Monthly Archives: August 2001

For Real

The lab finishing Last Train has done the 35mm print and the telecine is done. All that’s remaining is to relay the sound back from DAT to the Digital Betacam videotape. The lab calls. They have lost the DAT.

Yes. They have lost the freaking DAT.

I phone the sound guy–this was last week–he was on holiday. I finally track him down today. I tell him of lost DAT. He goes to look for master sound mix. He phones me back. He cannot find it. He has everything but. In other words, master sound mix is lost too. Let me repeat, both master copies of the sound mix are lost! Not to worry, says sound man. He has premix tapes. We can remix it.

Hahahahahaha. Remix it. That is freaking hysterical.

Remix the soundtrack… I phone the lab and tell them they *must* find the tape and why. They suggest pulling the sound back off the optical neg. I tell them that is stereo and if I want surround mix later it will require the DAT. If I want any further prints, it will require DAT. I do not want recopied sound put on to videotape either as that may end up as distribution master for television. They go to have another look.

To clarify: I cannot get film distributed without videotape. Videotape is not complete without sound. Sound is lost. This could take weeks. Film is finished and yet it could take weeks before anyone can see it.

Words cannot describe how freaking angry I am.

So I phone up one of the writers of Last Train and I tell him the saga of trying to get the film finished. Two years since we shot it. I finish with, “…and now the sound people have lost the master soundtrack as well, so we might have to remix it.” His comment on the whole process: “This is like some bad Japanese game show.”

Next week on Let’s Break The Director — How to remake an EDL using only the tools found in your kitchen while the real editor is out of the country for five months.

Death: The High Cost Of Living

This is a classic graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman, a British author, who also wrote the Sandman series. It was one of the most popular adult-oriented graphic novels in the nineties with 300,000 copies sold and is about the idea of Death being a person, an attractive young woman, who takes a day off and visits with ordinary folk.

I really loved this book. It’s beautifully innocent yet timelessly wise, full of wry observations and gentle hope for life. So I’ve just spent some time tracking down information about it on the net with the naive idea that I’d like to option it some time to make a movie. Buying an option means buying the exclusive right to buy the full intellectual property rights at some time within the specified option period.

Death as a character has always fascinated me. It’s one of the strange themes linking the Tanith Lee books–which I know not everyone likes–and also Terry Pratchett who, conversely, isn’t my cup of tea. At all. Nevertheless, I have a very clear idea of how I’d make The High Cost of Living as a film and it’s one of those things I know I could do better than anyone else.

However, it turns out Warner Brothers already have an option on making it as a feature and Mr Gaiman is writing a script with the idea of directing it himself. There’s a comment on one website I found that he sees it as a 15 minute film. I’d rather it was longer and think it easily could be. I wonder if when Warners’ option expires, if they’re actually doing anything and what NG is thinking of doing with the story.

I have no idea what any of this would cost, of course. Ignorance is bliss.

Wisdom Of The Pancake

Here are some of the things I’ve learned from the mutant pancake that turned out good in the end…

Get the best possible script. Plan everything in as much detail as possible. You’re going to spend months looking at the same things over and over in post-production so why not do that in pre-production as well. Don’t worry about getting permission for everything–it’s not always necessary; some things can be shot on the run.

Cast the actors who stand out at audition and who have the acting ability to make it work. Rehearse them as much as possible.

Don’t offer to pay anyone’s expenses but do organise catering. Don’t try to direct AND produce anything longer than ten minutes. Appoint a production designer to sort out the art department for you.

You can shoot film at 24 frames per second but sound runs on DAT at 25 frames per second because it’s going to be postproduced at that speed. Complex huh? Even more complex in the USA, I’d guess where TV runs at some other speed.

Music makes a huge difference to the finished product. Spend time on it.

Short films can be in stereo. Surround sound is nice. It sounds great in your living room with a DVD, but it isn’t absolutely essential. The stereo mix on Last Train sounds absolutely superb. Which means… you can trust what your own ears tell you! This also applies to Dolby. Dolby wasn’t absolutely essential. I’ve been recording cassettes for years with Dolby switched off to get ‘brighter’ sounding recordings.

