III. OVER THE EDGE
Saturday, November 5
It's a weekend, so I get my chance to sit in on the mixing of the final two reels of Life.
Our mixing is being done in a Santa Monica sound studio. The room features a huge screen with digital foot counter directly beneath, the mixing console, and an amazing assortment of toys and exercise equipment, including a ping pong table, rowing machine, and basketball backboard (which gets a heavy workout when Tom, Joe and Glenn engage in a game of "O-U-T" between reels). Present are all those concerned with post production, as well as Pippa, Joe, Neil, John, Tom and myself. Presiding over all is re-recording mixer Mike Minkler, who obviously knows the complicated mixing board as well as I know my typewriter. He's performing the intricate job with the aid of only one assistant, and we all marvel at the speed with which his fingers can fly from control to control, bringing up track number 4, taking down track 12, etc.
Aside from Mr. Minkler, our most valuable asset on the mixing stage is Pippa. After having spent a good deal of time in mixing sessions during her Lorimar years, she knows what to listen for, and time after time she catches minute details that I'm ashamed to admit I would never have noticed - but she's always right. Whether she's requesting a louder hiccup from the chicken or detecting a squeal on a door that clashes with the music, her suggestions are invariably improvements, and I find myself wondering if I'll fall flat on my face during the mixing of my first feature as a director.
Tom is quiet today, although I notice from the notes he's taking that Pippa is catching basically the same things he is. I also suspect that Tom is again relying on the directing philosophy I've heard him espouse in recent interviews: He sees the director's job as being to take in as many suggestions and viewpoints as possible, and then choose from among them what works (although whenever I hear him say this, I think his modesty is downplaying his own creative input).
Chatting with Joe, I get brought up to date on other areas of interest. Two problems that have plagued us for months still persist: First, Joe continues to have problems with agents representing a cast member or two (in regards to use of name and likeness in advertising, that sort of thing), and secondly, our three opticals are, incredibly enough, still not finished. We can't just lose them now, because Glenn has built the score for the edge walk and the pumping station around them, but the film must be completely finished by noon on Tuesday.
On the plus side, though, Joe affirms that we were very well received at Mifed (particularly the Brits' poster, apparently), although most of the foreign distributors were obviously a bit baffled, too.
And I get my first chance to relay some of my sequel ideas to Tom, and I find that, as usual for us, he has come up with many of the exact same thoughts on his own. We're both inspired now, though, and look forward to pounding out an actual treatment.13
The final reel, 9, is finished before 7 p.m., gone over a final time, and we have basically completed mixing. All that remains now is a Monday night screening, at which any final corrections may be suggested and implemented.
After that, there are cast and crew screenings in early December, and then - like bidding goodbye to a child leaving home - it's out into the real world, on its own.
Monday, November 7
Tonight, in the aurally-perfect screening room at Glen Glenn Sound Studios, we see the final cut of Life, with the mix.
First, the good news: This is virtually the finished film, and everyone loves it. I myself continue to be astonished by it. Now, the bad news: There are enough problems remaining in the mix that we decide to spend an extra day refining it, delaying completion until noon on Wednesday. Among the problems: Crabneck's growling cat noises are too loud during the kitchen fight; the other end of Cindy's phone conversation is too loud, plainly audible; reel 7 is missing some of the ambient noise that's pervaded the other reels; the tick noises are too quiet in the Splat Spray game; the fly noises are too soft in the tube forest; and Billy's line about "Not your tube mousse!" as Crabneck pitches forward into the food is not funny and needs to be removed altogether. In fact, Bob Lambert feels that another day of mixing will add 10% of the final film's laughs.
The film, at this point, is also missing two other elements: Finished color correction, and the infamous three matte shots. The color correction is midway through the process, with curious results: The sets and costumes positively glow, while skin tones all have a faint greenish tinge, as if the actors had been shot beneath bad fluorescent lighting. I was unaware that color correction involved so many stages.
Reel 3, however, has been left untouched, since it is in this reel that the matte shots will finally be cut in. At this point, only one of the three is acceptable, but the other two are supposedly being finished even as we view the film now.
This is the first time most of us are seeing the credits, and while Mike Stuart is thrilled with the placement of his (over one of his favorite pipes), others present are not so happy. It seems there's a protocol in Hollywood regarding credits, which says in essence that the closer you are to the director's credit, the better (for my part, I'm just overjoyed to see my name up there at all).
