And it’s another Fine Cut we Find Ourselves in…

With a strange lack of ceremony, we actually have our fine cut. Done. Finished. No more edits. At most there might be another credit to add. But the film is COMPLETE.

It’s funny, but I was expecting with finished print in hand to have some sort of euphoric opening-of-the-skies-whith-confetti-falling moment. But it didn’t happen that way. We had fine cut ready, and that immediately led us to the next phase: promoting, marketing, and distributing. And what a whole other pile of headaches that is.

In all honesty, I think it will have more a sense of completion once we have our cast party. A date has been selected and we’ll have a private screening just for us, something to celebrate everyone’s work and commitment to the project. And it’ll be a big “Thank you” to those who’ve stood by us on this crazy adventure. It does get hard to believe that two years ago we started with just a simple idea that has materialized into an actual working film. And from some of our test screenings, a film that at least a few people seem to like. Yipee!

Yes we do, Ms Field

Already we’ve started submitting to film festivals, and setting up university screenings, and applying for conferences. It just doesn’t really stop. There is a change in feeling though, to have it done, instead of telling people, “yes, it’s almost there.” It really is here. We can watch it! We can make copies! We can sell it! We can say, “I made a film,” not “I’m making a film.” Finished.

That has brought up an interesting point of reflection. Throughout the many phases of this project I have at times felt that nagging fear in the back of my head, the one that prods me to check our time lines, to make sure the tasks are being completed, to call everyone and say, “hey, we need to get back at it…” That little nagging fear that it wouldn’t get finished. That we could put in all this work and it doesn’t actually get done. I could live with the idea that we make it and it doesn’t make a big splash, that maybe the only people who got something out of it were those of us who worked on it. But I couldn’t live with the idea that it wouldn’t get finished in the first place. Because I think I figured out that while some people are afraid of success, and others are afraid of failing, I’m basically afraid that I won’t finish.

On the plus side, that little nagging fear has led me to become very good at finding the projects I can and will finish. So I have a pretty high percentage of completed projects. But why would that fear resurface here? When I have a track record of seeing things through to the end, why would it come back now, strong enough to wake me up at night.

I think it comes back to two basic experiences: 1) this film has become my parrhesia, my expression of who I am and what I stand for. It is a big step out on a very small limb – I’ve no film experience, it’s not really part of my job, and the topic is unpopular. So to work hard on it and never finish would be like saying, “well, my voice wasn’t really that important to begin with.” And I already know what that experience feels like, so I wasn’t really interested in ending up back there. Point 2) fits with point 1 though, in that because this hasn’t been recognized as part of my job and because the topic is unpopular, I’ve encountered plenty of naysayers. Plenty of those who roll their eyes when I mention I’m working on it, those who’ve made sure it doesn’t get supported by my employer, those who belittle it behind my back. And I’m aware of all of that. So not finishing it would also be another nod to their constant message of “you could never do it anyway,” a message I seem to have had to fight for a good portion of my life.

I have had plenty of supporters, I should add. I’ve been lucky to have some very important people cross my path who were able to say, “you can do it.” And without them I probably would’ve given up on myself a long time ago, because as a small brown female, there are a great many more out there who try to tell you what your place is and how you can just forget about ever leaving it. Maybe Gottman was on to something, because it does seem like all it takes is one person letting you know how shitty they think you are to undermine the several who may say otherwise. Unfortunately I happen to live in an environment that has spent a great deal of time letting me know to what extent it thinks I don’t belong and shouldn’t have been allowed to come here in the first place. That gets really old really fast.

So what has kept me going…on this project really it has been the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing meant I could take all kinds of risks. It’s the benefit of not knowing the “rules.” I realized along the way that since the start of my professional life, I have actually learned something. I can still remember starting out thinking I’d never get to a place where I actually knew something, so it’s been surreal to realize I’ve got something to offer AND there are some out there who want it. Which leads to probably the biggest factor in completing the film – the people involved in it. Never could we have anticipated what would really come out of this experience. Our interviewees sticking around for the long haul because they were getting something out of the experience. Being able to get to know everyone in these wonderful ways you don’t normally get to know people as a professor, and realizing you can create that kind of relationship and space in the classroom.  And in those biggest moments of doubt, having people from the film say the film was already a success, even before making a print, because they had learned things about themselves that they couldn’t have predicted and will stay with them forever.

