Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Lesson Has Been Learned - The Post Production of Pick-Ups

For what I saw as a “simple” film, in terms of cutting and editing opportunities, along with the scale of the film, I presumed an edit of the film would come together pretty sharpish. I can’t remember if I asked Mark to edit, or he offered, but either way for some reason I didn’t feel confident in editing Pick-Ups – I wanted someone “external” who could see the footage objectively and hopefully bring some pizaaz to it which my meat and potatoes editing seemed to sometimes lack.

However, by this time Mark was gearing up for a Kickstarter campaign for his short film School Of 1980, which I’d offered to try and assist on in some capacity, contacting bloggers who had been supportive of my work in the past. This understandably took priority for the time being.

Around this time Nick had produced the photoshopped elements to turn Worthing into the Czech Republic and, if I remember correctly, had worked out some provisional titles for the credits where we knew the roles were already defined, such as casting. However, he was also preparing to leave the country for…well, who knew how long…so he had to get these elements out of the way sharpish. Somewhere along the line the hi-res elements were stuck on an in accessible hard drive somewhere in the UK and we had to go with the lower renders for the film…not the biggest issue and bar one shot I think for the most part they look pretty authentic and seamless. (Nick also put in some graffiti on my request – on a wall is “A chair is a chair” translated into Czech, though I wished it had been huge on the wall like a big tagged slogan.)

So, I wouldn’t actually get my first edit (which was the first 5 minutes of the film) until May – over 4 months since we finished filming. Apparently Mark had problems with the edit as Darren was visible in the lounge footage where Debbie’s large mirror was visible in the background, something we hadn’t spotted at the time. He’d also removed the “magic bead curtain” moment as he said it didn’t fit with the rest of the film…he was also keen to remove the opening sequence of the film with the Czech signage etc for pacing reasons – he felt we needed to get straight to the point, straight to the door of the flat and get in the flat as quickly as possible. My original intention with this sequence was to have some titles appear on it “”Faster Productions presents”, “Terence Drew in” etc but for some reason I decided against that – either I had concerns the titles wouldn’t have been that clear against the backgrounds, or that it was distracting…or perhaps we never really put the titles against it and I got used to how it was.

One issue that had come up as a result of my flopping of the footage (which was unnecessary in the end as we never saw any cars in shot, or at least which have a steering wheel visible on the right hand side of the car) was that Joseph now moved from right to left across the frame, which is what we’d associate more with him leaving somewhere, rather than arriving or travelling to a destination. In a sense this somehow makes it feel like his departure from the end of the film brought to the front – his retreat from Nula – rather than heading towards her. But as the suitcase has those JFL letters emblazoned on the side it was something I couldn’t get around…unless I wanted to cut the whole opening sequence.

Still, by the start of June I had a completed rough edit from Mark – he had cut Terry’s long monologue down to the barest of elements – pretty much the start and the end, with the justification that we didn’t need to hear the whole thing, though it was good to film it for performance…possibly that there was something that he’s got something big to say and we deny him saying it. I really loved Terry’s monologue performance and wasn’t sure about this, but again, one of the reasons for having an external editor was to remove any sentimentality about the edit from me – the “kill your babies” rule which the aforementioned “magic bead curtain” shot was a testament to this – so I let Mark be the guide on this. Yet I did have doubts that somewhere, in an attempt to make the film as lean as possible, we were sacrificing motivation to the detriment of the film. But I decided to bow to Mark’s wisdom, as he has a far greater knowledge of film theory than myself.

Several other elements had been excised – as with the opening sequence, he felt the key was to get Joseph to the flat and IN the flat as quickly as possible. So the opening sequence as Joseph knocks on the door of the flat, shines his shoes, caresses the Nula nameplate all went so after the opening walk we were straight to seeing Nula open the door. He also wanted to remove the final sequence of Joseph sat on the stairs while the credits rolled – he felt it was better to end on the full stop downer image of Joseph walking down the stair forlornly. This in the end was something that I “fought” for – I felt the image of Joseph shuffling down the stairs was quite a downer image, whereas seeing him sat on the stairs, muttering to himself, looking at his phone seemed to add an awkwardly painful albeit sadistically comedic finale to his situation. I didn’t manage to get the copy of Gasoline Alley in as the final image, as the cut of it was really awkward, but I did get Joseph on the stairs.

