One of my least favorite activities was paying bills and doing payroll. Early on, I thought I would tough it out and do the accounting alone and without software, but discarded that notion as soon as bills started piling up before pre-production even began. And, as I pored over the IRS reporting requirements and things like state taxes and 1099s for vendors, I knew that I needed an accountant’s help as well.
I interviewed about 5 or 6 local accountants to see if they could fill the job. None were experienced with movies, which was not good because the the accountant should categorize expenses in a standard way as done in the film industry.
Eventually we found a person who was willing to do part of the job on a part-time basis remotely from Austin, Texas. I was unhappy about having him not be present, not least because I didn’t like paying the hefty auto expenses for him to come up once a week. But I also felt that the production would have been less expensive if we’d had an on-site accountant overseeing expenses. As it was, there were some expenses that shouldn’t have been allowed, some cheating on timesheets, problems with data entry to the accounting software, and errors in record-keeping. I think those would have been avoided with an accountant present.
My role in the accounting process was threefold. Every week I would write payroll checks by hand (another thing that should have been automated, but I didn’t have the time to learn), a process that took an entire afternoon. Then I would pay bills and keep records. Then, after production was over and our accountant was off the job, I took over all accounting activities including filings with the IRS and state tax agencies, printing and mailing 1099s, reconciling bank and credit card statements, records-keeping, and filing income tax. Even as I write this, the accounting obligations go on and on, as today I spent reconciling expenditures. Ugh.
Angel asked me soon after we met what I wanted to do with the movie once it was made. I said wanted to enter it into film festivals because I hoped that would result in a movie distributor acquiring it and showing it in theaters everywhere. He explained that festivals were not a merit-based process and that I would probably need to know someone on the inside to get an invitation. He also said that distributors would generally take your film and give you little for it—maybe even less than it cost me to make it.
I will tell you more below about my decisions on what to do with the movie, but first let me say that Angel was right on both counts. After I paid hefty entry fees to several festivals (and was rejected by all), I spoke with a woman involved in one New York festival who explained the process. She said there was an initial selection panel, usually comprised of young people with little or no film training, who viewed the first 5 minutes or so of a film to decided whether it would go on to the next stage to be viewed more thoroughly. This first panel would receive instructions such as: “No violence against women.” Or “No kinky sex.” Or whatever.
In the case of RIK, the New York woman told me, there is violence against a woman in the first few minutes of the movie. This, in our current times, is not something most festivals want, she said. And, she continued, even if RIK had made it through the panel selection process, it would be competing with scores of films for one of about 5-10 slots because most of the movies for the festival would have already been chosen by prior arrangement with a studio, a friend, or other inside connection.
Regarding distributors, I learned that their main ploy is to promise a return of a goodly profit minus specified marketing costs. And it is the marketing costs that guarantee that you’ll never see any money. This warning about the never-ending marketing is widely documented on the Internet, but I also learned about it from those who’d experienced it. And, in the one interaction I had with a potential distributor, it was the marketing costs clauses that deterred me from undertaking the deal.
So what did I decide to do with the film? As noted, I entered festivals. This ended up being a negative not only in terms of the financial cost, but also in terms of time lost. I entered the festivals in the spring of 2017 and then had to wait an average of 3 months to hear the result. In the interim, most festivals disallow the film to be shown in theaters to the public or to be otherwise publicly available, such as on a streaming platform like iTunes, or via online DVD/Blu-Ray sales. This meant that I had to wait until mid-October to pursue online streaming and sales. If I had it to do over, knowing what I now know about festivals, I would definitely skip the festival process and go straight to sales.
In October 2016, during the film production, I made the decision not only to enter festivals, but also to do online streaming afterward if no distribution deal were forthcoming. I researched companies that prepare films for online platforms and found Distribber.
