Friends (with benefits) shot for a total of 18 days, beginning on April 18th, 2007. So, we’ve really been editing it, tweaking it, playing with the song selection, and score, and titles, and color correction, for going on two years now. (The original assembly was 125 minutes without end credits, the final cut runs 94 minutes complete.) Doesn’t seem like that long has passed, but then again perhaps it does. I think once you see the film, you’ll understand why so much time was spent on editing. We tried to do something a little different here. (The producers rep who ultimately took on the film called the editing “ground breaking.” And while I don’t know about that, we’ll certainly take the compliment!)
As a novelist (my website, GormanBechard.com has all the info you could possibly need on that), I thought we’d bring a little of that feel to the film, thus in my mind it’s “a novel with moving pictures.” While all films on DVD are broken into “chapters” I thought we’d take that one step further and actually break the film down into real chapters. But no one wants to watch a book. So, how to make it move fast . . . real fast?
Well, originally I wanted the film, especially the dialog, to movie at a breakneck speed, like “His Girl, Friday.” But there are two truisms in film. The one that fits here is, and I’m paraphrasing: “There’s the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit.” Anyone who’s ever directed a film knows they are three very separate beasts, each with a mind of their own.
So, while that breakneck pace seemed great in concept (and even in rehearsals), the realities of casting and filming got in the way. Until editing, that is. We threw out the rule book. And decided that we would not allow the audience time to blink (at least for a part of the film…when need be, as a director I am a big believer in giving the performances room to breathe.)
(FYI: I never used the rule book when writing my novels, hell, I flunked English 101 in college, and likewise, for any of you who’ve seen my last feature YOU ARE ALONE, you know I don’t “do” the “master/over-shoulder/over-shoulder reverse” coverage. It’s boring, it’s lazy, it shows not one iota of originality or belief in your script, or your ability as a director…it’s movie-of-the-week. Really, just put a bullet in my head and shoot me now. So, yeah, I certainly wasn’t going to start following the rules now.)
The Friends (with benefits) secret weapon? Split screens. If two stories were happening concurrently, why not show them? Adjust the timing here and there, and let the characters on the right answer the characters on the left. It was just an experiment at first. Tried it in one bar scene where two male characters are conversing about the same subject as two female characters. What do you know? It clicked. It worked. Jokes came faster. You didn’t have time to blink and you were laughing again. Or in a few cases, the inherent sadness of a friendship perhaps destroyed was given an even greater emotional impact.
Watching and using the split screens, co-editor Ashley McGarry and I just knew in our guts this was right for the film.
And that’s what it comes down to for me. That gut feeling. Whether holding on someone’s expression for a beat longer than you might think necessary, because in reality sometimes we need that extra moment of reflection. Or inserting a list of “rules” as a text scroll to make a scene go where it needed it to go. Or dozens of other little examples in this film. (Some big examples: cutting a huge emotional scene down to one line because I felt the rest made one character just a hair less likable, cutting scenes because I found an actors blocking distracting, sacrificing a few amazing shots that ultimately did nothing to move the story along, or reducing characters down to a few lines because either the story wasn’t really about them, or I felt their performance distracting.) You go with your gut. In the end, as director, it’s your name signed at the bottom of the canvas. And after a horrible bigger-budget filmmaking experience back in 2002 (read the blog entry titled “Just say no to Billy Zane” from September 2008), I promised myself I would never again sign my name to a film or book I wasn’t proud of.
Well, I’m ready to sign my name to Friends (with benefits). Come see it at the Seattle True Independent Film Festival on June 12th, and you’ll see why.
P.S. An aside. OK…I did not sign my name to my last novel UNWOUND. It was published under the pseudonym Jonathan Baine. But not because I wasn’t proud of the book. I actually love the book. The name change was quite simply to trick the computers at Barnes & Noble. See, the big chains, like B&N, preorder copies of your new book based upon the sales of your last book. Now, most of my novels have had a first printing of between 5,000 and 20,000 copies. The first printing for UNWOUND was going to be 146,000 copies. Thus the publisher wanted the B&Ns of the world to order a lot more than what they ordered and sold of my previous titles. Smile. You just learned something about the publishing business.