Well, that was quite the semester.
ASSISTED LIVING, the film that my partners and I have spent the last eight months working on, is finished. It screened two Tuesdays ago at the Pacific Cinematheque, along with seven other wonderful 16mm shorts produced by my second-year film production class. That’s the screening’s poster at the top of the page.
The year ended on a beautiful, bittersweet note. Our class is the last in SFU’s film program to have a completely film-based, table-edited post-production. Next year’s second-year group will be editing digitally. Wrangling the workprint isn’t without its frustrations: heaven knows how many hours were spent in those small creaky rooms splicing, trying to fix the sync, re-splicing, trying AGAIN to fix sync; pulling one’s hair out after a core falls out, and then, 30-hours later, attempting to stay awake while waiting for the damned thing to rewind.
And yet, we got to hold our film. We got to feel it, to build a relationship with it. It is a real thing, millions of images that exist not just in time, but also in space. You could touch every single one if you wanted. Editing on the table reminds us that the craft of film editing, of shaping the work of art, began as a physical process. I don’t mean to overly romanticize the old way. I wouldn’t want to edit a feature this way. But I’m still terribly sad to see it pass by the wayside. Final Cut offers its own thrills, and retains the foundational pleasure of editing itself, but by losing the tangibility of the process, something intangible and profound is also lost. There is a spiritual aspect within the craftsmanship of table editing that is not nearly as strong — perhaps not present at all — in a digital context.
This, I feel, has been one of the unique strengths of SFU’s film program as it has moved more deeply into the digital world: offering its students the means to understand, from the very beginning to the very end, the roots of filmmaking itself. And not as a means to just “appreciate” the old ways of doing things, but to know them inside and out, and on a deeper level, to become a part of this strangely organic way of making dynamic art. It’s the formation of a true discipline.
Already the digital cinema is developing its own discipline, and film students decades from now will learn that as reverently as we have learned the ways of 20th century filmmaking, but I do feel an extra gratefulness that I could be here at the end of the era, to get my taste of sweat and pain, wearied fingers, grease pencils, spaghetti wheels, and always, the satisfying marriage of a slate’s clack and its corresponding image. The pleasure of syncing image and sound is not lost in digital editing, but the anticipation; the sudden tension at the thought of losing sync between workprint and mag stock; of seeing two separate “X” marks racing towards the gate and having their brief, glorious moment together, and then the next moment, and the one after that — that is a joy, and an anxiety, and a relief that those future students will not know. I’d like to think on a logical level that I have learned much from the experience. But there are no answers from the mind, only from the gut. All I can really acknowledge is that something is different, the sort of something that sits deep in the heart and soul and only really lights up after a period of intense, difficult struggle – whether it is through work, or relationships, or spirituality. The insides have been stretched and stressed, every last drop of innovation squeezed out and into the work, every ounce of energy poured into its thirsty, needy mouth, and then, finally, this awful and beautiful turmoil ceases. The film is finished.
And now it’s time to share it. I’ll post info on where it’s playing, whether in the flesh or online, as it develops. In the meantime, this space is going to be much more lively than it has been for the last month and a half.
In between editing sessions, I had the privilege of writing a few (hundred!) words on The Virgin Spring, for the Arts & Faith Top 100 site. Take your time and explore the 99 other pieces (they’re mini-essays, really). It’s quite the formidable collection of concise and insightful film writing, on dozens of the greatest films ever made. And if that piques your interest, come on over to Arts and Faith and join the daily discussions.
Two Thursdays ago, SFU Contemporary Arts‘ graduate films were shown in a massive screening at the Granville 7 in downtown Vancouver. Nineteen shorts and one installation were displayed. It was a powerful showcase of talent and vision, and if you see one of these popping up at a festival near you, you might want to check it out. Details on each film and filmmaker here.