After a lot of conversation and before the editorial process begins, I like to get a keyword from the director — a keyword that represents the director’s vision in a nutshell that also serves as the guide to filter my decisions through. On Down and Dangerous, that keyword was Big: larger than life characters, a muscular soundtrack, and moments of raw violence. And for someone who’s previous editorial effort was a naturalistic, improvised drama, whose keyword was Authenticity, big left me shaking in my boots.
A few months back, we got to put the keyword to the test with an online test screening. The focus group helped to shed light where we may have gone too big with some of our decisions or where we might not have gone big enough. Their fresh perspectives gave us a much needed jolt of objectivity and the feedback has lead to some great tweaks and polishing of character and story. The experience also resulted in a refinement of my keyword approach.
Chasing down and addressing every comment received from a focus group can potentially be just as damaging to the story as having no test screening at all. You have to look for the patterns in the feedback. And with all of the twists, turns, and reveals in the film it was nice, and sometimes surprising, to learn where the audience was getting hung up. Almost all of the places that I anticipated as problematic, passed with flying colors; hopefully because those areas were previously addressed. But there was one small moment at the end of a scene that I never thought twice about, that kept reappearing in the feedback. The fix was simple enough and I was happy to address it, but even after I had made the change, I was still left chewing on why I didn’t see it as a problem in the first place.
While I was digesting all of the response cards I came across a tweet paraphrasing Milos Forman that helped me to make sense of it all. “I don’t have to understand everything in a film, but I have to believe it.” After I read that, everything seemed to click into place. The scene in question seemed to overly embellish a dramatic moment in the film and the longer that embellishment went on, the more it began to pull some of the audience out of the story. They stopped believing.
To accept something as genuine, even in fiction, it helps to be rooted in Truth. Every story’s ratio of the use of the word may be different, but truth is a necessary component of the storytelling process. In the future, when wielding whatever keyword I have been given, I will remember to always pair it with an element of truth. The audience should enter with a suspension of their disbelief, but they are not required to maintain it. It should be earned.
Down and Dangerous is picture locked and making its way through the final stages of post production from color, to VFX, to sound design, and sound mixing. We can’t wait to share it with you all when it’s completed in the new year.