Getting the Movie to the Screen

Lately, I've received a number of requests for updates on the progress of Blumenthal. I must confess that I've abstained from blog posts for the past several weeks largely because I've assumed this period  to be a boring one for this site's audience. With all of the questions I've been fielding, I'm reminded that even the less "exciting"  parts of this process are of interest to other filmmakers and people who are simply interested in how independent movies are made.

The film is pretty much there. While a few sound and color tweaks remain to be done before our final layback, the movie is essentially finished. We finally have a polished product to start submitting to festivals and are pressing DVDs for that purpose. Once we have a premier date, we will finalize the mix and picture and output to HDCAM.

The festival strategy for Blumenthal is a simple and conservative one. We are aiming for upper-tier festivals whose programming tastes and industry marketplace might suit a film of this size and tone. The plan is to push Blumenthal into a premiere and distribution, but not spend too much time squeezing it into every regional festival that might screen it. Don't get me wrong, there are a wealth of benefits in garnering as many festival laurels as possible for a film. The trouble is that with few resources, that process can be extremely time-consuming and expensive. My producers and I feel strongly that as we go into the festival circuit, one of the best things we can do for Blumenthal is to keep making movies. Many of us are already onto other projects, some of which were made possible by our work on Blumenthal. That said, we still have a load of work and responsibility to see Blumenthal to its fullest potential.

Now is a relatively quiet time for the circuit, but fests will begin notifying by mid-summer and into the fall.  In addition to the submission process of sending off DVDs, my producers and I are pushing left and right to cultivate contacts in the indie-sphere to keep the film on people's radar and even establish personal contacts with as many programmers as possible.

There is little science to this part of the indie film business. There is a surplus of product out there and a tremendous amount of noise that we need to rise above if we want our movie to be seen. I do believe (I have to believe) that any good movie will find a way to be seen. It might not be at a multiplex near you, but at a minimum will be reviewed and consumable in other formats such as VOD and Netflix. As in any other industry, the formula for success is a fairly simple one: hard work, persistence, and luck.

I'm thrilled with the apparent anticipation of so many of you to see the movie. Friends, internet strangers, and programmers have been eager to screen Blumenthal and I suppose that bodes well. However, until we premiere the film, we are trying to keep the full-viewings to a minimum. In the interim, we are working on cutting a trailer together that we can share with the world to promote the film. I had taken a pass at editing a trailer several months back, but after a few days of work, I realized that was a terrible idea. Fresh eyes from a real trailer editor make all the difference in the world. Things are progressing well on that front, and I hope to have something up on the blog and site in the coming weeks.

In this relative quiet of creativity in the process, I've been immersing myself once again in screenwriting. I'm swimming in a few different projects at present with a TV pilot and two feature screenplays. My hope is that by the time Blumenthal reaches you all on-screen, we will be at work shooting the next film.

Sounds and Colors

It's been a marathon of a weekend here in New York for the final push to finish Blumenthal. The past two months I've been relatively hands off with sound and color doing their thing and working away. It's thrilling to get back into the city and see/hear all the work that's been done. I was hoping to blog throughout the trip, but that didn't quite happen. I leave tomorrow and there's still a ton to do tonight, but here is a quick run down of the weekend's work thus far... Friday started early with good coffee and a good meeting at Kaffe 1668 in Tribeca. From there, I shot up to Postworks on 44th Street where Josh Berger, Alex, and Ryan were ready to start the mixing session. All the mixing and sound-editing is being done in a Dolby certified theater and doing a 5.1 surround mix. Right away, I was floored to hear the first reel come on. Over the past six weeks, Josh and his team have been editing the dialogue audio, music, and sound effects. The biggest surprises to me were the foley effects and the orchestration of the score. We trudged through the first two reels for about 12 hours and then called it a night.

