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The Fine Cut Blues PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Aug 13, 2005 at 02:00 AM
A few weeks ago, I injured my back at work. This promises that my career as a postal worker will be somewhat protracted. However, the spasms and frequent agony are nothing compared to what I’ve been putting myself through over the past four days.

Two weeks ago, I was notified that my seven-year-albatross, The Resurrection Game, had been chosen to play in its first film festival, The First Annual Pittsburgh Film Workers Fest, to be held this coming weekend, June 4. Upon receiving this news, my first thought was “well, of course. It’s a Pittsburgh-made film, and it was certainly one of the more ambitious indie movies made in recent memory”. Then again, it’s playing with the wonderful New York-filmed Dr. Horror’s rotic House of Idiots (which, co-incidentally enough, I also appear in), and a number of shorts filmed outside of our dear Steel City. So maybe, I don’t know, it was just judged as “good”.

I have no idea, though. I cannot see The Resurrection Game with an objective eye. It’s not a complete movie to me, just large chunks of pain and misery. And, rather than filling me with excitement or elation, the news of the coming festival hit me with a hammer of despair. Because at the moment I was informed, the movie wasn’t complete.

As most of you are well-aware, The Resurrection Game has been brewing for seven years. We (my partners, Amy Lynn Best and Bill Homan) shot it on 16mm film between 1998 and 2000, then spent the next five years raising money to get the negative cut and waiting for technology to catch up to us. Ultimately, I ended up hand-cutting the negative myself, getting that transferred to digital tape, then teaching myself Premiere to re-edit the picture to the mixed soundtrack. (Keep in mind that this was after I edited the entire workprint on a Steenbeck flatbed editor and an upright Moviola.) After a preview screening at the Pittsburgh Comicon, I realized that the soundtrack (mixed from the movie’s original mag-stock [magnetic film used to record sound back in the Stone Age of filmmaking] reels) was weak, thin and completely inadequate. So I went back and retransferred all the original 1/4 “ tapes to digital and replaced every line of dialogue by matching one wave form to the other in Premiere. The result of this: a cleaner sounding track and a brief episode of temporary blindness (nope, I’m not kidding).

But it still wasn’t perfect. So for the past few months, I’ve been having composer Jason D. Ralph compose a new score (to compliment the music written by Night of the Living Dead ‘90’s Paul McCollough), while Cameron Romero scrubbed the dialogue tracks, running them through various high-end filters to take out some of the hot sibilants that blasted the dialogue into inaudibility.

They had just finished, returning the new music and improved dialogue to me a week ago. The day after I got the news about the coming fest. Which meant I had just a little over a week to remix the new tracks into the movie, resynch the dialogue and hand-drop the new music where it was needed.

So, yay. I got to re-edit the movie again!

Then my computer crashed. Both hard drives were wiped out. Because, you know, God hates me.

Fortunately, I had a tape back up of the entire movie.

Unfortunately, I had captured it through my firewire into the camera just at the apex of the computer’s failing. The result was a very faulty soundtrack that could serve as a guide for what I wanted to do, but could not actually serve as the final track. Which meant I had to go back and re-drop and re-synch and for Christ’s sake this movie is never going to be done!

Shall I mention the trouble I’m having rendering the entire project out into a single file? Is it worth relating that the last three tries (taking a minimum of eight hours each time—and a maximum of 23) have resulted in faulty .avis? No, probably not. Because whenever I think about it, I start to develop an anxiety attack large enough to name and number.

As I write this, the file is rendering in the other room. When I started it, I was informed that the remaining time was “about 2 hours”. A few minutes ago, when I checked on the status, it had bumped up to “about 8 hours”. And if it doesn’t work this time, I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do.

I’m beginning to think that either the Film Gods do not want this movie to be completed, or the movie itself has no desire to be seen. I used to joke that, at five years, we had tied David Lynch for the time it took to make Eraserhead. Now I take comfort in the knowledge that it took Orson Welles twenty-seven years to make Don Quixote and he never finished it.

