Archive for February, 2010

Fine Tuning

Spare a thought for us as we take the weekend to do the final tweaking in the edit suite for the rough cut. In fact, we prefer to call it the first creative assembly – in terms of the edit points, there’s nothing rough about it at all. Our editor Paul Maxwell has been continually honing the film to cut to the essentials of the storyline, bringing all his skill and experience to bear. Of course there’s some creative wrestling as to exactly what constitutes the storyline, but we’re all on the same wavelength. Having watched the entire assembly a couple of times in the last week, I can only say we’re getting increasingly excited by what we’ve got. From time to time all of us slip out of critical mode, and get moved by the performances on screen.

From here we need to get the cut finalised, and confirm the music we’re using for the temp track. Thereafter it’s off to sound engineer Craig Perry to do an initial dialogue mix. When that’s all sorted, and we’re happy with where we’re at for this stage of the process, we’ll get Craig to do a ‘bash mix’, to adjust levels of dialogue, music etc. Then we have a test screening coming up including various industry people (in fact two – one in NZ and one in the UK), and will begin circulating our screener to various potential distributors/investors. Only after the money is secured will we begin the process of post-production proper. There are layers and layers of work before the film ever gets its first public outing.

In the meantime, we struggle with the details – the microseconds involved in the right place to make a cut; the tightening of scenes and dialogue; the best use of music in particular places. In two days time, we hope to have most of that sorted.


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Under the Radar

Tom Burstyn and Barbara Sumner are on their way home from Berlin, bearing the Jury prize for their section in the Berlinale. As they departed, Barbara posted this on the This Way of Life blog:

At the Berlin festival one thing became obvious – we’re a little old to be embarking on what is a new career for us both. Young people should be making low-budget documentaries. Passion and obsession should be the preserve of those with energy to spare. We’re grandparents and we like to sleep, while we really don’t do well in the two-star accommodation kindly provided by the festival.

And yet we found ourselves repeatedly in conversations about our increasingly technical world – which is clearly the preserve of the young – and the loss of storytelling. At dinner one producer wondered if in fact we were in the grip of a cultural autism. As she saw it, the more technology (and thus budget) a film requires the more it appeals to and tunes the left-brain. And that’s perhaps what I hated most about Avatar – all that film wizardry in service of itself, instead of story.

The trick of course is to harness the fantastic benefits of the digital world to the needs of the heart to make intense, emotionally connected films. That’s certainly our goal. And one of the benefits of going to Berlin with This Way of Life was the solidifying of that purpose. Vive l’obsession!

Well said! Tom’s philosophy (and forthcoming book about) Frugal Filmmaking expresses exactly that wisdom. It’s the approach we shared on The Insatiable Moon – look out for the March issue of Onfilm magazine where you can find a blow by blow description of it. It’s a trifle premature to talk about a gathering revolution in filmmaking, but at least the signs of resistance are there. While recently the NZ Film Commission has been championing low-budget productions through its Elevator programme, one wonders if a bureaucracy can do anything but hinder a natural movement. In their latest newsletter, they laud the success of This Way of Life at Berlin, despite having given minimal support to the film. And in their list of films in post-production in New Zealand, The Insatiable Moon has strangely fallen off the list.

It’s a strange kind of honour and endorsement to be flying under the radar. If the definition of independent film is that which is made outside the auspices of the studios, then the only true independent films in NZ may be those which are made without the support of NZFC. While the good people at the Commission do a great job of trying to assist film with limited resources, the very system unwittingly hampers originality and passion. All arts funding bodies create distrust and dependency, in my experience. There’s a huge amount of freedom from riding bareback.

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Uncertain Waters

Over the weekend, at a symposium on digital cinema at Victoria University in Wellington, there was a difference of opinion among panelists regarding the impact of digital distribution:

Movie makers are at odds over the impact of digital technology on the industry, with one Kiwi film-maker saying independent movies are under threat and audiences will lose out.

Gaylene Preston, the director of Perfect Strangers and War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us, says a move to digital distribution – in which films can be easily delivered via fibre-optic cables to computer hard-drives rather than on film reels to cinemas – means there will be fewer distributors to pick up and promote smaller independent movies, which typically have budgets of $2 million to $5m.

“There will be fewer little films … because they’re getting harder and harder to market worldwide.”

There has already been drastic consolidation in the United States film distribution industry, she says. When releasing her film Mr Wrong in 1985 there were 250 distributors in the US she could negotiate with. Now there are about five.

