As the end of term two loomed, I knew I would need to get the rough cut of the film done as quick as possible. Early on into the editing process however, I knew this simply would not be possible.
The Original Opening – Too long, continuity issues, exaggerated acting, failure to establish the fallen angel as an other-worldly being, audio issues. The second shot had interlacing issues, although this was only picked up on by myself. Very little in the way of positive feedback.
The editing was taking a long time to get done. The main problem was that a large portion of the shots from the first day of shooting did not have audio, which made synchronization an issue. All of these shots also had to be re-rendered if they were moved even fractionally on the timeline, meaning I had to check the synchronicity every time a clip was moved.
Alongside this, there were also grading issues. Every shot had to be graded, but in this film, there needed to be continuity in desaturation and saturation levels as the narrative progressed. I was aware that if the changes happened too quickly, the audience may have become confused as to the purpose of changing the grading at all.
However it has always been important to get feedback, so I decided to do what I could with what time I had, and show any part of my film whilst there was still an opportunity to do so. In the last week of term two, I had successfully edited the opening chase sequence and some of the opening sequence leading up to the first flashback scene. Screening only this part had problems, as it meant people were seeing the first five minutes of the film out of context, and also meant they only saw a glimpse of a well-received script that ultimately brought the film together. But I decided some feedback was better than none.
Feedback to the opening sequence was largely negative in response. The first and foremost problem was that people had difficulty believing that Amy Carter was a fallen angel (this is despite the expensive costume!). I was lost as to what to really say regarding a film called ‘Peter Has An Angel’, with a plot summary that specifically mentions an encounter with a fallen angel, but nonetheless decided that it was perhaps best to incorporate a degree of loud ethereal noise, or some feathery special effect as she cut through the trees (to confirm her other-worldly status).
The second attack was aimed at the chase itself – largely that it was not a good opening to have. This was one of the more constructive parts of the feedback, as regardless of what lies ahead, the opening usually has to speak for itself, and in this case it did not. Peter steps in mud to show he’s down on his luck and average. He scrapes his shoe on a nearby tree, which allows him to advance without really watching the path ahead. He finds out far too late that there’s a shadow looming ahead, and during an attempt to circumnavigate, he comes face to face with the fallen angel herself.
People didn’t understand why he stepped in the mud, and attacked continuity issues during the sequence. The opening was supposed to be a rare moment of action in the film (actually, the only action scene!). The film would not suffer too much from not having it in, but it was supposed to be an exciting opening. Evidently, I had failed in this aspect – although I do note that there was no accompanying music at this stage, nor any special effects or sound effects, which are pivotal in any chase sequence. I think the chase sequence was actually done rather well despite of the feedback, with the exception of the final shot (which even I have to admit had continuity problems – he runs away from a tree which is meant to hide the angel behind it. She is clearly not behind it!).
Then came the response to the skills of the actor. Will’s opening portrayal of Peter was criticized heavily as being unconvincing and exaggerated. They found his theatrical nature unbelievable and unrealistic, although it is important to note that my previous film got criticized for being too subtle with the acting! (I definitely went for the theatrics more this time, especially considering the genre conventions!) However, the class said that Will’s acting improved once he’d met with Catherine – having someone to bounce off evidently upped his game and created a more convincing scenario. This was the primary reason I decided to eventually cut the chase sequence out.
Again though, the feedback was out of context. Peter’s character is wet and dippy, and I think that came across just fine. As I’m not one to brag about (or market) my film in any way until I have some form of finished result, it is probably correct to assume that nobody in the feedback room knew anything about my film beyond what I’d told them in the pitch. People were confused at the mention of recession-era Britain, not really realising that it was an integral part of the narrative further into the film. It was a shame that I couldn’t show more of the script and the conversation – but then, that was obviously weeks of editing away, and could not have been accomplished during my time window.
Sound was also criticized, but I found the audio pretty well done regardless of this (my previous works in poetry videos were criticized on the audio as well, despite getting graded ‘firsts’ overall, unchanged at the module hand-in). There were also a couple of moments when cut-aways could have been used to help guide the narrative along. I agreed with this feedback – some places jumped from one scene to another too quickly. On this basis, this merited another trip to the wood to get missing shots. In retrospect, I am so glad I filmed this FMP in Coventry!
After the feedback session had been wrapped up, my DoP politely declined the title in the credits – I had filmed half the film myself (including half this opening sequence) which disagreed with her ‘creatively’. She now only wanted recognition as a camera operator. Some people complemented the cinematography, but at this point I was unsure whether they were doing it out of pity!
Needless to say, this feedback session had been a big confidence booster – sarcasm aside though, I knew there was a lot of work from here. The first thing I did in the editing suite was decide where the cuts around the chase sequence would be. I decided to keep the opening ‘mud splat’ sequence in, as I think it still remains a nice lead up to the main film – it sets the scene up nicely. A lecturer mentioned that I could use the final clips to place the events of the whole film in flashback, which was an interesting idea. The only problem with this was with the grading – the saturation levels affected the mood, but black and white could insinuate ‘the past’, which could confuse viewers very easily unless I shot the whole film in black and white with the exception of the opening and closing shots.
I cut the chase sequence down to roughly twenty seconds – actually at the one point where the continuity was bad. Peter was going to see the angel, run away, and then cross over the bridge, look behind him, and then fall when she magically appeared in front of him. I would incorporate more effects in this shot, since the feedback was solid that it was unclear whether she was an angel or a crazy woman in the woods. The branching shot for this would be a P.O.V shot as Peter is running over the bridge, which would require me to return to the woods. During the return shoot, I would also take some ‘location shots’ for cut-aways.
If there was one thing I had learned from this post-feedback editing though, it would be that location shots are almost pivotal in a film like this. I never knew how useful they could be. In post-production, if you ever need to edit anything out, the continuity and ‘flow’ of the film can be severely affected. Cut away shots of the location worked very well here in my film – perhaps because the forest, for all intensive purposes, is the ‘third character’ of the film. (You can hear a similar notion here in Mark Kermode’s review of Wolf Creek.)
If a location can ever be considered as a character, it is important to give that character some screen time – up until this point, the forest was just a setting pushed into the background behind the two leads. Once I got some cut aways and placed them on the timeline however, I could see they made a world of difference.
The New Opening – The majority of the chase sequence gets cut, including the second shot of Peter’s feet. Thus, Peter meets Amy quicker and the ‘acting level’ gets higher quicker. The continuity issue is resolved. Special effects are to be implemented later, along with the resolution of a genuine audio fault as Peter runs over the wooden bridge!
Once I’d cut the chase sequence out, I was very unsure about what else to use from the feedback I’d been given. Showing such a small part of the film to an unknowing audience may have been a mistake – I feel some of the feedback was confused and ill-informed, and served in turn only to confuse me. It was most important at this point not to get disheartened, and to see the film through regardless of the critics. I knew I had filmed something challenging – it was now only a matter of time before I saw whether it paid off in it’s entirety…