Sometimes I can hear the movie taunting me, giggling as a new glitch from the decaying Pentium III processor inserts another glitch into the final file.

But that’s not the worst part. The worst part will be going to the festival and forcing myself to watch it again. I try little pep talks – it’ll be on the big screen! It’ll be in front of a large and mostly supportive audience. Ultimately, what calms me down is, “no matter what happens, there’s a bar inside the theater.” And the first two drinks will be free.

So, now, it’s done. It took me three days to get a “perfect” finalized file in Premiere. I bought a new DVD burner to replace the one that I’d nearly destroyed over the past three years and burned my first “Final Version of The Resurrection Game”. Amy and I watched it again last night, skipping over some sections that I’d seen endlessly and couldn’t bear to watch again. Some of the dialogue is softer than I’d like, some louder. There are a few sound effects I wish I’d added. I’d like it to be in stereo. And maybe someday, it will be.

But not by me.

If, by some quirk of fate, the movie gets picked up for distribution—and it probably will in some way, shape or form, as we do have some interest coming from a couple of companies—and they want a sparkling new 5.1 remix of the soundtrack, they’re welcome to do it. I was smart this time around and separated the tracks, so that won’t be quite the chore it was for me the first time around.

But I ain’t doing it.

Movies, they say, aren’t finished, they’re abandoned. And that’s what I’m be doing. I’m walking away.

Because if I don’t, I’ll be tweaking this damned film for the rest of my life. I’ll be the indie world’s version of George Lucas, endlessly playing with something I’d begun years before. There comes a time to move on.

And it’s weird to think of it as done. For years it was “almost done, I just have to…” Before that, it was, “It’s stuck in the lab”. Before that it was, “I’m cutting the neg now…” For years, The Resurrection Game was in flux. Even before it was The Resurrection Game, back when we were still calling it Necromaniac (we liked it at the time—it’s the title that inspired the movie, after all, even though what was born was an Airplane-style horror-comedy), it was always in a state of unfinished-ness. An unfinished state was a safety zone. As long as we were still working on it, its flaws could be forgiven.

For years, we were selling early bootlegs—VHS copies shot directly off the flatbed monitor, with an image containing enough flicker to cause seizures and a soundtrack consisting mainly of grinding drive-motor. And it was still well-enough received that folks would continue to ask after it, year after year. The only negative remarks we got since its inception was from a potential investor who did not understand the concept of “rough cut”. (“How can you hope to sell it looking like this?” “It’s a rough-cut. The final version won’t look like this.” “I can’t imagine it can look any better.” “I’m transferring the negative to digital. It’ll be clean and beautiful.” “What do you mean by that? How can negative be a good thing?” “Nevermind.”) So we figured we must have something worth watching.

But now, it’s “done”. Okay, fine, it’s done. So I no longer have any excuses. I have to stand accountable for every bit of white dirt, every scratch, every hiss and every pop. If there’s a plot-hole, it’s my fault. Now while I feel that it’s a pretty tight story, and I believe that virtually every performance is perfect (there’s the guy playing the villain’s henchman that could have been better), I could be too close to it to see the flaws. Or, more correctly, all I see are the flaws.

The upcoming festival will be the true test. It’ll be the first time that the “final” version will be seen by an audience—a packed house, if the festival promoters are correct. Ultimately, I know that the movie we made was the one we set out to make. We did it to our satisfaction. It’s a movie we would have wanted to see had it existed at the time we made it (and if it had existed at the time we made it, it would have saved us an awful lot of trouble!). So I’m not exactly hanging my entire sense of self-esteem on the opinions of others, but it is a scary thing to consider.

But then again, there’d be no sense in being a filmmaker if we didn’t have the balls to show our work to an audience. We spent seven years on this friggin’ thing, and now we’re saying, “Here it is. Like it, or don’t. But we made it. It didn’t exist before we came along.” And for better or worse, that’s the story of The Resurrection Game as it exists now.

It’s done.

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