26 June, 2009

Vicious Rumours...

Hey everyone I just wanted to quash a rumour that has been flying around.

I just wanted everyone to know that our editor is NOT dead.

That is some other guy whose name is also Michael Jackson.

Our Mike is alive and well.

19 June, 2009

Transcription... boring but educational

Taking a quick break.
I'm in the seriously tedious task of transcribing the film as cut. If anything using the script (even the most recent draft) is actually hindering my speed of transcription.
But... in a way I'm in a priviledged position. Not only am I hte primary writer of the script, but I was also in the film and - duh - I'm doing the transcript. It is educational.
Some actors do a really good job of sticking to the script, some (ahem) really make it their own. There is virtue in both.
Those who make it their own really do add an extra voice to the script - at the expense of occassionally ruining a joke with unfortunate wording. At the same time, for every time they blow a gag or other important (to the writer 'preciously important') line, they find at least one brand new gem.
Those who commit to the text really find a way to make it work, hell or high water. Some times due to the type one actor above they have to adjust their lines, but even then it's usually with the slightest variation possible.
Generally speaking - very generally - the actors who stick to the script in "Beast" are the women, and me. But even I slide around a bit - and I wrote the fucking thing!
But nearly everyone has a habit of adding 'line prefixes' (for a lack of better term) and more often than not, what gets added to the top of people's lines is the word 'well'. I actually just finished transcribing a scene where four of the first five lines began with the word 'well'. Sadly as the writer I technically take responsibility for that. The upside is I also get to take credit for the really great improvs that people make around the skeleton I wrote. (Though of course no one has yet said anything truly brilliant that I didn't write... no, really.)
But here is my favourite embellishment...
The line as written was: "Okay, fuck! Fine!" In the final edit (and there are no cuts in the performance to extend it, this is as it was said in the take) it goes: "Okay, that’s fine. No no, that’s fine. Great. Just great. Fine. Fucking fine. Just fine."
When I say "favourite" I don't mean it's the one I'm most proud of. It's the one I'm most amazed by. Three words became fifteen. But... it works!
Fine. Just fucking fine.

16 June, 2009

Vividus Rocks the House

A follow up to last week's "Tale of Woe."

The guys at Vividus look just a little bit like miracle workers at the moment.

There is still a lot of work to be done on the shot they are completeing for us, but after one week of work they have got a working temp that is WAY beyond what I expected to have by now.

The version I saw this morning made me giggle like a school-girl in a gymnasium full of Robert Pattinson clones. It's going to look far better in our TIFF work in progress submission than the cartoony hand drawn After Effects thingy we had. Though I admit that when I first saw the cartoony version I giggled like a school-girl getting winked at by Robert Pattinson.

Vividus gets a big thumbs up from me.

New Photos Up

I just posted some new photos. They should be appearing in the slide show on the right hand side any time now.

For a change these aren't 'behind the scenes' photos. For the first time, these are photos that are actually from the film itself.

The Provost Pictures machine is humming louder than it has for quite a while. As we push through the final stages of post production all sorts of things are happening. It hasn't felt this busy since shortly after we finsihed shooting. Suddenly film-making is fun again!

09 June, 2009

Disaster Narrowly Averted

So here's a tale of woe...

There is a very important shot in the film that has been concieved and re-concieved many times. Originally we thought 'CGI', but were talked out of it in favour of practical effects. The basic argument could be summed up by "Puppet Yoda is far more compelling than CGI Yoda." So we made a serious attempt to do it practically.
We brought in a specialized props builder whose bottomline budget would have added 20% to our budget for that single shot. Not exactly a change we could truly afford.
We simplified the shot and the requirements of the hero prop. We planned to shoot it on our first day so we could come back and take second cracks at it. But... our first day was one of our worst days on set. We as a crew were learning a lot about each other and getting used to the time limitations of our tight schedule. We didn't make our day and one of the shots we didn't get was that one.
On day two we were back at the same location and while we didn't have time to shoot that shot (the second day was probably our WORST day thanks to extreme temperatures and no real cover from the sun) we did pick up a complimentary shot.
Roughly a week later we found ourselves back at the location again - a separate story in it's own right, told elsewhere - and this time getting the shot in question was high priority. Various efforts were made and the prop didn't really work right. Fingers were crossed, all efforts were made. We would have to see how it came out in the dailies.
Again our tight schedule interfered and it was over a month before that footage was watched. It probably seems obvious, but this should not have happened. It did happen though, and it's no one person's fault. It just happened. Prey of such a small amount of time with relatively few people available to get everything done. If we had it to do again, this is one thing that we'd spend more effort prioritizing. Lesson learned.
When we finally did get to see the footage... well, I'm sure you can guess - it failed to suffice, and that was not really a big surprise.
From there I can't really recall how we managed to form our new plan. It probably came together in stages over a long period of time and probably in part by accident. When we were looking for Telefilm funding we definitely priced out CG that would be very similar to what we would eventually settle upon.
I am being deliberately cagey here as I don't want to give plot details away, but what basically happened is that we chose to NOT take another run at practical effects in our reshoots, slightly changed the end of the film and decided that we would re-purpose a shot (The 'complimentary' coverage we picked-up on day two suddenly found itself arguably being the most important shot in the entire film!), and go right back to the origninal plan of using CG animation.
Luckily in the two years since we shit-canned the original CG animation plan, a lot has been done in the software world. Getting what we needed for our budget (we never did get Telefilm money, so our budget is practically made up of goodwill) was actually possible.

