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in Filmmaking
on Apr 20, 2007

Below I posted about the upcoming IFP Rough Cut Lab I’m teaching with Gretchen McGowan and a group of fantastic advisors in June. The deadline is April 27 (find more info here) so we’re in the final rounds of accepting and looking at material. But if you have a project and have been on the fence about submitting it, here’s an email I received from Matt Manahan, who went through the lab last year with his feature The Book of Caleb (pictured). It might help you decide if the process is one that can help you and your film.

The lab experience was very helpful and unique in a variety of ways. After going through this whole process of making a narrative feature for the past six years I’ve learned two big things.

1. Trying to get people to give you money to “make a movie,” at any stage of a project sucks so hard.

2. The sheer value of post-production. Which is not just editing. It’s sound design, ADR, color correction, music composition, and music clearance. The way I look at it now, if you don’t respect them, it’s all these different ways you can fuck up your story. Which is terrible because it’s the final draft of your story. It’s the last draft before report card time.

This is all AFTER you’ve survived the rewrites, casting , shooting and problems with money and time. You’d be surprised how quickly that thrill of wrapping production fades.

It becomes more of like, “how can you cover up all the mistakes you made in every other part of the process and still tell a clear coherent story?” and by this point you’re pretty exhausted and fucking broke. “What can you do to make everything else work?”

These are the areas the lab focuses on though. You go in with a group of your peers from all over the country.

Independent film too is a weird thing, because often times you feel like you are toiling away in a cave on a mountain somewhere, like completely isolated and everything you do is so hard, you believe nobody else could ever have possibly over come this before.

Then you come to these labs, to New York City and you meet all these people that have the same problems and fears that you do, and they have also found ways to overcome the same issues you have.

It’s like a gathering of holocaust survivors. Only everyone has probably gained weight from eating bad craft service and sitting and staring at monitors 12 hours a day.

“How did you survive that?!”

“Oh well, I hide in a latrine for 3 weeks”

“I never thought of that!”

“How did you get away with only paying the guards THAT much?!”

You get to meet these mentors, working PROFESSIONALS who actually get paid to do what they do, and in this small intimate lab environment, you learn. Many of these elements are things you have no prior experience with. The one I remember the most was composer Ed Sheamur. A part of the process I had always feared.

We sat down and looked at scenes from everybody’s films and Ed would talk through the scene and how he would go about scoring it. What I really learned about it is that the composer is interested in the subtext of the scene. What is “really” being said between the two characters and how that emotion can be enhanced through score.

You should hear the difference in score on our film before and after. It really planted the seed as far as what to talk about and how to say what you mean.

Then the end of the lab talks about how you can get this movie seen by other people. Things that you maybe wouldn’t consider filmmaking. Things like festival strategy, marketing, EPK, distribution and deliverables. Stop kidding yourself. It is part of the filmmaking process. It’s the step after “post production,” and can be just as creative as your accounting.

At the end it just reenergizes everyone to keep going. gives you a flashlight to take back into your cave.

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