Director’s Journal: Postproduction, Part 2

The status of postproduction for Triumph67 has advanced to a place much closer to finishing by our self-imposed deadline of the end of the summer.  After working with Reid Kruger at Waterbury Music for an intense week pouring over every scene of the film, I have signed off on the score of the film, and am leaving him to mix it to perfection.  Reid is a master at dynamic piano playing and sprucing up a melody with a luscious symphony sound from his string machine.  The music brings a sweetness and sense of hope to the film that will serve as counterpoint to the heaviness of the content.  It also beautifully brings out a sense of inevitability that compliments the themes of family cycles and the father-son relationship.

Reid’s energy and expertise were a windfall for our project, and I should probably thank Dena Gad (who played Doctor Elfouley in the film) for steering us in his direction.  I met Reid at Dena’s house gathering over half a year ago.  Dena had mentioned him as as someone she respected the first time I met her in 2009, and believed that he could do a good job with the score.  I was impressed with his work from scoring the Listening Project, as were Mohannad and Jeremy, and we were lucky that he could squeeze us in before our deadline when we were finally ready to address the score.

Meanwhile, Dominic Hanft is working on mixing the sound, which covers everything from smoothing out the dialogue to adding the distant sound of waterfalls and the faint chirping of crickets.  Dominic is recording foley into a handheld Zoom recorder, making fixes and replacing mic noise.  His most important job will be to make sure the dialogue is even and clean, and the audio transitions from scene to scene are smooth.

While Dominic works on sound mixing, we will spend today at Crash and Sues in downtown Minneapolis, where the film will be spruced up with state of the art color correcting technology.  Sue, herself, is working on the color.  Her job will be to bring each shot to life, making it pop where it is supposed to pop, and settle into the background where it is supposed to settle.  My job will be to sit at the polished wooden desk in a thousand dollar office chair, eating muffins and sipping a bottle of orange juice and coffee.  They really know how to take care of you at Crash and Sues.  I’ll be sure to be on time.

By Dan | Posted in Postproduction | Comments Off on Director’s Journal: Postproduction, Part 2
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Director’s Journal: Scoring Triumph67

It is the last week of July, 2010.  One year ago we shot Triumph67, and now, I’m staring at the footage that has been seared into my brain and scrambling to finish the film in time for application deadlines for Sundance and Dubai.  I have been meeting with the talented and personable guy who is scoring the film, Reid Kruger, who operates out of his home studio, Waterbury Music.  Reid agreed to take on the job, and we have been watching each scene, marking the places where music should and shouldn’t appear.  Given the time crunch, I am apprehensive about whether the score can be finished with the level of quality that the film deserves within the deadlines that we have set for ourselves.  That being said, the alternative is to miss the regular deadline cycle for Sundance.  Between producers we have been debating on the role that music should play within the film.  Though we love the idea of a sparse, understated score, the question becomes how sparse can we get away with, given the deliberate pacing and several dialogue-free scenes.

Though I think Reid initially anticipated drawing from previously recorded material from his extensive collection of recorded work, we end up playing live along with the film after initial attempts to drop in canned music leave me wanting.  I am much happier with the live music, and much of it is piano based.  After the third day of meeting, we find a sonic mood that suits the film.  The music varies from apprehensive, slow tempo R&B progressions to minor key classical harmonies that evoke a moody, baroque vibe.  At the right moments, reflective, almost childlike melodies are sprinkle throughout.

This morning we work on the opening sequence and Reid tries three or four different themes that have already appeared in the film.  We lean toward one that seems to be emerging as the film’s main theme (a melody taken from one of Reid’s older songs that I felt worked with the Sami character), but discover that the rising piano run of the last idea that we try is perfect for the transition between the title sequence and the memory sequence that introduces us to our narrator, Mohannad.  After this development, we move quickly through the first several scenes with relative ease, laying down the appropriate music where necessary.