We brought someone on who promised to have us a working rough for our submission to the Toronto International Film Festival. There was plenty of time for that. Long story short: on the day that we were to see our first version for approval we recieved a message that a sudden family tragedy had just occurred and it would not be done, not only on time, but ever.
Do not get me wrong, my heart goes out to the family for whatever it was that happened... but in our world this was a disaster. All we had for the TIFF submission was a goofy hand drawn temp graphic, patched in with After Effects. Yoiks, Scoob!
To make matters worse, so much of the time we had to get it done in had been burned up. A suddenly very short schedule on top of our lack of budget was quite possibly a show-stopper - and we had already paid our TIFF application fee.
We scrambled through a variety of options - most of which were way out of our budget range, others of which understandably spooked when they found out how short their schedule would be.

And the consequent tale of salvation...

As things looked most dire, we were turned towards a new company - Vividus - who might be interested in the challenge. Thanks to Bob Hume of PHD productions (and husband of Leanne Jijian Hume who plays 'Sondra' in "Beast...") for pointing us their way.
When Mike and Craig arrived at the Vividus office they already had a wireframe ready - up on their computer screens for inspection. Clearly they really wanted this project. And they got it. We'll see how their chops are next week.

06 June, 2009

Moving Forward by Degrees

This amuses me. Who said a higher education was expensive?

You too can get a degree in cryptozoology... or parapsychology... or naturopathy... or podcast production from Thunderwood College.
It'll prepare you for finding the Beast of Bottomless Lake!

01 June, 2009

Blog Posts as Elusive as the Lake Monster Itself

Well, this is a pain. The same thing happened with my personal blog too a month or so ago – where I thought I had posted something, but in the end it was nowhere to be seen.

The insider punch-line to that is that the post itself was primarily an effort on my part to catch up on reporting a week's worth of developments which I had meant to be blogging on as each came up, but life had interfered to the point where the developing story had kind of merged into one.

So, here is a rough reconstruction of the bottom line:

The picture is locked. The last ten days or so before lock were a flurry of test screenings as we tinkered with the end of the film in fairly radical ways. Each of those screenings was useful and provided good perspective, though the individual receptions ran the gamut.

The first provided the greatest amount of useful input which we based the majority of our changes upon, and which began the process of retooling the end of the film. Basically we realized that we were giving the audience a lot of redundant information. We thought we were reinforcing what the audience was assuming about character arcs – and we were close; the audience was making assumptions, the assumptions we wanted them to make, but by confirming those assumptions it was coming across as pandering and repetitive. That was a pretty cool realization. It allowed us to eliminate a few scenes and challenged us to find a new way to end the film in a satisfying way that wasn't the denoument we had crafted specifically to wrap the film up in a neat little package.

