Monday, September 28, 2009

"What If..." 2nd edit done, "Riven" outline turned in...

I sent Frank about ten email pages of notes on the first cut of the film, and he's already executed most of them and sent me a new version of the film. He works fast.

There are a few things that can only be executed when we're together. Most of the time, a director has to communicate their vision to the DP, the actors, the editor, etc., and assuming communication has been solid, they can execute it on their own without "over the shoulder" directing. But occasionally there's a specific kind of scene or something tricky or specific or stylistic that requires more direct involvement from the director, and we have a couple of those that we'll get to when Frank comes to L.A. in less than a week.

On Friday I spent a little time looking at a couple scenes Frank adjusted based on my notes, and it's always sobering when you realize that a change you wanted just isn't possible because the footage isn't there. "What was I thinking on the set" moments are common for everyone.

Also, we designed a new look for the What If... blog page, it looks a lot sharper and more relevant to the actual story. It's at I'm also going to be uploading some new exclusive pics there in a day or two.

Nate Scoggins turned in his first draft of the outline for "Riven," and it's exciting to see. I'm convinced it's always best to have screenwriters do an outline of at least ten pages to make sure everyone's on the same page before they write a complete draft of the script that goes in the wrong direction and requires extra work to adjust. Nate wrote a very good outline, but there are a few things we needed to discuss, and now it'll be easy for him to make those adjustments in outline form before he commences the script.

We've been on the same page on everything so far, which is great, even including the music we listen to to get inspired with this story. By coincidence, we're both listening to a ton of Jars of Clay--the movie is about broken souls, and Jars always writes about broken souls, so it's perfect.

Two nights ago I was driving to a conference I was speaking at, and it was 11:30 at night, and I texted Nate to see if he was awake because I'd just gotten inspired with some thoughts about the key scene in the movie. He was, and we ended up talking past Midnight about the story, and it was cool. I actually got choked up while I was describing how the scene could look, which is probably a good sign.

Speaking of the conference, I showed 15 minutes of the rough cut of the movie to about 150 or so attendees, and it went really well. This is the worst the movie will ever look, and it was playing on a cheap screen from a DVD player in a room with sunlight coming in. Not the best venue. But people laughed, were engaged, and I got a few genuinely enthusiastic responses afterward. That was encouraging.

Man, I just tried to say "afterwards" instead of "afterward," and spell check flagged me. I didn't realize "afterwards" wasn't a word. All righty.

Normally I like to write about difficult things, because I want my blogs to be honest, but things have been going pretty well over the last few months, so now it's reading more like a promotional tool for my films. I'm sorry about that!

So much going on right now, I'm trying to find time to write blog entries. Right now it's 2:25 am...I must away...

Published: September 19, 2009

As I discuss in my latest video blog at, our editor Frank Reynolds has completed and submitted the first edit of the film. This is usually called an assembly and is for the purpose of just seeing the movie put together in raw form. Normally it goes:

1. Editor puts together a rough assembly, just to see all the footage in one piece to see if there's anything missing or scary.
2. Director and editor work to get a first cut done, which is still pretty rough, just to see if the movie plays and makes sense.
3. They fine tune, taking chunks out, working on pacing, etc. After showing it to people, getting some feedback, they...
4. Put a scalpel to every scene, working hard to produce a "locked" cut, before turning it over to the composer.

However, because we don't have a lot of time to submit too many edits, and because Frank is too much of an artist to just sloppily assemble the film together, this first edit is somewhere in between 1 and 2. I'm giving him notes while he's still in New York, so over the next week and a half, he'll produce something closer to #2, and once he gets out to L.A. and we can work together, we'll work towards getting something like #4. After that we'll have a screening to get some feedback before we officially lock the picture.

The saying goes, "The movie's never as good as the dailies (the raw footage), never as bad as the first cut." That's pretty much true. Because of that, I feel very good about this film. The first cut isn't pretty, but Frank did a very good job overall, and the film obviously works. Normally there are some red flags, things that make us think we might have to reshoot or work some magic to fill in gaps, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

It's currently 2 hours and 15 minutes long. I'd like to cut at least 20 minutes from it, and that's without cutting any scenes. There are some pacing problems in the first third of the film--we simply need to speed it up. There are a few lines throughout that we can cut just because once you see the film and see how the characters look, many times stuff in the script becomes unnecessary.

