Sunday, October 18, 2009

How can I cut 12 minutes out of my movie?

The most important time for a director to be objective is in the editing room. This is when you have to look at all the footage you've shot, all the blood, sweat, and tears you've put in, and be honest about what works and what doesn't. The editor and the audience don't care how long a scene took to shoot, they don't care about the actors you love to work with, and they don't care about fun something was. If it doesn't work, it needs to go.

Right now the film is a smidge under two hours. That's a little long for a romantic comedy, but it's not bad if the film works for those two hours. Right now the film works, but there's a section near the middle of the film that doesn't work great. It's a 12 minute sequence that involves about 5 or 6 scenes and nearly all the characters in the film. But each of the scenes within the sequence have their own little problems, some larger than others, particularly in one huge scene that took nearly an entire day to shoot.

I've got to figure out what I'd lose from cutting this sequence compared to what I'd gain in terms of pacing and tone. It sounds like no big deal, but it's huge. I care about the actors in the scenes, I care about everything I shot; obviously, if I didn't like it from the beginning, I wouldn't have had it in the script, and we wouldn't have shot it.

Filmmakers refer to this as "being willing to hurt your baby." No one wants to hurt their baby, but if it makes the baby better in the long run, sometimes you have to give a spanking or take something away from it.

My editor Frank doesn't want to lose the sequence, my wife does want to lose it. I'm back and forth. Some artist I'm being, huh?

Either way, I need to work hard tomorrow on the whole sequence to make it as good as possible. Frank leaves on Wednesday the 21st, and we have a preview test screening on Saturday the 24th, so I want to give the movie every chance to be acceptable to the test screening audience so I know what I have and what works. I'm going to trim the sequence as much as possible, cutting anything that doesn't advance the story and try to make the scenes as smooth and as watchable as possible. But if the audience doesn't respond to it, it just might have to go.

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