POST PRODUCTION, FESTIVALS & THE FIRST SCREENINGS
Here we are, 6 months later for the next Shutterbug blog entry. For fear of sounding like a broken record, I won't apologize this time. But please do check out the rest of the blog for the beginning of the story on the making of the film.
The lights came up and there were smiles. The small group of friends who had just seen the most recent cut of the film were awake and smiling. For this I was truly relieved! Parrying the usual friendly and supportive comments ("You did a great job" - "You should be proud" etc) I sat down with everyone to get to the real issues: What were their questions at the end? What was missing? What did they not get, or what was not believable?
All this was invaluable information for me to understand how someone else was experiencing the film. Specially since the nature of the film is that it is a metaphysical adventure. A very personal journey which is not fully explicit. I was trying to achieve a level of intimacy between the character and the audience. Some people understood exactly what I wanted them to. Others did not - others even brought their own reactions and ideas that led me to see what I could not as director. But in each case I had the film considered by people I knew well. Friends and filmmakers who's aesthetics and taste in film I knew. This way I could interpret their reactions and make adjustments accordingly - and also know when not to make adjustments!
The process of editing Shutterbug was long and slow. Cutting the film myself was part of the issue, because I would work on a sequence of scenes and then I would have to step back from it for a week or so before I could really judge what I had done. I was constantly trying to refresh my eyes and not get caught up in the same details.
The second factor in the slow post process was that I was struggling financially. I was working to pay bills and meet work deadlines. The time I had available for Shutterbug was limited because most of the time I was shooting or editing something else! This left little creative energy for the film.
Then there was a break through. Jon Tripp, my good friend and fellow filmmaker from SVA stepped in. After a brief correspondence and DVD viewing of the film in his native Minnesota, he came to New York and for 2 weeks we watched the film and then went through it, cutting and adjusting, discussing what he thought did or did not work. I must have taken 80% of his advice. I don't think I could have worked with anyone but Jon since we always had a very good communication when it came to film.
Jon's view basically put the main structure of the film in place and crystallized the connection of Alex (Nando Del Castillo) and his mysterious muse, Thalia (Stella Velon). After Jon helped restructure the film and he returned home, we continued discussing it andI polished and fine tuned it as best I could. More screenings followed for more friends. By now, many scenes had hit the cutting room floor and I was at the 90 minute mark.
Turning to the special effects, I shot most of the live action elements against a green screen in my loft and then glued myself to my Mac's screen to train myself in Motion and Shake. Many, many frames later I had the effects I wanted: a full hallucinatory palette of blurs, streaks and glows for Alex to get confused about! It took a lot of time and patience, but eventually I made it happen. The process was important for me personally - being able to understand the fundamentals of animation and special post effects helps your mind come up with ideas on set about what is and is not feasible. It's good to know as a director. At the very least it keeps the crew from rolling their eyes at you!
The whole Post Production process of Shutterbug, being fragmented and coming in disparate bursts, took a good part of 3 years to complete. But was it over? I couldn't really put the film down. Every now and then there was a moment here or there that felt too long - or too short - or a few frames that needed to be shaved off various shots. The most exciting thing in this process was cutting lines. Removing a line at the end or beginning of the scene was essential, transforming the exposition from verbal to visual. This was my main hangup with my first feature to begin with, so reducing the dialogue was very satisfying.
As I was cutting Shutterbug I signed up to Withoutabox, started to burn screeners and sent the film off to various film festivals, with a note about the sound mix and color correction not being perfect (my usual neuroticism on how a film should be viewed kicking in). This is not an endorsement of Withoutabox - which belongs to the whole IMDB / Amazon family that makes a lot of internet dollars from indie filmmakers - however it was the most comprehensive way to handle festival deadlines without having to do extensive research. For this I was thankful.
Of course, after sending the film to countless festivals I am sure that many festival judges and their assistants watch the films on their laptops on the subway. There is such a huge volume of films being sent out as submissions that I'm sure they can't afford to spend as much time as they should on each title. And when you're a new, unheard of filmmaker with a no-name cast then I'm pretty sure it's the intern who watches the first ten minutes (while texting or eating), before referencing something they made in film school (which was better), and moving on to the next screener in the pile. Getting your foot in the festival door has more to do with who you know. And if you dont know anyone, you need to find someone who knows someone they know! The rejection letters flooded in.
Shutterbug was finally accepted to the LA Indie Fest, a showcase of films (interestingly called a 'distribution festival') where it won an award of merit. This was great news, and the laurels hit the website soon after. Encouraged by this, I kept submitting endlessly. I focused on US festivals as my goal was to get a US release.
After at least $2,000 worth of submission and Fedex fees, I was fortunate enough to have the film accepted to the 3rd Annual NY Greek Film Festival in November, 2009. The film screened at this annual festival of films from Greece on a Greek-American Indie night. It was screened for the first time in front of an audience made of the general public. Most of the cast and crew were there too: about 130 people, very nearly sold out. There was a gracious introduction by Mr. James Demetro, the festival director, who spoke of the importance of witnessing a debut feature. As the film screened, I paced outside, smoking a cigarette. I had quit some time ago and this was yet another 'last' cigarette.
In fact, It would be the first in a series of many last cigarettes as I was unknowingly just starting the nerve-fraying, intoxicating rush of the process of the commercial launch of the film. This would take me on a promotional campaign of self-distribution, exhibition, advertising, parties, special events and screenings, web promotions and videos etc, etc. The wheels were in motion, and all I could do was try to steer.