One of the many mistakes I made in drafting contracts was a deletion rather than an omission. Angel told me, “We will never have the money to do ADR [additional dialog recording], so take that out of the actors’ contracts.”
I understood that ADR was done when the voices recorded lacked necessary clarity, but I didn’t have a solid appreciation of what caused the problem. Well, it turned out to be any number of things, including a hum of a refrigerator in the background, mistakes by the sound man, an inoperable boom, or a problematic microphone. But I learned all of that in retrospect, after the film was shot. Not knowing it in advance, I listened to Angel and took it out of the contract that actors would have to do ADR. That was a mistake.
As it turned out, we had very substantial problems with sound. There was an entire sequence shot in a car that took the better part of a day to film. The camera work wasn’t very good, but it was useable. The audio was so awful it was unusable. I really wanted to use the scene because the dialog was important, but not integral, to the plot and the banter between the characters helped develop their relationship. To boot, the imagery out the windows revealed Dallas and had good production value.
There were other sound issues as well, including a humming refrigerator that couldn’t be turned off in a bar where we shot an essential scene, a dysfunctional microphone in a murder scene, voices drowned by passing vehicles, and absence of key human noises in a host of scenes such as the victim praying, a dying man choking, a woman pleading, and a voice over the telephone. These turned out to be so crucial that they required ADR.
I tried to do as much of the ADR as I could myself. I made the choking noises for the dying, the whispers of prayer, and recorded the telephone voice. My masterful sound engineer, Johnny Marshall, was able to manipulate these recordings to make them fit the circumstance. For example, he lowered the tone of my voice so that it sounds like a male speaking on the phone.
The way it works is that the relevant scene is played on a screen and the speaker stands in front of a microphone with a headset on. You hear three clicks and then the film rolls. You watch the lips of the person onscreen to synch your speech with their movement. For some people, this is as easy as bouncing a ball; for others, it takes many repetitions.
I toyed with the idea of getting some friends to come in and ADR some of the isolated voices that we needed. But then it occurred to me that the extras who played the roles might enjoy the ADR process and learn from it as well. I decided to forthrightly ask them if they’d like to do it for free, with the understanding that there was no obligation or pressure. They all jumped at the chance. After all, having not only your visage, but your voice, in a movie is great fun.
A rather humorous thing happened in regard to the extras. A very tall, hefty man played the medical examiner. The trouble was that there were two extras’ names by the role in the log. So I called the first guy and asked him if he played the medical examiner and he replied yes.
When we opened the studio door to let him in, it was not the big man who played the medical examiner at all; it was a small, slim fellow with a decidedly “wrong” voice for the role. Not wanting to offend him since he’d shown up, I let him do the ADR. But I resolved to call in the person who’d really played the role. The second name was the right one and he came gladly to do the ADR as well.
In cases where a known voice was needed, we had to bring in the relevant actors. But I was willing to do this for only a short amount of time, not the lengthy sessions that would be required to re-do the entire in-auto scene.
Budget woes were a pervasive presence in my head throughout the movie-making process, almost like a fug of fear clouding my judgment. I expected some unforeseen expense cropping up that would end the whole enterprise because there were no deep pockets and no financier to turn to. So, I watched every expenditure every day, checking it against the budget. But it wasn’t the sudden big-ticket item that pounced unexpectedly on me; it was the pile up of little stuff. For the most part, all of the big-ticket items had been planned and accounted for, but the unexpected smaller things were adding up.
One of the problems was that others on the team had the sense that this was a well-financed movie—like a studio production—so they tended to be cavalier about spending. I knew, for example, that some of the people whose gasoline I had to pay for in order for them to do their jobs were cheating. And the wastefulness in the meals, drinks and snacks thrown away was unnerving. But I couldn’t afford the time and energy to solve these little problems in real time. I had to watch for difficulties with more costly issues. An example was muscle cars.
I noticed one day during production that one of the management team was spending a lot of time looking at images of cars on the computer. I had no idea what he was doing and was irritated at his wasting time this way. Before I could say anything to him, I was called away to handle some problem and forgot about it.
