Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When to Stop

We’re up to 529 views of the teaser on YouTube! That’s pretty exciting, considering all we did is put out the word to our friends on Facebook. We haven’t sent the trailer to any press websites yet, as we don’t want the buzz to build too early. (Or, God forbid, to plummet before we screen anywhere.)

The plan is to apply to a bunch of festivals over the next four months, finish the sound, score the film, and color correct it. By December, we’ll know if we’ve gotten into some of these places. That’s when we’ll start up the hype machine. For right now, we’re focused on just finishing.

Updates: Juliane, our awesome production designer, made a great cover for our DVD that we’re going to be sending to festivals. Check it out:

Also, we held our fourth test screening on Sunday. The response was again solid, almost likes and really likes across the board. But again, there was the comment that the beginning is slow. We’re sitting in the edit bay right now, trying to address that very issue. We are killing babies, people. One of the things we just cut is the very first word: “remember.” As much as I love starting a thriller about memory with that word, it’s just too damn slow. We need to get into the meat of the story faster. So unfortunately, things have to go. I keep telling myself that’s what the deleted scenes on the DVD are for. And honestly, the movie plays better because of it.

My feeling is that we are close. We are close to locking picture, and we are close to getting this story where it needs to be. It’s not going to work for everyone, maybe, but there’s no way it CAN work for everyone.

Walter Murch (editor of “Apocalypse Now”) says “films are not finished – they escape.” That is absolutely true. We could edit this movie for another year and there would still be folks who won’t like it. We could go out and do a month of reshoots, adding scenes and changing storylines, and still the audience might want something different. I’m not saying that to be a whiny, lazy independent filmmaker. I’m saying that because I’m realizing you truly can’t please everyone. You can only please yourself, and hope others are on board.

And we are very close to being pleased.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It’s finally here! We are proud to present, at long last, the first teaser trailer for “Fugue!"

You can also watch it on YouTube directly, where the number of views we get will directly translate into how much interest we receive from distribution companies. Also, it will just make us feel good.

We’ve been working on the teaser since we finished principal photography in March. We did a first cut, made some changes, took some time away from it, make a couple more tweaks, then finished the latest cut in July. Then we sent it to our composer for new music (which is seriously amazing, she killed it). When that was done, we sent it to Adrian, our sound designer, to sweeten the audio, add effects, etc. When we did reshoots a few weeks ago, we re-recorded a couple of lines to add in. We mixed the audio on Sunday, had Daniel our VFX supervisor put filters on it, and I did the final color-correction last night.

Yes, it was a lot of work. But this is by far the most important piece of advertising we will do. It’s the first thing most people will see about the movie, and it will form most of their opinion. The website, poster, and blog are also important, but the teaser really shows what the movie looks like. I can’t tell you how many trailers I’ve watched that, as soon as they start playing, you realize they’re low-budget, have bad acting, and don’t feel like a real movie. Hopefully that’s not what people will think when they watch ours.

It’s both cool and terrifying, what the Internet can do for a low-budget movie like ours. It’s cool in that you can reach a huge amount of people, all over the world, for absolutely free. It’s terrifying because once it goes on the web, public opinion takes over. One influential review could tank your entire project, like the way J.J. Abrams’ Superman script was savaged on Ain’t It Cool News, and the whole film was canceled.

But it can also go the opposite way, a la The Blair Witch Project. It all depends on how people respond. I hope people like our teaser trailer, I hope they think it’s professional, and I hope it makes them want to see the movie.

I posted the video an hour ago, and put the word out on Facebook, and it already has 37 – no, 59 – no, 73 - views. So at least our friends seem to be interested.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Going Viral

We’re sitting in a sound studio today, doing the final mix for our first trailer. And can I just say, it is pretty cool to be in front of a huge mixing board, with two flatscreen TVs on the wall, and $1000 Aeron chairs to sit in. It’s even more awesome because our sound designer Adrian was able to get us in here for FREE. If we were doing this for real, we’d be paying literally hundreds of dollars an hour.

Not only that, but the trailer sounds great. It's three-dimensional, layered, and makes the whole thing seem expensive and professional. And that is more than half the journey toward getting distribution and getting people paid for all their hard work.

We still have to do color correction, but hopefully it will be online very, very soon. Once it goes up, we really need to get as high a view count as possible. I talked to my friend Ron the other day, whose commercial “Kid Fails Driving Test Five Times” (which I also happened to edit), has nearly 1.4 MILLION views. When you get that many views, people take notice. Supposedly, there are teams of people at agencies just scouring the Internet all day, watching every video that has more than 250,000 hits.

But when I asked Ron how he managed to get that many views, he didn’t have any real answers. He made sure it got on certain high-traffic sites, and gave a heads-up to all his friends, but beyond that, going viral is a very mysterious process.

Our plan is to send it to some film and horror-related sites, but after a certain point, it’s out of our hands. We can only hope people like it as much as we do.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Test Screening #3

I dropped off our latest cut at the Sundance office yesterday. If I thought our odds were slim, that feeling was confirmed when I walked into the lobby and saw crates – literally stacks of crates – teetering behind desk, each one filled to the brim with DVDs. In the time I dropped our DVD off, two other indie filmmakers came to turn in their opuses. It was, all in all, quite an intimidating and humbling experience.

But there wasn’t time to think about that too much, because last night was our third test screening. It was kind of an important one for us – we needed to see if the re-shoots we did last week worked, if the new structure for Act 3 made sense, and most importantly, if the second test screening reactions were a fluke.

Thankfully, it went pretty well. People jumped several times, they laughed at appropriate places, and they really seemed to get into the third act. There were notes – there are always notes, always – but this was definitely the screening that confirmed the movie is working, and we’re close to the finish line.

