Part 6: Post-Production (September 2015–January 2018)
One night Aaron and I drive around town with his camera. We shoot hotels, warehouses, trains moving over bridges – cityscapes for the prologue.
We cruise the red light district for its run-down buildings. We see one prostitute and one pimp, which seems like a high ratio. Micro-management, I guess.
A few weeks later we return to our favourite unit base at Queen’s Crescent with a skeleton crew. One pick-up shot remains – a view through an office window as Tim Harley, playing Levin, arrives at work. In the finished film, this shot will be third in a sequence captured in separate locations on 1 May, 31 July and now 1 November. Three-month intervals spanning the entire shoot. It’ll cut together seamlessly. The magic of post-production.
We’re done by 2.30pm and retire to some bar on Great Western Road for Mexican food. We sit outside. The Glaswegian climate of 1 November is just as middling as that of 1 May.
Our editor is Mark Fraser. I drive to his house and we cobble together a rough cut. The film runs long, around 47 minutes. We share it with some of the crew members, take feedback, plan our adjustments.
We take it easy. Everyone’s exhausted. Everyone’s catching up on the stuff they put on hold for half a year.
In December some of us attend Blueprint, a quarterly screening of independent films at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Blueprint is run by Hans Lucas, one of our assistant directors. He asks if we could have a cut ready for the next event in March. It would be part of the 2016 Glasgow Short Film Festival.
Our plans accelerate.
Mark and I get the film down to 43 minutes. Still a bit long. In the first week of January I send a copy to two old friends from my early days of filmmaking – Peter Smith, who works at Speakeasy, a production company in Edinburgh, and Dave Arthur, who edited God Help the Girl, Swung and Where You’re Meant to Be.
Their feedback is brutal.
We go back to work.
We get our date for Blueprint submission: Friday 11 March for the screening one week later.
On 30 January we lock the picture. 39 minutes now. No further cuts will be made.
The rest of post-production can be done simultaneously. Séamus Cogan will grade the film, enhance the colour and match it across the shots. Giles Meredith and Christopher Belsey will collaborate on the score. Ian Craik and Michael Cugley will work on our visual effects, mainly painting over anachronisms. Tom Hemblade and Polly Petrova will mix the sound.
I set a deadline of Friday 4 March – when we’ll all gather at my flat, put the files together and screen the film. We’ll have a week to deal with any last-minute problems.
Polly has to bow out of the film. Work and study commitments. Fair enough – we wrapped six months ago. I ask Tom if he can do it by himself. Tom says, Probably. We try to find him some help.
We bring actors into Tom’s studio to loop dialogue where the original sound is unusable (also known as ADR, automated dialogue replacement). Naomi does her lines and then moves to London. Karl has already moved to Venezuela – we did his looping last summer, matching lines to a rough cut.
We have a tricky VFX shot. Near the end, our vintage car drives away. Since the film is set in the US, the car is on the wrong side of the road. We flip the shot on its vertical axis – which means the licence plate is reversed. Ian manages to track the plate and flip it back.
Séamus does an amazing job with the colour. He and Aaron pushed that Canon 6D as far as it could go.
Chris gets some paid work and has to drop out, but the score is nearly done. Giles finishes it alone.
Sound is the main issue. Tom had planned to collaborate with Polly. It’s a lot of work for one person. We still need some ADR. His coursework piles up as well. Bob Robertson signs on to help. The deadline is about two weeks away.
Friday 4 March. We meet and put all the pieces together. It takes two hours to calibrate the colour and render the files. There’s something wrong with the sound – it gets more and more out of sync as the film goes on. Many, many sound effects are missing or too loud/too quiet. Some are in the wrong place.
39 excruciating minutes pass. Sometimes it’s horrifying. Sometimes it’s hilarious. Overall it’s horrifying.
The next seven days are a scramble. There are too many problems to resolve, so we prioritise. Tom and Bob rework and remix the soundtrack. Mark and Séamus figure out the technical stuff – software compatibility, file types, extensions. I live, dream, eat, shit and bathe in post-production. I spend my evenings and days off chauffeuring hard drives between residences in Giffnock, Clydebank and Paisley.
It becomes clear that we won’t be screening a finished film. I pitch it to Blueprint as a work in progress.
Friday 11. Submission deadline. The sound isn’t ready. Tom works around the clock on the mix.
Saturday 12. Phone calls, emails, messages. Tom sends Mark the sound file. There are still issues. Mark works around the clock to fix them.
Sunday 13. Mark renders the film. Hands it personally to the festival staff. Nothing to do now but hope they don’t reject it.
Monday 14–Friday 18. Everything tastes like bad coffee.
Blueprint kicks off at 9pm on Friday. Daiva and I leave early to catch some pre-screening discussion. We get on the train. After one stop I realise I’ve left my glasses in the flat – I won’t be able to see the fucking film.
We head back and I grab them. By the time we reach the venue, Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, it’s 8.30pm. We hang out in the café and meet the cast and crew as they arrive. I apologise as much as possible.
The screening begins. Three longish short films, and ROPE is the third.