The guy who marketed Distribber by phone to me was really good at it. He promised that not only would the company place RIK on 3 platforms of my choice (ITunes, Google, and Amazon), it would do a quick and thorough quality control check first and arrange for both closed captions and subtitles in whatever foreign languages I chose. I would be assigned a manager, who would be available to me whenever I needed to make any technical adjustments or answer any questions. I signed up eagerly after Angel and I had a telephone conference call with him, just to make sure that Angel thought it was a good deal too.
The first signs of problems were when I tried to order subtitles. I kept getting put off, with my Distribber “personal manager” telling me that there were some glitches in getting a bid. Well, those glitches lasted from the day I signed up with Distribber in November 2016 until the day I terminated my contract with them in August 2017. More importantly, I grew weary of trying to get in touch with my manager and not getting clear or prompt answers. I was sorry that I had selected Distribber.
After my experience with Distribber, I started looking for another company to perform the same services. After looking at costs and promises from a few, I chose Juice Worldwide. As soon as I had signed, there were problems. I uploaded the film and audio assets, then began waiting. The quality control check was repeatedly delayed and I was unable to get responses when I tried to contact my project manager. Rather than waste months as I had with Distribber, I terminated with Juice before I even signed the contract.
In late September, 2017 I chose Mojo to get my film onto the streaming platforms. The sales representative was excellent. And, like the other two companies, the follow through by non-sales staff was spotty and slow. Even though the film was supposed to take only 3 to 4 weeks to upload if there were no quality control issues (there weren’t), it took until late November to complete the process.
My assessment is that Mojo was better than the other two because the marketing representative didn’t abandon me. He kept answering emails and addressing issues even though it was not his job. Nevertheless, had I not had the experiences with Distribber and Juice already, I am sure that I would have thrown in the towel with Mojo too. The upshot is that I think the field is wide open for a company that has the experience to upload to platforms efficiently and the managerial capability to exercise good customer care.
One of my early discussions with Kays was about source music. Although it was clear to me that certain types of music fit some scenes, there was also a lot of leeway in what to choose. Kays helped narrow the selection criteria. For example, we agreed that there be country music playing in the gun shop scene. When I told him I preferred a female singer there, he said, “Look for a female Hank Williams,” so I did.
I scoured the Internet looking for Texan female country singers with a perfect, polished voice and style. I finally found her—Kayla Ray. I loved her from the start. I sent a sample to Kays and he was equally impressed. But how to find her? I sent an email to her website contact form, to which there was no response.
As I waited to hear from Kayla, I tried to figure out how could I narrow the huge number of musicians down to those who’d be interested in trading inclusion in the movie for use of their music. In a huge stroke of good fortune, the answer was provided by our drone pilot.
Sparky Sorenson, drone pilot extraordinaire (about whom more later), used to be a country music artist. As a result, he was familiar with a wide range of Texas bands and solo artists. He offered to send out an email to his contacts asking for interested people to send me some of their audio files. The response was amazing. I had dozens and dozens of wonderful musicians to choose from, all of whom were interested in the trade I’d offered.
But Kayla Ray was not among them. I asked Sparky to try to locate her, so he did. And she said, “Yes.” I was overjoyed! I decided to push my luck and ask if I could use two of her songs, not knowing where the other would fit, but knowing I would find a place because I liked her so much. She agreed.
Then I began my review of the musicians who’d emailed me per Sparky’s request. I tried to match songs and instrumentals to individual scenes in my mind, and then would email Kays my suggestions. In some cases it was easy. The opening notes of Shaun Outen’s Señoritas and Tequila were an instant match to the bar scene with one of the villains. In other cases, I agonized and took weeks to decide which song would fit where. And, ultimately, there were some source-music needs for which I had no musicians yet.
One example was the scene in the apartment of the detective who was from Hawai’i. From the 13 years I’d lived on Kaua’i, I knew there were some fabulous ukulele players and I really wanted to showcase ukulele music, which can be so much more complex than the simple chords most people associate with it. So I returned to the Internet to look for just the right instrumental.
