And now we come to what was a pivotal moment in my career: The Beautiful Lie.
The Beautiful Lie actually began with Michaela McManus. She and I both went to Fordham University where she was in the theatre program. I had seen her in a number of school plays my freshman year where I thought her talent was often underutilized. I knew I wanted to do something with her.
It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that we met. For whatever reason, she had heard of me, and I obviously told her that I thought she was extraordinarily talented and deserved to be in something that would show that off. We left off that I would come up with something for us to work on together.
I racked my brain over the summer, had several fits and starts, but couldn’t get anywhere with it during the summer. Within the first couple weeks of sophomore year, my roommate was telling me about some new freshman he saw at the local watering hole that night, who was in a drunken stupor, going on and on about how excited he was to have his girlfriend coming the next day to visit. Maybe an hour later, my roommate said he saw him in the back of the bar, making out with some chick. And my mind started working.
I thought the psychology of that person was interesting. How does someone allow their guard to brake down like that? Is it just the alcohol? Is it a hidden desire? Is it something they’re not even aware of?
I thought I would take this character, make him a her and use the film to explore what led to and the consequences of that decision. I spent several weeks working on the script, got all kinds of advice and perspectives from people that had been cheated on, and spent a lot of time and energy making sure I got the character of Claire correct. I didn’t want someone to look at this and say that Claire was the construct of a male mind.
I had told Michaela about the project and thought that we could get it shot this semester, right before winter break. I wanted to shoot in winter since the environment around the story would fit better than summer or spring.
Unfortunately, the following semester Michaela was studying abroad in London, and thus her weekends were filled and she wouldn’t be available. I knew that there was something special about this project, yet also knew the script just wasn’t there yet. Rather than move the shooting date up to accommodate her schedule, I decided that we would wait till the following year, I would take the next year and work on the script, and we’d shoot it in the fall of ’04.
After shooting and completing 12:01, I came back to my junior year at Fordham ready to make The Beautiful Lie. I scheduled the shoot for December 4,5,6, just to give myself adequate time to prep and make sure I knew what I was doing. Michaela’s performance in this short was so vital to its success that I wanted to make sure I could direct her.
I spent part of my Thanksgiving break holed up in a hotel room typing out my notes, thoughts, observations, etc for the rehearsal and scene analysis. Meanwhile, I was also producing the film, so my time was split between my work as a director, rewriting the script, and getting all the logistical stuff in line for the shoot.
Finally, production came. We spent two and a half days shooting the film. The last day, we shot from 7 AM on Sunday until 3AM Monday morning. This was because we couldn’t get into the bar until after 5 and it took forever to light. I had chosen to shoot on the XL2 with the Mini-35 adapter, so with all the rented equipment due back Monday morning, I had to get what I needed with the adapter. There were a few scenes I shot later, the night before I left for winter break, using just the XL2 and stock lens, but I knew I could sneak those in. Anything inside the bar had to be done that night, so we pushed on.
The shoot went very, very smoothly, even though there was a point where I had to just check out for 10 minutes. I had been going and going and going, hardly sleeping, just always thinking about the film, and arrived at a scene that was just not working shot-wise. And I couldn’t come up with an alternative, so I just had to go outside in the hall and shut down for a moment.
But we finally finished the film. I had those few more scenes to shoot on the XL2 before the end of the semester and I had to get them because the following semester I would be in Florence, Italy studying abroad. By the time I got back, Michaela would have graduated, her room would have been empty, and I would have been missing some key shots.
In June of 2005, when I returned home from Europe, I started editing the film. I had managed to edit a trailer (above), which I was able to show everyone prior to leaving, but now it was time to get down to business. The break had been nice. After spending so much time on the film, I was able to step away from it, disconnect, and come back with a completely fresh perspective, which in the end was EXTREMELY important to the post-process of this film. Had I gone straight into it after shooting, I think the film would have been a disaster. It was also nice to have nothing else going on while editing. I had a few corporate video jobs here and there with my company but I had a lot of time, unencumbered by school, to work on the film.
The post process with The Beautiful Lie was a huge learning experience for me. Having shed most of the memories of what shooting was like and what I was attempting to get, all I had before me was several hours of footage. I had to adapt the movie I shot into the final product. To do that, I tossed out the script and just hacking away at what I had.
A big portion of the film was flashback, of which I had shot a huge amount of footage. A large part of the editing process was figuring what to reveal, how to reveal it and when. I kept a journal of the experience, and since the editing of this film was so important to the final product, I thought I would give you a glimpse into my editor’s mind, while working on the film.
I also think that in certain scenes we need to push the “torment” of what she’s seeing. Her reaction…maybe take the jaws theory: make the movie based more on her reactions, and let us only see very little. Just glimpses. The trick is to not give too much away. Not lend the audience too much. The flashback scenes need to equalize though…I can’t have a scene with tons of flashback in one sequence, and then only a glimpse in another. Quit thinking I should include stuff simply because I like it or I shot it. Get out of that mindset.
