Editor-Turned-Director Cultivates Collaborative Environment for Indie Success.
The editing team was expertly guided by Poll, who had previously edited several hit comedies, including the first two Austin Powers movies, as well as Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, and Scary Movie 3. Poll was involved artistically and technically throughout the editing process, while allowing the editors the creative freedom they needed to foster a productive collaborative atmosphere. Jon kept both a sense of perspective and distance, says Baumgarten. Because he knows what it's like to be an editor, he listened to our ideas. This helped us move ahead quickly because we could try new things and decide together what worked. It was the best of all worlds, really.
I've always thought of myself as a filmmaker. Whether it's as an editor or director, they're closely related roles. I'm a storyteller regardless.Jon Poll, Director, Charlie Bartlett
Having someone who understood and knew the [editorial] process inside and out was really helpful, adds Haight. Jon was completely on top of it: anticipating deadlines and realizing what was needed, such as visual effects and titles - all those realities that are sometimes ignored until the very last minute.
The Ties that Bind
It wasn't simply Poll's knowledge of the filmmaking process that was key to the production, but also his aesthetic perspective, framed through the eyes of an editor, that helped craft the story.
I've always thought of myself as a filmmaker, explains Poll. Whether it's as an editor or director, they're closely related roles. I'm a storyteller regardless, and filmmaking is all story and character. You're trying to find the moments where the actors are real and the performances come close to the story in your head. Certainly as an editor I had a good idea of what I needed to make each scene work. I'd spent years sitting at my Avid [system], asking' the actors [on the monitor] to do certain things, hoping to get what I wanted for each scene. So, I figured that at least this time, directing them on set, they'd listen to me, and I'd have a better shot at getting what I wanted - at least better than when I was in my cutting room talking to myself!
For this movie, Poll decided that each scene should have its own particular look and feel, so he varied the cinematography, composition, and other elements. For example, to depict Charlie's home life, the shots are all straight on, no over-the-shoulder shots, with the camera almost always locked down to shoot a formal composition.
When Charlie is in public school, the scenes are more fluid and sometimes more chaotic. In one scene, for example, we used a hand-held camera, so everything is really shaky, explains Poll. Then we did some fast cuts to keep that feeling. It was fun varying the directing style, the cinematography, the editing, depending on what the scene called for. So, although there are definitely different styles in different sections of the film, it all feels like one movie.
Not only was this Poll's first directing credit on a feature film, it was a project that he wanted to approach from a unique artistic perspective. His goal was to combine the unconventional approach and limited
budget of independent filmmaking with the refinement of a Hollywood production.
We were trying to do a lot, says Poll. Gustin Nash, the writer, and I always agreed upon this: there are often very slick shows that talk down to their audience, and then there are really interesting, edgy, independent films that may look rough around the edges - they have a lot of integrity, but no one sees them. Our challenge was this: can we make a movie that's really entertaining, funny, and heartfelt - with sophistication in filmmaking - that still deals with provocative, edgy issues on an indie budget?
Because it was both a comedy and a drama, we were always trying to hone in on a very fine line. So we did a lot of brainstorming, tried a lot of things on the Avid [system], and were creatively spurred on to make it work.
Midstream Changes and Challenges
With a 38-day shooting schedule and a change of location near the end of production (and in the early stages of post), the crew had its work cut out for them. After completion of principal photography, the crew moved from Toronto to Los Angeles, changing from a Windows-based environment to a Macintosh-based platform in the process. The changeover proved to be a testament to the reliability and stability of the Avid systems - all of the projects, bins, and media moved with ease across platforms, enabling the editing team to continue their work without a hitch.
I'd never done a switch like that midstream, says Haight, who was responsible for setting up the cutting rooms in Los Angeles at Tribeca West. So I went to the Avid message board and posted a message asking if anyone had run into problems doing something like this, and everyone who replied said that it should be fine. Sure enough, we were up and running with almost no downtime.
As the editing process continued, Poll and Baumgarten would screen cuts together at least once a week. Since the film was seeking a fine balance between comedy and drama, Poll also insisted on several small screenings for family and friends throughout the editorial process to gauge audience response. These screenings were followed by an open discussion with questionnaires for the audience to fill out. Outputs for these screenings were made
directly from the Media Composer system onto DVCAM. The need for a temporary audio mix was bypassed by mixing left-center-right in the Media Composer system with a three-speaker setup so that three separate channels of audio could be output.
Based on the responses to these early screening sessions, sections of the movie were completely changed, often to add more of a comedic twist or to heighten a dramatic moment. Being able to quickly make and view changes on the Media Composer system was key to supporting this collaborative atmosphere. Because it was both a comedy and a drama, we were always trying to hone in on a very fine line. So we did a lot of brainstorming, tried a lot of things on the Avid [system], and were creatively spurred on to make it work, says Baumgarten.
For official studio previews at larger theaters, the film was screened in DigiBeta format. A separate Media Composer Adrenaline system was rented to conform and color correct cuts from DigiBeta masters. Haight also used the Media Composer Adrenaline system for turning over video material to the visual effects house. There's a sequence that was shot on video and it became a visual effect, in that there was a transition into and out of it, she explains. I onlined that sequence on video and then we gave that online to our visual effects people as our source.
Temporary visual effects references were turned over to South Pasadena, Calif.,-based Pacific Vision as QuickTime files. The team at Pacific Vision would then send temp versions of the effects back to the editors as QuickTime files via an FTP site. Those files were imported into the Media Composer system and cut into the sequence. Audio was turned over to the sound editors as OMF files, and all audio work was done using Digidesign Pro Tools|HD 3 digital audio workstations. The Avid FilmScribe feature was used to create frame-accurate, detailed cut lists for preparation of the final master.
Making a Difference
With limited budget and unlimited imagination, Charlie Bartlett speaks for itself, conveying an important message with a comedic twist about teens, prescription drugs, the need to communicate - and the need to belong. Poll and his team have good reason to be proud.
It's rare that someone can finish a movie and feel like they ended up at a place where they wouldn't change a frame, says Poll. I was able to walk away saying that, which is really nice. I'm very proud of this movie, of the way we all worked as a team, and of how it was all put together on the Avid [systems]. For a first film, I consider myself really lucky.
Sustain a collaborative creative atmosphere under the leadership of a first-time feature film director.
Strike a fine creative balance between comedy and drama.
Change platforms mid-way through production, from a Windows-based to a Macintosh-based environment, with minimal downtime.
Enable a collaborative creative workflow using multiple Avid editing and audio systems for assistant tasks, creative editing, screening prep, and sound work.
Rely on the multi-platform reliability of Avid Media Composer systems to support a smooth transition from a Windows- to Macintosh-based environment.
Camera: 35mm film
Offline: 14:1 resolution
Screening: DVCAM and DigiBeta
Mastering: Cut negative using Avid's FilmScribe to create cut list