You can’t make a documentary without a team.
Parts 1 & 2 discussed how Fixation began as a short film to be shot in a single weekend, but then developed into a much larger project, consisting of 17 shoot days and a 40-minute final product. The crew members were all new filmmakers, trying to make a film that went beyond a simple graduation screening.
Everyone that came on board this film was told from day one, “I want this to be more than a project that we show to our friends and family. I want this to be a cinematic outlook on this form of cycling, while displaying the cities as beautifully as possible.” Immediately following that statement, I would have to comment on how we had no money; none of us had ever made a documentary before, and this would also be my directorial debut. On that same note, many who saw the trailer for Fixation automatically assumed that I was part of the culture and that I just wanted to make a cool video with my cyclist friends. Clearly, that is not the case. Fixation is a true documentary that allows the audience to discover what these individuals are all about, something that I was able to also discover while making this film. I had no agenda to exploit fixed gear cycling, but instead to explore it and do so without the overpowering negativity that I had seen toward the culture in recent years. Fixation was never meant to be “hardcore” or to display how crazy cyclists can be; this documentary is about the people who ride, why they ride and why it has become such a large part of their lifestyle.
Now, back to getting the crew to be a part of this project. It is true that everyone in our class had to participate in a project to meet the requirements for graduation, but I never felt that any of my crew members were there to put in the “required” time. Everyone that worked on Fixation believed that they were helping make a project that they would enjoy watching themselves, while providing their skills both collectively and creatively. The film school requirements were as follows: to work a set number of hours, within a 50 mile radius of Hollywood, and on a thesis that would shoot for 4 days. Fixation shot for 17 days, in 5 cities (Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Long Beach) and stretched over 350 miles along the California coast. Some cities we shot with full crews of 7, while others were shot individually (i.e. Santa Cruz, which consisted of myself, my camera and Nick Hart).
While filming Fixation, the crew drove countless hours up and down California; we slept in hostels, crammed into my parents’ house in Livermore, and drove through L.A. traffic on a motorcycle. The hard work was also being done for no income or profit, and the crew even contributed some of his/her own money to see that everything would get accomplished. You can’t make a good documentary without a good team and people that are willing to give it their best for the project— the Fixation crew did just that. I knew once we had graduated there would still be so much editing, promoting, marketing and most importantly producer duties, left for myself to handle. I was determined, however, and would do the tasks willingly to make sure that the film didn’t just end up sitting in a box in my apartment where no one could see everyone’s hard work and efforts.
After all of the struggles and learning curves amongst the crew and filming a documentary, the film still needed to be edited. Well, in addition to being very poor at watching dallies, I had not transferred any of the footage to MFX media files--an open file format Avid editing systems use to store audio, video and metadata. Justin Gamboa and myself prepped two Avid Media Composer Nitris DX machines to start editing Fixation as soon as we thought the filming had been completed. The first two weeks of the editing process were rough. Alongside the importing came computer crashes in our lab, hard drive failures due to computer ejecting malfunctions, and RED footage corruption because of the Beta RED Cine-X program. Media Composer is so well designed however that even though the computers had their own issues, the software allowed us to re-link, batch capture and make it relatively simple to restore files and get our sequences back up and running. I woke up at 6 AM and left the editing bay no sooner than 7 PM each day that the footage was being imported. And if the security guards would let me, some nights I stayed even longer.
During one memorable session, my hard drive would not eject properly, and I finally had to just physically remove it; well, this caused the hard drive to crash—completely. This is an exact case of what not to do; do not wait until the project is “all finished” before you start importing the footage. This crash cost me 4 days of importing. Had I done it periodically throughout the shoots, I could have saved myself those two weeks of just watching an import status bar go across my screen. Remember, this was my biggest project at the time, so dealing with this much footage was a new endeavor. Once everything had finished importing, we had over 2 terabytes of MXF files for Fixation, and most of this I had never seen before. With a ridiculous shooting schedule, side work and school, I never found the time to sit and watch every second of the footage until this moment. It was extremely intimidating to start watching and so many questions were floating in my head: What if the story I thought we captured wasn’t really described in the footage? What if it looks bad? We had shot so many different people in so many locations, what if it all just looked the same and everyone said the same thing?
As I started watching the footage, I realized how many hours it was going to take just to simply filter through what was usable, what interview materials I could use to capture the film’s vision, and what simply needed to be tossed out. This is exactly how the editing started: with bins of footage that I felt told the story and footage that did not.
The first big thing that I realized during the editing process was that I had filmed some interviews with single speed freewheel cyclists, not fixed gear. Originally I was going to use it to compare and contrast between to the two styles, but ultimately the footage just did not support the argument. The lack of passion and explanation from the characters or people that I met forced me to eliminate the interviews with cyclists that road freewheels. Though it was difficult to make the decision to throw out so much material, it was also at this moment that Fixation turned into a documentary about fixed gears—not in preproduction or while filming, but rather in the first week of editing. I made the decision that the story I wanted to tell was not as strong with free wheel section included. Along the way, many scenes would get cut, some interviews would only get sounds bites, and perfectly good cyclist shots through the city of LA would get tossed. In the end, I used the footage that brought the most insight and information to the audience.
Part 4 of this blog will discuss the rest of postproduction and how I continued to edit Fixation while working as a professional editor, post graduation (where there were no more time restrictions or deadlines). Also, I will go into detail about working with re-recording mixer Jon Greasley and music composer Paul Cristo.
Also check out the trailer:
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