Thursday, January 21, 2010

Indie Filmmaker Bullshit Detector: On Sale, Super Low Price, Quarter of a Mill point Ninety-Nine!

When contemporary filmmakers start talking about beating the system, I tend to put them on mute. It's like the creeping realization that the once-familiar lady you're talking to at the supermarket is the latest to have been grabbed, lobotomized, and made over in a silly shade of lipstick by the Stepford contingent.

Beating the system used to be a pretty noble idea. The thing is, there is no system anymore. You are where that system once was. What I'm telling you now is something I would have needed help from various publishers to do even several years ago. Years ago, in high school, the prospect of making a movie on anything but a VHS camcorder seemed pretty unlikely. Even once technical innovations put filming in the hands of the filmmaker, getting the material edited was still a major hurdle. Today I edit in my own house. I filmed WOMAN'S PICTURE, my second film, with a group of friends, a crew of somewhere around ten, and a cast I truly loved. Ten is a generous estimate. Often there were four or five of us, tops. I served as my own producer, raising the money, casting, assembling the crew, drafting contracts, booking plane tickets, finding locations, coordinating the building of sets, et al. Three years ago, when I made my first film, I secretly prayed, as I imagine many filmmakers do, that it would be picked up for distribution. Distributing it myself was such a radical and remote idea that it seemed foolish. Three years later, I'm in a position to hold onto and profit from my own work, if only I acknowledge my advantage in the changing marketplace. WOMAN'S PICTURE seems as good a juncture as any to initiate that process.

Every filmmaker stands at that fork in the road. So the overwhelming insistence on doing things the way they've typically been done continues to baffle me. Paramount didn't develop a division to produce movies budgeted under 50k recently because they want to help smaller filmmakers realize their dreams. Curve ball success stories like Paranormal Activity have convinced them that there is money to be made in no budget filmmaking, and watching filmmakers market their own material, I would imagine, makes one-time gatekeepers more than a little nervous. It's the dinosaur trying to make friends with the cause of his own impending extinction. See a flood, make friends with a paddle. See a fire, make friends with water. I'm not opposed to utilizing wider distribution channels, and I'm certainly not naive about the importance of mass media in marketing a film, but the writing is on the wall. It's a very different dynamic these days. It has the potential to be much more of a partnership, but you have to make yourself an executive partner.

When I was putting WOMAN'S PICTURE together, my biggest obstacles were people who had a little experience producing indie movies. I've often found that people with no experience are much more creative in their approach to achieving goals. There's no same old fixed idea gripping them. Why should I spend six months trying to deal with an actress' management, when the actress I really want, who happens to have a real connection to her fan base, can be reached directly through Facebook? This is one of the things I went through. The argument was made that the actress I couldn't reach on Facebook, whose management I would have to deal with for months, complicating if not permanently stalling the process, was a draw to investors and distributors, therefore, worth the wait. With so many films starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Anniston, Bill Murray and other much bigger names than the actress in question going straight to DVD, where they get buried in racks without the necessary marketing to direct you to them, why would I want to play that waiting game? I would rather acknowledge from inception that casting is a different kind of strategy these days.

As is financing. People kept telling me I should say my movie cost hundreds of thousands when it was budgeted nowhere near that. The argument went that when I start shopping the finished movie to distributors, they will only want to pay me what they know I spent. This flimsy excuse for a strategy is a ridiculous waste of time. It misleads its mastermind more than its recipient. A distribution "deal" for most vaguely commercial indie films is somewhere under 100k. More often, a film my size, whatever the budget, is considered fortunate to get less than half of that. This puts you in a screwy situation. You lose ownership of your film during a crucial time, its so called launch, and the people charged with marketing it have next to no idea where to aim the rocket. The truth is, they won't really try, unless there's a very good reason in it for them. I leave it to you to decide what that reason might be, or whether it's worth it to you to spend time figuring it out. Whole films have been written, budgeted, and shot in such efforts.

