapted lenses.  We went through somewhat of a hassle trying to figure out the best way to shoot it, and in the process, Jeremy’s projector bulb blew.  Luckily I had mine (the one that appears in the film), and we successfully were able to move all of out Super8 into Final Cut.  This was satisfying, and opened up a new palette for us to paint our picture with; the soft and chunky, fluid images from the real-life film camera.

We began editing the project based on the script into a large, rough file.  The idea was to construct each scene as it appeared in the script, and then come back for adjustments afterward.  The method to our approach always involved Jeremy at the keyboard, and me at the script.  From our three week shoot in July, the handful of days we shot B Roll, and the handful of days we shot Super8 before summer, we had over 20 hours of footage to work with, half of which had been organized with descriptions and notes of which take was best by the interns from during our production period.  This helped us move a bit quicker, but we still often looked through other takes not marked as suitable to weave scenes together when complications arose.  Overall, most of the footage came together well, and it quickly became clear which scenes were working with minimal scrutiny, and which needed a lot of thought and resources.

We spotted numerous minor production errors, many of which were fixable with CGI.  It turned out the Jeremy was a total wiz with visual manipulation of images.  It helped that almost all of our film was shot with a stationary camera, no pans or tilts, dolly shots or zooms.  Jeremy’s prior experience with photo manipulation and technical prowess, along with both of our imaginations opened numerous doors toward supporting the illusion of reality.  Time and again, we saved shots and made up new ones from what we had that was well beyond expectation.

Looking back, I entered into the process holding my breath, not sure if we would be on the same page when it came to pacing, use of B Roll as transitional space, or willingness to “kill our babies,” which describes the reluctance of someone who is intimately involved in shooting a film to eliminate favorite shots that don’t work in the context of the larger film.  I was amazed as to how much we saw eye to eye, and I wondered if the process for deciding wasn’t partly due to the limited choices we had, or if it was because we were on the same wavelength in regards to what the story called for.  In either case, I enjoyed my days with Jeremy immensely, and though editing cut my weekends in half month after month, the time spent was certainly entertaining and enlightening.

Our first rough cut was completed, and we decided to call our intern and script supervisor, James Jannicelli for a viewing and feedback session.  We made it through the cut, which was well over two hours, and immediately realized we had to make significant cuts on numerous levels.  The next several months involved making increasingly hard decisions (but never in disagreement) about what could go, and what couldn’t.  In this period we also began reworking the scenes, eliminating our weaker material, and doing everything that responsible editors should do.  But responsible to what standards?  Hollywood?  Independent film?  Art film?  We decided to be responsible to the mood that had been cultivated.  At times we questioned the clarity of the story, and often to juggled how much we could take out without losing clarity.

Toward the end of the winter, I bought a full HD camera, and the necessary lenses to shoot beautiful filmic shots with adjustable levels of depth of field.  I was able to schedule additional time to shoot some inserts that we missed during production, including a few close ups of hands, some B Roll, and whatever else I could do to help enrich the film.  This process was wonderful for me, since it forced me to learn the skills needed to shoot film-like footage with a digital camera, at a standard of quality that met our requirements.  After becoming proficient on the camera, I scheduled pickup shots (second unit type stuff) with actors.  I shot some close-ups of Flora’s and Mohannad’s hands, some fire kites, and some scenery.  We integrated this second unit material into the project, and it helped quite a bit.  At the same time, I began recording ADR with the actors, syncing up cleaner and better vocal performances where it was necessary.  Several scenes were dramatically improved following this process, and the actors were very gracious, many coming in almost a year after production to re-record some of their dialogue.

The summer had returned, following a long winter and spring, of editing on most Sunday’s and whenever we could squeeze in additional time.  Anxieties and impatience for completing the project became part of the factor in the editing process.  The fact was, we had been editing for almost a year, and had sacrificed a lot of time as a labor of love.   But our love for the film was competing with paid work, weekends with family and friends, and time to ourselves.  I had become a regular fixture in Jeremy’s home, tromping through the house to the bathroom, taking Jeremy into the basement for ten-hour days.  Jeremy’s two year-old son thought I was part of the family.  He was speaking my name after a while.  The time away from his family was hard on Jeremy, and it was hard on his family.  This is the biggest price of the independent film; the sacrifices of the people in the real world for the ones on the screen.

Since our meetings at the beginning of the summer, Jeremy had become an equal producer, and we were making business decisions together on how to proceed with everything form completing editing, to building connections facebook and twitter.  Deadlines were nearing, and we needed to make hard decisions about rushing for the deadlines, or going at our current pace, in which the end always seemed near, but never seemed to come.  After some meetings between producers, we decided that we had to finish the film in time for the deadlines.  We made a number of interim deadlines, which addressed all of the creative and technical steps that needed to be reached before we could submit to festivals, and set about putting those into action.

We had a small group feedback session with Kitty Aal, Associate Producer, including Melody Gilbert and her husband, Mohannad Ghawanmeh, Producer, and Clever Kate who was working with us on PR.  We showed an almost completed film, and got some mixed feedback, which widely varied from person to person.  I was surprised to find that Melody’s husband (a sports writer for the Star Tribune), caught almost every subplot of the story, vague as they were.  Melody told us to rework the middle section, and rely more on what she considered our film’s strengths: Mohannad’s memory sequences and the poet narration that he delivered so beautifully.  I was most nervous about what Kitty would think, as I have been in collaboration with her longer than anyone else involved on this project, but she surprised me by not lambasting the film.  Our confidence was greatly improved after this feedback session, but none confidence improved more than Mohannad, who was a self-proclaimed nervous wreck at the onset of the viewing, since so much of the film revolved around his character.

Though Melody suggested we take a few weeks to work out the middle section, we decided to stay on schedule to meet the festival submission deadlines.  We only had one more scheduled day to edit, and did our best to interpret and address the feedback provided, along with preparing the film for the next stages: sound and color.  We locked picture late at night, and I drove home feeling like I did my best.  A film doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  There are deadlines and all sorts of constraints that factor in to when it will be considered finished.  If I sat on the film for another year, then would it be finished?

So we locked picture, and called Dominic Hanft who began mixing the sound and sweetening the rough spots.  We called Reid Kruger at Waterbury Music, and he agreed to squeeze us in to his packed schedule in order to finish a score by the deadline.  At the same time, we dropped our picture off at Crash and Sues, and they began the process of color correction.

Part 2: Coming Soon

avatarBy Dan on
Posted in Journal, Postproduction
Tagged , , , , ,