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Old July 7th, 2008, 11:56 AM   #1
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Does screening early rough cuts undermine the editing process?

I'm editing a short film for a new director, and when I say "new director" I mean both new as in first time working with him and new as in this is his directorial debut.

We did the assembly together, which was "fun" because he kept getting hung on wanting to finesse each cut, add disolves, slo-mo effects, etc while we were building the assembly -- in other words, he was trying to get a rough cut done while we were still just making an assembly. Arguments were already happening about certain moments that would go in or stay out of the assembly (stuff that I knew was going to get cut right away as it dragged the pace and didn't offer anything to help the scene). In somewhat typical director fashion, he couldn't let anything be cut; every shot was important/sacred because (in his mind) it represented [insert entry-level existential thought gleaned from a Cliff Notes version of a philosophy text] and besides, they spent hours lighting and setting up the shot, and did five takes (pretty much all the same)… so, it has to make it into the film, right?

Sorry, I'm getting off on a rant…

OK, the assembly was finished and I gracefully impressed upon him the need for him to bow out of the process for a while and let me, the editor, do what I do. He agreed and a week later we got together to watch the first rough cut. We watched it together while taking notes. Afterwards he said he would like to watch it a few more times before we discuss where to go from there. I burned him a DVD to watch on his own time over the weekend.

Apparently, he spent the weekend showing it to a bunch of people -- people he described as "in the industry" (whatever that means. A clerk at Blockbuster could be described as "in the industry") as well as laypeople who are simply avid movie-goers. What I took all this to mean was that he watched it with his DoP and his wife and friends, or something to that effect.

I can't but feel the editorial process is being a bit undermined with showing it to outsiders so soon. This is the very first rough cut and he's showing it to people who are likely going to look at it as if it was a fine or final cut. I completely understand the need to get feedback from neutral sources, but not yet!

What do you think? Do I have cause to be concerned?

Our meeting is mid-week and I have this dark feeling i am going to be hearing a lot of armchair directing, not to mention the usual, almost random string of film school terms (remember, this is a very new director).
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Old July 8th, 2008, 05:12 PM   #2
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Mike,

I think everyone here who has ever edited for a beginning director feels your pain.

One of the LEAST intuitive parts of making moving picture content is learning how to assess work in progress. And if I had few bucks for every time I've had feedback from a well-meaning client or young collaborator about something that I never intended to be a part of the final edit I'd be retired now to my own island in the Caribbean.

Training even the best intentioned clients is hard work. Training new DIRECTORS is an order of magnitude more difficult.

The best of them get over the excesses of their newness. Some even develop the ability to judge work for what it is, and understand what it isn't. Some rare one's even eventually learn that what they saw in their fevered imagination when they envisioned making their great opus might not actually be the ONLY good way to proceed - or that there's a damn good reason (like available budget!) that they might have to accept less than what they saw in their "mind's eye."

Then again, others just can't escape their own egos. When that happens, the only hope is that somehow they grow to be as good as they already THINK they are, so they don't waste too much of everyone elses time while they learn their lessons.

Press on. Don't hold your breath. And hope for those moments where even in the midst of their insanity - they somehow stumble onto a good thought or two that you can learn from or put in your OWN bag of tricks.

Sometimes, that's the best we can hope for.
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Old July 8th, 2008, 06:28 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Mike Barber View Post
What do you think? Do I have cause to be concerned?

Our meeting is mid-week and I have this dark feeling i am going to be hearing a lot of armchair directing, not to mention the usual, almost random string of film school terms (remember, this is a very new director).
Man... what will happen will happen... being concerned about it now isn't going to change the outcome. Have a beer instead. :)
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Old July 8th, 2008, 06:52 PM   #4
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I'm going to meet Dylan in the bar for a beer.

It sounds like you are very frustrated with this guys lack of experience. At the same time, you need to have your own experience respected, and yes 'validated'.

Youre feeling insecure because your work is going to be judged by people who probably aren't qualified to judge it - and you're going to be working with a 'committee' to get the project done.

