Sometimes walking into a shoot can be a surprise. Last Friday when I walked into Avatar Studios for a video shoot, I hadn’t realized I would be spending the next few hours shooting one of the best projects I’ve had in nearly six months. Any project where I learn a new way of producing a work, whether it be a different way of shooting or a new style of editing – the knowledge becomes useful when figuring out how to approach future projects. One of the things I look for in these various gigs I take is whether or not I will need to be inventive in my approach. I hadn’t really intended on doing anything different on this one, but at the time I didn’t realize what I had agreed to.
Avatar, once known as The Power Station is an historical NYC recording establishment where many great albums where produced. Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (one of my favs), Bruce Springteen’s The River and Dave Matthew’s Under The Table & Dreaming are just a few. The atmosphere was mind numbing and the urge to bow before the grand piano in Studio A and sing a song of sixpence came before me. But I am a professional and professionals hold their cool… especially if they want to be invited back to film in such seriously awesome locations.
I proceeded with the gig, to shoot an off the cuff music video for my client Kramer Daniels. Kramer is an amazing musician with a hell of a voice and guitar work that rivals. We shot the music video with a single camera, my Canon XH-A1. The song had just been recorded and pre-mixed that afternoon and so we were able to feed the playback directly into the camera’s XLR inputs. Kramer was able to sing and play along perfectly (so what you have is not only lip syncing – but lip syncing and singing – some talented stuff going on there). We shot the entire performance multiple times from various angles and eventually when I had to unplug the XLR cables so I could move about the studio space, we ran the playback over the speaker system and I simply recorded the audio through the on-board mic.
Later on in editing, I used the click track that was fed both through the XLR inputs and captured via the on-board mic (depending on the take/angle) and aligned the song according to the first note. Each video clip in turn was laid on top of one-another, track by track. Once all the wave forms were matched up, I proceeded to import the mastered .AIF the studio had provided me. After syncing the file to the video in the same manner, I then removed the click tracks and had every clip perfectly in sync with the one high quality mastered track. To edit the picture all I had to do was slide the picture on the various tracks back and forth so that the shot I wanted was the main shot at each sequence. If a shot I wanted was on the bottom track, all I needed to do was break the video tracks that were above the angle I wanted and remove it. I don’t normally edit like this but it worked wonders. Heck, it’s not like they show you how to make music videos in film school… in fact they don’t show you much but that’s another story.
So our festival submissions for Caroline of Virginia is finallyunderway! I am stoked – beyond ecstatic… no words can describe. While the film isn’t finished, I’ll be submitting WIP screeners during the first wave, which stands for “work in progress”. This is actually quite common when submitting a new film to a festival.
Included with the screener will be a detailed list of what has yet to be completed, in the case of our film we still have extensive audio work to do and some of the coloring isn’t quite up to par. Aside from that, the picture is locked (has been for a few months now) and the music is laid down where it needs to be. After watching it in full for the first on a screen other than the editing system, I was choked up. This truly is the best film I’ve ever made and I have a good feeling that it’ll get the attention it deserves. The actors did an amazing job, the composer and of the film overall is pristine and I can’t say this about any of my other work.
One thing I’ve done for this project that I haven’t done for any prior is that I pre-qualified it for festivals as far in advance as I could. Some for 2012. I then made a list in order of each deadline (pulling the deadline by five days so I have some leeway when sending it out). This has proven to be quite useful allowing me to know in advance which festivals will get what screeners. For example, the first three festivals will get WIP Gen 1 – which is the first generation screener with the incomplete audio and coloring. I expect WIP Gen 2 to have completed coloring, but incomplete audio. There shouldn’t be a Gen 3, by the latter half of April I expect the film to be fully finished. Then again, things happen (even now – we’ve had a few unexpected setbacks with our sound design, but no biggie). All I can say is… cross your fingers.
So I put my old film “The Long Island Project” online. This is my feature length movie shot on PAL miniDV. It was shot in the summer of 2005 with a Sony VX2000E and finished editing in January 2006. You can read more about it via this blog, just navigate to earlier entries (back in 2005 actually) and it’s called ‘The Chronicles of LIP’.
The movie in concept was bigger than our resources allowed for at the time and I think it shows. Additionally I think The Long Island Project is the purest example of independent filmmaking, far more so than these well financed big director flicks that are often touted as “independent”. As far as that goes, this movie is TRUE independent and I am damn proud of it.
This was accepted but never screened into the Swansea Bay Film Festival, mainly for financial reasons. At that time we just couldn’t afford to (or convince anyone to) finance a print in a video format that could be played in England. The trailer I originally cut was a featured video on YouTube, before Google bought them.
This evening I came from a focus group screening of a new documentary that’s in the works on one of the founders of Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA): Bill Wilson. The working title of the movie is “Mr. Wilson Mr. Anonymous”. I had a lot to express about the film, while I liked it very much it did need a lot of work on the aesthetic front (specifically story structure) but the rest of the focus group was so passionate about the subject that whenever anyone suggested cutting anything, they shot back like you committed a terrible sin. So basically I didn’t say a damned word.
The film was basically an assembly but I fear the filmmakers consider it pretty much done except for a few technical things here and there. The movie establishes that he was an alcoholic, it doesn’t really do a great job at creating drama as far as what it meant every time he took a drink (as I am not an addict of anything ‘nor have I been affected by anyone who is/was). So on that front, I couldn’t relate. What appealed to me though was the brilliance of the man and how he wanted to do something great but couldn’t function in this world for one reason or another. THAT I can relate to and is the primary reason I have hope for this project.
As the film moves on he goes through many ups and downs, most of which happen while he’s trying to form AA and making it an organization that can stand on its own legs.
The truth is the movie should have ended at the time when Mr. Wilson hands AA over to its members, but what you have instead is a whole new act that details his downfall into depression, a brief history of LSD and his long struggle with lung disease – none of which belonged in this particular movie (as it had NOTHING to do with his work in building the AA organization). Sure it was a part of his life but this isn’t a biography of his life – if it were there should have been a tone more information on his early years. This is a movie about Bill Wilson’s part as a co-founder of AA and I feel like the filmmakers lost track of that fact.
Additionally there were some aesthetic issues I had, which are more about taking advantage of the motion picture medium rather than disregarding it. For example, 2-3 minute increments of titles would make things more interesting for the audience if those titles were read by voice actors (after all these were supposed to be diary entries). Maybe even show a re-enactment of that particular character writing that passage as it’s red, with the text superimposed over the image. Just an idea because frankly, I feel as if the filmmakers were being a. lazy b. cheap or c. arrogant – in assuming that most audience members would want to read that much. After all this isn’t a book – it’s a movie! Documentary or not, there are expectations!
I will be interested to see how the film turns out in the end.