Sunday, 21 July 2013

Idle Fanedit Ideas: The Lords Of Berberian

Last year, I had the peculiar pleasure of watching Berberian Sound Studio, a film that at both pays great respect to the under-recognised efforts of sound engineers and recordists as part of filmmaking and depicts, in a magnificently surreal manner, Toby Jones' character and his descent into madness. It was an excellent film, with a magnificent soundtrack by Broadcast and a great performance by Jones. If I had to fault it, I would say that the third act necessarily became very strange even within the context of what had preceeded it in the film.

Earlier this year, I watched The Lords Of Salem, Rob Zombie's most recent film. I don't know if I would say it was magnificent, but I certainly enjoyed it and thought it to be very good. Zombie's tendency to cast his wife in every film he makes has irked me in the past, because she's not a particularly good actor, but in this she is surprisingly effective. The story centres around Moon's radio DJ character, who receives an LP of a hitherto-unknown band (the titular Lords Of Salem) and begins to descend into madness and paranoia as a result of the LP. If I had to fault it, I'd say that the ending is somewhat weak - the first and second acts are great, but the apex of the story doesn't really feel climactic enough.

Inspired by Q2's fantastic Memories Alone (which cuts down and meshes The Wrestler with Black Swan, intertwining their two storylines with the change of making Natalie Portman's character the estranged daughter of Mickey Rourke's character), I've been giving some consideration to how the storylines of Berberian Sound Studio and Lords Of Salem might be overlapped.

There are a few problems:
  • Lords is set in Salem, Berberian in Italy.
  • Lords appears to be set in the present day, Berberian is a period piece set in the 70s
  • There's no immediately obvious way to have any characters from the two films meet or interact.
Nonetheless, the idea does have some potential. Since both films will need to be cut down, I think the way to proceed would be to cut down any elements of Lords that make it glaringly obvious to a casual viewer that the period is wrong - I'm thinking things like technology here rather than clothing or props. Then cut Berberian such that the film being edited is an English-language feature - ie Lords Of Salem.

Given how strange and unsettling both films are, I think there's also scope for some experimentation with things like suggesting a crossing-over between films (eg maybe have Toby Jones opening or closing a door, then cutting to Sherri Moon Zombie responding to that door and not making it entirely clear what's happened).

At the moment this is just another idea percolating at the back of my mind - it'll have to remain that until at least such a time as I pick up Berberian Sound Studio on DVD and can make some notes on its structure. I think it's a promising idea, and one I look forward to experimenting with in future.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Cinema/Idle Fanedit Ideas: Pacific Rim & Now You See Me

I went to see Pacific Rim recently. It was a lot of Big Robots Punching Big Monsters fun, and I really enjoyed it. It's not a perfect film, however - the great cast is given some almost paper thin characters and little chance to flesh them out. The action sequences are great and achieve what many blockbusters in the last couple of years have failed - which was to hold my attention and interest all the way through the third act, and the effects are magnificent.

It occured to me, however, that there might be some interesting mileage in an edit combining Darabont's The Mist, Del Toro's Pacific Rim, and Edwards' Monsters - basically having The Mist as Act 1, where the creatures appear for the first time and cause havoc; Pacific Rim as Act 2, where human society gets to grips with the idea of these monster attacks happening regularly and comes up with ways to stop them; and Monsters as Act 3, where we see a post-monster world where the defences in many areas have failed but the big monsters are no longer the threat they were previously.

I also watched Now You See Me, a similarly-engaging and fun film about a group of magicians who team up for a series of heists. It was mostly very good, though it could do with some pruning in the third act - it becomes quite expository and spends a little bit too much time spelling out how certain tricks were achieved even though you've already been given enough information to work this out. I enjoyed it, though, and would quite happily watch it again so I may pick it up once it's out on DVD and see what can be done to fix its few flaws.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

True Fanedits vs Extended Editions

One of the things I've been finding interesting (and a touch frustrating) lately is the contrast between working on an Extended Edition project vs a True Fanedit (using the definitions). My assumption was that, since an Extended Edition simply reinserts scenes into the existing film and is mainly concerned with ensuring that the transitions to and from the new material are as smooth as possible, they would be easier.

Hence my hasty, too-fast release of Eurotrip: The Long Way Round, which is still a work in progress while I try to figure out if there's any method available to upscale the deleted scenes footage without making it look dreadful. (It's not looking promising - the rule of thumb in graphic design is that if you want to use an image for print, don't upscale by more than 25% at most, and to get the deleted scenes footage to match the frame size of the original film, I'm having to increase it by ~35%...)

In contrast, I had fully anticipated a True Fanedit like Scott Pilgrim: Punch-Out!! Edition to take longer, because although it mainly removed material from the film, the way in which I was trying to change things meant that a lot of experimentation was required to figure out what would work, and what wouldn't.

