Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Don't Worry, You'll Fix It In Post

Salutations, Subsequent Scribes!

True story, Star Wars almost killed its creator.

Due to a constant onslaught of one crisis after another, George Lucas nearly had a coronary while filming A New Hope.  While shooting on location in Tunisia, none of the robots would work.  A freak rainstorm destroyed half the sets.  Anthony Daniels, who played C-3PO, nearly died of heat prostration and had his own foot impaled by the costume.

Even after the production moved into the domesticated environs of Elstree Studios in London, Lucas's woes didn't end.  The seasoned British crew often looked down their nose upon the film's "kiddie" subject matter as well as its young, upstart American director.  Sometimes, after spending hours on a complicated set-up, George would be left apoplectic with rage when the entire crew suddenly decided to drop everything and have tea.  

Just when things couldn't get any worse, they did.  Lucas's startup special effects house Industrial Light and Magic hadn't lensed a single useable effects shot, despite having blown a million dollars well into production.  At the same time, Lucas was fighting a daily battle on set with veteran cinematographer Gil Taylor over the use of soft-focus lenses.  George wanted a dreamy, fairy-tale look for the film, but the prickly Taylor chafed under such specific orders.

Even the actors were overtly willful and contentious.  Kenny Baker, the little due inside R2-D2, fully expected the film to be a complete and utter disaster.  Harrison Ford was particularly critical of Lucas's dialogue, famously telling him "You can type this shit, George, but you can't say it!"  As a result, Lucas became even more depressed, withdrawn and uncommunicative.  Most of the time, his primary direction to the actors consisted of repeating "Faster, more intense!" over and over again.          

As the film started to go over budget and over schedule, another layer of pressure was introduced.  The bean counters at 20'th Century Fox gave the young director a terrifying ultimatum: either finish shooting the film within a week or the production would be shut down.  By splitting the crew into three separate shooting units, Lucas managed to finish principal photography just days before the plug was pulled.

During this particularly trying time, Lucas began to experience severe chest pains and shortness of breath.  Assuming that it was heart failure, George was rushed to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with exhaustion and severe hypertension.  He was ordered to reduce his stress level and get some rest; two luxuries that he simply did not have.

To get the movie finished under such brutal time constraints, Lucas was often heard to say: "We gotta keep moving.  Don't worry, we'll fix it in post."  Sometimes I wonder if the young film-maker actually believed his own advice, especially after seeing the film's initial rough cut.  By all accounts, John Jympson's first edit of the film came as a crushing blow to Lucas.  It made the movie look like deleted footage from a cheap 70's T.V. cop show.

But slowly, inexorably, things did start to get fixed in post, just like he'd predicted.  ILM began delivering some groundbreaking special effects shots.  John William's grandiose score elevated the sometimes-cheesy material into the realm of myth.  And, most importantly, the masterful editing work by Paul Hirsch, Richard Chew and George's rarely-lauded ex-wife Marcia transformed the listless, boring footage into dynamic and exciting motion picture.  In fact, the trio would go on to win an Oscar for their efforts.

So what's the point of this extended title crawl?  Only this: the lesson contained herein is vital to every single writer.

Many a day I've dragged ass on a piece of writing because I'm totally convinced that what I'm writing is garbage.  But then, when I run it through two or three editorial passes, something magical happens.  First it becomes presentable, then it becomes palatable and then it become something pretty durned good.

For what it's worth: here's my current work flow:
  1. Getting an Idea That's Worth The Trouble    Some may argue, with considerable evidence, that I'm not discriminating enough in this regard.  To this, I offer the eloquent rebuttal: cram it with walnuts, poncho.  Hey, at least I never have to deal with writers block, which, frankly, is the kiss of death for any writer as far as I'm concerned.  
  2. Filtering Ideas Through A Pen Is Like Pumping Oil Through A Straw  As long as I've got  a stout cup of dark roast coffee in front of me I usually don't have any problem getting my ideas down on paper.  But the process is hideously inefficient and often results in wastage.  I think that's why most people despise the process of writing.  By the time they're done scratching up a journal or mashing their keyboard the Übermensch concepts frolicking around in their head come out looking like something in a David Lynch movie.
  3. From Analog To Digital  I often subject myself to this additional step which I admittedly have  a love/hate relationship with.  Although I'm currently typing this directly onto Blogger's blank-white compositional face, I often do a first draft on looseleaf.  I usually do this with my "work-related" movie reviews but sometimes I just wanna write in a coffee shop and I don't want to drag my laptop along with me.  Sorry, but feverishly scribbling something onto filler paper always makes me feel like a kid again.  Even better, people look at me as if I'm going math problems with an abacus.  Despite this seemingly archaic method, I can usually expunge my ideas a lot quicker via these frenetic chicken scratchings then with the old hunt n' peck keyboard method.  To be perfectly candid, I actually hate typing stuff into a computer.  In fact, I despise it with all the fire of a million suns.         
  4. Three Words: Fine Tooth Comb  Seriously, folks, this is where the magic happens.  To all the prospective writers out there: don't be discouraged if your first draft looks irredeemably stillborn and twisted.  You'll be surprised what three editorial passes will do for any nebulous chunk of poetry or prose.  On the first read-though, you'll wipe away the embryonic fluid and gently gather your fragile creation into your arms.  With the second bash, your ideas will shakily come to their feet like Bambi on ice, anxious to impress.  On the third and final brush-up, your brainchild will now be standing erect, hands on hips, with bright eyes beaming in a silent challenge to be appraised and appreciated.  
So, please, don't become despondent when you sit down to write something and it comes out all wonky.  Just tell yourself "Don't worry, I'll fix it in post."  It certainly worked out for Star Wars, didn't it?

Note to self RE: the Star Wars prequels: consider writing blog entry about the importance of collaborating with people more talented then yourself.  

EPIC EDIT  See, judicious trimming makes everything better!

EXCISE FAIL  Although her ample contributions to Star Wars have been excised from history like a member of the Politburo, fans really owe a debt of gratitude to Marcia Lucas.

1 comment:

Mark Rose said...

Star Wars may have ALMOST killed Lucas, but i'd sure love to have him killed for episodes 1-3.