Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sundown For A New Day

In 7 short weeks the world has changed... and today we solved the biggest issue:  relinking the media files. My wise and generous editor came by this afternoon and we sat at my counter -- doors open, me with a frosty frappuccino, he with a tall soft drink, and Sagan on the floor munching chips and playing with the light saber -- trying desperately to figure out why the files wouldn't link properly and, most importantly, why his files (which he created the film with) had time code and formatting data embedded in the video. Even he was baffled, and he's the master. I paced until we found our solution and now I sit here patiently while Shooting Days 3 and 4 are re-transcoded and re-linked. THEN on to the issue that got us here in the first place -- color correction to the mirror shots.

But I'm jumping to the end here, because yes, I did successfully screen the film to multiple audiences in Europe. Glowing praise, rave reviews, kind generous words. However, I quickly realized at the first showing (in Dublin, Ireland) that 2-3 scenes, plus the credits, had not been color corrected. As the director, I take full responsibility for this lapse. Although Scott and I went through the film pretty thoroughly over a few hours for the color correction, I did not stay to review the final film in its entirety, something a true director would and should always do. But I raise my hand in my defense: Scott was sick with a terrible cold. Sneezing, tissues, nose blowing. And we had been sitting in a small room, tight quarters, close together, for more than 3 hours. I was leaving in just a few days for Europe.  I don't think I need to say more. And yes, for those of you wondering, I was 100% healthy during my European trip.

Matt graciously re-created the closing video credits with the color corrected video and now the ball's in my court to make the final corrections, insert the new video footage, render the whole thing, and burn the DVDs. *whew*  I can do this without too much thought, just some babysitting, so maybe I'll make it a little party this weekend -- wine, beer, mexican food, editing and rendering.

Chinatown 7D Color Correction Example from Stu Maschwitz on Vimeo.
color correction example

My great friend Paul Alvarez once told me that if you keep on smiling and being nice, one day you wake up and you're it. I'll work on that... although I'm feeling more like an exploding star than the "it" girl I used to be. Some people get juiced from drama or the pain of life. It's probably good (and healthy) that I get inspired by love, peace and fun, but it would be great if I could harness the crap too. Maybe that's why I'm in a rock band. Get your juice where you can, I guess.

The film festival submission list is short but focused. We're considering submitting to at least one festival in France, which will force me to write my own subtitles. Perhaps I have some sort of mental illness, or maybe I just enjoy little challenges like that. Not committing to that though, just mulling it around. For you crazy people interested in my festival list, here it is, in no particular order:
* a quick note here, I already submitted to Sundance with the uncorrected version, so I have a little time to replace it with the new one... uhhh hopefully

I'm also perusing the list of short film festivals... ahhhhhh
In the meantime, I'll be making margaritas and rendering. 

Sun has set on the summer
A new day dawns for the fall
Go forth and conquer

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Keeping the Faith: Surreal Endings and Exposing Yourself

It's now Wednesday July 28. Monday I got the music for the intro. Yesterday I sent my last note to Scott. That was the day he also received the final sound files from our sound editor Richard Ross. The film is now complete, and needs no more direction from me or anyone else. By Saturday July 31, I will have 4 DVDs in my hand. And on Sunday August 1, I will be on a plane to Dublin, Ireland.

While most people might think this is a moment to celebrate, I'm only pondering how and when I'll get the rest of the work done.

Things I still need to do:

  • finalize and send out the licensing contracts

  • complete list and schedule of film festivals

  • prepare film festival marketing material

  • write and distribute press release

  • plan cast & crew screening

  • burn DVD's for cast and crew and investors
These are the little things, but they are still part of the process. As a creator, whether writer/artist/filmmaker, it is our obligation to not only create the project, but to make sure it is seen, that it speaks, and it's allowed to breathe in the light of day.

It would be easy enough to take a photograph, write a book, paint a masterpiece, and let it lie dormant in the closet, gathering dust, left alone and frozen in time for posterity. And in many cases that's what we do and there's nothing wrong with that. But sometimes, just sometimes, our creation takes its own journey and we follow along, or drive the train. It craves to be exposed, revealed.

I don't feel like I'm quite done with this film yet, because it still has an unknown destination, a destiny if you will. So my happy ending is surreal... fluid, unknown, and floating freely forward.

After my return, when I've had some time to digest the production of it all, perhaps I'll be able to write then what I can't write now. Lessons learned. Gratitude unleashed. Goals and forsaken dreams. Promises and commitments. And directing, dear lord, directing.

It has, thus far, been a sweet voyage. And now I shall leave for my own travels - secure in the knowledge that I have accomplished what I set out to do, met my goals, and (hopefully) properly acknowledged and shared the journey with a team that I admire and love.

One thing I can say... I could not have done this film without the team of creative people who pulled together beside me and offered their time, talent and trust, dedicating themselves to this film while asking very little of me. That, my friends, is faith.

Keep the faith, and the world is yours.

p.s. Don't get me wrong. I'll be celebrating -- in Dublin, Oslo, Avignon and London. And I'll keep you posted about our progress later in August. For now, I'm making new memories.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Museworks Logo Intro

It's official. Love it.

Notice the details... logo gets bigger as it moves up the tree. First you see "muse", then there is a flash, then you see "works" as it fades out.

Superb music - nice rhythm, subtle crescendo, sweet dissonance, and a shift in key at the crescendo. It makes me feel like there are possibilities in the world.

In a word, Magical

Outstanding work by composer Douglas Pipes, artist Jennifer Downey, and special effects master Matt Rhodes.

The image can change, but this is the theme that's mine, for any film I do.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Today, we got the email from Richard Ross, our sound designer. The film is locked. What does this mean? It means, my friends, that all video/pictures/frames are set. We are making NO MORE CHANGES to the film.

At this point we are "laying off" the sound, cleaning it up, mastering the levels, adding sound effects, adding music (so that it fades in and out at the appropriate times visually), and general scrubbing the sound so it's squeaky clean. Sound sweetening. Oh yes, this is a good place to be.

