Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 30 2008


And…..four months later I’m still editing. The light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be an oncoming train, I’m afraid. Whenever I think I’m getting close to the end, something happens to make me realize that I have a lot more work to do.In tiny, incremental, eggshell-tiptoeing steps as I wait for Premiere’s inevitable missive that there is an error and it needs to close now, thank you very much.

Last night, a friend of mine was over, and I showed him part of the film. He said it was too slow and I should cut more out. I told him I’d already cut a third of the movie out, including several entire scenes. But watching your film while sitting next to someone else is an entirely different experience from watching it alone. I was hypersensitive to the slightest indication of discomfiture, confusion or disapproval. He recommended a showing to a small group of people before locking the edit.

I don’t know how I feel about that. While the effects are all done, the music and sound have yet to be included, and I’m afraid I would be getting input on a whole different animal. Have you ever tried watching, say, Star Wars with the sound off? Ideally a good movie should be exciting and interesting even without sound, but there’s no denying that sound and music make a great deal of our movie experience. However, once we have the music done, the movie will be locked in; no more editing will be possible, so we’re screwed either way.

In any case, I’d thought this would be the last major edit, but it seems I (surprise) have more work to do. It is as Lucas says, that movies are never finished, merely abandoned.

posted by Poagao at 5:39 am  
May 22 2008


The editing of the film is wrapping up, I’m happy to say, at least in that I think I’ve done all I can do with what I have at this point. The movie’s still over two hours, but not by too much. Titles still need to be added, of course, front and back. Since we don’t have the cast and crew of thousands that most Hollywood movies use, both should be fairly short.

Right now I’m working on the fight scenes, which are an entirely different problem. The fight scene in Clay Soldiers was the biggest challenge to pull off in any kind of convincing fashion, and it also caused the most rancor within our group as well as by critics of the film. I’ve learned a bit from the last one, and hopefully this time around will be smoother, but we are still hampered by the same limitations as last time. My job in the editing is to hide all of these problems without making it look like I’m hiding anything. It’s not easy.

Another thing we need are establishing shots for the various locations we have around the globe. Dean and I were chatting online and discussed possibly utilizing Flickr’s new video capabilities to look for such footage. Basically, we need some footage of a Central/South American city at night and a Middle Eastern city by day.

We also discussed what we both basically agree is a good final title for the film, which is a relief as none of the placeholders we’ve been using so far have really inspired me. I won’t say what it is yet as we’re still mulling it over, but I think we’ve got our title.

So there’s a light, I guess, that could be the end of the tunnel. It’s time we started to climb in any case.

posted by Poagao at 3:57 am  
Jan 06 2008


I must apologize for not writing in such a long time. I’ve been editing, or trying to, for the past six months, and couldn’t bring myself to write because I felt ashamed. During that time, if I wasn’t editing, I was feeling guilty about not editing, not enjoying much else because I thought I should be editing instead, and every long editing session seemed to bring me no closer to finishing. No sign of progress, really, nothing to show except for a slightly tighter scene here and there. I can’t just do a bit of editing every day. It takes a solid block of many hours. You can’t just edit for a few minutes a day. I can’t, anyway. I’ve spent the last several months hating myself for not being able to just get it done. The rest of my life has been backing up against this project for several years now, forming a thick dam of scattered, inferior goals.

I went through and made all the changes we talked about when Dean was last in town. I took out entire scenes, drastically cut down dialog in others. Switched things around. People ask me how much I’ve done, how much longer it will take, when will it be done, etc. I have no idea at this point. Dean’s been working at the special effects, and doing great work, but it’s slow for him as well. Darrell can’t really even start his job until I get him a final cut.