We break at lunch for giant Chipotle burritos which we breathe down in about five minutes.  No time to dilly-dally, and we jump back in the car for the second half of the day.  My stomach is killing me as we drive back.  Reid doesn’t seem to be phased by the brick that is sitting in his stomach.  We resume work, and make as much progress as possible before I have to leave at 7:15pm to make it home for a meeting with my parents and Lisa’s parents about our upcoming wedding in exactly one week.  After scrambling all day to try to at least get something down for the whole film, I am tense and jittery.  The burrito has worn off hours ago, and is replaced by the jitters from the cold press I had at around 3pm to stay conscious.  My mom takes pitty on me and brings out a plate of food.  Tamales.

As my brain transitions from score mode to wedding mode, I accidentally eat all of the tamales.  My mom asks: are you okay?

By Dan | Posted in Journal, Postproduction | Comments Off on Director’s Journal: Scoring Triumph67
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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

By Dan | Posted in Journal, Postproduction | Comments Off on Director’s Journal: Postproduction, Part 1
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Eliaza and I (Part 1)

Her name was Eliaza. She was like the sun (to paraphrase from the script). For two years, she was my seasonal lover—a 1973 Mercedes Benz 280 SE 4.5.

I’d fallen in love with the car during my adolescence, probably after I’d seen Roger Moore, as 007, having removed the tyres and somehow got the car on railway tracks, outpace a train while driving in reverse!

I’d picked her up in Anoka, for a little over a grand then spent over a year having her restored, mostly with parts I would find on Ebay. I had her painted. Oh, what a specimen she became!

In April or so of 2009, three months before we would shoot the film, the producers sat down to talk about production and fashion design elements. Not that we hadn’t talked about them before. Super 8mm to be used for and depicted in the memory sequences; vintage clothing, décor, and gadgets; and locations had been talked about on many occasions.

Yet, now we sat down to try to approach the conclusion of the design discussion. I had mentioned in a previous producers meeting that I’d fancied having Mohannad drive Eliaza (I hadn’t used that name or the pronoun “she” in talking about her because I didn’t want to freak them out about some over-attachment condition.) I came in ready to argue for the car’s place in the film, having gathered reluctance on Dan’s part.

At some point in the meeting, we got around to talking about vehicles. We agreed that my old Volvo station wagon would work well for Flora. “How about Mohannad?” I mentioned that I thought that Mohannad ought to drive the Mercedes. Dan responded by saying that he thought the car so big as not to symbolize something worthy of emphasising visually, namely Mohannad’s emotional entrapment. He thought that Mohannad should drive a Pinto. I didn’t disagree or vomit, but pointed out that the advantages were far more potent: The car could well have been one that his deceased Palestinian Ophthalmologist father would have driven, back in the day. Thus, Mohannad would have elected to drive a token of memory as he does in riding his brother’s Triumph motorbike to Flora’s.

Secondly, I remarked on the car’s following our film’s visual interest in things retro, as signifiers of memory.

Thirdly, I alerted them to something that I hadn’t thought that any of them knew: the iconic status of Mercedes in the Arab world. Yes, I know that it is iconic here as well, but not in the same way or degree. If you’ve spent time in the Arab World or even the greater Middle East you’d know what I was talking about. Haven’t an idea and would like to get one, get into a shrine rendered 30-year-old Mercedes taxi in Amman and ask the driver what he thinks of Mercedes!

Finally, I exclaimed, “And because its fucking gorgeous!”

We agreed. And Eliaza was in, but not for long…

By Mohannad | Posted in Preproduction | Comments Off on Eliaza and I (Part 1)

The Death March, or An Evening with Heinous Feta

We were now in the middle of the second week of shooting and had moved the set to Kim and Kareem’s house. Exhausted and strained after the first week of shooting and hardly having recovered during the single day off the we’d got after seven or eight days of 14-18 hour days, we hadn’t yet adjusted to the rigor and intensity, which I think we had by the third week.

