Breaking Post-Production Gridlock To Reach The Promised Land

I think I’m mixing metaphors with that title but you probably get the idea. Suffice to say after a very long journey we’ve finally gotten the film to the rough cut stage and expect to have a fine cut by the end of September (barring a few shots that we need to shoot). Getting to this place has been a long, slow, but very important journey.

The real issue is, as always with the microbudget, a lack of resources. We had an excellent editor, who we were excited to work with but we didn’t have the money to be able to expect that we could dominate his time. That meant waiting for a break in his schedule. But when another film kept coming back for more work, it meant that we kept waiting, always a few weeks away from reaching the front of the queue.

Finally, after about 8 months (time really does fly that fast) we brought on board Jordan Crute, who was completing his year at the Canadian Film Centre. He agreed, gratis, to build us an assembly so that we could already be out of the gate when Greg, our main editor was available. The first thing I ought to say is that the CFC is the gift that keeps on giving. I attended as a feature film program resident back in 2007 and maintain connections with people there. In particular Isabel Gomez-Moriana has been an awesome resource and source of advice and encouragement. I’m not sure we would have made it this far without her.

Jordan somehow squeezed us in between working on a pair of films for the Short Dramatic Film portion of the CFC program – no small feat. By the time May rolled around we felt like we might, just might, be able to reach the deadline for TIFF if Greg were to become available, as he expected. That’s when we launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise some financing for the post-production costs.

This deserves a post of its own, and we did basically reach our goals – though it wasn’t all in cash but rather a combination of cash and post-production services being provided. We quadrupled the number of fans on our Facebook page to over 500, deepened some of our connections with people in the film industry, and had a great closing party that over 100 people came out to (thanks to Steamwhistle for the free beer and the wine rep for Lula Lounge who gave us a case of wine).

In some ways, I think that the IndieGoGo campaign idea was most important in terms of spurring us to kick the machinery back to life after a long period of dormancy while we waited for the edit. In the lead-up (starting back in February) we hired an intern (Ashley Chiew) to build us a website and create a company logo, and we had a poster design made using designcrowd.com. When the IndieGoGo campaign kicked off we had two more awesome social media interns really carry the ball in terms of regular postings, updates and some great memes involving cats (kudos to Evan Daurio and to Yamini Coen!). I can’t say enough about the importance of interns for a small production company – from on-set crew to marketing & publicity. We also hired someone through elance.com to create a media list for us. For $60 it was worth it, though this got us less publicity than we might have hoped but we did have two articles – one online and one in local media. Indie films raising cash through crowdfunding just isn’t the news novelty item it once was – unless you’re Spike Lee.

The one goal that we didn’t reach was submitting to TIFF. In retrospect we were being utopian thinking that Greg could come off an intense and extended run on another project and then jump onto ours, especially when he had only a short window before another paying gig was coming up. It was with sadness that we decided it made sense to move on to another editor, though Greg had contributed a lot in terms clarifying the kind of movie we were making tonally, corollary films, etc.

Again, Isabel came to the rescue and connected us with a number of CFC editor alumni. Luke Sargent (’11) agreed to come on board as our editor early this month. One of the things he and we agreed to right away – and this is a tip for all you other microbudget filmmakers reading this – was the need for a contract determining a pay schedule and a delivery schedule. Expectations were clear – we all knew by what date he would deliver each cut of the film and he knew how much and when we would pay him. It was more than we originally budgeted but, let me tell you, it was worth it. Even though it cut into our budget for colour correction, etc. it doesn’t matter. You can’t colour correct an un-edited film. Ditto sound mix. But you can take a solid, picture-locked film to Telefilm (if you’re in Canada) or to a distributor and ask for finishing funds as a form of investment in the film.

The lesson here is clear: even if you aren’t paying much try to pay something and get a contractual delivery schedule in return. This creates accountability and clarity for everyone – which is one of the hardest things in general, never mind on a nano-budget project. As an aside, our production team are already clear that on our next film we will hire an editor to cut the film during production so that we can shoot any pick-ups while we have every one together and have an assembly by the end of production, rather than suffering a lengthy wait. This is the norm on a lot of European productions, though I’ve heard it less in North America.

So, here we are! Today we watched the rough cut from end to end for the first time – 14 months after we wrapped shooting (more to come on the editing process as we move forward). As the saying goes, either you have to have money or you have to have time because one buys the other. Still, for the future we have an idea how to keep the post-production process under control, even if we shoot another nano, micro, ultra low or low budget film.

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