My 3.2ghz duel-processor computer with its 2gb of RAM and almost 1tb of hd space is struggling to handle the project. Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 is unstable, crashing occasionally and forgetting the last few saves, sometimes an afternoon’s worth of work will disappear. Even when it doesn’t crash, each little cut or change takes several minutes to churn out, and I find myself staring at the message “Rendering Required Files” for a considerably longer time than indicated in the unhelpful Help section in which Adobe says I shouldn’t be seeing this message at all because Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 features smooth, seamless previews. My entire system is bogged down, though I find it hard to believe that nobody ever edited a 2+ hour project in Premiere before. Even the normally helpful folks at dvinfo.net don’t seem to know what the problem is. Maybe my computer is just worn out. Maybe it’s not just my computer.

But it’s 2008. Deep down, I had really hoped not to be still working on this by now, to have moved on to other things, but here I am, seemingly no closer than months ago. I’ve stopped guessing when it will be done, or trying to tell people when it will be done. “Eventually,” is about all I can muster at this point.

posted by Poagao at 10:15 am  
Jun 10 2007


Former ICRT mainstay (before it went down the drain) Brian Lynch showed up at Darrell’s on Saturday afternoon to do some pickup shots as well as his looping. Though he’s lost a bit of weight and is looking better, no one would accuse him of being excessively sprightly. The dogs were a bit apprehensive about Brian. The cats were nowhere to be seen. Doug, who played one of the many guards and lent us his jeep for the jeep scenes, also showed up to loop his (one) line as well as a series of fighting-related grunts.

After all of that, we piled into Doug’s jeep and made our way to JB’s, the site of the long-awaited cast party. To call it a wrap party would seem kind of silly as we finished principle photography in December. A number of people were already there, and the place filled up quickly. I was asked the same question approximately 389 times: “When will the movie be out?” My answer is a no-doubt overly optimistic six months, whereas Dean thinks it will take another year. The second most-ofted asked question was “What the hell are you going to do with it when it’s finished?” For this I have to be a bit more vague. My current plan is to submit it to some film festivals, show it to a few industry people I know here, and try to get some kind of distribution deal. Dean’s going to do the same in Canada. Although it’s possibly we could both end up in an elevator behind someone we think is a movie mogul, talking in exaggerated whispers about what a “sleeper hit” the movie is and how we’re “just going to leave a DVD right here next to the railing.”

At one point Dean dragged me by the ear over to the microphone setup, where he gave a short, humorous, well-scripted speech, as he is wont to do. Then he shoved the microphone at me, and I stuttered a few phrases into the awkward silence that followed. Actually, it was only at that moment, looking at the crowd of faces looking my way, that I realized not only how many people we’d managed to rope into helping us with this thing, but how wonderful they all are. I attempted to say so, and was surprised and moved when my remarks were met with enthusiastic applause. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I have to admit that it was a wonderful moment. It also impressed on me once again the fact that we owe these people the best movie we can make, and we shouldn’t let sentiment get in the way of that in any way. Maurice summed it up rather well when he said, “I’d much rather have a nanosecond-long role in a spectacular movie than a huge role in a mediocre one.” I hope everyone else agrees, because I plan to make that my mantra when I cut further versions of the movie.

The party ran past midnight, the crowd diminishing until only Rowan, Brian Asmus, Lisa and I were left, pleasantly drunk, at a table in the darkened bar. The owner suggested that we depart, so we did. I was fully intent on going home, but the others were in the mood for yet more revelry, so we took a brand-spanking new taxi to Watersheds. Brian marched straight in, but Rowan and I held back, regarding the young fashionable types strolling around outside the tiny space. Not our crowd, we decided, and began walking down the rainy alley towards Bliss instead. Lisa followed.

Bliss was still open, thankfully, and we had more drinks, and more, while sitting amidst the green carpet of the downstairs lounge area. Rowan grabbed a diminutive bartender and began dancing with her. Her Harry Bellafonte collection had been kidnapped, so we listened to Billie Holiday. I don’t recall much of what we talked about through the rye whiskey; I’m reasonably sure most of my state secrets survived intact.

