It takes an artist…

I was speaking with one of the cattle drive organizers this week. In the course of the conversation about building our footage into a movie, she said, “It takes an artist…”   …to do this. To build the movie. To tell the story. To connect to an audience.

Building this movie is not about stringing a series of video clips together.

Building this movie is about finding that “hook”. What will “hook” a viewer? What will “grab” an audience and make them want to stay along for this journey?

What story do you tell? How do you start? How do you end? What happens in between?

What do you include? What do you discard?

Building this movie is a process that is the complete opposite of any of my other normal work patterns. If I write a mystery, then I know all along what the end will be. If I take an original song and go into the recording studio to build a complete full instrumentation final track, then I have a pretty good idea what I am aiming for. If I am rehearsing a piano performance or a vocal performance, then I have an end result that I already know. The work involved is about getting it “up to snuff” so that the end result is what I want it to be.

On this project…we went in with no expectations. The story evolved as the cattle drive evolved. We were not shooting “to” any particular script.

It is only now…now that the cattle drive is over, that we can start to contemplate what the movie might be once it is done.

And for me…this is so contrary to my normal process, it feels like I am blind. The vastness of the unknown tends to overwhelm.

How do you take this footage that was shot – and build it into a piece of art?

Have you ever watched a movie, and for the entire movie, You Just Don’t Get It? You sit there and kinda stare with a puzzled look on your face, and when it is over, you can go, “I don’t know what happened?” or…”What were they thinking?”

I don’t want that to happen here.

Right now, I am still going over the footage.

On Wednesday, I had a couple of (tiny) ideas about where to take this project and where to go.

We are working with the possibility of using this footage to build three movies. Each will be different. Finally on that Wednesday, I gleaned an idea of how to start Movie #1.

It was about finding that perfect shot. This shot was filmed to the east against a morning sunrise. A cattle drive participant is in the foreground, in silhouette. I have been playing with a guitar line in my head for weeks now. But when I saw that shot, my head automatically played that guitar line.

Then you drop the video of that shot off into a complete fade out to black. Then grab another shot. Hold it for the same amount of time, then do the same fade out. Then a group shot, again in silhouette. Fade to black. Finally, and by complete accident, I have a shot once the sun is up, and it made a beautiful lens flair. The sun is on the horizon. The air is golden, and there is this perfect lens flair. One of the wagon drivers is in the foreground, holding the reigns of two horses, which are not yet hitched to the wagon. I didn’t plan that shot. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

On each shot, you have this same plantive guitar line.

Then boom!

The movie takes off.

If I am going to start it its way, then I will take movie #2 and start it completely different. That is still up in the air, but I thought up how to end movie #2.

Movie #3 will be built to educate and entertain young children – say ages eight and under. We know we can’t keep and hold their attention for long, so this movie will be very short in duration. But we have a great premise, and once we came up with that idea, which was about midpoint through the cattle drive, then we started to look for opportunities to film to that.

On Wednesday, when these ideas are starting to percolate around in my head, I wrote a good bit of the dialog for this children’s movie.

Speaking of how these shots came out (such as the lens flair sunrise shot above)…what is the status of the footage so far?

Well, what blows me away is – of the stuff I shot for the first week – what I thought was good…was probably 90% crap. I knew I was “shaky” on days 1 and 2. I don’t mean shaky camera footage, but I knew that mentally I was not dialed in. On that Wednesday, it felt like I finally “got it”. Out there in the field, it felt like I was finally “on”.

When I looked at that footage. Wow. Not good.

Therefore – what I thought was good – was not.

What has surprised me about the footage? Well…it was when I thought I only had “average” shots and things were rather on the boring side – those are the moments that are leaping up at me, in post production.

In this editing process, what are some of the problems? Well, for starters, I do not possess the face recognition gene. They call it face blindness.

I knew perhaps five of the cattle drive participants before the drive. For the rest, I met them out on the trail. And my head is already full of all the movie details, cinematography, heat exhaustion, sleep deprivation, etc. Under normal circumstances, I can meet someone. When I see them the next time, I am probably not going to recognize them.

On this cattle drive, the problem was amplified. I know that on day twelve, I said to one of the drovers, “I don’t think I have met you yet.”

When I look at the footage…well…now… he and I had a nice conversation on day three!

To all of the drovers, I apologize.

Now that we are editing…it’s the same problem. I am having to vidcap (capture one frame of a video) a still image and email it to find out who is who.

This has become a major problem that I did not foresee.

What else happened out there? On a few occasions, people might take it upon themselves to saddle their horse and ride along. If we filmed this, then we need to be aware of who is who and not edit that person in the movie.

Yes, it’s fun to go out and cowboy. If someone had a horse in a parade, and if that person rode along behind the drive…then …I can maybe comprehend that.
But when people rode their own horses, uninvited, onto private property, and inserted themselves, unauthorized and without permission, into the process…then that offends me.

Another issue: audio.

Yes. I have talked about audio issues for months now. When we were out there, and if the wind was blowing, then I had a “level” of gain at which I would set the microphone.

It turns out that that level worked. We cut the wind noise. But the audio signal was pretty doggone low. I hate it that it is so low. I will have to look at ways to “boost” that audio signal, and then reintroduce that audio line back into the video software. I haven’t worked this problem yet, but I probably don’t have the software nor technology here to do so.

As with everything else in the field of moviemaking, video editing, and audio production…it is all about trial and error. There is no one way to work. There is no one way to do this. There is no one process. There is no one answer.

And to continue along that line…there is no “one” movie. You can take the material we have, and material yet to be acquired (music production, external interviews) and use that data to make a movie. Or a million movies. The choices of possibilities are endless. The permutations are endless.

There is no right. There is no wrong. What you can do…hopefully…is find a way to…tell a story. To connect to a viewer. To capture an audience.

To entertain…

It takes an artist!

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