The gamble isn't just that in conceiving your film you will have guessed the wrong "reason" they might care, the wrong incentive for a distributor to become involved advantageously. The bigger risk is that you alienate the people who might invest in the project, allowing you to make your film, to be a working filmmaker. Why should they invest big bucks in a film which is out of touch with what it needs and how it might go about spending it? Why should anyone give big bucks to any film at this point? Filmmakers are no help. Many honestly believe they need hundreds of thousands of dollars and a posse of producers to make a film full of talking heads. Their films are not getting made, so they have a lot of time on their hands, all the time in the world to plan that acceptance speech. I'm guessing that in their minds, you aren't really a filmmaker unless you operate recognizably as one. In my mind, you're a filmmaker if you're making a movie. I had two producers tell me, after we sat around waiting for someone to drop a bunch of money in our laps and I announced my intention to make the film for less, now, not later, that I obviously didn't want to advance a step up from the circumstances of my first film. I told them getting a film made is an advance from not getting it made. Then I told them good-bye.

The popular concept of a movie budget is something which is still living in the dark ages, the romantic past of the "indie moment", whatever that was. You need a whole host of things for no other reason than the fact you've been conditioned to believe you do. Maybe you went to film school. Your professors have to teach you something, I suppose. At the end of the day, they can discuss what makes a movie great, they can introduce you to resources, and they can impart to you some sense of what it takes to get a movie like those you intend to make written, financed, budgeted, organized, and screened. Having paid a lot for this information doesn't exempt you from exploring alternative options, unless what you need more than anything is the confidence that as long as you do certain things and think certain ways you will be that much closer to being regarded as a legitimate moviemaker. From my point of view, the contemporary filmmaker's own worst enemy is often his- or herself. The biggest asset you have as a filmmaker is the ability, the flexibility, to regroup and rethink. My parents told me Santa Claus delivered presents. I'm not still blaming them for it, nor am I still putting out a plate of cookies on Christmas Eve, and at the approach of the giving season I make sure I get myself what I would want from someone who might end up giving me a candle they pulled out of a closet instead.

People are much more likely to invest small amounts in a film than large, especially if they know the filmmaker is committed to steering the project not toward his own lofty ideals, for which he answers to no one, but toward an audience. You don't have to have a plan, but you better have some ideas. Holding onto your film in the long run is a big responsibility if your intention is to figure out how to get it seen. A small investor stands to gain from this the same way Paramount does by producing a no budget movie. Paramount knows this. So should you. Every investor is aware, or should be, that the likelihood of payback is iffy at best. A smaller investment, if everything is being done to rethink and keep costs down, and every effort is being made to market the film wisely and for the long run, is that much likelier to be recouped.

From this point of view, actors become investors too. If getting the right actors is jacking up your budget, you have the wrong actors. Work with actors who want to do something interesting. Lying to actors about your budget in an effort to impress them only makes them wonder why you're not offering them more. Make them participants. By staying small with large ideas, you're offering them something which is in itself fairly valuable. You are in a position, as are they, to negotiate these things. In the industry at large, royalties, as many actors will tell you, are a thing of the past. Studios used to build films creatively around percentages all the time. Owning your material gives you that wherewithal. If you think points are worthless and you don't believe in them then it seems to me you're not very committed to making things happen, not just now but in the long run. It certainly makes it seem as if you don't believe in what you're doing. Why should anyone else? Another producer told me these percentages don't mean anything anymore to anybody. No one expects to see anything from them, he said. They're worthless. Good to know, I said. Guess that means the 15% you requested on the back end is freed up now.

Talk is cheap. Movies can be a lot cheaper too. You'd be amazed how steadily you can build up a body of work when you decide work is what you really want to do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


A heated boardroom exchange between characters played by Ann Magnuson and Gerald L'Ecuyer is one of several set pieces in WOMAN'S PICTURE which have required a special kind of attention in the editing room.