Film #1 looks very dark – and not on purpose. Something’s wrong with the projector or the calibration. ROPE is pretty fucking dark already. If it comes out like this, I might has well have left my glasses at home.
Film #2 has a slower pace and a downbeat ending. ROPE begins at 10pm, but the pacing is relatively brisk. After a visually gloomy prologue, I can feel the energy in the room pick up.
I know where the problems are. The sound levels are inconsistent. I can hear audio tracks start and stop. Some of the music is too loud. Some of the dialogue is too quiet. There’s a dodgy sound effect halfway through – I know it’s coming and cough over it, wondering if Brian De Palma ever had to do that shit. The projector does the dark image no favours. A few shots are almost impenetrable.
But the fucking thing PLAYS. The audience laugh in the right spots. At one point they even gasp – the Holy Grail of reactions.
Somehow the film makes its way through the technical minefield, even though just about every mine exploded. In the lobby I accept congratulations and criticism, feeling like I’ve gotten away with something.
We regroup and plan a première in July. Three months seems like a leisurely schedule. We bring Craig Houston in to fix the sound. He starts, basically, from scratch. Mark and I spend a lot of time at his home studio, where 85% of the floor space is occupied by guitars and keyboards, and 95% of the wall space by vinyl album covers.
Karl returns from Venezuela and sets up home in Glasgow, having apparently fallen in love with the place. We rejoice and invite him round for some more ADR.
It turns out that three months is not enough time. By the end of June we have a Première Cut with a rough sound mix and temporary diegetic music – tracks by Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington, for example. The film isn’t finished. But it’s way better than our Blueprint Cut.
We hold the première in Swing – a gorgeous city centre club with an art deco theme, and one of our first locations. They turn our screening into a party and the film goes down a storm. Eddy MacKenzie’s cameo draws spontaneous applause.
Swing’s sound system is forgiving. Headphones are not. As I gather feedback from people who watch it at home, it becomes clear that the audio is holding the film back. We need to keep going.
More than a year passes.
In the last third of 2016 I revive my Christmas-themed play Eve, starring Jennifer Hartland and two members of the ROPE cast – Joe McKenna and Eddy. I market another of my plays, Love the One You Hurt, and it gets optioned for a film adaptation.
I rewrite Gallowgate, a feature script I’ve had in my head for ten years and in a drawer for five.
In early 2017 I make a couple of promo videos for Radio Pachuco, the swing band who appeared in ROPE. In return they give us some new music to replace Billie and Duke. Craig Houston and I make vague plans to insert the new tracks and finesse the mix.
Ryan Pasi steps back from the Glasgow Film Crew. Myke Hall, Anthony Chalmers and I take over management. I host and co-host workshops on producing and screenwriting. Craig and I make vague plans to finish ROPE.
A friend of mine puts me in touch with a radio station who want some drama. I adapt a couple of my plays. Craig and I make vague plans to catch up.
Young Filmmakers Glasgow (like GFC but, you know, younger) develop a crowdfunded script pitch competition called Greenlight Night. My partner Daiva and I have an idea for a short film – a silent romantic comedy blending live action and stop-motion. We enter the competition, work on our pitch, and win. Fertility Daze is now in development.
Craig and I get together. Bad news – he no longer has time to do the film.
The 100th person to join our cast and crew is Jonathon McLoone. He worked with Mark Fraser on another film, and after Blueprint it was Jonny who recommended Craig Houston. Now, 18 months later, Craig has nominated Jonny as his successor. Jonny has a window and agrees to finish the film.
Throughout December and January he remixes the soundtrack. We add the new music from Radio Pachuco. It sounds good in Jonny’s garage studio and it sounds good through my headphones.
We arrange a screening in the basement of Blackfriars pub on 15 February.
I get the final mix from Jonny. I pop over to Séamus’s flat to pick up the colour-graded master file. It’s 53 gigabytes. His purpose-built computer transfers the file to my hard drive in ten minutes with nothing more than a barely-audible hum.
Last-minute fucktastrophe – the grade doesn’t sync with the mix. It’s 36 frames too long. I find an unrendered transition about five minutes into the film. Two shots cut where they should dissolve. There are extra frames on either side of the cut. I turn it back into a dissolve and lose the frames. I add the credits. And it’s done.
I typed the first word of the original screenplay in August 2005. I click “export” on Valentine’s Day 2018.
A stress headache sits in my skull. The next day I crawl out of bed less than two hours before the doors open. I watch the film through a Cocodamol haze.
Anthony hosts the screening and brings me up for a post-film Q&A. He asks me what kind of director I think I am. I sense that some folk have complained about a difficult shoot, and this is where I’m supposed to defend myself. But they’re right to complain. It was long, hard work, and we’ve only got a short film to show for it. Well – a film and some memories.
I duck the question.
My honest answer is, I’m the kind of director who keeps going. Three Februarys ago I had no home, a negative bank balance and an almost-impossible production ahead of me – and I had to learn how to do it as I went along. I know some others on the crew had a tough journey as well. And why bother?
It wasn’t just about the film. It was about setting a high bar for ourselves and then clearing it so that we knew we could. And just like the folks who get together and build a community garden or something, we did it for the love of the craft, and to keep ourselves off the streets.