Today marks the first day of Spring. I wake up to sunshine and clear skies and I think of Erica and how “Voyageuse” is set on the day of the Vernal Equinox. In the film she remarks on the significance of this date and the pleasure she takes in the season. For her – at least in my recreation – it’s a momentary parting of a psychic cloud and a rare moment of solace.
A year ago I set out to shoot. Now I’ve completed the first cut of the film which at 110 minutes isn’t ideal but not a disaster. Split over five ‘reels’ – old habits persist – thankfully there’s scope for tucks and folds because I’d sooner buy myself some air than destroy the pace and tone. Inevitably this means ditching precious lines and paragraphs from the script, throwing out shots and – less tangibly – holding onto those moments that reveal more about Erica’s mindset than any words I’ve written. But until I lock the picture I can’t begin the next phase of post production; the sound design and mix, the FX and composite shots, the grade and the score.
Which would be fine but for one or two voids on the timeline; scenes that can’t be omitted without causing damage to the story. These are scenes that require travelling to London and New Jersey so I’m waiting for the right moment and raising the wherewithal before committing myself to any more adventures. Besides, there’s plenty of work to be done between now and the summer as I compose the sound design which, apart from using my existing libraries, involves recording hundreds of spot effects including doorbells, ticking clocks, birdsong, traffic, wind and water. But how best to convey a mental seizure, the ecstasy of falling in love or the agony of depression as experienced by Erica? The more abstract, the more inventive I have to be.
Of course for the impossible there’s always music. Long before making this film I decided music would be a major component of it – I even compiled a wishlist, singling out a particular composer whose music I’m convinced is the perfect accompaniment. However acquiring rights is an expensive business so while I have an in-principle agreement from both the record company and publisher I’m aware it’s another cost to bear and a reminder of the financial reality of filmmaking, even at the micro-budget level.
While calculating the cost – and the value – of using a 90 second excerpt of a deceased composer’s exceptional music, I realise how depressing it is that so many filmmakers give their work away for free. A couple of years ago I was approached by a minor film festival. Could I send a screener? No, I replied, but you can watch my film on Vimeo Pro for a small fee. The suggestion, that the maker of a film made with meagre private funds should demand payment was met with incredulity by a festival that owes its existence to public funds. Had my film been selected (moot, since I never submitted) it would have received neither a screening fee or a cut of the takings.
When it comes to other people’s work I’ve always found filmmakers are among the most diligent. Few ever exploit other people’s images, sounds or words without compensating their makers. In a previous life, while working at the BBC in London as a Scenic Designer (their quaint variation on Production Designer) I was asked to create a set to commemorate the legendary BBC2 series, ‘Jazz 625.’
The show’s producer, straight outta Oxbridge, handed me a book of photographs of jazz musos and demanded I make a series of (expensive) photo blow-ups (PBUs) as a backdrop. My question – ‘do you have clearance’? – met with a dissembling grunt and a dismissive bat of the hand. After issuing a get-out clause by internal mail, I duly commissioned a fledgling graphics company, Photobition, to deliver the work. Once installed in Studio C of Lime Grove it looked very impressive.
The show was duly recorded and broadcast. Not long after came a fierce memo from some faceless Head of Operations regarding the use of uncleared images – doubtless the outcome of phone calls between the BBC’s legal department and the disgruntled publisher (and photographers). Later in the corridors of Kensington House – then the BBC’s Shepherd’s Bush base for Music and Arts, I chanced on the errant producer who, entirely complacent about his breach of copyright, suggested that the (dead) musicians whose likenesses he had stolen – I kid you not – might enjoy higher record sales as a result of ‘his’ programme.
I’m sure a settlement was reached since it involved a major arts publisher but it was a lesson I doubt the producer learned. There are times when words fail where a swift boot in the balls might suffice.
My point being that paying to use other people’s work is the right thing to do. And in film, regardless of budget, it’s always preferable to do right. It’s not complicated.
The above image is of a series of photograph folders found among Vera and Erica’s many thousands of photos and negatives. They date from the 30s to mid-1950’s. IMO they’re really beautiful.