Eventually they stopped serving drinks, and the bar prepared to close. We were ejected with a suitable amount of grace and caught taxis to our respective homes. “Where was the other fellow heading?” my cabbie asked me as we hydroplaned in the general direction of Bitan.

“Yangmingshan,” I answered. The driver grimaced.

“Damn, I live on Yangmingshan. I could have dropped him off and gone straight home,” he said. Outside, the sky was lightening into a dull, wet blue. After arriving home, I took a shower and slept to the sound of the rain until Buddhist chants woke me up at noon.

posted by Poagao at 4:07 am  
May 28 2007


We started doing the ADR (asynchronous dialog replacement, or looping) on Sunday at Darrell’s, with Jacques and Dean. Jacques’ session went quickly as he has relatively few lines. Dean’s lines, more than anyone else in the movie, took us late into the night. Halfway through we feasted on Judy’s d�ners, which are meat wraps dripping with a white sauce sweet enough to be donut frosting. The first few bites were delicious, but they were so filling I struggled to finish just one.

Looping the audio can be risky on one hand, as you’re jeopardizing the best performances of actors who are into the situation and the dynamics of the scene by replacing that dialog with stuff you record alone inside a small room, all in one go. On the other hand, it’s also a chance to improve some of the more lackluster performances. The challenge is to come out ahead, not just with pristine audio, but with improved dynamics that add to the scenes.

Darrell prepares for ADR by taking all the dialog and chopping it up into easily managed bits, playing them for the actor, and then having the actor repeat it as closely as possible, minus any special instruction. Once we got going it went fairly smoothly, though Dean’s Chinese lines were a bit bumpy. He would hear his line from the rough cut, and then I would pronounce it more correctly for him, and he would try to match it all up. While we didn’t make him native-speaker fluent, I think we improved his pronunciation over the original. He also improved his Scottish accent.

I checked off the lines as we went through, offering ideas whenever I had them. We also recorded some alternative lines for edits that we’re considering. It’s good to have Dean’s stuff finished, because his was the largest part, and everyone else has less than that. Next weekend we’re planning t0 do Rowan and April’s ADR. There are a lot of people in the film, so the whole ADR thing is going to drag out quite a while, I think. Dean’s going to do some of the extra voices, like that of Shirzi, who has disappeared, as will Darrell. From what I heard, the sound on this movie is going to be pretty amazing.

Dean and I have shown the rough cut to a few people to get an idea of what needs fixing. Paul, Darrell, Dean and I had a long discussion on the subject as well. So far, the reactions have been positive and the input helpful. Rowan said he was shocked at how good it was. Some of the advice is contradictory, and we’ll need to work out what to do about those areas. One definite problem, however, is that the rough cut is well over two and a half hours long. That means that some characters and even entire scenes are going to have to be cut. I hate to do it, but it’s got to be done. In this age of “Deleted Scenes” sections on DVDs, however, it’s not as devastating as it could have been.

posted by Poagao at 11:28 am  
May 21 2007


It's Alive!After an exhausting weekend, I was so close to finishing the rough cut that I decided to not go in to work and just stay at home editing. Also, Dean came over and we downloaded a basic DVD authoring program so I could make copies for the core crew members to review. Then he left, and I began working on the last scenes as the sun went down.

Countless times during this process I’ve run into what appeared to be insurmountable walls. Mostly my fault, of course, for not realizing that something I’d planned wouldn’t work, or just the result of a rushed production schedule. Each time I had to come up with a fix, and if I did a good job, nobody would ever know there had been a problem. If I did a poor job, people might notice that there was a bit of clever editing, the reason for which critics would eventually assign to some childhood psychosis of mine if they were ever set loose on the film. In any case, I was stopped cold many times, but eventually pushed through. Lack of exercise and poor sleep lately have made me sluggish and cranky, and the pressure of getting the rough cut done has been looming over me for months. Rodriquez had four hours of footage to work with on El Mariachi. We had over 50.

