Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remastering the Stakes

So, both of my feature films, Raising the Stakes and Die and Let Live, have been out-of-print for quite a while.  Die and Let Live became unavailable after the demise of our distributor, Heretic Films, and it took almost a year for me to finally get the rights to the film transferred back to me. In the case of Raising the Stakes, I had taken the movie back from our "handshake deal" with friend Henrique Couto's DVD-R company Freak Productions. Originally, I was intending to start burning and printing the same DVD-R edition he had authored, but I never got around to it.

Truth be told, I wasn't exactly happy with Raising the Stakes after the initial pride of making my first movie had worn off. I can remember sitting at Grafitti Film Festival at the Warner Theater (where I would later find employment), where Raising the Stakes had it's last public screening. Though I had watched the movie literally hundreds of times (the worst part about being your own editor) and several times at our other screenings, this was the first time that I really felt uncomfortable with it.

Every single flaw seemed to resonate with me and since this was a movie I made when I was 16 years old, there were quite a lot of them. I was just a kid who saw all the shot-on-video horror movies that were getting real DVD releases and thought I could do it. Apart from making some backyard short films on a Digital8 camera, I really didn't know what I was doing and there's plenty of evidence to back it up.

I ended up leaving the theater claiming I never wanted to watch the movie ever again.

Well, that didn't actually hold true. Around the time that I got the rights back to Die and Let Live, I had a handful of people ask me about Raising the Stakes and how they could get a copy. At this point, I had either given away or sold every single copy of the original Freak Productions DVD-R, so there was really no way for me to fill any demand other than to completely re-create the disc.

About that same time, the Twilight phenomenon was kicking in full-force and I realized that my little comedy about fantasy nerds becoming vampires might have actually been somewhat prophetic. So, I started to cue up the MiniDV masters of Raising the Stakes to begin creating a new DVD from scratch.

While I was watching the film be captured, I noticed three things:
  1. I was actually enjoying watching it again after some time had passed.
  2. A lot of the mistakes could have been cleaned up in post-production.
  3. MiniDV tapes aren't really the best medium for archiving video masters.
I had three different masters on MiniDV tapes for Raising the Stakes: a master copy, a backup, and an M&E version (which separated the dialogue from sound effects and music for possible foreign distribution deals - oh, what it was like to think that someone in another country would want to watch, let alone dub, my movie). Every single copy had some sort of flaw or error in different scenes, so I started to realize that I'd have to patch together a new master from all the tapes to get a suitable master.

While I was doing this, I started to think about actually fixing the mistakes I had made or not corrected. I got out some of the original camera tapes for these scenes and was surprised to find that they had held up better than the master tapes. As I waded through the tapes, searching for the exact clips (wasn't smart enough to use a clapboard or label things properly at that age either), I started to discover that there were actually takes that were better than what I had used in the original cut.

The little experiment soon bloomed into a full reconstruction and remastering of the film. I fixed whatever gaffes I could, made scenes run tighter, extended some scenes, and completely excised a subplot that never worked (as a result, completely taking actress Ellie Santy out of the film - sorry!).

By the time I was done, I was proud of the movie again. Especially because a lot of the stuff that actually works in the movie are the same cuts as the original version, but the stuff that didn't work has been either cleaned up or thrown out. There's a bit of low-budget CGI touches and color correction that were simply inserted as they were from the original edit and I really think they look quite good for something I did with no money and very little experience.

So, to any indie filmmakers who might have a microbudget movie that they later end up loathing, you might want to see if time and experience can allow you to make something you enjoy out of it.

At this point the new cut of Raising the Stakes is set to hit Amazon Video-on-Demand here in the next few months. We're working on getting it out as a double feature DVD with Die and Let Live and that disc has been my main focus for a while. Expect an announcement soon!

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