Posts Tagged ‘painful decisions’

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.