Having spent an entire year in principle photography, I thought the film was in the bag. But of course having footage doesn’t entirely mean you actually have a film. Everything had been passed over to the editor and I was ready for the magic to happen. Now in reality, this is the moment where I give my appreciation to every single person who has ever worked in post, as there is no such thing as waiting for the “magic” to happen. The magic is a handful of very talented people who take whatever has been dumped on them, and and they turn it into a final entity. What was originally supposed to take three to six months ended up taking two years to complete. I definitely underestimated how long post-production would take.
There are a number of reasons why post-production took two years to complete. For a while I really wanted to play the blame game, but in the end I’m more than willing to chalk it up to inexperience as a feature film director, and adjusting to a learning curve. One of the things I had become accustom to while shooting was the lack of deadline. We as a crew always spoke about Henry’s Cabin being done when it was good and ready. I did my best not to pressure anyone into a shooting schedule (and my crew were saints to put up with me), as well as not to rush anything or take shortcuts just cause we were tired. I was used to having all of the time in the world. But once in post-production, that mentality ended up hurting the progress of the film. No matter how long I told myself there was all of the time in the world to have the edit locked, have the audio mixed, and the colour corrected, there really wasn’t. Time got away from us. Normally on a production you would have people who would be paid to keep things on track, but that was one of the main problems – no one was getting paid for the gig.
Because of this reason, I always felt like a bother when asking the editor every month or so what the progress was on the edit. The editor happened to be a friend as well, so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t hounding him over a side project he so graciously offered to do. I even jumped in and did the work of an assistant editor by logging and syncing all of the footage (bless every assistant editor out there), hoping to lend a helping hand. But in the end it was apparent that post-production would be a long journey. A year had gone by before the editor called me up out of the blue and leveled with me, “Listen, I haven’t touched the edit, you might want to get someone else.” I wanted to hate him so much, someone who had always been there to help me out in film school and who I also considered to be a really good friend. He had kept all of the footage for a year and didn’t touch a single thing only to have said, “Find someone else.” But I couldn’t. His apology was sincere, and I also knew that I had asked for something rather ridiculous. For him to edit an entire feature film on his own time, for nothing but demo-reel material. I’ve worked my fair share of set jobs under similar circumstances to know that a copy of the DVD and food on set is not compensation in any form. I had always considered Henry’s Cabin a little different. Everyone working on the film were friends, people we had all worked closely with, and for the most part (although not always) we all wanted to be there. Us all wanting to do this film didn’t change the one issue though. At this point I hated myself and knew that if anyone deserved to not be paid for the work and sit through the edit, it was me.
It’s at this point, one year into the non-existent post-production process, that I started to groan. I realized that among being the producer, writer, director, grip, caterer, etc., I had also just taken on the title of editor. The credits were on par with a high school student’s stoner film – that last joke shoved in of all three group members listing themselves 20 times in the credits. Any confidence built up from shooting the film was slowly slipping away. But it was a task that needed to be done, and I wasn’t willing to approach and put the burden on anyone else that I knew or even didn’t know. Fast forward three weeks from that point and anyone who spoke to me would have confirmed that I was a tired and very irritable person. Most of all, I was unsure of the rough cut I had before me. Anyone who has worked with something long enough would probably agree with me that you become desensitized to what you’re working on. You lose the fresh perspective you once had, especially after having worked on something for two years. I needed that fresh pair of eyes I no longer had. With a rough cut in hand, I show my lead and really good friend, George Franklin. He was my gauge on whether something worked within the edit or not. He was hard on himself just as I had been about what worked in a scene and what didn’t. On set he would ask for another take if he wasn’t confident in his delivery, just as I would if I wasn’t feeling the shot. He was as invested into the film as I was, and had been there every step of the way. Showing George the rough cut was just the thing I needed, as I didn’t feel accomplished until I saw a smile on his face after watching. The film was picking up steam.
And of course momentum doesn’t last forever. I feel like that’s what this chronicling of a feature film has turned into. I talk about how I over come an obstacle, and then how I learn a lesson from it. Final lesson: No matter what you do, shit happens. And this is how pretty much the rest of the story goes. Once I got to tweaking the rough cut and working towards a locked edit, I let the post-audio crew know that it was nearly go time (of one person, again I’m asking for something unreasonable). I had also begun talking to someone who had approached me about composing; someone who was also looking for their start and seemed just as eager as I was to create. And as usual, just as things seem to be on a roll, shit happens. After working on several parts of the film, the composer literally disappeared off of the face of the earth only to call up six months later to say, “We should probably get together and finish this film.” It seems rather odd that I would be specific about the circumstance, but it’s at this point that several similar and crazy occurrences had taken place. It felt as if several people who were helping me had disappeared, and stopped talking to me about the project. For the first time actually working on the film, I felt trapped. I had done as much as I could, and thrown as much of myself into the film as I possibly could have to make things happen and I had hit a snag. I was left with a locked edit, I was trying to fill the missing pieces of the soundtrack in myself (once again, roll out them credits), and I was facing the daunting fact that I wouldn’t even dare to touch the audio. Audio had always been my weak point, but it was mostly due to the fact that I respected what had to be done too much to try and attempt the task myself. Like I said previously, I wanted to play the blame game and hate others, but I couldn’t. Once again, I had asked for above and beyond and it was definitely not fair of me. The work that had been done up until that moment was done on the side, people had lives and other work to do, as well as their own personal projects to tackle. Some of the crew members I had even worked a day job while moonlighting in film. So at this moment, the film is still not 100% complete.
It hurts coming really close to having finished a feature film and yet hitting a roadblock that only experience and time can fix – expertise that I do not have. However this is not a moment of defeat. Aside from the fact that the film will be finished and is currently being worked on, I had learned a lot about filmmaking by trying to make an opportunity for myself. When I originally graduated, I was lost without a plan and couldn’t see how I could pursue the path of being a director. Since then, I’ve worked on a multitude of projects while taking this journey, and have actually landed a majority of those gigs through the sole fact that I had material to show for myself as a director outside of school. One could say that maybe taking on a short film would have been easier, but I’ve never been really one for thinking small. Of course you may crash and burn on the odd occasion, but the end game is worth it. Making the decision to create a feature film gave me the experience and confidence I needed to even create short films on the side, something you actually rarely get to do in film school (create things on your own terms). In the end I found what I was looking for out of this: the next step outside of film school. My first feature film (pending).