Part III The Men with a Movie Camera and an Editing Machine

a film that need only be seen once to be understood and enjoyed but demands to be studied on an editing table to be fully appreciated. The Man with a Movie Camera has the remarkable effect of encouraging the viewer to identify with the filmmaking process.” – The A List, edited by Jay Carr

RR: How much film did you have to review?

JH: Ugh. Tons! We videotaped about 80-hours of interview footage featuring 100-interviewees. I would output “dailies” onto DVD, for Dean, who in turn had to watch every interview, with a time code, and then send me the timings for each clip he wanted to use. I’m blown away by Dean’s directing talent to generate the Wetlands story in the fashion that he did. In essence, Dean served to log all of the content in addition to his directing role. Dean also reached out to Wetlands photographers who documented the countless concerts and events held at the club. We accumulated thousands upon thousands of still photos and about ten hours of archival video. Again, Dean reviewed everything and made the crucial decisions as to when and where to present this material. All the while, though, Dean gave me the freedom to alter or tweak, and in some cases, completely change the delivery of these images. In computer terms, there’s almost a terabyte of content residing on my machine.

RR: How did you choose the edit sequence? What were some of the challenges in choosing the material?

JH: The concept of the first cut was to take everything relevant to Dean’s idea of the Wetlands story and incorporate it in the edit. This resulted in a two-plus-hour film that was much too long; however, the story was there. We needed to simply cut it down under 100-minutes and still retain the important components of the feature. The next step or steps, rather, were several versions of the film 120-minutes, 110-minutes, etc. It became increasingly more difficult between the 100-minute and 90-minute phase. We really needed to “kill our babies” and that’s the hard part of the editing process. [Author’s Note: No real babies were harmed in the post-production of Wetlands Preserved.] It’s a practice where some of your favorite bits of dialogue, or an animation sequence you spent days working on has to be cut. This is the method we used to hit our ideal film length.

As for the story arc, it was Dean’s job to write a plot using chapters so viewers can easily understand the components of the club, the musicians who played there, the activism that was taking place, as well some insider anecdotes from former denizens. The film is broken up into an easily digestible format even for a Wetlands novice: the concept of Wetlands, the building of Wetlands, the club’s vibe, understanding Larry Bloch, the music that was created there in all its varieties, examples of the various social justice actions, TriBeCa and, yet all the while punching in highly-animated musical sequences.

RR: Describe the non-musical animation process?

JH: The animation process begins with dialogue. Whether it’s one person speaking or several, we cut together clips from interviews to tell a particular story. Once we created a working piece of spoken word we’d reference photos to better visualize what a person was talking about. These placeholders were still photos or archival video left untouched or, in some cases, utilized a basic virtual camera pan or ready-made effect such as a camera flash or film leader. In fact, the first cut of the film was entirely made from basic cuts of interviewees talking to these placeholders. Once we determined the basic visual delivery, meaning we approved of which photos or video were going to be used in a particular sequences, we would then export these sequence from Final Cut Pro HD into Adobe After Effects, using Automatic Duck, [Author’s Note: No ducks were harmed in the post-production of Wetlands Preserved.] to better stylize or animate the sequence. I wanted every animation to be different or, at the very least, demonstrate all the different types of effects, coloring techniques, pan-and-scans, or 3D space.

Choosing how to animate all the various assets was usually determined by a story’s feel as well as using a material’s (such as a photos or archival videos) feel. For instance, several Wetlands Preserve strip advertisements, like the ones placed weekly in the Village Voice, are narrow, one-third of a page ads. In this case, we felt a simple pan-and-scan from top to bottom or bottom to top would suffice since this is how people read these sorts of advertisements in magazines and newspapers. In a more complex scenario, such as describing Wetlands’ Inner Sanctum, we wanted to depict all the facets of the basement all the while giving them effects that held true to the spirit of that particular section of the nightclub. This meant providing the viewer with a hazy and psychedelic feel using several animation techniques.

