May, 2001

Letters And Numbers

May 31st, 2001 May 31st, 2001
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Graphics
Went to see Martin at Cine Image this lunchtime and he showed me print test with closing credits for Last Train set in the font I’ve decided on–Blur, really cool and absolutely perfect. It is spot on target (to recycle an old phrase) so gave the okay to shoot it and then it goes off to neg cutters and then we have a film at the lab and can grade it and get a print. And that will require some more money and the overdraft facility has erupted like a volcano this month with work on the car and household bills and a little camping trip and so on and so forth. So…

Funding
Next I went into town and got some leaflets about the current mortgage rates because the Bank of England (treasury) base rate is currently only five percent and my mortgage is seven, so I figure there’s a better deal to be had. In fact, I’ve already had a friend tell me I can fix my rate at about five and a half percent for two years with one building society but that depends on lots of factors like property value and amount of equity and stuff.

Anyway, what I’m thinking is, get the flat (apartment) revalued and find out it’s worth shedloads more than I paid for it (at least �20k more in the past five years, I’m hoping. Maybe even thirty). Then put all debts including existing indebtedness from films into new mortgage and get enough money to pay for prints and still wind up with less outgoings every month because the interest on my loan currently is a monster while the credit card debt has had offspring.

So next step is an estate agent is calling around on Saturday afternoon to give me a valuation on the property and that means panic panic tidy up like mad and make it look as spacious as possible and get those piles of books and videotapes off the staircase and where can I put all these cassettes? Cassettes everywhere! Hundreds of them. Where did they all come from?

Needless to say I’ve spent most of the afternoon now playing old tapes that I’d forgotten about. I didn’t realise Sheryl Crow had got so stretched and, oh look, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack (“Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”) and Blondie ‘Plastic Letters’ and the Thompson Twins, which I always play when I’m decorating because of that song, ‘Bouncing like a ball’–“You’re the kind of person I could look across to say I love you…”–and Grace Jones and The Stranglers and is that Billy Bragg? And Future Sound of London ‘Lifeforms’–“Everything/Everything/Everything/Everything…”? What a lot of David Bowie…

Yes, more procrastination and drip drip drip progress and soon soon… soon…

One Week Later And…

May 30th, 2001 May 30th, 2001
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And I have been camping (yes, in a tent) and have a sun tan and look and feel healthy…

And many beers were consumed…

And I have seen the Eden Project which is strange and huge and wonderful and space agey, with large biomes of geodesic domes creating the perfect conditions for plants from around the world. A totally self-sufficient project in energy and water and resources to run yet marked out by only being accessible by car. A sign of new hope and a new dawn for this Millennium. Definitely worth a look.

And yesterday I visited Glastonbury and climbed the Tor on the mythical Isle of Avalon and pondered the legends of Merlin and Arthur and saw many shops selling mass-produced souvenirs. Souvenirs hinting at ethereal beauty yet not quite achieving it for people lost in cultural obscurity, seeking spiritual meaning in a cloying fog of modern mass production and choking in a relentless marketing strategy not of their devising.

And more beers were consumed.

And I spent three hours looking around other people’s fascinating junk at a car boot sale on the site of the cow-free cattle market in Gloucester at the end of last week.

And maybe some wine was consumed somewhere then or was it cider? I remember a campsite somewhere between a motorway and a major road where the sound of the traffic never stopped. Yet the sun burned down and I moved myself to the sweltering heat of the Florida coast and out to the Bahamas with Travis McGee through the miracle of fiction. And my back burned red…

And the sun still shone during a wander around Mevagissey with fish and chips and scavenging sea-gulls and the town’s model railway museum on a whim and why? Because it was there…

And the sea mist rolled in at the weekend in Cornwall as hundreds of old Volkswagon Beatles and VW Campervans made their Run To The Sun only to find it had disappeared. The mist was haunting and beautiful. Cider was definitely consumed then and roast chicken and salad. Playing pitch and putt and crazy golf and losing the ball several times in the water and falling about laughing at that.

And during that mist a trip was made out to Perranporth to a huge beach and the sun broke through and the surfers did their thing. And more beer.