The first one I found was ideal, but the musician had the lackadaisical attitude of “I’ll do it tomorrow” that used to drive me crazy when I lived in Hawai’i. It would take him days to answer an email. I decided to keep looking.
The second musician I found was a young man who was willing for me to use his music, but told me that I had to go through his dad, who would handle everything. That turned out to be great because his father was business-minded and we soon had agreement to use two of Andrew Molina’s instrumentals.
One of the most unusual pieces we used as source music was by Fredrick Chopin. Kays came up with the idea for it in the art gallery scene. He arranged it and it suits the scene very well.
The final example of source music that required more time than I’d expected was the song for the taco shop. Kays suggested we get an upbeat, Mariachi sort of song. When I kept running into obstacles finding someone local and who could speak English, I finally asked one of our Spanish-speaking cast members for help. He sent me some songs from a couple of his friends and one was perfect.
Selecting the source music took many, many hours of work that was mostly fun. The parts that were not so enjoyable was preparing a template for the License Agreement, sending it to my attorney for comment, getting it signed by everyone, and obtaining information about royalties. Through it all, I was lucky to have an interested and helpful partner, Kays.
I’ve already told you a bit about my preoccupation with the music for RIK. I had listened to a huge amount of music and had made some selections of pieces I’d like in the movie. And I wanted to write the lyrics for the theme song, for which I would need a composer.
In August, I emailed a few composers whose music I’d found on the Internet and liked, to ask what their prices would be to use their work. The composer I’d tentatively chosen as my favorite wanted $800 per minute of music, which was out the realm of my budget, so I began to look at less expensive licensed music. But I kept running into the problem of congruity. I didn’t want the music to be choppy; there needed to be a thread of similarity throughout, with dramatic differences restricted to source music—the music that would be coming from radios or over speakers in bars and restaurants. I decided to take a closer look at composers who’d sent in emails asking to do RIK’s score.
I focused on two composers whose music I liked and asked if they’d read the script and send me a sample of what they envisioned. Also, I asked a very talented musician friend of mine to help me evaluate the music they sent in. Even though either of them would have been acceptable, I was not truly happy and put off the decision repeatedly. Then a new option presented itself.
Zubi had a friend who is a composer in LA, Kays Al-Atrakchi. He sent me some samples that I liked. Unbeknownst to me, Zubi also shared them with Roger and Angel, who took the initiative to call Kays before I was ready for such a step. I called Zubi and told him that, as music supervisor, I was still in the process of evaluating Kays’ work and that no one else was to become engaged in the decision.
I then got a call from Angel, who was shocked that I had taken on the role of music supervisor. Admittedly, I’d never conveyed my intent to him. He and Zubi had apparently thought that they would select a composer, who would then be responsible for all music—composed as well as source. I told him two things: I alone would select the composer and I would select all source music. This was not only something I wanted to do, but also we couldn’t afford to pay someone else to find free source music, as it would be very time-consuming.
When I finally called Kays, I was delighted with his take on the script and his proposed direction for music. I liked his professionalism, his experience, and his attitude. Although his price was higher than I’d intended to spend—well above the other front-runner—I chose him. Never once was I sorry and repeatedly I was glad.
The choice of an editor ideally should be made prior to filming so that they can be involved from the start of production. In our case, I didn’t choose anyone until after production was completed. The reason boiled down to two issues: money and the degree of control I’d have over the process.
Angel held out hope that somehow we would have enough money left over after production to afford an editor experienced in feature films produced by studios. The nearest of those that we knew about was in Austin and they cost more than five times the money we had allocated for the editor. Also, Angel wanted to turn over the film to someone with fresh eyes, whereas I wanted to edit the film to the vision of it that I had in my head.
We were in the final week of production when I had a sort of meltdown—a conniption fit with tears and gnashing of teeth. By phone one night, I told Angel I could no longer bear the indecision and I planned to move forward with choosing an editor myself and that I had decided upon Charles Willis. Charles was keen to fulfill my vision of the film, was local so that he could meet with me, and was willing to meet my price. If Charles could handle the editing software professionally, that was all I needed to know.
