Posts Tagged ‘editing’

On Trailers

March 26, 2015

I wrote, directed, and edited The Adventures of Paul and Marian, but when it came to creating a trailer for the movie, I was really at a loss.

A good trailer has to evoke the style and feel of the movie, give a general idea of the story, and show some of the movie’s best moments without giving everything away. It has to be exciting, evocative, and informative, all within a short span of time. It’s like an elevator pitch, but with video clips and music.

This is even harder to do than it sounds. It’s hard to make a trailer for any movie. But before “Paul and Marian,” I had created successful trailers for my previous two features — one by myself, and the other with the collaboration of the cinematographer and writer of the movie. It took a little wrangling, but these trailers fell into place fairly quickly.

But the trailer for The Adventures of Paul and Marian was one of the hardest things I’ve ever edited.

The story of the movie is fairly simple, but on its own, the story isn’t what makes the movie interesting. So just setting up the story wasn’t enough. I tried many approaches. I tried using one of the movie’s songs as the structure for the trailer. I tried using whimsical title cards to convey the spirit and subject matter of the movie. I tried a version that introduced the various characters in a fun and stylized way. I tried some experimental meta-trailers to channel the anarchic quality I tried to bring to the movie. But everything I did was confusing or boring or failed to convey the feeling or story of the movie or all of the above.

I worked for a while then took some time off and then worked again, and still nothing was clicking. At my wits end, I reached out to an experienced director/editor friend who has made trailers before, and I bartered doing a few days of sound work on his latest documentary in exchange for him cutting a trailer for me. (I totally won out on this. His documentary is fascinating and I got a front row seat via a boom microphone.) My friend’s version of the Paul and Marian trailer was really fun and opened the door to a lot of approaches I hadn’t thought of. But it was long and didn’t reflect the pace of the movie, which is one of its charms. So I started tinkering with it.

Around this time I brought in friends to take a look at what I had done so far and what I was doing to this latest trailer. These friends were media-savvy; filmmakers, writers, editors, or people with marketing backgrounds. Some of them had seen the movie, and some hadn’t, and I relied on their feedback to let me know whether the trailer was doing what it needed to do. Eventually I landed on an approach that worked for everyone and kept the fun spirit of the movie. Stay tuned – you’ll see that trailer posted here soon.

But seriously, it was harder to cut this trailer than it was to cut the movie. It’s clearly an art of its own and not for the weak. If you can avoid it, don’t cut a trailer for your own movie!


Trimming, Trimming and More Trimming

July 1, 2012

My first edit of the movie consisted of all of the scenes we shot, in their entirety, in the order the script dictated.  The edit was the script turned into a movie.

For those of you who have made movies before, you know that this edit is only very, very rarely the movie you’re going to end up with.

The movie ran 104 minutes, which isn’t bad considering it was a 103-page script with songs.  Normally a script page equals one minute of screen time, but songs tend to make it run longer.  The fact that the completed edit came in at 104 minutes showed how fast-paced the movie is, and I felt it came across as such in the edit.  Snappy dialogue, quick transitions, and a lot of story were jammed into a brisk hour and 44 minutes.

When I screened the edit for director of photography / producer Alan Smith, he was really thrilled with it.  He thought it could use lots of cuts though and that we should get the movie down to 90 minutes.

I happen to think that most movies are too long and am a big fan of movies in the 90-minute range.  (The films of Andrei Tarokovsky and a few others excepted.)  My first feature ran 93 minutes with credits, and my second one totaled 89.  I knew the film needed some trims, both for pacing and also to remove redundant dialogue.  I thought that with some painful cuts, we could get it down to maybe 97 minutes.  But 90?  No way, that’s too much.

In my next pass on the edit, I picked up the pace, removed some unnecessary lines in scenes that I felt were lagging, and I even cut some verses from a few of the songs.  Due to our lack of shooting time and small budget, we weren’t able to shoot the musical numbers in a spectacular way, so it was important to keep the story moving as much as possible.  Where a song took two verses to express an emotion or idea, I chose to just use one of them.

The movie was now down to a healthy 98 minutes.  But now with extra snappy scenes and faster pacing, more scenes started to feel sluggish or repetitive.  So I started again and made some extremely painful decisions.  I cut a few short scenes out of the movie.

And then I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made on a movie.  I cut out a longer scene.  It’s the only scene in which a few of the lead characters meet.  It had an important part of a character’s arc in it.  It also has a song.  So we had to write a song, made adjustments to it, teach the song to the actor, rehearse it and record it.  The scene was difficult to stage and shoot, and I agonized over exactly how we were going to be able to do it.  We had to buy special props for this scene that were a big expense and took a lot of time to rig.  I would have killed to have the extra 5 hours of shooting we would have saved if we hadn’t shot this scene, not to mention the money it would have saved us.  I obviously thought it was an essential scene when I conceived and shot it, so maybe I was being too critical.  Maybe there was a way to salvage it.

I screened the movie again (now 93 minutes long) for someone who had seen the first cut and didn’t tell him that I cut this scene.  He didn’t notice it was gone.  That pretty much sealed it.  The scene wasn’t necessary, and since it wasn’t a really spectacular scene as executed, there was no strong argument to keep it.

My composer thankfully agreed when I showed him the movie.  I felt bad about cutting a song.  It was a good one too.  But one of the reasons I love Zach Abramson’s work, and why I like to work with him, is that although he thinks musically, he puts story and character first.  His interests are always the interests of the story we’re telling rather than his particular area of expertise.  He’s fighting for the same movie I am.

Now the movie is down to 93 minutes.  Some of the first cuts I agonized about seem so obvious now that I’ve made them.  And I see even more little cuts to make.  After I finish the next pass, I suspect we’ll make the 90-minute mark after all.  Funny how that works.

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.

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 (; 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.