Tag Archives: Post-production

The Importance of Being Sidetracked

There are moments where it feels like I’ll never finish the film. I spend an entire weekend toiling away and on Sunday night, when I take stock of what I’ve accomplished, I see that I kind of got one effect shot looking sort of good. Or I feel overwhelmed by the any of the few short scenes I have left to shoot -It’s too complicated, or I don’t know how to shoot it, or I don’t have the resources to make it work and I’ve spent all my money on legal fees and a cool hat for my second cameo.

Look at this and tell me our film won't be any good. I DARE you.

Look at this and tell me our film won’t be any good. I DARE you.

Like a lot of creative people who never finish anything, I have a tendency to want to take on more than what I can accomplish, and for the past couple years I’ve been very strict about not taking on any new projects until I’m finished with Grassman – unless, of course, they pay, because I need a cool hat for my second cameo. Saying “no” has been more difficult than I anticipated, cause I like doing things. That’s why I do things in the first place.

"Working on it" included taking selfies in a dilapidated restroom.

“Working on it” included restroom selfies.

I have learned, however, right before I committed myself to not doing things, that switching projects can be a great way to recharge and replenish motivation and resolve. In 2012, I took on a particularly ambitious Halloween special for my day job – which was not supposed to conflict with my filmmaking activities any more than the act of having a day job does. However, it was too ambitious for the 3 weeks we had to produce it, and to get it done, I had to work on it during every available bit of free time I had.

When you work that quickly, you don’t have time to get too attached to the project, and you frequently have to choose to cut or rethink elements of the production that prove to be too time consuming or troublesome. The process bears no resemblance to the slow, quiet, sometimes painstaking work you’re used to while working on your epic masterpiece love letter to Bigfoot cinema.

But as you go, you can’t help but remember that’s sort of how working on your Bigfoot masterpiece used to be. I mean, that was the whole point of doing a movie about Bigfoot running around the woods killing people rather than your planned sci-fi adaptation of Pete’s Dragon, which would clearly be the real masterpiece, if it ever existed. We chose our subject matter so we could work quickly, learn the process, and not worry that Downton Abbey fans would be disappointed in the quality.

Petes Dragon

It would be awesome. He kills Jabba and then rules Tatooine with Chewbacca and Jimmy Pigman.

Most of the Bigfoot films our love letter is being written to were made under similar circumstances, and exist as shining examples of perfect imperfect art. These films weren’t made to be “perfect.” Most of them aren’t even “good.”

However, when you finish your 3 week marathon filmmaking session, you have no choice but to release the wretched, imperfect thing into the world. Cause there’s a deadline. And when you’re watching the premiere on cable on Halloween night, you are filled with a glowing feeling of being totally pissed. That music is totally mixed too loud, and what the hell was that shot doing there in the wrong scene, and that sound effect is in the wrong place! RUINED!!!!  I AM RUINED!!!!

After you recover from your crippling failure, you go back and fix some of the mistakes for the sake of posterity. And then you realize, this thing isn’t really half bad. It’s no Sci Fi Pete’s Dragon, but it’s pretty good work for a three week rush job. And some people actually have told you they liked it. (Plenty of others told you they didn’t, but that’s hardly the point.)

Ghost Girl

(I’m pretty sure this invalidates their arguments.)

It’s tempting to think of the three weeks of being unable to work on your Bigfoot masterpiece as a waste of time and a failure, but the fact is, the experience shook you up. You are suddenly used to working as fast as possible, and getting rid of scenes or elements that are too difficult and time consuming and aren’t 100% necessary to get the story across.

Two years ago, I received valuable lessons and inspiration from the simple act of being sidetracked. And then eventually, of course, I forgot all of it and promptly got back to the time consuming task of Photoshopping realistic Bigfoot nipples into wide shots, frame by frame.  People won’t ever see it, or care if they did, but boy, does it make the whole thing feel authentic.

Wrong House

A Dark Night at the Wrong House, our most recent sidetrack short film project. Playing at film festivals worldwide. Well…. mostly just two so far…

 

 

What’s a writer/producer to do?

NOTE: Tyler, the hater of blogging, had the brilliant idea that we should update this thing more frequently as we prepare to unveil our film this year. Not just frequently, but weekly. I know. He is insane. But, there are certain times you battle the crazy and certain times you give in.  So, you’ll get new Tyler posts on Mondays, and Dennis posts on Fridays. Should be fun. And hard. Damn you, Tyler.  Here is my first Friday post. 

