Ladies and gentlemen, we have a locked edit!
Back in January, I wrote a blog discussing how we were transitioning from the production phase into post-production on my Axanar Universe fan film INTERLUDE. Over the past three months, JOSHUA IRWIN, VICTORIA FOX, and I have been working hard on the editing. As of this past weekend, we officially have picture lock.
“What’s the heck is a picture lock??” you ask.
Editing is kinda fun. You move a shot here, you trim a shot there, maybe you add an extra reaction shot in another spot. As you assemble the “puzzle pieces,” you can experiment and shift things around, tweaking and refining to your heart’s content. But there comes a point when you have to stop and hand the edit off to your composer.
Music is kinda unforgiving. If a scene lasts for 57 seconds, then you need 57 seconds of music underneath it. So that’s what your composer gives you. If the director or editor later decides to insert a 5-second clip in the middle of the scene or trim out 12 seconds, then the music will no longer match the scene length, and the composer will have to re-do all of the music for that scene from scratch. And eventually, if this happens too much, he or she will likely quit, often accompanied by a long series of expletives.
So achieving picture lock is a “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. Once you hand the edit off to your composer, nothing changes that affects the timing. Nothing. Period.
Picture lock doesn’t mean the edit is all done except for the music, however. In fact, there is still a LOT left to do! For Interlude, LEWIS ANDERSON still needs to deliver two more VFX shots. “Wait,” you say, “doesn’t adding in VFX shots affect the timing and length of the film?” Not in this case. For one of the shots, Lewis has already provided us a low-resolution previsualization animatic to insert as a placeholder. His final high-resolution VFX shot will be the exact same length. In the other shot, he’s creating the digital background of Admiral Slater’s office at Starfleet Academy. We shot Slater (STEVEN JEPSON) against a green screen, and those video sequences are completed. So adding in the background doesn’t change the scene length.
Joshua is also still working on finishing touches here and there like shakes and flashes and sparks. But none of those things will affect the timing. We’re also adding in the background “bridge chatter” sounds, which doesn’t change timing either.
On Saturday, our composer KEVIN CROXTON began composing our score. Once he’s done, the edit goes to MARK EDWARD LEWIS for post-production sound-mixing. He’ll add sound effects, adjust the levels of everyone’s voices, clean up stray sounds from the set, and balance the music with the dialogue and other sounds so nothing is drowning out anything else. At this point, we’re still a month or two away from being finished.
Today I’d like to take you through what’s been going on for the last three months during editing to provide some insight into the process for those who are interested. It’s been a fun, frenetic, fascinating, fatiguing, frantic, sometimes frustrating, and ultimately frickin’ fabulous fan filmmaking experience! And for that, I must pause a moment to thank two very special people: Victoria and Josh…
Part of the reason I set out to make Interlude was to journal the experience here on Fan Film Factor, reporting back to all of you what I’d learned, what insights I gained, what went right and what went wrong…to help and inspire those of you wanting to make your own fan films in the future.
Perhaps I’ll produce another fan film down the line, but perhaps not. So if this was going to be it, I wanted to be in the trenches through the entire process, from script-writing through crowd-funding through pre-production, production, and post-production. I wanted to LEARN!
Although every film project is unique, typically the director works with the editor, then they present a director’s cut to the producer (in this case, me). I would then give my notes, they’d go back to the edit bay, make adjustments, resubmit, and if approved, there would now be a producer’s cut that is finalized into the picture lock.
But I didn’t want to be so far removed from the editing process. Victoria and Josh get to do this sort of thing all the time; filmmaking is their profession. But for me, this could very well be the only time in my entire life I have this experience. I wanted to be part of the editing process, too.
I would like to publicly thank both Victoria and Josh for letting me play such an active role in the editing process. And I also want to thank Josh in particular for spending lord knows how many hours (likely in the hundreds!) editing and re-editing and re-re-editing Interlude. He’s a busy guy, with a demanding job, a wife, kids, martial arts, and the list goes on. Victoria is also super busy with a variety of jobs in the filmmaking industry as well as teaching. And they both have a Star Trek fan series of their own (the Avalon Universe), but they’ve both given so much of themselves to Interlude. And I know I don’t tell them nearly enough how much that means to me.