The last scene seemed very long, though it’s not, really. But it’s especially important to me, as it’s what you give to your audience to take with them out of the theater. As I’ve mentioned before, I cut to online music to keep me in the mood. I had just pasted the final bit of footage, which centers on an element rising from the bottom of the screen to the top, into the editing line and was watching it when Last FM kicked in with a song from Ernie’s radio list, and in my mind I saw a list of credits following the element up the screen and a fade to black as the music shifted gears from the broad swells of the ending to the pumping techno of the end credits. A thrill went up my spine and I jumped out of my chair. For the past five months I’ve been watching this movie, and now, finally, I’ve seen the whole thing. It lives!

Not quite, however. Much remains for me, Dean, Darrell and Paul to do, to put it under the cold light of reason and figure out where the many problems are and think of what we can do to solve them at this point. The running time is over two and a half hours, something we hope to get down to 90 minutes. Regardless of the runtime, making it the best, most entertaining movie it can be is the top priority.

After setting up the program to burn the DVD copies, I went down to JB’s, where Dean was waiting for the good news. I found him there, sitting at the bar in between an older fellow who somehow mistook me for Gavin and a foreigner who was practicing his Chinese with the bartenders, and he proceeded to treat me to a series of whiskey ginger ales. We talked with the boss and arranged to hold a cast/crew/wrap party at JB’s on June 9th at around 8pm.

As usual, my mind is still getting around going from one phase to another in this production. There’s always something to be doing, though. Next up on the plate is ADR work, which I hope to use to improve some of the performances.

posted by Poagao at 11:13 pm  
May 18 2007


I am no longer stuck on page 143. It’s a metaphor. It happens now and then in the editing process. Sometimes it’s an avalanche of unscripted action that I need to plug through in order to get to the next page. Sometimes I can’t find just the right shot, or am flummoxed by an apparently unsolvable continuity error.

I’ve been trying to finish the rough cut for months now. I’d wanted to have the rough cut done by the time Dean came back, but I’ve still got several pages of script to go. Rushing doesn’t help, as I find I’m always editing, even when I’m not. That is, I’ll do actual editing for a bit, and then find I need to do something else while my mind works something out. I admit that a lot of the editing decisions I make are based on feeling rather than logic, though when you step back the two are actually one in the same. I’m trying to shape an emotional arc, and while there are logical means to do so, feelings have to enter into it at some point.

Although I can’t “rush” editing, I have put it at the top of my priority list. Dirty clothes spill from my laundry hamper. Dishes are stacked in the sink, and have been for days. I’m out of shape after not getting much exercise because I’ve been skipping badminton and Tai-chi classes. I stare at the screen at work and then come home and stare at it some more. I tell friends I can’t go out with them because I’m busy editing, morning and night. I haven’t been blogging because every time I think about it I think I should be editing instead. Got to get this done. Right now, at this stage, there’s no one else doing this; it’s all me. Listening to film scores helps me stay in the mood as I go.
There are other effects: Being in an editing frame of mind, when I do stop to watch a DVD, while I’m eating for example, all of the continuity errors jump out at me. How can they not match up the positions and facial expressions of each and every actor in the scene? But of course, I realize that normal people aren’t looking at that kind of thing. They’re caught up in the emotion of the moment and simply don’t see that things don’t match up. How obvious can you be with continuity errors? I’ve come across a few, but nothing major. With the sword fight I might end up with more due to quick cuts, but sometimes I find it difficult to be objective about how hard I can push the envelope.

Finding good performances has been easier than I expected, but sometimes it can be a bit trying. I had been under the impression that I had actually done very little directing because I was always busy with the camera, but looking at the footage I see myself actually doing more than I’d thought. Still not enough, probably, but then again we simply didn’t have time for it even if I had been able to concentrate solely on directing. While I love finding little bits and moments here and there to string together into the narrative, there can be precious little to work with sometimes. ADR might help in some cases. We’ll see.