There's also a key scene that feels out of order right now--it's very important to build a good emotional progression in the story, especially when you're dealing with a main character's emotional and spiritual journey, so you can't have any key emotional beats come too soon. Again, sometimes things happen when you're shooting that can be both good and bad. For instance, let's say someone gets emotional in a scene. In the moment, it's good because it's moving and spontaneous--but when you look at it later in the context of the whole film, it feels out of place. Same thing with comedy--maybe a scene ended up playing more comedically than you intended, and now you have to make that work within the context of the film.

We have a few moments like that, especially one scene, so that'll take a little delicacy to make work.

I'm also a little unsure if the ending of the movie will have as much impact as I want, and that's obviously of VITAL importance, but I think we can make that work.

I showed the cut to the producers of the film at Pure Flix, and they had very few notes, which is a good sign.

We've got to be done by October 19th, because we're screening the film for an audience a few days after that to see how it plays before we officially lock picture and get the composer going. So four weeks to get this all done! Not a lot of time...

Published: September 4, 2009

We're co-producing this film with Pure Flix Entertainment, a company that is also a distribution company. They focus primarily on straight-to-DVD releases and on a church screening program, and they do distribution and marketing, which makes them a nice fit for us because we don't want to do that. So we know that, at the very least, Pure Flix will be doing a strong DVD release, and we're confident they'll do a great job.

That said, when "What If..." is completed, we'll show it to the big studios to see if they have any interest in buying us out. This is what has happened on all the films we've made so far. As with any independent film (a film financed and produced outside of the studio system), we made the film and then showed it to the studios. For Hometown Legend, Warner Brothers purchased distribution rights; for Midnight Clear, Lionsgate purchased them.

I had a good chat with Pure Flix today, and we're all on the same page. We think What If... has a chance to be special and to do really well, but until we actually see it, we're unsure of how exactly this will all pan out. If a studio wants to purchase rights and release it theatrically, we'll be open to that if we feel they can make it work financially; if we decide we want to release it theatrically, we can look at that option as well and raise some extra money. But either way, we know that we have a strong safety net in the Pure Flix distribution system.

Of course, it's impossible to know what chances the movie has until we see it. So right now the next step is simply for me to work on making a great film. If the film is only pretty good, then our chances for wider distribution are slim anyway. But if the film is great, and people respond very strongly to it, then our options are broadened significantly.


Published: September 2, 2009
Well, I'm finally on twitter. Sigh. It's going to be primarily geared towards the film stuff, so if you have any interest in getting more frequent updates on what we're up to or little tips and info on filmmaking, find me at I'll also be posting pics from What If... there that you won't find anywhere else.

Right now, while I wait for the editor to finish the initial assembly of the film, I'm spending time making sure that I'm primed and ready once it's time for me to go in and shape it. That means not only looking at raw footage and re-familiarizing myself with everything that I shot (so that if I don't like something Frank did, I know what the alternative is), but also continuing my work and study with other films and books. Inspiration comes from everywhere--I remember watching Traffic for the first time when I was making Hometown Legend, and it gave us a few great editing ideas for a few scenes.

As I've mentioned, my netflix queue is filled with as many great films as I can think of that I haven't seen. One right after another, trying to increase my film vocabulary and appreciation. All of the great filmmakers of all time have seen every important film ever made; I've got a long way to go, as I got off to a late start because I grew up in a pretty strict home when it came to entertainment. Plus, when I started getting into films, I didn't work as hard as I should have to see the classics.

Today I'll be watching The Manchurian Candidate for the first time, and later this week I'll see The Third Man. I also continue to do a lot of reading; I've discovered that my style and tastes are similar to Frank Capra's (although I'm nowhere in his league, of course), so I'm reading a few books on him. It's important to not only watch the films of your favorite filmmakers, but to find out what they were thinking and why.

I've also created a "What If..." folder on my itunes so that I can listen to the songs that most stir me up for the emotion or story of the film. Because this film is a romantic comedy with a lot of heart, I'm listening to songs that are more sweeping and uplifting and emotional (Snow Patrol has two songs on the list, as does Coldplay--also loving Avril Lavigne's "Keep Holding On" and Taylor Swift's "Change." For my next film "Riven," which is set in a death row prison and is more raw, I'll listen to rootsy/bluesy/country-ish stuff.

Besides being a director, I have to be a business man, so I'm spending a lot of time updating all our websites and keeping marketing going. It's no fun, but it's part of the marriage between art and commerce. Grief, I sound like a jackass.