I've been working with Frank every day on the edit. It's been going really well, and what a relief to not have to build the scenes from scratch like I've always had to do. Now I just watch what he's done and make any adjustments I think are necessary. We argue occasionally, but for the most part I like what he's doing and only make changes if I feel a strong need for them.
In the past, as I've said, I've always watched the raw footage with the editor and built the scenes with him from scratch. It hasn't been awful, as it allows me to get 100% familiar with the footage and make sure I don't miss one second of anything I like, but it can also cause me to miss the forest for the trees and lose objectivity. Now that Frank has edited the first cut, I'm able to only change things I think need changing, especially because I trust his judgment quite a bit.
This movie is a Christian romantic comedy, which basically means that we're not trying to get too "arty" outsmart ourselves. When in doubt, we go for what's going to be most pleasing to the audience. That said, it's been interesting and very artistically fulfilling to work with Frank, who doesn't necessarily share my spiritual or political beliefs, and who normally edits and likes films that go against the grain a bit (not to mention the Oscar nominee "In the Bedroom"). He's also seen twice as many films as I have and understands the art of film and the language of cinema as well as anyone. All that to say, he's not going to let the film ever be silly or groan-inducing, but he's also been aware of the needs of the Christian and dramedy genres and cooperative to that end.
The other day we were debating over which take to use of a particular scene. It's the scene where Mike the Angel (John Ratzenberger) basically tells the protagonist Ben (Kevin Sorbo) the meaning of life. It's an important moment that addresses the thrust of the film, and John had two different takes. I was arguing for one, Frank for the other, and at one point he said, "I hate to say this, but the take you like is the one I'd expect from a Christian movie." Say no more. It's no secret that Christian movies aren't usually great (I wrote an article about this trend here), and we'd like to do our best to raise the bar a little. Someone like Frank can help us do that.
I sent Frank about ten email pages of notes on the first cut of the film, and he's already executed most of them and sent me a new version of the film. He works fast.
There are a few things that can only be executed when we're together. Most of the time, a director has to communicate their vision to the DP, the actors, the editor, etc., and assuming communication has been solid, they can execute it on their own without "over the shoulder" directing. But occasionally there's a specific kind of scene or something tricky or specific or stylistic that requires more direct involvement from the director, and we have a couple of those that we'll get to when Frank comes to L.A. in less than a week.
On Friday I spent a little time looking at a couple scenes Frank adjusted based on my notes, and it's always sobering when you realize that a change you wanted just isn't possible because the footage isn't there. "What was I thinking on the set" moments are common for everyone.
Also, we designed a new look for the What If... blog page, it looks a lot sharper and more relevant to the actual story. It's at http://whatifmovie.wordpress.com. I'm also going to be uploading some new exclusive pics there in a day or two.
Nate Scoggins turned in his first draft of the outline for "Riven," and it's exciting to see. I'm convinced it's always best to have screenwriters do an outline of at least ten pages to make sure everyone's on the same page before they write a complete draft of the script that goes in the wrong direction and requires extra work to adjust. Nate wrote a very good outline, but there are a few things we needed to discuss, and now it'll be easy for him to make those adjustments in outline form before he commences the script.
We've been on the same page on everything so far, which is great, even including the music we listen to to get inspired with this story. By coincidence, we're both listening to a ton of Jars of Clay--the movie is about broken souls, and Jars always writes about broken souls, so it's perfect.
Two nights ago I was driving to a conference I was speaking at, and it was 11:30 at night, and I texted Nate to see if he was awake because I'd just gotten inspired with some thoughts about the key scene in the movie. He was, and we ended up talking past Midnight about the story, and it was cool. I actually got choked up while I was describing how the scene could look, which is probably a good sign.
Speaking of the conference, I showed 15 minutes of the rough cut of the movie to about 150 or so attendees, and it went really well. This is the worst the movie will ever look, and it was playing on a cheap screen from a DVD player in a room with sunlight coming in. Not the best venue. But people laughed, were engaged, and I got a few genuinely enthusiastic responses afterward. That was encouraging.
Man, I just tried to say "afterwards" instead of "afterward," and spell check flagged me. I didn't realize "afterwards" wasn't a word. All righty.
Normally I like to write about difficult things, because I want my blogs to be honest, but things have been going pretty well over the last few months, so now it's reading more like a promotional tool for my films. I'm sorry about that!
So much going on right now, I'm trying to find time to write blog entries. Right now it's 2:25 am...I must away...
First cut finished
Published: September 19, 2009
As I discuss in my latest video blog at http://whatifmovie.wordpress.com, our editor Frank Reynolds has completed and submitted the first edit of the film. This is usually called an assembly and is for the purpose of just seeing the movie put together in raw form. Normally it goes:
1. Editor puts together a rough assembly, just to see all the footage in one piece to see if there's anything missing or scary. 2. Director and editor work to get a first cut done, which is still pretty rough, just to see if the movie plays and makes sense. 3. They fine tune, taking chunks out, working on pacing, etc. After showing it to people, getting some feedback, they... 4. Put a scalpel to every scene, working hard to produce a "locked" cut, before turning it over to the composer.
However, because we don't have a lot of time to submit too many edits, and because Frank is too much of an artist to just sloppily assemble the film together, this first edit is somewhere in between 1 and 2. I'm giving him notes while he's still in New York, so over the next week and a half, he'll produce something closer to #2, and once he gets out to L.A. and we can work together, we'll work towards getting something like #4. After that we'll have a screening to get some feedback before we officially lock the picture.
The saying goes, "The movie's never as good as the dailies (the raw footage), never as bad as the first cut." That's pretty much true. Because of that, I feel very good about this film. The first cut isn't pretty, but Frank did a very good job overall, and the film obviously works. Normally there are some red flags, things that make us think we might have to reshoot or work some magic to fill in gaps, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.
It's currently 2 hours and 15 minutes long. I'd like to cut at least 20 minutes from it, and that's without cutting any scenes. There are some pacing problems in the first third of the film--we simply need to speed it up. There are a few lines throughout that we can cut just because once you see the film and see how the characters look, many times stuff in the script becomes unnecessary.
There's also a key scene that feels out of order right now--it's very important to build a good emotional progression in the story, especially when you're dealing with a main character's emotional and spiritual journey, so you can't have any key emotional beats come too soon. Again, sometimes things happen when you're shooting that can be both good and bad. For instance, let's say someone gets emotional in a scene. In the moment, it's good because it's moving and spontaneous--but when you look at it later in the context of the whole film, it feels out of place. Same thing with comedy--maybe a scene ended up playing more comedically than you intended, and now you have to make that work within the context of the film.
We have a few moments like that, especially one scene, so that'll take a little delicacy to make work.
I'm also a little unsure if the ending of the movie will have as much impact as I want, and that's obviously of VITAL importance, but I think we can make that work.
I showed the cut to the producers of the film at Pure Flix, and they had very few notes, which is a good sign.
We've got to be done by October 19th, because we're screening the film for an audience a few days after that to see how it plays before we officially lock picture and get the composer going. So four weeks to get this all done! Not a lot of time...