Posts Tagged ‘editing’

I’m reeling a little.

This morning, I was lecturing about screenwriting in general (and pleasing your audience in particular) and I mentioned the 1986 version of Little Shop of Horrors. I spoke about that notorious test screening where the “Would you recommend to a friend?” cards allegedly came back with only 13% of affirmatives, dictating that the original “Everybody Dies” ending got the chop and a new, cheerier ending was added to the flick. I spoke about the pros and cons of tailoring your product to the whims of your audience. I spoke about whether a black comedy needs to end like a black comedy, or whether it can give the audience a happy ending without compromising its moral integrity.

I spoke about all of these things with mixed feelings, because I’m a massive Little Shop of Horrors fan who is also a deleted scenes obsessive and yet my feelings about that original ending are decidedly muddled.

Frank Oz has spoken quite eloquently about the problem with the original ending, in terms of the way that theatre and film pack very different kinds of punches. The power of the close-up, man; we see Audrey’s eyes welling up as she pictures Somewhere That’s Green and, Goddammit, we want that character to get her happy ending. Audrey and Seymour dying in the version that has now been released as the Director’s Cut is still a serious bummer, and following it up with what feels like *endless* footage of the planet getting destroyed means that the ending feels drawn-out and kind of mean spirited. What plays as an upbeat black joke in the theatre feels downbeat when stretched out so far. Having been delighted to get hold of this ‘Director’s Cut’ initially, I’ve now watched it a bunch of times (sometimes with groups of students) and the chill that apparently fell upon that Orange County test screening nearly three decades back still falls across people watching it for the first time. I don’t think it’s the content, I think it’s the execution; I’d reached the conclusion that after the novelty of the bleak ending wears off I’ll probably end up going back to the theatrical. That, for all its tonal inconsistency, the upbeat ending somehow still works better.

After the lecture, something weird happened. I googled the test screening to check I’d got a couple of my facts right and chanced upon the LSOH Wikipedia page. In amongst all the things I already knew, there was a mention of the ‘lost’ full version of Meek Shall Inherit.

Ok, here’s where my deleted scenes obsession kicks in. I was not only aware of the full version, (which even Frank Oz seemed to have forgotten about, judging by a couple of comments he made a few years back), but I had a handful of stills that were in this book. Also on my hit-list as far as deleted scenes went was an alternate version of the feeding sequence involving Orin’s severed head, which I’d seen a still from in Cinefex magazine back in ’86 and I’d always wondered how it would play tonally. Neither of these scenes were in the deleted scenes compilation on the Blu Ray, and I’d become convinced I’d never seen them.
Then I noticed a recent amendment to the Wikipedia page, which said that the Meek Shall Inherit full version (including a dream sequence where Seymour turns into a plant) had appeared online. Less than a minute later I found it (thanks to the miracles of Google). I’d barely recovered from watching it when I clicked the text beneath the clip and found links through to two more videos of deleted scenes from a mysterious workprint.

To me, these were the holy grail. We had the plant-dream, we had the severed head feeding.

Little Shop of Horrors: Orin's Head

Amazingly, we had a much shorter version of the ‘Everybody Dies’ ending, as it screened at that ill-fated showing.

Jesus Christ. I watched them all, back to back, *directly* after watching the Director’s Cut (and then the theatrical ending on its own for good measure) so I had the nuances of the released versions pretty locked down in my mind.

See, there’s an incredible lesson for editors lying in the rubble of this wonderful treasure-trove of deleted scenes. I love the theatrical. I’m fascinated with the director’s cut, but it comes off disjointed and mean-spirited in the way everything is so drawn out.

Yet here, in this unseen version that’s more violent than the DC, we can learn the power of tiny changes in the edit. When Seymour feeds the baby-bird-in-a-tin version of Audrey II for the first time, the workprint edit choices stress something that both the Theatrical and the DC shy away from; blood.

We see a horrible shot of the blood gathering at the end of Seymour’s finger as he squeezes and squeezes, which is kind of yuck.

We see blood splashing over the plant’s adorable baby-bird ‘face’, and it’s a pretty horrible juxtaposition.

Bloody Audrey II

Prior to the feeding, we see Seymour laying out all that newspaper to soak up the gore. During the feeding itself, as previously mentioned, we see him feed the head to the plant, like a grim punchline to the sequence before we zoom into the plant’s maw to hear the laughter.

By not shying away from these tiny but unpleasant details, the workprint footage could *only* be leading towards the grim ending. And then, wonderfully, when the grim ending turns up at the end of the compilation it plays like a goddamn dream. Where it was long, drawn out, cumbersome and repetitive on the ‘Director’s Cut’, here it plays like a big bang of giddy, over-the-top monster movie. It’s short enough to pack a wallop, and the ‘punch’ images are actually synched with the ‘punch’ bits of the song. It’s bloody great.