A small detour here – I am continually amazed at the power of context in an Eisensteinian sense. I could cite numerous tedious examples which came up in the process of editing Beast of Bottomless Lake but one stands above the rest for me. In the middle of the film there was a sequence where Paul, the team leader attempts to make an inspirational speech to the expedition team just before they set out on the water. He isn't very effective and it is interrupted by the appearance of his addled father on the dock. Paul goes and deals with his father. As he leaves the boat he asks the boat captain to build some camaraderie and do some team building. Paul goes and deals with his father while the team prepares the boat to set sail under a call and response sequence from the captain. The sequence had a nice rhythm that ended comically first with the team nay-sayer declaring "This is fucking stupid" before being reprimanded by the captain; seeing the boat is on the verge of leaving Paul overreacts and rushes down the wharf, leaving his dejected father on the dock; finally the comic character casts off – in a nice piece of physical comedy barely avoiding going into the lake before the scene shifts to the boat out on the lake in an up tempo scene of the team getting ready as the boat motors along to pulsing music. First we cut Paul's conversation with the captain – where he asks him to build team work for him. It simply seemed unnecessary. But it made a big change to the meaning of the nay-sayer's "This is fucking stupid" line. All of a sudden the character wasn't talking about the team building exercise, he was talking about the entire expedition, and that made him a bit too cranky. That would have needed dealing with, except we ended up making an additional cut – the entirety of the ream-building/casting-off sequence. The final version goes directly from Paul's father sitting dejectedly on the dock to the driving pulse of the boat cutting through the water; a transition which is actually a really effective shift of tone and pace. I'll mourn the loss of the comic character scrambling to get on board – there is one really good laugh in there, but that is the nature of film-making – you have to do some baby-killing.

The second screening put our solution to the test. We had made some more internal cuts where we felt the film had drifted, like in my example above. The screening was pretty remarkable. The response was overwhelmingly positive – to the point where I couldn't contain myself. Mid way through the film after a particularly boisterous series of peals of laughter I declared "You guys are hysterical!" We have to believe for our own sanity that the response was a bit of a false positive, but at the same time it gave us a level of confidence in the product that was definitely necessary at that point.

Concurrent to the second screening we had sent the film to some friends who we expected to be critical. It would be an understatement to say that we were surprised by how critical they were. Though that said it was also clear that they were watching the film under adverse conditions. Lots of starting and stopping (not so good for comedy) and they came into it having been told a previous and by then significantly inflated running time which by all accounts was too long. Their criticism definitely gave us some good food for thought that rang true, but much of it seemed to come from a perspective that was entirely un-useful to the film that we were making, falling into either the "this is the film I would make" category or a range where we simply didn't have the coverage even if we did see virtue in their suggestions.

With the second screening giving us a boost in our confidence we were empowered to make a final few changes and.... ULP!.... WALK AWAY. Yes, we declared the picture locked. It was an exciting threshold to cross. Surprisingly easy to cross too. There was a certain level of second guessing, but we were ready to walk away. I don't know if it was George Lucas who said it first, but it was he who I first heard say it, that films aren't so much completed as abandoned. There is no doubt that we could have continued to tinker. But we were out of specific adjustments to make and all we really could do was re-visit sections of the film that we thought we could improve if we looked hard enough. No doubt that that would be a process fraught with losses to the law of diminishing returns.

....I've already skipped a step! Before we locked Mike and I spent an evening getting a handful (five) inserts, two of which we used Bronwen for. We popped four of those five into the edit before we called it quits. The fifth we tested and while it worked on paper, it simply didn't flow right in the cut once we tried it out. I learned years ago that sometimes moving forward means going backwards to what was right in the first place. In my days in theatre we often found that we had to try something new in order to realise that we had the right answer in the first place.

A few days after lock we had a spotting session with Bill for sound. It was quite promising. He felt that the majority of the audio was useable. We had talked ourselves into a worst case scenario where we were certain that more than 75% of the audio was useless. But we'll trust the Geminii winner on this one. Even a number of scenes we had assumed as we were filming (mostly stuff on the lake) that we were simply recording guide tracks for Bill assuaged us were 'no problem' and he laid out for us exactly how he would salvage them. I credit both Bill for his post-production expertise for this as well as Luke for going the distance on set to get good production sound.

A day and a half later we received a troubling email from Mike (and this is where I began to get upset with myself for not documenting each set along the way). His hard-drive array had suffered a failure. We may have lost data, but we wouldn't know until the array was operating again. The worst case scenario was that we would have to reload a bunch of files from back-ups, so it was not a disaster – merely a delay. Nonetheless it was not a pleasant 36 hours waiting for word from Mike, but eventually it came... no loss except for the day and a half of worry. Yay!

Even so, that day and a half would skew our post production schedule by more than that amount of time.

We contacted the festival with our first submission deadline – the Toronto International Film Festival – and determined that we could still get our work in progress to them in sufficient time for their purposes.


It has been a long process and we are not out of the woods yet, but having passed a significant benchmark – picture-lock – and knowing that there is a real light at the end of the proverbial tunnel at last it has been a pleasure to let the incidental folk involved that we will be doing a cast & crew screening before mid-summer when I've has occasion to tell them.

Okay, I admit that I made a point of calling Keith's parents and telling them specifically that the end is in sight.