Friday, August 24, 2001

Letter to the Editor

Making a movie takes a lot of work. It requires the combined efforts of a small army of professionals, camera operators, electricians, sound technicians, lighting technicians, makeup artists, production assistants, set designers and builders, property masters, caterers, drivers... not to mention actors, directors, producers, writers, and a hundred others. But in the end, it all comes down to one person: the editor.

Now, we didn't exactly have an army working on our movie, most of the time we just had me and Jon. But we have just as many editors as any big-budget, star-studded, Oscar winning, box-office blockbuster: We have one. And his name is Mike Kessler.

I met Mike while I was on jury duty and was first putting together the notes for Dante's View. I had picked up an old copy of the Longfellow translation of the Inferno and was reading it during the breaks. As the judge interviewed each juror, my ears perked up when I heard one guy say that he had recently graduated from film school. 'Hmm...,' I thought, 'maybe he could help me figure out how to shoot my movie.'

We spent a lot of time sitting in the hallway outside court while the lawyers argued points of law and evidence. Mike always had his palm pilot out, and everyone wanted to see how it worked. To me it was amazing how a tiny wireless, hand-held computer could access the internet and download text, pictures, even music, from right there in the hallway of the courthouse. To Mike it was completely normal.

At film school, Mike had learned to use the latest cutting-edge editing software and he urged me to shoot my movie on digital video to fully take advantage of the new technology. He even advised me on what kind of camera to buy. His enthusiasm and familiarity with the 'state-of-the-art' convinced me to take the plunge. I bought the camera, plus some lenses and microphones and was committed to going digital.

I gave myself a crash-course in digital cinematography and picked up some "sound" advice from friend of Jon's who happens to be an audio technician, and all of a sudden I was on the forefront of independent digital moviemaking. But all the while I was planning, preparing and shooting, I kept wondering, "How's this all going to get put together?"

The answer is called Final Cut Pro. That's the software Mike learned how to use and it is fast becoming the method of choice among professional editors. The only problem was we needed a fast, powerful computer to run it on. Specifically, we needed a Macintosh G3 or G4. We thought we would be able to "borrow" one but it soon became apparent that in order to spend the amount of time we'd need to do justice to the project, someone would have to buy one. That's where our producer (me) stepped in and literally doubled our budget (i.e. my Mastercard balance.)

We set up the computer in a spare bedroom in Mike's grandparent's house in Studio City (they live next to Tiffani Thiessen) where we have spent the past eleven days staying up very late editing together all of the various clips that are scattered across five hours of mini-DV tape. The software really makes it seem easy once you get the hang of it and we've been able to accomplish a tremendous amount of work in a relatively short time. But without Mike, it would have been impossible. Whenever I freak out at computer (which is often,) whenever I don't know if a scene is working or not (which is always,) whenever I am tired and punchy and we're right in the middle of an edit and I can't remember what we're supposed to do next (which happens every night about midnight,) Mike somehow keeps it together, suffers patiently through my paranoid-obsessive, borderline psychotic yammering and puts us back on track.

The editing room is where the movie really takes shape. Having someone there who not only keeps things grounded but also encourages taking risks is a great asset. But most of all it's a hell of a lot of fun. It's cool to watch as the pieces of the puzzle come together. It's exhilarating when you pull off a really slick piece of manipulation. And best of all, having the opportunity to do something you really love with someone who shares your passion and is having just as much fun as you are makes it not seem like work at all. Mike has, from the very start, been a key factor in making this dream come true and in the best way possible. Plus he's working for nothing, which is nice.

Anyway, even though the screen credit will just say "Editor," I wanted to share a little more of what my friend Mike has contributed to this project.

Thanks Mike.

Hope everyone is doing well.