Once all this sound sweetening is done, then we will "lay on" the sound track (all audio files) and the entire film will be completed. Oh, and while the sound is being worked on, Mr. Scott (editor extraordinaire) will be working with me to complete the color correction process. Some scenes are white, some scenes are darker, and some scenes are shadowed. Nothing's perfect. So we will perfect what we can and try to create a uniform look and feel.

After these two Very Important Final Tasks are done, we will create our Master DVD file.

While it may seem like the end, or near the end, I still feel the weight of the work in front of me, probably even more so than ever. Each of these last steps is harder and slower than I could even have imagined. It's like dragging yourself through thick, goopy mud, when before you were jogging sprightly through the grass. Tough stuff.

In the midst of this madness, I have purchased a new bed (replacing both the mattress and box springs at least once), bought a new car, dyed my hair, and started re-training for an October triathlon. Maybe I need to find myself a nice poppy field to lay down in instead...

I leave August 1 for Europe. 15 days. Dublin, Oslo, Avignon, London. And I will be taking 4 DVD's with me. That's my goal and I'm sticking to it.

I hope everyone has a FABULOUS weekend!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Creating the Brand... courtesy of Artist Jennifer Downey

It's been over a month since I've written a real blog posting, but oh, it has been one long journey. We are, my friends, nearing the end of production. Final edits have been completed. Versions have been posted. Effects have been added, changed, re-added, edited and changed again. Credits writted and changed. Music composed. Licensed music edited, cut in and laid on the video. Conference calls with the composer. Meeting with the sound post-production guru (aka Richard Ross, AES). And, totally unforeseen, we had to create an intro graphic announcing Museworks. As soon as I saw the rough cut, I knew it was wrong, so wrong, to have my logo, or any logo for that matter, laying on top of the first scene of the film. That's a core rule of branding and something I do know a little about.

Spent a couple of hours yesterday at the studio of our effects master Matt Rhodes. Yesterday, June 30, was Film Lock Day. And although we didn't officially lock it, we did indeed lock the direction and changes to get there. I drove over to Oakland and sat down with a big fat glass of red wine (yes, it was quite delicious) and we started tackling all the little finishing touches remianing to be done -- which effects to stick with, which to dismiss, at what point we fade out the effects, etc. Then we hashed through the credits -- how to pace them, which to de-emphasize, changing the order, adding new names, adding music credit details, on and on. Then we headed into unknown territory: the graphic intro.

This is a little project I've been tackling for the last 10 days or so. Once I realized that I needed the intro, I flashed back to Jennifer Downey, our original storyboard illustrator. She's a talented artist and has a lot of really great art that we could choose from. So I perused her website and selected two images that I thought would work for the intro. But talented often means busy and despite multiple phone and email messages back and forth, we never connected live. But she made it happen. She was able to access the electronic file of one of the paintings and emailed it over, cropped exactly how I needed it. I thank God here for the blessings of technology (again) and for all the years of extended love shared among my friends. As Jennifer was getting ready to board her flight for vacation, she emailed me the image and went on her way. That's trust AND love right there. Doesn't get any better than that.

The image:  Old Wise Limbs
Oil on Canvas
24 x 44 x 1.5 in

So with our film composer on the line (again), we reviewed the intros used by Paramount, Universal, Dreamworks, and 20th Century Fox. Each was almost exactly 22 seconds. Weird. So we stuck with 15 seconds and created a little graphic "pow" moment for Douglas, because he's a musician and he'll like that.

The intro looks fabulous. Mucho thanks to Jennifer for making the time to get us the artwork. It's just beautiful.

Jennifer Downey
A native Californian, Jennifer lives and works in Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco. After graduating from UC Davis with degrees in English and Economics, she pursued a "sensible" career in business. However, after finding office politics, hour-long commutes, dress-down Fridays, and cubicle confines anything but conducive to creativity, she quit, packed her bags, and left for Ireland. In the small, coastal town of Galway, the Atlantic wind cleared her head and she rediscovered her original love: art.

In her illustration work, Jennifer combines bold, graphic color with clean line. She is interested in how line and color interact--how an image transforms as one views it from a color-dominant perspective and then from a line-dominant one. She strives to create images that engage the viewer and make the accompanying text or message memorable.

Jennifer is inspired by wilderness, mythology, activism, travel, salon-style conversations, trail rides, the changing of seasons, live music, and people who see no choice but to follow their passions.

You can view Jennifer's art on her website or at
Check out other studio intros on youtube.
Dreamworks Intro

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Meet Douglas Pipes, Musician/Composer/Funny Man

Yesterday I had a short but important conversation with the music composer, Douglas Pipes. He has the Fine Cut of the film (I don't say Final here because I know I'm taking out a couple of frames to clean it up) and he had questions -- about music, sound, vibe, feeling. We talked about what he needed to understand the "vibe" that I wanted, and I listened. Officially, he has all the temp tracks on the iPod and a little table chart that I created that said where each track should go in the film. And he'll be taking it on vacation with him to the Caribbean. So picture this: Man lounging on sailboat, drinking beer, laughing with friends, remotely composing (in his mind, of course) the lovely and bittersweet score to our friendly little bridal film. Very nice.

I'm amazed that this project has come together the way it has... and I look back at all the little seeds I've planted along the way to get here. Douglas is one of those flowers.

I first met him when I was 29, aka young and having lots of fun living on the beach. We became immediate friends and have remained in touch throughout the years. I was fascinated back then - and still am - by his talent, sense of humor, and simply just the way he is. But he knows this. He was at the time playing in a band, singing, writing songs, and generally figuring out the next big thing. I was really impressed by the work he'd already done on other films. He'd done film soundtracks and played some of the music for me. One night we were hanging out in the basement, or the garage (I forget what that room was exactly, but it had a piano there, and his computer) and I asked him to show me how he did the music. He was surprised... do you really want to know? why are you asking me this? But I did really want to know. So he walked through the software he used, how he worked with the timeline and extending or cutting the sound to fit the scene. I remember sitting in there, writing in that room, pen and paper, with him next to me, headphones on, breathing hard, just working on music. It was sweet. (I wish I had a picture of us from that time, but people just didn't have cell phone cameras then folks)

When my original composer decided early on that he didn't have the time or interest in this film, I immediately thought of Douglas. In fact, I had thought about Douglas much earlier but figured he was too busy, too talented, and just too big to work on this short film. In the end, I thought, heck, won't hurt to ask. He responded immediately via email. "Yes! Would LOVE to!"  All I could think was "wow"... and then, "Thank God."