The exchange is scripted at fourteen pages, much of which is delivered by Ann. The segment she appears in as Miriam Masterson is seen through the eyes of her character, a woman who recalls various classic women's film archetypes. Miriam's boss, played by L'Ecuyer, has called the meeting in question for reasons unknown to Miriam, causing her a lot of anxiety and self doubt. She enters the room wearing a mask of confidence and leaves totally shattered.

From inception I viewed the board room scene as a composite of various iconic film stills. You have a woman sitting somewhat stoically and defensively at a long table, surrounded by men. The wall behind her seems to dwarf her, yet she's shot from below, so she looms a little too. That doesn't empower her, but it does somehow ennoble her. She has an edge about her. She seems hard, or brittle, and there's a slight mania to her presence, an element of barely controlled delusion which elicits contradictory responses of empathy and rejection from her audience. She's reached an age where age is more of an issue.

Before and during the shoot, Ann and I engaged in trying to determine whether or not Miriam is likable, or whether she needs to be. Editing, I face the issue alone, and hope to see clearly. Ann has played many roles which build on this career woman template, capitalizing on the desire to see her punished or put in place. How we developed and presented Miriam was very important to her. She didn't want to make another contribution to the stereotype. I was sensitive to that. At the same time, I'm fascinated by that stereotype; specifically, where it comes from and what drives it. I wanted to create a character who embodies the qualities of that stereotype but places them within different contexts. The older films seem to be about satisfying an audience's urge to see a woman suffer and be punished; particularly a woman in some position of control or power. Mildred Pierce comes to mind, although it isn't the same kind of career woman.

A TV personality, Miriam has appeared throughout the film on the television sets of other characters, selling feminine lifestyle product. Her set is uber feminine. Chrome and white lacquer touches reference the Hollywood style of the films she once watched with her mother. She talks a lot on TV about their close bond. She seems to be holding herself up as an example of the dutiful daughter, the have-it-all career woman. She's an arbiter of taste and femininity in the eyes of her viewers, many of whom she takes calls from every day.

The moment she steps off camera, you realize what a construction this persona is. The home shopping studio which houses her set and produces her show is a sleek, modern facility, and Miriam seems out of place in it. It's as if the building has been renovated or she's never really gotten the hang of the place. She has trouble finding her way around in it. She gets lost in the halls. Her fancy, flowing silver dress looks almost ridiculous in this environment, especially compared to the attire of the mostly male staff, knit shirts and casual slacks. However close Miriam and her mother might have been at one time--and the implication is that they never were--her mother is now in a nursing home, suffering from late stage Alzheimers. "I talk to my mother every day," Miriam tells her viewers. What she doesn't say is that her mother never talks back and probably can't hear her. When we see her at her mother's bedside, she's staring off into space, like her mother. They stare in opposite directions.

The discrepancies between her on screen persona and her real life are so numerous and so glaring that you're immediately inclined to start seeing Miriam as a fraud. By the time she enters the boardroom, the stage is set to sit back and judge her, to feel a distance from her, a sense of disdain. The challenge for me is to present those discrepancies in ways which can be reviewed and reassessed as the story moves on. The boardroom meeting is a turning point and involves subtle turnabouts and peaks. Grant and Miriam are both playing roles--the affable boss, the team-playing employee. More than anything, each is pretending to understand the other's point of view. What I hope to create is a sense for how hard Miriam has to work in this scenario, how carefully she has to word everything, how much simpler she must pretend to be. Her ideas have to seem to be his ideas. Her opinion must appear to affirm his. It's an impossible situation--for both of them, but particularly for her. All Grant really has to do is remain friendly, and even that has ostensibly justifiable limits.

