Three Trembling Cities, From Scene to Screen: The Process of Bringing a Scene To Life

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Editing

The scene changed again in the editing room. We had some sound problems and other technical issues that spoiled some takes, but I still had a great amount of material to choose from.

I started on setup A, took it until Behrouz and Azin entered in the background, then cut to them (B), stayed on that setup until I needed to quicken the scene, then cut to E and F when Behrouz heads to the bench. Then I cut between singles (A, C, E, F)—intercutting the phone calls and the bench action—then went back to B (wide on the bench), then to C when Azin’s call ends, then to D when Urmi’s call ends, then used a combination of shots (D and B) to end the scene on.

The rough cut for the entire season took about six weeks or so to produce; the first two weeks was spent transcoding, organizing, logging and syncing everything.

Daria, Ben, Debarati and I watched a rough cut. We identified three problems with the scene:

  1. It was slow. This was the easiest problem to solve—I took out the opening seconds, tightened transitions between cuts, and picked out alternate takes that were a little faster.
  2. Urmi’s second set of lines to her husband are conciliatory—he’s left her, but she wasn’t quite ready to give up on him, so she was trying to be nice to talk him into coming back. That’s what I wrote, and it made sense at the time. But it didn’t jibe with the rest of the conversation and their relationship up to that point in the series. Everyone else noticed this. So I took out the lines.
  3. Once I’d taken out her lines, the original pattern of intercutting between the conversations that was in the script was now out of whack. The answer was to shift the cutting pattern slightly, so effectively there was one less set of intercuts between Azin and Urmi.

There were also some pleasant surprises as well. At the end of the scene, everyone improvised just a little bit—Urmi and Ilona have a quick argument between themselves about the wisdom of heading to a bar so late. Behrouz gives Azin a smirk, and Azin mouths back “I hate you.” Both moments added life to the end of the scene, so they had to stay. The scene ends the episode on a funny note, which was important given how heavily it started.

Let It Go

As you can see, the scene changed many times, from the first draft of the script through preproduction, production, and post. This can be a very frustrating process—the movie you make is never the same one you had in your head. There’s a risk that these many transformations will water down or destroy the beauty or intention of your work. How much can I maintain authority, when it’s really the result of so many people’s inputs? How do I achieve my creative vision in the middle of so many budgeting/scheduling/logistical issues?

But these challenges can force us to be more creative. Breaking down the script, preparing the shot list, working with the crew’s and cast’s feedback—is exactly what directing is about.

Inviting other people into the process doesn’t take away from your vision or authority at all. Creating doesn’t have to be a zero sum game of winners and losers. If you trust your own creative process, and that of your team, you’ll find the work take on its own inner life and turn out even better than you’d imagined. MM

Three Trembling Cities will be available online on October 25, 2016. Visit threetremblingcities.com to watch the whole season.

Arthur Vincie is a writer, director and line producer. His last film, the lo-fi sci-fi feature Found In Time, is available on Amazon, VUDU and other platforms. It won Best Feature at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Best Sci-Fi Feature at Shriekfest, and went to over 25 festivals. He also wrote Preparing For Takeoff, a guide on preproduction for indie filmmakers.

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