Watched the version of Beautiful Lie. Not quite sure what to make of it. I might be too deep into it and watched it too soon. Audio is harsh and rough, no music, so a lot is missing.
Showed a cut with music to Arthur and Chris. They thought it was really good. At least it’s not the train wreck I thought it was. We then spent about two hours going over the film and most all of it was positive, and surprisingly, maybe because of the state of mind I was in, I didn’t get defensive, even in my head, and they’re suggestions made sense.
Another main issue in the film is tightening up everything from Scene 6 to the love scene. It’s a little sloppy. Chris mentioned that the best part of the whole movie is that moment when she sees herself in the bar. It’s like, BAM. The trick is to get to that quickly, because a big problem right now is the length. Part of that, I feel, is that I need to cut down the flashbacks. I love the shots I got, but I need to let them go, and play up the reaction stuff more-so than the flashback.
The film is playing on the theme of guilt, not infidelity. Infidelity is the trigger for the theme. So, by focusing on flashbacks, we focus on the event. By focusing on the reactions, we focus on the guilt. So, I’ve got to figured out some things with that.
Back in New York now. I think I may have figured out something with the flashbacks. Before, I have having this immediate reaction to it (i.e. running hands through hair, etc.) but what should be going on in 10- whatever, is more of a confusion. The reason for this is because we’re playing off these flashbacks as Claire not really knowing what they are…so, the problem was that we were portraying her as knowing exactly what they are. So, I cut out any of the running hand through hair stuff and now I feel it works.
Now, in scene 21-24, we need to see a little more of that frustration, so, maybe one shot of her running her hand through her hair.
Has a small screening of the latest cut tonight. The film is still running long, around 25 minutes. Kevin mentioned he felt it dragged in the sequence between her leaving the bar and her telling the lie.
I’m considering cutting a version where I cut all of it out. See what happens with that. The question is where to cut? I think when Ryan says Claire, we should cut to her running in to the apt, then cut to the shot of her walking, then cut to the shot of her walking up to Tom. Then Ryan comes in and she hugs him and we cut to black. Try this.
I think I need to put back in the sections after her lie, because it’s still kind of an abrupt cut. I think I’ll try it with everything back in but it might just need adding a shot of Josh before he gets up. Jeremy has a problem with the line, “I can stay another night.” Not sure I can do anything about it, though; I could have Josh ADR the line. I want to check on the other version of it…however, as a last resort, ADR might be the way to go. I can’t change the line, but I can change the way he says it.
A lot has happened thus far. Per Danielle’s suggestions I made some cuts. For one, I cut the “f**k me” out of the F**k me scene. I like it a lot better and Danielle made some great arguments why it’s not right for that scene.
We also changed the ending. There is no dialogue and the film ends on her staring off at Ryan, with that great shot of Michaela, as she watches him walk off and now it just fades out. Much stronger, much better.
And now the picture is locked. I’m sending it off to the composer tomorrow and then have a meeting with him on Tuesday, a scoring session.
I’m actually very happy with the cut, though I’ve lost all ability to judge it accordingly. Either way though, it’s nice and uplifting to lock it. After nearly 6 months of editing I’m here.
Final length minus credits is 20 minutes and 30 seconds. Not bad. Not bad at all. The big thing will be seeing what people think of it. I’m wondering if I should have another screening of it.
I don’t know. I mean, the people that have seen it, the sound people anyway, have loved it, thought it was great. Hmmm…Something to consider. Though, I probably wouldn’t make any changes.
I’m happy with it.
I’m going to watch it one more time.
It would be, however, another four months before the film was complete. I spent a lot of time working with the composer and the sound designer to get everything just right. Having the music scored, and directing that process, was a real first for me and quite an experience. I had to find a way to describe to Michael the feeling and the emotions I wanted and he had to find a way to translate that into music. I then had to find a way to critique and rewrite that music in a way that he would understand.
A week after completing The Beautiful Lie, I submitted it to the mtvU Student Filmmaker Awards. I went through a lot to make sure I had all the forms signed and submitted, all the releases done, etc but finally got it all in, a week before the deadline. I had noticed the contest when I was randomly perusing the mtvU site.
Later, towards the end of April, I was informed that I was going to be one of the five nominees for the award, and that voting would commence at the beginning of May. I had to shoot an interview with myself and submit to them materials to be cut into bumpers and video promos for the award.
Later, two days after graduating, I got a call the day I arrived home to Seattle, telling me that I was one of the top two vote getters and they would be flying me down to LA and bring me to the MTV Movie Awards where they would announce the winner.
And I ended up winning. It was a very special moment, even though it was the MTV Movie Awards.
The Beautiful Lie went on to be featured in several film festivals across the country and forced my move to Hollywood to try and take advantage of the win. So far, it hasn’t worked, but as soon as I make it for something having nothing to do with the award, it’ll be a good trivia piece.
The process was incredibly trying and took a long time, but I look back on The Beautiful Lie fondly even though I haven’t watched it since March of 2006.