Another old dog of NZ film was largely in agreement:

Goodbye Pork Pie and Sleeping Dogs director Geoff Murphy says the digital era has made filmmaking accessible to everybody but the means of distributing and exhibiting films is still the preserve of “conservative, powerful people who have certain requirements for what they think should be shown”.

“You can go out and make films because you have the power to, but you can’t get them shown,” Murphy says.

However, DOP Alex Funke has a different take on things:

Alex Funke, the Oscar-winning cinematographer from The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, disagrees.

The more digital distribution there is, the more chance film-makers have of releasing their films to the masses, he says.

“You don’t have to go through the distributors and promoters.”

The dominance of distributors is waning, Mr Funke says.

“The days of distributors getting 75 per cent of the box office takings are doomed.”

What do you think? My view is that we can learn from what happened to music following the digital delivery which is now standard in that industry. The studios are struggling, while independent musos are celebrating the access which they have now. Of course it’s not all bread and roses, but you have to say that removing gatekeepers provides a more direct path from artist to audience – a development most indie producers celebrate. There are different ways to get a film distributed, and it’s up to us indies to chart new pathways in unfamiliar waters.

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Next We Take Berlin…

Congratulations to Tom Burstyn (DOP on The Insatiable Moon) and Barbara Sumner on their stunning success in getting the Jury Prize for their film This Way of Life at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival. Look out for this deeply moving film when it screens in cinemas in NZ from March 11. Press release as follows:

With perhaps the lowest budget film to be selected in the field of 40 films, New Zealand documentary This Way of Life won a Jury Prize at the Berlinale 2010.

Shot over four years against the isolated Ruahine mountains and Waimarama beach in Hawke’s Bay, the film follows Peter and Colleen Karena as they raise their six children and 50 horses on the thin edge between freedom and disaster.

The Berlinale judges described This Way of Life as “a window opening to a wonderful different kind of world: A happy family living freely in nature. Respect for life and joy of being are what count in this film.”

Director Tom Burstyn says it was amazing that a self-funded, home-made documentary would receive a major prize against a comprehensive field of feature films.

This Way of Life was also recently chosen for official selection at the Palm Springs International Festival, which sold out a week before showing, and has screened to sell out houses at both the New Zealand and Vancouver International Film Festivals.

This Way of Life opens in cinemas around New Zealand on March 11.

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Killing your babies. It’s a crime in life and a difficult process in art. We’re immersed in the edit process, with our very fine point man Paul Maxwell leading the process. The good thing is that he hasn’t been on set during filming and so has no context for how shots were achieved or why we might like them. All he’s interested in is the story – what are its  major turning points, and how do we move it along. Paul, whose credits include Rain, Sione’s Wedding and The Tattooist, describes himself as ombudsman for the audience. Fortunately for us he’s not only talented, but has the right instincts for the film we’re making. He understands what we’re trying to do, and is our partner in achieving that for us. The art of the editor is vital, particularly as he or she shapes the final version of what the audience will see.

It doesn’t make the process any easier. Inevitably, there are sequences which the director has a particular attachment to which hit the floor. There are differences in opinion over what a particular scene may represent, or why it deserves a place on the screen. In these situations, the most important element is the discussion taking place between the editor and director. It’s vital to have an atmosphere of trust, but also one of blunt honesty in which there can be a battle for the best film to be made. As a writer, I understand the process well. When a novel goes to the publisher, there’s always to and fro with the assigned editor, who will come up with a list of suggested changes. I tend to divide my responses into three categories: changes which are clearly improvements and easily agreed to; changes which need negotiation and discussion; and changes which I feel detract from the story or characters and I will fight to the death for. It’s this creative battle which produces the best results.

We’re a little over half way through assembling the rough cut. A few days ago Rosemary and I watched the first hour of the film which Paul had put together. Astonishingly, given that we’ve seen each and every clip over and over again, it retained the power to move us. This is a tribute to Paul’s skill, and we’re over the moon (so to speak) that he’s the guy we’ve entrusted our film to. Of course Rosemary (our director) is pushing back on behalf of her babies, holding out on some of them. It’s a struggle for the truth on both sides: a friendly and committed tussle to make the story rise to the surface and lead the audience on a journey without unnecessary stumbling blocks. Film is always the most synergetic of all the arts.

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To Hell and Back

The first of a series of articles about the making of The Insatiable Moon is now out in the industry journal Onfilm magazine. Buy it at your local bookshop to support the good guys at the mag; better still – subscribe! You can read the article here.

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Wellie with Barbara, Colleen with Tom

Here’s something worthy of celebration – Tom (our DOP) and Barbara showcase their wonderful film This Way of Life to the world at the Berlin Festival! See here for writeup in Variety. And here for news report.

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