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Cut off from your own film by production...


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#1 Nathan Milford

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 11:25 AM

I just received the following in a PM from a forum member.

Since the member contacted me under their own name I can confirm they are not a nut or a troll. This person has a significant amount of posts here and is in good standing in the community, so I can vouch. I am posting this as his/her proxy.

I also recognize this person is a director (in this particular circumstance) and this ordinarily might not be the appropriate forum for this discussion but I am posting it here for two reasons, 1) I have moderator perms in General Discussion so if this thread goes weird I can curtail it and 2) I'm sure there are similar situations that cinematographers face and their input may be valuable as well.

So, lets discuss the post and not descend into a meta-discussion about the posting an anonymous post for someone, or that it is in the wrong forum and help this person out :)

Hi Nathan,

I understand your rule of using your real name as username. However, a situation has arisen for which I need advice but I need to do so anonymously.

I have written and directed my first feature. Post production has been taken out of my hands, the producers even claiming disingenuously that they "have accepted my decision to have nothing further do do with the film". The reality is that I have been excluded from the editing process for the last 6 weeks, and they are proceeding with a cut that I have expressed serious reservations with. Any attempt to contact them is ignored.

I have contacted the main funding body, and I hope to hear from them soon. I have also contacted the directors guild and screenwriters guild who say they will support me.

I will not go in to the complex details of all this here but suffice to say I am deeply concerned.

I would like to ask for advice in forums but please understand my need to do so anonymously. If my producers etc were to hear that I have been publicly denouncing their behavior it could likely further damage any hope I have of winning back control of my film.

I'm sure there are a few members that might have encountered similar difficulties and whose advice I would appreciate hearing.


What do you guys think?

I encourage the person involved to send updates through me, as well as to describe the situation a bit more. We have no way of knowing that production may not be justified in reducing your participation. What are the stakes, what level of production, how much money is involved, what type of film etc...
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#2 Paul Bruening

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 11:33 AM

What does his contract allow him? If he doesn't have a comprehensive contract defining his and the other principles' powers he'll have difficulty levering his way back into the project. If the financiers endorse the producers' powers, he is in a weak position. This is why everything in the entertainment business is defined by complex contracts. You just can't depend on people's word every time. If he can't bully his way back in, civil court will be his remaining alternative.
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#3 David Rakoczy

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 11:43 AM

It always comes down to the Agreement/ Contract... what is in writing. Here is a Related Thread addressing Contracts/ Deal Memos
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 03:25 PM

I totally agree with what's been said. It comes down to the deal he struck with the producers. And even if there was a verbal agreement, a written contract would supplant that. If he has a deal memo stating his involvement in the editorial process then he just needs to use that to leverage himself. If not, then it could take some politicizing to get back on, if at all.
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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 13 August 2009 - 04:42 PM

Isn't this usually reffered to as having final cut?

...and hasn't this happened over and over again in cinema history?

Orson Welles, David Lynch, George Lucas, Ed Wood, Riddley Scott just off the top of my head!

I'm not sure what they are asking? Maybe they just feel they need to talk to some people about what is happening but need to do it anonnymouse. I think thats a good thing to do. Talking about stuff can help people to realise better what they think about a situation themselves. Maybe come to terms with it or work out what to do next time or whatever. For me talking and communicating is always good.

Must be horrible when something like this happens but you just maybe have to hope that the magic makes it through the process as it did on a many of the above films. Maybe one day there will be a directors cut! ;)

Then again maybe it's not a straightforward situation. If so it sounds like they are taking lots of good steps by contacting the guilds etc. Either way I wish them loads of luck! :)

love

Freya

Edited by Freya Black, 13 August 2009 - 04:47 PM.

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#6 Nathan Milford

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 08:34 AM

Our director friend elaborates:

Firstly, I appreciate Nathan acting as a proxy for me so that I can retain my anonymity.

To answer some of your responses:

Budget: approx 1.4m

Funders: public bodies (therefore not commercial imperative)

Film type: personal drama. “arthouse”, with possible “crossover” potential.

These 3 facts are significant in that usually when a director loses control over edit it is due to producers fearful that the director is taking the film in a direction away from genre expectations and thereby, as they see it, limiting it’s potential audience and the return for commercial investors.

