Right now, I’m thinking pretty much the same thing I was thinking at this point in the film challenge:
Let’s wrap this up already.
As part of a 24-hour film challenge, my team and I wrote, filmed, and edited Lemonhead, a comedic short about a little boy named Aidan who puts his brother’s angel dust in his lemonade and gets rich through an addicted customer.
The first discusses receiving the prompt, developing the story, writing the screenplay, and planning the shots.
The second details the shoot, including framing and acting choices.
This final post will describe the editing process (on Final Cut Pro X), submitting the film before midnight, and attending the screening (with awards!) the following night.
This series is dedicated to Matthew Calder.
Okay, I know this is cheating, but I’m gonna back up a bit.
After we finished filming scene 1, I edited the scene to save time for later. I cut up the montage shots and sequenced them into a fun opening number. Next, I trimmed each shot to quicken the pace and prevent it from dragging. Then, I edited the rest of the scene, starting with the master shot, then cutting between shots based on what was happening.
It became clear very early on that fun music would be necessary to match the fun tone. But I’ll talk more about that later.
Back to the Future
Let’s jump forward again. I continued editing at around 7:30, once the shoot was finished.
I went forward in a natural sequence by editing scene 2. I opened with the shoulder mount shot following behind the brother, then cut to the master. I used the motion of Logan’s hand sliding off of Grady’s head to bridge the two shots.
It’s more difficult to notice slight changes and continuity errors when there’s one smooth movement happening through the cut, because you expect people’s and objects’ locations to change between frames. When cutting during a movement, I try to cut it perfectly so that the first frame of the second shot would naturally follow the final frame of the first shot if the two had been recorded in one take. If it feels like it repeats or skips part of the motion, then try adding or removing individual frames until it feels right.
I used the motion of the cabinet opening (and later, shutting) in a similar fashion.
One detail you may notice about the edit is that we were not afraid to utilize jump cuts (a term used liberally here), not for an off-putting effect like you would typically find them, but in a fun, childish, energetic way that prevents the pace from slowing down.
To make the match transition to scene 3 more…matchy, I digitally zoomed in and rotated the shot.
Still not perfect, but better.
The sequencing of scene 3 followed a similar formula to that of scene 1.
But (gasp!) there was a problem: Toward the end of the over-the-shoulder shot of Ian, the mic was in the shot. To fix this in post, I digitally zoomed in the clip until the mic was nowhere to be seen. I didn’t love how this looked, but it was better than a microphone taking you out of the scene.
Sometimes you have to compromise.
Now, onto my favorite transition to film, edit, and watch: the 360° whip pan. This is a prime example of cutting between shots at a movement. We filmed the same 360° motion twice, once with Grady in each outfit. I cut the two shots so that it felt like one, continuous 360° spin.
Now onto scene 4.
While the Lemonhead is chugging the glass of lemonade, I cut to Aidan’s face, because his reaction fits the scene very well.
Acting is reacting, I guess.
We also used another of Aidan’s reactions to transition into scene 5.
You here tomorrow?
I held the shot of the Lemonhead asking for more of the secret ingredient for an extra second because I liked the rack focus to Aidan’s head.
It shows his dominance.
While Aidan is filling the cup with lemonade, I cut to the Lemonhead waiting rather impatiently. I couldn’t resist; Ian’s acting choices were hilarious.
Then we see Aidan dumping some angel dust into the drink and the customer chugging it and-
Okay. This was the most difficult, frustrating part of the entire edit. I’m shivering just thinking about it.
Whooo! Hit me again.
Needless to say, it was completely, utterly, 325% worth it.
This was the climax of the story, the peak of the black humor. If the editing had been off, it still would have prompted laughter, but it probably wouldn’t have felt so satisfying. Bad editing, or bad anything really, takes away from what really matters: the story, the writing, the humor, the characters, the moments. That’s why I put so much effort into every part of every film I make: the little things matter.
There are no small parts, I guess.
These two shots were considerably troublesome to align. I altered both in endless ways, but they never seemed to quite match up, either in volume or visual motion. Between shots, his words had to feel smooth and connected, and so did his head diving down. Finally, after a lot lot lot of alterations, the moment finally felt natural and hilarious, just as we had intended it.
Moving on. For the second montage-
Another montage? Seriously?
Yeah, they’re fun, back off.
Anyway. For the second montage, I cut together the clips we shot in an order that seemed fun and not too repetitive. I separated the cup-passing shots by placing other montage shots between. I trimmed the shots to keep up the fast pace of events.
For the filling of the money jar, I cut out a short clip each time something was added. When these quick shots are sequenced together, it creates a fun way of showing his stash of cash increasing fast.