Angel agreed that he and Zubi would interview Charles in a conference call to make sure that he was up to the job technically. That was followed by an in-person interview which resulted in an “okay, but with reservations” verdict by Angel.
As it turned out, Charles had many good attributes, one of which was patience. I had a very slow, unsure start to the editing process. A key problem was my hesitation in cutting people’s roles and air time, and in deciding to omit scenes. Charles was always ready to try a different approach and never complained when I changed my mind, which was fairly frequently at the beginning.
Although we started the editing in late October, I didn’t feel that we hit our stride until December. By then, we had a routine down in which I would provide notes and Charles would upload edited scenes with which we’d work.
I want to share with you some of my considerations in editing. First let me tell you why I axed a couple of scenes even though there was very high production value to the location.
It is hard to exaggerate how hard I worked to obtain permission to film in the Mesquite Police Department gym, which is a fabulous place. It is ultra-modern and has a sort of blue aura to the lighting. The first scene we would film there was designed to be when the lead detective and the police psychologist have their first interaction—let’s call it encounter 1. Encounter 2 was to be when they were more advanced in their relationship, getting more personal.
Encounter 1 had been rewritten and, although I agreed to it, I was dubious. Originally, it was to be a scene in which the detective admired the psychologist as she worked on karate, but it had become one in which he was irritable toward her, even disdainful. I was bothered by this because it seemed out-of-character for him to be rude and I couldn’t see the point of having antipathy injected when it was to be reversed only a few scenes later. So, to be honest, I was unhappy with the content, but was ready to let it happen and see if it worked.
During the rehearsal, the lead actor was exercising and doing pull-ups. I asked to have him stopped to save his energy, but was told, “Don't’ worry, he won’t get tired.” I knew better, but didn’t want to make an issue of disagreeing in front of personnel.
Then began a series of takes in which the actor bench pressed. With each take, his effort was more and more strained. Later, when I watched the best takes, it looked ridiculous, like he was trying to work on weights that were way beyond his physical capacity. So I axed the scene on two counts: its incongruity with the character of the person and of the film, and the silly looking iron pumping.
Encounter 2 was when the psychologist and detective are working out together, talking face to face. I had left the set during its filming to go do managerial work when it was shot, so didn’t know until later that it had a very serious flaw: the lead actor had injured his wrist in the exercise filming encounter 1. Now it was wrapped in white tape around the wrist and hand. It was glaring, distracting, and begged the question of what was wrong with him.
The bandage was not only white, it was bulky. To remove it with special effects would be too much of a challenge and would cost more than our entire effects budget.
I considered having the entire scene be a conversation with his voice in the background, but only showing her. But that raised a different problem. She was working on a machine in which her arms were bent beside her head, pressing forward against weights. But there was no weight on the machine. So it looked totally effortless (and was), like she was playing, not exercising. Again, it looked silly.
There are important lessons I should have already known. Don’t allow actors to exercise on-set and use minimal physical effort prior to actual filming so as to guarantee fresh energy. Don’t allow bandages or other distracting elements to costumes. Also, if there is supposed to be physical resistance, make sure it looks real. And the best was to do that is to have it be real.
In looking back, one of the most difficult and lonely times I had was after production had been completed and post-production began, specifically when the editing process started. All of the support I’d had during the previous months was instantly gone. I knew I could turn to others for help, but that doing so would be at the expense of the independence I required in order to make the film fit the vision I had. To ask others to weigh in would have made the decision-making a shared effort, something that would require compromises I was not willing to make. So, I began the journey alone, with the help of Charles Willis, the editor I had chosen. And, true to his promise, Charles was committed to going where I wanted to go with the film.
