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Inspiration Index: About | Story | Stills | Clips -- See also: Jump Blues

How Not to Hold a Screening...

April 20, 1998-
Well, in a total stress-out, last minute way, I premiered the first print of my film on Thursday at our annual film festival. This is my way, I suppose. I had finished all of my editing almost a month ago and thought I had plenty of time to make the April 16 date which I was assigned. But here's what happened:

When they print a film, they have to run it through a machine which makes a contact exposure of each frame of the film from the original negative to a new, positive stock. They have the option of calibrating colors and exposures on every frame, but usually just do it for each new scene or cut of the film, to keep it consistent. They actually set these color corrections on a separate timing machine, which worked fine with my negative, but when they tried to print it, a process that is more stressful to the negative, the splices kept coming apart! This is totally not my fault, when you edit, you edit a "work print" which is a continuous positive print you make from the original negative, then you pay a "negative matching" service company or individual to meticulously cut the negative with permanent splices to match the work print. They split the negative into rolls for technical reasons, usually two, but in my case, I had four, two black and white, and two color. So, after the lab had my film for two weeks, I get a call saying the negative came apart, and that I needed to pick it up to take it back to my negative cutter to fix it. I'd never heard of this problem, but apparently it happens about 5% of the time or so. So I did this, and the next day I brought the film back to be printed again. A week passes, and I finally hear from the lab that they are trying to print it again, and AGAIN a splice comes apart. (I guess the likelihood here would be 5% of 5% or about 0.25%)

At this point, I'm about shitting in my pants because I'm scheduled to screen this film in about a week. So my negative cutter, resentful because he thinks this particular lab screws people around (as I found is somewhat true, but there are only three in NYC anymore...) goes again through all four rolls, checking all 600+ splices, and fixes about 10 suspect ones. Then I take it back to the lab, and the sales rep assures me they'll try it again with plenty of time for my screening. But, they can't that day (Friday) because everyone wants to leave early for the Easter weekend, or Monday, because they are running equipment tests, so maybe Tuesday (My screening being the following Thursday...) Nope, doesn't happen. Finally, Wednesday afternoon, I'm told it's "going through" and that if it works I'll get a print the next afternoon after it is processed. Then I get a call from the school screening committee saying that's not enough time, and they need it by noon to "tech" it. (Rather lenient considering the original deadline was March 27, and my lateness has disqualified me from festival awards, except the "audience choice" award...) So I call back to the lab at 8:30 AM the next morning. "Oh, yeah, it's done, come pick it up". Thanks for telling me, guys.

So then I go get two plantars warts frozen off. Oww. Then I go to the lab, get the print, and opt to have the lab screen it for me in one of their little screening rooms (kinda like a library A/V room, I guess). My baby, my first film. $20,000 of my (and my dad's, and student loan...) money. The sound is terribly out of sync. It's in, it's out. It's in, it's out. The sales rep says "it's editorial" they can't do anything about it. Oh crap. I did my own sound editing. But, it was fine with the workprint, so this implicates my negative cutter as messing up. What's more, he literally missed a cut (a shot was supposed to blip on screen and then cut to another, instead, the blip footage lasts the whole length...) So I freak. I don't want to show an out of sync film to 300+ filmgoers, some of which may be potential clients (I've sound edited five short films so far). I came very close to withdrawing, and talked to a bunch of different people about what I should do. I really wanted to show it because I needed the release/closure that this screening would give me. I started this project 2 1/2 years ago. So, I call the festival coordinators and ask if I can print up a message saying my film is a "work in progress," and insert them into the programs. OK, they say. I print one up, and get to the theater at about 5:00 PM that evening. I spend 20 minutes inserting my notes into the night's programs, with some help, then the festival director mentions that my film is being teched, so I go into the theater to watch. It is perfectly in sync. The lab projector was messed up. (Sound on 16mm film is about 10 frames away from the corresponding picture (can't read 'em at the same time), so if the threading or drive mechanism is messed up, the sync drifts. The lab guy didn't even mention this as a possibility. Feeling extremely relieved, I spend the next 30 minutes removing my inserts from the programs (don't want to bring attention to my film's other faults, which are comparatively minor, even the missed cut...) Then I go eat dinner. McDonalds. Ick.

Then the screenings start, at 7:30. I was second. I was sitting in the third row with my gaffer Jendra and DP Alec (now engaged, they met again on my film after working together once three years earlier...) It was cool. Color problems and missed cut aside, the audience followed it the whole way through, at least someone laughed at every joke (except for a few they missed because they were laughing), they clapped when the first killer scarf jumped out of the car. Some guy behind me kept saying "this is so funny". Then it was over. The intermission guest speaker said something about not wanting to be like the producer in my film (gives a generic speech about succeeding in the movie world). Afterwards I went out with some other film students and people seemed pretty complimentary.

Well, even though I didn't win any awards (I think I was disqualified since the print wasn't ready for the pre-screening), and have since been struggling with anticlimactic, what-do-i-do now feelings, but I did meet a bunch of people over the next few days of the screenings who liked my film. (My film was only shown once, but we had four days total of screenings) Some total strangers said they voted for it in the audience favorites thing. One person said it was "amazing". A friend of a friend, a marketing manager for a nursing home, said "I've never laughed so hard in my life". A very intellectual and driven seeming woman friend of a friend who works in international non-profit investing was confused when I told her I'd done that film because she thought the film had been done by a woman (which I suppose is complementary in a strange sort of way...)

Some people got it, and said they could totally relate. Though a few didn't (one clueless film student said "But I could see the strings pulling the scarf." As if it destroyed the believability. Duh. That's why it's funny. And this one annoying non-believer who has no insecurities/neuroses, and once remarked about the script "so, why doesn't she just watch Citizen Kane and write a script? It's no big deal", told me -- again -- that I should have just done the movie-within-movie about the scarves and dropped the main story about the struggling outsider film student.)

Can't please everyone, so you, got to please yourself...

John

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