Sounds and Such

The sound edit, foley, and mix for Blumenthal is being be handled by Josh Berger over at PostWorks New York. I had met Josh several months back when we were just getting our first assembly of the film together. On my last trip to NYC, we took the opportunity to screen the final cut of the film for Josh at the facility and discuss some of what lies ahead of us for post-production sound. Josh was an instant fan of the film and we were all instant fans of him.

Thanks to co-editor Alex Kopit, our temp sound from Final Cut Pro is actually pretty darn good. Tracks are organized quite well and we've squeezed about as much sound quality as we could get out of the editing suite. That said, their is still plenty still to do.

Much like the color grading process, the sound design will really take the film to another level. From foley sound effects to mixing music with dialogue, there is so much shaping still to be done. Seeing as our dialogue is all well-recorded, the real benefit will come in the sound textures of environments, the integration of voice-over (where dictated), and the ultimate final mix in a theater.

I've spent much of the past week breaking the film into reels, generating reference quicktimes with timecode, and portioning and exporting OMF files. I'm sure there are many assistant editors out there that know all about academy leaders and tail pops, but there has a been a slight learning curve for me. I've spoken more to Alex Kopit in the past few days than I ever did when we were working at the same desk!

Understanding and managing how all the departments of film interact has certainly been beneficial, but some of this stuff I do not care to mess with ever again.  Wearing many hats has its upsides, but for the most part I think I'd like to get just one really well-fitting hat that looks great on me.

I'll share more details on the post-production sound as we move forward, but I expect to be back in NY in a month or so for a mixing session with Josh as well as some more color work with Seth Ricart.

Color Grading

 

It's been a busy week in New York with lots of exciting headway. First up after landing here, we went right into our first color session with Zak (DP) and Seth (Colorist). We spent a long day at Buck, a commercial post-house in Soho, sitting in the cool, dark room of the coloring suite. After so many months of editing, I can't tell you how good it feels to not be the guy sitting at the computer. Our colorist, Seth Ricart, is doing a terrific job with everything. As I discussed in an earlier blog post, final color for a film can do so much to set the tone for the movie as a whole and from what we are already starting to accomplish, the movie is developing really well.

Most of this first color session was about spotting trouble areas and marking any scenes that would likely need remedial work for color matching. After going through the film once, we then discussed overall looks. That means a lengthy conversation about saturation, contrast, hues, and temperatures. We also looked at several references which included movie stills, photographs, and even a random album cover painting.

We are in the last stages of defining the aesthetic for Passing Harold Blumenthal and I find the process to be very refreshing. When I wrote the screenplay over a year ago,  it was a story imagined and told on paper in only black and white. We used as much production design, costume design, and makeup as we could afford in order to control our palette, but when you shoot a small film in New York City, other elements of color sneak their way into the frame as you shoot. From green leaves of trees influencing the skin tones to the colorful accents of the city's streets, you are a slave to the palette of your environment. Luckily, with some careful skill, we can enhance or mute any color to suit the overall feel for the film.

The film is being colored on a DaVinci and VFX will be done in After Effects. We are sticking to planned workflow that we laid out several months back and so far everything has been beautifully streamlined. I'm back in NY in a few weeks for more color sessions and can't wait to see the progress. The rest of this NY trip has been all about sound mixing. In the meantime, we are beginning to prepare our sound media for editing, foley, and mixing. More on that to come....

Picture Lock

In this long week before the winter holidays, I've been combing through the edit one last time going over scenes, moments, and performances with perhaps more scrutiny then I've yet done. We are locking our edit tomorrow and delivering he remaining media and XML file to our colorist/on-line editor, Seth. Once we conform the edit to the original RAW footage, we are pretty much committed to all the edits of the film. That's it. No more changes. No more tweaking. No more testing things out to see if they hold up. I've had a list of notes from myself and Alex Kopit that I've been working through  and each new adjustment I make has me reflecting a great deal. These past two weeks, if I had a new thought or an idea of how a scene might play better, I'd put in the hours to retool it and then play it back  against what I already had. Most of the time, I would end up going with the original edit and remembering how I had arrived there in the first place. The edit is becoming cyclical! I think that is as good a sign as any that it is time to move on.

