Before we left for our shoot in Minnesota we were fortunate enough to line up a top-notch editor. Stewart Reeves, one of the top commercial editors in the industry (at Rock, Paper, Scissors), had started talking with me about the film long before we shot it. Honestly, his enthusiasm is one of the things that motivated me to push through all the hurdles and get this thing in the can.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but working with insanely talented artists is one of my favorite things about this profession. And the post process was no different. What was torturous, but nice was the fact that we had to wait a little bit before we could really start the editing on the film – being one of the best editors means being in demand. But it turned out to be a great thing – it allowed me to sort of forget all the painful parts of the process and look at the film with some distance.
After we got back to Los Angeles I used the downtime to focus on the next project(s). Once Stewart got started on the film he had a rough assembly pretty quickly. After viewing it, I had the same reaction that every filmmaker has after seeing his or her first assembly: I blew it. Truly, I felt like it was a complete waste of time – not because of Stewart, but because I saw it for all of its flaws. Fortunately, Stewart saw loads of possibilities and we just started whittling away at it.
It took a lot of time to find the sound of the film as well. I had some ideas about the soundtrack, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So I started digging for music with Chad. We went through every type of music imaginable. Eventually, we found the soundtrack for Compliance – one of my favorite films from the last couple years. Its soundtrack, composed by Heather McIntosh, was distinct and perfectly suited for the uncomfortable feeling that film gave audiences. Listening to it again against our dailies I recognized a similar sort of vibe – there was this uncomfortable sense of being trapped.
Luckily, one of my earliest collaborators, Rich Bologna, worked with Heather on Compliance. After connecting at a local coffee shop she committed to the project.
Because of our many constraints we had to be very conservative with our coverage – so there weren’t a ton of alternate choices for us. It was really a matter of massaging what was in the can. Fortunately, Stewart is a clever editor and very in-tune with performance, emotion, and the footage he has available to him. So he was able to create moments that we didn’t have in the can. Using split-screens, he would combine one take from one shot and another take from an altogether different shot with a similar angle. It was pretty fascinating and allowed me to look at our footage in a new light.
Using the AVID in my own studio, Chad and I would FaceTime and look at cuts together. It wasn’t the perfect set-up, but it worked. Chad would have a digital copy of the cut in Minnesota and then I would aim my FaceTime lens at my AVID screen and we’d watch cuts together, commenting on moments as we watched. It worked pretty well.
There were loads of notes passed back and forth between Chad and myself. I would distill those down and pass them along to Stewart. Just as it was with Chad on set, he keeps me honest. I find the challenges to my point of view help me get some distance and take another look at my gut reaction. And then having Stewart there to challenge both of us was an immense asset.
In early January, Chad came to Los Angeles and spent some time in the edit bay with Stewart and myself. It was a critical time as everything was getting finessed and we were close to a locked picture. After a little more back and forth we had a locked picture by the end of January. It was a little bittersweet.
While Chad was in town we dug even deeper into the series. We spent a lot of time mapping out the episodes and having discussions about the overall tone of it all. Getting Chad out of Minnesota in the dead of winter was an immense benefit to the entire process – his mind was able to thaw out.
Because of the split screen effects throughout there was a LOT of finishing to do on the film in terms of FX. What’s annoying is that – done right – this isn’t the type of film people will look at and say, “great effects”. They’re the type that needs to be invisible – which are the often the most difficult. Over the next couple months A52 – an amazing effects company in Santa Monica – worked away on the split screens while color grading got started with Paul Yacono (also of A52).
Music & Sound Design
Once the picture was locked we got to work on the music and sound design. Basically, I sent both Heather and Rich extensive notes about both the sound and music and how I imagined them working together to compliment each other. For the most part, I left it open to them and their interpretation – I was excited to hear their ideas.
There was a lot of work to do on the sound – fortunately, Rich is a master of his craft and was really able to work with the location sound to create something solid with the dialogue. Heather started working on our film after following other films she worked on to Sundance and SXSW. I went out to her studio – tucked away amongst a hillside amongst the trees. Her rough initial pass on the music was fairly close to where we landed in the end. Hearing it against picture for the first time gave me some hope that the picture might just work for audiences.
Rich spent a while gathering elements. There were so many pieces that had to be brought to life with the sound – the truck, the environment, and every interior location. Because we spend so much time in the truck and much of this material is shot in a similar way, the sound had to do a fair amount of heavy lifting. What I was aiming for was something immersive – something that would suck in a viewer so they’d miss all the visual flaws.
After the music was locked in I traveled to Brooklyn to work with Rich at his favorite mix studio. Over the course of a couple days we spent long days working away, perfecting all the work Rich had done leading up to this point.
Watching the film on a big screen for the first time at the studio was a treat. After Rich and I finished up that was that – the film was done…
I won’t deny – it felt a little strange letting it go as it meant the end of a long journey. But, really, this is just the beginning of something much bigger…