Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The Making of The Crunch Part 3

Jez and Jonathan stand before Richard May's artwork in the main still I used to promote the film
Jonathan as the Kraftwerk quoting Simon

Jez as the downtrodden Victor

The framing of the "coda" sequence, a shot Anthony was very proud of at the time

Here in this final part of my original essay I deal with the protracted period of post production on the film!

As they say, one of the best ways to learn things is just to try them and see how you go. The editing of The Crunch is no exception, though unfortunately I was criminally unaware of so many very simple tools that would have made my life easier, especially when it came to the panel aspect of the film and the synching of the dialogue.

Initially I did do a straight, standard edit of the film which came together really quickly, but in the end I felt that it was boring. In retrospect, there probably was a standard edit of the film which would have worked, but my meat and potatoes editing buried it. I was always concerned that we didn’t get as much coverage as I would have liked, in terms of additional angles rather than additional takes and this lack of choice of angles was something that I felt made the standard edit dull. With what I know now it would be interesting to see what a standard version of the film would look like.

So the work on the comic book version began. It was a long, frustrating process of having to re-render sections even to make the slightest change. I was also concerned about the sound levels, though Dan told me not to worry about that at this stage. It wasn’t all bad though – some aspects came not from the storyboard stage, but instead from looking at the shots themselves. The dynamic slope of the framing when Simon opens and closes the door on Victor was me simply following the angle of the wall in the shot and, similarly, the angle on the kitchenette scene came from matching the angle on the cupboards. Not planned, nor a big deal, but it seems to make it feel more cohesive, almost as if it were planned.

I needed someone to do the animation for the talk about cheese and through Anthony and Jenny I met Phil Cobley. Much like when I met them, when I first met Phil he had the latest issue of Retro Gamer with him – he was really into 2d games and artwork. I knew I’d be able to get on with him fine too! My initial thought for the animation was that it was to be vector based, almost like the original Asteroids game, with the vector peptide bonds and enzymes breaking down and fragmenting much like the asteroids in the game, crossed with the Elekroplankton game on the Nintendo DS. Phil, however, came up with something much more visually interesting and much more fun, which provided a great contrast to the dialogue and also provided a much needed lighter moment in the middle of the film. It reminded me immensely of Shynola’s animation work that they did for the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” and the wonderful work that Rod Lord did on the BBC TV series.

The music came from Kerrie Lock, who worked at a shop I visit as part of my job. In her previous incarnation of “Red Peal”, she donated some tracks to my unfinished feature film. I knew she was a big jazz and electronica fan and wanted something that seemed from the glitchtronica genre, something made of clicks and hums, of disc drives spinning and hard drives whirring. I really love the music that she has written – it has a late night melancholia to it which reminds me of Kraftwerk (though sounding nothing like them) and, to me, fits nicely into Simon’s quoting of Kraftwerk lyrics throughout the film.

My original edit I think took me to about August time and I think had a running time of around 21 minutes.. At that time I was trying to cast “Stranded”, with a view to getting that also in the can so I could edit both films over the winter. I showed this rough comic edit to some people – Dave Lilley in particular felt that he could see a way to cut it down to around 15 minutes, which would help with short film festival entries, but I couldn’t see where 6 minutes could come out. He did say it might result in jump cuts, something I was determined not to do if I could help it, but I was keen to hear his thoughts.

Casting for “Stranded” was complete but then the shooting had to be cancelled due to the availability of the lead actor, so I returned my focus to The Crunch. Dave still hadn’t had chance to send any detailed feedback and in the end had to bow out due to a lack of time. I had another look at the film and managed to hack out some of the running time – a short scene which is in the script went, which would have shown Simon fast asleep on Victor’s desk, almost mechanically snoring away, Victor throwing his fearful glances after the previous scenes’ exchange. In the end I felt it wasn’t needed and it seemed like Victor didn’t seem particular fearful of Simon, nor did the shot of Simon fit in particularly well. I managed to remove around a minute from the phone sex conversation, which admittedly did feel like it went on for an eternity (which was partly the point) but many people felt was just too much.