And then moving on again, another day, and a trip to the Lost Gardens of Heligan strangely sunlit too during a three hour walk around areas with enchanting names like The Jungle and The Ravine and New Zealand and the crystal grotto on what was once a huge sprawling estate of the Tremayne family. Funny to think they grew there own pineapples and exotic fruit right there in England at the turn of the century. Then the whole place vanished under sprawling weeds and vegetation until only ten years ago.

And today stopping at Avebury, the village surrounded by a stone circle created in around 4000 BC and which covers an area of 28 acres. Eating ice cream (with a chocolate flake and strawberry sauce) and touching the stones. Cool to the touch in the noonday sun. Towering much higher than the visiting people. No message from the past except its crumbling resilience. Stoicness in the face of the present.

And other memories and experiences and so pausing…

Then returning home to phone the graphics people about the Last Train and finding it has been typeset and a test has been shot and I can go in and check it tomorrow and I will. Film one nearly finished and the bills and bank statements arrived during my absence to prove the financial reality of that.

So now I am back.

And I smile.

Films And Teeth

May 21st, 2001 May 21st, 2001
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Film update: I actually paid for the graphics for Last Train on Thursday. We’re now using a different typeface, something called Blur, which is absolutely perfect. They’re going to do a test to see if it works on the credits as well as the titles. Then it’s all systems go. The titles and credits go to the neg cutters. Then the neg goes to the lab where it’s graded (ie. made to look exceptionally pretty) and then I get a print. Job done. Almost there…

Cost of graphics, btw, was �950 including VAT. Ugh. That’s the biggest chunk of money I’ve had to part with in one go in the whole post production process. Hello large overdraft!

Teeth update: After going on earlier this year about how my wonderful cornflower blue-eyed lady dentist had moved, I finally made an appointment for a check-up with the new guy. The letter from the surgery said he was German which I thought didn’t bode well, but having heard some horror stories recently about not going for years, it was that or nothing.

So I went. And guess what? He was okay. Yes, he’s a really nice guy (or a thoroughly decent chap as some might say), friendly and chatty and had the radio playing in the surgery (which I think is always a good sign even though I know it’s a psychological thing they do). And he said my teeth are fine, in perfect condition. He scaled and polished and then I went off on my way grinning–nay, beaming!–from ear to ear. What a relief!

I was so pleased that I stopped at Waitrose, the most expensive supermarket in St Albans, on the way home and bought a month’s worth of really delicious food. The sun is out and shining brightly, so lots of salad things went into the trolley. Plus a couple of bottles of wine. Life is good!

Rust

May 18th, 2001 May 18th, 2001
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Today every muscle feels full of rust. My arms ache. My legs feel too tight. My back is a knot of uncared for tension. I’ve dragged myself out of bed after a few hours sleep because my friend Jelena has kindly offered me a massage. All of the knots and aches and rust sing out and seem to raise their voice in a chorus of yearning aching begging for this release. Somehow I force myself up and go to the car.

The car. The rear offside tyre has a slow puncture. It’s nearly flat. I have to go to the service station and pump it up. They charge twenty pence for compressed air. This is a petty small minded piece of profiteering but I’m sure Mr Scrooge rubs his hands together in glee as he counts those 20p coins up in the back office. That’s if he can see them by the light of that livingbyhismeans five watt flourescent tube.

I arrive at Jelena’s house. There’s a yellow car in the drive, which means her flat mate is home, which means she’s probably still in bed, which means she’ll wake up at some point and burst into the kitchen. The kitchen is the massage room. This doesn’t bode well. I knock on the door. Her other flatmate opens the door. Everyone is home.

All the rust inside me seems to grow heavier as I go inside the house. The music playing is loud pop and my friend is in the kitchen having an excited conversation with her neighbour about house prices. I feel myself getting a headache. This is so far from a relaxed atmosphere that I feel like screaming. Inwardly, I do. Shards of my subconscious angst spray around the living room like porcupine needles. But no one notices. They are all too busy busy busy.

Fifteen minutes of clockwatching later the animated houseprice conversation comes to an end but what is the point of staying. The neighbour leaves and Jelena suggests we do something else because she’s not in the mood to do massage at the moment. I wonder why her teacher asks them to make a charge to appear professional. It’s only 10 because I’m a friend. But if it was professional this wouldn’t go on. Professional is a state of mind, an attitude. Well, I think it is or should be or whatever.