Later in the day, he came to me with some printouts of photos of three cars. He explained that he and a couple of other members of the team had selected these cars as “picture cars”—cars to rent for use in the movie. These flashy vehicles would cost several hundred dollars a day and would be required for multiple days. They definitely were not in the budget. I took him aside and told him that under no circumstances were we going to rent muscle cars. I was really surprised when he pushed back, saying that we needed to have cars that matched the personalities of the two cops and the woman who was stalked.
I decided that discussion was pointless. For some reason, he just didn’t have a true grip on budgetary constraints. I told him very firmly (resisting anger that wanted to creep into my voice) that there would be absolutely no more discussion of the issue. I had arranged to borrow friends’ cars and that was that.
Over and over money was an issue. It was lonely sometimes making the calls on where to spend. I wished I could have done a better job not only keeping waste down, but also conveying the limits of my finances to the management team.
It was day 14 of 20 and we were preparing to film the scene in which detectives survey the crime scene where Maria lies on the bed, murdered. The day was hot, with temperature in the mid-90s and inside the house was very uncomfortable with so many people in such a small space.
The camera was set up in the hallway, looking in toward the bed where Maria lay. We did a first run-through with the detectives walking in and standing over the body. In the dialog, one detective chides the other for his garish shirt. The conversation progresses, alternating between serious investigatory remarks and gentle joking among the cops.
I was in the kitchen, which is adjacent to the bedroom, listening and watching the monitor. When the run-through finished, the detectives re-entered the kitchen to prepare for the next take of the same scene. (They enter the bedroom from the kitchen in the scene.)
All of a sudden Roger burst into the kitchen and said, in front of cast and crew there, “Alright, we can’t do it this way. We can’t have the detectives being disrespectful to the body that way. They can’t joke among themselves when she is lying there dead. We are taking out all the jokes.” He was very upset.
I asked him what on earth was going on. He explained that one of the camera operators (a woman) was crying and was deeply disturbed by the jocular dialog in the face of the sadness of the scene.
I said softly, trying to make the discussion just between us, that the script had been read by him and everyone else. The dialog had not be changed, so they should all have been on board with it. I said that whoever was having a meltdown was probably doing so in response to unrelated stress and that she needed to be told to behave more professionally. I ended by noting that he had agreed to direct the script as written. I said we were not going to change the story or the scene just because someone was getting emotional over it.
Roger didn’t back down. He said loudly, “I just can’t shoot it that way. I won’t do it.”
I was trying hard not to explode. I wanted to go in and yell at whoever had lost a grip on their emotions. And I wanted to scream at Roger, “Do your damned job!” But I put a lid on my own reactions and looked at Chad Halbrook, our lead actor, for help. Chad immediately read me.
Chad stepped in front of Roger and said that joking is how people handle bad situations. It is totally normal, he said, for cops to joke among themselves in the face of a murder scene because it is a coping mechanism. He ended by firmly saying, “We have to film it the way it is written.” He was getting through to Roger, who was calming down.
Roger replied that we could change the script a bit to make it less offensive. Both Chad and I took turns explaining that it wasn’t offensive, that the cops made no remarks about the body, the girl, or her death. They merely chided one another with meaningless prattle.
Finally Roger agreed and we returned to filming. It was remarkable to me that no one in the cast or crew seemed affected by the to-do. I was very grateful for that.
After that incident, I vowed that if I ever did another movie, I would have the cast and crew sign a statement that they’d read and understood the script, and that they would in no way object to its being filmed as written.
A dead body is not just a still body, it has a certain color. Not colorlessness, color. If you have seen one, depending on the length of time since death, it has a progression of losing (in the case of a Caucasian) pink and taking on grey. And there is almost an artificiality about it, as if the body never really lived. You can almost imagine that someone took away the carcass that used to be living and replaced it with a less-than-adequate substitute that is somehow not quite right. Without the life of the person that once inhabited it, the body loses more than the life it held; it loses its realism.
So often movies do not capture the appearance of death, particularly in the case of murders. The film may portray a body that is bloody, but that blood appears applied rather than shed; the body may be still, but not obviously absent spirit; it may be laid out, but lacks the seeming obscenity that accompanies one who is splayed ignominiously after having been felled.