Miriam is surrounded on all sides by men. You never see her in the frame alone. Every reaction she has is visibly public. Grant is often shown in close up. His lines are edited so that he interrupts her. Several times, Miriam's body language telegraphs assurance--she has all the various poses down pat--but words fail her. Ultimately, she is so under attack that you'd have to be pretty heartless not to empathize with her. Her biggest illusion might be that her show, like her fantasy life, is her own domain. She feels confident in everyone's awareness that she understands her demographic, this world she's cultivated and nurtured, better than anyone could; certainly better than any man. The meeting quickly disobliges her of this idea, and she sees that the compromises she's made have bought her nothing. Just about anyone can relate to that fear and disappointment. If Miriam is delusional, we all essentially are. Hopefully, by the end of the meeting, a viewer switches sides at the table.

There are many takes where Miriam comes across a little too forcefully, upsetting a delicate balance of power in the room. I've tried to avoid those moments. While they're funny, and very good--some of Ann's best work in the piece, really--they also reinforce the impression that the men in Miriam's life are victims to her will, and they seem to confirm some of the stereotypes Ann and I want to avoid. We tried different readings; the lines could go different ways. I suspect part of the reason this forcefulness appealed to us at the time has to do with exactly the kind of expectations I'm talking about and trying to examine through the movie. Finding alternate inflections requires patience and some rethinking, but the core of the story is about taking the time to see things differently, and that involves looking harder.

My interest in Miriam and in the challenge is very personal. Miriam's character is inspired by my grandmothers, both of whom were strong, independent women whose strength was typically viewed as weakness. The judgment of the men in their lives (and even often the women) produced a distinctly steely disposition which only served to reinforce the sense that their problems were brought on by themselves, by their "difficult" personalities. Every success was a failure; every advance an hostility. Eventually, they stopped trying not to be difficult.

As a child I read their stories very differently. My impressions contradicted the things I heard. After their deaths they continued to be judged. To me, a philandering husband explained a lot. Alcoholism explained even more. To others, these served as some kind of proof that my grandmothers were impossible--to love, to live with. It was unfortunate enough to see them struggle in life; worse to watch them go up against popular opinion. I've always had tremendous admiration for them and have tried to balance my impressions, but I continue to be fascinated with our need to see strong women punished and picked apart, and it comes as no surprise to me that filming and editing this story has involved dealing with my own unconscious biases and tendencies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cutting Gore

I've been watching other movies to see how they handle gore, accidents, violence, hysteria. A crucial scene of WOMAN'S PICTURE concerns a woman who lives inside her head, and the whole segment, her story, is very insular, ultimately concluding in an act of trauma.

The woman works as a maid in an out of the way motel. She's a very repressed character and if you go by critic Mary Ann Doane's general categories of "Weepy" film thematics (these are: medical discourse, love story, maternal conflict, paranoid heroine), this character would fall under paranoid. She's somewhere between Hitchcock's Rebecca, Cukor's Gaslight and, using a much later example, Altman's Images.

Images interests me because in many ways it updates the paranoid woman of those earlier films. In movies like Rebecca and Gaslight, hysteria has a legitimate cause in some external source. Someone is driving the heroine mad. Her craziness stems essentially from her inability to convince herself and others that it isn't all in her head. Images dispenses with those theatrical devices. Susannah York truly is mad and her madness is never explained or justified. It represents a wall between her and everyone else.

At the same time, the older template is observed in the sense the Images narrative is viewed through the heroine's perceptions. In Rebecca and Gaslight, you can never be sure whether or not the protagonist is "seeing" things. In Images, you know very early on that she is; you're seeing them too. The film isn't a process of parsing through these visions to distinguish between fact and fantasy. The visions are presented without distinction, grouping the film among conspiracy narratives of the sixties and seventies, where the source of threat was impossible to define or pin down.

I always pictured the maid's story with noir overtones, so it helped to find the following in Women's Film and Female Experience by Andrea S. Walsh: "Film noir left its mark on all Hollywood cinema, including the women's film. Mildred Pierce [for instance] represents a tenuous marriage of the women's film and the film noir. Another uniquely feminine variant of film noir arose, simultaneous with the emergence of the classic noir narrative. Featuring victimized, mad, or terrified women, and usually set in ornate, claustrophobic interiors, these films express distrust in love and family relationships."

