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Sunday, 20 July 2008
48 Hours...yet again Part III: Fixing it in Post
Topic: Makin' Movies
CAVEAT: My memory of everything that happened on this day is fragmentary and I'm sure I've conflated things and got some out of order. So much happens in these 48 HFPs that I'm surprised I can remember as much as I do. So bear with me!
Somewhere after 8 a.m. I've started to stir. I'm still exhausted, as 8 hours sleep doesn't make up for the 39 consecutive waking hours that concluded the night before.
I stumble out of my bedroom to find John awake, reading, and Scott busily editing the rough cut of our film. Cameraman Tim brought a hard drive over in the wee hours, so Scott was able to start editing at 6. He says he's making good progress and we'll have a rough cut by noon, if not sooner.
First order of business is to get some breakfast, as I've not really eaten much in the past 48 hours between all the madness and breaking a tooth. I shower and John and I go to the nearby Seal Rock Inn to eat, where I'm very conscious of the broken tooth. We discuss what needs to happen today, for although we've wrapped the shoot, we've got something like 9 hours left to do all the post production. I collect an omelette to go for Scott, and we head back home.
It's noonish and Scott has completed the rough cut. Like all rough cuts, it sucks. It's flaccid and clumsy and badly paced and it just doesn't flow, but I'm already laughing, so I know there's gold in that there cut...we just have to pan out the sediment.  But there's a fair amount of sediment:
  • Although we filmed  scenes 1, 5 and 7, we couldn't get to 2,  3, 4, and 8, ergo some of the action doesn't transition very well.
  • We have the initial jib shot down to Jim and John (scene 1), but without the scene of P.A. reading the book, we have to cut directly from that to Jim and John's first dialogue scene, so it's like we're revealing them twice.
  • Since we didn't shoot the "door" where P.A. reacts to his to-be-revealed visitor and where Jim and John arrive and overhear growling, we have a problem where Jim and John just appear standing near where P.A. and Amy are supposedly making out.
  • The second unit stuff of P.A. and Amy waiting for a bus isn't usable. There's a man in shot who we don't have a release for, and, further, the shots of the bus aren't good because--
    • they don't feature our actors
    • they break the line of action (a.k.a. the 180 degree rule)
    • the reflection of the sun on the bus's back window blows out (too bright).
    --which means we don't have transitional footage to get from the end of the family discussion to the Mother Nature scene.
  • Scott can't find a shot of Jim and John doing "flirt" lines we'd planned to lay over the initial jib shot and some other shots.
After some discussion, we decide to do the following:
  1. Drop the initial jib shot. This hurts, because it's the biggest camera move we've got, and really sets the forest setting, but it's gotta go.
  2. Drop the bus stop scenes.
So, Scott's got his hands full.
To fix the transitions, I suggest we do title cards in fable style, as in "The parents arrived home to a surprise". This will cover the missing footage neatly, and help keep the running time down (since we have a 7 minute max, minus end credits), even though it's a total cheat and I hate doing it.
Aside from the edit, which is Scott's main responsibility, there remain the following items to be tended to:
  1. Extra dialogue and sound recording
  2. Main Title and end Credit cards
  3. Musical Score
  4. Sound Effects
  5. Foley (custom sound FX work)
  6. One optical effect to establish Mother Nature's place.
  7. Paperwork required to be submitted with the film at the Drop Off event.
  8. Collect the lighting kit, mini grip kit, and boom mic from Matt's garage
With this to-do list ready, I get to work on as many of the miscellaneous elements as possible whilst Scott works on the edit. John and I collect Jim and head for Matt's studio.
Matt hasn't been sitting on his laurels waiting for the film. Once he had the script on Saturday he started roughing out musical ideas for the themes, including a sped-up piece of a main tune that was intended for the bunnies in the bushes stuff we couldn't shoot. He'd played these samples for us last night between setups of "Mother Nature", but I was so groggy I didn't remember it much.  Once he has he rough cut, he'll start taking his ideas and timing them to fit the edited sequences.