I wanted the death of the young girl in the movie to be portrayed in a way that would capture the horror, sadness, and unfairness of murder. So many things had to come together just right to make that happen. The actress had to be willing to act, purely act. In other words, she had to abandon any attempt to “look good” and allow herself to be what she was to be….murdered. Director Roger Lindley had to arrange for her to be laid out on the bed in a convincing manner. The male on-looking actors had to be totally professional, because one simple jocular remark could have marred the seriousness with which the scene was laid out and played, and thus how it would appear on screen. And the camera work had to be exceptional, with the angle capturing the scene without being prurient or grotesque.
When I first viewed the takes of the death scene, I was silent and sad. It was that good. I stared for a long time, considering how much time should be on the body, and then on the action around the body. The balance needed to be struck with enough time on her to show that the scene was ever so serious, yet also sufficiently on the investigators to keep the action moving and the dialog relevant. It took a lot of thought and time, but in the end, it felt right.
But it had to wait until coloring to make the scene whole. By that I mean that the “dead” body was still pink, still alive.
When Colorist Justin Warren and I got to the death scene, we spent a lot of time analyzing it. I was the one who knew what hue of grey we were after for the body, so we worked until we got that. But we also needed to subdue the other colors in the room as well as the lighting. It had to inter-mesh.
In the end, we achieved a color correction for the scene that I think goes very well with the somberness of murder, with the loss of a young life. The effect on the viewer is subtle, but that is the way it should be. No one should know that the mood is being set; it should just happen.
But all of that effort at making sure that death is properly conveyed almost went for naught. It was during the final sound design review, after the coloring had been completed, when Johnny Marshall, our Sound Designer, said, “Hey, are you going to fix the heart throb?”
“What heart throb?” I asked. I felt that odd mix of adrenaline you get when you are at fault, coupled with a high level of anxiety over whether a serious mess can be righted. I guess the best description is that I was overcome with dread. Here we were, finished with editing, special effects, coloring, and in the final run-through of sound and there was a big problem.
“You know, Maria De La Cruz. When she is lying there dead, you can see the blood pulsing in her neck.”
Shit. My editor hadn’t seen it. My colorist hadn’t seen it. But most importantly, I hadn’t seen it. I am well aware of where the buck stops.
I went back to Justin even though we’d finished coloring. “Hey, let’s fix the heart throb.” And he did.
But the event really unnerved me. If I had missed that, what other obvious things had I missed? It is okay if I saw something and chose not to fix it, or couldn’t fix it. But the throb was in a scene for which I had pulled out all of the stops on the amount of time and level of attention I’d been willing to devote to getting it right.
But, thanks to all those who put so much into making that scene, I think it came off very well. And, thanks to Johnny, it wasn’t blown by having one stupid mistake, a heart throb.
There are some words that are so overworked that they have lost their gravity and grandeur. Think of awesome as in “Man, your shoes are awesome”. Awe is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Now really, are shoes (save Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz) ever really awesome?
Or think of the word literally. Someone told me, “My headache was so bad that my brain was literally exploding.” I couldn’t help wishing I’d seen that.
Fuck is similarly overworked. These days it is primarily used to emphasize, often with a tinge of anger. And common speech is so sprinkled with it that it has lost much of its cachet of obscenity.
Although I am far from being a prude, I decided early in drafting Revenge In Kind that I didn’t want lazy dialog littered with the word fuck. But could I have dialog that would be realistic without expletives? Answering that took me more time than you’d imagine. First I analyzed the characters to decide if their personalities and mode of speech would be more realistic and true if they said fuck a lot. I decided that indeed there was one character who would be more authentic if he did: a character named Brown.
In particular, there is a scene in a bar in which Brown gets really angry. I absolutely know that if he were to verbalize, he would not only say fuck, he would call someone an asshole, etc. I thought about this a while and decided that I could actually make his anger even more powerful than his voice and those words would convey; I could have him smash a beer bottle and threaten with it.
Writing the screenplay with interesting, realistic dialog—but without the use of obscenities—became a fun challenge. But I promised myself that if I ever felt that authenticity would be enhanced with such usage, I would insert it.
But the screenplay is, of course, not the final determinant of what the dialog is in the film. Although our Director, Roger, had agreed to the locked script and didn’t change the dialog, that did not obviate fucks creeping into the actors’ ad libbing. Although they were fairly good about not doing that, there were two instances that indeed appear in the film, and one which was edited out.
