Saturday, 29 June 2013

Currently-in-progress edits that I eagerly await

These are some in-progress fanedits that I eagerly look forward to watching:

Batman: Winter Sonata

I confess, I've never watched Batman & Robin. I missed it when it came out (despite initially enjoying Batman Forever, despite its many flaws) and by the time I thought I might take a look at it, its dreadful reputation drove me away. However, turning it into a black & white silent film with a substantially changed storyline sounds fascinating to me, and the preview clips I've seen of this edit make me think that the end result should be remarkable. It seems it'll be a while yet before we get to watch it.

The Story Of Leonidas And The 300 Spartans

I'm not a big fan of Zack Snyder's general visual style, and 300 was a good example of what I don't like - relatively little narrative and excessive slow-motion with tweaked colour make it something I just didn't find interesting or rewarding. This long-gestating project from Rogue-TheX looks to have involved a superhuman amount of work, but promises to turn an overly-stylised load of nonsense into a glorious faux-B&W-era epic.

X-Men Origins: Magneto

Magneto is probably the most enjoyable recurring character across the majority of the X-Men films, so an edit expanding on his story in First Class to bring in material from the original X-Men trilogy could well be better than any of the original X-Men films.

Nosferatu: Amateur Experimental Digital Score

I don't know when scaperat might finally find the time to finish this, but I'm very fond of the silent black & white horror films from the German expressionist movement. An edit based on a public domain film, with a new score and reworked visual elements, sounds very interesting. It's just a pity there aren't more films in the public domain across the world.

I guess what we can all learn from this is that I'm a big sucker for edits that adopt the visual style of silent black & white films.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Cinema/Idle fanedit ideas: World War Z

I made the rather silly decision to watch World War Z recently. I did not enjoy the experience, because it was in my opinion a bad film, for a number of reasons. Frustratingly, I found that there were a few clever or promising moments within it - and had they build upon those moments, it could have at least become a solid if unexceptional film about a truly global zombie outbreak, with a scale beyond anything we've seen so far.

Warning : spoilers follow. If you don't want 'em, stop reading.

Unfortunately, even in the first ten minutes the film nails its colours to the mast - the quite-nicely-done scene showing the collapse of societal order in New York is marred by Magical Physics-Defying vehicles like a dumptruck that can plow through an entire city block's worth of cars, crushing them and tossing them aside, without losing any momentum. The CGI for large crowds is unexceptional at best, and clearly false-looking all too often. Which is sad, because my most recent preferred reference point for this would be either The Divide or Fase 7.

Beyond this, the closest the film gets to solid scenes in my opinion is when Gerry Lane lands, with virologist and SEAL team in two, in South Korea to try and track down Patient Zero. They meet some broadly competent soldiers and collect some confusing (and subsequently ignored) information that contradicts previous details about how infection works, and then it all goes to hell because, in preparation for a complex operation in which silence is absolutely essential, Gerry Lane doesn't think to turn off his mobile phone and - wouldn't you know it? - his wife attempts to call at an inopportune moment. Cue zombies chomping on all around him. (It didn't help that, after being told to keep absolutely quiet, several characters are then shown cycling to a specific location on badly-oiled squeaking bicycles....)

After here, the film goes downhill - the action sequences try to up the scale but don't succeed in engaging you (again, too much cheap-looking CGI), and the narrative is hobbled by a need to location-hop while ignoring a far more obvious alternative course of action - including an inexplicable and ridiculous final journey, where the focus is scaled down to be more intimate.

I don't particularly imagine WWZ will be particularly salvageable, myself. Certainly I think the theatrical version is a disappointing mess, a complete turd in the punchbowl if held to the quality standard set by the book.

So I have an alternative idle notion for a fanedit. A book-version of the film, which would use the expanded audiobook as its starting point, and use a combination of stock footage and footage from other zombie films to provide the visuals. Structurally, it might be better to approach this as a miniseries rather than as a film, but in any case I think this would almost certainly result in something more interesting than the mess of a film currently in theatres.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Idle fanedit ideas: Oblivion

Like many faneditors, new or veteran, I find I have lots more ideas for fanedits than I have time to work on them. In particular I have a number of projects I'd like to tackle, but which will require better skills or tools than I currently have.

