Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Horrorfind Weekend 9 - Save the Date

Merry X-Mas! Or Solstice, or Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, or maybe you just sacrifice a goat to Chuthlu this time of year. Happy whatever it is you're celebrating.

Since I'm in my pajamas and have no intention of getting out of them until tomorrow morning, I'm just going to make a quick appearance announcement then go back to my cats and wine.

Cast and crew of Women's Studies will be appearing at Horrorfind Weekend 9 in Adelphi, Maryland (outside Baltimore) on March 28 - 30, 2008. It looks to be an amazing weekend with an awesome guest list. There will be events/panels commemorating both the 40th Anniversary of Night of the Living Dead (Our own "Senator Hamlin," Judith O'Dea, will be in attendence.) and the 30th Anniversary of Dawn of the Dead.

More information can be found at www.horrorfindweekend.com.

Exactly how Women's Studies will be represented at the con is unknown as we're still working out the details with organizers. However, at this point we do know we'll be premiering the final trailer for WS at the convention. (It'll be posted online Monday, March 31.)

As more information becomes available, I'll release it here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brown Spots

(Can you hear that in the wind? It's the echo of a sad voice crying, "The blog is late! The blog is late!")

We're in the middle of a "break" from Women's Studies until after X-Mas. Break is a relative term as Jim McGivney and I are both down in the trenches doing file maintenance and organization in preparation for the big "footage replacement" phase of editing.

I've lost count as to how many times I've watched the various "rough cuts:" at this point around a dozen. (We're on the second iteration, which reminds me that I need to come up with a good naming system for all the different cuts we'll have.) Sometimes I take notes, but mostly I just watch, trying to forget I know every single nuance of the film. The trick is to get sucked in and carried away. That way the things which are a bit wonky or off jump out at me. I'm still focused on the big picture rather than minute details. (I've heard I'll find both God and the Devil hidden in those.)

Is it good? Well, I think it rocks but I made it so you can't really trust me. See, being the director of a movie is like being a parent. The movie is like my kid and because it's mine, I think it's smart, talented, and beautiful. The truth is that a lot of kids aren't any of those things. Most of them are self-centered, clumsy, and smell like urine. I have to look at the film not as a parent who loves it, but just as any old person on the street. I have to be able to see it for the awkward, piss-smelling brat it is so I can knock some sense into it, show it some manners, and teach it not to piss itself. (Can you see why Cindy and I should never have children?)

And I can. Self-criticism is one thing I've always prided myself on. If something isn't working, I'll let it go. That's really where I'm at in the process now. Taking all the stuff that doesn't matter, isn't necessary, or just any good and getting it out of there. I wrote before about looking at whole scenes to cut, but that's kind of like throwing out an apple because of one brown spot. You just cut the brown spot out is all. The rest of the apple is a tasty treat. Even so, I'm sure there will be a few apples that just can't be saved.

In Women's Studies, most of those "brown spots" are pieces of dialogue that are either unnecessary, redundant, or just plain don't work. It's five seconds here and ten seconds there. It's looking at a scene that's three minutes long and saying, "This really could be cut in half." It's catching the places where the movie seems to gear down just a little too much. Women's Studies is something of a throwback to classic, slower paced horror movies. (I showed a close friend the rough cut and he said that if it was 1970s and I lived in Italy I'd make millions.) That said, there's a fine line between "slow build" and "slow and boring."

I call the process "trimming the fat." What I want is the leanest, meanest movie I can get. Once I have that, then Jim and I can go in and dress it up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


For the past couple of months, the blog has been filled with offhand comments like “Jim this,” and “The editor that.” However, I realized recently that I haven’t yet taken the time to properly introduce you to our erstwhile cutter in residence, Jim McGivney, or as he’s known in certain circles, “The Irish Whiskey.” (Okay, I just made that up, but it would be a cool codename.)

Though he had been editing “rush cuts” of the film since the summer, Jim came into the post-production process relatively fresh. That’s to say that he had months to work at a leisurely pace without any deadlines or supervision and now, having lost that luxury, has me up his ass fortnightly.

In all seriousness, Jim was something of a lifeline during those hazy weeks towards the end when I started to lose myself in the process. He was close enough to the project to understand and sympathize, but distant enough to offer perspective. Jim talked me off a couple metaphoric ledges, helped remind me why I’m making Women’s Studies, and just gave me an outlet to bitch.

Not only that, but he gets my love of once great but now mediocre football teams (He’s a fan of both a Washington Redskins and Notre Dame. Tragic, I know.) as well as my appreciation of cheap beer and cheaper bar food.