We had decided to start our day late, at noon, because there were plenty of night scenes scheduled and we realized that we would be shooting well into the night. We had misjudged our capacities!

Trouble began when Sarah seemed not to give Dan what he was looking for. She was, like most of us, obviously enervated and was acting daffily. We took a break, she collected herself and we pressed on.

Later, by now evening, Adam and Mohannad had a scene to be shot in which Mohannad demonstrates the proper way to consume feta, a complex scene in terms of the number of lines and precise movements: dressing the feta, breaking the pita, scooping, depositing, chewing, and more—all quite orchestrated by Dan. Needless to say that we had to execute multiple takes before we had delivered an appreciable one. By then I had lost patience with having to repeatedly taste some wretched pita and feta! Look for the outtake related.

By about midnight, two things had become obvious: that we had grossly underestimated how late we would have to go to deliver the scenes scheduled and that the majority of cast and crew were dog tired. Yet we persisted, because our shooting schedule was decidedly tight, as of course was our budget (What budget!) Dan understandably didn’t want us to fall behind.

Around two, while shooting a scene, Dan exclaimed “Cut!” then asked Jeremy, “Why is this out of focus?” Jeremy responded somehow and we set up again. Dan again hollered “cut” before Mohannad and Flora had concluded the lines for the scene. “What’s going on?” I asked Dan. He discreetly told me that our cinematographer must be out of sorts, so as not to focus his camera.

When we moved to discuss this with Jeremy, he responded that it must have something to do with the “death march that we had been on for the last couple of weeks.”

Dan insisted that we try to march on, citing the importance of our staying on shooting schedule.  Jeremy then turned to my sister and said, “Aman, let’s go for a run around the block!” Always a good sport, Aman obliged. I watched them take off, Jeremy high stepping and charging at once. “What a pro!” I thought to myself.

Yet, the run was not enough. We managed to wrap one, maybe two, scenes upon Jeremy’s return, but soon realized that our second wind wasn’t going to carry us far. We wrapped the day at around 3, with several scheduled scenes not having been shot.

We were concerned, but not overly so, and by the middle of the third and last week of shooting, we had caught up. We went on to shoot the film on schedule and within budget. Oh, yeah, what budget!

By Mohannad | Posted in Production | Comments Off on The Death March, or An Evening with Heinous Feta
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Rough Cut Done!

We set ourselves a deadline of the end of the year to get the rough cut edit done and even with various delays and extended timelines, we met our goal and finished the rough cut tonight! It feels great to reach this milestone, even though we are well aware that we still have a lot of work left with sound mixing, soundtrack and color correction before the film is ready to be screened. Wow! Excuse us while we pour a celebratory drink and get ready for the new year… 2010 is going to be amazing.

By Jeremy | Posted in Postproduction | Comments Off on Rough Cut Done!
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Editing has begun!

Sami and CameraDan and I (Jeremy) spent the past two days capturing all the Super8 film reels in HD video for the rough cut editing process. It took longer than expected as one projector went on the fritz and then we had some technical issues (a rolling-type shutter effect) for which we had to find a solution (and did). We finally got all the reels in digital form and started editing the rough cut of the film! It is really amazing to see scenes shot on various days and in multiple locations come together to form something cohesive. Keep in mind that this is the rough cut and we are aiming for year’s-end for a finished film.

By Jeremy | Posted in Postproduction | Comments Off on Editing has begun!
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Wrap Party

Party KidsTonight is the T67 wrap party and I’m hopeful everyone can make it. I know a few of our cast and crew are out of town and are mightily bummed to be missing the merry-making. This will be an evening of “fancy” dress and drinks and I think based on our busy shooting schedule that everybody will be eager to relax and blow off some steam. There may be a small surprise in store, too!

By Jeremy | Posted in Production | Comments Off on Wrap Party
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That’s a wrap!