 I figure it couldn't hurt to take some of the less pressing ideas and to a brief write-up of them; if nothing else it's good exercise in thinking through the process of restructuring the narrative and trying to spot any obvious problems.

First up, Oblivion.

I saw this with my nephew (who's closer to the target audience age than I am) and his dad (who's not). It wasn't bad, as far as high-concept blockbusters go, but I found it frustrating that it lifted good ideas from a bunch of far better films but didn't bother meshing them into a particularly convincing whole. A lot of what's on screen is actually pretty good, surprisingly - heck, the blatantly-stolen-from-Moon plotline about Cruise's character even gives us a reason to forgive Tom Cruise basically playing Tom Cruise. But it never really takes off.

Personally, I would have opened with a trimmed version of the original space mission; voices would have radio crackle and other effects applied to try and disguise the fact that it's Jack and Sally speaking. We'd basically find out that the Odyssey was on a mission within the Solar system and was redirected when an extraplanetary object of some sort was found, then cut to silence and the title. If I wanted to have fun with it, I'd possibly use some footage from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Sunshine and try to swap in dialogue fragments from GlaDOS in Portal 1 & 2 in place of Sally's voice.

I'd see if anything could be done with the clumsily expository opening narration - perhaps see if we can frame it so that this is part of the conversation between Jack and Julia. The film would then progress normally from here to the encounter in the football field.

I'd trim as much of the American Football reminiscence on the ground as possible (perhaps cutting it to "I heard about that game." "Please don't say it was a classic." "It was a classic!"), because we need at least a little bit of banter between Vic and Jack to show how they work together.

I'd also try and trim the scenes showing the Scavs, to limit how much we see of them - because the subsequent reveal that they're human is anything but a reveal in the theatrical release. It needs to be more surprising.

I'd also try and cut back the flashback scenes as well - they were horrendously clumsy, as was the reveal with Julia. They'd need pruning, but it might be possible to make them work better by fitting them into the rest of the film in a non-linear manner. Alternatively, I'd do what I could with filters and distortion to garble them and make them more mysterious/confusing since Jack's supposed to have had his memories wiped.

Unfortunately, I'd really like to excise the scene where the three drones break into the Scav's base and wreak havoc, because it doesn't really make sense and reeks of being contrived to allow the plot to end with Jack and Breech being space cowboys. If at all possible, I'd prefer the drone to be faulty from the beginning and Jack to suggest flying up there because it's the easiest solution. I'd remove the couple of bits suggesting Julia's going up, because there's no payoff to tricking the audience about her presence or absence in the Tet - the deception is only necessary for TetSally.

The trip up to the Tet would have an abridged version of the original sequence - since we already known about the Odyssey's journey from the start of the film, I'd fade into the sequence when the Tet locks them with a tractor beam and leave it unfold from there; though I'd consider cutting back to Jack piloting the ship with just the soundtrack overlaid occasionally, to keep the momentum of his flight to the Tet going.

If possible, I'd trim the cheesiness of some of the interaction between Breech, Jack and TetSally within the Tet itself. After the explosion, I'd fade to black - no expository demonstration of the dones deactivating, no nonsense with Tech 52 finding Julia. Ideally, I'd find footage (possibly from Predators or a similar film) to suggest that humans have persevered and life continues, albeit in a technologically limited manner for the time being.

I don't know if I'll bother picking Oblivion up on DVD, much less attempting an edit of it. Maybe once it's in the £5-or-less bins at my local supermarket. But these are my notions for how to tighten it up and redress the balance between the ideas and the action, because it started with a good pedigree by virtue of the films from which its screenwriters took inspiration.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Adobe, If Your Software Had A Face, I Would Punch It In The Balls

Good news for me: I once again have a working Premiere Elements 10 installation with which to work on my edits.