Saturday was an early start at 9am. St. Patrick's Day in New York is actually the best day to be locked up in a dark theatre for 15 hours. First up was my own ADR work. We spent the first half of the day in the ADR studio recording both dialogue and voice-overs. Nicole Ansari then joined us for some last-minute ADR for one of her scenes. The day was a revolving door of producers with Garrett, Jesse, and Jason all swinging by to hear the progress. After ADR, we jumped back into the mixing stage with Ryan Dann editing in new sound effects as we went. Editor Alex Kopit joined the process as well.

At around 5pm, Ryan, Kopit, and myself rolled down to Soho for some color work. There we met up with my cinematographer Zak, colorist Seth, and VFX editor Conrad. After a boost of powerful Nespresso coffee and a general meeting, we crammed into the coloring suite to get started. We went through the movie from top to bottom at double speed to take notes. After the pass, Zak and I began a lengthy discourse on contrast ratios and our overall "look" for the film. After Zak and I put everyone else in the room to sleep, we went through all the tricky shots that needed some specific work/discussion. We ended the night at around 1:30am.

Sunday we got to sleep in and started at Postworks at noon. Josh and Ryan Dann had spent the previous evening laying in all of the VOs and ADR dialogue. I was amazed at how much work they had done. Two scenes in particular were completely rebuilt from the ground up in terms of sound. We mixed until 5pm and then moved down to Buck where we colored and tweaked the picture edit of one small scene. Color work was a more relaxing workload as there were only a few scenes we really needed to discuss as a group with Seth and Zak. Otherwise, Seth is just painting each scene from top to bottom. Seth was still there when we left at 12:30am.

This afternoon, we are picking up the rendered reels from Seth and bringing them up to the sound studio to see how the finished picture affects our sound decisions. We'll start at the top and work our way through the whole mix one last time before I leave tomorrow.

ADR in NYC from LA

Today was our first day of ADR for Blumenthal. For the uninitiated, ADR stands for "Automated Dialogue Replacement". Basically, if a scene has any audio issues that prevent the production sound mixer from capturing completely clean dialogue, then we go into the sound studio and the actor re-records their lines while watching the video of their original performance. ADR can also be used to tweak performance as well. In our case, the issues were solely technical as we did a great deal of filming on location in the streets of New York City (very loud). Most times, it's a simple line here or there that gets lost under a car honking its horn.

ADR is being done in New York while I am in Los Angeles. But, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to participate in the process with my actors. With a direct dial-in and some video conferencing, I felt like I was in the room at Postworks with our super fantastic Sound Re-Recordist Josh Berger. We worked most of the day and got everything we came for.

All that's left is a little ADR for my character Ethan which I'll record on Friday when I'm in town. It was great fun working with the actors again. I'm so used to seeing many of them on-screen that it's weirdly exciting when the actual person walks into the room as says something other than what's in the movie. In terms of the lines themselves, we might have actually brought out some new stuff in the performances, too. Bonus!

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....

Happy New Year!

It's been a whirlwind 2011. In some ways, the months have flown by like lightning. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago that I was blogging about how to make a movie cheaply.  A lot has happened since then, from crowd-funding on Kickstarter to scrambling  for a new location at the last-minute during our shoot. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with some amazing people from producers to actors to blog readers. This has been a monumentally massive group effort to see this film made. With the loyal following of this blog, we managed to finance the film, start shooting, and spread the word about Passing Harold Blumenthal.

I am immensely grateful for all of the support we've had from our reader base as well as the actual producing team and crew who realized this film with me. An extra special thank you to my producers in the trenches with me. Garrett P. Fennelly and his awesome team at Act Zero Films deserve a medal or something, I want a Nicole Ansari app for my iPhone, Jesse Ozeri is a lesson in the value of chutzpah, and Alex Cendese could probably encourage me to move a mountain. It's a good year's work, everyone. Congrats.

I am so excited to share this movie with the world.  Just a few more finishing touches over the next couple months and it'll be good to go! Thank you all for being patient. We will be releasing some press stills later this month, so stay tuned!

 

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!