Of course, there are the odd tweaks here and there that have had significant impacts on how things play and I'm baffled that I've only noticed them this late in the game. All in all, this final pass is just about refining the film as a whole and making sure that I can squeeze as much as I can onto the screen in the way I had envisioned once upon a time.

I have mixed feelings here. It's hard to accept that the story-telling part of the process is done. When I was writing, I took comfort in the fact that I could make new discoveries while shooting. When shooting, I took comfort in the fact that I could make new discoveries while editing. Now that I've completed the edit, that's all there is to discover. It is what it is aside from color and sound and music. Obviously those things will have a big impact on the final product, but the story is there. The things we see will be the things we see.

The flip side to this sense of finality is the supreme sense of accomplishment: We are completing a very cool movie. It's the culmination of a year's worth of work and lifetime of of collective ambitions. I am also eager to have a finished product to submit to and screen at festivals.

There is plenty of work yet to do with the movie until we have a final sound mix, color, etc. But with the editing done...well, I don't have to edit anymore. That will free up my time for other producery tasks as well as permit me to begin working on my next project. Naturally, there will be plenty of blogging along the way.

Happy Holidays!

Watch Me Watch Some Movies

In the breaks between working on Blumenthal, I've been devouring as many of this year's independent films as possible. I often watch movies in search of inspiration as much as I do for entertainment, and at this point in the post process, I feel I could use a little boost. I still have a lot to see still including some of the higher profile ones including The Artist and Shame. There have been a couple of films that have really stood out to me, though. Mainly because they are breaths of fresh air in relation to my own material. Ironically, I've been turning to much weightier material than that of my own recent work. By weightier, I'm really referring more to the mood of the films than the subject matter  itself.  The following aren't so much reviews as much as they are  just me sharing what is moving me to continue my own work at this point in the process.

A few weeks ago, I received a screener DVD of Jeff Nichols's Take Shelter.  The film is a slow burn of a man's descent into apparent paranoia with his family and his nagging premonition of an apocalyptic storm approaching. Nichols and his cast do a terrific job with a fairly simple yet substantial story. He's extremely deliberate with what he shows you and how he shows it. Subtlety and restraint are demonstrated in every shot and the more heightened moments of drama never have to work too hard to have an impact on the viewer. I was so intrigued by the film, that I sought out Nichols's first feature, "Shotgun Stories". I liked it even more.

Made for very little money (still more than Blumenthal), the film follows a family feud in small-town America. The writing is superb, specifically the character development. Nichols has an important gift of showing compassion and sympathy for all of his characters, good guys and bad. With that solid foundation, his actors, cinematographer, and designers have a wealth of specific choices to make and the support they need to make a really good movie.

The other film I stumbled upon on the flight back to LA from NY was Mike Mills' second film, The Beginners. First,  let it be said that an airplane is a terrible place to watch a movie. The sound and picture couldn't be worse and the seats are anything but comfortable. Even with these elements working against it, The Beginners really landed with me. With a story that could easily have been told in a conventional narrative, Mills consistently makes inspired choices with how he conveys the action and mood of the film.

The movie is filled with sad characters that search desperately for love in whatever way they know how. But Mills doesn't let this bring you down, he fills the movie with humor, light, and grounded reality. It had me hooked in mid-air, and got me all sorts of excited to come back and work on my own film. The Beginners was also shot on the RED One like Blumenthal, so I was also interested in the picture quality and overall aesthetic.

Lastly, I saw Sean Durkin's first feature,  Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene. Some really impressive work in there. Two scenes in particular were brilliantly bone-chilling. But, I have to give a huge shout out to my producer, Garrett P. Fennelly and his/my Act Zero team who worked on that film. Terrific costume work from our own David Tabbert as well. Congrats, guys!

So while watching movies isn't really an active part of me making my own movie, it certainly is integral. At different points in the process, I tend to focus on different elements of other movies, depending on what part of the process I am currently in. Now that I am nearing the end of the edit,  I'll soak up anything and everything I can latch onto for inspiration, particularly when it comes to the tone of a film.