The one I omitted successfully was spoken by a woman being interviewed by the police. In a couple of the takes, the actress had added the word fucking into the sentence, “I wasn’t going to have a fucking conversation with him.” But she was just as convincing in the takes without it. Since her character is a young, well-educated professional who’s supposed to elicit sympathy from the audience, I felt we could do without the expletive.
But there are two that stayed in the film. Actually, the first ad lib of fuck is not totally complete. An actor who plays a villain is set upon by a vigilante. He looks in surprise and says, “What the f….!” Even though he never enunciated the “..uck”, I thought about whether it could be edited out. There simply was no way because his reaction to the vigilante was essential and his mouth was clearly saying what he said. I comforted myself with the fact that the word really wasn’t finished so it didn’t count. However, the English closed captions as well as the subtitles in foreign languages went ahead and finished the word. I had to get back to the titles company and have them change it to just “f…”.
The second ad lib of fuck got by me because of my poor hearing. An actor is departing a room angrily and says “Don’t say another fucking word.” He is off-scene and the sound could easily have been edited the sound to omit it had I known it was there. It is faint and many will not notice it unless they are watching closed captions or subtitles. Still, when I found out about it, I was pretty fucking disappointed.
The vigilante was supposed to walk toward her sleeping victim and stop near him. She would pick up a photograph on the table and gaze at its subjects—him, his wife, and children. She would slowly shake her head and replace the photo. The point, of course, was to show how even rapists can have families and appear to have “normal lives”.
But in reviewing the takes, there were big problems. The vigilante moved exceedingly slowly, more than doubling the time needed for good pacing. And then there was the issue that no close up of the photograph was taken. Without that, the audience would have no clue as to the purpose of her looking at the photo. The message that the rapist had a seemingly ordinary family life could not be conveyed without the image close-up.
I was sad about the lack of film coverage of the photograph, but without it, there was no point in having the vigilante pause for it. So, for the sake of pace and want of message, I cut the entire “photo gazing” part of the scene. I felt miffed that no one had thought to film an up-close of the photograph after all the trouble to manufacture the prop for the scene and to film her picking it up. And I was miffed that the “regular guy” aspect of the rapist wouldn’t be made.
Later, I was going through takes in preparation for editing another related scene: the rapist greeting his intended victim at his door. I almost shouted aloud, “Oh my gosh, there it is, the close up of the photo of the rapist and his family!”
The cinematographer had filmed the photograph in the foreground, with the rapist greeting his intended victim in the background. What an artful way of conveying my “regular family guy” notion! My original objective for having the photograph had been achieved in an entirely different way, and one which was more subtle than the original plan. Rather than hitting the audience squarely with the message, it is delivered obliquely. This was a lovely instance of having another artist on the film come up with a creative idea to do something that I liked much better than my own preconceived idea.
The original version of the screenplay didn’t feature Nyx. The idea for including her came when I’d at last settled on the lead detective, Coxon, being a clay sculptor. When I tried to think of what he might be sculpting, it occurred to me that it should be something relevant to night and the dark side of humankind. I started doing a bit of research and soon it became clear that the goddess of night was a perfect fit.
Once I’d settled on using Nyx, I needed to develop the relationship between her and Coxon. Why did he sculpt her? What does she mean to him? What will he do with her? Answering these questions helped me to know how to interweave her into the script, both in terms of dialog and action.
One of the first ideas I had was to have Coxon actually fire the sculpture of Nyx. I wasn’t too keen of his just placing her in a commercial kiln, so I spoke to my consulting artist, Rebecca Boatman, about using actual fire. She said it was possible to use flame, but that it wouldn’t reach the required temperature to sufficiently alter the clay to make it lastingly hard. That was okay with me; I liked the idea of using fire. I had it in mind to use the firing scene as the opener to the movie.
As I was developing the relationship between Nyx and Coxon, I wrote a poem that I imagined he composed to Nyx. I even thought about adding it to the film somehow, but it didn’t really fit. Nevertheless, I’d like to share it with you here:
Nyx, Daughter of Chaos,
Goddess of the Night.
Your children give us Grief,
Death, Deceit, and Strife.
