I want to start this out by saying that, like a previous post, I should be editing. Actually, what I should be doing is compositing Photoshop documents in Motion 5 to create one of the screen replacements. But, I haven't posted in the past couple weeks and there has been a lot that I want to talk about.
I believe the last post was about getting the edit to the right place where it conveys the emotions that I want. As a segue to that, I want to talk about Terrance Malick. I'm a fan of Terrance Malick. In fact, THE THIN RED LINE was one of my favorite movies for a long time. Before I became a filmmaker I was a philosopher. I chose movies to watch and study that I believe held some deep truth.
Indeed, THE THIN RED LINE does hold a readily accessible truth, so much so that I chose it for one of my Philosophical Movie Nights (I don't host those anymore). But, there's a scene in the beginning that always bothered me. It didn't seem to contribute to the narrative at all. In fact, it's the very first scene in the movie. It's an alligator/crocodile/(I can't tell the difference) in a swamp. Slowly the alligator descends into the water and as it does, ominous music plays in the background.
For years I puzzled over that scene.
Then, I realized Malick is an existentialist. Malick studied existentialism at college, prior to attending AFI. After he graduated, and while he was gaining renown among the movers and shakers of Hollywood, Malick picked up and moved to France, basically putting his filmmaking career on pause.
When he returned to the limelight, if it can be said that he ever has, he was a mysterious, reclusive man. He never does interviews or publicizes any of his movies.
There is, in the heart of many artists, the belief that time in Paris is required to truly be an artist. This, probably, stems from the fact that there was a time when a great many artists congregated in Paris. For a great record of that time, read Hemingway's A Movable Feast. It's beautifully written and fairly succinctly captures what it was like to be a writer in Paris at that time.
But, that's not why Terrance Malick went. He went because he's an existentialist, and Paris has been the worlds hub of existentialism since Jean-Paul Sartre's work Being and Nothingness. While Sartre doesn't exactly capture my sentiments on existentialism nearly as closely as does Maurice Merleau-Ponty, but the fact that you've probably even heard of Sartre is evidence of his influence. And, you can bet Terrance Malick had contact with either him, or his disciples.
However, this isn't a treatise on my, or Terrance Malick's philosophical beliefs. It's about making ALGORITHM. And, here's where it comes back.
Existentialism is about Being. Being is about awareness, which is inexorably tied to emotion. Feeling.
I've read a lot of reviews of Malick's post-return-to-film works and most of the critics miss this point. Terrance Malick isn't trying to create a coherent narrative, at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, he's creating an emotional experience, probably in the hope that, through that experience, the audience will come to an understanding that is impossible to convey with words.
Back to the alligator scene.
The alligator scene doesn't exist as some kind of metaphor or as part of the narrative. It exists because it evokes an emotion… the emotion that Malick wants you to start the movie experience with. The ominous music is a huge part of that.
About a month ago, I forget exactly, I gave a rough-cut DVD of ALGORITHM to Mandi Reno. She brought it with her to Oakland and watched it with Phillip Matarrese. A few days after that, I got Mandi's notes back. There were some really great insights. I've talked about them in more detail in a previous post.
I changed the movie quite a bit after that, based in part on Mandi's notes. One of the things I paid very close attention to was the temp music because, as I mentioned above, music makes a huge difference in people's perception. This is not to dismiss Mandi's ability to understand or critique a scene. If I thought that, I wouldn't still be working with her. Instead, she's an amazing barometer, letting me know if I got the cut right or if I didn't. She's an amazing and helpful component to ALGORITHM. But, enough praising Mandi.
The music I currently have as temp tracks is symphony music composed prior to 1930. That means it's public domain. At least, the compositions are public domain. The performances aren't. To use the performances, I've got to contact the distributor.
I've been planning to ask the distributor to let us use the music for free. My argument, other than the fact that we simply don't have any money left, is that by using symphonic music in a contemporary story, I'm promoting the world's cultural awareness of that style of music. Those symphonies have a vested interest in staying relavent, or they don't make any money and then they cease to exist.
That would have been my argument.
Then I read a blog post (I tried to find the link, but failed. Sorry.) by a musician who was approached by a successful producer and asked to give her the rights to his music. He… was rather unhappy about the situation. One of his comments was that the producer valued every other aspect of the production enough to budget for it but that she hadn't budgeted for the music.
While that's not the case with our production (we never had enough of a budget to do any of this) I don't want to side with the kind of people who do have money and yet take advantage of artists. That's just not how I work.
As such, I'm probably going to have to recreate all the music. It will take a while, and may not be possible in every scenario, but it's really the only way I can guarantee the music is exactly what I want. (I should probably tell Mandi about this before I post this because she's the one tasked with getting the rights to the music. Okay, I just sent her an email.)
Why bring up the music?
With the new edit, and the right music, I had two more screenings on December 5th. The first was with two of the cast: Keith Barletta and Caitlin Shutlz (both are amazing people, superfun and very committed to the project. The fact that I cast them should tell you how I feel about their acting skills, and they did not disapoint. They gave me a comment I don't want to share (it was actually between both of them, but I overheard it), but it was very encouraging.
The second screening was with Mandi, Phillip and Gio Kendall (she was the Wardrobe Supervisor for ALGORITHM). Everyone was very excited about this new cut. We agreed that most of the editing changes are largely nuances now, nothing major needs to change. A few days later, I got notes from Phillip. A few days after that, Mandi's notes came. I've yet to glance at either, but I have no doubt they will have some great ideas.
That's why I working with them!
* * *
At the screening with Keith and Caitlin, I heard something I've been hearing a lot of. Every single Hollywood distributor, both independent or studio, that, when I bring up their name as a possible target for distribution, I don't hear a horror story about how they've cheated, stole, lied, hurt, screwed the filmmaker.
A few weeks ago, I brought this up to Mandi and she reassured me that we were going to get screwed in Hollywood. That that was just a part of being in this business.
That's not the way I work.
So, I've decided, and Mandi and Phillip agree, that we are going to "creatively distribute" ALGORITHM. We are going to make sure it gets on all the places so the audience doesn't have trouble finding it.
I was really on the fence about this decision until I read Matt Wallace's blog post about his author-distribution experience. Right now, Matt Wallace is my definition of masculinity. He's big, he's strong, he's in touch with his emotions and is able to express them. He has decided the direction he wants in life and is making it work. I often go to Matt for creative advice, or at least hear his thoughts. If he shares his thoughts with you them to you, listen. You're sure to learn something.
We might not make as much money. But, we might make more. We might get sued, but we might not. We will definitely learn a lot about every aspect of distribution. And, I'll try and keep sharing everything I learn.
I haven't even gone into what I'm working on now, which, as I mentioned above, is screen replacements. But, I figure 4 pages is long enough for a blog post.