The Middle Stage

February 27, 2012

A few weeks ago I completed the first edit of The Adventures of Paul and Marian.  It’s a full edit of the movie, more than just an assembly or a rough cut, because I was working meticulously as I went, and also because we shot much of the film in long takes so there’s not a lot of finessing to do beyond finding the best combination of shots based on performance, technical quality, and continuity.

Now we’re in an odd part of the filmmaking stage.  The film is edited and we’re not quite ready to start working on the effects, music and sound, because we’re a few steps away from locking the picture.

There’s a bunch of nipping and tucking to do, but besides that – what?  Is the movie working?  How much tinkering do we need to do?  Should we try some creative restructuring, in effect tear the movie apart and build it back up again to make sure everything is as strong as possible?  Or should we decide to leave well enough alone?  At what point should we decide that?

This middle stage of editing is the hardest because we’re far enough along to feel satisfied and confident, but the movie is still untested and not yet finely honed.  Middles are the hardest parts of all creative processes; writing the second act of a movie script for example, is usually the biggest challenge. [That may be because for some reason producers and writers are under the false impression that good movies operate under a simplified three act structure, and what they call the “second act” constitutes more than half of the movie and should be broken down into multiple acts in order to make any sense of it.  But I digress.]

I’m taking a little time off of the editing so I can return to the movie with fresh eyes.  Then I’ll tinker with it a bit until it’s as tight and short as I can comfortably make it.  Once that’s done I’ll be able to show the work to a few fellow film people who haven’t read the script or seen the footage and get some expert opinions about it.

Right now is the most delicate time of post production; between making decisions about what to keep and what to cut and integrating the first stages of feedback, we’ll have to find the balance between realizing how what we’ve ended up with differs from the movie in our heads and adjust accordingly.  It’s so exciting to see the work in an edited form — it’s really feeling like a movie now — but it’s easy to get caught up in that and not see what its shortcomings may be.  So it’s time to bury my ego and look at the movie as objectively as possible.  And if you think that’s easy, just try developing a project for two years, writing and rewriting the screenplay, casting and rehearsing it, scraping through production with just 10 days to shoot and minimal resources, doing your best not to compromise in any significant way on quality or the ambitious vision for the project, spend six months living with and editing the footage, and see if you can step away from it and view the resulting edit objectively.

Being in the middle of it is really hard.

The Middle Stage

February 27, 2012

A few weeks ago I completed the first edit of The Adventures of Paul and Marian.  It’s a full edit of the movie, more than just an assembly or a rough cut, because I was working meticulously as I went, and also because we shot much of the film in long takes so there’s not a lot of finessing to do beyond finding the best combination of shots based on performance, technical quality, and continuity.

Now we’re in an odd part of the filmmaking stage.  The film is edited and we’re not quite ready to start working on the effects, music and sound, because we’re a few steps away from locking the picture.

There’s a bunch of nipping and tucking to do, but besides that – what?  Is the movie working?  How much tinkering do we need to do?  Should we try some creative restructuring, in effect tear the movie apart and build it back up again to make sure everything is as strong as possible?  Or should we decide to leave well enough alone?  At what point should we decide that? 

This middle stage of editing is the hardest because we’re far enough along to feel satisfied and confident, but the movie is still untested and not yet finely honed.  Middles are the hardest parts of all creative processes; writing the second act of a movie script for example, is usually the biggest challenge. [That may be because for some reason producers and writers are under the false impression that good movies operate under a simplified three act structure, and what they call the “second act” constitutes more than half of the movie and should be broken down into multiple acts in order to make any sense of it.  But I digress.]

I’m taking a little time off of the editing  so I can return to the movie with fresh eyes.  Then I’ll tinker with it a bit until it’s as tight and short as I can comfortably make it.  Once that’s done I’ll be able to show the work to a few fellow film people who haven’t read the script or seen the footage and get some expert opinions about it.