You bring upon us Sleep,
And our crimes you can conceal;
Yet it’s only due to you
Stars of Heaven are revealed.
Your power is so great
Even Zeus is sore afraid.
You’re the only goddess
Whose word he must obey.
Ultimately, I decided that opening the film with the firing of Nyx was too much of a visual non-sequitur to follow with the violence that needed to occur early. So instead I placed it elsewhere in the movie, but used it as the background of the languages-selection menu.
To his credit, Angel said soon after production ended that we didn’t have either enough B roll or the right shots. He said it would be best if we could hire Sparky Sorenson and his drone for one more day. Specifically, we knew we needed: more daytime shots of the exterior of the police building and of the Mesquite Arts Center (aka our “college”); the boathouse on the lake; and nighttime overhead shots of traffic.
We spent more time than anticipated getting the college, so we were in a bit of a hurry when we got to the police department. I already had permission to shoot the exterior of the building, although I hadn’t specified any shots being taken from a drone. Since I didn’t think we would be very close to the building, I decided not to bother anyone inside with a notice that we’d be doing drone shots that day.
In the parking lot, we discussed with Sparky that we’d like to have film going from one end of the curved building to the other, filming in an arc, at about the level of the top of the building looking down. We didn’t want to get any directly overhead shots or to get close at all. So, Sparky programmed the drone to go from point A, to point B, to point C, then back again to achieve the rounded shot of the Department.
It was the first shot of the police building from the drone that day. And the last.
Sparky programmed A, B, C, A instead of A, B, C, B, A. That meant that the drone would cut across the building rather than following the same arc on the return. And, because the drone was not too high up, it clipped the edge of the roof, which was flat in that section, and crashed onto it.
Part of the police department roof was flat, where the drone crashed. But part of the building was actually higher than the flat portion and had office windows overlooking that part of the roof. As you can imagine, there was a flurry of response as police officials inside witnessed a drone crashing onto their roof.
Those who know what true dread feels like will understand when I say that my adrenaline kicked in and my heart raced as I realized what happened. It was a mixture of concern about the poor drone, a bit of “oh no, we won’t get the shots now”, but mostly a fear of what the police would say and do. Would there be a fine? Would they give us the drone back? What on earth will I say to them?
I told Sparky we had to go in right away and try to claim the drone. Angel said he didn’t want to be any part of it all and walked away. So into the building I went and talked to the Sergeant on duty. “Yes,” he said, “we already know about the drone. Stay right here. Someone will be down shortly.”
I thought to myself how quickly he’d been notified, as it had been only a matter of a couple of minutes since the disaster. And the scowl that accompanied that “stay right here” made me very apprehensive.
Sparky and I were put into a small room to wait, where I began to rehearse what I would say to try to get the drone back. We stewed for about 20 minutes before a plain-clothes officer came. He said, “Well, you certainly caused some excitement.” I explained how the mishap occurred and he told us that they were not yet sure how to retrieve the drone because the roof was sealed and they hadn’t yet found anyone who had the ability to access it. He told us to wait while they tried to locate someone.
At last we were taken to go onto the roof. We had to climb a very narrow set of stairs that were unlit and whose risers were so high that I struggled in absence of a handrail. At the top of the stairs was a very heavy hatch that had to be pushed upward.
While the policeman waited, Sparky and I went across the roof to retrieve the crippled drone. It was sad to see Sparky examine it. But I was very, very grateful that they allowed us to have it back.
It took some time before Sparky could get replacement parts and we could go back out. Although I wished we could get more shots of the police department, I decided not to try. Instead, we concentrated on getting some shots of the boathouse at White Rock Lake and traffic at night.
As I’ve mentioned, I had a vision of the film and the scenes within it from the time I wrote the script. But, the way some scenes were directed and filmed so exceeded my vision and expectations. I was delighted, as if I were given a surprise gift. I would like to mention a few here and more later.
The script has it that Lehman, a villain, shaves his body to assure that he leaves no hair at the scene of his crimes. Now you can envision a man shaving his body in many ways, all with different lighting, angles, and atmosphere. Roger told me he was going to strive for “creepy” and I think he more than excelled at his objective. Roger had Lehman use a straight razor. And the dim lighting on his body as he drags it across his skin is an image that lingers with the viewer—just what you want.
