There is, in writing a phrase that I don’t much care for because of its cruelty, but bears repeating, “Kill your darlings.” That means that after you’ve got your first draft done, if you want to turn the vomit draft into something great, you’ve got to be able to critique it, and receive critiques from others, and then implement those critiques. It doesn’t matter how precious that scene or that phrase is. If it doesn’t work with the overall structure, it’s got to go.
And, it turns out, the same is true in editing a movie.
There are two scenes that had to be severely cut short, and one sequence that has been eliminated entirely.
The first scene shows Will ,ALGORITHM’s main character, as he socially engineers his way out of what could very easily get him in trouble. While he’s going to pick up one of his Cans-of-Worm, he is confronted by Nosy Neighbor. Trevor Locke, the actor who plays Nosy Neighbor, did a great job, as did Chris. They both nailed the scene. But, the scene’s got three problems with it:
1) It just goes on too long. The point is, Will gets into trouble, then lies his way out of it. That happens in 30 seconds. The scene continued on for another 2 minutes.
2) It’s the only scene shot in broad daylight (we actually shot around 2:00pm on a sunny day) so the look is very different from the rest of the movie.
3) I prefer the style call asymmetrical depth. It’s largely arbitrary, but it’s the result of spending over a year taking still photographs, figuring out what I think is beautiful and how to create it. What I found was, I prefer images that go into the distance, or imply that there could be distance, even if it’s not seen. This distance doesn’t have to be really far, but instead can be relative to the perspective. For instance, a close-up of a flower with a 105mm Macro lens will make anything more than a few feet behind the subject seem very far away. That’s the depth part.
The asymmetry part is about the weight of a picture. Often times photographers/cinematographers will line up a shot using the standard rule of thirds, using physical objects as the definition of weight in an image. And, that can work just fine. However, I prefer to use the color of the image as the weight: lighter colors tend to feel less heavy, where as darker colors feel heaver. I then position the camera so that the colors define the weight of the image.
I also prefer the weight be on the left. The reason for this is because westerners have been trained to view a page from left to right, which is probably the result of the way we read. As such, when we look at images, we tend to view them from left to right. Our eyes also tend to be drawn toward the heaviest part of the image. So, if an image is heavy on the left, then that’s where our eyes start. We then scan slowly to the right, but because the weight is on the left, our eyes keep being drawn back to the left. That means, people will tend to view the image longer; I’ve got them trapped. ;)
The Nosy Neighbor scene was not setup using asymmetrical depth but, instead uses standard straightforward setup, then switches to standard over-the-shoulder coverage. Since the rest of ALGORITHM uses the other style, the Nosy Neighbor scene feels almost as though it’s a part of a different movie. It just doesn’t fit. I like that, because we subconsciously feel that it doesn’t fit, even if we don’t know why. That emotion lends itself to the inherent anxiety of the scene. But, when the scene goes on too long, it just feels painful, and that’s not the feeling I want, at that point.
Thus the cut.
There was another scene where we enter Will’s imagination as he sorts through some hexadecimal code on a wall. It feels like a blend between previous virtual reality scenes we’ve scene in other movies, combined with a sort of improvisational modern dance, almost Tai Chi.
Now, I love Tai Chi. I love improvisational modern dance. I love code and virtual reality. But, again, it feels like a different movie. This scene was never going to have voice over to give the audience a bridge into the hacker mind. So, it was just 2 minutes of dance. It’s beautiful. Again, Chris did a masterful job. It just doesn’t fit the rest of the movie. The point of the scene is that Chris needs to find an IP address in the code. He can find it earlier. So, again, the dance scene is redundant. As such, it got cut.
There are those who argue that the writer/director can’t also be the editor because it’s impossible to have any kind of emotional neutrality. I heard this advice again, from someone I trust, just last night.
I’ll admit, it’s dangerous. You have to let go of how long it took to write/setup/capture, how beautiful it is or anything else. It has to be brutally critical. That has to be balanced with the vision. Don’t cut something that may make the movie better. If you can maintain that balance, it’s much faster/better than having someone who doesn’t really know the story or of the feeling interpret the movie yet a second time. For me, the editor has too much control of the story for me to be willing to relinquish that role to someone else. If I was willing to do that, I would have probably just sold ALGORITHM and let someone else direct it.
But, as I said to the cast and crew before we started, I have a very specific vision for ALGORITHM. I’m always open to new ideas, but it’s got to be consistent to the vision.