Wednesday, November 9
The mix is complete, the film has been sent to the negative cutters, everyone is happy - except for one thing:
Now we don't have even one optical in the film.
Not only were two of the mattes still not finished, but now there were problems with the third as well. Although we maintain the hope of being able to cut the opticals in before we begin to show the film to distributors (next Tuesday), they have provided a back-up mix of reel 3, complete with an edited score, just in case.
Tuesday, November 15
At 10:30 this morning, there was a final, final screening - and at 3 p.m. it is shown to the first distributor on our list, Warner Brothers.
Although Tom is very pleased with the end product (except for the missing mattes and the as-yet unfinished color correction), he notes one mistake that irks him: Somehow Billy's line "Not in your tube mousse!" remains in the movie, despite the unanimous agreement to lose it.
By 6 p.m. tonight, Tom is a nervous wreck, pacing back and forth, waiting to hear Warner Brothers' reply.
And there are two more majors to go just this week alone.
Wednesday, November 16
Warner Brothers has turned us down, for a very good reason: Even though they did compare Life on the Edge very favorably to Beetlejuice (as expected), they have recently bought out Lorimar and are overloaded with product. On to the next distributor.
That next screening is cancelled today, to allow Marvin to spend the day in the lab, going over the entire film to finalize the color corrections.
Saturday, November 19
At a screening today for a British distributor who happens to be in L.A., Nancy gets her first look - and is dismally unhappy about her performance, convinced that she played it "too frantic". Tom and I tell her how wonderful she is, that everyone thinks so, that she gets some of the biggest laughs, but she's still doubtful, although she does agree to wait until she can see it with a full audience to really judge. She congratulates Tom on his direction, though, and praises both of us for our performances (which has to be one of my favorite compliments of all time)!
Earlier this week, the film was screened for both Paramount and 20th Century-Fox, who both requested another screening to show the film to the studio heads.
Tom, both stressed- and burned-out, flees town today for a week in Cabo San Lucas.
Tuesday, November 29
After two weeks of distributor screenings, the results are coming in…
Including the afore-mentioned distributors, we've now had two polite turn-downs, two vehement rejections ("too simplistic" from one, and "won't appeal to anyone over 11" from the other), and two who are thinking about it.14 Even though all of our producers always claimed that they never intended this to be a studio film, they are nevertheless disappointed.
Elsewhere, other things are not faring much better in "Edgeland". Although Tom returned from his brief vacation refreshed and ready to go, he also spent much of his time thinking about Life on the Edge, and he concluded that there are a number of flaws in the film, mainly in the editing, that he instinctively knew were wrong but didn't fight to change. It's also back to the make-up biz for now, since there are bills to be paid.
And a promotion scheduled at a local science fiction convention over the Thanksgiving weekend was nothing less than disastrous. After convincing Tom to attend his first convention in something like ten years, and getting the entire Shakman family there as well (not to mention myself, John C., Mike and Paul Sammon), about eight people show up for our presentation. Afterwards, Tom leaves, vowing never to do another convention appearance, and the rest of us get smashed in the hotel bar.
Thursday, December 1 - Friday, December 2
We hold the cast and crew screenings both nights, and suddenly it's all been worth it again…
I'm right in there with the rest of the audience in that this is really my first viewing of the finished product, and it's amazing how much difference the last few changes in the sound mix and the color correction have made.
It's also the first time I've seen many of the cast and crew since we wrapped nearly five months ago, and considering the reception the film gets, it's a joyous reunion indeed. With this group anyway, Life on the Edge is an unqualified hit. Nancy ends up deciding she's pretty okay in it after all, Richard is ready to take out a billboard on Sunset Boulevard, and Matt's family, who had been mainly confused by the rough cut, are duly knocked out. I'm particularly proud to have my own family there, in the presence of dad and stepmom.
For me, these two evenings are the culmination of ten years of writing and struggling, frustration and blank hope, dreaming about the day when audiences would be entertained by something I created. It's here at last, and for these two nights everything is perfect in the world.
13. I honestly don't remember if we ever did type anything up or not. Doesn't matter much now anyways, does it?
14. So what happened with the ones who were thinking about it? I heard some very nasty rumors that offers may actually have been made...and rejected.
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