Right now is the most delicate time of post production; between making decisions about what to keep and what to cut and integrating the first stages of feedback, we’ll have to find the balance between realizing how what we’ve ended up with differs from the movie in our heads and adjust accordingly.  It’s so exciting to see the work in an edited form — it’s really feeling like a movie now — but it’s easy to get caught up in that and not see what its shortcomings may be.  So it’s time to bury my ego and look at the movie as objectively as possible.  And if you think that’s easy, just try developing a project for two years, writing and rewriting the screenplay, casting and rehearsing it, scraping through production with just 10 days to shoot and minimal resources, doing your best not to compromise in any significant way on quality or the ambitious vision for the project, spend six months living with and editing the footage, and see if you can step away from it and view the resulting edit objectively.

Being in the middle of it is really hard.

News from the UK Field Office of AP&M — Essex Sneak Pre-Pre-Preview a Smash!

November 22, 2011

Meg received a phone call from a mysterious number in the UK that turned out to belong to The Real Paul, who had just returned from officiating in Essex.

After the services, he showed the raw green screen footage of his scene. (The outtake of the marriage scene, when the Real Paul cuts up – “You may kiss the bride” after they’ve done kissing.)

Though the audience might have been ringers – after all, there was a movie screen already installed right in the church – the clip of The Real Paul (typecast as Vicar) and The Real Marian (Vicar’s Wife and Motorbike Escort) performing the wedding and zooming off with the happy movie couple riding along went down well. The Real Paul fielded inquiries regarding its release date from these new members of his fan base.

In brief: The Real Paul and Marian crushed it. The audience reaction was great. The jokes hit home. Viewer response was favorable… in fact, perhaps more so than Marian’s will be when the phone bill arrives. (Do take it easy on him, Marian.)

Terrific news on a Sunday night surprise chat!

Jerome Foundation Grant

October 12, 2011

I am thrilled to announce that I have received a Jerome Foundation New York City Film and Video grant for The Adventures of Paul and Marian. This is a huge honor, not just because of the prestigious nature of this grant, but also because of the great company of other filmmakers that share the grant with us. This is a serious group of accomplished filmmakers doing important work, and I’m really touched that our wacky and adventurous project was deemed worthy of their company by the Jerome panelists. You can see the list of filmmakers awarded grants on their press release here.

This grant money will go towards paying for our green screen compositing and effects, which is our most important element of the post production process for this movie.

Editing is hard.

September 8, 2011

I’ve been out of touch for a while because after wrapping I went immediately into directing an ambitious and complicated new musical at this year’s New York Fringe Festival (www.thebardybunch.com; featuring some key players from “The Adventures of Paul and Marian.”)  The show closed on August 24th, and I was finally able to start editing the movie during the hurricane Irene weekend, when the city closed down but nothing else happened in NYC.

 

The editing started off quite easily; we shot the movie in such a way that I knew going into it which shots I wanted to use.  And since we had only 10 days to shoot the feature, we’d get a take I liked, plus a safety in case something went wrong with that take, and then moved on.  So there aren’t a lot of options to choose from or much that needs to be fixed in the edit.

 

But right now I’m editing scene 19, which is when Paul and Marian are hiding out at Paul’s Uncle’s place and Paul decides to go out into the world to make his fortune.  The scene is quite long; it’s over 10 pages of script and includes Paul and Marian’s first duet and lots of running around.  We used the length and depth of the entire soundstage to block this scene.

 

And here’s the problem: we shot this scene on our first day of shooting so it took a while to get into our groove.  As a result, we have tons of footage for this scene – nearly 3 hours worth!  (We shot with 2 cameras so it’s really just 1 ½ hours of footage captured from two different angles, but it’s still 3 hours of footage to choose from).  Since there’s a lot of movement in the scene, both of the cameras and of the actors, there are constant focus issues.  The lenses for the 7D are really precise, so if the camera or the actor is even very slightly off the mark, then we can lose focus.  In this case I could possibly cut to the second camera, but sometimes the second camera is shooting the actor who isn’t talking, or has a piece of our film equipment in the shot.  As a result, I’ve been piecing this scene together bit by bit, without thoughts of artistry or nuance.