My contract is unfortunately all too standard in these parts, and weighed heavily in the producers favour. Legally, at least in the written contract, I do not appear to have a leg to stand on. Ethically and by way of verbal agreements, I am in a stronger position but whether these count for much is another matter.

Some 6 weeks ago a first cut was shown to the main funders. The expressed their disappointment with it, and suggested strongly that I re-visit and re-work the material.

We were due to have 5-6 weeks more editing time following said screening. I should state here that the producers and the editor had all signed off on that cut and proclaimed confidence in it (while recognizing it as a work in progress), prior to that screening.

Since that day, I have been all but excluded from the editing process. It was agreed that I take a 2 week break during which time the editor would work on a new cut. Those 2 weeks extended to 4. Although initially it was stated that he would naturally work on this new cut with my notes in mind, I became concerned when I was told to let him work away “undisturbed” by me, and the producers refused to confirm that I would be given any further editing time.

I am horrified by this new cut which robs the film of it’s heart, of any character or charm, interest or intrigue and is ungainly and unengaging. It no longer is the film I’m worked so hard to make, and I know is in the material given the opportunity to re-edit it. I remained calm and expressed my concerns.

The editor was then given a 2 week break. I was refused again the opportunity to work on the edit myself, instead it was agreed that the producers and I discuss a way forward. I screened both cuts to trusted friends and colleagues, unafraid to speak their minds. All agreed with my serious misgivings about the direction they were taking the film. I put into detailed notes my issues with this new cut and wrote out my proposed new cut.

Despite my requests, my producers and I have had no meetings and no real discussions over these 2 weeks. My notes have been disregarded as categorically not the way forward and my suggestions are deemed not productive. They insist on proceeding with this bastardized new cut as the new template. I have asked for meetings, insisting that I cannot in good conscience proceed with a cut so far removed from everything I believe in and worked so hard to achieve. I am not being overly precious here, this is truly death by a thousand cuts.

They then disingenuously accepted my decision to have nothing further to do with the film and have refused to answer my emails and phonecalls.

They cannot surely accept a decision I never made. I have not resigned from the film nor do I wish to. I wish to honour the commitment I made to myself and everyone involved who believed in the film, to make the best film I can with integrity.

I believe in this film and I know there are others who have shared and continue to share that belief. I believe it is better to have a film that could be loved by some (however few or many they may be), than a film that noone could possibly love only at best tolerate.

I am asking to be allowed to work towards a new cut, something which I have not been allowed to do since the screening of first cut to the main funders, now over 6 weeks ago.

Ultimately the funders must sign off on that final cut. I believe it only fair and proper that as the writer and director of this film, that should be given the opportunity to work on and show them a new cut I believe in..

I would appreciate any advice, as I am feeling outgunned and outnumbered. It is hard to remain strong and keep your faith when things get this cold.


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#7 Will Earl

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 10:53 AM

What a sucky situation. I can't offer much advice.

What clauses exist in the contract for your removal from the film?

An aside... Has there ever been, in the entire history of cinema, a film that has been made better after it has been taken away from the director? I'm sure there must be, I just can't think of any examples at the moment.
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#8 Richard Boddington

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 11:17 AM

Prior to 2000 you could have applied for an Alan Smithee credit. Since the situation you are describing is very common in the film industry.

R,
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#9 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 11:44 AM

Prior to 2000 you could have applied for an Alan Smithee credit. Since the situation you are describing is very common in the film industry.

R,


Indeed it is.

It is not clear to me why the cut shown to the funding parties before this whole thing unraveled was unacceptable to them. Could they be secretly or tacitly behind the power struggle to wrestle control away from the director (despite their stated intentions), with the producers only acting as proxy executors of their wishes?

If the director's deal memo does not include final cut or similar rights to him / her, very little could be won in a court of law. Without reading the specifics of the deal memo, it is nearly impossible to really suggest a way froward.

One way or the other, it seems like entertainment lawyer time for our unnamed director friend. I would find a reputable ent lawyer and take him / her the deal memo and all pertinent correspondence and go from there.
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#10 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 12:09 PM

Tough situation. While not the same thing, my book, which I worked VERY hard on to make not only the content the best it could be but also the "presentation" (cover, format, fonts, colors, etc) was taken away from me by some very inexperienced knuckleheads who had their own egos to serve instead of what was best for the overall project.

It happens.