The shaving scene was so well done that I assured that it played fairly long. Angel told me that I gave it too much time. But it is so full of evil, so ominous, that I really believed it could even have been made a bit longer. But it is an appropriate medium length.
I had some trouble placing the scene in the movie. Obviously, it had to be early, but where was unclear. Then, well into the middle of the editing process, I was talking to Johnny Marshall one day, telling him that I was not pleased with the way that the movie started. He suggested beginning with the shaving scene. It was a stroke of genius not only because it set the creepiness factor at the outset, but also because it allowed featuring the marionette as the opening frame.
Let me step back to a little history to comment on the marionettes. When Angel and I visited an Air BNB I’d found, we spoke to the lady who rented it out and told her we’d like to film at her place. (Immediately, she quadrupled the price, which made it out of our range.) The small bedroom had two marionettes in it. They were what made the place “Lehman’s lair” to me. His character is manipulative, crazy, and sees humans as not quite human, but some inanimate objects as anthropomorphic. I made her a written offer to buy or rent the two antique marionettes. She refused. So, it was one of the first requests I submitted to our Designer and Property Master: get marionettes for Lehman’s place.
Back to the extraordinary scenes. Another of Roger’s brilliant scenes was Coxon, the detective, at his favorite lake wharf. He is agonized and angry. Not one word is spoken in the scene. The acting and direction are superb, as is the filming. If it had been filmed even longer than it was, I would have included every second of it. To me, it is that powerful.
Truthfully, I didn’t appreciate the importance of relevant B roll (film that is not the actual scenes of the movie, but is used to transition between or add to scenes) until I got well into the process of editing. To help you understand what B roll would have been helpful, let me give you some examples.
In some cases, a daytime scene is followed by a nighttime scene. Going between the two would be confusing unless there were some visual clue to help the audience make the leap. For example, the transition might be traffic at dusk filmed at one place followed by traffic at night filmed at the same spot. It would be best if the two shots were at the same spot because evening traffic in one place followed by night traffic at another place might set up the audience to focus on locations switching rather than the lighting change.
Although almost all of the B roll for RIK is traffic, it was mostly either day or night, not evening or transitional taken from one spot. So it had to be used for transitions of scenes that were day-day, or night-night. We had only two really good day-night transitions, neither of them shot by the “red” camera as straight B roll. One was a drone shot that was done of the skyline. Our drone pilot, Sparky Sorenson, shot the scene both in the evening and at night, which makes for a beautiful passage in time. Another transition was shot by Angel from the balcony of my apartment. He did a time lapse with my SLR camera on a tripod from afternoon to after dusk. It is the only other spot-on day-to-night transition.
Had I appreciated the importance of B roll more, I would have assured that a number of shots of scenes without actors were filmed. I already mentioned in Part One that it would have been wonderful to have footage of the two professional kilns at the artist’s studio. Similarly, it would have been helpful to have film of the length of the bar in the bar scene (where we had extras that are not in the movie as a result of not shooting it), several close ups of the marionettes in the villain’s apartment, footage of the outsides of buildings that were used for interior filming, and so on.
One case in which there was an excellent example of B roll that we did have was the outside of the “college”. It shows the exterior of the building and several of the crew members are milling about as extras. You can see this film used as the lead in to the scene where there is a lecture at the college. We needed more footage of the building, however. So one day well after production had ended, Angel and I got Sparky the drone operator to do a few shot of the same building from above. I chose not to use much of this, however, because the season had already begun to change the trees’ leaves’ color. This limited how far we could photograph from the building and how widely, so as not to show the trees being different from the way they were when production was shot. This is why it is so important to get B roll at the same time as you film production.
Another way I got B roll is by cribbing some bits from scenes I decided not to use in the movie. For example, one unused scene was filmed at the villain’s house. I used a very eerie view of the house at night as the lead in for a short scene with the villain, and another of a marionette from the same unused scene when the villain is lying on his bed.
My advice to anyone contemplating making a film is that they go through the script in advance and mark where it is likely to require B roll and to specify what type of shots and lighting would be ideal. This is certainly what I’d do if I could do it all over again.