If I have to spend the next few months figuring this movie out, I couldn’t have better company.

# # #

Lonnie Martin:
All right, man. Give me Jim McGivney: The E! Hollywood Story.

Jim McGivney:
“My story? Okay. It was never easy for me. I was born a poor black child. I remember the days, sittin' on the porch with my family, singin' and dancin' in Mississippi...”

Let's see...I was born August 12, 1977 in Indianapolis, IN, after 24 hours of labor and the deft use of a pair of forecepts. The oldest of three, I've been more into television and music than most people for as long as I remember, though I didn't start to create until high school. I still remember the conversation that set me on my way to becoming a filmmaker: my Dad had read about a new film made by some first-time director that was getting rave reviews and that I could do as good a job, if not better, than that guy (the film was Reservoir Dogs, "that guy," Quentin Tarantino). Then I saw a great little movie called Clerks, made for next to nothing by a guy with even less experience than that Tarantino fella. Making movies suddenly seemed accessible and from then on I took a more active interest in my high school TV class and the movies I watched daily at my job as a video store clerk. After graduating from James Madison University, I got a job as a corporate video producer and first laid my hands on an Avid non-linear editing system. I also directed my first film; a short comedy called, cyber sex?, which marked the first collaboration between myself and a younger but equally hirsute Lonnie Martin. I've since worked with him on First Session and the award-winning 48 Hour Film Project entry, Under the Bed, and have spent every day praying that our wives don't find out about our thinly-veiled homosexual affair (though I suspect they know but just don't care).

Hirsute? You're not exactly folicly challenged these days yourself. What's that all about?

Oh, this old thing? *Strokes chin* Well, after visiting the set in October I realized that I cannot call myself a Women's Studies crew member if didn't have wild hair sprouting from every pore north of my neckline. No, I'm actually growing this for a charity called Beards BeCAUSE, which benefits the Battered Women's Shelter of Charlotte. We grow our beards unhindered for two months, looking like hobos for our holiday photos and, in return, people pledge money which goes to benefit the Shelter. The idea is to take something commonly thought of as "manly" and associate it with helping those women who've been victims of a cowardly act. We're only halfway through the "growing season" but the response has been amazing.

Wow. So you're like the only crew member of Women's Studies who's actually walking the women's rights walk, not just talking the talk.

Only from a facial-hair-growth standpoint - those other furry fellas are strictly recreational - besides, my beloved director and producer did throw a donation my way.

So, they say that and editor and a director develop a "special, one of a kind bond" during Post. Are you feeling it yet?

If by that you mean, "Do you hate the sight, smell or thought of Lonnie Martin?" then, "No. Not yet."

No, I know the bond you're referring to, but I don't think we're there yet. The start and stop nature of our WS work together so far hasn't really allowed for it, nor has it been necessary. That'll start to develop after a couple rounds of rough cuts and notes are exchanged. Besides, this is our third project as director/editor so I'm sure it'll be quick to return - the relationship equivalent of the "shampoo effect" after a good bender, I'd say.

It's fitting that you use a hangover metaphor to describe our relationship. Okay then. Influences, both cinematic and non.

God I hate these...they're too hard for me to narrow down, but it's your dime so...

Cinematic (aside from the aforementioned Miramax alum): Michael Mann, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Simon Pegg, John Carpenter. Non-cinematic: my wife, my family, Bill Hicks, Maynard James Keenan/TOOL, music of all varieties, a Catholic-upbringing, a lonely, tormented adolescence, comic books, Eliza Dushku.

Jim, we're one cut in. How's it feel?

Oddly freeing. What's been made apparent by this first cut is that there is in fact a movie here; that, at the most basic level, we now know that those chunks of audio and video that you, the cast and the crew have spent the last few months collecting will tell the story we want to tell when strung together. It's still a long way from being watchable, but it is definitely in there.

Also, it's freeing for me because all the pieces of the puzzle are now at our disposal, whereas before there was always something missing. Be it a shot, a line of dialog or an entire scene, some part of Women's Studies simply did not exist and even if I didn't need it, it was unsettling. Now I literally have 10 hard drives full of puzzle pieces to choose from and, though it might take some digging, I know I'm going to be able to find the size and shape piece that I need at any given moment and that's a credit to the talent and hard work of everyone involved in production.

You seem to be enjoying yourself.

So far I am... though we should do a follow up in February, when I hate the sight, smell or thought of you.

You mean when I ask you to burn all the footage, so we can become paper pushers?

I'm already prepping the Strayer application, my man.

All this joking around and people are going to think we don't take this seriously. Filmmaking however (editing in particular) is supposed to be fun. How do you find the right balance?