In the meantime, we'll take the opportunity to record some dialogue pickups and such. Since Scott can't find the 2nd unit shot of Jim and John flirting and doing "Oh Jessi!" "Oh Harvey!" for the opening shot, I put them in the sound booth and have them record a number of versions of these lines. Also, since we're there, we decide to record various shocked and outraged sounds that can be dubbed in where useful. As with yesterday, it's hilarious, especially when we put both of them in the booth at the same time to record lines of rabbit flirting (which Jim informs me they were doing out of mic range in some shots). Whoever would have thought, "I want some of your peanut butter" could sound dirty? Whilst John is ad libbing an outraged "she's a bear!" I catch his eye from through the glass  and mouth the line back to him with one naughty word added, and he turns back to the mic and cries, "She's a $@&#ing bear!" He hits the line so hard he spikes the meter, so Matt has him do it again. John's outrage kills me, especially when he ad libs, "What are you thinking? What will my PTA think?!"
I ask Matt if he signed the Music Releases. He hasn't. I make him print them and sign them.
Erik is on his way over to help, so I tell him to just go to Matt's in the event we need him to loop and lines or do any new lines we might need. I have this idea for a narrator, but I doubt we'll have time to do it.
With Jim and John's sound booth work done, we head back for my place. I ask Jim if he can stay and take over the task of getting all the required paperwork together. He says yes. Then I have to ask him another favor. I'm out of printer paper and toilet paper (too many guests!). Can he bring some back with him?
From last year's 48 HFP experience I knew that keeping track of all the paperwork, contact info, etc., can be a pain, so while I was prepping the crew for this shoot I created an Excel spreadsheet that contained everyone's names, with columns for phone numbers, email addresses, their on-screen credit, etc. This became the "New Shimmer" of the shoot ("New Shimmer is both a floor wax and a dessert topping!"), as the sheet served as a master phone list for making calls to cast and crew, and now it's a checklist for the paperwork. Jim quickly realizes that the one person we don't have a Liability Waiver for is our cameraman, Tim! Fortunately, Tim lives nearby, and needs to get his jib out of John's vehicle, so Jim calls him over and gets the form signed.
Tim's gear collected from John's SUV, John departs for home and his lovely wife, and I miss him already.
Jim makes a thorough double-check of every form, noting every single error and inconsistency, none of which are serious and are easily dealt with. He also calls a few people to make sure I have the correct credit for them.
The amount of paperwork is daunting given he short schedule, and includes the following:
  • Team Roster: Tells who was on the team, their job, and their e-mail address.
  • Certification Statement: a form I must sign to certify that all creative work took place during the 48 Hour competition period.
  • Liability Waiver Form: A limited liability form that protects me and the 48HFP, one for each member of the cast and crew.
  • Talent Release Form: For actors and other talent, allowing their images and voices to be used.
  • Music Release Form: To prove I either own the music in the film or have rights to it.
  • Location Release Form: To prove we had permission to shoot in any private property...namely Matt's House. We don't need anything for Golden Gate Park since it's public property
  • Materials Release Form, which we'd need if we used photographs and other materials. We're not, so we skip it.
  • Wrap Up Form:  This must be filled out on on-line, and I can't finish it until I know the final running time of the film, etc. So Jim can't do it.
The finished pile ends up being nearly a quarter inch in thickness, but, thanks to Jim, it's all in order. All I have to do is complete and print the Wrap-Up form when we're done.  Thanks, Jim!
When Jim finishes the paperwork I toss a new task at him: I ask him to take a stab at writing the intertitle cards that we need to cover the missing shots. I ask him for three, one to set up the story after the title, one to transition from the parents to the "house", and a final one to transition from the family discussion to Mother Nature's place.
Scott's past experience with Final Cut is very helpful, especially with some shots that have problems we can't easily get around, notably by compositing bits from other takes to fix a few problems with the shots that were chosen for the edit. For instance, a woman's head is visible behind some reeds in the deep background, and a bit from another take overlaid over that spot obliterates her. In another shot, there's a continuity mismatch between Amy's hands between an up-angle of her standing and a medium shot of Jim and John where she's visible at the side of the screen, but Scott fixes that with a piece from later in the same shot.
We discuss blowing up a few shots to fix framing problems, and while neither Scott nor I is fond of this, some quick calculation shows that we could conceivably enlarge any shot by up to 300% without any quality loss because we shot at high def and the 48 HFP requires the film in standard def....which is exactly one third the horizontal resolution of our source footage. Scott does blow up a few shots slightly, but never takes it to the 300% size.
The tilt down to the poop gag is too slow. Scott plays around with accelerating the footage during the tilt, and that helps a lot. It's still not perfect, but time for finessing is a luxury we don't have.
