In Hannah and Her Sisters, one of my fav Woody Allen movies,
the Woodster plays a (big surprise) hypochondriac TV Producer who is convinced
he is dying and subjects himself to a battery of tests to prove himself otherwise. In true Woody Allen style, the
white-on-black title “The Anxiety of the Man in the Booth” comes up
and then we cut to Woody in a sound proof room in an ear doctor’s office with a
set of earphones having his hearing checked – because, in his mind, hearing
loss has a direct correlation to a brain tumor.
That’s how I feel right now. We are in the early days of editing the actual movie, and literally every scene that we come across is a grab bag of challenges and triumphs.
The physical act of making a movie (especially this one) is
a tsunami of karmic tidal forces all pushing against each other to form a
miasma of good and bad luck, happy accidents, crushing setbacks and everything
in between. It’s the job of the
director (your truly), the producers, and key production crew to keep the train
on the rails, sometimes in spite of rain, snow, locusts, actor’s schedules,
early sunrises, late sunsets, dying batteries and hijacked card tables. And believe me, we experienced all of
this stuff (except the locusts – chalk up that apocalyptic biblical allusion to
the writer in me – although we did have swarms of bugs sunbathing on our lights
as the nights warmed up toward the end of shooting).
Now all this makes for great war stories. “Hey, remember when it dipped below 29 degrees for the fourth night in a row” or “Hey, wasn’t it funny when we discovered a new breed of Lunar Moth as one of ‘em kept flyin’ in and out of frame during Rich’s big, dramatic monologue…” But what it does do is start to drive you bonkers in the editing room because it is here where you see all your temporal victories and defeats. By that I mean, when you are doing anything, making movies, building buildings, creating widgets (as found in your junior-high school math story problems) one is always constrained by two things: Time & Money. That’s an inevitable pair, kinda like death, taxes, peanut butter, jelly, Lennon and McCartney…
So when the Natural Law Firm of Time & Money starts to
intercede on a film shoot, you have to make certain choices in favor of
others. And when you’re filming,
you pat yourself on the back for getting through another night in spite of the
low temperatures, big moths and quickly filled memory cards, while secretly
praying to the film gods that everything cuts together in the cold, sober light
of your editor's Final Cut pro system.
Enter Eric Dow, our editor.
Eric is a talented director in his own right. His brilliant documentary on a
little-known, but violent battle of the Vietnam war, Honor in the Valley of
Tears, just won best doc in the Dances With Films film festival a few months
back, so the guy knows what he’s doing.
It’s Eric’s job to, as the song says, ‘accentuate the positive and eliminate
the negative’, with all our warts-n’ all footage. It’s his job to piece together – shot by shot &
frame by frame – a story in spite of all the curve balls said aforementioned
Natural Law Firm decides to throw at you during production.
That’s why rough cuts are so harrowing, because, at this point – you don’t see what the movie is – you see what it is NOT. You see a slew of missed opportunities, takes that could have gone quicker, longer, framed more to the left, framed to the right. But then again, I also see amazing reactions, furtive character moments and inspired camerawork that transcends planetary and budgetary physics, so there ya go….
Now like Woody in the proverbial booth, that ringing in my ears could either just be a bad audio clip or a metaphoric brain tumor…
But that’s how it goes right now. We’re building the movie scene by scene – and with that, the
knot in my stomach rises and dips with the scan of every take, my filmic
hypochondria blaring, only to be quelled by the sound of Eric hitting the ‘insert’
key and thusly committing another image into our growing edit.
OR, maybe it’s all in my head and everything is fine….