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Patience, Daniel San
by Patrick Storck

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By now you're well aware of how long a production can take to put together. Yes, there are 24 hour and 48 hour challenges where you complete a short film in as little time as possible, but in general you want to take time to get things right.

This time will slowly build into frustration and impatience. It happens. One day you'll be looking at some footage and thinking back to when you wrote or read the script, months if not longer ago. You will wonder what has taken so long. You will try to calculate exactly how many times you've been over the content of this particular scene. You will start to recognize how numb you have become to the content.

Instead of hearing the dialogue, you will be looking at the background, obsessed with some piece of set dressing, but you can't quite figure out what about it is bugging you so much. You'll be reframing things until the image is blown out. You'll keep tweaking the color correction until the whole thing looks like some pastel watercolor recreation of the scene you are correcting. You will be missing the forest for the trees. Your obsession will potentially ruin your film.

The first thing you will probably wind up losing is plot. It seems to go against the whole point of the production, but it's the biggest picture. A scene is playing a little slow. You have a few really good jokes, but you realize something needs to go. This one bit doesn't get a laugh, so it's an easy choice. Unfortunately that cut bit was what set up part of a character arc that pays off in act three.

Another scene just plays like boring exposition to you, all data you already know. You seem to remember all of that info being somewhere else, and you figure people should be able to get what's going on if they're paying attention. Unfortunately all of that information you are sure is in there somewhere else has already been trimmed. You know it because you've seen everything a few dozen times. You aren't watching the movie with fresh eyes.

This is the really tricky part. You want to view with fresh eyes. I suppose you could ask folks you know to watch the film and give notes, but you would have to be sure they are people who understand the process. They may not like a scene because the music or effects aren't in place. They may seem to think something is slow but not be able to articulate what and give you some bad decisions. In general, you may be soliciting for all of the issues that are inherent in test market groups.

Your best option is to somehow train yourself to watch with "fresh eyes" whenever you need to. Easier said than done. You have to somehow be able to shut out everything you know and just watch as a blank slate, but with an awareness of everything else. You need to remember every snippet of footage, every scene, and anything else that can be added, removed, or tweaked.

After a while it can become second nature, but that's a long process and far from infallible. I usually go layer by layer. The first thing I do is lock down the dialogue. Once a scene is cut together, I will just close my eyes and listen. Are there awkward pauses? Does each statement come naturally as a result of what was either just said or you know just happened? How does it play out as a simple scene? If it works, I can move forward.

Next I do the opposite. I cut the sound and just make sure the visuals aren't nonsense. Can I tell what is going on? Is there a logical flow between cuts? Does everything clearly lead into the next image, or is something just popping up out of nowhere? Are there places where an insert would help? Are there continuity gaffes? Is anything just simply jarring?

Next I watch the scene with audio and video together. In theory it should play fine, if the previous tweak sessions went well, but sometimes things still don't come together for whatever reason. This is when you look at each scene within the context of the whole film. You make sure the right set ups and pay offs are in place. Sometimes a scene just doesn't feel right out of context, no matter how perfect in the project it actually is. Sometimes you see where you've made sure to cover something important, but possibly to the point of redundancy.

Once you have gone through this edit, do a few layers of post production. Add sound effects, visual effects, some music, and maybe a base layer of color or lighting corrections. Don't try to finish it all on any one given part of the scene. Do a pass, then move on. Tweak and tune, tweak and tune. If you can come back to another layer of color correction after hitting a few other things, you won't be stuck in some of your previous decisions. By rotating through everything, you retain the freedom to be able to nudge and guide the project as you go rather than have to completely scrap and redo something.

There are two big dangers to this method. The first is not being able to break the cycle. You keep going through tweak after tweak after tweak, whittling away elements, fine tuning changes, until you have whittled a giant redwood into a tooth pick. Know when to walk away, when to abandon a project as the best it will be, and that after a certain poing your energy is better served on the next one rather than shaving a few more frames here and there.

The other issue is impatience. Wanting to be done so bad, you just stop thinking about what you're doing. Sometimes you want the pacing to be better, so you set a goal of cutting five minutes. Those five minutes don't necessarily help the pacing, though. They lower the running time, but there's a chance with some thought and experimenting you could shave just two minutes but make the story move twice as fast. Take your time, just don't take too much of it.

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Exploring everything you should consider as you make your indie masterpiece.


Other Columns
Other columns by Patrick Storck:

That Should Be In a Movie

2010: A Year We Could Make Contact

Bad Movie Christmas

Suggested Reading

Thanks again!

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Patrick Storck
Patrick hails from Baltimore, MD, where playing by the rules is frowned upon. Only average things come from playing it safe.


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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Patrick Storck by clicking here.


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