Our first effort at a cut was very, very long. I had trouble omitting any scene from the film and wanted to use pieces of way too many of the takes. As a result, when Angel saw the first cut, he lambasted the “assembly”, saying that I was taking on a role for which I was neither trained nor experienced. He argued that for the sake of the film I should not undertake “supervised editing” and should spend the money (that I didn’t have) to get a new editor to whom I should turn over the film.
In a way, this criticism set me free. The next cut, I didn’t share with him or anyone else. But I was still having trouble with moving forward on a sure path. I realized that the problem was that I didn’t want to cut actors’ air time. I didn’t want to take out parts that were good, but which did not fit the overall emerging form of the movie. And I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was stuck. It was like having writer’s block in the middle of drafting a novel.
At this point, I had a very crucial unplanned conversation with my composer, Kays. I told him about the hesitations I felt about cutting, the fear of hurting people. He graciously spent about an hour talking with me to get across a single notion: I needed to do what was for the good of the film, not what was good for any single actor or set of actors. Actors, he said, ultimately wanted to be in a great film, regardless of how much they appeared in it. Yes, they would like to be maximally seen, but it was more important to them that the film be a success. If the film weren’t good, and not a success, the amount they appeared on-screen wouldn’t matter much. And then he said something else very important. He told me that I could do it and that it was obvious that I could. I just needed to knuckle down and make decisions wisely.
That pep talk was seminal. I went back to the drawing board and re-outlined how I wanted the film to proceed, how each character was supposed to play, and where I wanted fast versus slower pace. This allowed me to cut any scene, take, or sequence where someone was out-of-character. It made me ruthless in cutting parts that were not in focus, poorly conceived, or inconsistent with my vision of the film.
I continued to rely on Kays for the remainder of the editing process. He was always positive and I could count on him to share his vast experience in a constructive way.
I am a professional photographer who takes color extremely seriously. This is perhaps why one requirement for RIK was crystal clear for me from the outset: I didn’t want a dark or unnaturally hued film. The film would not be de-saturated, heavily contrasted, or look as if shot through a colored lens. I conveyed this to everyone relevant. Anyone who did not fulfill these objectives would at some point be overruled.
I had selected Justin Paul Warren as my colorist for several reasons. His reputation and credentials were superb, I liked him the moment I met him, his wife (our DIT) was a fabulous person, Angel recommended him highly, and he lived in Ft. Worth. This meant that I could go and personally work with him on the film. I can honestly say that my coloring experience with Justin was nothing short of exceptional. He is not only a true professional, he is a creative and knowledgeable person to work with.
One of the first questions Justin asked me was whether I understood that there was a disconnect between my preferences for color and those that had been developed during filming. I explained that I was paying for the entire movie and that I intended to supervise the coloring the way I wanted it. Justin understood my position as was glad that I had clear ideas about the way I wanted the film to look. So we dove right in.
I went to Justin’s studio every workday and some weekends for a couple of months for 6 or 7 hours a day. We would watch each scene and discuss what, if anything, needed changing. The usual problem was skin color, which was fairly easy to adjust. And there were a host of situations where the coloring needed changing due to imbalance. For example, an actor’s shirt would rivet the eye, but de-saturating it made it innocuous.
Then there were what I think of as “middle” problems, ones that took some time to fix, but which were not as challenging as the “bad” issues. Many of these resulted from odd lighting. For example, one of the first scenes in the movie is in a bedroom. The light from one lamp was warm and from the other, cool. And one was brighter than the other. The adjustments had to be made not only to the lamps, but the areas onto which they cast light. If I had the movie to over again, I would make sure that every lamp have the same type of warmth and that each be put on a rheostat.
But there were two sets of problems that were very time-consuming to fix. The first involved some scenes with back-lighting and which were badly underexposed. These required that Justin go through and “tint” the background frame-by-frame because actors were moving and continually exposing the brightness behind them. It became so complicated and such a time-sink that at one point I said that we should just forget it and let it be what it was. To his credit, Justin said, “You don’t want that kind of low quality in your film. We need to take the time to fix these problems.” Thanks goodness he had extra patience when mine wore thin.
