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Surviving Cinema: 'The Finish Line For Ratline'

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The first full cut of Ratline, including all music and sound design, will be complete in about one week.  The work is not over, however, as I'll be spending another two weeks screening the movie for the other Ratline producers and trusted peers to gain their feedback.  I'll be evaluating how well the whole thing has glued together, and during that two week period, I'll be fine-tuning the edit and nit-picking the sound mix.

Two very minor creative rough spots happened here at the finish line of Ratline post.  First, we became aware that a plot point was in need of clarifying.  It is interesting that, in the creation of all movies, the script and the raw footage may seem like they've covered all the bases, but you never really know until you see it all cut together.  Ratline officially wrapped shooting at the beginning of 2009.  A handful of pickup days that I knew I would need were scheduled simultaneous to getting post-production momentum up.  Then, as I edited the movie, another two or three pickup shoots occurred as the edit indicated additional footage was needed. 

Finally, here in the last days of post-production, a sequence near the end of the movie wasn't really selling the way I wanted it to sell.  Gus Stevenson, Jim Wayer, Jason Christ and I put our brains together and concocted two additional shots that would clarify the plot point, and that we could grab quickly. 

So, last Saturday, we recorded a few remaining bits of foley, Trevor Williams did some work in After Effects for the movie, and we grabbed two more shots - one week before my deadline to finish the first full cut of Ratline!

The second creative trouble-spot I hit concerned the final moments of the movie.  Up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea what music I would use for the ending and the end credits.  Then I discovered an awesome band called Marquis Of Vaudeville.  We contacted them about Ratline and they quickly responded with enthusiasm.  They contributed four songs that I could choose from to use for the end of the movie. 

Part of the problem was that I liked all four songs so much, I had trouble choosing one!  Furthermore, each song, to a degree, dictated how I edited the final sequence.  And the one song that fit the movie overall the best (titled An Ordinary Day) was not working out so well with the specific shots that I wanted to end the movie with.

I edited four versions of the ending, one for each of the Marquis Of Vaudeville songs.  I asked Jason Christ (who co-wrote the movie with me, who is a producer on the project, and who also contributed to the editing) to evaluate the four versions of the ending and tell me which he liked the best.  He didn't seem to like any of them.  It just wasn't clicking together.  Time to re-think the ending.

I decided I would definitely use the song An Ordinary Day because it seemed to have in it the dark, weird, off-beat nature of our movie.  It felt like the most fitting capper to the insanity of the previous 100 minutes.  I then spent an evening going back to and sorting through all the footage I'd shot that could be useable for the ending.  I experimented, trying different combinations of images, looking for a sequence that would properly end Ratline - and still fit perfectly with the Marquis Of Vaudeville track.  Finally, it all clicked together.

The final shot of Ratline is not in the script.  I shot it on a whim, certain that it would never actually see the light of day.  Now it is the closing image of the film.  It is a weird way to end the movie - but I like it.

Jason was not around at the time, so I asked executive producer Jessie Seitz to watch my new ending and tell me if it seemed to work for her - or if it seemed like too weird a note to go out on.  She watched it and was all smiles.  "That makes me happy," she said.

By this time next week I will have Ratline wrestled into submission.  Within the first half of October, the final tweaks will be done - and this long, exhausting, agonizing chapter of my life will be over.  Yes, there is the work associated with getting a distributor, authoring a DVD, etc.  But having launched this production in summer of 2008, I am eager to shed the responsibility of carrying this gigantic baby in my creative womb.  I am very enthusiastic about Ratline - but I'm also very enthusiastic about moving on to bigger and better things.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze

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