Suddenly, in these few minutes of grainy footage, I can see my favourite version of Little Shop of Horrors. One that works tonally right the way through, going blacker than either of the others but never feeling mean about it. It’s a goddamn morality play, after all.

The last bits of my personal Little Shop of Horrors jigsaw fell into place today, and I love the movie even more than ever. Seems a shame to have to lobby for a new Blu Ray a mere three months after the last one came out, but sod it.

The queue starts here.

PS. I talk a bit about screenwriting and editing in my hour-long show about horror filmmaking, which is embedded for free below. If you regularly read this blog, you’ll already know that and will be rolling your eyes at me embedding it again. If you’re not a regular reader, I hope you check it out. Please note that it has some gore, nudity and swearing and isn’t safe for work. Unless you work somewhere that really digs gore, nudity and swearing, of course.

Indie filmmakers will argue about kit and formats until the end of the world (which, at the time of writing, is scheduled to be in about an hour according to nutjobs and the easily distracted), yet I’ve somehow managed to keep this blog going for six years or so without ever writing about it once.

This started as a vaguely conscious decision, based upon the fact that in 2003 when I was planning TrashHouse I was trying to cover up the fact that it was a digital shoot. Sounds crazy, but it’s easy to forget how much the filmmaking world has changed in nine years. Those were the days before YouTube, before home editing and before the acceptance of digital as a dominant or even viable format. I wanted people to assume that I was shooting TrashHouse on 16mm and tried to keep shots of the cameras out of behind-the-scenes publicity right up until the point I’d safely signed a distribution deal.

This is the camera TrashHouse was shot on:

Canon XM1

The Canon XM1, known as the GL1 in North America. Purchased around 2001 largely because it was a 3-chip camera and touted as ‘better than broadcast quality’ at the time, the clincher was the fact that it had DV in/out which almost no cameras in my price bracket did. I teamed it up with a DV500 capture card, which made it possible to (gasp!) get video footage onto my PC, and bought a monster PC with a ridiculously huge TWENTY GIG (ooh, shiny!) harddrive on which to edit my feature film. I tried various tricks in terms of deinterlacing the footage in a desperate attempt to make it look more like 16mm, and suspect that I fooled absolutely nobody. The stupid thing was, of course, that was I was doing was actually pretty cutting edge for an indie at the time and I really should have been pushing it as an angle rather than covering it up. Hindsight is 100%, etc. etc.

By the time the back-to-back feature shoot of 2006 rolled around, the world had moved on. HDV was the format just breaking through, and I grabbed it and embraced it.

I opted for a Sony FX1.

Sony FX1

The camera’s bigger brother, the Z1, was just slightly out of my price range, but by teaming up the FX1 with a Beachtek XLR breakout box I was able to get pretty much the same camera for a grand or so less dosh. It was at this point that I also made the jump from PC to Mac; having been haunted by endless, endless, ENDLESS system crashes whilst editing TrashHouse on a PC running Pinnacle Edition, I found cutting Hellbride and KillerKiller, on Final Cut Pro 5 and a Power Mac G5 absolute bliss.

That kit served me well. I shot KillerKiller, Hellbride, The Devil’s Music and my chapter of Bordello Death Tales on the same camera, plus countless music videos and promos. I didn’t change up until I used my cheque from the Strippers vs Werewolves screenplay to invest in some DSLR kit after seeing some of the stunning results other indie filmmakers had been getting.

So, my weapon of choice is now the Canon 7D:

Canon 7D

I used this new camera for the first time on my Nazi Zombie Death Tales chapter, and am likely to stick with it for the foreseeable future. It gives me so much more control over the image than the FX1 ever did, and as a result the stuff on screen ends up looking more like the stuff in my head. Which is a good thing.
I think kit can end up becoming a sidetrack for filmmakers planning those first few shoots. I’ve spoken to an awful lot of people who use lack of the ‘right’ camera as a reason to never film anything, but the truth is that, in my experience, it matters astonishingly little. It ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it. The mighty Marc Price shot his astonishing debut Colin on standard miniDV (in 4:3) at a point when HDV 16:9 was considered by many to be some kind of ‘minimum’ technical spec, but the fact is that if your movie is strong enough, (in terms of grabbing the audience and taking them on a journey), then nobody really gives a shit about the tech specs.

Incidentally, I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening of Marc’s new movie Magpie a couple of weeks ago at an advance screening at the BFI. It’s an astonishingly brave, dark, beautifully performed and incredibly human movie which I can’t recommend highly enough. If Marc hadn’t just picked up a camera and gone for it back when he shot Colin, we’d have never got to see it.

So forget the tech specs and go and shoot something.

On set of Hellbride

 

PS. Since writing this blog entry I’ve stuck to the Canon 7d as my weapon of choice. I also discuss choices of camera and kit and how much (if?) it matters in my live show Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws which you can watch for free on the video below. It’s NSFW and features strong language, bloody violence and nudity. Thankfully, the nudity isn’t me.