Persevering Through Post

hexagram3As many of you have gathered by now, I reached a temporary impasse with this film. I simply did not touch it for nearly three months.

After the shoot in May, I dug in, organizing hundreds and hundreds of video and audio files, reading the production reports and watching the takes. I spent long days, nights, weeks watching and re-watching, stringing together the best takes, syncing them up with the audio, and cutting them into a timeline. Fortunately, because I had spent the five years previous learning how to edit, I did all of this nuts and bolts “Assistant Editor” stuff myself. I constructed each of the five parts of the story, and sent them piecemeal to Jeff, the composer. This was when the anxiety really started to creep in. Like so many aspects of our modern-day life, it didn’t feel real until it had been exposed. Because Jeff has been my creative confidante since pre-production, I knew that he would have pre-conceived ideas and images in his head. So with each part I sent him I threw in many caveats. This is just a first draft; ignore the framing; ignore the sound; the color will be different here; the transitions will be smoother… And on and on. Just forget I ever sent anything, it all sucks!

There was certainly a thrill the first time I saw the whole thing in one 20-minute movie file. Writing is therapeutic, directing is energizing, and producing is the kind of logistical challenge I really enjoy. But the ultimate goal is the image on the screen. The ideas are conceived in your head; they are materialized on set; what shows up on the screen is all that matters. Until then, it’s gazillions of data points on expensive hard drives.

The thrill of seeing it died quickly. It was not what I wanted it to be. The mistakes too numerous, the holes too gaping. The weight of failure pushed me into despondency. I dreaded the idea of having to show anyone this nightmare.   I had no money left for post-production anyways, so there was nothing to do but sulk and hide, which I did very well. Sulking and hiding are my truest talents.

This is how my crowd-funders saved me. If I had just spent my own money, I could give up. Sure, I would privately live with the financial repercussions and publicly live with the shame of failure, but it would be my own cross to bear. This is not my own cross to bear: there are nearly 100 silent producers on this film. One hundred people willing to give me some of their hard-earned money. I’m obligated to make the best film I can, despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges. Despite my aches and pains. Despite my dried-up well of imagination and ingenuity.

My vision was clouded by a thousand doubts, and I needed an editor. Someone to tell me, “Yes, there is a movie here.” I saw a collection of problems, and I needed someone with solutions. I was drowning in negativity. I needed a magician, an artist, a therapist, and a technician all rolled into one.  It was a critical decision. I can’t think of any appropriate metaphor to describe what it’s like to allow someone else to cut up and reconstitute your creative baby.

Collaborative is not a word that anyone would use to describe me.  I tend to work in my own head, and I sometimes have trouble communicating my ideas in a way that makes sense to other people. Ask me what I want for dinner, and I will tell you what I don’t want. Abstract expressionist paintings are often my preferred reference point.  So it takes a very unique kind of person to understand and interpret what I mean. I get this from my father, the barroom philosopher who draws biblical metaphors from Star Wars.

My careful and patient search for an interpreter paid off, in the form of Juanma F. Pozzo. He’s a very busy director, cinematographer, and editor, but I became convinced he was the right person and determined to bring him on board. I sold my car and put together the post-production team, which includes a colorist, sound designer and effects designer (more on these fine lads later.)

Once again, I have been invigorated. Filmmaking has become fun again. The way it worked is this: Juanma worked on his own for about a week. He was able to make the sometimes minor and sometimes extreme changes that I was too close to the material to make. Then he would show me what he had done, and I would say “Yes!” or “Um….no.” We would try lots of different things, sometimes quibbling over a few frames of a transition, sometimes reconsidering the structure of entire scenes. For the most part, when we had disagreements, neither of us had to compromise much because we always found an optimal third way. Some problems would linger, and we would become delirious, like dorm-room kids cramming for finals and falling asleep on a pizza box.  But then, a breakthrough would occur. He would get into “the zone.” I would get him some more maté, leave him to his alchemy, come back the next day, and the awkward scene would be transformed into show-stealing elegance. This process continued until we had considered and refined and reconsidered and polished every frame.

It’s not a perfect movie. It’s my first movie. The problems that remain will be solved by color correction, sound design, and music – or they won’t be solved at all. But it’s now looking like something I can be proud of!

Nine at the beginning means:
Hesitation and hindrance.
It furthers one to remain persevering.
It furthers one to appoint helpers.

— I Ching hexagram #3