When people say to me, “Boy, I bet you’re sick of editing this thing by now, eh?” I have to say no. I still find it fascinating and fun. I often laugh out loud or shout in pleasure at a particular shot I’d forgotten about works particularly well or when a scene comes together in a certain way. I also curse violently when I can’t figure out how to resolve a problem I should have seen coming a mile away.

Somehow, I’ve managed to figure them all out, though, to varying degrees of success. After the rough cut is done I’ll hand it over to Darrell and Dean for music/sound work and special effects.

And then I’ll start editing again. Tweaking. Cutting the movie down to a reasonable length. Killing the proverbial babies. It will be a whole different kind of hard, but I’m looking forward to it.

By the way, you’ll notice that the layout of this blog has changed. I’ve moved all my public blogs from Blogger over to WordPress, and added a new graphic, taken from a shot from the film, as the banner. For your reference, the new URL is poagao.com/blog. Thanks for reading.

posted by Poagao at 6:20 am  
Apr 20 2007


Clay Soldiers is going to be shown at the Nanhai Movies festival this Sunday afternoon at about 3 or 4pm. I went over there a couple of days ago to give them the DVD and check out the place. By coincidence, it’s just across the street from the place where we filmed Josh’s Burmese prison scenes. The complex was apparently an old Japanese-era house with a huge yard, no doubt some official’s residence. The interior is full of various art projects, and the films will be shown on the second floor.

The organizers asked me if I would attend and possibly take questions, if there are any. I’m interested in getting to know the local art/film scene better, so I’m looking forward to this thing. I’m not, however, looking forward to speaking about the project, as I never really know what to say. Talking about film, or music, or any non-verbal medium, always feels somehow inappropriate. I find most online movie/film discussions range from the banal to the outrageously stupid, both inevitably boiling down to “This movie rocks if you don’t like it ur dum”-type drivel. I’d much rather just make films and let them speak for themselves.

That’s assuming that this crowd, if there is indeed some kind of crowd, will actually ask any questions, and if they do, they aren’t just the usual “WelcomehowdoyoulikeTaiwandoyouhaveTaiwangirlfriend” kind of thing.

Anyway, speaking of actually making films, the rough edit is coming along, albeit slowly. I’m hoping to have it done by the time Dean makes it back here so we can arrange ADR. Some scenes I’d expected to be difficult have been easier than I thought, while some I’d thought would be a piece of cake have turned out to be real jobs. Many times I’ve had to face the decision whether or not to include an emotionally strong take that contains a continuity error or some other problem. With mostly one-camera shooting, the actors are often doing different things, making different gestures, standing in different positions, etc., through dialogue and in action takes that make cutting a real challenge. This, of course, is one of the reasons (along with synch problems) why Rodriguez went around taking closeups of set details when he was shooting El Mariachi. I’ll do what I can with what I have, and if I can’t get away with that, I’ll go shoot some patch shots.

As I told Dean in an online chat, it feels kind of like I’m watching the movie for the first time, just very, very slowly. Seeing performances in the proper context is a thrill, and one of the main reasons I didn’t cut each scene after we shot it. It’s like a row of dominoes that have to fall just so, emotionally speaking, so I wanted to cut and view the film in one emotional line before I start tweaking.

The tweaking will have to wait for now, though, no matter how much I’d like to do it. I have to get the rough cut ready to pass on to Darrell for sound and Dean for special effects.

I haven’t really seen much of cast or crew recently, due to editing. Clay Soldiers has been broadcast on nationwide TV four times over the past few months, and yet IMDB can’t seem to get moving on my submission. Perhaps when they say “Nationwide broadcast” they really just mean “US broadcast”. Or perhaps with the advent of digital technology they’re just swamped with submissions and got behind. I have no idea.