The problem with trimming the film down with a second here, a couple of seconds here, was that it completely messed up the synch with the other shot. By reducing one shot by a second could potentially create a new two second gap in the timing of the other shot and I would have to find a moment where the footage could be sped up - but not by too much, otherwise it looked bad, though in some places it seemed this was unavoidable. All in all, trying to shed inches of flab here and there was a trying experience. Finally I got a cut together which came in at just over 19 minutes and without radically changing aspects of the edit, I couldn’t see what else could be done, so I decided this was the final edit.

I got back in touch with Dan, as he’d expressed interest in doing the sound mix back when we were shooting, but he knocked back my interest with an email saying he was too busy, doing 60 hour weeks, good luck…and that was that.

I went back to Shooting People and advertised for a sound designer. I had several people get in touch – one guy offered to do it if I’d pay him £200 cash in hand, though I felt it was unfair to pay him when everyone else had worked for expenses only. Then a guy, let’s call him Q, got in touch, who much like Jonathan was just starting out and was keen to show what he could do. Jonathan obviously worked out really well and Q had plenty of experience working in a sound studio, he just wanted to show the world what he could do with sound design on a film. With this enthusiasm, I was easily swept away, especially when he said it was likely I’d have a sound mix for Christmas. To have the film finished before the end of 2007 would have been great.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to be – Q fell ill with the flu before Christmas, which had a knock on effect, so it would be 2008 now. Oh well. Although we communicated back and forth over the first few months of 2008 I had still yet to hear anything of the work he’d done, despite Q saying he would send some rough scenes over for me to hear and give any pointers on. I should have seen the warning signs then, but didn’t. In the middle of March I asked him again how it was going and was told he only had the foley for the keyboard typing to record – he’d understandably been putting it off as it was such a big job. I said I wanted to have the film ready for Movie Bar, the film night I attended, for the 7th of April showing. Q said this was fine - it was good to have a deadline. Good stuff, so I went ahead contacting the local press and putting up posters advertising the film showing.

This is where things started to go badly wrong. Q had got a job working for the BBC in Bristol and had to move over there immediately. He was living in a hotel room and he had no internet access. I had told him I wanted the sound mix at the latest by the 1st of April, to give me plenty of time to export the footage out and get it on to a dvd, as I was foreseeing me having problems with that too. It was also my girlfriend’s birthday at the weekend and I didn’t want to be shackled to the Mac during her birthday weekend. He told me by email he would email the files over to me by then, but ominously said he wasn’t sure that it was even 85% done and that I would want changes. He didn’t send the file. I spoke to him on the Tuesday afternoon and he told me he wanted to post it to me Special Delivery, but couldn’t find a post office in Bristol! I asked him just to send it normal post, but also email the file – normal post would only take 2 days and its better its in the post, rather than lose another day looking for a post office. Wednesday there was still no email waiting for me. I get a text from Q with the two words “Have prob” on it. No explanation. I go chasing him.

Q now tells me that the file that he has with him in Bristol is corrupted and he can’t get it off there. The original file is thankfully safe in London – but – he might have to work this weekend as the BBC are reinstalling their entire system in Bristol at the weekend and he won’t find out if he’s needed or not until 5.30pm on the Friday. I tell him it’s the slimmest sliver of a hope, but its all I have and that I’ll wait to hear from him on Friday.

Friday Minda and I go out with her friend Fiona for the afternoon. Around 5pm we go to a pub for a drink and I have a missed call from Q. I listen to the message. The message I get is “Hi Luther, it’s Q. I have to work this weekend. I’ll leave a message on your other phone.” He didn’t. So that was that. The thing which really annoyed me about all of this was that he didn’t even apologise. I sent him a long text message, stating that I couldn’t believe it had come down to the wire like this, that in over 4 months of him working on the sound mix I’d yet to hear ONE SINGLE THING. I finished my text off asking him “Where do we go from here?”