And then…not much really happened.

Mark was busy over the summer with a tourism film and somehow, somewhere, time just slipped away and we never managed to get together to discuss the edit. So it wasn’t until November when we finally managed to pick it up, talk about it and then very very quickly Mark’s final edit was done. It seemed a long wait for a swift tweak and finish off. I really don’t know why it took us both so long to get together again.

I think Darren was pretty quick on the grade front – though several people had for some reason suggested keeping the film in colour I had always wanted this film to be in black and white, smudgy, grainy black and white, perhaps almost a bit French New Wave looking. It perhaps never got to that level of grain (and one element was we never really got that shallow depth of field I really wanted for the look, especially with Joseph in front of those fairy lights) but it still looked good. Darren added some fake shake to the opening, which is perhaps a tad unconvincing in retrospect (and some people remarked was distracting) and apart from a frame rate issue with Nick’s titles the grade seemed to come together pretty swiftly.

Following our collaboration on Black Spot I asked Mik Holowko if he’d compose the score again, with a possible view to also doing the sound design. I had some specific ideas for the opening – I wanted a cross between the finger clicking, rhythmic sound of…hmmm…the Addams Family theme tune, with a particular track from Ennio Morricone’s score to A Fistful of Dynamite (which sounds like a frog croaking “Juan, Juan, Juan”) as it had a really particular comedic effect. Or it did to my ears. I also wanted a zither sound, probably to give a nod to the Eastern European setting of The Third Man.

So Mik got to work on the soundtrack and by the start of December he’d already got a score for me – much like my original intention for Black Spot, he seemed to have disregarded my ideas and request and given me a completely different score. His first score was VERY dramatic, sounding almost from a Hitchcock film – choral pieces, man on a mission style. A great piece of music, but really hard for me to hear fitting this film. We went back and forth on this with me requesting changes. He’d also put in wall to wall music throughout the whole film, whereas I felt there were parts that really needed silence, or just let the dialogue happen without accompaniment (especially the coughing fit and what remained of the monologue.)

Eventually I think we found a midpoint for us both. Although the final score did remain “man on a mission” I grew warmer to it – it seemed to fit the opening walk very well, the swell of the main piece and the way it pulled back towards the end worked very well. The smaller cues that Mik put in worked a treat and he did an absolute perfect deep rumble and farting brass or bassoon sound for Milo’s strut into the room. It always made me laugh when I watched that moment back.

By now we were a year since the film was shot. With the score out of the way I was hoping Mik would also be able to work on the sound design, but we ran into several issues – one was a technical issue, where he seemed to suggest all the sound was screwed up, in particular due to the burbling sound of Debbie’s fish tank, which made cutting the sound very difficult. I was worried that I had yet another film with difficult sound which may require ADRing and being over a year into post production something I was heavily reluctant to do. But the second issue was Mik had some personal issue and then couldn’t commit the time to the sound design, so he had to bow out.

I did have to do one piece of ADR though – as I was still unhappy with Dick’s delivery of the “Rodddddd Stewart!?” line I contacted him to try and dub that line and his laughter. I went over to his flat one evening where we re-recorded the line, but in retrospect we never nailed that coarsely inflected accent that I really wanted – some people remarked that it sounded more Welsh in the final film, which probably adds to other confusing aspects in the finished film.

With the sound design I luckily I had a slight back up plan – I knew of Kirstie at Elephant Sounds, a Brighton based sound recordist and sound designer whom I had originally contacted via Darren with a view to doing the sound design for Goodnight, Halloween – my fantasy thriller short which was in a stalled production position. I dropped her a line and luckily she was happy to work on the sound design and didn’t seem to have the same issues or concerns over the fish tank noise.

Finally in May – nearly 18 months since shooting the film – I had the finished film. After all this time of making it I didn’t have the desire to keep it locked online, so I put it up available to view for all straight away.  I got a nice response back from some people – one work acquaintance described it as a mixture of Jacques Tati and 60 kitchen sink drama – a comparison I was very happy with. I’ve never seen any Jacques Tati films, but I know both Mark and Terry are huge fans, so I’m sure they were happy with such a complement.