In the years since those idyllic days on the beach, he's gone on to do many cool things. Finished his degree. Worked in an ad agency. Composed for shorts, features. His most well-known work to date is the 2006 soundtrack to the animated film, Monster House, which my daughter has seen at least half a dozen times.

His most recent big film was Trick'R Treat, a  feature released by Warner Brothers in 2008. It has received universally great reviews from blogs and critics, and has a huge following among horror film fans.

Next up on his plate: Dinner with moi. Then we finish the film.

I know I've said this a lot, but we are indeed so very lucky to have him on our team. Douglas is the Big Fish here, and I promise to cook him a mean dinner... with Cat Stevens in the background.

Douglas Pipes

Douglas Pipes is a film music composer whose music has appeared in a spectrum of short and feature films including City of Ember (Universal Pictures) and the 2006 soundtrack to Monster House (Columbia). His loud, brassy instrumentations have drawn comparisons to action-music composer guru Alan Silvestri. He has won a variety of awards for his compositions including World Soundtrack Awards, Royal Television Society, and Gold Spirit Compositor RevelacĂ­on (Spain). Doug’s most recent work is the score of horror film Trick ’r Treat.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Heartlessly Saving The Heart

This week we had some celebrating to do. On Tuesday, Scott and I sat side by side and went through the film scene by scene from start to finish, over and over. Going through my revision notes and making edits I tried to be heartless, without of course taking the heart out of the story.

As the screenwriter I really had the authority to remove unnecessary scenes, take out fat, make it lean, cut out entire sequences… at the same time, there was dialogue that explained something specific about a character, a particular reference that illuminated something that was, to my mind, unique. But I’m a fan of the “the more eyes the better” philosophy. So during those few moments where I felt a pang of remorse, I explained the sentiment, the exposition, to Scott… who politely, gently and respectfully pointed out that that segment of dialogue was (a) already SHOWN elsewhere, or (b) was really [ruthlessly] unnecessary. Muchas gracias to my editor. And an additional grazie to my co-writer, Mick, who also previewed the rough cut and identified the same things that I had seen but wasn’t sure about. Additional confirmation helped me put on my butcher gloves and get to the heart of the story. I felt very French.

At some level, one could say that it was almost a disadvantage to be the screenwriter, that perhaps knowing too much about the meaning and symbolism behind the dialogue might get in the way of the bigger story, that sometimes deeper illumination of the character doesn’t serve the story and kills the pace… perhaps. And perhaps not. But it’s something that’s there. Kill it, or don’t.

I recently read the autobiography of one of the more notorious screenwriters, Joe Eszterhas, writer of Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, Flashdance, and Showgirls. Like most writers, he had a deep connection to his words and his journey culminated in him writing and directing his own film (the “you all aren’t doing it right, so I will” philosophy). That humbled him a bit, and no, the picture didn’t do fantastically, although having never seen it I can’t say whether it was simply a lackluster story or if the precious dialogue got in the way of the journey. But he learned that later. And I just learned it too.

Took my gal Connie (Casting Coordinator extraordinaire) out for a drink at the new pub in Point Richmond to celebrate. The film’s now officially off to the composer.
Drinking Menage a Trois red and having a sleepover. Life is beautiful.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Whippin' It (Good) With Shoes Fully Tied

Right now, at this very moment, listening to Devo, drinking Chardonnary courtesy of Chateau St. Jean, I am officially celebrating. Three weeks behind. It's been a wild two weeks. Took a hatchet to the world and spent a few days dealing with the bleeding. And throughout all of it, I'm smiling.

Just when I was ready to finalize the editing process and begin refining the film, I had to take a little break to deal with life. My full plate was waiting: reviewing the rough cut, finalizing the montage, completing and sending out the music licenses, meeting with my post-production team to refine the edits, pull out and relabel the audio recordings -- all this to stay on schedule. The key is that our composer is leaving May 15 and will be gone for two weeks. He wanted to see the rough cut by May 1 so he had time to watch it, lay down some draft music, and meet with me to move forward with his ideas and my changes. Alas, it was not to be.

Sometimes we have to stop to tie our shoes, so that's what I did. The rough cut sat for 9 full days without me even looking at it; the montage was posted up for nearly a week. So I took care of business. In the back of my mind, it was nagging, like a Very Important Meeting that you had to attend and where you had to give a speech but had never written it. I had dreams about old boyfriends and semesters in junior high. The whole school year had gone by and I hadn't attended one class the whole time. I woke up mildly panicked. Oh man, didn't I dump that guy? Oh no, could I make up the classes in a week? It Was Crazy. Amusement Park Crazy. Alice in Wonderland Crazy.

Just when I felt like I was hitting a wall, I got an email from a neighborhood friend, a kid from my junior high and high school, who was with another friend in L.A. They were talking and my name came up. (I don't ask how or why here, I just accept the blessing.) The best part of this story is that the mutual friend is Don Terbush from Universal Music Group, who has been one of my great sources for film music over the last ten years. One of my (still-to-be-done) tasks was to call Don. So an angel knocked on my door that day. Well, literally, it was an email angel in the form of an old neighbor, whose dog bit my brother when he was 10 years old. I called Don right away, gave him the details about the project and sent him the music list for licensing.

100 lashes to me. Nothing like a little lashing to wake a girl up. But I'm a traditional kind of gal, with a nice little whip. I plowed through the film a dozen times, identified where to tighten, where to cut, where to use an alternate shot, where we're going to need music, and laid out the remaining edits to complete it from Intro to Fade to Black. Shoes are tied. No tripping over life here. Bring it on.

And because I'm in a friendly mood and slightly drunk, here's a list of songs we're licensing, or at least hoping to license... just for fun.

