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Blog Posts

Surviving Cinema: 'Cups Of Coffee'

It is much better to finish Ratline sooner than later, for a variety of reasons, but the big reason for my current hard deadline is that Wicked Pixel Cinema is moving out of the building that we've occupied since 1997.  Everything's gotta go - my office, the editing suite, all the workstations - the whole boat. 

A long chain of events surrounding this move begins the second weekend of October, and I am determined to have a final cut of Ratline before then.  Adding to my stress is that out of those ten or so days, my schedule permits only a couple of days to do any last second fine tuning on the movie.  I’m working on Ratline tonight, worrying the mix and making last second trims.

I worked on the movie all day and night yesterday as well.  I've made all the small technical tweaks (raising and lowering sound fx in the mix, for example) without problem, but in a couple of cases, creative decision-making was required - and I had real problems doing this work.  The looming deadline and my exhaustion have really scoured away my sanity.  Trying to make changes that involve story, characters, and performance under these circumstances is more difficult than you'd think.  It is extremely hard to maintain focus.

For example, a key line at the end of the movie was "I love you."  Throughout shooting and all of post-production, the line was never brought up as a potential problem.  Here in the closing moments of my opportunity to make Ratline as good as it can be, it was suggested that I cut the line out.

Last night - for about three hours - I tried recutting the scene in various ways to see if the sequence worked better without this line in it.  Even in the thick of this, I noted the insanity of the situation.  I cut the line out, I put it back in, I cut it out and changed some of the shots around it, I put the line back in... My brain was fried. 

Jim Wayer wandered in with his opinions on the sequence, and though I know he was only trying to help, he succeeded in overwhelming me even more.  I could not decide what I wanted to do with "I love you".  So much mental turmoil over one simple line of dialog!

Eventually, I decided to cut the line out of the movie.  After that kidney stone had passed, Jim started nit-picking one of the sound effects in the movie.  The sound was for a gore shot, and Jim seemed oddly passionate in his opinion that the sound needed to be improved. 

I was exhausted and my sanity was hanging by a thread, but my job is to consider every opportunity to make the movie better, so I asked Jim what he thought the sound effect was lacking.  He told me "It should be less rippy and more squishy.  Less bone cracking and more impactful.  More blood running - and you should add a 'swoosh' sound every time the blade swings down."  In my stressed emotional state, my brain translated everything Jim said into: "Eric, please smash a chair over my head to make me stop talking to you."

We worked on the sound effect for another half an hour - and perhaps it is improved.  I really don't know.  After that, Jim left the edit suite and my blood pressure started to return to normal. 

Earlier in the day, Trevor Williams had stopped by to evaluate a couple of changes that I'd made in the movie.  "Eric, it is really awesome that you are so accepting of other's input," Trevor commented - which seemed odd at the moment.  But I guess a lot of filmmakers do get defensive about their work and run scared from constructive criticism.  Certainly, if I think I'm right and the other person is wrong, I stick to my guns and do it my way.  But I'm not interested in being right all the time.  I'm interested in making the best movie possible. 

So of course I embrace feedback and suggestions.  Even when I wanted to throw Jim Wayer out the window, deep inside I was grateful that the team working on this movie has such passion for the project and, like me, want it to be as good as possible.  The alternative - my team simply not giving a shit - would be much, much worse.

Due to the on and off (as dictated by our financial situation) nature of post-production, Ratline editing has stretched out for about a year.  I knew that it would.  In some ways, this time was beneficial.  I could edit a scene, get feedback, and make small adjustments to the scene at any time - a day later, a week later, or a month later.  That flexibility no longer exists.

Throughout post-production, I always used my mornings to sit quietly, alone, with a cup of coffee, and think about what I'd edited the night before.  I could, without distractions, reflect on the previous night's work and plan out any changes or experimenting before I drove to Wicked Pixel Cinema to resume editing.

Today, there are very few cups of coffee between this moment and the moment I have to call Ratline done.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze

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