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Extra Credit: Other People’s Movies

I’ve been working recently on editing an old Frank Williams film called Oneirophobia, which means “fear of dreams.” The film was shot in July 2008, but the designated editor never delivered a cut of the film, so nearly two years later, Frank gave it to me. I first met Frank back in December (2009) when he helped me film the final scenes for Fishbowl. I met him through a mailing; he lives across the river in New Jersey. It was a different ecosystem from mine, I figured. But when he showed me the first dailies from Oneirophobia, there was Matt Thompson! Montgomery County Community College’s Matt Thompson, from the Drama Club, right there in Frank’s film! So Matt had a secret life making movies with Frank. And that was my first reaction: surprise.

Over the next months, I got on the same page with all these people knowing each other behind my back (the nerve!) And recently, after the completion of “Dream Emporium,” I turned to Oneirophobia (short subjects in quotations, longer works in italics; that’s the format as I understand it.) I actually started sifting through the footage just before the big “Dream Emporium” shoot, finishing a few weeks later. Then I began piecing things together. It still isn’t complete, but many of the scenes have now been edited together. Some takes were unusable, due to issues with focus and light levels (the camera was auto-adjusting by mistake) or for other reasons. Some segments were very straight-forward, and they came together very simply. When Matt comes home to his apartment, it is almost inevitable how the takes must be cut together. When he meets the Guardians of Fear, who demand that he face his fear in his dream, things are a little looser, but with strobe lighting destroying some takes, the limited options make the scenes come together relatively easily.

The scenes that feature Matt talking with fellow dreamers trapped in this dream world, however, present greater difficulties. Scenes with two male dreamers featured wildly different performances from take to take, making cutting between takes very difficult. Maintaining spacial continuity was especially tricky. A third scene with a female dreamer featured improvised dialog that often digressed into the two actors joking with one another, and with the shadow of the video camera creeping into the picture, traditional cutting was practically impossible. (Note: The observances here should not reflect Frank’s current technique, which is beyond reproach.)

Editing the first two scenes together required very careful choices about when to cut from one shot to another. But they came together nicely. I ended the scenes with fades to white and overloaded tape echo on the sountrack. Frank asked me to apply my experimental style to the piece, and this is one way in which I did. The scene with the girl required ever more experimenting. The first several takes featured her talking about a fear of spiders. But as she was sitting on a bench overlooking the river, Frank wisely changed it to a fear of water. As I said, however, the takes frequently found the actors joking with one another and everyone on set laughing with them. (Did you know humans are 96% water? Me neither.) So this is where far more experimental editing came into play. The image above is take from that scene. After a simple lead-in taken from one of the Spider takes but stopping short of the part about arachnids, the film cuts to a shot of flowing water. The actors’ images and voices fade in and out, with a luma key effect set to cue on differences. And so we have a scene that features the girl talking sincerely about her legitimate fear of water.

Oneirophobia hasn’t left the editing table yet, but the most difficult obstacles are past. Unless you consider scoring. I made a track on the Moog for one of the scenes, but I don’t like the way it fits in, so I will most likely be making others. In the meantime, I have put out a loop taken from the film that features Matt Thompson lying down and rising back up (in reverse) over and over again.

I was also involved in two more recent Frank Williams projects, which were made concurrently in February. The first (begun earlier in the day) was Children Kill Dreams, a short film about a young couple who have to decide what to do about an unexpected pregnancy. I operated boom on a lot of it (and sang “Boom operator” to the tune of Sade’s hit song) and framed a couple shots. But more importantly, I was the editor. The film was made for a Doorpost competition ( but never submitted. I created a cut (albeit a too long one) circa Feb 5, leaving it to Frank to slice things shorter if he wanted to. My concern at the time had been to make the best cut I could with the given elements and not leave a single line out. A little later, with Doorpost over and passed, I reworked the cut slightly per Frank’s requests. He did some further edits thereafter. However, the film never quite made it for us. The current plan is to expand it further and turn it into a long-form music video with the help of a rock band.

On the second film, Point Blank Ultimatum, I operated boom and watched from behind the camera as an intense, long take of a hostage situation unfolded before me. That was my only role on that film. It was another Doorpost film, though it too was never submitted.

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