 

This is what happens when you make a movie.  You have thoughts of grandeur when you plan it, but when reality hits you have to deal with minute issues that take precedence over artistry.

 

I know from the footage of subsequent scenes that we won’t have this problem, but this is a reminder again of how difficult editing can be, and how brilliant editors often have to be, because they have to cover these things and make it look all effortless in the end.  Hopefully those of you watching the finished scene 19 will find it effortless, but it’s certainly taking me a lot of effort right now to get close to that point.

The Shoot

June 18, 2011

Shooting wrapped on 6/16 and I’m still processing the experience.  It was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating, wildly tense and enjoyable.  We made a lot happen in a mere 10 1/2 days I’m not exactly sure what magic allowed us to to pull it off even better than I expected.

I’m not exaggerating by describing the shoot of “The Adventures of Paul and Marian” as a life-changing event.  It was the first movie I’ve directed about characters I created.  It was the first film I’ve made that had such a large machine behind it; a crew of about 30, with a large support team, and over 50 on-screen roles.  My other films have been chamber pieces; this was a full out production.

This film was in many ways a celebration of my nearly 20 years of living and working in NYC.  Collaborators from my previous film, radio and theater projects appeared in this movie and/or contributed in some way to the production.  Cameo roles went to friends and collaborators from all parts of my life.  Our PAs, art department assistants, and camera crew were for the most part Purchase students who studied or are currently studying with our cinematographer Alan McIntyre Smith.  This gave the set a real feeling of family, and our new colleagues were quickly folded in to it.  Everyone was really eager to work together and this enabled us to move quickly and stay focused.  And since the film has so many small roles and needs so many extras, pretty much everyone who worked on the set appears on screen at some point.

This shoot, as stressful as it might be to shoot a feature with singing and dancing and multiple sets in just 10 1/2 days, was also the most relaxed feature set I’ve had the privilege to helm.  The cast, as anxious as they might have been about their dance numbers and figuring out their blocking on the spot, was extremely prepared and focused.  The fun we had on set was possible only because of the amount of preparation and discipline that the cast and crew exhibited.

I’ve worked on fast sets before; my first feature “The Changeling” was shot in a mere 6 days and my previous feature “Spirit Cabinet” (currently in post) was shot in just 5.  But there was one moment on this production that just stunned me; one day we were running late and had four brief scenes to shoot and 20 minutes to do so before the end of the day.  We finished blocking, lighting, and shooting them all in just 18 minutes.  And two of them included dolly shots.  The crew and cast were just that ready and attentive.  You don’t see this kind of thing on larger budget movies.  Granted, if you have lots of cash you don’t need to shoot four scenes in 20 minutes, but people’s hearts are more into a movie like ours than something they’re just doing for a paycheck.

There were some really odd moments on set for me; I’d look around and see a bunch of people in costume and marvel at this strange movie we’ve put together.  It is a strange little creature.  At one point I was shooting a scene starring my close friend Victor Varnado (also a director, writer, and comedian) and he started laughing.  I asked him why, and he told me that he was trying to follow my direction to play the role of the Hermit grounded and naturalistically and then he realized that he was acting opposite of a singing rock hand puppet.

So besides finally bringing this project to life which I’ve been thinking about and working on for nearly 2 1/2 years, the shooting experience was a real celebration.  Donors, family and friends visited us on set.  Old colleagues came together and new working relationships were formed as well.

After a short rest (well, not really a rest– I’ve been hired to direct a play that starts preproduction next week), we’ll get back to fundraising and start the long and intricate post production process.  But for now it’s time for us to take a breath and celebrate what we’ve all achieved.  I still can’t believe that this dream project is actually in the can.  Wow.

Our Crew at Work

On Set with Paul Herbig and Marian Brock

Rehearsing the Finale

Choreography and character

May 29, 2011

We’ve been rehearsing for the past few weeks with choreographer Lorna Ventura.  Lorna is creating our dance numbers and is also consulting on movement for the movie.  She’ll be on set most of the time and will help out with complicated blocking of actors and also creating some stylized movement for some of the larger scenes.

