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LETHE | John M Morelock: Storyteller
March 25, 2021


By In Blog, Narrative Structure

An exercise in post-production

In my first trimester at Napier, I had the privilege to work on a few edits.  Always quick to volunteer myself, I want to get as much experience in the editing suite as possible.  This may surprise some readers of the blog.  Make no mistake.  I want to be a career writer.  But experience in the editing suite gives incredible insights to the building blocks of film.  Learning about, and digging my hands into, these editing processes makes me a better writer.

That said, I do thoroughly enjoy this process.  As a someone who has spent thousands of hours playing steam games, getting into the weeds of a piece of software is always enjoyable.  I love being able to craft and morph a film, speeding it up, slowing it down, creating meaning through montage, creating dynamics through editing.

Working with edits not only opens my mind up to what is possible, but it inspires me to create more visually interesting frames.  These can even be written into the script.  Much of the visual comedy written into The Exit only exists because I’ve had experience in the editing booth.  You can read more about The Exit here.

Getting into this project, after having endless difficulties with student accommodation Wi-Fi, I finally got the footage downloaded.  The footage came from a short film called Lethe. On first viewing of the footage, it seemed rife with problems.  The master wide shot is too wide, and uncomfortable.  It was evident that the boom op had just finished arm day in the gym, unable to hold the mic out of frame.  The performances of the men in the scene were poor in several takes.  My work was cut out for me.

After syncing, transcoding, and making my assemblies, I started to have a clearer picture of what to do with the scene.  Before creating a timeline, I re-read the script.  My reading of the script was as a mystery, but also a touching drama.  Most of the script is ominous and tense.  However, it turns out to be quite sweet in the end.  On my first viewing of the footage, I had read the men as quite ominous and overbearing.  But after reading the script, I found them to be extremely sympathetic.  I started noticing small details in the performances.  A smile, a genuine concern for the heroine’s health.  I decided in my edit to try to frame them sympathetically.  While this may go against many people’s initial instinct, as in any good mystery, I wanted to lay out pieces of evidence for the audience to work with.  Framing the men in a sympathetic light would the viewer to, on a second viewing, have that ah-hah moment I so love in film.

AVID Media Composer

I put together a rough cut and got some feedback from the group.  A few days later, I also received a critique from the class.  I go into further detail about workshops in this post. The general feedback was that the wide shoot I had chosen to open on was poor, I shouldn’t cut wide again later on, and I should add the wallet insert.  I also had one clip with the boom in shot (no surprise there, too bad I missed it.)  I had known the wide shot was weird, and my initial instinct was to start on the OTS of the Kane which focus pulls onto Eve.  However, I felt this didn’t establish a good sense of place.

Taking this advice on board, I also watched the edits of all my classmates for inspiration.  Ben Anstruther had a very creative bookending of the watch in the scene.  I thought it worked well, and also solved the issue of trying to cut wide later on.  Another classmate had included Abe’s reaction to Kane’s line “how’re you feeling?” I utilized this so I would still be able to establish all the characters in the scene without the nasty wide at the start, cutting the wide master shot out of my edit entirely.  After one last look over by Rowen, I added a reaction shot of Eve to Abe’s hand in his coat, then went through the picture lock process.

Now enter the world of sound design.  Unfortunately, I had to leave the lecture halfway through.  Much to my classmate’s joy, this means I was not able to ask all the questions I would have liked to have asked during the process.  To my dismay, it meant I had to watch back the lecture at a later date.  One benefit, however, to this was that I could do my sound edit along with Zoe as she explained the process.  For example, at one point she explained laying the audio onto various tracks, and I was able to pause the lecture, lay down all of my audio, then continue.  This step-by-step process was an absolute godsend for my first ever audio post.

I was worried about bringing the levels up due to the introduction of noise, but Zoe reassured us we wanted a nice, fat signal.  The sound guy on set didn’t have the levels high enough on the sound recorder, but it turned out fine because they did use quite good equipment.  The gain didn’t introduce too much noise, and it was manageable.

After going through all the dialogue, painstakingly editing out any funny bits of unwanted noise, adjusting the levels, and making sure the production sound wasn’t too scratchy, I got to move on to the real fun part.  The atmosphere.  Bringing in a world to this scene seemed at first difficult.  It’s a quiet scene and its tense.  The last thing I wanted to do was to add something like birds chirping outside the window to relax the viewer.  I wanted to heighten the tension, and build up this hospital ward, without distracting from the action.

AVID Pro Tools

My first port of call was to add a door.  Two characters leave the room in this scene, and the door is off-screen.  When the door is open, the sounds of the hospital can creep in, going quiet again as soon as the door shut.  There were no door sounds in the provided at most, so I went to https://zapsplat.com. This website includes 80k plus free sounds, so finding a door opening and closing wasn’t too difficult.  It was a bit echo-ey, but was usable.  Unfortunately, without paying I only had access to MP3 files, rather than the wav files.   This being a school project, I didn’t mind too much, and went ahead with the free option.

The next item on the menu was to address the heartrate monitor on her finger.  In the files, there were two different heart-monitors.  One was a bit loud and obnoxious, the other sped-up over time, climaxing in the classic heart-stopping noise anyone whose ever watched a hospital drama would be familiar with.  I chose the latter but had to deal with the issue of it speeding up over time.  It didn’t fit the scene and gave the impression Eve was having a heart attack.  I remembered that Zoe had said we didn’t need to be entirely literal and could have sounds at the start of the scene but not later on.  I decided to fade away the sound into the background, making certain it didn’t overbear the great dialogue performances in the scene.  Later, I brought the sound back to make us aware of it again, before flat lining when she takes the monitor off her finger.

In the critique, the door was praised, but the heart rate monitor was not.  While including it was a good idea, the slow fade away didn’t work as I had hoped.  Perhaps having it throughout the scene would have been better or cutting it off with some other sound.  It felt a bit empty without the monitor, so just leaving it on at a lower level would have been appropriate.  It’s a tricky one, because, as stated before, I was making the artistic choice to read the men sympathetically.  Leaving the heart rate monitor on brings a high-level of tension to the scene that I wasn’t looking for.

In hindsight, and having now seen the finished production, which you can watch here to compare with my work, they did choose to make the scene much more tense.  The heartrate monitor was a big part of that, tension.  Perhaps my reading of the scene as sympathetic was a mistake, and I have no doubt the director of the film would have asked me to change it.  Zoe had made a comment to Ben in the first feedback session that you have to give justice to the director’s vision.  I should think more carefully in the future as to the original intention to the scenes, rather than imposing my own interpretation.  However, without having been able to discuss this with the director, I do think I was justified in making the choices I did.  I’m interested to work on more editing projects in the future, both on projects where I have more artistic freedom, and on projects where I’m working more towards a given brief.  I learned a lot working on this project, both on the picture edit, and on the sound design, and can’t wait to get back into AVID to have another shot at it.

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