Friday, May 20, 2011

What's Next?

Yesterday I mentioned that we're showing the latest cut of Abandoned Allies to two more cast members tomorrow morning. The film we're showing is not a finished piece because we're finalzing a few things.

So, then, what's next? When is it going to be finished, and what's left to do?

We'll get feedback tomorrow from our cast members, consider it, and finish tweaking a few things in the story line. The ending of the film isn't finished yet, but I am much closer to it now. There are things that still bother me, so we're working on those things.

Next weekend I'll work with Annie Beth to finalize the music. She has been incredibly patient with me over the years, as have many other volunteers. It's a learning process, really, and I am glad to be working with people willing to learn with me. I've heard the phrase "building a plane while flying it" enough but now I really grasp what that means: a fair amount of organized chaos. Annie Beth is a wonderfully smart woman, though, and I am deeply grateful to her for lending her talents. She's collected original music from truly talented indie artists, and I know you'll be impressed when you hear it.

Once we finalize the music, we'll then finalize the end credits. Patrick and Zach are working on this with me, and have also been very patient along the journey. They, too, are incredibly talented and dedicated to making this film a great one. They're working on a few things, but are still waiting on the final end credits list from me (which is waiting on the final list of music).

After those things are in place, we'll work with a sound engineer to normalize the film. This simply means that we go through the film to make sure that each person is audible, the music isn't too loud while someone's talking, and that everything is on the same level (it doesn't get drastically louder in one spot and way too quiet in another). There are also some trouble spots that I hope our sound engineer can improve.

Once those things are completed, then we should be a breath away from having the film totally complete. I'd like to do some color correction, but am not quite sure how to make that happen. It's definitely needed.

In the meantime, there's plenty of other work to be done. We'll have a chance to show the film to more cast members to get feedback, as well as a few other private screenings. While that's happening, we'll also work on marketing/branding/communications and event planning. The goal is to have a party later this year because, well, we've been working hard on this for so long--how can you not stop to celebrate such a momentous occassion?

So, basically, that's what I envision is next for this film and all the folks helping with it. There are varying levels of completion, and I feel a huge one is coming up very soon. After that, I imagine I can breathe MUCH easier. The stress of making this film is taking its toll on my loved ones and me, so it's time to put it to rest and start celebrating the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one.

More to come. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Next Screening: This Weekend

Mike Benge in Vietnam during the war.

This weekend I'll show Abandoned Allies to two more cast members: Mike Benge and Greg Stock. We'll meet early Saturday morning to watch the film and discuss ways to improve it. I can't wait to share the film with them--finally.

All week long I've been getting ready for this weekend. On Tuesday, fellow filmmaker Todd Tinkham helped me with video editing. He's been such a good friend, and I am incredibly grateful for his help.

There are a few areas in the film giving me problems. Expressing these problems in writing is tough, except to say that they just don't work well. I've been over-analyzing the film for three years, so I know that there are parts that aren't working--but I don't quite know how to fix them. Todd helped me find some clarity, and pieced together the story much better this week. His talent as a filmmaker and a "fresh set of eyes" were incredibly helpful. (More on what Todd's doing later.)

It is such a thrill to start sharing the film with people. Not only is it giving me greater clarity, but it's also giving me closure on the project so that we can move on: wrap up post-production, share the film, start discussions, and hopefully lead to social change. It's an exciting time, indeed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finished, Finished? Finished, Finished! (Soon.)

The film isn't finished ... YET.
Yesterday I talked about our next steps with the film, and when we'll be finished with it. It reminds me of a conversation that gets repeated regularly these days. When people find out we're almost finished with it, they usually ask me what's next (either with the film or my own career). Often, they are disappointed to hear what comes after we finish the film: more work.

When we talk about finishing the film, it's important to define "finished" so we're all on the same page. There's still a lot of work left once the film itself is finished because this is an indie film and we most likely won't just hand it off for distribution. In terms of production, though, finished means that we're no longer going to tweak the film. We're not going to change it anymore. It is what it is and won't change anymore.

As an artist, you can tweak a piece of work endlessly. Art history has taught me this repeatedly. Monet painted the same subject over and over again. He painted the same static hay stacks 25 times 1890-1891. Those stupid hay stacks! I love 'em. My point is that an artist can be obsessive about studying something, so it's incredibly important to find a stopping point.

What good would it do for me to continue tweaking the film and never show it to anyone?

Finished, then, means we are comfortable with the story line, we've fixed the problems, and we have done everything in our power to make it the best we possibly can with the resources available. Boom. Done. Print to DVD and move on.

When we're finished with post-production, there's a whole new world of work ahead because this is an independent film. We will work on design, branding, marketing, communications, event planning (premieres, screenings with Q&A sessions, etc.), film festival applications, and plenty of little pet projects that spin-off of this one. But we have to finish this one first.

So we finish the film and then start sharing it. The idea--in the long run, anyway--is that we continue sharing the film and having conversations as long as it takes to bring about positive social change. In those terms, then, I have no clue when we'll be finished because social change might take a lot of time. Might being the key word.

This I can tell you: we will be finished with the film in the coming months because it's time. It's time to be finished with it so we can share it. I mean print-to-DVD finished. Show and sell finished. Never tweak it again finished.

Finished, finished? Yes. Finished, finished!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Next Steps

Many people ask, "When will the film be finished?!"

If I've learned anything while working on the film over the past three years, it's that the time line continues to change. So I have taken to answering, "Soon!"

We are working on a zero-dollar budget with many wonderful volunteers, which means progress is slow-going. My background in design has proven that you can have two of the three following things: fast, cheap, and great.

You can have a great product fast, but it's going to cost. Or you can have a great product for cheap, but it's going to take a while. We're in the latter category. It takes a while to make a film. In our case, it's taken a little more than three years. But we're almost finished.

Image credit:

So what are the next steps?

The film is in good shape, and we've started showing it to our cast members. We'll keep showing it at private screenings to cast members and other select groups over the next few months. These private screenings will help us make sure the film raises/answers the questions we want it to, and gives us a chance to iron our the kinks.

In the meantime, we have a few things left to wrap up. We'll add the final music to the film over Memorial Day weekend, finalize the end credits and put those in place, correct the color differences in the film, and work with our sound engineer to normalize and fix any audio problems. I also want to find more B roll, if possible. I've done a bit of research but need the time to continue looking into ways to get footage that will help us tell this story visually. That takes a bit of time, which is tough to find while you're working on so many other aspects of the film.

The process is a slow-moving one, but that's not entirely a bad thing. It's taught me a lot about the filmmaking process, and the team you need in order to make it happen efficiently. My mantra has been, "The next film will be so much easier." Each day I learn a lesson about how to make the next film better and more efficiently.

It seems almost unfair to have this much fun working on a project!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

First Screening with Cast Members

The viewing party from Tuesday, May 10th (from L to R): Camden Watts, director; Todd Tinkham, fellow filmmaker; Surry Roberts, executive producer; Chris McClure, cast member; George Shepard, cast member; Joe Ellington and Adam Shepard, whom have watched the film develop from its infancy; and (not pictured) Sharon Mujica, film festival organizer.

On Tuesday evening a small group of folks gathered to watch the latest cut of Abandoned Allies, including two of our cast members. It was really thrilling to show the film to this group for the first time. It's a work in progress, but we're almost finished.

After the film ended on Tuesday night, we had a series of great conversations. Many of the things that have been bothering me were brought up in these conversations. I'm so grateful to the group for watching the film, and sharing their thoughts about it.

From here, we have a few things left to tidy up and then we're finished. Every day we're getting closer to completion. Stay tuned!