Opening - HONEY IS COOL, On The Beach
Montage - THE MIGHTY QUARK, Kangaroo #1
Patio Scene - WYE OAK I Don't Feel Young
Closing scene - NOUVELLAS, These Days Are Gone
Credits - KASEY CHAMBERS, If I Were You

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Visions of Chocolate

It's been raining during the last couple of months, so when the sun finally came out I stopped by the bridal shop to say hello to the ladies. They were bushed, in the middle of prom season, and had spent the morning putting clothes away only to prepare for the 3 pm onslaught of high schoolers once school was out for another day so the girls could tear it all down again.

We still need to shoot the opening sequence. Our original vision was to capture the leads strolling down the walkway, heels tapping along, then tilt up to their faces, expressions full of expectation, then cut to the entry shot. But our day of rain took that shot out. So after some thinking... what will fit, what will flow into the first scene, I went back to my reservoir of films and remembered the opening sequence for the original 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There were no characters or scenes from the film, just chocolate, scenes of luscious flowing chocolate, details and images. Perfect lead in. I'll take that.

I told the ladies that I needed about 3 hours to come in and shoot details for the opening sequence and we agreed to come back later in May. Then I headed over to the burrito place to pick up some lunch. On the way, my magical DP Mike called, at the perfect moment of course. We talked schedule, needs, ideas, and agreed to rent a lens to get some of the details and close-ups we needed.

According to IMDB, the opening credits sequence was filmed at a real chocolate factory in Switzerland. So we'll be filming at a real bridal shop in Santa Rosa. Nice.

I'm going to head over to the shop in mid-May when they've finalized the new shop layout to take some stills to plan out the shoot. Fun stuff. And the song for the intro is key. Check it out:  "On the Beach" by Honey Is Cool.

Somewhere Gene Wilder is smiling at us.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tunes for Tots, better known as Child Labor (Goddess images included)

Saraswati, Hindu goddess of knowledge, creativity and openness

I have a great love affair with films. I grew up watching movies with my mother, a huge film buff who could name the year, the director, and the actors in almost any film from the 1940s and onward. So, while most parents take their kids to the park, I would take my little 5-year-old charmer to a Yugoslvian film with subtitles. (yes, she reminds me of this often!) Or, we'll spend a lazy Sunday making cookies and laying on my bed and watching four films back to back.

One thing we both do is turn down the volume when the scene gets tense, and we'll keep watching. Sometimes we have to change it, and have been known run out of the room if a scene gets too heavy. That's because music can make you feel. All musicians know that. And combined with visuals, movie music is just simply this: POWERFUL... it can leave you breathless, bring tears to your eyes, or scare the royal crap out of you. Music in film creates texture and meaning, and communicates to the viewer not only what to feel, but how to feel it. Like I said... powerful.

I have a tremendous appreciation for traditional musicals (Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Grease); they're a genre all their own. But film soundtracks are different beasts -- whether original compositions or licensed tracks. Everyone knows the Tier-1 stunners like John Williams, Patrick Doyle and Ennio Morricone, or classic themes like Jaws (John Williams), Rocky (Bill Conti)  and Halloween (Dan Wyman/John Carpenter). When we think of those, how can you deny that music compositions drive the film, and sometimes even carry it?
  • The Godfather (Nino Rota)
  • Lord of the Rings (Howard Shore)
  • Blade Runner (Vangelis)
  • Jean de Florette (Jean-Claude Petit, Giuseppe Verdi)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Leos Janacek)
  • The Mission (Ennio Morricone)
I've spent the last few weeks diving into my secret stash of potential soundtrack CDs and getting leads from friends and industry contacts. After weeks of listening, making CDs, and playing tracks over and over at my desk and in my car, it was finally time to choose. (I confess, the whole process was becoming emotional to me, and probably was the most symbolic and important choice I could make for the film, outside of hiring the DP and choosing the cast.)

It was a lovely Sunday morning and I was driving Miss O to dance class. She had the clipboard on her lap and as we did the 45+ minute drive she put in CD after CD and cross-referenced the song titles with the scenes. After some deliberation, we would select the song and she'd mark it down. There were some tracks that I really liked. In fact, I liked most of them, which is why they were on the shortlist. But she didn't have any emotional attachment to it. She was quick with a "no way" and actually confirmed my decision on some that I was wavering on. By the time we arrived at the banjar (the Balinese community house), we had all of our tracks, and some alternates, selected and ready for prime-time.

Hindu Goddess Durga (Goddess of Multi-Tasking)
This, my friends, is the great art of multi-tasking. Child labor included gratis. The contribution of Miss O for her invaluable input on the song selection and her endless patience and energy is priceless. Sample tracks to be posted later.

Now, on to licensing... whew.

In addition to those listed above, I do have a few soundtrack favorites from the "licensed song" category, if anyone's interested. Probably one of the most integrated and poignant soundtracks is Magnolia, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Just stunning. I don't own the CD, but I probably should pick it up one of these days.
  1. Stop Making Sense
  2. Repo Man
  3. Magnolia
  4. O Brother Where Art Thou
  5. Amadeus
  6. Let It Be
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. American Graffiti
  9. Purple Rain
  10. The Graduate
  11. Saturday Night Fever
  12. Quadrophenia

Friday, April 2, 2010

SWEATS & ICE CREAM: commuting and meeting LIVE with the computer

We're smack dab in the middle of editing. That's right, I said "smack dab." I have no idea what that really means or where it comes from, but it gets the point across. More than seven minutes edited, three key effects scenes in progress, listening to loads of music, long conversations with the music composer, weekly editing & effects meetings, and starting last night, my very first official Final Cut Pro class courtesy of Zack at Petaluma Community Access TV.

The class was long enough to get some real info, but short enough so my brain didn't short circuit. It's just enough to send me to the edge, but not quite over it... to work all day, come home for an hour, head to a class for 2 hours, spend another hour visiting Bunka (Vidal's cat, who I'm caring for while he's gone in Texas - who bit me by the way. Twice!), and then come home to hear that the cat poop needs to get cleaned up.... but that's another story. I did manage to listen to 10 new tracks I'm considering to license. And  yes, that was my Thursday. And now I'm up at 4:30 am. I have no idea why except that I had this weird audio-visual dream.