There’s a knock on the door and they have another visitor who is invited in for a cup of tea. Cup of tea. This is the universe’s way of mocking those who overstretch themselves. Cup of tea? Oooh, lovely! Cup of rusty brown angst-inducing caffeine-laden bounce me off the walls hot liquid for you? Mmmm. Yes. Fourteen sugars for me, thanks. And could you throw in some aphetamine sulphate too? Because I don’t think a tea and sugar overdose is quite going to drive me to the eye popping edge of cr-cr-cr-craziness quickly enough this morning.

No. No tea for me. I’m tired. I am so very very tired. And I really don’t want to feel wide awake at all at this moment. So I come home. I’ll ring later. I only went this morning because my friend was going away for the weekend in the afternoon. Normally, I wouldn’t get up this early after working late the night before but a massage would be soooooo nice. Jelena will delay her plans and I can go round later. Jelena is good people. I drive my too solid flesh back in the too heavy car through a day weighed down by grey leaden skies.

Grating rusting sinews gnaw at my shoulders and I find myself stuck behind some old fogey’s clapped out car which must only be driven at the exact same speed as the speed limit. For some reason I want to drive right up to their rear bumper and ram them off the road. I want that stupid little brown car to be eaten by rust in a ditch. But I don’t wish that on the driver so I ease off the gas. Pedal up a touch, flex my shoulders backwards and feel the strain.

I’m going back to bed.

Ten Minute Wander

May 15th, 2001 May 15th, 2001
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Around the back of the studios are the usual props, staging and other flotsam of a hundred thousand television series, serials and sitcoms. I’ve got a ten minute break and decide to take a form of exercise which involves running up eight flights of stairs from the basement to the top of the building and down again. From the third floor I can see a Scoutmaster showing some kids the central area with the statue designed by Eric Gill. The Scouts are no doubt listening to how a world record was set for tap dancing back in the seventies on this very spot.

I move onwards and upwards, up to the seventh floor where I pass a room, 7017, which isn’t labelled with anyone’s name. Instead, some wag has replaced the door sign with a symbol from Gerry Anderson’s UFO (the seventies sci-fi series–what is it about the seventies here tonight?). I am sorely tempted to slide a message underneath for the wannabe members of S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defence Organisation). I could claim the aliens have discovered their secret base. I resist. For now…

Along the corridor, I pass news resources offices and etched glass doors. All very expensive. I head down and pause to look in Studio One from the observation gallery. The black cyclorama is wrapped all the way around and it’s difficult to see the shiny aluminium staging in there. Looks like some kind of quiz show. I can see they’ve rigged a fair few vari-lights. I love those.

Down on the groundfloor, I head for the vending machines. Around the deserted tea bar are scattered numerous empty bottles of Becks. Someone is having a good evening. I load up with Dr Pepper for the caffeine rush to compensate for having given up tea and coffee. Well, I still need to stay awake don’t I? I head back up to the first floor, going past the dressing rooms. On the way I hear flautists practising in one room. A bit further on the sound of an acoustic guitar playing drifts out along the hallowed halls. I pause to listen.

The guitarist is really good. I wish I could play like that. I can hear them singing too. I check out the sign on the dressing room door: Rodney Crowell appearing in Later With Jools…’ I’ve never heard of him but I look him up on Yahoo when I get to a PC. He has his own site. Still not heard of him but I predict that his album, The Houston Kid, will be big here in the UK in three to six months when the show goes to air.

Ten minutes up. Break over.

Banging Head On Wall Again

May 8th, 2001 May 8th, 2001
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Today. I phone the editor. EDL copy made. On his desk. Please send. Okay. On the way. I phone graphics people. Can’t use TrueType fonts. Okay. How about ‘Amnesia’? Nice typeface for this. Do you have anything like it? We’ll look. Maybe you could send link? I’ll look. Phone sound re-recording mixer. Much longer conversation…

I love what you’ve done so far. We need to pull everything up to the standard of the best bits. Oh, and I really do need this Dolby 5.1 mix. Problem: we’ll need to re-lay all the tracks for 5.1. Problem: the music is in a narrow stereo mix. I bang head on wall. Well, that’s what’s needed. Okay. She’ll look at it. Problem: it could take three days just to re-do the track laying. Ugh. More banging head.

