On Patience, or Why is it Taking So Long to Finish This Movie?

I was recently cleaning up some documents and I came across the first notes for The Adventures of Paul and Marian. Dated February 2009, the document sketches out, pretty fully, the concept that would become the movie.

2009 was a long time ago. It’s been a long struggle and fight to complete this project. And it’s not over yet.

So why does it take so many years to make an independent movie?

First, I spent a lot of time making the script as strong as it could be. If I had millions of dollars to spend on famous actors and high-end production values I could maybe have gotten away with a mediocre script. But for a low budget film without movie stars, you can’t afford to have a script that is anything but spectacular. Writing the script and then perfecting the script (and then perfecting it even more) took time.

The $100,000 that has taken us this far on the project is not a lot of money in movie terms, but it’s a huge amount of money in real-life terms. Once I had the script ready and the team assembled, it took well over a year to get the resources and money together to shoot the film.

Shooting was the only fast part of the process – 10 wonderful, long, jam-packed, whirlwind days which we spent actually making the movie, rather than planning and strategizing and fundraising.

Those 10 days ended in June 2011, nearly two years ago.

The editing process went fairly quickly; by early 2012 the movie was edited. I had test screenings and paired it down to make it as lean and mean as it could be.

So why is the movie still not finished? The answer is in the nature of the film. The movie was shot entirely in front of a green screen, which means that every shot requires visual effects work. And it’s also a fiercely-independent super low-budget movie. Our only resources are the immense talents of our cast, crew, and creative team. Those resources can get us very far, but to do green screen work (aka “compositing”) you need a team of people with an office of expensive computers. We have one brave and courageous effects person and an iMac.

We’ve been in the compositing stage of post production since last year. I’ll write about this process in some detail soon, but in a nutshell, if you’re not familiar with this kind of thing, shooting in front of a green screen allows us to create all sorts of locations that we couldn’t afford otherwise, and allows us to invent impossible locations and all sorts of visual jokes in the background of the scenes. We simply remove the green background on a computer and insert whatever kind of location we can imagine.

This is not a fast process. First we have to remove the green. If it’s unevenly lit or the green reflects onto an actor’s glasses or bounces off of a prop or set piece, or if an actor’s hair is blowing in a breeze and we have to be careful not to cut out strands of hair when we remove the green, we have to spend a lot of time to get this right. Then there’s the tracking stage, in which we have to connect the image we insert in the background with markers on the green screen so that the background maintains the same relationship to the actors when the camera moves. And of course we have to create the backgrounds, all of which require researching and finding source images, creating backgrounds in 3-D modeling software, animating the backgrounds, or a combination of these things.

Keep in mind we have to do this for virtually every single shot in this movie. I haven’t counted, but it’s a fair estimate to say that the movie is made up of a minimum of 1,000 shots.

Working with a low budget and being committed to quality means that things have to take as long as they have to take. We’ve achieved too much for me not to make it the best film I possibly can. So it keeps taking time.

I don’t know what I would have thought if I knew back in February 2009 just how long this journey would be. Since then, I have gotten older. Friends of mine have given birth to children who are now talking.

But if back in 2009 I would have been able to see the work we’ve accomplished this far, I would have been elated. This movie continues to be a dream worth fighting for. It’s a very unique movie and is going to be not quite like anything you’ve seen before. And you’ll be able to see just how much everyone who has worked on the film has personally put into it.

So I’ll keep laboring away, and try hard to stay as patient as I can be. Those of you who know me know how difficult that comes to me naturally, but I’m serving a greater purpose here.

And rest assured, the world will see The Adventures of Paul and Marian. It just may take a little time.

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One Response to “On Patience, or Why is it Taking So Long to Finish This Movie?”

  1. larry Says:

    I appreciate your intention and the education about green screen. The others small indie film makers I know did location film work. I was aware of green screen, but had no concept of how slow and detailed it was to complete.

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