Jokes are the only thing that drown out the anguished cries of my soul, Lonnie.

Actually, that whole idea that "filmmaking is fun" is a misnomer; a god-damned filthy lie, if you will. It's a passion, true, and one that I enjoy, but it's not "fun." Does agonizing over whether or not your artistic vision will drive you to greatness or financial ruin sound like fun? Sitting alone in a dark room listening to the same three lines of dialogue loop for ten hours sound like a real hoot? Is spending thirty-six sleepless hours with a cast of beautiful, blood-soaked actresses your idea of a good weekend? Well then, let...wait, where was I going with this?

See? It is fun! I get what you're saying though. It's worthwhile, but it isn't exactly easy.

Exactly. It certainly can be fun, but more often it is exhausting, frustrating WORK. What makes it worth enduring is the end result, watching that final product with friends, family, colleagues and complete strangers; seeing their reactions, hearing that first scream/laugh/gasp (the intentional ones), feeling the validation of time and effort spent. For all it's glitz and glamour, film makers do what they do for the same reason anyone produces anything: passion.

That and those beautiful, blood-soaked actresses.

Women's Studies

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Running (Time) Man

As the director of Women's Studies, my dilemma during post-production is this: I have to be both the film's worst critic and biggest fan. Trust me. I'm going to be as harsh on the film, if not more so, than any audience member who sees it. At the same time, I'm going to love it more than anyone else ever could.

The key to making Women's Studies a good film is finding the very fine line between unwarranted discrimination and blind devotion. I have to see all the faults of the film in order for them to be fixed. (If indeed they can be fixed.) Yet I can't be so focused on what's wrong, that I forget about what's good about it.

So how do I approach the editing process and not goof myself up? Easy. I work from the big picture down to the little details.

Right now, that entails simply making sure all the elements are there so the story being told makes sense. That doesn't necessarily mean it's being told in the quickest or most efficient way. In fact, right now Women's Studies is a really long story. The first cut clocks in at over two hours.

"What's wrong with that?" I hear you ask. "Lots of movies are over two hours. Lots of good movies. Jaws? 125 minutes. Citizen Kane? 119 minutes. Friggin' Star Wars? 121 minutes. Hell, those Lord of the Rings movies are three hours long. Each!"

Oh yeah? You want to play that game? Try this: Psycho, 105 minutes. Night of the Living Dead, 96 minutes. Carpenter's Halloween, 91 minutes. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), 80 minutes.

What? You don't like old horror films? Fine. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake, 100 minutes. The Ring, 105 minutes. Hostel, 95 minutes. Saw, 102 minutes.

You see a trend here? When it comes to horror films, right around the hundred minute mark is where these pictures tend to max out. Sure, 28 Days Later (113 minutes) and Alien (117 minutes) walk pretty close to the two hour mark and Romero's Dawn of the Dead (125 minutes) as well as The Exorcist (122 minutes) go over it, but those are exceptions made by brilliant directors that prove the rule. For us mere mortals, short and sweet really seems the better bet.

Why? Well first off, horror movies require a bit of suspension of disbelief in order to to their job. Some poor souls can't even heft up enough of it to allow themselves to watch a horror film. While the rest of us can, we can only hold it up so high for so long. If a fright flick draws out too long we start to see through the plot holes, and try to figure out how all the magic tricks are done.

Secondly, it's a horror movie! The whole point of the film is to scare and/or disturb the audience. I don't care if you're the Marquis de Sade. After about ninety minutes of watching people in nightmare situations, you're ready to come back to the real world. Not only that, but fear is an emotion we're hardwired to conquer. Too much distress for too long and the brain starts to shut it out. The audience numbs to the situation, and stops caring. They just want it to end.

Finally, as a filmmaker, isn't the whole point to leave the audience wanting more? Especially in this age of DVD extras, deleted scenes and director's cuts (and sequels) are there for the people who truly do wish the movie was over two hours long.

And hey, I'm one of those people. What I'm likely to do is pretty up a Director's cut first. Then from that I'll decide which scenes are a lean beef that must be served, and which ones are gravy that while tasty, isn't to everybody's taste. If enough folks want to see the "Extended Director's Cut," I'll happily get that version out there.

In writing (and editing), the motto is "Kill your darlings." Invariably, it'll be the scenes I like best that will end up on the cutting room floor. A sad truth in storytelling. There's only so much time to follow the lives of these characters. And while I'd like to think that Women's Studies is one of those brilliant movies in a class with Alien, Dawn of the Dead, and The Exorcist, ultimately it's not for me to decide.

That's your job.