I’m writing this at the very end of the editing process, which has been, in one word: slow.
I am one of those directors who prefers to shoot the film and then not look at it at least for a month or so. Once we wrapped in early February, we didn’t start the edit until later in the month. During that time, our assistant editor Josh synched the sound and audio for us, and put together a rough assembly of a couple of the scenes. We got it back from him in late February, and then began to slowly assemble the film.
This was largely a process that involved our editor, Will, staring at everything and changing things for hours on end, while I looked over his shoulder and offered some advice or voiced my preference for a take or performance, occasionally. We also took a trip down to our sound designer’s recording studio with Zach and recorded his voice-overs. We were often re-writing the script with him in the studio, determining what was easy enough or realistic for him to say.
When we cut the film from start to finish, according to the script, it was thirteen minutes long. And it was a slow thirteen minutes, but we still felt pretty good about it. However, when we showed it to our professor John Mann, and he criticized it pretty heavily. It was not a good film. It was long, with too many characters, plots, and confusing scenes. The script, as we had feared, was not working on-screen. However, as he assured us, it was “fixable,” and we could have something good if we worked hard on it.
Cut to Will and I spending hours and hours in the DMC, editing and desperately trying to save our film. We were pessimistic that it would turn out to be anything worth showing. Our first decision was to create a new cut with the flashbacks in the film reduced to the absolute minimum. At eleven minutes, it still dragged, and we feared that it was no better than before. After showing the film to some friends, we decided it was best to get it down even further.
One afternoon, we reduced the monologues in the chapel scene to silence. Voice-overs, all of the flashbacks (save the fish store), beloved tracking shots, entire character arcs: cut. At around seven and a half minutes, it was the strongest cut that we had. We also made a radical decision: the flashback to the fish store was no longer a flashback, but started the entire film. It was a good choice; the scene was beautiful to open with, and it followed chronologically in Ray’s timeline.
The problem? A majority of our actors and characters ended up on the cutting room floor. Uncle Nick, Uncle Diego, Mariana, Aunt Lis, and Uncle Phil were no longer characters––just featured extras with one line each, at the most. I still haven’t resolved how to tell them that they won’t be the characters they once were, and we feel incredibly guilty about it. However, I long ago resolved that for the sake of the art, we would have to do what was best for the film.
And here we are, today, April 17: our deadline for picture-locking the film. We’ve gotten it down to around five minutes and thirty seconds, with the help of our professors John Mann, Matt Porterfield, Roberto Busó-García, and many more students and friends. We have cut and recut the film so many times, and the only scene mainly left untouched is the last one, Scene 18. I’ll watch it one more time to make sure it works, but then it’s done; we can’t change anything anymore. And it’s up to everyone else to judge what it is like.
It is not the same film that it was one month ago. It is far from the film that it was when we shot it, unrecognizable from the script that we submitted to Studio North now a year ago. But it has gone from something that scared me to something that I can be proud of, after lots of hours and hard work (and Will’s editing talent, of course).
Next up: we send it to the sound designer, composer and colorist, with less than a month until Studio North’s premiere.
It’s okay to fix it in post,