Where is this leading us? Yes, many of those discussions with the rerecording mixer of Fate & Fortune were blind alleys. She did know what she was doing. Here’s another thing she got totally right: the volume of some of the effects (like traffic noise) will need to be quite high in some places because the music is loud in those places.

And every track needs to be layed down in a particular way for a surround mix. I had this discussion with her yesterday in fact. We were talking about High Fidelity and I was saying that the music comes out of the surround speakers on my DVD. She mentioned she’d done the ADR on that film so I asked her about the music. The answer: feature films go back to the music recording and re-master it. Now that’s a lot of serious money!

Oh, by the way, we did the final sound mix of Fate & Fortune yesterday and it is fantastic. I am really really pleased with it. It’s actually an LCRS (left, centre, right, surround) recording with the surround switched off and it will be put on the film in stereo. It won’t be Dolby. No one will know.

Everything I wanted included has been included. The rerecording mixer did a wonderful job and we literally flew along with everything once we got going. All the required sound effects are there plus some extras where we got creative in the mix. The dialogue all sounds great. The music balances with the atmosphere perfectly. Seriously, no complaints!

People keep saying to me the quality of everything about Fate & Fortune is award winning. Well, we’ll see. I wonder if anyone will understand it? Meanwhile, EDL to be sorted out next and then the neg cut…

Planting A Seed

I arranged for a visit with my 12 year old niece to the magical world of the children’s television studios today. We met a furry gremlin, saw a famous character’s body suit laying in a bin and hung out so she could see how programmes are made. I think she came away saturated with information and will have plenty to tell her friends at school after the holidays.

She starts chosing what subjects to specialise in at school this year. I hope today plants a seed of inspiration for her.

Creating The Right Impression

On a tour of brand new studio facilities during their construction at a production company you are expecting to work for, I wonder if it is appropriate to exclaim, “Oh, wow! This is a deja-vu! It was a dream I had about a year ago and this was already built and I was working here, directing and showing a group of friends around. Cool!”

ps. I didn’t get the job, in case you were wondering.

pps. The company went out of business a few months after I wrote this.

The Mutant Pancake

Last Train has now been blown up to 35mm and I went to have a look at the print today. This is first time I’ve seen it complete with soundtrack since doing the audio mix earlier in the year. I have to say that I think it looks and sounds really great. The camerawork, editing, lighting, music and sound really are all first-class. You know, for a mutant pancake, I think this is very acceptable.

Matt the grader has washed out the last few shots on my instruction leaving these ghostly white images that work really well to create a kind of haunted feel at the end. It is superb to see that working together with Andy the composer’s music. There are a few little tweaks here and there which I still want, like less light here and more grain there and what’s that big blob in the opening? Oops. It will get removed and everything will be done and…

Hey, on the whole, I’m thinking this looks and sounds really good. I go back to have a final look next week and will be presented with the (scary) bill. Then it’s festival time!

Fate & Fortune meanwhile plods along at its usual hard to see pace. Seasons come and go but this postproduction remains. I’ve delivered all the material, including rushes videos, to the new editor. However, she couldn’t do a new EDL for me because she uses Avid Media Composer and not Avid Film Composer–two different editing systems made by the same manufacturer–so she’s passed everything on to someone else again.

Then I phone the rerecording mixer and phone the rerecording mixer and phone the rerecording mixer… I’m probably driving her dotty but at last I get through and we get to have a talk about the notes I’ve sent her. She tells me that she can’t do all the surround sound effects I want because the sound editor didn’t lay tracks down. He also didn’t lay various effects down that I need. I sigh.

The discussion is still useful because we can at least go through a few things before getting in the studio. No. There still isn’t studio time available. I sigh again. But going through notes like this on the phone will save time when we get there so maybe it will be for the best. I’ve arranged to phone her tomorrow evening to see exactly what we can and can’t do on my list of wants and needs.