RR:How were you involved with determining the animation style and content?

JH: Very hands-on. Dean and I both had similar visions for the way we were going to present the still photos. Rather than using the simple, pan-and-scan technique folks like Ken Burns use in their documentaries, we wanted to instill an electricity similar to the one that the club invoked in its customers. In recent years, films like The Kid Stays In The Picture and Dogtown and Z Boys utilize a foreground/background separation and movement technique (something you see a lot of on DVD menus, too) which, in my eyes, could easily be expanded and incorporated into our film. At the risk of being too cliche, I wanted our animations to look like The Kid Stays In The Picture’s animations on acid.

With this concept in place, Dean provided me with an outline of what picture he’d like to be shown at what time in the movie or when a particular piece of dialogue was being said. At that point, it was up to me to bring these photos and video clips to life. Every animation in the film is different and took a lot of time, and a lot of time away from the project, to keep the ideas fresh. The film was edited with Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and utilized Automatic Duck’s conduit to bring these sequences into Adobe After Effects and animate them. An incredible amount of masking and rotoscoping were used, in addition to several motion graphic effects. Even though every animation is different and has a unique touch, they still uphold to the movie’s overall stylistic theme. As Editor and Animator, I was allowed a lot of freedom to run with any idea I had. I also had the assistance of John Koltai and TJ Sochor to take on some animations of their own as well assist me with mine.

As for the musical animations, Dean worked with RESMedia Group to commission more animators to create these sequences. 14 different animators were hired to create the 16-music montages. Dean supplied these animators with the music soundbed for each clip, told them a bit about the band, gave them a bit of context and in a few cases some creative ideas but let their artist approach determine the outcome of the segment. I worked with these animators on a technical level as a Post-Production Supervisor providing them with specs and guidelines for final outputs and such, as well as offering constructive criticism for their revisions.

RR: What choices did you have to make to synch the music and audio synchs?

JH: Dean culled from his personal archives of Wetlands recordings, as well as Larry Bloch’s archives. He also called upon Jesse Jarnow to assist with some of the soundbed calls. Just as the visual animations were created to complement a person’s story, so is the music. Whether it’s a direct reference to what a person is seeing or hearing or whether it’s music to better instill the mood within the viewer, all of the music contained in the film serves a purpose. Did I mention that all of the music featured in the film was recorded at Wetlands? As amazing as it is that our team was able to aggregate all of this live music material, it did pose some challenging fine tuning in the edit. Not to mention certain, on-the-fly shooting set-ups created for interesting background noise that also needed to be tweaked and/or removed. Ever try filming or recording interviews at Bonnaroo? We really had to take into account everything about our audio.

RR: Did you have to balance music with activism in the edit?

JH: Absolutely. I think one of the early struggles with the story arc was determining how much of each to use. There are many stories and anecdotes about Wetlands and if you ask, or in this case, film interviews with different people about it, you’ll get a different story: It was the place that started the neo-hippie movement, or it was a place that nurtured the third wave of Ska. Some will tell you about a place that spearheaded eleventy-one-million social justice causes, while another describes it as that place down the street where hippies smoke weed and make lots of noise. The first cut was well over two-hours in length. Dean wanted to cover every aspect of the club even down to the would-be defunct kitchen. On the activism side, we had several interviews detailing specific actions The Activism Center at Wetlands were taking. Plus, everyone has so many complimentary statements to make we had to make sure the movie wasn’t some puff piece that stroked the egos of the people that made it happen. Finding some of the more “dramatic” pieces of dialogue and developing them into the story line took some time.

If you look at the film in terms of its subplots, there are three stories: the story of Larry Bloch/Wetlands, the music and the activism. I think every cut we made along the way focused too much on one of these subplots. It was challenging finding the right balance. At some points, Dean and I often wondered if it would be a better film if, say, we focused strictly on the activism or focused more on the amazing performances, but that wouldn’t be right. The more and more we worked on the film the easier it became to balance these topics out and present just enough of all of them.

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