Frustrating news for me: After spending a week removing software, running diagnostics routines, completely removing the .NET Framework and reinstalling it 1 tedious piece at a time (tedium ensues from the Framework's requirement to recompile itself every time you install/update a component), removing and reinstalling my graphics adapter....I discover that the fix is, apparently, to delete a file called "baddriver.txt" in the Adobe ProgramData subdirectory. That's it.

Could've saved myself an awful lot of time and tedium, had I known that in advance. Of course, Adobe could've helped me here by setting things up such that if one searches for the error I was getting, one was directed to the relevant KB article rather than to ElementsVillage/Adobe Forum discussions about how display driver updates are the solution.

Hence Adobe/Face/Balls Punching.

This does mean I can start looking at the deleted scenes in my Eurotrip Extended Edition and see if deinterlacing helps with the quality, at least...

Cinema: Man Of Steel, and some thoughts on Hollywood superhero franchises vs independent titles

I watched Man Of Steel yesterday afternoon. I'm not a big fan of Zack Snyder's directorial style - I liked Dawn Of The Dead quite a lot, was indifferent to 300 (though I'm looking forward to Rogue-TheX's The Story Of Leonidas And The 300 Spartans), didn't much like Watchmen, and enjoyed Sucker Punch despite it being a clumsy mess. I figured that with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer Snyder ought to be able to produce something watchable, at least.

By and large, they have succeeded at exactly that - producing a watchable, if unexceptional, film. Visually, the film is for the most part reasonably impressive; it descends into a morass of CGI silliness in the third act, but that's pretty much standard fare for big-budget superhero films at this point. Similarly, the score is good when it's allowed to be subtly evocative rather than deafeningly blaring. And the script has some nice moments, when it's not busy walloping you over the head with clumsy symbolism or exposition.

The overall narrative is handled well, though clumsily balanced - a lot of the action feels empty, especially in the third act. There's no sense of peril to seeing Superman or Zod punched through a building, and it's all just CGI anyway, so rather than impressive and shocking it starts to become dull.

Ultimately, I think the issue that Superman in particular always presents is that he's a 70-odd-year-old idea. We all know the basic story, and the basic character - and there's not a great deal of interest there, frankly. It's challenging to craft a narrative around an Ultimate Good Guy who never changes and, in some sense, always wins - or at least, it's challenging to do so and make it in any way engaging.

When considering The Dark Knight Rises and Man Of Steel and to a lesser extent The Avengers, I find myself thinking about 2012's Chronicle and 2010's Super - both relatively small and independent productions, and both with a much more interesting take on either superhuman abilities or costumed vigilantism than any big-budget film I've seen. I find that Chronicle and Super hold my attention much more than MoS, tDKR or tA - I am much more likely to return to them for repeat viewing because they offer more than empty spectacle.

Chronicle had a much more intimate structure to its narrative than tDKR, MoS or tA, and was exceptionally engaging as a result. We follow its three protagonists through the film, as they discover a McGuffin that grants them ill-understood powers and begin to master them. We see in detail the many ways that Andrew's life is made miserable by almost everyone he knows except Matt & Steve, while Matt struggles to find direction and Steve pursues his ambitious goals; we watch Matt & Andrew in particular struggle with the ethical dilemma of whether Andrew should use his powers to retaliate against everyone making his life a misery, and when the confrontation finally builds to a head it carries a hefty emotional punch; coupled with some very clever and thoughtful choreography and scene-framing that makes the action sequences genuinely thrilling.

In a similar fashion, Super was the story of one quite-probably-schizophrenic man, Frank, and why he decided to don a mask and become an urban vigilante known as the Crimson Bolt. Much more darkly comical than Chronicle, it nonetheless had a savage undertone with an unforgivingly blunt assessment of what would actually happen should an individual with no special abilities, training or weapons decide to wage a one-man war on crime.