But enough talk for now. Come along on Sunday afternoon if you like. The Nanhai Yilang site is located at #3, Lane 19, Chongqing South Road, Section 2. It’s just a couple of blocks from the CKS Hall MRT station.

posted by Poagao at 2:54 am  
Jan 31 2007


I just got word from CTS that they will be airing Lady X: Clay Soldiers at 11:30pm on February 3rd on channel 11, and again at the same time on February 19th. Our first nationwide broadcast!

I’m still editing. I plan to spend the Chinese New Year holiday at home, hopefully finishing the rough cut. So far the film is corresponding on the whole 1 script page=1 minute screen time thing. One thing I’m often reminded of is how differently Dean and I see things. Often we’ll see a scene almost exactly the same way, but inevitably his vision will be the mirror image of mine, e.g. I’ll see the characters entering stage left, while he’ll see them entering stage right. It might have something to do with the fact that I’m left handed. The result is that the storyboards are often mirror images of the actual footage, which can be confusing. I wonder if left-handed directors often encounter this kind of thing.

I haven’t met any insurmountable goofs yet, though I’ve had a couple of interesting challenges where, after repeated takes, someone did something to screw up the continuity. Many times it was my fault. “What was I thinking?” is probably my most repeated comment these days.

I was reading a post on an Internet forum the other day, and I began to wonder if and when the “exclusivity” of an industry like filmaking will disappear, and what effect it will have on people aspiring to make films. What percentage of the people who desire to be filmmakers, or authors or photographers, are in it because they still cling to the ever-more-outdated notion that you have to be really special to be one of those things, when technology has passed the point where anyone, regardless of talent or lack thereof, can be any and all of those things? With online distribution of digital content rapidly taking over the game, I wonder what lengths the next generation of creators will have to go to to make themselves known to the world.

I guess we’re going to find out. In the meantime, I have editing to do.

posted by Poagao at 4:44 pm  
Jan 19 2007


I’ve been editing the film, trying to get a rough cut done before Dean gets back following the Chinese New Year break, which should be in late February. I allow myself only a little tweaking before moving on to the next scene, because I can’t afford to spend the time on it.

Digital editing is considered far more convenient than editing film. My digital editing style, with two screens, one for taking parts of clips to put into the timeline and another for the timeline itself, is derived from how I learned to edit on a two-screen Steenbeck editing table in New York, with a black curtain of labeled scenes in the form of film strips hanging from a rack next to me. I have the script open in another window and my storyboards laid out on the desktop as I edit. The lack of a solid medium is frustrating in that it could all go south with one computer glitch. I’m planning to edit the film in three parts, roughly corresponding to the acts of the film, but we’ll see how it goes. It is becoming clearer as I go that I will probably have no problem filling up 90 minutes. This is a big film, and I will most likely have to spend quite a bit of time going back and pruning later on.

I enjoy editing, though, particularly my own footage, and going back to piece together scenes that were shot as long as a couple of years ago is a real eye-opener. One the one hand, a lot of things came out better than I had remembered, and fit together very nicely. I’m also discovering small details and moments, subtle looks and nice angles or rhythm that had escaped my notice during the actual filming because I was so busy working the camera and paying attention to other aspects of the production. On the other hand, I’ve also had the displeasure of finding things that didn’t work so well, angles that seem strange, series of flubbed lines that won’t come together or were cut too soon. “What was I thinking?” I will often say aloud. But this just means that I’ve got to find an editing solution and make good on my oft-repeated catch-all promise that “we’ll fix it in post.”

I actually welcome the challenge. The process of editing is making me more optimistic about the film than I have been at any point in the process so far; seeing it come together into a coherent story whose arcs and swells I can mold is very rewarding, and at this point I can only imagine how great they’ll be with music, sound and special effects. I wish I could take leave from my day job and my other responsibilities to edit all day, every day, but it isn’t possible right now.

So, in the meantime, posting on here will probably be pretty scarce. At this point, I’m hoping the project will be completed by this summer.

posted by Poagao at 4:15 am  
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