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So our movie is finished and fame and fortune are but a heartbeat away! Well, perhaps fame!
As the final edit is made, the last credit is added and the closing music is carefully slotted into place, there is one thing left to do. The moment of truth is here and we must check the film by returning to the start and playing it back. This principle is the same as it used to be in the days of cine, when I would add the white leader to the end of the reel and then rewind the film back to the start to see the fruits of my labours. Now most of us will use a mouse to return the project on the computer timeline, from the end, back to the beginning.
This is always the time that I pause for a moment, with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Yes, I tell myself; "It`s only a film", but nevertheless, a great deal of time and effort has been invested in this “film”. Usually it has taken me many months of concentrated effort to reach this point. Sometimes the idea has been hanging around in fragmented fashion, in the dark recesses of my grey matter, for several years. The project has undergone numerous transformations as it has passed through all the stages discussed in this series. Of course, no-one wants to feel that their time has been wasted and if you are something of a perfectionist, as I feel that I am, if the film is a failure, then to some extent, a lot of time has been wasted.
Having said all of that, I don't believe that any film is a total flop, no matter how bad it might be. Like many other things in life, it is a continual learning process and you can always improve your movie making and learn from past mistakes. Many of my early films are excruciatingly bad and have not seen the light of day, (or to be more precise, the light of a projector lamp) for many years. None though, have been without some merit. There is usually at least one good shot or one good idea, buried under all the dross! It is these past efforts, which have refined my techniques and evolved into the newer films, many of which I am proud to have made.
Such philosophy, though sincerely meant, is poor consolation if the latest film has turned out badly and as I slide the mouse on the timeline and return to the beginning, it is always with some sense of anxiety. Naturally, by this stage, I am not completely in the dark with my film, (pardon the pun) as the actual "feel" of the film, in terms of how well it has succeeded, can be estimated at various stages along the way. But rarely can it be judged with total accuracy. No one sets out to make a bad film and the fact that so many professional movies turn out less than a total success, is one of the mysteries that Hollywood would like to resolve.
The original idea may have started out as a great one, which in turn became a script with lots of potential. At the shooting stage I sometimes sense that we were making something a little bit special. A more accurate “feel” for the film comes at the editing stage, when a mere impression has by then become more of a certainty. As the individual shots become complete sequences, it is possible to estimate how closely the end product has come to matching the original concept. But nothing can be taken for granted. It is only at this moment, when the film is about to be viewed for the first time as a completed movie, that you can know for sure whether you have produced a great film or a Titanic of a movie which will sink without a trace. As the "play" button is pressed, we are about to find out!
A typical scenario follows.
All looks good as we move from the logo to the opening shots and then to the main title. The mood settles and mild tension eases as the film in “screened” for the first time. Of course, when the idea was in my head, the film was perfect. The script, the actors, the locations are all incredible. The sun was always shining (if this was required for the story) and sound was recorded with no intrusive extraneous noise whatsoever. Were it possible to plug a Firewire connector into the side of my head and directly download the movie to tape or disc, this would undoubtedly have been one of the best films ever made. Sadly, as such a system has yet to be devised in the workshops of Sony or Panasonic, (though they could already be working on it) we have to do it the hard way and suffer the multitude of problems outlined during this series.
Two minutes in and a sound transition seems abrupt and draws attention to itself. The playback is stopped as I carefully “tweak” the “rubber bands” which control the sound balance. Often a small patch is needed which consists of a clip of sound from a section of background, (“ambient”) sound, to smooth the edit point. Then we continue. Another 30 seconds and an interior shot needs some colour balancing as it is a touch too red.
A few frames need to be trimmed from another scene, as there is a delay for a brief moment before a character enters the shot. All these have been minor corrections. What I dread at this point is to spot a more fundamental error in continuity. Now you may think that after seeing each clip of the film perhaps 50 or more times, that this would be impossible. Not so! Even at this 11th hour it can occasionally happen that I spot something.
One such last minute flaw, was in our thriller film Watching. Our heroine, Claire (Miranda Foxton) is being stalked by a mysterious stranger (Phillip Crann.) The stranger is sending love letters to Claire and she gives one to her boyfriend Gary (Paul Crossley) to read. The scene was an interior one in our living room. Gary reads the letter, watched by Claire and discusses what they should do about it.
In the film, the scene takes seconds to play out, but in reality, perhaps an hour was spent shooting this sequence. After the letter has been read, our actor Paul, lowers the hand holding the page to the bottom of the frame. From here, it vanishes! Not by magic, as it turns out, but by a continuity error!
Once again, there was no alternative take, which included the letter and once again it was in the editing that the mistake was papered over. Close-ups of “Claire” were used extensively to allow Gary to “put the letter down while the camera was looking elsewhere”. Obviously to spot something so late in the day means that the problem is not blatantly obvious, but once spotted, it stands out like a sore thumb.
So we return to the start again and watch the whole film once more. Perhaps there are other minor changes to be made, but here the “laws of diminishing returns” comes into play. By now, the amount of effort required to make minor changes is grossly disproportionate to any improvement we may be making.
I cannot be sure which of the famous Hollywood Directors it was who said:
“A movie is never finished, it is only abandoned!” And this I believe is very true.
A Premiere Night
Now our film is finished (or abandoned!) we really need an audience to see it. However good or bad it may be, now is the time for our carefully nurtured “child” to go out into the World at large for appraisal.
Our premiere nights used to come near to Christmas when our one Summer film had been completed and the show was only attended by the half dozen or so people who had made it. As our acting team grew and our film output increased, the event became bigger with each passing year and now we have to hire premises to accommodate the 50 to 60 people who usually attend.
If you are the member of a club, screening your new film will be much less of a problem, as there are probably specific nights for such movies. In our case, everything is either hired or bought in for the occasion. Caterers have to be booked, tickets printed and letters sent out to advertise when the show is to take place.
A huge amount of work has to be done to make the evening a success and as anyone who has had to plan and run any similar event will tell you, no amount of hints, incentives or threats will get everyone to book early and make your job easier. There are always the regulars who ask for tickets weeks before the night. These are the guaranteed “bums on seats”. But you will find that the vast majority of any potential audience will contact you in the final two weeks. Some even on the day itself!
In our case, the premiere night is exactly what it says. With very rare exceptions, no-one, not even the actors have seen anything before this night. My wife Carol may have battered the door down to take a sneak peak of some scenes whilst I have been editing, but otherwise, everything has been a closely guarded secret. This screening is the first time that you will know for sure whether your efforts have been worthwhile.
In the final part of this series, we will get the feedback from our premiere
audience and send our film off to competition. I will also tie up a few loose
ends and answer some questions that have been sent to me raising points I
have discussed during the series.
- By Ken Wilson (first published in FVM)