We chat for a bit about a few scenes and after all these months I realise how much easier it is to communicate directly with the person doing the work than via someone else. I think of shinynewgirl pushing monsters out the door. My monster seems to keep growing any time it gets near the lobby. It never gets anywhere near the door, although to people standing outside the growing monster looks as if it’s getting closer. I think of my mortgage and can I afford all this film monster malarky. It hurts my head.

I phone home and check messages. Ted at the lab has called and they have the DAT for Last Train audio (Dolby 5.1–how come it was so easy with that? Simpler film? Non-automated sound desk? More dedicated composer? Simpler music score? Questions without answers). Ted wonders where the negative is. I’ll call tomorrow when hopefully I have the EDL from Simon to give to Peter at the neg cutters so he can check what they’ve done. Then I’ll have to get the graphics from Martin so they can cut them in. Then I can get the neg to Ted.

Around and around and around the same voices on the phone and the same scenarios I go, week after week, month after month. I speak to these people more often than I talk to my mother. I keep remembering the assistant cameraman on the shoot saying, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I remember smiling wanly at him while trying to stay focused back then. Can it really be a year and a half ago? I smile wanly at the memory.

The Sound Mix

May 6th, 2001 May 6th, 2001
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Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

That was hysterical laughter. I just needed to get it out of my system.

So, finally, finally, I get in the studio with the re-recording mixer. It’s about twenty after four on a Saturday afternoon and Sophie Cornet, the composer, is there too to make sure the cue points are hit exactly. When I arrive they are looking at a scene near the end of the film just after a van has crashed into some boxes at the side of the road. A wild animal is supposed to escape from a crate in the van at this point and the idea has always been to tell this part of the story with sound effects while concentrating on the actors. Instead of a lion’s roar and breaking, crunching timber, however, I hear ducks quacking and a sheep bleating. We are in for a loooooooooooooooooong evening.

Alex Joseph, the sound editor, isn’t there so I can’t ask where the hell the sound effects are. I point out to the re-recording mixer Michelle what’s needed and why and she obligingly digs out various growling noises from the effects library. I mention to Michelle that there are a few effects I would like to pull back to the rear speakers while keeping the music at the front in stereo. Without missing a beat she tells me that this is going to be a stereo mix only, there is no surround sound and they don’t have a licence for Dolby. Even if they did, the tracks haven’t been layed for a surround mix, she says. This sounds like what we in the trade call bullshit.

I realise that no matter what happens these people have just wasted a year of my life. I am ready to start screaming at this point, but somehow I remain calm and relaxed. Okay, inwardly I am screaming and my body language is getting a little tense but I haven’t started crossing my arms and legs. Not yet. Michelle adds a little pressure to help cook me by telling me there is a time limit and she needs to leave by eight o’clock. From the wisdom of experience I can already tell that there is no effing way on this God’s Earth that we are going to be out of that studio with a decent mix by eight o’clock. Dream on.

We look through the film. Let me tell you a bit about audio post-production. This will be educational.

Firstly, the sound editor (Alex in our example) is given a list of required sound effects to provide along with suitable background noise for each scene (atmosphere or atmos) and footsteps for people walking (foley). These are layed down on separate sound tracks (imagine three tapes or more running together in sync) so that in the mix, the audio levels can be raised or lowered, and panned left, right, front or back.

Other tracks are layed down too. These are the one or two dialogue tracks, an ADR track (audio dub recording) where an actor has come back to re-voice their lines, and the music tracks. The music should be in stereo provided by the composer.

Now, on the plus side, Alex has fixed all the holes in the sound so there is atmos running all the way through – traffic noise, birdsong, air conditioning, etc. It’s all there. Okay, almost. For some reason there is a heartbeat effect where I was expecting train interior, but I said to ‘be creative’ so he obviously has. There is also a fantastic evil whispering effect he’s created for the car showroom scene and all of this is excellent.

The foley work has also been done too (which means you can hear people walking, although it’s not something you’d be conscious of unless you were listening for it). There are some great thuds as people fall too and some other superb effects. These effects set the standard for the rest – but the rest doesn’t quite measure up.