The second problem was over-lighting. The worst case was a house in one of the final scenes. It was like it had a set of searchlights on it—so unnatural and unreal. It was difficult to fix because it entailed greying the light, which risked looking artificial. It still bothers me when I look at it, but it is a ton better than it would be if we’d left it alone.
In addition to the problem-fixing, there were the creative aspects of coloring. Justin made sure, for example, that a gunshot flash cast just the right amount of light on the face of the shooter; that the movie being watched on an iPad reflected just right on the face of the viewer; that a flashlight shone down a hall appeared at the correct moment and intensity.
One of Justin’s suggestions that I liked very much and which we incorporated was a tonal shift in tint when the lead actor comes to understand the magnitude of the problems he faces. The hue we used from this point forward is slightly yellowed and a bit de-saturated. I think it adds tremendously to the emotional shift of the viewer of the film, yet it is subtle enough not be obvious.
I was a novice when it came to sound. Yes, I knew that films need a sound designer to have the right noise when a door closes, a foot steps, or pencil taps. But I hadn’t really thought of the importance of timing: the light switch needs to click exactly with the first frame of light coming on; or of tenor: the voice on the phone needs to be just so deep; or of small extraneous noises: the man with a crushed windpipe makes small guttural gasps. Nor had I considered clarity. It is essential that any dialog that is unclear either have additional dialog recorded or be cut.
Angel convinced me that sound is a critical aspect of the film and that we needed to find the very best possible for the price we could pay. And I hoped, but didn’t expect, that the someone would be local so that I could work with them in person.
The very first person we interviewed was someone who cost more than we’d budgeted, but was the right professional for the job in every other respect. He was Johnny Marshall. To be truthful, I didn’t have the expertise to judge his capabilities, but I could see from his resume that he’d done enough films, and high level ones at that, to do a great job. So what interested me was the person.
I am a feelings person and my antennae are both long and sensitive. Johnny immediately struck me as being both a relaxed hippie and a highly demanding professional. What an interesting combination. Supple yet rigid, quick but thorough, both staid and outgoing. I knew that I would do whatever I needed to do budget-wise to get him onto the movie.
Johnny turned out to exceed my high expectations. He did a superb job with the sound on the movie and I feel like no one in the whole world could have done it better. Also, he was masterful in guiding my input and helping me do my part of the job better, which made it much more fun than arduous. I thoroughly enjoyed going through the film step-by-step to review the sound and tweak it to perfection.
Also, Johnny became a friend from whom I could seek advice. There were many issues that came up that were not sound-related, but on which he gave me help. I consider myself a very lucky girl to have had him on my movie.
One of the most enjoyable days I had during the production period was on a day off when Roger and I met with Janell Smith, our stunt coordinator and action choreographer. We met in my apartment to discuss the final fight scene. Roger and I had some different views on how it should go and we needed to reconcile those, but also to make sure that Janell’s expertise be fully exploited.
We began with a discussion of what the scene should accomplish. Clearly it is an action scene, but was there any information that also needed to be given to the audience? Roger wanted there to be dialog that conveyed a past history between the two fighters. I said that people didn’t stop and have discussion when there was a fight unto death. We settled on a compromise whereby the woman says, just before she bunts her forehead into her opponent’s, “I should have killed you in Portland.” I still think the line is contrived, but I was happy that he accepted there not being a longer conversation and I think he was content with the line.
Janell was a creative expert throughout the discussion. We asked her how the blows could be exchanged with no one gaining the upper hand at first, and how the woman could overcome the bulk of her opponent. We went through the fight with Janell playing each person, showing us how it would look and made suggestions on how to gain credibility with the moves.
Because we spent the time to prepare the scene, I think it turned out very well. It was filmed in the wee hours on the last day of shooting when everyone was exhausted. And, although there were some problems, I know for sure that the planning we did paid off handsomely.