The answer it seemed was nowhere. I never heard from Q again and its in retrospect that everyone realises he must have been stringing me on all along. Perhaps originally he was keen, but realised somewhere he had bitten off more than he could chew, but didn’t have the courage to admit to me that he needed to leave the project, that he wasn’t working on it, that he just couldn’t actually do what I wanted. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I’d done all of that work, I’d probably want to send it to them, even if it is too late to prove that I wasn’t a complete fraud. But as he didn’t, I only have the conclusion that he did lead me on.

This may all sound churlish from me - after all, Q was offering his services for free - but I've worked before and since with other people for free/ expenses, all who have been much more professional than this, even if they weren't career professionals (as in working paid, full time) in their field.

So, I’d wasted 4 months doing nothing. My edit had been finished for nearly 6 months now and no progress had been made. Once again, I posted on Shooting People but this time made it clear I wanted someone either in Brighton or somewhere in the vicinity that I could meet and keep tabs on much easier than someone in London, preferably with a Spinal Tap style cricket bat. Several people once again got in touch – I had some strange man who’d done some awful chillout type music and had no idea why he was getting in touch. There was a guy called John in Brighton who’d done some good work. There was someone further west who was super keen and then there were two women who had just graduated from a college in Worthing. I watched a piece one of them had done the sound design for and thought it was great, very dense, textured and leftfield. I decided to go with them, much to the annoyance of the guy over to the west, who’d taken it upon himself to source all the sound samples and sound effects I said I required without me ever saying I wanted him to work on the film. He seemed to think I’d been wasting his time when I’d always made it clear that I hadn’t made a decision regarding him working on the film.

I sent Libby and her work partner the files over to have a listen and watch the film, then arranged to meet up for a meeting. I was full of enthusiasm and looking forward to what they were going to bring to the project. We sat down together for a drink then one of them asked “Who recorded the sound?” I explained about Dan. They then oddly asked “What was he doing?” I explained I wasn’t sure, as far as I could see he was doing a decent enough job…why? So the girls dropped the bombshell – the sound is awful, pretty much unusable and they’re not sure if they can use it. They ask if there’s any chance of dubbing the entire film, which I’m very reluctant to do – I really felt there was something in the performances at times which were very much of their moment and would be hard to replicate. They tell me they can try to boost the levels and cut some frequencies to remove the hiss, but by doing this it might change the voices – how do I feel about that? I figured as long as they don’t sound like chipmunks, let’s try it. We part ways, though they give me a clause I must understand – as they’ve just graduated, they understandably only want work on their showreel which is the best possible quality. If they don’t feel The Crunch will scrub up to that, then they will walk. I completely understand and head home, that initial enthusiasm long gone.

I can’t remember how many weeks later it was, or whether it was an email or text. I seem to think it was a text which came in about 10.30 at night. Libby said that they can’t get the sound up to scratch and that they were no longer going to work on the project. That was that. Again. I immediately went straight upstairs and luckily still had the email address for the sound designer in Brighton. I dropped John a line and he was still keen to get involved. Luckily this time around there wasn’t a need to send an advert out on Shooting People.

I met with John in Brighton at Rockola, he was a nice guy who seemed to really know his stuff and made a living from sound design, recording and teaching. It was great that he was in Brighton too as it meant I would be able to work with him on the film and get an idea of what he does. When asked when I needed the film by I didn’t really have an answer, so John asked if August would be okay. After all the shenanigans I’d been though 2 months away sounded absolutely fine. This time, surely this time things will be okay!?

Well, they were and they weren’t. The weren’t is that we had major trouble getting the file from my Mac to be understood in John’s PC – after endless different film types and sizes, Anthony had heard a problem about HD FCP files being deliberately unrecognizable in PC software so suggested a new lot of settings which finally meant John could work with a version which synched up with his PC – up until that point any foley work John had done had been educated guesswork as to whether it was in the right place. Above all, he did manage to save the sound – it isn’t high fidelity sound by any means, but considering I thought I was going to have to dub the film its still a miracle. I was overjoyed the first time I sat in John’s flat and could hear the dialogue for the first time in months, especially after all the trouble I’d been through. No matter how long it took, at last I’d found the man for the job!