I submitted it to a bunch of festivals.  In June it played two festivals – a Troma related film festival (which being a fan of Troma as a teenage was kinda cool) and then it also played in my home city of Nottingham, at Short Stack, the film making event my film making chum David Lilley runs. I couldn’t make the screening but if I remember correctly I did submit a brief video introducing the film and talking about the difficulties I had making the film…it received a nice write up in a local magazine even if they misinterpreted the original setting for the film with the finished one - "a charming, funny and beautifully shot short film about an English man travelling to Copenhagen to meet a Danish girl"  

In September it was screened at Moviebar in Brighton, the film night that Terry and I ran for two years. I can’t remember anything particular about the screening, I think it was warmly received…I must have gone to the screening and spoke about it afterwards. Then in October it was screened at the Visionaria film festival in Italy…it seemed like there was a nice momentum running on the film and with this positive response so far I had hoped it boded well for the film being accepted into more festivals – especially European festivals and hoped East European film festivals may have responded positively to my attempt to recreate their geography in my back yard.

Unfortunately, the Visionaria film festival was the only other screening it received despite a LOT of submissions to film festivals.

So, my hope that we’d made something fun, light and short which would find a home at more general festival wasn’t to be.

My previous horror films had been easier to promote online through the large network of active horror bloggers, but with this not falling into any particular genre there wasn’t anywhere I could really have a flow of promotional opportunities to help the audience and viewing figures for the film grow.

I received some feedback from Mark (who’s life in Copenhagen was the instigating inspiration for the whole film) who suggested that it was never clear Joseph had gone to another country, possibly compounded by Milo’s almost Welsh accent. With an influx of people from the Eastern Bloc over the last two decades, it could in a sense be easily set in the UK. Mark had suggested I add a couple of shots to the opening – perhaps a plane flying overhead, or landing – something to establish we are somewhere else. I did mull over going to Gatwick and trying to surreptitiously film some footage of Terry walking through arrivals (with some CG signage changing it to an Eastern European airport) but frankly, in my usual pig-headedness, I couldn’t bare to go back and revisit aspects of the film even though these changes perhaps could have helped the film. I sent him a longer, original cut of the film and he felt the cutting of the monologue down to the simple elements did rob us of not only Joseph’s motivation, but also the high stakes he had gambled.

In retrospect, did we sacrifice audience comprehension, understanding and empathy of the story and characters for a running time so as not to bore the audience, to keep the film short and sweet? I was hoping the short running time would have helped with film festivals, but perhaps another minute of running time wouldn’t have been detrimental to selection at a festival. Who can tell?
Did putting the film online immediately hamper chances of it being shown at a film festival? The next films I’m due to finish, despite taking equally painful lengths of time as Pick-Ups are going to be held back from online screening until I’ve given them all a crack at the film festivals – at least then I’ll know that general availability hasn’t been a factor against the film being selected for screening.

Perhaps, quite simply – though it is hard to admit – it just wasn’t good enough to be screened, despite thinking it is.

Overall, I still like what we achieved with Pick-Ups. I think it does have a charm, fun performances, a nice look, a good soundtrack – I think it’s a strong little package of a film. However, I do have misgivings about the disproportionate amount of time spent on basically 3 people in the same room. I look at those teams who participate in those 48 hour sci fi challenges (Anthony and Jenny who I have worked with in the past have been involved in some of these) and see how slick and accomplished they are – perhaps sometimes as equally flawed or half baked as the premise of Pick-Ups can be – yet they have taken a fraction of the amount of time I spent on getting Pick-Ups made. The response online and from festivals doesn’t seem like much of a return on nearly 4 years of struggles to get it made.

It’s perhaps informed me to try and stick with genre films, even though it’s an equally crowded area to work in, but at least there is a market afterwards to where you can push the films if the festivals aren’t interested. The long term experience of trying to get this made, along with the similar lengthy amounts of time the 3 films I’m currently working on are taking, have brought me to a conclusion that my desire to never not finish a film, despite endless tribulations, is perhaps a misguided use of energy. As such it seems to be telling me that I need to create a cut off for a film – if it hasn’t reached a certain stage by a particular time, then I should be prepared to cut it loose, even at the risk of discarding footage that has already been shot, rather than wasting more time and energy on something which is perhaps not meant to be.

So perhaps in a way Pick-Ups didn’t break me. But it has taught me a lesson.

You can watch it HERE

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