There was actually one montage shot for which the file was missing after I uploaded it to Final Cut, but it wasn’t an important shot and we didn’t have time to spare. Sometimes, filmmaking requires sacrifices.
Scene 6 only had two shots. Not much editing needed.
Scene 7 had three shots. A moderate amount of editing needed.
I started with the master to introduce the setting and show the brother looking for his angel dust, then cut to the shot of swag-coated Aidan walking in. I cut after Aidan steps into frame so that his location relative to his brother is clear.
He’s a little farther back in the second shot than in the first, but the movement of Aidan walking makes this less apparent. Also, the viewers don’t know what my house looks like, so they might not notice. Either way, it was worth it so the audience can place him in the scene.
We cut back to the master, and then to
The final shot. The brother realizes that Aidan has used his angel dust to get rich.
This shot originally lasted a second longer, but we cut it shorter because we decided that it was funnier to have one beat of him turning his head before cutting to black.
And just like that, the first draft was done.
Can I just say, I love the music we used in this film. It’s hard to find enjoyable royalty-free music that fits the film well, but every time music plays in this film, it perfectly fits the tone of the scene. Or it completely doesn’t in an ironic way.
And that’s thanks to Logan. In our little filmmaking circle, he’s known for his ability to find royalty-free music for any project. I hereby pronounce him the King of Royalty-Free (pun not originally planned but now highly intended). Long may he reign.
We knew we wanted fun, child-like music for the intro. Originally, we thought that Gabriella should write and record an original ukulele melody. We even recorded one (in a closet padded with clothes), but then Logan (of course) found the perfect song online, a fun combination of ukulele and flute.
I actually ended up using this music three times in the film:
- The opening montage
- The Lemonhead’s first lemonade
- The second montage
In the opening montage, the music is a fun way to introduce the protagonist, his goal, and the innocent tone.
When the Lemonhead is ordering, the music contrasts with the scene prior to indicate a shift in tone from dark to childish.
For the second montage, the music ironically conflicts with the darkness of the events occurring. It also ties back to the opening montage in order to highlight the humor in how far Aidan has gone with his dark business tactics.
Ending the music can be a very difficult thing to do. For the montage scenes, I slowly faded the music out. For the second time this music is used, however, I cut the music at a musical note, which miraculously fell just as the 360° spin ended. This preludes a shift in the Lemonhead’s appearance and attitude by ending the childish music at once on a note that leaves the melody feeling unfinished.
Now, the other music. This one was heavily debated. Logan was inspired by the Breaking Bad soundtrack and thought that the brother scenes needed a little more…edge, to establish the tone. He found trap music, and I uploaded it into the edit to test it out.
Okay, I don’t know he does it. I really don’t. But this weird music we didn’t expect to work fit perfectly with the brother’s character, the tone of his scenes, and the dark humor of the film overall. The King of Royalty-Free indeed. We also thought it would be funny to keep this music going through the credits (which Caroline edited to save time, by the way).
As you may have noticed from my other films, I like to match my visual editing with the music by cutting at audio cues. I did this in, notably, You Deserve a Brighter Tomorrow, Bulletproof, and the film I’ll be blogging about in my next post.
Stay tuned until the end.
Color correction and audio adjustments. They’re like the make-up of filmmaking. This is where you make the film consistent, smooth, and pretty (or ugly, depending on what you’re going for).
I used the “Balance Color” feature on Final Cut, which is a great way to fix imperfect white balance without wasting too many tick tocks. I also adjusted the exposure by raising or lowering the shadows, midtones, and highlights in accordance to the Luma graph.
Someone once told me that the two most important aspects of a film are the story and the sound.
Ian taught me a lot about audio levels during post-production of this film. He told me to keep audio levels as such:
- Dialogue between -6 dB and -12 dB
- Sound effects at around -14 dB or -24 dB (it depends)
- Music between -24 dB and -32 dB
I listened to the entire film through headphones just to make sure it was how I wanted it.
For dialogue, I often had to use the audio for one clip to replace that of another clip, especially if one line lasts through two different shots. When it comes to audio, quality and consistency are key.
Finally, I added the title to the master in scene 1 using the childish font and color that Caroline picked out. (The “O” looks like a lemon!)
Apparently a lot goes into colors and font, a lot more than I know. It’s a good thing we had Caroline on board.
It was 11:20, and the film was done, complete, finito. We were able to finish before midnight!
Or so we thought. Unbeknownst to us, submitting on time would prove to be more of a challenge than we thought.
To Be or Not to Be
That is the question.
We watched the film through one more time together and exported the master file to my external storage drive (which I owe a huge thanks, because it helped us avoid the storage problem we faced last year). It was 11:35 by time we went to upload to YouTube. 25 minutes should be enough, right? I opened Safari, loaded YouTube, clicked upload, and selected the video file.