Yeah, that’ll keep ya going. At least for a little while. And that’s also another reason why it must be finished – because I can’t let them down either. They need to know all their work, hardship, and vulnerability was worth something.

So cheers to you, my lovely friends: Jonnie, Vicki, Lance, Becca, Mandi, Bryan, Richard, Gaby. Emily, Shannon, Chris, Salwa. Even Michael and Adrien, whose small contributions made a world of difference. This film has been worth it just because I am better for having known all of you.

Coming together

And we march on to public release….we now have an official date for showing the film publicly at the University. It won’t be a final version, but it will be a rough cut. Which means we have assembled the film start to finish. Which means we’ve actually seen it start to finish. Perhaps this thing will actually be complete!

The practical side of filmmaking has been the least, well, glamorous by far. Contract discussions over ownership rights, getting a crash course in media legal-ease, obtaining copyright permissions…these are not the fun tasks of making a movie. Likely when everyone daydreams about becoming the next Spielberg or Coppola, they don’t think about all the great times they’ll have reading over copyright laws and wondering how they will pay these incredibly outrageous licensing fees. But it must be done to have a finished product that you can actually do things with, like show to public audiences.

I’ve had to do a little prodding to get the machine back in motion (such is the director’s job, I’ve found) and we are on track to be complete by semester’s end. We recently watched the assembled film start to finish. Still missing some cover shots, the music track, and without titles and such – but the basic content beginning to end. It is the first time we’ve seen the idea actualized, to find out if this concept actually works. I think it will – but I’m a little biased.

I’ve been asked a few times now how it felt to see the whole thing. Does it feel like an accomplishment? Is it exciting to see a dream realized? Oddly I found myself not having any of those thoughts. I don’t think I’ll be able to take in the scope of the whole thing until it truly is DONE and being shown to an un-committed audience. The first time I hear an applause (or perhaps even boos) I think it will become real. In the mean time, I find myself looking at it all with a critical eye; what else needs to be cut or switched in order to make it flow better, what will grab the audience, what is the piece that is still missing? Which shots are annoying and which work…will my current solution be too “artsy” or will it help the piece?

And as usual in this process, the problems we encounter feed the process – and out come some unexpected solutions. At this point it is clear to me that this film works better without me in it. That’s not ego or shame talking, I really just don’t see where my video contributes anything new or additive. It is just much more impactful to have the “non-expert” talking freely. And I thought we’d need more “lead in”, to guide the audience, but now I think it works fine without it.  So we’ve cut a great deal of content information that we planned on putting in (my graduate assistants will probably be pissed that some of their time went to finding things that we’re not going to use) to let each person really speak for themselves. And in re-reading about parrhesia, I found some great quotes to put at the start and end to help frame the film. And now we’re considering a radical cut of the beginning…but have paused to think about it and watch it again.

It’s brought up an interesting debate about who the audience is – I don’t think the film is meant for those who are already decided, meaning the person who has no interest in, or perhaps denies completely, oppression and its related topics. I also don’t think those who have already committed to social justice are the prime audience. I think for the latter, the film would hopefully bolster the spirit, and if the former ever found themselves watching the film hopefully it raises some questions. But really the audience is the general, uncertain public, those who probably have some ideas of fairness and recognize that there are inequities, but who haven’t really explored it fully or seen themselves as contributing or benefitting in any particular way. Basically, it’s the audience I find in my classrooms on a regular basis. And the hope is that the film leaves the audience wanting more…more story, more understanding, more action, more something…I want to generate an atmosphere with this film, and I’m just realizing what that means and what kind of a task we really embarked on.

No wonder most people at the start had no idea what I was talking about. I don’t think I really knew what I was talking about either.