Watching footage to “check the gate” and make sure we got the shot.
Photo by SHARON MENDONCA
Kathryn and I began the process last night of systematically watching our dailies – all the footage shot on any given day – to decide which takes were the strongest (or, sometimes, which parts of particular takes were strongest so that we can combine them as cut between different angles). It had been just over a week and, to be honest, I was glad to have the distance before trying to approach the footage with a critical eye – distance gives you… distance. I was also dreading it. I mean, what if it sucked? What if we didn’t get the performances we want/need to make a good film? What if…what if… You get the picture.
Not to worry, dear reader, the footage looked better than I could have hoped for. I mean, it has been compressed into low res files to upload it to our Vimeo account (god love the interweb) so that we could share the dailies with Greg Ng, our editor in Richmond, BC. As a result the edges were fuzzy and there are lots of jpeg artefacts that are unpleasant to watch. But the composition, lighting and focus were quite lovely. I’m going to start asking for a commission for all the free advertising that I’m giving to Alex Lisman, our Director of Photography, but he’s done some lovely work with very limited resources and he did it from day one.
And it’s the first day’s shooting so we only saw Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, our lead, and Dalal Badr, who plays his dearly departed wife. As we watched we were reminded that the first shot on the first day was a scene with them dancing in their living room with Viviana (Dalal’s character) singing a nursery rhyme/love song to Santiago (Manuel’s character). They had met perhaps 20 minutes before shooting this scene, in the context of the furnace room, I mean, dressing room in the basement of our location. They immediately were able to generate romantic sparks somehow. In the middle of the song they began to kiss and you could feel the passion between them. It was as though we were ghosts who they couldn’t see. Such good acting is always a miracle to me. It was also funny to watch because Kathryn and I had just finished watching Almodóvar’s sci-fi melodrama from last year The Skin I Wear with Antonio Banderas. ABNY has a certain kinship to that film in terms of a number of scientific themes, though our film is a comedy, which is why we wanted to watch it. Well, other than the fact that Almodóvar is a brilliant filmmaker. After watching the film itself (a weird and wonderful journey into Almodóvar’s obsessions) we watched the special features that had behind the scenes footage of the film being shot, of Almodóvar working with the cast, etc. He, of course, is a genius and a veteran filmmaker, but I think we felt a connection to his process, seeing those scenes being shot, though I was a bit surprised at how detailed was his work with the actors. He said the lines with them, directing them as to specifically how he wanted them delivered (of course, these are excerpts and those moments may have been the exception – but I have heard he likes to shape, at that level of detail, the performances of the actors). Our attitude, after blocking for camera, etc. was to let the actors follow their instincts and perform it how they had interpreted it – unless they had questions – and then refine and clarify where necessary and request variety in performance whenever there was time. Perhaps we’re too anarchist but I think that we felt that people are professionals – not just the actors, the other departments too – they need to be allowed to do their job and discover new possibilities and meanings. Our job, as directors, was to keep in mind the overall vision and try to facilitate the harmony of the different elements towards that common goal. Not that there is any one “correct” method – every director has a different method (and, no, I’m not comparing “our” method to someone of Almodóvar’s calibre, just musing on approach) – though I think that at our level (i.e. our first feature film) more humility is in order viz the production than for a veteran director.
Back to the dailies. In general directors watch their dailies from the day before at the beginning of the day, while the first shot is being set up and while the talent are in with make-up and wardrobe. So, why have we waited so long to do this process? First off, we did watch some of the footage at the end of the day – but in the face of exhaustion and an early start the next day (and a three-year old who rightfully expected some attention, food, and a bedtime story from her parents) it wasn’t systematic. In the mornings it simply wasn’t possible. First off we were in our house and were often trying to get Beatrice (our daughter) fed and dressed and out the door for 8:30 (crew generally arrived at 7am to start set-up). That was our childcare reality. One of us would focus on childcare and one of us would focus on getting the first shot ready, etc. Cast would arrive at 8am and be ready (in theory) to shoot around 8:45, though in reality it was generally 9:15 or 9:30 before we got the first shot off. In between there was more than enough for the directors to do to fill the time, including reviewing our plan for the day, discussing different performances we wanted to get from different actors, etc. Besides which, our computers were often being used to deal with data management and weren’t available. Such is the reality of a microbudget film. But it is also freeing. We didn’t have the kind of hourly expenses – whether we were shooting or not – of a typical feature film, even a low budget one. There were no lighting rentals, grip trucks, trailers for talent and make-up, et al. In fact, we had no rentals at all (other than a car for one day). So the clock wasn’t our enemy in the same way. And, to be honest, I don’t relish the idea of working 14 hour days. I don’t see how that is conducive to the making of good art. Even 12 hour days are not appealing to me. We worked over one weekend, which was gruelling, but not as difficult as going four weeks without seeing my kid because I leave before she gets up and return after she’s gone to bed. My brain also shuts down after about ten hours – creatively anyway.
Our goal now is to watch at least one day per day while Greg re-organizes and prepares the files for editing in Adobe Premiere, before sending a hard drive back to us. One of the brilliant things about Premiere (I’ve never used it but Kathryn uses Lightroom for still photographs) is that you work on proxy images and the software simply saves a project file that doesn’t include the footage itself but references the edits. It means that once we have a clone of Greg’s hard drive with all the organized files, he can send us a small project file via e-mail and when we open Premiere on our end, it can reconnect to the footage on our hard drive and let us see the work he has done. I’m looking forward to the first assembly!
Now, for a little treat, here’s an outtake from the first day. I’ll try to put one up every day after we view the dailies. Let me just say that no one ruins a pair of pants like Manu.
Manu splits his pants from Shawn Whitney on Vimeo.