Your feelings are real. Recognize them as valid feelings.

Ask yourself why you took this assignment. IS there enough money/fame/experience in it to make the hassle worth while? If so - then accept that there iare going to be frustrations, and work to minimize them by changing your own attitude - you'll never change his.

If NO - then why did you decide to train this guy? What is the value in this process, for you? Does it still exist? IF so, then focus on enhancing that value.

Have your notes ready. When you meet with him again, you can suggest that you give YOUR notes first. Probably half of what he was going to present will have been in them. After that, listen to his notes (and the distillation of the committees thoughts.) Hey, they might have a pearl buried in their somewhere.

You ask if this is 'normal' workflow? No. But it's what you've got.

Decide to see the project through to the end. Take the money and run. And, if there's time, take YOUR cut and let it ride on a shelf. They might want to revisit it.

See you in the bar.
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Old July 8th, 2008, 09:43 PM   #5
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See you in the bar.
Yeah, I've already cracked open a nice microbrew Dry Stout. Actually, that's exactly what we need: a forum just for getting hammered and b****ing about our clients/directors/producers. Or would that be unprofessional of us?

Hey, let's have a dvInfo supermeetup here during the Jazz festival next summer and get s***faced. If you've never been to Montreal, that is the perfect time.

;-D


Seriously though, thanks guys. I just needed to blow some steam and know you feel my pain.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 11:06 AM   #6
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UPDATE, including Random Quotes of Things That Were Said

Yes, it was exactly what I thought it was going to be: a bloody nightmare that lasted about three hours longer than it should have. My (common law) partner Christine and I live in a loft in what used to be a boot and shoe factory; this loft serves as living quarters, production and post studio as well as rehearsal space. Overtime of the director's meeting bled into the photo shoot that was scheduled for Christine. It was funny to hear their take on the back and forth to which they were privy.

The long and short of it is that I am still working on getting the director to realize that the film he intended to make and the film he actually shot are two different things, and that his intention and script are now pretty much useless trivia (for the most part) and that the only film that exists is in the material we now have sitting in my hard-drive.

So, for your amusement, I present to you Random Quotes of Things That Were Said (paraphrased and censored for your enjoyment):

Director: I think we should make the kicking and punching in slow-motion to make it feel more intense.

**

(While discussing a 20+ second moment where the main character's wife is taking a sip of water, which is all that happens during those 20+ seconds between sections of dialogue… yet is has to be in there!)

Editor: I cut that out because it does nothing to propel the story forward. It adds drag to the momentum of the scene; it serves no function at all. It's just a 20 second dead zone of her taking a sip of water.

Director: But it's more than that.

**

(While discussing a very minor character that was completely cut from the film.)

Director: We have to put him back in. He did a great job acting the part.

Editor: That whole part of the scene was too much of a departure from the main plot. It also delayed getting to the point of the scene. It doesn't help at all and, in fact, I think it hurts the scene.

Director: But if we cut him out, he'll never work with me again.

**

Director: What if we use slow-motion here? Yeah, that would make it more impactful.

**

Director: It doesn't make sense to cut to (the FBI agent) talking on the phone, we need to establish him dialing the phone first.

Editor: I don't think it is important to the scene to know who called who; the twist is that the therapist is in collusion with the feds, not that the FBI agent called her.

Director: But we need to establish the action of the phone call.

**

Director: After that, we should go wide again.

Editor: Why do you want to go wide? There's no new information in a wide shot.

Director: (Blank stare)



There's more, but I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I no longer feel that I am editing an interesting short film about an Arab-American journalist covering the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan who is mistaken for a Taliban combatant by the US, imprisoned and tortured for six years before being cleared, and then dealing with the psychological aftermath; I now feel like I am editing an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.

Oh, wait… one more:

Director: You know, I wouldn't mind staying here during the editing if that means it will get done quicker.