Not only that, John came to my aid on some sound recording for Stranded soon after coming on board with The Crunch and he’s become a trusted colleague. Its been interesting working with him on the sound, working through different sound effects together looking for the right effect, both of us suggesting some sound effects with thinking outside the box. It continued to be a long winded process though for both of us and I think at times a bit of a frustrating one for John, as he feels it shouldn’t have taken as long as it has, just something always seems to have been working against us. After all the troubles I’ve had over the making of The Crunch, it just seems par to the course for me.

During this period I showed the film to Terry and he made some suggestions with regard to the editing. As the film running time was locked down (as I’d promised John) it didn’t leave us with much leeway with regard to changing it. Terry’s suggestions though thankfully stayed within the running time – the scene where Victor fails to do more than 8 push ups was changed so it was no longer split screen, which did make a difference. Terry also suggested that instead of the sex line conversation remaining as a 3 piece for the entire conversation, we should instead focus on Victor more. To me this simple change made the scene feel much shorter. Terry also felt an effect was needed for the multiple Victor’s image – he thought it should degrade, or pulse, or shake. After some multiple exporting and importing I was able to add the shake effect that you see, which again added an essential amplification to that scene.

I ran a preview screening of The Crunch at the first Son Of Movie Bar, which was also my first night of running the aforementioned film night I regularly attended and had taken overJ ohn and I were both aware it probably wasn’t quite the final sound mix and it didn’t sound that great over the pub sound system, but then again I’m not sure that the sound is built for that sort of system, or at least couldn’t be built for it without dubbing it and having a much clearer sound recording to start with. Anthony felt that the film needed a grade and kindly offered to take a look at it now it was finally almost complete. He gave it a grade which makes sense from an audience point of view – you can actually see what’s happening now – whereas previously, possibly due to me being fully aware of what was going on, I did a more “hardcore” setting, where everything is deliberately dark and on some shots its almost barely the highlights showing through. My “grade” was much greyer, whereas with Anthony’s tweaking its actually now closer to the original idea of the highlighted figures.

Thankfully I got some kind feedback from the preview screening – despite the sound quality in the pub and the fact you could barely see the screen (not only due to my “grade”, but also due to the heavy streetlight emanating in from outside) I got some positive comments back, it felt that people had picked up on the intensity of it and most people got the whole schizophrenic aspect, though they had to ask me to make sure. I was always worried that people would laugh during the phone sex scene – yes, it is uncomfortable and ludicrous, so I was worried it would be susceptible to school boy sniggers – but wonderfully the audience seemed utterly immersed and breathless during that and the following scene. From the feedback, I’m grateful that the film works – I was worried that the issues with the sound and the comic book panelling, which at times could be criticised for being both distracting and distancing from the drama, don’t seem that much of an issue.

I can’t believe though that it took me over two years since first shooting it and nearly 2 and half years since writing it to get it finished. At times I considered just letting it go at the current state it was at – as Minda often pointed out, it’s a strong effort for my first film in years even in the unfinished states was in – and maybe it would have been best at times to do that. But as with my feature film Gettin’ Some (er…still unfinished) it does come to feel more that once you’ve come so far, why stop there?

I still think the film would have benefited from one more night’s shooting, as I think that would have given us more time to ensure everything was spot on as well as get a little more coverage. I think that would have made a difference to the film. Its odd how close I’ve managed to get some elements to what I storyboarded, others which I had trouble visualising are nowhere near but have turned out interesting all the same. Visually, the film achieves what I set out to do – make something which is hopefully striking, memorable and intriguing. I think the performances from the cast are for the most part very strong and if there are parts where they waver a little, again, that’s where an extra night’s shooting would have benefited. Emotionally I guess I’m too close to it to know if its works completely but the feedback I’ve had suggests it does.

Through this film I met Terry, Anthony and Jenny who not only have become a team of people I have continued to work with and also hope to continue working with, but have also become great friends too. John has also stayed on board as part of the “team” I’m building up around me. Possibly the most important aspects I got out of the film are that it re-energised me as a film maker, gave me more confidence and focused my attention on becoming a film maker again.

Who says it’s all over when you turn 30?

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