One thing struck me about my mutant pancake, though, which should help. Last Train allegedly has a 5.1 surround sound mix and it sounded just like stereo to me as there are no left/right or rear effects. I couldn’t swear to it but I’m wondering if the rerecording mixer on that has done a stereo mix. And the thing is this: it sounds absolutely great. So maybe I’m worrying over nothing and I needed to hear the mutant pancake to enable me to proceed with confidence on Fate & Fortune.

Therefore I think studio time now, right now, would be a very good thing. Pleeeeeeeeeeeease!

August 10th:

So, our favourite rerecording mixer was at work without the notes when I called. She said she’d be home in an hour. Fair enough. I called again then, it rang and I got a machine. Left it 15 minutes in case she was still on her way home. Called again. Machine. Left message. No reply.

Gosh. What a big surprise.

I really really want my freaking dialogue tapes back NOW.

August 24th

Earlier this week I went along to do a graded telecine transfer of Last Train. Telecine means transferring the film to video tape by scanning each frame. Graded means there is a person (called a grader) who sits with me and adjusts the contrast, colour and brightness (yes, the same three controls as on your television but a little more sophisticated) to make each shot look right for television.

I have to say, it was money and time well spent. I think it looks damn fine.

All that’s left to do now is to put the sound on to videotape with the pictures. How hard can that be? Erm… well, guess what? The lab has lost the DAT with soundtrack. I kid you not. Can I get them another one? They’ll pay. I sigh as I so often do with this crazy project and I phone the sound people who mixed Last Train. The person I need is on holiday until next Wednesday… Well, of course they are. I should have known.

The phrases infinite patience, long suffering and banging head on wall (again) spring to mind).

Oh and to complete my joy, while I was talking to the lab I asked if the film soundtrack–which does sound superb–had been done as stereo or surround. They said the optical soundtrack is in stereo. So all the effort of getting a surround mix was kind of lost. Lost train. Hahahystericalha. Apparently I ordered a Dolby SR sound negative. If I’d wanted a 5.1 negative I should have asked for digital, which would be a Dolby SRD. There is no possible way of guessing these things is there? Really. No.

I like my mutant pancake, though, stereo and all as it is. It still tastes good, good and dark and a little disturbing as intended, and I learn to cook with celluloid.

My New To Do (List)

Rather than enter Last Train in dozens of festivals at home and abroad, I felt a better use of my day off this week was to draw up a To Do List. You know, where you write down all the things you really must do to to feel good about yourself… except for the really big things that look like monsters.

So, I sort out old sweaters and other clothing into two garbage sacks (binliners) and take them to the charity shop. I set up a new savings account linked to a FTSE tracker fund so that the extra income I have coming in from rearranging my loans into my mortgage doesn’t all instantly vanish. I do the laundry and I go to the bottle bank with a lot of empty Becks bottles.

This all seems pretty good. I also go out and buy a microwave oven to replace the one which has been leaving cold spots in things for the past three years. I take the old one (which is 20 years old and probably dangerous in more ways than one) up to the dump. I buy a roller blind (orange) for the kitchen and put it up. I do some more laundry, an application form for a sit-com director’s course and send off a cheque to pay for neg cutting.

Then I meet up with someone I work with and start chatting. He tells me the name of someone I can give Last Train to at the BBC. The head of one of the new digital channels, no less. And he’ll write me a letter recommending he looks at the film, because this guy receives thousands of tapes a day.

Yes, you read right. In between my procrastinating and list-fulfillment I managed to actually do something that will take the films forward and the career forward on to the next stage.

Funnily enough the person I spoke to asked me what I plan to do next. Have I any other films in the pipeline. Yes, I reply. But I really want to get these two finished first! One thing I do say, however, and that’s that I intend shooting the next project I finance myself on videotape, probably digital. Film is ridiculously expensive although I wouldn’t trade it for anything else given the choice.