ONE COLLECTION OF FOOTAGE. COUNTLESS FILMMAKING POSSIBILITIES
Stray Cinema is an open source film project. It is a unique experiment in film construction and distribution, allowing many movies to be made from one source of footage.
Essentially, you can head over to the site, download free footage and create your own film. The project itself is a fantastic creative opportunity for filmmakers and editors out there but it’s also a genius marketing strategy. What better way to promote a feature film then by creating a community around it? Today’s fast paced world is full of viral marketing and social media fueling groundbreaking ideas every second of the day.
Stray Cinema Founder and Co-Director Michelle Joy Hughes elaborated on the unique approach to independent filmmaking:
In this new world we are trying to think outside the box about how we distribute and make money from our films.
What inspired the idea of Stray Cinema?
Originally (back in 2006) I shot my first film on mini-dv camera. At that time I was interested in digital filmmaking being more accessible, allowing a different type of person to tell their story via film. At first I was going to send my footage out to 5-6 other filmmakers to re-edit, but then thought why limit it to 5 or 6 when the whole world could have access to this footage, and in doing so embrace topics such as open source, file sharing, Creative Commons and social networking. From there I worked in collaboration to develop Stray Cinema, an open source film.
How will this type of marketing evolve in the future?
I think audience participation early on is key, especially if you have a niche product, the internet is the ideal platform to find your people, and find them early. From a filmmakers blog about the production right through to remixes of raw footage, there are many many possibilities. If nothing else it builds a unique story around the film and the people involved.
The importance of a creative marketing today is key, especially for independent filmmakers. What advice would you give other filmmakers out there looking to use tools like social media to their advantage?
Start the conversation early, not when the film is finished. Have a story to tell a story about the story. Finally be creative, and inspire your audience, try and give people a reason to keep thinking and talking about your film.
17 West’s new short film, The Climb, has one huge make or break scene. The script is 16 pages and this particular scene, known as ‘The Bridge’, clocks in at 7 pages.
It’s the scene that carries the weight of the movie and it has to be perfect. These are stressful scenes to take on with so much riding on them. Last week I locked one of the final scenes leading up to The Bridge and now I’m faced with the biggest editing challenge of the whole project.
The Bridge is basically a 7 page emotional conversation between 2 damaged characters. The challenge here is to keep the scene moving for the 8-9 minutes I’ll need to do it justice. 9 minutes of talking in a short film is no easy task. It has to be edited very carefully.
Editing The Big Scene
The trick going into a scene like that is to watch every take you’ve got and come up with a plan. Lines will be cut and angles will be switched often but to me, it all starts with a few key magic moments.
I’ve come to call them SuperTakes. A shot that has elements that HAVE to be in the final film. It could be a facial expression or a well delivered line of dialogue. Watching the footage led me to create a tiny sequence of SuperTakes that I absolutely adore.
The plan in this case is to build the big scene up around those moments and adjust accordingly. It’s basically like creating a rough outline for a screenplay. You write down the main beats of the film and then work hard to fill in the blanks in between.
It feels easier now that I have a rough road map.
The one issue I’m going to be faced with is time. When we shot this scene, we basically covered about 12-15 angles and had our two actors play the entire scene on each. Both had experience in theater and the more we shot, the more refined the scene became. I found working that way helped me (as director) decide how certain lines needed to be delivered.
We then went back and shot some specific moments to make sure we had the scene covered. You can imagine that some of these takes were 12-13 minutes long once you factor in pauses and such. My estimate of a final 8-9 minutes could be an easy target or it could be extremely hard to cut while still preserving the scene.
What approach would you take?
I’ve decided to cut the entire scene as is and then trim the crap out of it. It’s a daunting task when you are dealing with a huge scene full of key plot moments. I knew going in that The Bridge was going to be the most challenging scene to edit but I’m looking forward to it.
These are the scenes that every editor wants to cut. It’s too early at this point to truly know if I can pull it off without the film slowing down considerably but that’s the beauty of editing. Don’t be afraid to jump in and see what happens.
You have to try new things and keep pushing yourself until you create something you’re proud of. At the end of the day, that’s what really matters. I’m a big fan of a peaceful night’s rest after a productive day.
It’s just me, the footage and Final Cut Pro now. I’m going to be sleeping well the next few weeks.
SINGLE LOCATION. SINGLE CHARACTER. DIFFERENT VISIONS.
A while back, I reviewed 127 Hours and how much I loved the editing. As a professional editor it made me think about how to be better and more creative when I’m at work. It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.
A reader then challenged me to watch Buried and compare the two.
The basic complaint was that, given the genre, Danny Boyle’s film “had it easy with all his editing techniques, trippy sequences, and flashbacks.”
When it comes to single location movies featuring one character, you really do face challenges to keep it from becoming stale and boring. In that sense, I think that 127 Hours did a fantastic job inter cutting between different sequences to keep the story moving. On the other hand, a film like Buried managed to pull it off while staying in a six foot box the entire length of the film. In that sense, the reader is completely right. It takes a lot of creativity to create a feature film in such a confined location.
Which film is better?
I’ve created a formula to describe how I feel about both films:
Different filmmakers + Different approaches = We win either way.
However, someone has to officially win I suppose. So let’s take a closer look.
Editor Jon Harris did a fantastic job employing numerous styles and pacing techniques to pull off Danny Boyle’s vision. It can be pretty difficult to mix jump cuts, speed changes, split screens while cutting between hand held and steady shots. Not to mention cutting back and forth between Aron’s camera and ‘our’ camera.
When you factor in all those techniques there were virtually 12.9 billion different decisions that could have been made. (approx.) When you have the ability to edit freely using so many tools it could have been a complete mess that was difficult to follow but they definitely got it right. It takes an incredible amount of skill and precision to pull that style off.