And now, on to editing…
In mid-February, Josh made a first pass at selecting takes (the actors perform their lines multiple times, and these are called “takes”) and assembling them together. There was no sound other than the actors’ voices and some random thuds and clanking (which gets removed by the sound-mixer). The visual FX were mostly previz, and Josh and Victoria made sure to prepare me to expect a somewhat “dull” viewing experience. In an initial rough cut, takes are often left to run a little long, to be trimmed down later to make for faster cuts and a more visually dynamic presentation. The idea of a rough cut is to simply see how the pieces fit together. Josh also adjusted the lighting and color levels, as the original footage tends to look a little washed out…
This was my (and Victoria’s) first opportunity to provide feedback. In my case, I went through all two hours of raw footage and evaluated all of Josh’s “selects” (which versions of the performances, or takes, he decided to use). I asked for a few different selects than Josh had chosen—okay, more than just “a few”—because as the writer, I “heard” the lines in a specific way. And certain takes just fit in better with how I felt a particular line should sound. Josh wasn’t wrong in his selects, by the way. Editing and take selection is a VERY subjective process. In some cases, Josh actually agreed with me. Sometimes he didn’t. Victoria had some of her own selects. On a number of occasions, the two of them talked me into using one of their selects instead of mine.
As I said, I thank them for allowing me to be such an active part of the editing process, as I’m sure I was a pain-in-the-ass more than a few times. However, I always tried to keep an open mind. Yes, sometimes I’d dig in my heels, but just as often, I’d listen, see the shot the way Victoria and/or Josh wanted, and be fine with their approach—whether it was a long visual effects sequence or something as short as an eye blink. (There’s a long story there about the eye blink, folks. Maybe I’ll tell you in the comments if somebody asks.)
It was also at this point during the early edits that Victoria and I both suggested adding in what I like to call “bridge chatter” (in her case, she wanted “sickbay chatter”), which are background voices reporting into the bridge or yelling orders offscreen in sickbay.
Over the course of the next two months, in his precious spare time, Josh assembled a few more versions of the edit based on our discussions and notes that Victoria and I would give him. Here’s a short sample of part of one of my list of e-mail notes…
2:18 - The reason we lose Jakande from the view screen is because of the torpedo hit that Ares just took. Can we go back to what you had originally where we glimpse Jakande for an instant and then he fritzes out to be replaced with the Artemis? Garth says "Jakande!" just after Jakande disappears and is replaced by the Artemis. 2:30 - cut to the insert of the console display just as Franklin is saying "...in place." Start the insert at the point where the display already shows "Emergency Bulkheads in Place." Then if we have it, hold on the console until Franklin says "circuits," cutting to him just as he says "temporarily." 3:05 - Give us about two to three additional seconds of Artemis before cutting to Jakande. 3:27 - Cut away from the reaction shot of Ray and Lauren just a few frames sooner. It feels like Ray over spins in his chair. 5:11 - I find the slight blur of Jakande is distracting in that shot--even though it's so powerful--and I know the blur can't be fixed in post. What if we placed the word "Engineering..." under the previous VFX explosion and cut to Jakande a frame after he says it? Okay, that's it for this round, but we really are getting close. Great job so far. - Jonathan
I realize I’m not an experienced filmmaker, and I often don’t know the proper terminology. But as you can see, I tried very hard to compensate for that by explaining things as precisely as I could. And of course, I was always just a phone call or instant message away if Josh needed to clarify something.
Now let’s talk a little about how the pieces of the puzzle get assembled…
Although there is a script—and so we know which lines come where—it’s not as simple as saying, “Okay, Garth says this, so put that take here. Jakande then says this, so put that take next. Then the Ares is hit by a torpedo, so insert VFX shot #6 after that.”