Perhaps bring up the example of Star Wars (the original) which was hated by just about everyone on the studio level. Do I need to explain how successful that film really became? Maybe your film isn't Star Wars, but in most cases, Executives almost always manage to **(obscenity removed)** things up because they themselves are frustrated creative wannabees. If they want to Direct or be creative, then they should just go try to become that like the rest of us instead of wielding creative power over others. Granted, there are financial concerns to address, but if they had serious doubts about the viability of the project before, then they shouldn't have funded it at all.

I'd suggest that there be a "screen off." Let an independent audience rate YOUR cut vs THEIR cut. If they feel so strongly about the financial viability of the product they've financed and you've made, then they should be more than willing to listen to "market research" and adjust accordingly. If they choose to ignore that, you know that all they really care about is their own collective ego and all you can do is chalk it up to "lesson learned" and take some comfort in knowing that you're not alone.
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#11 Richard Boddington

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 12:41 PM

I'd suggest that there be a "screen off." Let an independent audience rate YOUR cut vs THEIR cut.


Ah....but what if the audience likes THEIR cut better? Where does that leave the director's vision then? You can't accept the outcome of such a contest if it only goes your way, you have to be prepared to accept that the audience may like some one else's cut better than yours.

These sorts of audience "tests" are always philosophically tough to accept, who's vision is it? The director's or the audience's?

R,
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#12 John Sprung

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 12:50 PM

Things are different than they were back in the days when somebody would abscond with the one and only workprint. Perhaps our writer/director can get his hands on a copy of the dailies and perhaps an EDL or project files for his rough cut. All he really needs is FCP and a computer at home to polish his version.




-- J.S.
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#13 Paul Bruening

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 04:22 PM

The following statement is not intended to defend your producers.

It is common to let a dedicated editor cut the thing. The thinking is that the director will cut the movie to protect his precious shots. Whereas, an editor can make the ruthless decisions that will best serve the movie's potential for success.
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#14 Tom Jensen

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 05:51 PM

What a sucky situation. I can't offer much advice.

What clauses exist in the contract for your removal from the film?

An aside... Has there ever been, in the entire history of cinema, a film that has been made better after it has been taken away from the director? I'm sure there must be, I just can't think of any examples at the moment.


American History X
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#15 Fran Kuhn

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 06:14 PM

An aside... Has there ever been, in the entire history of cinema, a film that has been made better after it has been taken away from the director? I'm sure there must be, I just can't think of any examples at the moment.


Heaven's Gate.
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#16 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 14 August 2009 - 09:24 PM

Ah....but what if the audience likes THEIR cut better? Where does that leave the director's vision then? You can't accept the outcome of such a contest if it only goes your way, you have to be prepared to accept that the audience may like some one else's cut better than yours.

These sorts of audience "tests" are always philosophically tough to accept, who's vision is it? The director's or the audience's?

R,


Well, if I had my way, there would be no such thing as the "Director's Vision." EVERYONE on the project is just a cog in the wheel, no one cog any larger or more important than the other. When one cog on a wheel starts to think it's bigger and better, the whole machine grinds to a halt and the "machine" doesn't work at all.

The "axle" (as you will) that the cogs revolve around is the "story." Whenever somebody starts imposing their "vision" upon it, that's when trouble starts. Ideally (again, ideally), everyone involved is adult and professional enough to seek out what the STORY really is and how best to tell it. See, the "idea" is just out there on it's own and then it "comes to" a Writer. It's his/her job to discover what that story is and just write it down. Sometimes the Writer gets it right and sometimes he doesn't. In the same way, it's the Director's and the Producer's job to recognize what the story is and gather the forces that it takes to record it on film (or tape) and then edit it so that the STORY is told correctly... not according to anyone's "vision," but according to what the pure story demands.

No one would allow the Costume Designer to choose wardrobe that is inappropriate to the story or allow the Cameraman to photography images that are wrong for the story and so on and so forth. It's rare that the Editor gets last cut because of his opinions. Ultimately, somebody has to decide that the "creating the movie" process is over, but it shouldn't be decided out of ego or a sense that his (whoever "he" is) "VISION" is somehow more important than what's best for the story.

That's asking a lot, of course, because people have egos and there are politics involved wherein some people have to use a project to prove their importance to the world. But damn, wouldn't it be nice if everyone was just out to make the best movie instead of trying to prove that their "vision" was somehow more important?

