Friday, July 31, 2009

FLASHBACK: First Test Screening

Here's some thoughts from our director, Barbara, pre and post our first test screening. Enjoy!

Pre-Test Screening Horror (14 July, 2009)

It’s 10:22 pm P.S.T. In 24 hours it will all be over. In 24 hours I will be convinced that “everybody hates me right now”. How am I going to sleep tonight?

As a director, there’s nothing more vulnerable than screening your movie for the first time to a bunch of people, whoever they may be. It’s almost pathetic how painfully excruciating the anticipation is, and I can personally only compare this to a visit at the dentist: You know you have to but you know it’s gonna hurt.

So you invite your closest friends to rob your baby of its virginity. You lay it out in the open and you ask them to point out all of its flaws. I might as well stand naked in front of everybody and listen to friendly suggestions of how an abs class may help out my tummy issues.

The irony is that you have to do it and you do it voluntarily and you do it with a smile. Because any screening is priceless. You do not want your film to get out there without having addressed any problem you can.

So I bow my head and listen to my friend’s advice of using airline vomit bags - which apparently allow me to be social before a screening, yet also comfortably safe. Thanks, David.

Post-Test Screening

I don’t know what the hell I was so worried about. I’m such a chicken.

Test screenings are one of these things that once you do them, as much as it may hurt beforehand, it feels oh so good afterwards! Really the dentist analogy keeps on going. You’re just so glad you did it once you walk out of that practice. My half-sister is a dentist and I just went to see her. She filled three holes (ouch!) but I left with a big smile on my face and super healthy teeth…

The screening went really well. People enjoyed the film. There were issues, but we were hoping to hear about them anyway.

I got so excited that I screened the film again for my entire family in Poland. That’s a lot of cousins gathered around the TV set. They all talked over it (“Is this your garden?” “Are these people dating in real life, too?” “What did she say?” “Is she insane? She doesn’t look insane.”) but in the end they claimed that it was the scariest film they’d ever seen. Families are lovely…

I’m more excited than ever to finish our little film and show it around. It won’t hurt anymore.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Coming Attractions

I’m working on re-cutting the trailer for "Fugue" right now. It’s kind of stressful for several reasons. I sit down to do some work, and I find myself making excuses, doing other things. Whenever I do this, it’s for one reason and one reason only: I don’t know what to do next. I’m feeling that way about the trailer for our movie right now.

A little backstory: I cut a trailer right after we finished shooting in mid-March. I wanted to show something at the wrap party, and more importantly, I wanted an excuse to go through all the footage and get a sense of the movie. So, it was helpful and fun to show the actors something, and all that, but the trailer never changed much since then. And while it gets good responses, it doesn’t get GREAT responses. And our goal is to get people so excited and revved up, they send the link to their friends. They post it on websites. Maybe that’s way too much too hope for, but hey – shoot for the stars and hit the ceiling, I always say. (And honestly – we know it can be better. We have ideas how to make it better. And as long as that’s true -- see below – we must keep working.)

Anyway. So I’m working on the trailer, and it got me thinking about what makes a good preview.

1) IT NEEDS TO TELL YOU WHAT THE MOVIE IS. Sounds basic, right? But I can list plenty of trailers that either don’t tell you what the film is actually about, or falsely advertise what the movie’s about. (Check out the latest trailer for Alice in Wonderland – Johnny Depp is all over it, but he’s probably only in a couple scenes. False advertising!)
So if you’re going to do this, you really need to know what you’re selling. If we put super-fast Halloween-esque music in our trailer, we’re giving people the wrong idea. Our movie is a psychological thriller, in the vein of “The Others,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” So the vibe, music, etc. needs to reflect that.

2) IT NEEDS TO HAVE A HOOK. Everything’s been done before, but it’s good to tell people how your movie is different. Ours is basically a ghost story. The first minute or so of our trailer is about the basic story: young couple moves into a new house, but there’s some spooky shit going on. But then you need to give people the hook: our girl’s got a dissociative fugue. It means she’s erased her own memory. And then the question becomes, are these “ghosts” she’s seeing real, or connected to her fugue? We have other twists that come in the end, but hopefully this is what makes our ghost story different from others.