On Monday, Matt and I met for 2+ hours going over some effects he had done, and throughout I realize that I'm very bad at communicating in technical language. I'm a writer and musician, so I use a lot of metaphors, movie references, and general "music type" language about pacing. Sometimes, usually while I'm even talking, I will think "well, that's just darn inarticulate." Not like me at all. Yesterday in fact I realized that I had lost some of my mojo... Anyway, Matt, as gracious and positive as ever, got my rambling ideas and sent me a reassuring email. I like his new changes to the effects... just a little tweaking and I think we'll be ready to lay them on.

They always ask... what do you want it to look like? Sometimes I explain with strange-sounding adjectives and long-winded mini stories. Most often, I just refer to another film as an example. For the hallucination sequence, I've always appreciated the simplicity and humor from the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Thanks to Matt for digging that out. You can see it here.

Also viewed some sequences with Scott, who's managed to tighten up the key patio scene. We both agreed to break it up into three parts -- it's important, but at the same time, it's just darn long. The impact will be greater and at the same time we won't bore the audience to death. 

This week, we also finally caught up with our music composer, Douglas Pipes. Since his role in this production happens later in the process he's just getting up to speed. I spent nearly two hours going over the story, the vibe, what music I wanted, and what pieces we needed from him. He's the only one we'll be allowing to see the rough cuts and sequences that we're editing. He'll need to know what it looks like and what feel it should have. (Sorry folks, but to those of you who were waiting to see something, the trailer will be posted sometime early this summer.)

The amazing part about these meetings is that all of them have taken place with me in my sweats, usually with a bowl of ice cream, sitting at my desk, or even lying on my bed. With iChat, we've been able to talk live, person to person, listen to music, and watch clips together at the same time. Pausing them, refining them, and viewing shots to model after. This is real 21st century film-making and we're so lucky to be able to do this. Imagine how challenging it was 20, 30, even 50 years ago. Rolls and rolls of film, synching sound, huge editing stations. I've been a part of that early production process -- with a huge analog editing system, the dial and everything -- and it would literally just kill my enthusiasm, or as least drop a huge bucket of water on it. It's mostly all a good time now, except for this Final Cut Pro learning process, which is... I promise (to myself)... only temporary.

Although these "sweats and ice cream" visuals might blow my director image... I will tell you it's been efficient, comfortable and simply easier. Matt and Scott are 45 and 60 minutes away. Douglas is 400 miles away. But we are all on the same team, working on the same project, and heading for the same goal.

And yes, it's moving along splendidly, thank you very much. May the force be with you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Art of Editing: Meet Artist Raymond Scott Daigle

We're already reviewed 7+ minutes of semi-edited footage and it looks good. I like the pace. But most importantly I like the ideas. After figuring out how to store the footage, what level to edit, how to set the levels, I think our post-production team is in a good spot. So that we can make our time and efforts more efficient, the scenes that need special effects are being cut together first so Matt can work on only those frames that we need to have effects on. Nice little plan. It's throwing me off a little though... I don't like building the story from the inside out, but I'll go with it.

Our hearty editor for this project is Raymond Scott Daigle, who I have discovered is smarter and more patient than I could even have imagined. I met Scott a couple of years ago through his wife, the lovely Maria Shanle. We all have common friends (Two Sticks, Frisbee people, law school folks, etc.) and our orbits have passed a few times. When Mick decided he didn't have the time to edit the film, I called a couple of people who might be interested, but I just wasn't feeling comfortable. After a quick afternoon visit at my brother's (Scott was there with his baby daughter Sagan), I gave Scott a call and passed him the script. We chatted, I viewed a couple of his videos, and trusted my gut. I have worked with all of my core team before on a lot of different projects, but this was the first key player that I hadn't worked with. All you have is to go with your instincts. Best decision I ever made.

Editing is making the movie again. It's where you see what you actually shot and what shots you have to work with. It's where you create the energy, the pace, the focus, the direction. I have worked with a spectrum of editors, each of whom have their own style. Sometimes you see a flow that you hadn't seen before. Other times there's a little effect thrown in to accent just that moment of drama, something that makes you look at the scene again, a little flair. Plus, the editing process makes you not only appreciate your editor, but your camera people as well. I have found myself saying, "Oh wow.. I had no idea he got that shot," which just adds to the recipe.

With our new sister iMac 7's, we've been able to link up via iChat and preview edited sequences. The first segment was the hallucination sequence. After the first preview I hesitated. I was surprised. But then I saw it again and got it. Scott had cut it tight, in quick short cuts, cuts almost disruptive, but they conveyed the sense of time passing that we needed. This scene happens fast but it need to communicate more time. It worked and was funny. I laughed watching it... at least the 3rd and 4th time. The first time I was just absorbing it. And he has been blessedly kind about explaining the rudiments of Final Cut to me. So yes, big editor love. It's working nicely. And there's a reason they call your gut "the second brain." Follow that. It talks back.

Raymond Scott Daigle

Raymond Scott Daigle is a videographer who specializes in production from concept to reality. His focus is on creating a smooth and painless process, with a high degree of creativity and visual stimulation.

Based in Northern California’s Bay Area, Daigle Digital has worked with clients such as Benziger Winery, Kunde Vineyards, Annie's Organic and Scharffen Berger chocolate. He’s also written and directed his own short film Replica. Originally from Maine, he has a degree in film from the University of Southern Maine, enjoys his annual trips to the desert for Burning Man, and hopes to meet Bigfoot in person one day.

You can see some of Scott's editing skills via his website at Daigle Digital.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Technical Journey of the Vacant Mind

As we progress through editing we're also trying to get our effects done and find some solid usable music that will move through the film.

