Friday, August 27, 2010

D.I.Y. FILMMAKING: The Olde Skool Rough Cut

The film is in the can. I am now reviewing 20-plus hours of footage for the 90-120 minutes of selects for the final cut. This 10-to-1 ratio feels good to me, since I know many other filmmakers end up shooting two or three times as much before arriving at final cut.

The editing process is simultaneously the most tedious and the most creative aspect of the filmmaking process, especially the way I do it. I transfer all my work footage to VHS tapes (you read that right) with timecode recorded in the upper right corner. Then, I review and log each tape for the shots and moments that hit the highest notes on three levels: 1) audio, 2) performance, and 3) picture, in that order of importance. Audio is King and Picture is Queen. It's far easier to bear poor picture quality than poor sound quality -- sound waves hit the body more directly than light particles. Those cuts reaching high notes in all three areas are marked with a star; those reaching 2 out of 3 remain unmarked. The rest are not even noted and automatically find a home on "the editing room floor".

After all the 20-plus hours of VHS tape are reviewed and logged, I start assembling the rough cut onto a VHS tape using two VHS VCR players, an A/V mixer board, and a CD player to manually edit the project (you read that right). At this point, my filmmaker friends tell me I have gone mad. Why don't I just transfer all my work footage into a computer and do the rough cut on i-dvd or Final Cut Pro? It would be so much easier, they say.

Alas, in my world, easier is not always better. I have a deep need to limit my computer time. I like the hands-on feel of tape and more physical distance between my eyes and the monitor. I also appreciate how this olde skool rough cut method requires and builds Patience, a necessary virtue for me and an invaluable attitude adjustment for editing any feature-length project.

This process of finishing a rough cut takes me anywhere from six to ten weeks. When I have my VHS rough cut, I also have an edit list of each and every shot of the movie according to frame-precise "in" and "out" points. I also know where most of the music, voice-overs, and special FX will be inserted. Preparation is everything when it comes to editing.

After 90% of all my edit decisions have been made, I bring the rough cut/edit list into online nonlinear editing (Final Cut Pro) to finesse it all -- tighten the transitions, sweeten the audio, do color corrections, adding plug-in filters, audio effects, make titles, and the rest of it. Since I lack expertise in Final Cut Pro (a great edit program), I pay my FCP-skilled friend Chris Odell to help me finish the film (Chris has done seven features for me in this way). With all my preparation, we arrive at final cut after 25-50 hours, depending on the film.

Since all my films use at least some CGI-FX work, during online editing I am also dialoguing with my CGI artist, Michael McWhirter, who lives and works in Austin Texas. Michael and I have great rapport in the realm of dream imagery and bizarre visual patterning. He's also a consummate artist who manages to out-do himself with every project we tackle. Since we have done most of our collaborations online and over the phone, I am thrilled to meet with him in person this November to discuss the visionary aesthetics of this new film. But this feels like an eternity from now.

For the next three to four months I am an urban cave-dweller transfixed by the flickering images on the cave wall of my video monitor, while notating the most worthwhile passing moments into my log book. To counter-balance this ridiculously sedentary and uber-mental era, I visit the gym 2-3 times a week alongside one weekly night of paratheatre work. With any luck, I will have a preview cut to share with cast and crew by mid-January. Until then, I will be periodically updating the movie site with new images and music:

1 comment:

Argus MacWargus said...

Inspiring! I love what you say about limiting computer time, enjoying more distance from the monitor, & making sure to have gym / paratheatre time -- I empathize completely. I write my screenplays longhand.