3) IT NEEDS TO HAVE GREAT IMAGERY … Every good preview is about enticement. You show something cool, or unique, or cinematic, and hopefully it gets people excited about the movie. Remember “Independence Day?” That shot of the giant spaceship blowing up the White House? It was iconic, it was memorable, and it made you want to see the movie. (Check the trailer for Roland Emmerich’s new movie “2012,” where a tidal wave crashes over the Himalayas. Dude knows how to craft a cinematic image.)
So this is also where you show what makes your movie unique. We’ve got a ghost in ours, but we show in the very last shot how ours is different – she has no face. Hopefully it’s something people remember, and hopefully it makes them want to find out why she has no face.

4) … BUT DON’T GIVE TOO MUCH AWAY!!! Three words: “What Lies Beneath.” They had a great third act twist: (SPOILER ALERT) Harrison Ford was actually the killer! It was a great way to subvert his image, but then they go and put that fact in the trailer, the poster, and it ruined the movie. You see this with comedies all the time, where they put all the best jokes in the trailer, then when you go watch it, there’s nothing to laugh at. (“Tropic Thunder:” “What do YOU mean, ‘you people.’” I saw it so many times, it fell like a lead balloon in the actual film.)
For us, we’re trying not to show anything that gives away the ending twist. We’re putting in images from the end, but we’re not explaining them. And they’re super super short. Which brings me to the last thing:

5) BE QUICK ABOUT IT. So many independent trailers try to put in the entire movie, or what seems like entire scenes, and it’s. So. BORING. Show us the goods, give us the vibe, and get out. Better to have people watch your trailer two or three extra times, than to click over to a new page halfway through. This is something I really need to focus on, because the first cut of the trailer was a bit ponderous. It’s sometimes tough to walk the line between tantalizing and just confusing.

These are the main ideas, but let me know if there’s something I missed. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been watching for inspiration. This is how you tease a movie:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First Test Screening

Last night we had our first showing of “Fugue.” It was a small group, 12 people in all, and we (the filmmakers) were all varying degrees of worried beforehand. As I was driving over, I said to Juliane “I’m feeling a little nervous.” J: “If I were you, I’d be REALLY nervous. Not because the movie’s bad or anything, but because it’s a nerve-racking experience.” Me: “Great. Now I AM really nervous.”

But we didn’t need to worry – the screening went very well. People were interested, they laughed at almost all the right parts, and they reacted to a lot of the scares. One of the coolest moments for me was when we had a big death, several people actually said “Whoa!” The last scene got a great response, people yelling and making sounds.

The scores were solid. Everyone gave it a 7 or 8 out of 10. There was one six, but the person also said it wasn’t their kind of movie, and went out of their way at the end to say they thought it was well done.

The actors were very well received. Abby, who plays our lead Charlotte, got great comments: “Love her,” “I was with her the whole way,” “terrific,” “perfect,” and “well done.” Richard, who plays the boyfriend Howard, was also really liked: “good laughs,” “enjoyable,” “very likable,” “fabulous,” and “an absolute delight with charm and presence.” (I’m not making this stuff up, I swear.) The other actors were well-received, too. There were a couple of performance sections that people didn’t respond to, so it’s our job now to figure out what doesn’t work about those, and do some editing to make them play better. In particular, there was a comedic bit that strayed too far from the story, and people wanted that pulled back.

One of the things we were concerned about going in was the pacing. The movie is 90 minutes right now, and we weren’t sure if it was playing too fast, or too slow, or what. Turns out, people thought the pacing was pretty great. A few people thought Act 1 moved a little slow (we agree), but the rest of the movie they really seemed to be involved with. It’s amazing, too, how little folks need to understand something. We were worried people wouldn’t be able to follow what was happening, but not only did they track what was going on, they thought we could cut it back even more. Audiences are able to process information so quickly!