Adding the music's been an interesting process.  Once we got the rough cut to Matt he adjusted the pieces he composed to fit the length of the scenes, which keep changing as the editing continues. There's a lot of improvising here, as Scott tries to use all the bits Matt sent over, even music for stuff we ended up not shooting (like the fast music for the parent bunnies in the bushes).
Additionally, we ask Matt for some foley work and some audio variations on Mother Nature's "Love"? So, while we're over here working, Matt is recording Will dumping coffee beans on the floor of his sound booth, and Erik saying "Love?" with a dozen different intonations.
The only piece of music that we have any real problem with is the underscore for the family discussion scene. The music for the first scene is great and hits the right storybook tone, but the music for the family discussion is all wrong: it's too somber, too dark. I give Matt the feedback that it needs to feel related to the other pieces.
Later, Matt sends over a new idea for the family discussion. He's taken the same music and changed the instruments, so instead of sounding orchestral, most of what you hear is a toy piano type plinking. What's great about it is its naked simplicity. Matt's done nice job of hitting the notes just slightly off of when you expect them, which gives the thing a slightly tentative, off kilter feel, and which also gives the impression of a music box winding down.  The favorite bit is what he did when the bear threatens the bunnies: there is cliché Psycho knife stab-esque music played said toy piano!
The music and sound files are moved around via email and courier. Poor Will Spencer keeps getting sent back and forth between Matt's place and mine.  Fortunately, we live only a few blocks apart!
Yesterday Scott kept making me or trying to make me get on the phone and talk to Michael Struck of NEO f/x up in Portland to describe what I wanted for the establishing shot of Mother Nature's place. I told him I wanted a ginormous tree with windows on it like a skyscraper. I'd hoped Eriq could get a good shot of a Golden Gate Park tree that could be supersized, but there just wasn't time. In my heart of hearts I wanted a shot of Gus and Gloria standing on the curb in front if a mass of trees and looking up, then to do an optical tilt up to reveal this skyscraper like tree towering above. Since we didn't get the plate of the actors, and Michael Struck thinks it would've been hard to do, we agree on a simpler establishing matte painting. What he delivers is a composite of various stock photo elements of a sunset and trees, with one tree rendered appropriately huge. There's a slight push in on it (like a slow zoom), shifting rays of sunlight and a few distant birds, but the kicker is the huge scrolling digital signboard on the tree that reads "MOTHER NATURE INC."  It's pretty and kinda storybook.
Scott's a great guy, but he gets really impatient when the pressure is on, and he asks me for things over and over, sometimes a minute apart, as if asking me again will make it happen faster. "I'm dancing as fast as I can" I think. He starts pestering me more and more as he gets to the point where he needs stock SFX (mostly purchased from and the title cards and intertitles.
For the credits, my handy-dandy master spreadsheet saves the day here, too, because I can quickly rearrange the rows into the order the credits need to be, then can cut and paste each name and credit field into the Photoshop file I'm using to compose the end titles. This makes putting the cards together fast, and prevents typos and omissions (well, mostly, I accidentally lost two of the P.A.s off the credits...I'd get them into the director's cut).
Speaking of the credits, a thing I didn't like about the end credits in Secret Identity Crisis was that when reduced to web size the scrolling credits got "crawly", jittery, and hard to read: so for this film I make the end credits a series of slides with nice big text so that everyone's name should remain readable even when YouTubed.
Somewhere during this I had to decide on the final title of the film. The script was titled "B'ear Rabbitt", with the nod to Uncle Remus, and that's what appears on the slates, but, as we had discussed on Friday while debating what a fable was, I liked the sound of the titles of Kipling's Just-So Stories, like "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "How the Leopard Got His Spots". Using this as inspiration, I came up with "How the Bunny Got the Bear", which is enigmatic enough to not give away the story, but does explain what ultimately happens in one sense of "get".
There's a lot of back and forth as I save files to a memory stick and pass it between Scott on the Mac and me on the PC. I knew I shoulda set up a home network!
Scott, Will and I watch a near-final edit, and as the intertitle card that reads, "By bus, train or plane, the Couple travel for Judgment..." Will comments it should be "and" instead of "or", which implies they did all three. This is funnier, since the judges and the audience at the screening know the requirement of the ticket, and should laugh at that we did all three. We also argue over the spelling of "judgment", but that's easily resolved via
The cut's working pretty well, but there are things I'm not in love with. Scott has cut up the Mother Nature reveal shot, so first Erik spins around, then the shot goes back to P.A. and Amy, and then it returns to Erik for the required line. I see what he's trying to do, but it doesn't work for me, because Erik didn't pause after turning around. He just spun and hit the line. This means Scott cuts right as we get our first look at Erik, which sort of steps on the joke.
