Friday, March 26, 2010

Talking Heads

This week was a big one in the history of Abandoned Allies.  I'm delighted to report that I have shown the rough cut of the film to a few people working closely with me on it, and I have gotten some critical feedback.  What they've seen is the "talking heads" version of the film, which can be tough to watch because it's the bare bones version without any finesse.

When I use the term "talking heads" it comes from my background in improvisational comedy.  When two improvisers are talking on stage and there's very little action/movement, the scene is referred to as one that's just talking heads.  As an improviser, you add movement to make the show more entertaining and enjoyable.  The basis being that people like to watch movement, action, forward progress or changes in characters.  Talking heads aren't always a negative thing, but generally speaking it's better to have something to watch while being entertained.

This version of the film, therefore, is the talking heads rough cut.  I've assembled the clips of various interviews so that we have the content in the right order.  Right now we have about 45 minutes of edited footage.  Thinking that the film should last right around an hour from start to finish, I don't want to add too much more to the timeline, since music and narration will add to the length of the film.

It has been a struggle, nay an internal battle, to figure out what clips to put in/take out.  There are great segments and side stories that I find interesting/important/entertaining, but add little to the forward progress of this particular story.  I have, in my office, a wall of these threads written on notecards so that I can figure out where they fit into our story.

When thinking of the assembly of the film, I keep comparing it to the idea of building a human body.  If you were to build one, you'd most likely start with the skeleton and then add muscles, organs, tissue and lastly skin and hair.  That might be a little grotesque, but most peope get the skeleton part.  That's what this talking heads version of the film is to me: the skeleton to which the rest of the body we'll be added later (and thus seen, finally, as a finished film).  The muscles, organs, tissue and skin are the things I'm calling the final finesse.

The list of things I categorize as the final finesse in our film is also posted in my office, directly above the computer monitor.  When I start to worry about one of those things, I look up and see it on that list so that I can then go back to the talking heads version and focus on the content of the film.  What are the messages conveyed verbally?  Are they in the right order?  Don't think about the audio transitions right now, that will come later.  It's hard to control your thoughts when you want so badly to see the finished film.  Seeing that list helps me guard my thoughts and focus on the task at hand: forming the basis around which the rest of the film is built.

All of these things I have had to use as a preface before sharing the film to certain groups.  It's hard for anyone to watch the talking heads version because we're conditioned to watching finished films, unless we've already made a life of editing films, you know? 

The conversations after sharing this rough cut have been really enjoyable.  I am addicted to hearing the thoughts, opinions and debates that ensue after the last bit of film is shown.  Yesterday, as I did some mindless chore around the house in order to get out of my office chair, I realized how lucky I am to have such great counsel.

The people helping make this film a great one are so impressive, talented and kind.  They have provided feedback that is constructive and helps me think through what an audience member will experience when they see the film.  It's terribly fun.

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