The downside begins with there being at least five major sound effects missing, all of which are ‘plot points’ – items which drive the film forward and without which the story makes less sense. These include a lion growling on three separate occasions, children’s laughter, a lone child saying “Mamma?”, a wolf whistle, oh, and a loud train siren. Without that last there is no reason for one character to become startled enough to knock his hearing aid off and without that incident, half the action wouldn’t happen.

Michelle now has to find these things in the library and lay them down before we can get on with the mix. This wastes about an hour and a half. Leaving at eight? I think not. The eight o’clock deadline shifts gradually to eight thirty.

Then we come to the ADR. Conrad, one of my actors, came back last year to re-record his scenes so that we could get a stronger performance. Michelle was sceptical of this at the time, because it’s incredibly hard for an actor to match up their own lip-sync perfectly, let alone change the emphasis on words, and many can’t. Conrad, however, was brilliant and we got it down.

The other thing we did at that time was process the ADR with echo and reverb to match the room acoustic. When you listen to someone normally you not only hear their voice directly but you also hear the echoes of their voice reverberating from any reflective surfaces – walls and ceiling being the main ones. Without those indirect echoes, the speach sounds like it’s been dubbed on (which it has). We did all this during the ADR session. However, last night we find (I find) that Alex didn’t lay that processed sound down. Oh no. He layed down the straight ADR with no acoustic effects. We now have to recreate the effect of Conrad talking in a tiled kitchen.

This is the point where I really want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to rip the screen down and shove it down Michelle’s throat and say, “What in frick’s name do you think you are fricking doing? This is a feature film facility house. Put the fricking sound through the fricking effects processor and dial up ’tiled bathroom’ or ‘small kitchen’ on the reverb unit!”

The first thirty minutes of the scenario actually seem to involve Michelle EQ’ing (equalizing – ie. adjusting the treble, bass and midtones) of Conrad’s voice. “No,” I say, “you need to add more reverb.” There has been no reverb at all as far as I can tell. Eventually a small amount reaches my ears. “More,” I say. But no more is forthcoming. I cross my arms very tightly and wince as I listen to Conrad over and over again, his face very obviously in the kitchen, his voice very obviously not.

After more blood curdling tolerant waiting, Michelle eventually dials in the effects processor. Hoo-fricking-ray! No. It’s not. The only effect she can create is of Conrad talking in what appears to be the Taj Mahal on a particularly quiet day for visitors. Conrad’s voice is everywhere. Michelle admits defeat. “It’s this effects processor,” she says. Like fricking hell is it. As I say, we are in a dubbing theatre used for 35mm features and commercials, so it’s not likely that something this basic isn’t installed. It is, however, likely that she doesn’t know where it is or how to use it.

An hour and thirty minutes after starting this exercise, we have got no further and I have had to go from extreme irritation to the director’s role of encouraging Michelle to get the best possible results. Sophie points out at this point that Conrad’s lips do not appear to be in sync with his dialogue for the opening shot of the scene. Oh dear. She is right. I am the model of calm as I suggest we drop the ADR and go back to the sync sound. Oh deary deary me. It appears Alex has not laid down the sync dialogue as an option.

The deadline for leaving for the evening appears to have slipped to 9pm and Michelle has phoned her friends to say she’ll be late meeting them. I am keeping the requirement for a second mortgage at the forefront of my mind, so despite the fact I’m not paying for this, I know it’s going to take me years to pay off the cost of a print. That means it has to be perfect. That means I have no sympathy for Michelle’s night out. And I am mad as hell at Alex.

Eventually, at about 9pm, the ADR section is ‘acceptable’ – though not perfect, especially in comparison to the quality work all around it. Michelle has added all the effects I’ve asked for and lost the farm animal sounds (under a bit of protest). Some of the effects (which really should have been there, fume fume) work so well it’s hard to believe they could have been missed. One in particular is a lion growl as the silhouetted head of an actress moves across a shadowy background. After this piece of misdirection, a light comes on her face to reveal that it isn’t the missing wild animal. I’m extremely pleased with this. I want the whole film to be that standard. And it mostly is.

