Thursday, September 17, 2009

Out to Festivals

Endings is finally out to festivals. I never imagined it would take this long. We began production in June 2008, and got a festival copy done on September 16, 2009. Longest post on any film I've done, and we're still not done (we have to finish some music and the sound mix).

I really wanted to be completely finished with the film by the Sundance deadline, but it just wasn't going to happen; there was too much to get done, but I'm really happy that the picture cut is done and that most of the music is complete.

So I sent it out to Sundance, Slamdance, Cinequest, Atlanta, Dallas International, and several more. The waiting game begins -- and postproduction continues.

Maybe I should start thinking about the next film at some point. But I think I might have to focus first on the whole "going up for tenure this semester" thing...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Endings - the screener DVD

After a lot of work and a particularly grueling weekend for those working on the film (and a really lousy Monday for the editor), the screener DVD is finally on its way to me.

This weekend, we were trying to wrap up a temp sound mix and all the animated shots in order to put the whole thing together and get a copy of the film done that would be adequate to send to festivals (there's a deadline coming up for a little festival you may have heard of, something called "Sundance"). One can send a rough cut of the film to many festivals, but let's face facts here -- even though a festival is willing to take a look at your rough cut, there's no getting around the notion that an unfinished work still looks unfinished, even to people who know what that looks like.

I really wanted to be completely done by now so that we could send the final cut with completed sound mix, but we just weren't there yet, so Kelley Baker, my excellent sound designer, and Wayne Woods, our excellent mixer, put together a temporary mix of the entire film. This had the benefit, in addition to enabling me to enter fests with a reasonably complete product, of revealing problem areas in the soundscape of the film. We still have quite a bit of work to do to get the film sounding professional and to eliminate noise. And while most of the music in what I'm calling the "festival cut" is original and complete, we did have to throw a few temporary pieces in there because it just wasn't all done yet (composers have to sleep on occasion, I'm told).

Wayne, who mixes sound for Sonic Media in Portland, was working all weekend to get the temp mix done, and was uploading these large sound files for me. Of course, this process is fraught with complications. Wayne had to put together all the original sound, add effects, add music, and get everything just right lest the director come back at him with venom for ruining his film. Okay, that never happened, but when you're mixing a film without the director present to comment on things and without time to make changes for little things like a misplaced music cue, there are bound to be revisions. We didn't have time for much of that, so I just had to look for emergency level stuff to fix in the first half of the film. My theory (and Wayne's and Kelley's) is that the first half of the film better sound great, because festival screening personnel will find a reason not to finish watching, and crappy sound in the first half of the film is a pretty easy reason (in large part because it's all too common in the indie film world).

Simon Tondeur, the film's editor, then had the task of assembling the mix and all the animated shots into the edit. This is where the weekend's fun really began. Simon really didn't want to work on Sunday, his birthday, but that plan got scuttled pretty quickly when the sound mixing went well into Sunday afternoon. Then Simon had to track and fix some sync problems -- when you're working with sound and picture in different places, if one thing gets changed ever so slightly, the whole thing goes out of sync.

Then Simon had to make a few fixes that I pleaded for -- i.e., a piece of music that occurs at a really critical juncture of the film was left out, and I just couldn't send the film out with no music over the climax. So Simon agreed to do some temp mixing on top of the temp mixing.

Then he left the film to export from his editing system in order to burn to a DVD on Monday morning, with plans to Fed Ex it to me.

But technology had other plans. The system had crashed for some unknown reason overnight, and Simon spent the next nine hours on Monday morning and into the afternoon re-exporting and trying to figure out what was causing the problem.

Late in the day, he found the issue: an animated clip toward the end of the film had become corrupted and caused the export to fail every time.

So - problem solved, and Simon could now complete the export and DVD-burning process.

Or, at least, that's the hope. I haven't heard anything positive or negative since last night, so I'm posting this in an attempt to reassure myself that I'll have the screener DVD in my hot little hands only one day later than expected.

And I'll try very very hard to forget this part of the process when I start planning my next film...

Update: Simon has confirmed - the DVD is on its way today!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Soooooo close...

I haven't been able to spend much time blogging lately. Life has gotten busy since I took over as Director of the Film & Digital Media program, not to mention I also go up for tenure this semester, and, hmmm... I think I was also working on a little film project, wasn't I?

Oh yes, that behemoth that is known as Endings... As the title of this post implies, we are quite close to completion on the film. So close that I'm actually starting to do things like make a list of festivals in deadline order...

Here's where things stand, in case people are interested:

  • The music is almost done. The composer might disagree with me on the phrasing here, of course, but my perception is that we lack only a few pieces of music, and there are a few others that we still have to tweak.
  • The animation is almost done. There are three shots left to animate. When you can count the remaining items on one hand, that's a good thing. Of course, two of those three are among the more important animated shots in the entire film, but I don't want to quibble about details.
  • The sound designer and mixer are already hard at work trying to get a "festival mix" done (that is, it won't be the complete and final sound mix, but it will be done enough for festival submission).

And that is it. Those are the last remaining steps.

Well, we do have to get all those things merged together. Animator has to send fully rendered high resolution clips to editor (they are both in L.A.) to put on the film timeline, replacing the temporary non-animated shots. Composer has to upload mastered tracks to me, which I then upload to sound designer and mixer with specific location and mix instructions.

They have to get the final mix (or the temp mix, in this case) to the editor to put on the timeline, replacing the original sound (which has not been 'cleaned up' and which has very few sound effects added).

Editor then has to take all of that and export a high quality video file and slap it on a DVD. (I say that as though it happens quickly; it does not. Exporting out 97 minute DVD-quality video file is a long process, as is burning a DVD made with that file).

Then editor will Fed Ex the DVD to me for approval. I will approve it (one hopes).

I will then make dubs of the DVD before sending it out to festivals.

Specifically to Sundance, whose deadline is fast approaching.

Can you tell I'm having a stressful week. Maybe I shouldn't have written all this out. It's stressing me out more.