This is my first time working so closely with a choreographer and it’s been a really interesting process.  First of all, Lorna is just great.  She’s inventive, quick, and knows how to communicate with non-dancers.  I’ve found so far that we’re able to create moments in our songs that aren’t simply movements in time to the music, but moves that use the music to allow the actors to express character.  Our leads are non-dancers, so it’s much easier for them to approach the work this way.  When they’re allowed to unlock their character’s traits and attitudes through movement, things click in a way that they wouldn’t if the actors had to remember what to do on what beat.

And we’ve found ways of expressing character through having Lorna at rehearsal and constructing dance elements for the characters that we wouldn’t have otherwise. Some examples: a mini-tantrum the General has at the end of his song; the slinking snake-like moves of La Junta in the Revolution song; Marian’s painful attempt to do a push up in the same song; the Henchpeople being constantly in motion.  Lorna’s contribution to the movie goes beyond the actual dance numbers and has helped me think of ways of visualizing the characters’ attitudes, needs, and conflicts on screen.  And the dance rehearsals have become unsuspectingly good acting rehearsals too.  I’d recommend a choreographer for every film director.

Green Screen vs. Rear Projection, part 2

May 26, 2011

I am going for a look for “The Adventures of Paul and Marian” that doesn’t shy away from the fact that we’re shooting in a studio.  I want the movie to hearken back to technicolor and older Hollywood movies, artifice and all.  As I wrote quite some time ago, we decided to shoot in front of rear projection in order to achieve this look.  Rather than shoot in front of a green screen and add the background images later, we would project them live and get everything on camera.

However, the logistical challenges of doing this on a limited budget with limited time are immense, and we have decided to return to using green screen for this movie.  The advantages to this are that we can move much faster while we shoot, we have a lot more flexibility in post, and I will be able to spend more time on set working closely with the actors rather than worrying about technical issues with the rear projection image.  The performances are what’s going to sell this movie in any case, so I have to be able to focus on them.  The amazing thing about digital editing and green screen is that there’s so much you can do to the image in post, so we’ll have a huge amount of options in shaping the  look of the movie afterwards.

This will mean a much longer and more expensive post production, which I’m not exactly happy about, but it’s the best choice for making this movie as interesting and good as it needs to be.

Success on Kickstarter!

April 16, 2011

A very tired Jay Stern thanks you

It was a long 45 days full of emotional ups and downs, but we surpassed our fundraising goal of $16,000 on Kickstarter last night.

182 backers from all over contributed a total of $16,403, which means we now have enough money to get through production.

The game is afoot!  We shoot in June!  Of course there are a few thousand details we have to work out before we get to that point, but this movie is finally happening.  What a relief!

Above is a photograph I posted for our supporters which extends to you, dear reader.  Thanks for being part of the journey.  We can’t wait to show you our movie.

Recording with the Henchpeople

April 5, 2011

Last night, actors James Prendergast, Mary Micari, and Derek Lively and I met at Zach Abramson’s apartment and recorded scratch tracks for two songs to the movie.  It’s really exciting hearing these songs come together with the voices of the actors I’ve written them for.  It’s both wonderful and a little odd to have something that has been in my head for so long finally being heard by others.  Below are some photographs of Derek and Mary, two of my favorite actors.  They play the General’s Henchpeople, who hunt down Paul and Marian and get caught up in their adventures.  James Prendergast (also one of my favorite actors) is not pictured because I forgot to take my camera out until he had left.

We’ll be recording scratch tracks of several more songs this month.  We’ll use these recordings for the actors to sing along to on set, and then record a more polished version after we shoot.

Mary Micari as the Henchwoman

Mary Micari sings!

Derek Lively as the Henchman

Derek Lively sings!

Mary Micari and Derek Lively

Mary and Derek harmonize

 

Mary Micari and Derek Lively

Mary Micari and Derek Lively