Upon reviewing this proposed final cut, I notice that Scott has left out the first of the intertitle cards. He didn't think it was necessary. I think it breaks the model of using the cards to set the scenes. However, we're running out of time so I let this one go. I could argue over this or that, but Scott and I have different approaches to editing, and the number of changes I'd make are impossible to accomplish given how short time is. I decide that since I asked Scott to be the editor and he took on the responsibility, it's fair I let him have the edit. If I decide I want it different, I'll do a top to bottom re-edit later and do my own cut. But for this 48 HFP, it's Scott's cut.
At some point during this madness Beckster calls, and I am blunter than I've even been: if it's not desperately important, I can't talk. She says it's not. I'll say I'll call later. Click.
UH OH...
Last year we were late delivering Secret Identity Crisis because of a technical issue where Scott couldn't get the camera to record the output from the computer. We pre-tested the output system earlier, and we know we can write the video out to my camera, so that won;t be a problem. We're planning to stop cold and lock the final cut at 6:30 so we can output to tape and also write out a data DVD disc backup, ensuring there's no way we can fail to be accepted because of bad media.
All's looking good, but then, just as Scott saves a few changes, Final Cut Pro crashes, hard. Scott tries to reopen it. Crash. Will and I are trying not to panic. We're cool as cucumbers...on the outside. I know the worst thing that I can do is to freak out, so I keep about what I'm doing while Scott tries to figure it out. It looks like the project file got corrupted, so he opens the program without opening the file then tries to open the most recent project auto-save. It works! He only has to make a couple of tweaks to get right back where we were.  WHEW!
Finally we're ready. Scott outputs the finished film to my camera and to tape. He then burns a data DVD as a backup. I finish the Wrap Up Form online as required.  That done, I'm triple and quadruple checking everything to make sure I have all the paperwork in order, every form in place, plus that I've got the DVD disc and the Mini DV tape, and the required submission envelope.
It's 7:03 and we're ready to roll. We have 27 minutes to get the package turned in, and our destination is 3.5 miles away, or about 10 minutes distance. I tell Will I want him to drive there. He thinks I'm asking him to take us there, but I till him that i want him to follow us there, "If my car runs out of gas or has a mechanical breakdown or if a little old lady steps out in front of me, you grab Scott and the package and run!" After we missed the deadline last year in Portland, I'm taking no chances that this film won't be in on time.
The trip is uneventful, and we make good time there.  As we pull up in front of the cafe that is the drop-off location, I tell Scott to jump out and get inside and be ready to turn in the package while I find parking. I tell Will to beat it back to Matt's and we'll call when we're done.  I circle the block a few times, but there's no parking to be had, so I double-park the car on the street and hurry inside to find Scott in line. He says they've taken the disc and tape and are verifying that they work. Once that's confirmed, we're done.
I take a moment to look around. It's almost 20 after with only minutes remaining before the deadline, and there are literally people with their laptops burning DVD discs while standing in line! As close as we got, we did great, having delivered the film in two different media.
And we're good!  Hooray!  We're done!  WE DID IT!!!
Back in the car, I start dialing key members of the cast and crew to tell them we're submitted, and that we're heading to Matt's for a celebratory drink.  Turn out Beckster was in the city and waiting for word. I call John in San Jose, and he's thrilled. I tell him to have a drink in honor of our success, and he tells me that he and his wife are well ahead of the game: already on their second bottle of champagne!
Those who gather at Matt's are Scott, me, Beckster (who waited at the beach after I hung up on her), Erik, Will, and Eriq.  After the first toasts, I step into the back yard and go down the crew list, calling just about every single person on it to tell them we finished on time, and to thank them profusely for their help. I make a point of telling those who did the most unglamourous jobs how important they were, as everyone from the script supervisor to the guy who stops traffic is essential to getting a film made.
Calls done, we take a walk to the Beach Chalet to get dinner and celebrate further, with Natascha joining us. And here ends the story of the 48 hours.
I'm sooooo happy.
I'm sooooo ready to sleep.
And I'm soooo ready to go to my dentist early the following morning to get my mouth repaired. But that's a different story.

Posted by molyneaux at 12:01 AM PDT
Updated: Tuesday, 19 May 2009 10:23 PM PDT
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