Editor: SERENITY NOW!
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Old July 10th, 2008, 11:22 AM   #7
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Feeling your pain, Mike. I think we've all seen and experienced first-timies insisting on many of the things you've listed here. The fascination with "business" like the water sip and having to see the phone dial is classic (along with "we have to see the car pull up, the actor turn it off, get out, close the door, walk up to the front door" etc.) Convincing novices that shoe leather is not good filmmaking is a tough one.

FYI--do remember that this is a public forum and not all that obscure, and thanks to our real name policy this rant could possibly end up being seen by the director. You may or may not care at this point but it could happen (and in fact did happen to me a few years back). Food for thought.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 11:46 AM   #8
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Thank Charles, it feels good to hear that others can relate. This is really my only network off peers where it comes to editing, so it felt like the natural outlet for commiseration. You do have a point about the open publicness of it though. I don't normally complain about the people I work with/for, and this isn't anything I wouldn't or haven't said to his face, but I am going to leave it there.

As a side thought, wouldn't it be fun to have a film/video version of The Daily WTF? A fun place to blow off some steam in a humorous and anonymous (career safe) way?
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Old July 10th, 2008, 12:20 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Mike Barber View Post
There's more, but I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I no longer feel that I am editing an interesting short film about an Arab-American journalist covering the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan who is mistaken for a Taliban combatant by the US, imprisoned and tortured for six years before being cleared, and then dealing with the psychological aftermath; I now feel like I am editing an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger.

BAWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA
AAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAAH
AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAHHAHA
HAHHAHAHAHHAHAAAAAAHAHHAHHHAHAHHAHHHAHAHAHAH
AHHAHAAHAHAHAHHAHHAHHAHHAHAAHAAAAAA!!!!!!!!

Mike, seriously, that had me laughing out loud. I do feel your pain. I don't feel bad for laughing though. :)
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Old July 10th, 2008, 01:12 PM   #10
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Showing cuts to execs is pretty standard in the industry. This can be very useful, however, you have workout what people mean when they make comments. It works best if the editor is also there, so they can discuss the points with the director. A rough assembly is a bit early, although the first cuts on my all recent shorts did get shown to the funders who made a long list of notes. However, the director does need to know the story they're trying to tell and if the points made are valid (e.g. a story point isn't coming across) and needs to be acted upon.

It's a bit brutal, but no worse than dealing with script readers and editors at the writing stage, you just have to regard it as part of the process. Other editors can be tougher than anyone.

The weakest short films that I came across in these schemes were those in which the director decided not to listen to any of the feedback and did their own power thing.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 02:37 PM   #11
 
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sheesh. Got more than a chuckle out of this. I think Dylan expressed it best.Won't be the last experience, either.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 04:55 PM   #12
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I also experienced the same issues with a first timer. His project went so far off of the script that he refused to show me the script.

He also refused to let me do a rough cut by myself but insisted on being there the entire time. Yet he was suffering from ADD and could not watch for more than a minute or two before taking a break.

At least he was smart enough to know he had rolled a gutter ball even if he never admitted it to me. I bailed after week one. But learned a lot about not agreeing to sit with a first time director for the editing until way into the project. In fact I learned that I am going to have to direct, shoot and edit to get the kind of consistency I am after. Nothing less than really great work is going to help my career. And a few Bozos with fancy cameras were able to show me how bad it can get. I learned something from them after all.

I do hope that the last wanna be Director I delt with from last July (2007) reads this thread.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 05:09 PM   #13
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Mike, seriously, that had me laughing out loud. I do feel your pain. I don't feel bad for laughing though. :)
I'm laughing through the whole process. Laughing is the only thing that keeps me from ****ing screaming!

;-D

But I'm sure that while I'm complaining that directors never want to cut anything, directors are complaining that editors want to cut everything. The dynamic is funny while arguing over what has to go and what has to stay. In my head I sing my own version of that tune from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life":

Every scene is sacred, every take is good…

;-p
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Old July 10th, 2008, 06:23 PM   #14
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Makes the idea of a "Director's Cut" an oxymoron.
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Old July 10th, 2008, 07:55 PM   #15
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What's wrong with Walker, Texas Ranger?
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