It’s also interesting to note that sometimes, people want and need exposition. Probably the biggest notes we got were about a big exposition scene in the middle. All this weird stuff has been happening, and a guy finally explains some of it. We were worried that people might get bored, so we shot and edited it in kind of a stylized way, but the audience didn’t really respond to that. At that point in the movie, they just wanted the information. Which is good, it means they’re connecting to the story, but we definitely have some work to do there.

Other comments:

“Great job. The camera work and lighting were fantastic. The production design was nicely layered. Very impressive.”

“It might not be my type of film but I think it’s full of great work. Interesting shots. Good story twists. Likable characters.”

“Perfect casting. Overall outstanding work, especially for the budget. Would definitely recommend it to horror fans.”

“A great ride. Daring. Not afraid of gore. Genuine scares.”

“Was in it for almost the entire time and identified with Claire (sic) and wanted to know what would happen to her.”

“This is a nice little movie with some neat ideas and a trick ending – if you can get the plot a little more cohesive at the end of Act 2, you’re GOLD.”

“The scares could be hit harder; it’s hard to make ghosts scary in daylight.”

“Choppy at times, lacks a stable drive, but possesses unusually engaging performances and shines during moments of pure tension.”

“Awesome job guys! What a beautiful, emotional, and scary (in a “The Others” kind of a way – very high compliment) film!”

“Really like the central relationships and funny moments work very well. Love the slow unraveling of the mystery.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Needle Drop

I’m sitting in my office right now listening to movie soundtracks. Not for fun, though I have been known to do that on occasion. Nothing says “rock out” like the score to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But not today, no. Today I’m trying to find temp music for our cut.

See we’re doing a little test screening next Wednesday, and the movie needs music. Even though this is a feature, and even though we have our composer Dana already working on cues. Because when we screen it for a handful of folks next week, we want it to feel like a real movie. We want that viewing experience to be as close as we can get it to what the finished film will look like, even though most of the people coming are film professionals. We’re doing this so we can truly see what’s working. If a cue is in there that’s not right, or it gives the wrong feeling, it makes it much harder to tell what’s not working in any given scene.

Another great thing about putting temp music into your cut is that it gets you thinking about the voice of your film. When we were first slapping cues in, it was amazing to see what felt right with the picture and what didn’t. I love the score to The Mothman Prophecies, but when we put that behind our little indie scares, it was way too big. It made al the sublety of what we were going for look forced and ridiculous.

Barbara picked out some great soundtracks, and a couple of them have been really helpful in determining the vibe of Fugue. One of them is First Snow, which I haven’t seen yet, but the score is fantastic. (It’s by Clint Mansell, who just did the excellent score for Moon, and often does Darren Aronofsky’s movies.) It’s very moody, filled with dark tones and glass orchestra stuff, but spare. And that really plays well against what’s going on in our story – a woman mostly on her own, trying to figure out what’s going on her head.

The other one that’s really helped is the soundtrack to Dreamcatcher. I have seen that movie, and apart from the weasel/toilet scene, it’s pretty bad. But the score is perfect for what we need – it’s filled with make-you-jump stings and lots of different musical flavors – searching mystery stuff, creepy Ligetti-esque atonal builds, dark flashback-y string sections.

But there are a couple sections that we still haven’t found the right pieces for. There’s a big (for us anyway) fight scene at the end of the movie. It needs to be intense musically. The most intense part of the whole story. And it needs to be scary. I’ve dropped in a couple tracks, but the orchestral stuff is still too enormous. It actually detracts from the scene, makes it less scary. Makes it cheesy, even.

And it brings back something I said earlier about honesty. There are plenty of pressures in movie making, and it takes such a long time, it would be easy to just slap something down. But we’re all listening to that little nudge at the back of our heads that tells us it’s not right yet. That the perfect, elusive track is still out there.

And yes, it’s only temp. But I feel like once we find the right temp track, it will help us explain to Dana how that final fight needs to play. It will give us a talking point. And all that will hopefully make for a good ending scene, as opposed to a mediocre one.

So I’m sitting here, listening. And I’m totally open to suggestions.