All Over But the Crying
Artistic projects are never finished; they are abandoned. Well, I’ve finally abandoned my short film after a long, exhaustive editing process. I’m writing this as my film is burning to a DVD and I feel a bit like a parent on their child’s first day of school, fighting the instinct to grab it back before it get into the world, saying “Maybe he’ll be ready next year”.
Upon completing a project, any humble artist will look back on a project and reflect on what could have been improved upon or altered meaningfully. Now, I will never call myself an artist, but as a college film student, I do look back reflect on all the stupid, stupid, stupid things I did. Someone once said that we are in the business of creating greater and greater failures. Well this is definitely my greatest failure yet, and I think it’s a good idea to review some of bigger lessons I learned the hard way.
Being a director and a director of photography at the same time is like being on a date with two women simultaneously, and neither date is going well. I am, in fact, exactly one person and, probably because I am a man, I multitask poorly. Whenever I am setting up a shot and getting the composition exactly right, I’m losing time with my actors, making sure they can connnect to the choices their characters are making and understand their actions. When I'm working with my actors, I can't be communicating what I need to the crew. It’s exhausting and unfair to both the cast, and crew, and to me. If possible, this will be the last film where I occupy both roles.
There is no "make my film look better" button. On set, it’s easy to get into the “Oh, I’ll fix it in post” mindset. And a lot of times, you can, especially if you oversee, or in my case, perform, both shooting and editing. If you have a cohesive idea of what you want, you can usually get close to that. For example, some of the stuff I shot at night is supposed to take place in the day. Even being inside, during the day, sunlight bounces around and makes the image bluer than if you shot just with artificial light. You can add this blue in color correction to make shots look like they took place during the day. Unless you totally forgot about the giant window in your shot and that shows that it’s clearly night outside. Oops. This being said, sometimes what you shot is just crap.
Checking your equipment periodically is always a good idea. I recorded roughly 180 different tracks to use for post-dubbing purposes. Basically recording sounds to get exactly what I want and syncing it up to the video and no one knows the sounds were recorded seperately. Unfortunately, I never checked the audio files outside the recorder so, while they sounded fine on the recorder, they were incredibly quiet when I imported them into my Final Cut Project. So the majority of what I spent a solid six hours recording was essentially useless. The price for stupidity is always high.
Don’t edit films to your favorite music. It’s common for me to listen to a song and thing Oh man; I want to use that in a movie. You might think it’s a great idea, that it fits the film perfectly, and that’s awesome, but I’m telling you it’s a bad idea. It’s a bad idea because you will never, ever want to listen to that song ever again after you’ve cut a film to it. It’s one thing to listen to a song on a loop; it’s another to listen to the same seven-second section a dozen times while cutting it into a scene. So long “Jesus Flag American Fish” by Cuckoo Chaos; it’s been nice knowing you.
So now the film is as finished as it will ever be. I didn’t prepare any real cathartic final statement to wrap all this madness up, but I’ll give it a shot.
Filmmaking is arduous, thankless, deprecating and filled with frustration, heartache, and disappointment. It’s also inspiring, enlightening, elevating, and filled with laughter, excitement, passion, and love. If you look at the first list and get excited, you’re a masochist. If you look at the second list and get excited, you’re an idealist. If you look at both lists and can’t wait to get started, you might just be a filmmaker.
Go make movies.