The server has rejected the file.
No, this can’t be happening.
I looked up the error, and my search brought me to a troubleshooter page. I tried everything but none of it worked. It was the correct video type, my applications were updated, everything seemed right, but the video still wouldn’t upload. We began to give up on our film being able to win any awards, as submitting after midnight would cause us to automatically forfeit the competition.
Needless to say, we were freaking out.
But I refused to give up completely. I returned to that troubleshooting page and continued with it, and found that the source of the problem was actually the software itself. Apparently YouTube only allows users to upload videos using Google Chrome. Luckily, the application was already downloaded, and we were able to upload our video successfully. With the time counting down, I even submitted through my school YouTube account (which was already logged in on Chrome) to save time.
Just like last year, we barely finished on time. The film was online just a few minutes before midnight.
It seemed like a fitting end to a chaotic day.
If you haven’t seen 24 hours of work, this is what it looks like:
I am so proud of how this film turned out. Even though it was made in only 24 hours (rather than 24 days, or weeks, or months), I consider it one of my favorite films I’ve worked on.
If you’ve seen my previous films, this is definitely a different direction. Most are dramatic shorts intended to spread a social or emotional message. But this one? No. This one’s a comedy about a little kid putting an addictive substance in his customer’s lemonade. No message, no moral, no sad or inspiring ending. Just a funny, childish, entertaining film.
And sometimes, isn’t that all we need?
For more behind-the-scene coverage, check out Gabriella’s extensive vlog of the entire process.
And the Oscar Goes to…
We all attended the screening together at NJ Film School. It was wonderful to see (and hear!) the audience’s reactions to the film. You never know if the viewers will get the humor, or whether the jokes will land the mark, until the film is released to the public. I guess it worked, because they laughed exactly when we wanted and expected them to.
Now onto the awards.
Since we were in the teen category, we were competing against the other groups with directors in middle school and high school. There were three judges, from various parts of the filmmaking process. We got to talk to one of the judges: an NJFS alum, Claire Fishman. She currently works as a Junior Video Editor for Refinery29, so she gave us some great insight into editing and the industry as a whole.
The awards we won were…
Drumroll please. What? That’s not in the budget? Never mind, I’ll just say them.
Best Editing: I went up to accept my award and give a little speech.
Best Actor (for Ian): Ian definitely deserved this. He did great at portraying the Lemonhead’s downward spiral in a hilarious way. He also drank a lot of diluted lemon juice.
Best Writing: All five of us went on stage to accept the award.
And before we could even leave the stage, Chris announced:
We also won Best Film: We called Grady up to the stage, because he was such a huge part in making this film successful. He was willing to sit outside for hours on one of the hottest days of the summer, and he put so much effort into playing his character well.
Thank you so much, Grady.
It was such a fulfilling experience. 24 hours of work came full circle in one beautiful moment.
And it was even better to experience it alongside these talented goofballs.
We’re Almost Done, I Promise
Okay, don’t take this personally, but I’m getting really tired of writing about Lemonhead.
In my next post, I will be writing about Markers, a dramatic short about a teenage girl who decides to define her own labels after being outed as lesbian by a bully at school. I wrote this script back in December, but it was a story I wasn’t ready to tell until the spring of 2018. This is the only film to this date that I wrote, directed, filmed, and edited all by myself.
Despite that, funny enough, it actually required the most amount of people to help me out, more than any other film I’ve made. Luckily, I have amazing friends.
Speaking of people generously giving up their time to help me with a film, I have an exciting announcement: A new film is currently in production. On Monday, I started filming for an upcoming dramatic short I’m directing, In Memoriam. Its cast includes Karenna Breslow from Markers and Violet Knowles from You Deserve a Brighter Tomorrow, and it’s based on a sci-fi story I wrote for English class last year. I spent countless hours on planes and at home adapting it into a 12-page script for the silver screen, and I’m very excited for you all to see it. It’s set in a dystopian world, and it’s packed with mystery and emotion.
I don’t wanna reveal too much about the plot, but let’s just say that the title is a pun.
I plan to finish filming and editing by the end of November, but I might not be able to post online immediately because of film festival rules.
I editing the scene we filmed on Final Cut Pro X, but I’ve had a change of heart. I downloaded a free trial of Avid Media Composer, and if I like it, I’ll make the switch for good. Final Cut has done its job well up to this point, but it’s time for me to expand my capabilities and start using what filmmakers at college and in the industry use.
Final Cut to black.
Post-Credits Scene: This is unrelated, but I wanted to publish this post by midnight tonight, and here I am posting at 11:59. How symbolic.