The toil and questioning of writing are complete. The confusion and delusion of pre-production is finished. The chaos and magic of shooting is over. And now, for some time now, the anticipation and impatience of post-production is well underway. And that is where I have the most difficult time as a filmmaker.

I am primarily a writer. No matter what else I might do on a film (produce, direct, act, etc.), the writing is where the bulk of my time is put in. It is the most satisfying, and sometimes frustrating, part of the project for me. I’m privy to information no one else knows, to the origins of what we are about to do. I get to be with it first, to nurture vague thoughts and ideas, mere images in my head, and turn them into plot and structure and living, breathing characters. I create the blueprint, nay the flag that, if I do it well, others will follow into the year(s) long battle that will become our film.

Once I hand off the script, if I am not directing, I enter producer/writer mode, where I am trying to organize an actual film and work on numerous rewrites of the script until Tyler and I are both pleased. Once production begins, if I am primarily producer, making sure shit is getting done, that people know when and where to be, bitching when we’re off schedule, making sure Tyler is doing okay, etc. And if I am acting, as was the case in Grassman, I still have to do all of that and pretend to know my lines and trick everyone into thinking I’m all thespian-like. Pre-prod and production are extremely hectic, exhilarating, and stressful times that make me want to get to do this full-time.

Powerless producer mode.

Powerless producer mode.

Then the lights are turned off, the cameras packed up, and the cast and crew head their separate ways. Post-production has begun at Monkey Productions and is, for me, the most useless I feel during the entire project. You see, unlike big time productions with money and facilities, Monkey Prod consists of Tyler’s home office and my home office, which means that Tyler takes all of the film home with him to work on. I take home… well, nothing. Once post-production begins, I put my writing pants on again and look for the next project to compose.

And as far as the film goes, I am considerably in the dark, particularly the further along it gets. Because we are a self-financed indie production, all of our projects, including Grassman, have had open-ended deadlines. Because we have no investors or studio or business partners to answer to, we can take as long as we need to complete our project. In fact, the time when this is most apparent, because it is literally just Tyler and I, is during post-production. There are no actors schedules to work around, no locations being torn down, no snow storms coming to white out the project. The only pressure we find ourselves under come from ourselves and the various friends and family members that continue to ask “So, where’s the movie already?” and “Are you ever going to finish it?”

This independence is both good and bad. It’s good in that unlike many investor finance or distributor-advanced films, we don’t have to rush to meet unreasonable deadlines to make unsympathetic suits happy, putting out something that we aren’t 100% happy with. On the other hand, given the types of people that Tyler and I are with various levels of ADHD, OCD, depression, and numerous other therapy demanding issues hindering our effectiveness and progress, this lack of deadlines can become a crutch. It can be seen as an open excuse for delay, or as a rational for a level of perfectionism that could border on obsessive.

It is one of the things I struggle with as a writer: I have no deadline, therefore I have no reason to complete my novel just yet. I should take some time to perfect my outline, or to really nail this world-building I’ve only begun to sketch out. I can’t possible start yet, because I haven’t gotten into the heads of my sub-characters yet. The excuses and rationalizing can be endless.

It has, at times, also puts a strain on the relationship that Tyler and I have as creative and business partners. During post-production, I’m in powerless producer mode. This means I am producer in name, but with no real effective way to motivate the production. I have no purse strings to tighten, no jobs to threaten, no alternatives to offer. I am essentially neutered. All I can do is complain and whine and hope. I find myself going back and forth between bitching and motivating. And all from my virtual office, via texts and Facebook messages and Google Hangouts. I can’t even stand over his shoulder and do it.

Although I trust no other person with our film like I do him, Tyler has all the cards at the juncture. He has the entire film, all the files, the editing machine(s), and the backups. I often tell him that at this point in the game, he understand the characters and story better than I do, because he is working on the final version of which my script was only the framework. His edit is the true story now, the one that will be shared with you. And, unfortunately, he’s the only one that truly knows where that story is right now and what needs to be done to complete it.

The point is this: filmmaking is indeed a collaborative effort. But depending on the budget and size of your production, it may be less collaborative than you would like at times, to the point of frustration and helplessness. But you must drive on. Depending on your role, you need to do the hell out of your part and support the other when they are doing theirs. And if you are a producer in powerless mode, try your damnedest to keep communicating with whomever your creative, mad scientist is as they lock themselves away to edit your project. I choose to communicate via bitching and motivating, so Tyler knows 1) that people still give a shit about the film, and 2) that he’s still the guy to get it done right.

–Dennis

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