The Evolution of an Experimental Feature

Part 2 – Post-Production: An Editing Experiment

I have often heard that films are restructured and retold at least three different times before they are finished – the version that is first written, the version that is shot, and the version that is edited for the screen. For SILVERFISH, this concept held true, and when post-production began, the experimenting continued as I – with zero editing experience – chose to cut the film myself. Right away, I noticed that I was spontaneously making editing choices to piece the film together in a way that was totally different from the more traditional telling I laid out in the script. The wild-hair I was getting scared me a little because we had a clear story with a calculated dramatic structure, and I was afraid if I started down a path of experimental editing that the whole thing may fall apart in the cutting room. I stopped working for about two weeks to take a break and weigh the costs and benefits of possibly cutting the movie in a non-traditional way. Finally, after a few in-the-mirror pledges of allegiance not to compromise the story, I allowed myself to scratch the itch to shake things up. It was as if I took my original formulaic McKee-model and smashed it into a thousand tiny pieces. From there, I picked each piece up and started putting them together in a completely new way.

At the time, I was watching everything from Oscar winners and classics to French New Wave and YouTube vloggers. As one might expect, a creole of these styles began to spill into my editing, re-sculpting the telling of SILVERFISH. I should note that this process occurred four different times before I settled on what I was doing and why. With scenes and plot points scattered all over my timeline like a jigsaw puzzle, I found that a certain free association began to take place. I found new ways to juxtapose and parallel the characters. I even discovered little running themes across different scenes, of which I had not been completely conscious when I wrote the script.

Though I am certainly not the first to do so, probably the most experimental editing choice I made was to use a split-screen throughout much of the movie. Over the course of several years spent teaching film acting classes for actors new to performing for the camera, I developed a joyful habit for watching people as they listen, which seems to be at the heart of this editing decision. In the beginning of editing, I split-screened all the shots so that I could watch the performances together. At first, this was nothing more than a cutting technique I used, one which I had no intention of keeping. After a while, however, I realized that the splits seemed to add new life to the scenes. It became increasingly apparent that the characters were diverse enough and the performances strong enough that an audience might like the freedom of being able to watch more of the character to which they were most drawn. I decided to keep the splits and use them to hold on the actors who were driving each scene. As of this writing, based on sneak-peaks and test-screenings, the split-screen effect is always a point of questioning. But, the general response has been positive, with some audience members claiming to have loved the effect it had on their viewing experience.

Now that the film is finished, we have taken our plunge into the festival circuit and are finalizing distribution plans. Truthfully, I know very little, and further, take little pleasure in learning to be a marketer and a salesman. I realize, however, that if I want to get the most out of all our hard work, then making the film available for others to see is as important as any other piece of the process. Of course, it means learning the ins and outs of finding the right audience, the right market, and the best way to brand the movie.

As a story, Silverfish turns a unique lens on the psychology and sociology of sex, exploring the power-struggle between innate impulses and societal norms.

When the paths of a premature ejaculator, a sex surrogate, a sex addict, and a filmmaker converge, four unique characters suffer four different plights, all bleeding into an onslaught of further conflicts: deception, miscommunication, self-loathing, isolation, and ambivalence.

When put into mere words, the storyline is clear and would seemingly be told in a traditional manner, but when factoring in the style of the editing and the telling as it unfolds on-screen, our finished product lands more in the avant-garde than the written synopsis indicates. The truth was that despite all the knowledge in my head about the story and the characters and every intricate little symbol and parallel, I had no clue how to define the genre of the film we made. So, I began Googling (Heaven only knows how many hours I’ve spent meandering through the Internet to learn how to make a movie). Somewhere between web-surfing and reading old email threads from people who had watched and provided feedback about the movie, I stumbled on an article by Nikhil Kamkolkar called, Why I Chose Amazon Video Direct to Self-Distribute My Film, a useful read for anyone who is considering self-distribution. Having already considered Amazon as a platform for SILVERFISH, the article led me to learn more about AVD. Of course, the first thing Amazon wants to know when setting up an AVD account is: What genre is your film? Dammit, got ahead of myself…

Back to Google. Lo and behold, I ran across an older article by Robert Hardy (one I had read back in 2013 from his NFS days) called, Experimental Filmmaking for Dummies (Part 1): Why You Should Be Making Experimental Films. Appropriate title, I thought, considering that I felt like a complete dummy for having come this far without clearly defining the genre of film I was piecing together. In short, I walked away from this reading enlightened and convinced that I had made an Experimental Film.

Admittedly, I still withheld some reservation in labeling SILVERFISH as experimental. For one thing, the experimental genre is wide-sweeping, and as Hardy notes, “defining it almost defeats the purpose of the genre itself.” Plus, we still had a cohesive narrative, a key component that I did not want overlooked by potential audiences. And then there was my egoistic prideful fear that because this is my directorial debut, branding it as an experimental might trigger judgments of me as being an amateur, which, as film directing experience goes, I am.

What I knew and was ignoring, however, was that apart from the clear storyline that carries the film, most of the process I had gone through in making SILVERFISH completely fit the experimental bill, an inherent truth that I have since accepted, embraced, and am currently trying to leverage as I search for an audience and a home for this film.

As of this writing, I have submitted to over forty different festivals, many of them (somewhat mindlessly) pulled from MovieMaker Magazine’s top 50. For the most part, the notices for these will not come until late summer/early fall, but thus far, we have been accepted by two festivals and turned away by ten (two of which were a real bummer for me, personally). Please forgive me for not detailing the festivals by which we were accepted, but neither have released their lineups at this point, so they have asked that I keep the news to myself. I will say, however, that neither is a particularly large festival, but rather, both stake claim to openly specializing in the curation of experimental arthouse films. For those who are reading this looking for any sort of advice, one thing I can say from what I have learned is that you should be clear about what kind of film you have and the genre of which it best fits so that you can match it with festivals, submit accordingly, and find the folks who will like what you have made. Though I am waiting until we completely circle through our festival run before finalizing VOD distribution, I can say that we are leaning toward Amazon Video Direct as the primary platform to make our movie available for audiences. Between now and the date we land on for release, everything I do will be pointed toward finding and reaching those who will enjoy what we have created.

The process of making SILVERFISH has been, so far, a six-year project, a six-year creative struggle, and a six-year film degree for which I will receive no formal certificate. I am, however, humbly grateful to all the creative folks who helped bring the movie to life, and to all those whose paths I am crossing along the way. Each part of the process has been a spurs-of-growth kick in my pants (some more so than others), but I am undoubtedly all the better for it.

Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments, and please, if our film and story seem interesting, follow our journey here and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/silverfishmovie/ . I will no doubt be writing more as news about screenings and distribution continues.

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