In WOMAN'S PICTURE, violence breaks open that claustrophobia, but in doing so, permanently ruptures any possible connection with anyone else's reality. Images, too, erupts in violence, but many times over. York is always going there, imagining blood, calamity, rape, or otherwise. What I want is slightly different. The maid dreams of escape, of getting in a fast car, tearing out. Everything about her existence at the motel is routine. Every guest brings the possibility of change. Her accident is unexpected for the viewer, and a surprise to her, but it also has an inevitability to it that she's been anticipating from the beginning.

I want it to be chaotic. It should have that sense accidents do, where everything happens too quickly to fully apprehend. And I want to show just enough. Much of the incident takes place on screen but through the distortion of a pebbled glass partition which leads into the bathroom, an architectural feature which provides an early cue that the things the maid sees are often ascertained through various filters. The accident itself occurs in full view. The room's guest returns unexpectedly. She rushes into the room when she sees what's happened. We did most of it in one take, from a distance, with a single close-up of the wound. Cutting this together is a challenge involving what to show and when. Show too much and you lessen the impact. Show too little and there is none.

(Production stills by Tommy Kha feature Gia Mora on the left, Amy Lavere on the right)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

From Reginald Marsh to Agnes Martin

I appreciate what Joel and Ethan Coen do much of the time but as a whole their work can leave me cold. It's too airtight in a certain way. It tends to be a little smug. I respond to about one in three of their films, which seems generous, given how prolific they are. I'd never really paid much attention to their editing, though I know it's a huge part of what they do. These days, I'm watching movies very critically, from a distance, first as a spectator, caught up in their effects, then, as much as possible, as an impartial observer, trying to dissect how they made me feel the way I did. I was surprised by my reaction to Burn After Reading. I really liked it; really responded to it, not just intellectually but emotionally, which is odd for something so ostensibly farcical. I found myself watching the edits pretty closely in several scenes.

The Coens' work is pretty measured, everything happening just so. They keep a tight rein on things, so it's interesting that their films typically deal with a need for and a loss of control. Like Fargo and No Country For Old Men, Burn After Reading concerns itself primarily with powerless people who imagine they're in charge. That's more of a subtext in Fargo and Country. Petty criminals get in over their heads. In both there is some larger, malignant force steering things, shifting the focus so that people like William H. Macy and Steve Buscemi, however central, register as periphery, Keystone Kops running in and out of doors behind the driving action. Much of Country is focused on Javier Bardem, who carries out his mercenary directives with the efficiency and remorselessness of a pre-programmed machine. Javier is God by default, meaning there isn't anything else to take his place. Fargo is more hopeful, balancing good and evil with Frances Macdormand's perky imperviousness on the one hand and Peter Stormare's superficially placid sociopath on the other. Everyone else bumbles around somewhere between them.

Burn After Reading has no real moral center. There is no Marge Gunderson. And it has no existential figurehead, no Grim Reaper, calling to collect. Even the people who should be in control, the CIA, are clueless and amoral. The hand of the director is always palpable in a Coen film. There's a stylist behind every style, a director directing what is clearly a movie. In Burn, there's more of a free for all feel, lessening that sense of directorial presence. Standing in for director, moral center, and the grim reaper are CIA officials, and the joke is that they aren't in control of their own film. The inmates are running the asylum. The energy of Burn is chaotic; the thru-lines more complicated than the simple narrative threads of Country and Fargo. Both Fargo and Country are set against wide open vistas. The characters look out into them the way some people look at the ocean, as something easily navigated, whereas what's really there, the Coens seem to be saying, is unfathomably vast, an unnavigable nightmare abyss.