The music part is something we have a handle on. In the 1980s I worked for SST Records. Originally hired as an editor/ proofreader, I became the desktop publishing queen and the music licensing gal, which means I did the contracts for soundtracks and licensing, working with music supervisors in film and TV. In my job, I watched a lot of surf and skate videos and was proud to be a part of the Repo Man team. So we're okay there.

But it's the techies who rule the editing world. And this director ain't no techie. I've played with Avid, Premiere and Final Cut Pro. I can do titles, transitions, cut frames/seconds... but converting, FPS, transcode blah blah blah, sequences, bins... it's all a cloudy, foggy haze.

Editor Scott Daigle sent us an email this weekend. Back and forth it went between me, Scott and our trusty special effects guy Matt. When Scott finally asked me what I thought, I paused, then said, "Uh, I have no idea what you're talking about." It's just .... BLANK. Empty. Vacant.

There's no point in asking, you'll get no reply
Oh just remember I don't decide
I got no reason it's all too much
You'll always find us out to lunch

* From "Pretty Vacant" by The Sex Pistols

Learning is good. Learning is hard. But I know what I like, what looks good, what feels right. So when I'm reviewing edited sequences and special effects, my eye is always on the bigger picture: the flow, the energy, the pace, the "blink." I have great admiration for my post-production team. I'm the snail here, the loose link, the easy rider. They're puttin' down the tracks and I'm just there to make sure the train stays on the straight and narrow. Sometimes when I shake my head you can hear the clink and clank.

Filmmaking is a team sport. We can't do it alone; I don't care what James Cameron thinks. Rebels aren't really loners; they're just non-conformists. And vacant. Sometimes. And that's okay. Rock on people.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Meet Matt Rhodes... the master of special effects

In 2004 and 2005 I lost two of my beloved Aunties to cancer. Feeling helpless and craving somewhere to focus my energies, I joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training and spent four years doing triathlons and raising money to help cure blood cancers.

For my 2006 triathlon team I was voted Honoree Captain and had the great honor of scheduling the inspiring talks from people who were struggling with cancer. One of our honorees was Matt Rhodes, a Stage 4 leukemia survivor. We had a great season training together and his journey was motivating to all of us. Plus, he made me laugh, loved eating cheeseburgers after working out, and mixed up some tasty cocktails. With his wife Claire we all went to Hawaii and competed in the most amazing Olympic level triathlon on the beach in Maui. We had some great bike rides together too, and the best part is that you can actually see Claire and Matt cheering me on as I crossed the finished line. (Yes, that means they were pretty much done while I was still slogging along...) I figured it was a sign of our brotherhood/sisterhood/familyhood.

I was working on a video for the Alaska Federation of Natives and knew Matt did some film and video work, so I hired him to create the animated effects and educational sequences to insert within the program.  Later, when my favorite rock band, Two Sticks, wanted to make a video, we called Matt to help us edit it together, and included a photo of Claire in the infamous jean jacket for the DVD cover.... 'cause Matt and Claire are "like peas 'n carrots" (in Forrest Gump talk). Using footage from four cameras, I'm amazed at how creative he is and what he was able to come up with. So of course he had to be on the Bridal Film team. He specializes in special effects and has a great eye.

In January we met at the Marin Brewing Company to catch up, talk about the movie, and download footage from scenes for special effects. It's always memorable with Matt. Not only did we have a great time, but my car got hit in the parking lot, door folded like the page of a book, in the pouring rain, by two women going to 24-Hour Fitness in a red car with Louisiana license plates. It's another sign of our family bond. The Bridal Film team is lucky to have him and I'm excited to see what he's going to do with our hallucination sequences. Plus, now I have an excuse to hang out over at their house more. I'm adopting them both.

MATT RHODES, Special Effects

Matt Rhodes started Motivated Pixels in 1999 as a way to provide his services and experience to various marketplaces, including the interactive community, the game industry and the visual effects industry. With Santa Barbara Studios, Matt wrote custom software tools for the production of An American Werewolf in Paris. Working with the head of Research and Development, Matt wrote a portion of Santa Barbara Studio's hair renderer, now licensed to Alias. He was also responsible for creating most of the in-house Softimage plug-ins, mental ray shaders and custom tools needed for the Werewolf production. Matt continued with this role during the productions of Spawn, Parasite Eve (video game), and Paulie. 

As the head of software at Santa Barbara Studios during the production of Star Trek: Insurrection, Matt wrote tools, plug-ins and shaders for Maya, RenderMan, and mental ray. His volumetric shader was used to create 3D cloudy shapes for the film’s briar patch sequence.

* Photos of Matt doing the robot across the finish line at the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon.

You can learn more about what Matt does on his website for his company, Motivated Pixels. Or better yet, check out his personal videos. Like I said, he's a funny guy. Plus, he looks pretty cool with all those cookis in his mouth.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

39 Days (and one last scene)

... that's how long it's been since principal photography wrapped. What have we done since then? Sure feels like a lot. First, I immediately took two weeks off to sleep, spend time with my daughter and basically process the production. At the end of January I met with Matt Rhodes, our special effects master, to go over the scenes that needed effects. 

By mid-February THE MACHINE had finally had arrived. THE MACHINE is my new editing station, a shiny brand new iMac7. New software was immediately loaded: Final Cut Studio, MS Office, QuickBooks and Final Draft. It's a little daunting just thinking about editing; I have a massively huge learning mountain to climb. My first goal: to cut the trailer. I also have a pile of DV productions that are sitting there waiting for me to create them. Let's just say there are a lot of "opportunities" to work.

AD Wyatt Norton, my friendly supporter and wise AD, was excited to shoot a scene for the credits that got cut from the shoot. He said, "That dialogue is too good to waste," which is a great compliment in its own way but also a challenge. It sounded good to me, but I was having a hard time conceptualizing where it would fit in. Should we put it at the end? But then, would it take place after the bridal store visit, or would we have to put it in the front, so it would be an event before the the movie scenes happened? I called Mick, my trusty co-writer, and he was having the same struggle. Then I called AD and opened up the conversation -- what are we trying to do with it? Since I had to do a little re-write of the scene -- taking it out of the bridal store and moving it to a separate location -- I had to know the "why" behind the scene. AD got deflated that we had to take his little idea of whimsy and catapult it into practical reality... but I think we came up with a fair solution. I wrote the scene so that it could sit anywhere in the film, front or back, and take place in any time, past or future. We'll put it in and see where it works.