Beer and MusicOfficially we were done shooting principal photography on Triumph67 after 18 days on-set last Thursday… unofficially we (Dan, Kareem and myself) went out and shot four more scenes yesterday afternoon. I believe now we are done. We just needed to get an establishing shot, two retakes and a brand new scene in the can to fulfill the entire list of scenes needed for the film. And the last shot was a heck of a happy accident that may well be over-the-top even though it was completely natural (think too-good-to-be-true sunlight glinting off a metal prop kind of thing). Regardless, I’ve been in a low-key sleepy kind of mood since then and I’m quite OK with that. It was a long, hard process that wore us all out, even as it charged us up with adrenaline. I’m still basking in the glow of all the great and crazy stuff we accomplished just because we desired it. Amazing. Time for some loud music and an adult beverage.

By Jeremy | Posted in Production | Comments Off on That’s a wrap!

Director’s Journal: Day 18

Thursday, Day 18.

A skeleton crew arrives at my home at 8:30am.  We caravan to Lake City, Minnesota in two cars, stopping at a gas station just out of town for bananas, candy, and pop.  We are on our way to shoot the final scenes of Triumph67, on my parent’s sailboat on Lake Pepin, the widest point of the Mississippi River.  It is a sunny day, and we are on our way to finishing on schedule, with minimal need for pickup shots.

The drive takes an hour and a half, and we arrive to meet my parents at the Lake City Marina.  My parents, Mark and Laura, have brought their new puppy, Luna.  We get right to work, and begin the shoot with the sequences on the boat dock.  My father motors the sailboat in and out of the dock several times while we shoot Mohannad jumping from the bow onto the dock and walking past Charles (Doug Larison).  After several tries we get what we need and move on.

Mohannad and Adam do a scene in which they walk toward the camera down the long dock, having a conversation.  I listen through headphones to them chatting from down the dock, and overhear Mohannad grumbling about nailing my sunglasses to my nose.  I have a very soft place in my heart for Mohannad.  We have been through a lot together over the past year, and he has given himself fully to this project.  I consider him to be a wonderful person, and enjoy every minute of our time together.  I don’t blame him for wanting to strangle me.  I have demanded a lot from him.

Mohannad’s portrayal of a grieving, and somewhat repressed brother has taken a remarkable toll on him.  He is noticeably thinner since the beginning of the shoot (though we all are), but I have also noticed an openness that is new to Mohannad.  He is laying himself on the line, and being vulnerable in front of everyone.  Even as far back as when he was reading the script out loud around the table with the producers, he was throwing himself into his character.  I wonder if he will be able to completely separate from the damaged man whom he has portrayed so well.  They share the same name, ethnicity, love of cinema, car… We even shot in Mohannad’s actual home.  In addition, he has made his living teaching film courses at a community college, and now he must shift positions from the safety of being the critic, to the artist who’s reputation is on the line.  It takes courage to do what he is doing, and to do it well.  I forgive him for the pinch about my nose.

When we are done on the dock, we take the boat out onto the water.  We grab as much B Roll as we can, and get the shots that the script calls for.  We have the actors adlib for a while, but the clouds start rolling in and it gets dark.  We return to the Marina, and pack up.  I say, “That’s a wrap,” and we stroll back down the dock to our cars.

We are hungry and tired from spending all day in the sun, and decide to drive back to Minneapolis before having dinner.  The drive goes quickly as Mohannad tells stories about his childhood in Saudi Arabia.  The car grows quiet as his voice lulls us.  It is dark when we arrive back in the cities, and we go to the Chatter Box Pub in South Minneapolis.

I have grilled cheese and tomato soup, but the waitress won’t serve our table beer since one of our interns is under 21.  I don’t mind too much.  After 18 days of shooting my first film I have a natural high that is quite wonderful.  Even after we leave, it doesn’t wear off, and when I hit my pillow, I dream of the friends I’ve made and the images that I have strived to see.

By Dan | Posted in Journal, Production | Comments Off on Director’s Journal: Day 18