I'm a dreamer. Sue me. :)
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#17 Justin Hayward

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 12:00 AM

Well, if I had my way, there would be no such thing as the "Director's Vision." EVERYONE on the project is just a cog in the wheel, no one cog any larger or more important than the other. When one cog on a wheel starts to think it's bigger and better, the whole machine grinds to a halt and the "machine" doesn't work at all.
I'm a dreamer. Sue me. :)


Well, you've just summed up the most boring movie anyone could possibly imagine. I don't think I've come across anyone with such a lack of motivation, drive, or interest. You're the first and I've been around some seriously unmotivated students./
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#18 Richard Boddington

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 12:05 AM

Well, if I had my way, there would be no such thing as the "Director's Vision." EVERYONE on the project is just a cog in the wheel, no one cog any larger or more important than the other. When one cog on a wheel starts to think it's bigger and better, the whole machine grinds to a halt and the "machine" doesn't work at all.


With respect, I could not disagree with you more :D

Having now been through the process of directing two feature films I can tell you with 100% certainty that the director must have a clear SINGULAR vision of the entire film or it will be a disaster on set and off. More than one set of hands on the wheel and the film will drive right off a cliff! Every one can give their input and bring their talents to the set, but the director must be the driver and him only.

It's when the various cogs start to think that they know better than the director that the machine will grind to a halt. It's even tough to get the second unit to provide shots that will work with the movie and edit seamlessly into what the main unit under the director is creating.

Yes it all sounds arrogant and un-democratic, but a film set isn't a democracy, I have yet to hear of a film made by polling each member of the crew about how a certain scene should be shot.

The crew wants a clear direction from a single person or vision it makes their lives a lot easier.

I'm confident all of the really seasoned members of this board will agree with me.

And yes, you are a dreamer, it just won't work as you outline in the real world. :)

R,
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#19 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 12:29 AM

With respect, I could not disagree with you more :D

Having now been through the process of directing two feature films I can tell you with 100% certainty that the director must have a clear SINGULAR vision of the entire film or it will be a disaster on set and off. More than one set of hands on the wheel and the film will drive right off a cliff! Every one can give their input and bring their talents to the set, but the director must be the driver and him only.

It's when the various cogs start to think that they know better than the director that the machine will grind to a halt. It's even tough to get the second unit to provide shots that will work with the movie and edit seamlessly into what the main unit under the director is creating.

Yes it all sounds arrogant and un-democratic, but a film set isn't a democracy, I have yet to hear of a film made by polling each member of the crew about how a certain scene should be shot.

The crew wants a clear direction from a single person or vision it makes their lives a lot easier.

I'm confident all of the really seasoned members of this board will agree with me.

And yes, you are a dreamer, it just won't work as you outline in the real world. :)

R,



I think you misunderstood me. Allow me to clarify. I wasn't advocating that there be any polls and decisions by committee. OF COURSE the Director is "driving" the ship... HOWEVER, it isn't his job to impose his miraculous vision upon the story... it's his job to "direct" the creative and technical skills of the hundreds of people who contribute to the overall project.

The point being, if the Director "gets it" and is skilled at "directing" all of the elements necessary to make a movie, then it should be successful. However, just as other people sometimes don't "get it," there's the distinct possibility that the Director of any given project might not either and could screw up by not telling the story as it should be. What I'm saying is that it is the STORY that the decisions from everyone revolve around which are directed toward that singular goal by the Director. But if he doesn't understand the story, then that direction will ultimately be flawed and the project will be led down the wrong path and toward likely failure.

In the case brought up by this thread, we're assuming that the Director made the better movie based on the story and the Producers are making decisions that are compromising the story. Perhaps. I don't know, I haven't seen either cut. It is entirely possible that the Director "missed the mark" and the Producers want to genuinely get it back on track. It is also possible that none of them did it "right." I know that this all flies in the face of this "auteur" theory where the Director's "VISION" is more important than what the story inspires.

As far as it being boring? WTF?! Where did that insult come from? :blink:
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#20 Damon Tidwell

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Posted 15 August 2009 - 02:02 AM

DAMN ! My question is what happened from the day the director and producers first met ? or what happened during the pre-production ? Maybe..there were miscommunication between director and producers.

Nowaday, Most first-time feature directors are not involved in post production. Producers controlled entire projects. Remember he's a WRITER / DIRECTOR not a producer. I wish him the BEST.
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