There again, I have a Saw edit in mind that is technically a True Fanedit but only changes a very small amount of the film towards the end and adds some additional footage after the main feature. The only reason this can't be done as a weekend job is that I need to edit the audio in Audacity then remux the audio and video together. I'm very inexperienced in this area so it'll take me a while to get right, but it's all part of the learning process.

All in all, what I'm getting at is that there is no such thing as a quick fanedit, at least not for someone at my skill level. Which is somewhat frustrating, but probably a good thing - because knowing it can't be done quickly helps to rein in the impatience to get something released...

Monday, 1 July 2013


I saw some discussion about workflow recently that got me thinking. The biggest challenge I've found with fanediting has definitely been understanding the technical concepts underpinning editing, and how they relate to the software used for editing. I have a tendency to try and learn things on the fly, which is fine in some ways but means that I can miss out important aspects that I might have caught if I had been more methodical initially. With that in mind, it seems worthwhile to try and break down my workflow for editing projects. Being new to this, I'm sure experienced video editors like some of the long-standing members at FE would grimace at certain steps, but I'm gradually learning how to make fewer mistakes.

Firstly, I dump the contents of the disc to my drive. For the time being, I'm constrained to editing from DVD, so I usually use DVD Decrypter. I tend to demux the audio and video streams into one file each (m2v for video, ac3 for audio). I'll also dump the entire disc in file mode.

Next, I start the film playing as normal in VLC in windowed mode, and make an initial changelist in a text editor. This won't necessarily be a final changelist - some changes are simple and work as intended, others are more complex and have unintended repercussions.

Depending on the nature of the changelist, I may or may not need to substantial audio editing like removing or replacing music. I open the AC3 file in Audacity and render it down to a 2-channel stereo AC3 file which I'll use for the first pass; if more substantial audio changes are needed I'll come back to Audacity with a more refined audio changelist.

I open up my current editing package - Premiere Elements 10. There are a number of issues with using PrE 10 for editing; primarily its bad handling of 5.1 audio and its limited DVD authoring options - this is why I'll use a stereo file for the first pass. I create a new project and import the M2V and AC3 files I've created. If I know I'll need other assets, I import those as well. After waiting for the files to be conformed, I save the project and put the main audio and video files onto the timeline. I normally find a scene with dialogue to test the alignment of the two files and ensure that they're correctly synchronised.

Now, I'm ready to start working on the changes. If I anticipate having to perform any significant audio editing, I start at the end and work in reverse, because I'll need accurate timestamps all the way through for the audio editing (for example, where I want to use the start and end of a dialogue segment, trimming the middle, and moving the background music so that the cut is non-obvious). The editing process itself is easy - generally a case of inserting a cut at the beginning and end of each segment to remove, and making sure the transitions are smooth.

If I don't expect any substantial audio changes, I'll just work forwards from the start.

For projects involving substantial audio editing, the process is effectively the same in Audacity - open the AC3 file, start at the end and work backwards making the changes as indicated by the precise changelist. Upon completion, I save the project and then export as a 2 channel AC3. I then import this into the PrE project and replace the placeholder audio track, again using a dialogue scene to test for alignment.

Once the changes are made, I export the project as an MP4 for previewing and error-checking. More often than not, I find it a good idea to leave the project alone for a couple of days and then watch the MP4 - it helps to have a little distance where possible. If I'm unsure about the narrative flow at this point, I'd reach out for help with previews from friends or the FE community.

If there are issues of any sort, it's time to go back and iterate through again. If the problems are with the narrative, the original changelist needs to be reviewed. If the issues are with the implementation of the edits (audio or video transitions between segments, or a drop in quality) then it's time to check the source files and each change that has been made.

When that's finished, it's time to export as MP4 and test again.

If the goal is just to make an edit for myself, I can stop here. If I'm hoping to release an edit to the community, there's some more work to do.

Firstly, I decide whether to create a DVD to go with it. Usually if I'm going to bother with a DVD, I try to come up with some extra feature of some sort. I'll import the required source material into the project, and check that the extra feature works as necessary. Then I set the chapter markers, verify that the previews on the chapter screen are displaying correctly, and export the DVD files. Once this process is complete, I create a new project in CD Burner XP, import the DVD files and use them to create an ISO image. It's important to verify that the ISO image plays correctly - I test this first by mounting the ISO as a virtual optical drive, then by burning it to disc and playing that. On occasion I've had corrupted exports (usually due to running system-intensive software at the same time as the video export process); the same is true of DVD burns.

Secondly, I try to come up with some cover & disc art for the project. In my case, I'll tend to have related ideas for my cover/disc art and my DVD menu (because it makes the creative process easier). That's mostly a case of opening the relevant template in Photoshop and working on the design until I'm happy with it. I usually export as TIFF and PDF.