Burn's characters are urban dwellers. Clooney's retired CIA analyst jogs not through the country or even on a track but through the heart of DC, a town where unseen forces can be said to run the show. Outdoor scenes are crowded with people. Indoor scenes are openly inhospitable. Macdormand and Pitt, the film's petty thieves, are fitness instructors at a gym. These scenes are handled in ways that emphasize the transience of the environment; it's a place through which hundreds of people pass, and while there they go into private zones, tuning out PA announcements, the sounds of spinning wheels, music, TVs, weights dropping on the floor. The characters have none of the methodical reflection allowed in the other films. Nevermind that space for reflection only allowed for bigger mistakes in Country and Fargo. The crowded cast of characters in Burn After Reading are forced to think on their feet, and the assurances they make to themselves and each other about sovereignty over their decisions and lives have a noisy, childlike ring to them which makes Pitt's death that much more abrupt, shocking, and affecting, more so than anything I can remember in a Coen film.

I rewound it several times. Like all good editing the scene, simply constructed, feels dense and complex, and its placement within the story reinforces everything that came before it and colors everything that happens after. Before novice blackmailer Pitt sneaks into Clooney's house to hunt for more incriminating evidence (which turns out to be abundantly worthless, natch) he sits in his car singing loudly to the music on his headphones, slurping from a straw. He dances in his seat. Inside, things get quieter, but that sense of unbridled mania has been so well established with his character that Pitt's felonious presence in a still place creates an unbearable tension, however much he tones down. Clooney returns unexpectedly, sweating from his jog. Pitt hides in the closet, watching through the slats as homeowner showers, dresses, heads his way.

Clooney, too, is a petty thief, a scam artist juggling several women at once. Like Pitt and Macdormand he exaggerates. Earlier, he'd bragged about his gun. "It's no big deal. Never discharged it, twenty years of service. Security blanket now. I don't think about it--of course, you're not supposed to think about it; in a situation where your man is threatened the training kicks in. Muscle memory. Reflex." He wears a holster, keeping the gun with him at all times. He's just picked the gun up and is going for the holster in the closet when Pitt, standing there with a stupid smile on his face, startles him. The gun goes off reflexively, spraying the closet wall with blood and brain matter. The incident reduces Clooney to a babbling idiot, showing just how similar he and Pitt were underneath his more polished surface. The aftermath of the shooting features Clooney crawling around on the floor, half scampering, half stumbling.

Nothing in Country or Fargo is as effective in quite this way. Careless deaths are routine in Coen films, as is abrupt, dispassionate violence. Things often go wrong and someone gets hurt. Buscemi is shot by the man he's blackmailing when he goes to collect, leaving much of his jaw exposed. Elsewhere, Woody Harrelson is dispatched point blank with a sawed off shotgun. What differs most blatantly are tone and backdrop. The Coens frequently do slapstick, sometimes punctuated by violence or the threat of it. But Burn blends comedy and suspense in ways I haven't seen in many Coen movies. Everything is antic, as busy as a Reginald Marsh crowd scene, until Pitt's shooting, giving the scene and the rest of the film an unusual gravity and resonance. By contrast, everything in Fargo and Country takes place within a context of relative silence and repose. Quiet is followed by gunshot is followed by more silence, so that even when the violence is a surprise, it isn't entirely unexpected, the silent backdrop by then having created a pervasive feeling of dread.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I've been reading Fine Cuts and First Cut, two anthologies of interviews with film editors, as I edit WOMAN'S PICTURE. I can't remember where I got First Cut, back in 1992, but I guess I've probably read it a dozen times or so since then. I gave it away at some point, thinking I'd internalized the information and could do without it. Someone else seemed to need it more than I did at the time. I bought it again a few years later. Few books have been as pivotal for me. Hitchcock/Truffuat comes to mind. Definitely Masters of Light.

