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Integrity

In Directing, Film on December 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

I recently allowed my frustration at the outcome of a past project to direct my writing about that project. The result was a major dick move on my part: mocking another professional’s work without explanation or justification. The project was Hercules Saves Christmas (HSC), and the professional in question was Chad Caines, the editor of the film.

I’d like to rephrase and redirect my criticism, because it wasn’t really Chad’s work I was criticizing: Chad is an experienced editor. He certainly knows more about it than I do. We may disagree on some aesthetic points, but he — like the rest of us — did the best he could with the given material. The fact is that, ultimately, all flaws in this film are my responsibility: as director, I should have been a bastion of artistic integrity.

I was not.

The why of that is an interesting story, but too long and dangerous to relate here. Suffice to say that, while directing HSC, I was also directing a production of [a classic musical] with [a youth theatre company] at [a Northern California Community College]. It was an extremely stressful process for a variety of reasons, chief among which was that I was given little or no actual directorial input on the production as a whole. Originally, I was not the director of [the musical]. I was asked to step in after the original director had already been in talks with costume and set designer, details which were not shared with me in advance. Add to the mix a music director who was actively fighting me on my staging (wtf?) and a producer whose behavior made every moment of the process viscerally unpleasant. Even writing that sentence fills me with dread, as that producer’s behavior is unlikely to have improved in the intervening years.

As a result, no amount of stress or difficulty on the set of HSC could surpass what I was experiencing while directing [the musical]. By the time both projects were complete, however, I was in a strange place of uncertainty and exhaustion. So, at precisely the time when I should have been standing up for my deeply-held beliefs regarding directorial input on the finished product of a film, I said, “Meh.”

To be clear, there was nothing in my contract about my having any part of the editorial process. In fact, I didn’t see a contract until right before we were about to start on the first day of filming. To my eternal regret, I signed it without taking the time to scrutinize. The result was that I made less than the writer of the film, less than the Director of Photography, less than the 1st AD. I felt useless and undervalued. It was very difficult to fight for this project.

However, I wanted the final product to be good. Particularly the CGI. My brother-in-law worked at Pixar at the time; he also taught at ExPressions College in Emeryville. He was willing to do our CGI with his students for free. Alas, the producers already had a guy and the film had already been edited. My viewing of the film with Chad (the editor) was, to the best of my knowledge, an afterthought — only happening because I asked the producers if I could see it. And because Animal Planet needed the film asap, it was too late to make any changes.

I didn’t fight for it.

I’m not proud of my work on HSC. I feel it is a directorial failure from start to finish. As stated earlier, any aesthetic flaws in any project are the director’s responsibility. Sure, the producers may make things tricky, but a savvy director finds a way to make it work. So, from now until forever, all criticism I direct at Hercules Saves Christmas is truly directed at myself. Any problems I have with any aspect of the film are problems I have with my own work.

Everyone else who worked on the project did their level best. It was a delight to work with each an every cast and crew and production team member. It is my sincere wish that I had honored their work by being a better director.

Perhaps next time.

Until then, all I can say is: shame, perdition and narwhals.

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