For one thing, most of the actors’ lines were shot from at least two different angles, sometimes more. There’s also footage of reactions from other officers on the bridge, console close-ups, wider shots, etc. Simply having Garth talk, cutting to Jakande answering, then Garth, then Jakande would get repetitive like a ticking clock pendulum. So perhaps we cut a little early to Jakande listening while Garth is talking…or vice-versa. Perhaps we insert a console display close-up shot to break up a long piece of dialog where the science officer is giving a damage report. Fortunately Josh and Victoria came well-prepared to our November shoot and got B-roll footage of displays, wide angles, and close-up reaction shots from the actors and extras, knowing that we would very likely need such things when we got to the edit.
One unique challenge I wasn’t expecting came with a slightly longer series of lines from Jakande. His best single take, unfortunately, was a wide shot where he sits down in the command chair, but no one had noticed at the time that one of the black cushions had become un-velcro’d and fallen forward. It was a perfect take otherwise, but the fallen cushion was pretty noticeable. We couldn’t use the take. We had half a decent take from the same angle with the cushion in place, but the second half was unusable. However, Josh had covered the lines from a different angle, as well. So we grabbed the first two sentences from the wide angle, the next sentence from a closer up, and the final sentence from a different take from the same close-up.
Of course, when you’re doing tricks like I just described, you have to be careful. Cutting together two takes from the same angle can mean a sudden “jump” unless there’s something in between like a reaction shot from another actor or a console close-up. Josh actually came up with a VERY clever way of cutting together those last two sentences from different takes shot from the same angle, and I think that entire sequence looks spectacular…even though we couldn’t use our “perfect” wide-angle take for a single, continuous shot.
Unfortunately, not every challenge had such a happy ending. A last minute script change from the November shoot resulted, accidentally, in one of Garth’s lines not being filmed. And it was an important line. Without it, Jakande says something, and now there’s no response from Garth—so we end up cutting from Jakande to Jakande. And that certainly wasn’t going to work.
With Josh and Victoria traveling back to Ares Studios in March to film the “older” Garth, I asked them to grab a voice-over of Alec reading the missing line. In a perfect world, we would have just put the Four Years War era tunic back on Alec and filmed him in the center seat delivering the missing line. Unfortunately, that line is delivered by “younger” Garth, and Alec’s hair wasn’t dyed during the March shoot, and it was cut a little shorter. The footage wouldn’t match.
But with a voice-over, maybe there were some ways we could insert other shots like consoles and reactions from other officers to cover Garth’s voice-over. Unfortunately, try as we might (and lord knows we tried!), hearing Garth speak without seeing him, even for just 12 seconds, just didn’t work. Wide shot, console shot, reaction shot—they were all in there to try to break up the voice-over visually. But it looked awkward and forced, like we were trying to cover up a mistake (which we were).
Luckily, Josh and Victoria know their craft, and they rescued the sequence with a clever edit that removed a couple of other lines, and it actually flowed quite nicely. As the writer, I mourned the loss of what I felt was important dialog (oh, how I mourned!), but the information from what we cut is also conveyed in the last part of the film, and losing it isn’t fatal. And to be honest, Josh and Victoria’s alternative edit does feel very solid and tight. They actually knew all along that my voice-over idea wasn’t going to work. But I had to see it not work for myself before I could let go of my writer’s need for purity and perfection. (Don’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good!) I’ve since been told I’m not the first writer to have such pangs of anguish over lost lines, and I’m sure I won’t be the last.
I’ve watched the 10-minute picture lock over a dozen times now, and it just looks so darn AWESOME…even without sound effects and music. It’s been a year and a half since I first suggested to Josh that he film my script on the Ares Studios bridge set. It’s been a long road, getting from there to here, and my fan film dream is exceeding all of my wildest expectations. This is, of course, thanks to SO many people—dozens and dozens, in fact—but none have worked so tirelessly and with such dedication as Josh and Victoria.
I thank them both for making my fan film not just for me but with me. This entire project has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience on my end, a dream come true. And the dream ain’t over yet…stay tuned for more updates!