I pulled a long weekend, working full days with a head cold. People seem to hate editing. Friends who wish to be considered "filmmakers" complain about it as though it were a formality, a necessary evil. They see it as grunt work. Shooting, directing: that, I guess, is what they consider the creative part. Or maybe the responsibility makes them nervous. I understand the fear you bring to the raw material, that big blank nothing, but I love the editing process. Filming, the shoot, that's great--it can be--WOMAN'S PICTURE was like an extended, simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating slumber party--but what it produces is so vague, ultimately. It is by itself.

What I'm learning about editing is that it really creates the story. No one wants you to know that. Maybe because it assigns the editor too much authorship. Things you shot don't work the way they did in your head. That happens when you're filming, too: the script, however fantastic, however watertight, is suddenly redundant in certain ways which couldn't have been predicted. One of the most unnerving parts of filming is knowing you need to deviate from the script, and worrying you'll deviate in a way which screws you later on. So filmmaking isn't pristine in exactly the way people think, nor is it messy in quite the way they imagine, though of course it is a form of chaos most of the time.

Editing deals with what you have, essentially, and what you have is always all over the place. The performances in WOMAN'S PICTURE are the best I've ever gotten. One of the actors, the most experienced in the cast, performed each take with precisely the same gestures as the last, and just as much authenticity, meaning that now, editing, I can cut to him at any point I like. His hand will always be consistent. His head will always be turned the right way. It always matches. But the light changes, the sound is different, the tone fluctuates in various infinitesimal ways. A word is forgotten. A boom plays peek-a-boo. There are abundantly more subtle issues. The emotional tenor or feel of one shot is just irreconcilable with its counterparts.

What fascinates me about the interviews in First Cut is how often they confirm my experience. These are much more talented editors than I am, much more skilled. They work with fantastic directors. Anyway, they work with experienced directors, with big budgets, professional cast and crew. The obstacles that face me during the edit are the same they meet doing this year after year, and they use the same tricks, extending shots, changing the order of a story or a scene, abbreviating, eliding, amplifying, collapsing, faking out with the use of sound design. It dawns on me, reading these interviews now, that the challenges of editing are pretty universal. Even a movie with everything going for it can be doomed by an unsuccessful edit. Even a pretty mediocre one can be made more persuasive.

I feel totally energized by editing. Film editing is like nothing else I've done. Writers I know like to start telling me, the second I bring it up, that they know exactly what I'm talking about. Editing a film is the same as what they do. I'm a writer and I can tell you that's absolute bullshit. They'd be embarrassed to say it after putting a movie together. They'd find the process of storytelling on film about a million times more mercurial than the process of storytelling through the written word. I keep hoping I can explain the differences, because they seem important to me. That's hopeless, for the time being. Editing film and words are the same the way jogging and swimming are. They're all exercises. Writing is more like jogging, I would say.

I've made a lot of headway in the past week. The movie has gotten to a place, even this early, where it feels full. You can do this thing editing. Again, I don't know how to describe it. You abridge with sound or with image or even with a movement in a way which suddenly pops the material out. It's like those thin pieces of foam that explode into sponges when you submerge them under water. You're feeling around until you get there, so you don't always know exactly what made the difference. It's a house of cards, editing. When it isn't working, you're looking at a series of schematics. When it starts coming together, you're almost scared to touch it, afraid you'll knock it down. Whatever it is that makes the difference, what was inert becomes dimensional, it fattens up. You feel you're watching this thing that extends in all directions beyond the frame you're viewing. Already, WOMAN'S PICTURE has that quality in places, so I keep stacking, very carefully. I find it difficult to imagine how these editors worked without computers. I can save my house of cards in a folder. I can copy it, and to the copy I can add or remove a card here and there. When the thing collapses, I can go back to the original. I click a button and it's there, cross fingers.

Fine Cuts is handy but nowhere near as indispensable as First Cut. It interviews European film editors, arguing that there is a definitive difference between American and European film editing. I guess I agree. But the differences are all up and down the board, so everything different from conception. The interviews aren't really interviews either. They're transcribed without the questions the subject was asked. Like a European film, it can be pretty slow going.