We start mixing in the music track. Michelle has come out with some technical BS to explain why music will always “tend to be mono” (huh?) because “the instruments are mono to begin with”. I bite my tongue. The music is excellent. Well, with one exception. We hired a professional trumpet player and some of his performance is ‘weak’ in my opinion. To me, he sounds off-key in places and hesitant in others. I want to drown this out with loud atmos and effects. I actually want to find out where he lives and do evil things to the source of his livelihood. Then I want to re-record his performance with someone who knows what they’re doing. Other than that, it all works and works beautifully. I weep with frustrated delight.

It is now 9.30pm, however and we are rushing the mix. Some things need to be louder in some places than others. There is excessive traffic noise in parts and I want to get rid of it. We start again. I haven’t mentioned, by the way, how many times the computerised mixing desk has crashed during the evening, losing tracks for no apparent reason and failing to fade things up at other times. I have to keep reminding Michelle that she really IS doing a great job because that kind of thing can break your spirit.

After about ten minutes of the stereo mix, Michelle says, “Can I do you a favour?” I say, “Yes, sure. You are doing an excellent job, please go ahead.” And she is doing an excellent job, it’s true and I’m grateful. She’s sorted out the missing effects and Conrad’s scene is full of music anyway so you can’t spot the ADR. Well, not in a stereo mix. In 5.1 surround it will stand out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, I am feeling positive about it all again.

So, Michelle’s favour is to suggest she lays down all the tracks properly and we do the mix on another day. I readily agree. I can see where it’s going otherwise and I don’t want to spend all that money on a print for something rushed in the last five minutes. We all breathe a sigh of relief and I know it also means I’ll get a Dolby Surround mix because the studio will be licenced apparently by the time we come back. The only thing is, from what Michelle says, it will be four to six weeks before we can get in the studio again.

So I am relieved and tense at the same time. I am creatively fulfilled by some things which are working so well and adding comedy and depth which were previously missing. I am creatively unfulfilled by the fact we still haven’t finished due to all the technical and artistic problems we have had to overcome just in this one evening.

Michelle can now go out and meet her friends – it’s her birthday and she has diplomatically not mentioned it until just as we leave. I resolve to take a bottle of champagne or something in for her on Tuesday morning when she’s next in. It’s the least I can do and I need to keep her goodwill because I want her to continue doing her best work. Sophie and I head off, smiling foolishly in frustration and some satisfaction at seeing that it could actually work. We comment on the lameness of Alex for not getting the effects recorded and tracks layed properly. We say, “See you soon,” with no idea of what ‘soon’ means and we vanish into the night. Eventually I get home and pass out.

And this, my friends, is low budget film making.

Wearing Them Down

May 3rd, 2001 May 3rd, 2001
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I call. They stall. I call. They stall. I call. They stall. It can’t really go on like this but it does. The irresistable force. The immovable object. Maybe this week I’ll break through. Drip drip drip drip. I’m wearing a hole in it, I’m sure.

Yesterday I went down to the graphics people again. They’ve put lovely evil quirky hands on the ampersand (&) of Fate & Fortune and it looks wicked. I’m heartened again by that. I tell them of a website I’ve found with famous movie fonts and suggest we try the typeface from the modern Romeo and Juliet using lowercase vowels and uppercase for consonants. I email the font to them and the website address. Later I notice that the Romeo font is no longer available on that site, so I hope the email works.

Neg cutters: Andy is back for two weeks to help them. I speak to him. He says he’ll see if he can find what’s happened to the EDL I gave him for Last Train. He’ll call me back…

Sound Fate & Fortune: I speak to Michelle directly on the phone. The mixdown will be this coming Saturday. I’ll go in at 4.30pm and we’ll continue from there until it’s done. Foolishly I leave a contact number for where I’ll be on Saturday morning “in case anything comes up”. Doh. No oh no. Now there’s a way for her to get out of doing it. Again.

Sound Last Train: I speak to the other re-recording mixer, Peter Hodges. He’s made a DAT. He’s delivering it to Ted at the lab.

So, I need one audio mix, two sets of graphics, one EDL for checking against a cut negative and one EDL for cutting the negative but I can’t get that together until I get my tape back off Michelle on Saturday. Festival deadlines come and go but there really is nothing more I can do. I still feel the need for some new way to stir things up and keep myself going. I phone the Directors Guild and ask them to send me a membership pack.

For this week, that’s it.