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.

12 comments:

Kelley said...

If you even touch, let alone sacrifice, the nursey scene - someone's gonna be losing body parts.

Just saying.

Love,
Diane

Joey said...

I'm just saying if there isn't at least one little brown person running around somewhere in the film I'm calling the NAACP on your asses...and possibly NAMBLA...but that's really for my own agenda.

MelisaBS said...

I'm already putting my "yes" vote in for a directors cut. I already know I'll be obsessed with it and want to see as much as possible.

Kelley said...

What Melisa said, definitely.

Brandon said...

I know no matter how long it is I will always care about the marks making Tara's box look fat. They never will but, I will still worry over it. I would love to see the whole movie with every scene shot just to get the whole picture.

Jim said...

The editor is a genius. Trust in him.

kchertu said...

Melisa, obsess over something? NEVER!

I'll take a heaping serving of gravy... uh I mean Director's Cut.. hell yeah!

MBS said...

Joey, if there is a little brown person, it's only cause he's getting killed. That's just how horror movies work, right?

Josh, I'm very luke warm about my emotions generally, right? ;)

Brandon said...

What if you did it in two parts like "Kill Bill". Then you wouldn't have to cut anything and that would give ample screen time to kill little brown people to make Joey happy.

Jim said...

"Little brown people"? I don't remember there being a cab driver or petty criminal in this film...

Joey said...

Dammit! If Jim didn't see a brown person running around in the film, and he's the editor, then that means Lonnie lied to me when I asked him if the red blinky light had to be on. Either that or it could have been due to my awesome ninja skills.

Brandon said...

Maybe the light was on. What exactly were you doing in front of the camera?