THE SCENE:  Holly and Jennifer showed up. We put them in clothes and makeup, and set the lighting. While we had originally conceived it to take place on a beach, AD hadn't had time to set up with studio to do a wide shot so we had to stay with medium and close-up shots. Hmnmm.... already it's different. As we were prepping the bottle of champagne for the toast, the cork popped, and I was okay because I had brought a couple of bottles. I pulled Adele, our trusty mannequin into the shot and laid out all the liquor bottles on the bar. I brought two margarita glasses from my favorite SF Mexican Restaurant, La Barca, and pink champagne. Where are they? On a beach somewhere, at a resort, at the tiki bar, looking tan, wearing summer clothes, and toasting champagne to Helen's "happily ever after." It was a struggle. We had no help (Olivia, our trusty studio assistant had stayed home that day to do a history project), and AD had had a rough couple of weeks. By the time Jen had left, AD realized that we had forgotten to back-light Jen's close-up, and it was the first time I actually had to say, "We'll fix it in post. " By 1 pm, AD and I were finishing up the last of the champagne and coming up with ideas on how to use the set, listening to Kasey Chambers sing, "If I Were You (It's All Gonna Be Okay)." Nice.

No matter what, at least we all got to drink a little champagne in the city in the AM on a Sunday.

Two Rules to Never Break

I've spent a lot of the post-shooting time reading background on editing, filmaking, writing, working with studios, etc. One book I did read before starting production was "How NOT to Make a Short Film," by Roberta Munroe, a filmmaker and longtime Sundance Short Film Program Manager. Most of the dangerous situations I had steered clear of, but two things stood out to me:  (1) Don't have your DP do your budget, and (2) Do not produce and direct it yourself. Let me just say that I did break these two cardinal rules.

The first, well, I did need his input, so he gave me a budget, which I immediately cut by one-third. This did not make my DP very happy, but in the end I think we came up with a fair compromise and got a decent crew. The second is an unavoidable factor to being a first-time filmmaker. Who is going to believe in your film as much as you do, and how else are you going to come up with the money if you don't approach family and friends?

The challenge with the "two-hat phenomenon" is that yes, this absolutely does affect your filmmaking. I did not have the time to create a shooting script and an ideal shot list. I did not have the time to work with the actors as much as I should have, nor plan the hair and makeup as I would have liked (no, I did not want my lead mother to have a granny bun, but she did anyway.) I did not have the time to plan the pick-up shots in the studio and help AD create the set. And more importantly, throughout the film and continuing afterwards, I must do what my producer could have been doing: accounting, writing checks, following up with crew, cast and site contacts. Since the arrival of my new beloved MACHINE, I have been inputting bank statements and categorizing funds spent.

What does this mean? Well, it means this film kind of shows who I am as a filmmaker. Bottom line, it doesn't truly reflect my plan of how these scenes should have played out. And while I know the film will be good, really good, at the same time, what I saw in my mind is absolutely not what we shot. I'm not saying that's good or bad, and maybe it's something that always happens, but it sure isn't a direct reflection of my vision.

I'm not sure if there's any way around this as a first-time filmmaker. I don't think there is. So give yourself plenty of time in pre-production, and by PLENTY I mean at least one year or more, ideally 18 months.

There's my wisdom for the day. Eat it with some ice cream.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Inspiration from the cereal box

Our pick-up shots were put on hold until later in February, when all the plumbing work will be done in the studio. No good when there's clanging and banging in the background.

Until then I'm prepping all the background work. Met with my post-production whiz Matt, sent him and editor Scott the shooting notes (this is a story in itself, just getting them scanned, but I'll spare you the technical drama). Bought a new editing system with my annual bonus, got the Final Cut Studio upgrade, pulled out my box of CDs (from unknown bands so they'll be "nicer" to license) and now reading, researching, listening and watching for ideas.

I feel like a dork reading Sidney Lumet's book "Making Movies" but it's a good read. Interesting, factual, HONEST. He's having fun and making solid movies -- Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Murder on the Orient Express. I like his films but their look is a little gritty for me. At the same time, he thinks a lot about look, perspective, camera angle, color density, all of it. I like to believe that I think like that too, but maybe in a prettier kind of way. He's quite literal in his interpretation of the material, probably due to his theater background, and reading his approach makes me appreciate the art of filmmaking more deeply than before.

Went to see Jim Jarrett in his one-man play, "Meisner," about the great acting coach Sanford Meisner. The play was well-done although I have to say that I felt like I was getting lectured the whole time... but I guess that's who Sanford was. A real teacher. Jim sent me a personal invitation so I took myself and my friend Kris and enjoyed it immensely. For those of you new to this blog, Jim Jarrett was my first choice to play the only male character in this film, and I emailed him (and his assistant) several times over the past few months to see if we could make it work. He's a busy man but he would have been perfect. I was greatly disappointed that we couldn't make it happen. I think if I had called we might been more connected about it, but I was juggling just too many balls at that point. He's a talented guy busy with his school, and Maria was wearing too many hats.

Since I'm doing all this research, my Netflix list is expanding exponentially. I hope it rains more so I can watch them all this month. I feel like I'm everywhere & nowhere at the same time... and oh yes, that's the title of a Two Sticks song.

And thus, my tentacles are out. I'm out there feeling, touching, experiencing, so I can go into post-production with a lot more than what's currently in my little suitcase of tricks. I know just enough about editing to make me dangerous, so I've brought two more experienced people onto my team -- Matt Rhodes and Scott Daigle. My co-writer is also a creative editor, which means we will have a lot of little fingers helping out. I'll be noodling with the backup and working on a trailer. That should re-acquaint me with the footage and give me more details so I can be a better director while we're editing.