Most of what is out there in the indie-sphere right now is a good deal darker than the film I've been making. But when a film edit is handled well and the tone is set from the first frame of the film, there is a universal skill at work there. This is the craft of shaping the final product that I am interested in at present. In other words, what is the final hand that serves up the movie and tells us how to take it in? As we move into more music, color, and sound work I can't wait to further define the world of Passing Harold Blumenthal.

Yawn

"Coffee feels like love." Producer Alex Cendese tells me this as I brew a third pot of coffee for today's/tonight's editorial extravaganza. For the whole week, I've been working with  editor Alex Kopit to refine the current cut of the film. It's been extremely helpful to have someone liberate me from my restrictive knowledge of Final Cut Pro. "Yeah, we can do that" is an amazing thing for a director to hear, and Kopit is generous with the statement. The daily routine has been me and Kopit at my desk in my bedroom with Ryan or Alex producer-ing on their laptops behind us. We break for dinner around 7pm and move the entire operation out to the living room so my wife can sleep. I'm cranky and irritable from start to finish. Not sure why.

 

Much of the focus has been on cleaning up audio, integrating music cues, and generally polishing what's already there. But that's not nearly all. Alex (Kopit) has really opened up the editing process by continuing to ask challenging questions and insisting on trying out every option of an edit. I brought him on for just this reason. I needed some fresh eyes, a boost of energy, and some technical know-how to polish what I already have.

Things are going well. But our schedule is tight. Festival submission deadlines loom and I am moving my life across the country amidst all of this (why not, right?). We are going on our 15th hour for today and there is still plenty to do before I start a DVD compression for a screening tomorrow for my team of producers. No one has really seen the full cut of the film yet. After all, we only finished shooting the thing last Friday. It will be nice to hear a small audience for the current cut.

Everything is coming together very well, but I do feel like it needs more time. It needs not just more time to work and tweak, but time to walk away, think, and return with fresh ideas. There are so many versions of this film that can work and work well, it's just a matter of being specific about each plot point, character, and moment. Without time and without breaks it's incredibly hard to make bold creative decisions because I don't want to risk  wasting time on something that may not work. But taking the time to take these chances is where the good stuff comes out.

The next few days are about tightening the current version of the film in order to diminish technical distractions (sound, edit, color) and make it easier to focus on story. From there, I will be able to take aim on all the other specifics that need to be explored or honed. For now, I am taking aim on my Chock Full O Nuts and hopping back in the edit chair with Kopit.

Editing Notes

Sincere apologies for the absence of posts over the last couple weeks. Things have been even crazier than ever with round the clock editing, prepping for reshoots, and actually taking the time and energy to reshoot. Last week began with a couple of screenings of the rough cut. I was certainly at a point in the editing process where I wanted some fresh eyes on the film, and was eager to have some respected opinions weigh in. One such significant audience was Kate Sanford, the editor of HBO's Boardwalk Empire and The Wire.

Kate was generous enough to have us over to her editing suite at Steiner Studios where she watched the movie with us. She made us popcorn, grabbed a pen and some paper, and watched. Afterwards, she gave us incredibly positive feedback and some very helpful ideas for going further with it.

To my surprise, none of her notes were really technical, but rather character related. Her notes were subtle but very constructive. They were all things that could actually be refined and worked further. She didn't just simply raise issues with parts of the film, she suggested solutions, options, and specific opinions. One particular point she made that resonated with me was how a few subtle tweaks, additions, and/or omissions can have a huge effect on the story and characters. In editing, it is easy to have the urge to edit -- to do, to try, to work. Her angle was to think and to consider. Sounds easy, right? It is!

Thinking about the edit more broadly in terms of character and story can really liberate you from the distractions of the technical edit. I'm certainly finding this to be true now and I am plowing forward. Kate provided a much needed boost of energy. It has put me back in the mind-set I had when I was writing the screenplay, which is thoroughly refreshing. Having reflected on all this, it does seem pretty obvious. I'm sure the more seasoned filmmakers/editors out there are saying "Duh, Seth". But sometimes, people can give very broad notes and reactions that don't provide any constructive insight as to what you can actually do about it. Kate gave specifics and an approach to live by.

Obvious, here I come!