Is it done yet?!

Many of you have asked, “when can we see the film?” The short answer is: not yet. If you have ever worked on a film, you know that a movie is made three times: first, on the page; second, on set; and third, on the cutting room floor.  Each stage requires a different energy, skills, collaborators, and logistical setups.

I took three years to write and re-write the script for TLG. It began as a character sketch, spun out of control into a winding, elaborate feature, and then scaled back to a manageable, hopefully accessible, short. Then there were many rewrites and feedback from my esteemed peers. Matthew Dunehoo, fellow filmmaker, went through every single line of dialogue with me on the phone. Then there were more rewrites. When I started discovering Bert and writing his story, I never dreamed I would actually produce it and see him come to life. Screenwriting has up to now only been a hobby for me, and I took my time.

Pre- production began in earnest when I began planning the crowdfunding campaign. As most of you know, this was a strenuous, nail-biting endeavor. Once you’ve committed to accept money and hire crew and talent, you no longer have the luxury of working at your own leisurely pace. The to-do list is constantly evolving. Solutions must be found. Contracts must be written. Decisions must be made. Every hour of every day. For an introvert, this is a lot of people time! By the time we started shooting, I was barely eating and waking up every night in a cold sweat. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my Aunt Colleen who not only housed and fed me but also advised and assisted on everything from craft services to set dressing.

The shoot was a four-day whirlwind of moving parts. Fifteen crew members, 7 actors, 29 scenes. There are endless possibilities for how to shoot a scene, taking into consideration the position of the camera, the movements of the actors, the shifting light. Once you decide on how to shoot it, there are any number of reasons to shoot multiple takes: an airplane might fly overhead. An actor might move ever so slightly out of the ideal position. The camera might be soft on focus. The director might change her mind (who me?!) There are so many things that can happen- some magical and some nightmarish. You have only four days to get everything you need, so you have to know when to do it again and when to move on.

In the end, I went home with a very large hard drive containing 335 takes of multiple shots for each of the 29 scenes, as well as two separate audio tracks for every one of those 335 takes.

And this is where post-production begins…the Script Supervisor, my hero, Amy Coughlin, provides me with notes on every take, describing the action and camera specs of the shot and the comments I made while shooting (“not quite, do it again, more cowbell!”) Without these notes, the work of assembling the footage would take many, many more hours. I begin by matching what’s on the hard drive to Amy’s notes, and slowly but surely, start to select the best takes and put the shots in order.

Once I had a first cut of what I thought might work, I set it down for a week. This is what I call the “ long walks and classic movies” stage of the creative process. Then I started from the beginning and did it again. It is during this second phase that I have started sharing the footage with my Composer, Jeff Tollefson. For me, the musical component of a film is no less important than the actors’ performances or the cinematography. The musical score shapes the atmosphere, as much in its absence as presence. In fact, I’ve spent more time discussing the film with Jeff than any other collaborator on this project. As filmmaker and musician Jim Jarmusch says, “Film is the most closely related form to music because film passes before you in its own time. It has an internal rhythm, it is edited and has shifts and movements. It has slow parts and fast parts; quiet parts, loud parts.”

Now, we are in search of a fine-cut editor to take over and polish the rough cut. This is a highly skilled job that involves a lot of really cool editing software used to transform raw footage into a seamless, beautiful, sensible story.

It can be tempting to get overwhelmed by the technical details – all of the things that didn’t go exactly as planned, precisely how they had been envisioned. It is in post-production that one really has to foster acceptance and remain open to all of the creative possibilities. The old adage rings true: you plan for the film you want, but you make the film you have. It can be incredibly frustrating to discover that you don’t have everything that you think you need to make a scene work. However, for a math-loving problem-solver like me, it can also be really fun figuring out how to make it work. There’s always a solution, and it is in this process of finding the solutions that the third phase of filmmaking occurs. We’re almost there!