Director’s Journal, Postproduction, Part 3

Looking forward

As we approach the end of the summer (nooooooooo!), I reflect back across the last three summers, and the long road that has been the making of Triumph67.  I have been in a working relationship with some wonderful people over the course of these last few years, and wouldn’t trade the experience for any amount of success.  There are so many challenges that we have hurdled up to this point, and everyone who has lasted this long is as excited as me about the project.  This excitement increases with the impending completion of the film itself, as we wrap up the postproduction stage, and prepare to enter the part of the process where we reap the rewards, people throw money at us, and we achieve levels of fame and success unimaginable to modest folks such as ourselves.  Thoughts of hundreds of thousands of dollars course through my mind.  Dare I say millions?  Stacks of money.  Suitcases full of dough.  Enough to finance my next big picture.  A moment goes by and the opposite scenario runs through my mind.  Mediocre reviews.  Slander, a whimper of a response.  Bankruptcy.  My brother’s friend’s dad is a famous bankruptcy lawyer in Minneapolis.  I used to baby sit for his kids.  I shun the negative thoughts out of my mind.

The reality is, most films don’t make money.  The other reality is, this film was made with the noblest of goals: to make a good film.  It wasn’t made to sell cereal.

So here I am, about to go back to my teaching job, and about to let go of my baby’s hand.  After all this writing, scheduling, rehearsing, fund raising, shooting, editing, coloring, music making, sound tweaking, planning, and fretting, I am about to do what is the equivalent of sending my teenager off to college:  shove the film in the mailbox and send it to Sundance.  And Dubai.  And SXSW, and Slamdance, and others…

The last couple months has involved a whirlwind of work, both scheduling and creative, to accomplish the feat of nearly being ready to send off this film.  When I last wrote, I was sitting down to watch color correction happen at Crash and Sues.  This was a gratifying process.  Their facilities are beautiful, and every shot started to look the way they should.  Consistency of appearance was achieved, as well as bringing colors to life the way I had wanted to see them.  Sue was wonderful, and really listened to what we wanted as we proceeded through each shot.  Several shots that I disliked before suddenly became among my favorites.  The film is so visual, and so much time and effort was placed into making every shot just right, that it was wonderful to see it being treated so nicely in post.  Meanwhile, I had finished overseeing the musical score development, and felt good about how the film had found a matching voice through the talents of Reid Kruger at Waterbury Music and Sound.  The music making process happened in a fraction of the time that was spent on editing, but Reid was wonderful and a hard worker.  I love the music in the film, and believe that it matches our visual style in tone, mood, and color.

All of this was going swimmingly, and the other element of postproduction had been happening outside of my everyday participation.  This was the sound design.  The producers had decided that we would give the film to one of our interns to work on sound design, mixing, etc.  He had been at it for a few weeks, and I had met with him a couple times to talk about what I had in mind.  So with about three weeks to deadline left, I paid him a visit to check on the progress.  He said that he was wrapping it up, and I came over to his house expecting to be blown away by solid sound treatment of dialogue and even room tone.

As I watched the film (over the sound of his roommate’s TV blasting), I began to question to myself how this fellow had been able to hear the intricacies of the film well enough to address the hundred’s of major issues that I knew needed to be fixed.  As I watched scene after scene, it slowly dawned on my that he had put a lot of effort into this project, but the dialogue was still very uneven, and room tone was distracting and scratchy as the day we recorded it.  When I heard tropical birds begin to sing (and they weren’t the ones floating around my head), I realized we were in serious trouble.  To make matters more ridiculous, the upcoming weekend happened to be my wedding to my girlfriend of six years, followed by our honeymoon to the North Shore.  How was I going to make this happen?  Breathe… Repeat.

As I drove home, I counted the days till the deadlines for festival application submission.  We had around three weeks.  Three weeks to find someone to completely re-do the sound, mix it with the music, put it all together with the color-corrected picture, and press copies to mail to the festivals.  And all of this with how much money?  I wondered where my bank account was at.

After talking with Producers, Jeremy Wilker and Mohannad Ghawanmeh on the phone and trying not to sound too panic stricken, I called my buddy Reid Kruger at Waterbury Music and Sound.  Miraculously, Reid had four days open the following week, and agreed to do our sound design and mix for a somewhat reasonable amount of money (though I had to put my big plans of having my house painted onto the back burner).

So I tried to put everything out of my mind except the wedding, and the weekend came, and I got married to my wonderful girlfriend… I mean wife, Lisa.  Then I tried to keep everything out of my mind for a few more days while we went on our wonderful honeymoon to Tofte, MN, where we rented a beautiful little cabin on the lakefront.

When we returned it was back to Crash and Sues, and then to Reid’s to make sure everything was okay.  As the week went by the sound was completed to standard, and the color was looking great.  Mohannad had left town for a three week trip to Europe, and Jeremy had gotten very booked.  So by myself at Crash and Sues, I reviewed the film with Mark Anderson, the online editor who had put the picture together with the sound.  It looked good, but needed a couple more tweaks in sound (a thunder roll here, a bump in dialogue there), and I realized I needed to add one more shot toward the end.  So I scrambled, and got what I needed, and met with Jeremy on the weekend to start the application process for the film festivals.  I paid the fees, filled out the forms, and scheduled one more day to bring the updated film changes to Crash and Sues where they would put it all together and give us a DVD for festival release.

Which brings me to this afternoon.  It is my last day of summer vacation.  Three summers ago I had the idea to make Triumph67.  Tomorrow (if all goes according to plan), I’ll go to Crash and Sues during my lunch hour and give them the data that they need to, in turn, hand me a DVD for the festival applications. We’ll have to review the DVD to make sure there aren’t any issues, and then follow the rest of the directions for submission on the festival websites.  I’m not sure when this will happen (Jeremy’s on a photo shoot all week, I’m back at school, and Mohannad is gallivanting in Europe), but one way or another, it has to get done.

As I prepare for another school year of due process and high standards, I’ll dream of flickering film.  Dream with me.

By Dan | Posted in Journal, Postproduction | Comments Off on Director’s Journal, Postproduction, Part 3
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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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