In contrast, The Dark Knight Rises and Man Of Steel were both turgidly serious films; examining some interesting themes, certainly, but doing so in such a tediously heavy-handed fashion that enjoyment is difficult - particularly when the runtimes feel inflated for no narrative benefit. Whedon's Avengers fared better in this regard; it still suffered from feeling a tad flabby (understandable to an extent given the desire to utilize every member of the ensemble cast in some manner) but brought some welcome humour and sparkle to its dialogue, remembering that at least some of its cast were individuals who occasionally enjoy making a joke. It's not enough to save the film outright, but it is enough to place The Avengers head and shoulders above the catalogue of bland mediocrity that, in my opinion, constitutes the rest of the Marvel Studios films.

The various problems affecting all of these films and preventing what should be fun and exciting action films from achieving that full potential are common - rooted in franchising and the desire to serve a brand as a higher priority than telling a good story. Certain visual designs cannot be changed too much, certain narrative elements have to be present, and this constrains the film-makers - especially when dealing with films in a franchise, where competing with previous iterations is as much a challenge as competing with other filmmakers elsewhere. Which is a shame, because only a fool would suggest that what makes Batman stories good is the design of the Bat-signal, or that what makes an Avengers story good is the costumes on the characters, or that a character with identical attributes and personality to Superman is axiomatically inferior if he doesn't have the costume and the cape to go with them. This issue, in my mind, is due to the financial controllers of film studios (and other industries where such issues are felt, like the US comic publishing industry) confusing the overt visual iconography of the stories for the qualities of the stories, and attempting to secure future financial success by requiring the continued usage of said iconography.

Whether or not studios think so, the superhero trend we're currently seeing will go same way as the most recent Disaster Movie trend, and the Pirate Movie trend, and every other trend. The way to keep a franchise going beyond such trends is not to insist the iconography is unchanging, but to recruit good film-makers who understand the narrative qualities of the source material for the franchise and can create new stories with those qualities.

To put it another way - when I see a film I enjoy, I don't want the sequel to be a Hangover-II-esque re-tread of the same exact material; I want it to be a new story that builds from the groundwork of the first one but features the same qualities and elicits the same response as the first one. So a funny film should still be funny, an action film should still be exciting, a horror film should still be scary; but it has to move beyond what was done in the first film, otherwise it will be pointless. "Go big or go home" should be the rule here.

It is disappointing, but unsurprising, to me that most of the action films I particularly enjoyed over the last couple of years have not been big Hollywood films. For every Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, it turns out there's a Dredd 3D or The Raid or Chronicle - and those films, by virtue of being made on smaller budgets with fewer restrictions on what narratives can be pursued, are more engaging and more enjoyable for the audience.

Saturday, 15 June 2013


In AD2010
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World was beginning.
Edgar Wright: Someone set us up the DVD.That One Guy: All your deleted scenes are belong to us.
Edgar Wright: You have no chance of director's cut.
That One Guy: Take off every fanediting software.
That One Guy: For great extended edition!

Putting it another way: I got interested in fanediting upon realising that I would never see an officially-sanctioned Extended Edition or Director's Cut of Scott Pilgrim, despite the availability of a number of excised scenes which, in my opinion (as a fan of the six-volume comic series), made the film better.

I started in about as wrong a manner as possible - undertaking to edit an entire film without ever having used the tools available to me before, using a compressed mp4 ripped from my DVD as the source material, and rushing the entire job. Oh, and signing up to but failing to realise how much I had to learn until after I had attempted a release of what was, frankly, a horrible-looking mess of a first edit.

Needless to say, that did not end well, and the resultant hatchet-job has been consigned to the rubbish heap. I didn't lose interest in fanediting, however - I just accepted that it was going to be a much more exacting and time-consuming hobby, so I would need to adjust my approach and expectations.

I do plan to return to Scott Pilgrim and assemble a proper version of my Eleven Evil Exes Edition - but I still have more to learn along the way.

I started this blog because I wanted somewhere other than the FE forums to scribble down my experiences as a novice editor. Party for my own sake (tracking changes in workflow, noting down comparisons of tools) and partly because, well, there's a steep learning curve involved in fanediting and attempting to describe my trajectory through that learning process might encourage other future editors to take up the hobby as well.