... oh, the trailer... now I have to go watch trailers...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Launching Into Post-Production

Some pick-up shots are planned for next weekend, Jan 30-31, which will include a scene we cut out of the bridal shop shoot and some additional dialogue I'm working on. We're planning to shoot against a green screen so we can experiment with beach or vacation-like backdrops. After that, we're heading into post-production.

At the moment I'm reading "In the Blink of an Eye" by the renowned editor Walter Murch (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Apolcalypse Now, The Godfather II, The English Patient, etc.) to get in the mode for cutting and organizing scenes. Walter has some great metaphors about editing, but my favorite concept is his theory about blinking. His philosophy is that although we live in a 3-D world of continuous time, we blink not only to water our eyes, but also to "cut" our own internal film, and shifts in pace according to the nature and frequency of our thoughts. While in film we can assume that someone has moved from the entry to the door without seeing them walk there, we don't do that in real life, but we BLINK, which in effect cuts the scene for us. We blink to separate and punctuate ideas, just as a cut should do in a film.

One of his great tricks to keep perspective is to put paper cut-outs of little people next to his editing screen to keep the 'big screen cinema' in perspective. I like that. I'm adopting it.

From the animated film entitled “Dead All Along” by Giles Timms. Cut-out figures, inspired by illustrator Edward Gorey.

I'll be meeting with our post-production supervisor on Monday night and with another investor on Thursday, so everything is moving forward. First step, buy a new editing system to put together a clip. I'll also be listening to a lot of CD's over the next few months to get the pacing and energy and vibe together. Production may be over, but the film still has a long way to go.

In graduate school, I studied the arts as social and political expression... reading plays, novels and watching films for political content. My thesis focused on Czechoslovakia, whose arts community was instrumental in overturning the Communist government. Playwright Vaclav Havel became their first president after the Soviets left. Coincidentally, the most well-known Czech writer is Milan Kundera, a long-established refugee in France, and author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (a film edited by Walter). You can check out the trailer for The Unbearable Lightness of Being here. It's very avant-garde and has a uniquely strong European feel to it. Haven't seen it in years, but I think I'll be previewing it before we start editing.

For a little Q&A on Walter Murch, you can read this article here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Last Supper: Day 4 hits the books

Today was GetItDoneDay. We moved fast and furious through all the coverage shots we needed.

I had fallen asleep at the end of Day 3 so there was no Call Sheet and no Shooting Schedule. So from 10:30 pm to 11:30 pm I reviewed the daily schedules, eliminated what we had done, reviewed the script, and listed all the people and shots we needed for the day. This was it. If we didn't get it, it wasn't going to be in the film. By 12:15 am on Thursday I was on the set going over the final shots with AD Wyatt Norton, Gaffer Art Phelps and DP Mike Epple.

I walked in and had my own little issue: Why didn't I have the actors look at the camera during the hallucination scene? It wasn't going to work! People tried to reassure me, but it took me an hour or two to get over it. Day 3 was done. There was nothing I could do anyway.

We set up in the middle of the room to shoot all the coverage we needed first. Vikki was late so we pulled in Jennifer to shoot her key final scene. She looked beautiful. I told her it was HER scene and she was perfect. Editor Scott Daigle showed up. Glad he could see the back end of the hallucination scene. Vikki was just stunning. So perfect for the part and the best hallucination reactions. Wow.

In the middle of this I kept going. Energy was flowing. I was in it. All those years of observing, production, looking at details on the screen, made me eminently qualified to do take after take. Every flair, detail. I saw it. Get it right or why bother.

I focused. Didn't take a damn picture all day. Before I knew it the clock said 5 am. We set up for the other POV and broke for breakfast. Morning waffles. Biscuits and gravy. Mushroom sauce. Very tasty. By 7:15 am we were shooting the coverage of Holly Nugent (bride #1, Helen) in THE gown. Then we moved to the corner to shoot the other coverage we needed.

Time started to slow down. We wanted to get outside by 10 am, but then we weren't done getting coverage. I started to get wound up. We had two big scenes to shoot outside, THE KEY SCENES around which the whole movie revolves, and we hadn't set them up yet.

The Angel scene -- the money shot -- took 45 minutes to set up. It was gorgeous. A full frontal, so to speak. The chorus of angels was singing. Loved it.

By noon we were outside. Two hours later than planned. Overtime. Shooting the scene wasn't ideal. Light was changing. Shadows and light played over their faces in different places each time we pulled the camera down the dolly tracks. A big red alarm sticker was driving me nuts. I told Sam and she said she had nothing left to give. So I got a Starlet Bridal sticker and taped it over the alarm logo. We kept changing the lighting set-up. No one could remember when she picked up the cigarette. The actors flubbed their key lines. Both of them. Sirens blared during every other shot, almost every time I said, "Action." Airplanes flew over. People kept walking by yakking loud on their cell phones or gawking in the background of the shot. One guy revved his motor in the parking lot. Another guy was blaring his Texano Spanish tunes while cruising for a parking spot. Key moments blurred in and out of focus. It could have been funny, but we were all toasted. 4 straight night shoots. All on-set brains were fried. We had hit the wall.

So finally the shot was set up. Sunlight was still and mellow. We're ready to call it, and suddenly Vikki disappears to go to the bathroom. It was the only moment that Mike nearly lost it. I saw him put his hands on his head, then he suddenly sat down and meditated in the sunlight. Bless him. I screamed, "Who told her she could go to the bathroom?!" but no one copped to it.

So we ran it. The combined scenes 13/15 are long. But we got something to use. Not ideal. I have no idea what we can cut away to. But hopefully enough is there, and in focus. We got close-ups. By 2pm, we were wrapped. It was done.

It took over an hour to clean out the green room and load up the van. When I got home, my uncle showed up from Long Beach and we went to watch O's volleyball game. We had dinner with O at Don Pancho's (the best Mexican food in Petaluma) and I came home to get a phone call from my mother that my grandmother, the lovely Elizabeth Sundeen, was dying. That night I said goodbye to my grandmother on the phone. I cried. Then I slept for 12 hours. She passed away on Friday morning, January 15, the day after production wrapped. She was the best grandmother you could ask for, with the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met. The world has lost a beautiful soul.