It’s so easy to get caught up when you are editing a fast paced movie like that. It’s also easy to second guess yourself. Their instincts were bang on as the movie runs at a blistering pace. Something the Academy recognized with an Oscar nomination this year.
I’ve never seen pain conveyed so well using clever editing techniques knowing just when to cut away during the final ‘arm’ scene. It was brilliant. It was inspiring.
I loved 127 Hours. It’s a fascinating true story featuring an awesome performance by James Franco.
Director Danny Boyle made an important decision early on not to stay in one location the entire film. I think it was necessary in this case to get a better glimpse into Aron’s life. How do we get into his mind and see the relationships he has with the people he cares about without flashbacks? He doesn’t have a phone or any other outlet into the outside world. We need to see who he misses and what he regrets. That’s the spine of the movie buried deep within one of the most courageous stories you’ll ever see.
He only has a camera to speak into and that can lead to a lot of clumsy exposition that borders on boring. Here James Franco’s character escapes to a happier place and we go with him taking a temporary break from the hellish position he finds himself in.
The strength of this movie was knowing when to cut away from the rocks. Thanks to those decisions, we get a full sense of what it was like to go through that situation.
I’ve since decided never to go climbing by myself.
Here director/editor Rodrigo Cortez takes an entirely different approach by staying put inside a box. Buried is by far one of the most original movies I’ve seen in a while.
When it comes to editing, it’s an entirely different style all together when compared to 127 Hours. Having limitless options and skillfully selecting the best way to tell the story is difficult but doing so much with so little options can be just as challenging.
It makes your editing decisions harder when you are faced with one man, a cell phone and a wooden box. To his credit, I thought the director did an amazing job keeping the shots fresh and varied. In this case, Buried was about piecing together all the carefully orchestrated moments and shots. Without having so many options, you have to truly break the story down to it’s simplest form and make sure your editing elevates an already brilliant performance by Ryan Reynolds.
The one advantage Buried has is the cell phone. This is how they managed to eliminate the flashbacks while still giving us more information about the character. This story HAS to take place in the box. That’s why it’s such a chilling and haunting tale. I think the editing in Buried was more about precise execution rather than creative exploration and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Like I said, different styles. Different possibilities.
I was absolutely fascinated by Buried. It’s such an amazing and creative use of a wooden box and a single character. I still think it should have been at least in the running for an Oscar nod this year.
What struck me about the film was the message it conveyed about the politics surrounding Iraq, hostage situations and government policies. The final 10 minutes or so are powerful to say the least and I found myself leaning forward wondering how it will end.
I wasn’t disappointed at all. Buried’s ending made a statement that has stayed with me ever since. A simple story done right can lead to some fantastic and thought provoking moments. Buried was full of them.
I’ve since decided never to drive trucks in Iraq.
127 Hours vs Buried
Winner: 127 Hours
Overall, both movies didn’t disappoint. They each have their own unique styles and executed them perfectly. Both have phenomenal stories and performances but at the end of the day, I think I enjoyed Buried more. I think of it this way:
I love both movies but some day, both films will be a part of my collection. Chances are I’ll watch Buried first.
Special thanks to reader Nastee for inspiring this post.
I came across an article on Twitter recently that discussed the myth of the modern editor. In it, the author describes the modern editor as a “self taught, do it yourself, do it all, one stop shop”
It goes on to discuss how that could impact the final cut if you are constantly focused on other things.
One statement in particular kind of hit home a bit.
“Sometimes they jump right to making the cool lower thirds for the edit rather than spending their enthusiasm for the edit on watching the footage they have. If you don’t do this part of the job, you shouldn’t consider yourself an editor.”
At work, I’m an editor. I start my shift and think of nothing except editing for our nightly shows. However, when it comes to 17 West Productions, I do tend to take on multiple roles throughout the post production process. I’m an editor, a colorist, a sound editor (I try at least) and I’m addicted to Photoshop and After Effects. Truthfully, it’s pretty fun to design graphics for various projects I work on but at the end of the day, you have nothing if the edit isn’t perfect.
Do I fit this definition of the modern editor?
Currently, I’m editing a short film we shot last spring and I’ve basically been picking at it here and there. Lately, I’ve been working on the edit more and I’ve found myself ignoring everything except cutting in order to create something worth while. I realized reading that post that I was spending a lot of time wondering about the final mix and the type of fonts I’ll use in the credits. In that sense, the article is right. If you’re an editor, you need to focus on every single shot, cut and transition. You should be thinking about nothing else except the best possible way to convey the story you are trying to tell.
So while I’m definitely looking forward to ‘packaging’ my new movie, I still need to craft a good movie first!
Another Take on The Modern Editor
On the other hand, I also think that the modern editor SHOULD have experience in more aspects of the post production process. At the end of the day, if you’re an editor, then you need focus, evolve and be the best editor you can be.
Still, these days, there are people out there who are multi talented and can easily take on more than one job. When it comes to independent filmmakers, it’s almost a necessity in order to save money. The more jobs you can do (and do well) on your own, the less people you need to hire on to finish your movie.
Also, resumes tend to look a lot better if you’re an editor with experience in other areas. You may not have to build graphics or produce music but if you have a greater understanding of the work needed, it helps inform your decisions as an editor. I suppose the trick is finding a balance and being able to separate yourself from those ‘other’ jobs in order to think of editing and nothing else.
Regardless, editing is editing and you have to stay focused. I’m guilty of losing focus. A computer with Final Cut Studio and Photoshop is an incredibly powerful and addictive tool with limitless possibilities. Learning new software packages is part of the fun in today’s easily accessible post production world.
I love my job and my movies. Editing is such a fantastic way to be creative and truly fine tune something you can be proud of… But graphics are fun too.