One of the coolest things about indie film is how involved you can become in a production. You can go on board as one thing and find yourself doing half a dozen other jobs just to help out. Over the years I’ve been an actor and special effects make-up artist, but I’ve done sound and lighting, prop building, costume making, the list goes on.
This year I got the chance to write and direct the opening story of the anthology film Checking In. Once the filming was over it was time to sit down, sift through the footage and start turning it into something people could watch.
I already had an idea of how each scene would work from writing the screenplay, rehearsing the actors and directing the film.
Rehearsals gave me the opportunity to see what worked and what didn’t. It also gave me an idea of camera placement once we reached the location.
The trick would be in taking all the footage and turning it into an actual film. I’d never edited anything before, but I’ve watched a lot of films over the years. You can see what works and what doesn’t, how the rhythm of a scene is built up by the editing. The process is fascinating, scary and sometimes you feel like you want to tear out your hair because it isn’t working quite right.
My first step was to review the footage; 206 shots. I had to watch them all and start taking notes. Some were obviously no good and I eliminated them straight away. Then I broke the footage down into individual scenes and began to start assembling things.
I started on one of the last scenes and began the painstaking task of sifting through the footage. The performances had to be right, the dialogue had to be right. If you look at the timeline on the photograph above you can see how it’s made up of lots of individual clips.
I started with a wide shot – both actors in the scene. I watched it over and over, looking for the beats and moments where I could cut to a different angle. Sometimes it was for an actor to say a line and sometimes it was for their reaction. The editing has its own rhythm and each scene moves at a different pace. You have to match things and make sure an action started in one shot is completed in another. I found out that it actually looked smoother if you shaved a few frames off between transitions – it looks more natural.
From start to finish I spent around 60 hours editing a 20 minute film. There’s some lovely acting in there though and the zip of dialogue is crisp and pitch perfect. I even chose to allow part of one scene to play out completely in a single shot. Ernest and Suzanne were in a corridor arguing and their performances in the cramped location were brilliant. It makes a lovely change of pace from what has gone before and it allows the scene to breath and come to life in a way that chopping it wouldn’t.
I found the process fascinating and I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a learning experience for me but I’m rather proud of the finished piece. It still needs work and the first cut can actually be trimmed by another 20 seconds. Yeah, 20 seconds! (I know!). But I’m very excited about what we’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to seeing a completed cut of the final film.