I should be editing right now… at least, that’s the schedule we’ve set up. Our current target it is to attempt to submit to Cannes, which has a submission deadline of around mid-March, which means I’ve got to get a good cut of ALGORITHM burned to a DVD and shipped to France well before then. We’re aiming at late February at the latest.
So, like I wrote, I should be editing right now.
Why am I not editing right now? I do feel I needed to do another blog/journal entry because it had been 15 days since my last one. But, the fact is, if I knew exactly where I was going with the next edit, that would take precedence over any self-assigned social media obligations I might have or feel. That said, I do believe this is a valuable endeavor, not just as a possible learning tool for future filmmakers/artists, but also because it keeps me connected to people.
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Why, then am I not editing right now? It’s because I’ve been doing screenings during these past 43 days of editing (actually, only over the last 38 days, since I spent 5 days getting the first rough cut together), getting feedback on how each cut worked.
I have a few questions I ask after each screening:
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1) Tell me the story.
I believe that the experience of art determines what art is. In other words, it’s not what I intend the story to be, but what the viewer thinks it is. To me, it doesn’t matter what their answer is, unless it’s that they couldn’t follow it, or that it didn’t make any sense. The story needs to resonate with them, which means it needs to, at some level, make sense. It’s okay if they’re left with some questions, as long as those are the right questions. If they’re asking, “Wait, who was that guy at the end and why was he…?” That’s not good. And, I’ve only gotten that once, out of 9 screenings. That makes it a statistical anomaly which can be disregarded.
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2) Did you like it?
The answer should be yes, and it has been, across the board, with exception of the guy who didn’t understand it. But, at this point, I’ve also been getting notes on how ALGORITHM can be improved, either through scenes that can be deleted, edited down, or altered, or different music, different shot choices, etc. That’s exactly the kind of feedback I’m hoping for. I’m not at the point that I need my ego stroked. That’s not why I’m screening the movie. That’s why I invite the people I have, when I invite them. They have a specific skill-set that enables them to give the kind of feedback I need at the time.
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3) A question specific to their skill-set.
The fact is, not everyone is good at everything. My first screening was with a novelist/screenwriter Matt Wallace, a writer/director Earl Newton, and a lawyer Nikki Glowin. They are all young, eager, hungry and hard-working. I don’t mean “hungry”, like, out of work. They all work in their aforementioned fields, making enough money to pay the bills, and a bit more. So, they’re professionals. What I meant by “hungry”, as in, they want to succeed, to improve their craft and skills… they haven’t resigned themselves to their inevitable, depressing, and laborious future of toil. They hope for a better tomorrow.
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But I digress. The key in all of that is their open-mindedness. They could see ALGORITHM for what it was, but also what it could be. And, they gave me some amazing notes, not on specifics, because the story wasn’t at that point yet, but on the overall feel. It was perfect.
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Last week I screened for ALGORITHM for a friend and fellow producer Miles Maker. Miles is currently working on a project that will probably do very well. He cut a trailer that was so good it got his movie an agent. That’s not easy! Miles talked with me about what I could do with ALGORITHM when it’s finished. He knows markets. He knows the industry. He knows people in the industry and what they’re looking for. He also knows their typical modus operandi.
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Later that day, I screened it for another writer/director Sean Hackett. Sean writers scripts for the studios. He’s been trained by a director whose name you know, but I don’t know if I can say his name for privacy reasons. If I said it, you would be impressed. Sean knows A LOT of big names in Hollywood. Yet, he’s also got the indie spirit and vitality. And, he’s one of the nicer, more open people I’ve met.
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Here’s where we begin to answer why I’m not editing right now.
Sean gave me some comments that were profound and unexpected. He knows what sells. He knows what’s good. He gave ALGORITHM some incredibly high praise. But, the praise came with a qualifier. He said it could be among the great first movies from directors who are now famous. The movie that kept coming up is Christopher Nolan’s The Following. The really interesting part is that he said it was an “ode to hacking and that lifestyle.” What he meant by “ode” is that it’s poetic, literary, almost like a symphony. That’s not my putting words into his mouth. It’s my summarizing a 5 hour conversation, and a Facebook chat after that.
The notes and specific suggestions Sean gave plucked something inside me that I’ll get back to after I mention the most recent screening.
On Sunday, November 10, 2013, I screened ALGORITHM for a hacker/geek/genius named Cameron Kaiser. He is easily one of the smartest people I have ever met. When he’s not writing one of the versions of Firefox (which he doesn’t without any team backing him up), he’s a medical doctor, and he’s really good at that too.
Cameron’s been a friend of mine for 14 years. He was one of the main technical advisors for ALGORITHM and has read various version of the script. Despite the qualities of the other people for whom I’ve held screenings, Cameron was the only one I was really nervous about. He would tell me if it passed the hacker/geek test.
He said it did, though the fact that Will (ALGORITHM’s main character) has crypto-anarchic political tendencies can be a bit cliche. Other than that, he said I got it right.
At least… I got the tech portion right.
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And now we’re going to get into why I’m not editing right now.
I was waiting until Cameron saw ALGORITHM to make another cut. I wanted to hear what he thought. His ideas were… very unexpected. He said the same thing Sean did. He said there’s a beauty in the beginning that I let go of as the movie progresses.
It was really shocking to hear that advice from Sean, because he’s so close to the industry. I expected comments in the direction of making it more mainstream. I don’t mean that as a slight against Sean at all. I know he wants me to succeed, and mainstream movies make A LOT of money.
To hear that same non-mainstream-direction advice from Cameron… It means I have to rethink I choice I made early on in the editing process.
When I was making the first edit, after the Matt/Earl/Nikki screening, I cut out a big scene that involved Will doing what appeared to almost be modern interpretive dance while manipulating the hexadecimal code from a program he was researching. I cut the scene because it felt like a different movie, something artistic to the point of it being unapproachable to most people.
And… that’s why I’m not editing right now. I’m waiting until I come to a conclusion about the direction the entire movie should go. How far in the direction of art and beauty can I push ALGORITHM before it becomes unapproachable?
My goal with ALGORITHM is not to create a piece of video art that can be hung up in the Guggenheim. I have a lot of respect for those artists, but that’s not what I’m doing. My goal is to ask the questions that naturally arise when thinking about the forefront of technology and it’s current clash with vested political interests… and of course, to tell a story of man finding his humanity.
The question I’ve got to answer before I can continue editing is, how far can I push the art and still have the question be understood by people without a Ph.D in philosophy/art/cinema/poetry/music/etc?