One example of the power of editing: in the last screening, people hated our spiritual advisor character. They didn’t believe him, didn’t think he was funny. This screening was completely the opposite. A couple people even selected his scenes as their favorite. Just goes to show how much you can change things by lifting lines, tweaking performances, and changing audio.

The great thing to see over and over is how much people respond to our main character. They love her performance, and they really identify with what she’s going through. She did such a good job carrying the movie, especially considering probably half her scenes don’t even have dialogue. Without Abby (the actress), the story wouldn’t work nearly as well.

Also great: the re-shoots were helpful and worth the effort. And there are several scares and story twists that have played well for everyone. So there are large chunks that continue to work.

The big issue, however, is people still think the first act is too slow. We were talking last night about how to address this, and it’s difficult. I jokingly said the movie is a house of cards, but it’s kind of true. Each scene has key pieces of information, so it’s not as easy as lifting things out. What we probably need to do is go in and shave a lot of the individual scenes down. But we need to be careful not to make it so fast that people can’t settle into the beginning. It’s a delicate issue, and one we haven’t quite cracked yet.

But honestly, that’s the biggest thing. We have notes for other sections, mostly about clarity and pacing, but they’re fairly small. It feels like people want to like the movie, and 85% of it is there. We just need to push ourselves over the next few weeks, and get to that final 15.


“Solid horror film. Good editing. I jumped several times.”

“Very entertaining, scary, and engaging. Love Abigail Mittel as Charlotte.”

“I feel like I’ve seen this movie already a lot. I grew tired of the location. The twist was not bad. Good acting, well edited, but I might not recommend it.”

“Good. Kept me in the seat, let me search for clues.”

“Very solid! Enjoyed it a lot. Like that it played off our assumptions from other films (“What Lies Beneath,” etc.)”

“Solid set-ups and pay-offs, well-constructed.”

“Suspenseful, good concept, maybe one too many scenes with the mystery trilobites.”

“I thought it started off slow but the twist was very surprising. Witty dialogue. Some things didn’t quite make sense but on the whole, entertaining and interesting.”

Monday, September 7, 2009


We’re sitting in the edit bay right now, working our butts off to finish this new cut by tomorrow. Ironically enough, it’s Labor Day and everyone else we know is sleeping in, going to the beach, and getting ready to barbecue. We’ll get to party a little later hopefully, but right now we’re working on the third act.

That’s because tomorrow is the deadline for Sundance. Everyone’s heard of the film festival in Park City, but the importance of Sundance for independent movies is huge. A premiere at Sundance garners tons of press coverage, exposure to distributors, and introductions to Hollywood players. It is probably the most important and prestigious film festival in the world.

Literally thousands of feature films are submitted to Sundance every year. Last year, the total was 3,661. The number of films selected to screen in Park City was 118, or 0.03%. Pretty bad odds, especially considering many of selected movies had name stars, or well-known directors, or money.

We have none of those things. But still, there are stories every year out of Sundance about unknown, low-budget movies that go on to find success – "El Mariachi," "The Blair Witch Project," "Open Water," "Grace," etc, etc.

There’s all kinds of gossip and rumors about how films get into the festival. Some say you have to “know someone” to get in. Others say it’s purely merit-based. Still others insist sexual favors are involved. Some movies are even rumored to get in without applying at all. We have a possible, tentative connection, but for the most part, we’re sending in "Fugue" purely on its own merits.

Truthfully, we don’t expect to get in. We think our movie’s good, and we think it’s going to get into plenty of other festivals, but we’re not sure if it’s a Sundance type of movie. Our goal was to make something that could sell, not something that necessarily re-invents cinematic storytelling. And I think we succeeded at that.

So we’re spending the $75 application fee and working on Labor Day not because we expect to be sitting in Park City next January. We’re doing it because it gives us a good deadline, and because I don’t want to live the rest of my life wondering if we would have gotten in.

And because no matter what the rumors or gossip say, we still have a shot.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Our Grass is Ass

We’re doing re-shoots tomorrow. It took us a few days to process the notes from last week’s screening. A big part of that was dealing with the disappointment of feeling like we were done, then realizing we were not. That was a big mental obstacle to overcome.

But after talking it over, we realized our audience was right – we do need to tweak some things. So we’re re-cutting this week, in order to make the first act play better, and delay a major emotional reveal until later in the third act.

To make this last part happen, we have to re-shoot a couple lines, and we're filming a whole new scene. It’s always a little bit hair-raising, trying to re-create something you did six months before. You worry if the actors’ hair will match, if you can find all the costume bits, if you can rustle up all the props you need.

But that’s not the biggest problem. One of the recurring things I seem to notice about making movies is that the biggest problem is the one you never see coming. And in our case, our biggest problem is grass.

We’re re-doing the first shot of the movie, in which Charlotte enters the yard and looks up at the house. When we shot it in February, there had been a month of rain and the grass was long and lush. It is now September, the hottest month of the year in Los Angeles, and the grass in our location’s front yard is long gone. As Barbara the owner/director says: “It’s basically a pile of brown dirt.”

So tomorrow morning, our ever-resourceful production designer Juliane is driving all the way out to Northridge to purchase 40 square feet of sod grass. We’re literally putting a jacket over the yard. It’s a simple solution, but one that will be dirty and expensive and hopefully not too hot to lay down tomorrow.

This whole situation once again brings home to me what a weird thing it is to make movies. So many times, you find yourself in situations that no normal person would ever contemplate. And it’s all so you can create an illusion with the very modest ambition of entertaining people. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the amount of work is worth it.