The Second Cut

You must be doing the second cut from somewhere boring

Aha, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? Working on the first cut is akin to a rockstar’s lifestyle, nights spent drinking and partying, experimenting with scenes and music and sound effects while coked-up supermodels anxiously clamber over your shoulders, hands grasping for your belt, eager to please the editor of a feature film.

But the second cut? Surely that’s a dank, dark basement, stinking of mildew and forgotten dreams, falling apart like a preloved car or used bedsheets. The second cut is about fixing problems, battling with alternate takes to squeeze more emotion out of a beat, lamenting over every camera jiggle and unwanted extra in the background. Right?


Wrong. We’re in Tenerife on the African Coast for a month while I toil away on the second pass of Chronesthesia. Now, that’s not to imply there haven’t been any issues. I’ve had to buy another hard drive (7200rpm, USB3.0 in the absence of Thunderbolt drives here on the island), spend a few hours transfering all the footage then relinking it all. I battled with FCPX crashing for four hours straight, three days in a row. But why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up (Batman reference for my friend Andy).

FCPX disconnected file error on computer screen
I watched this for a long time

I got a sheaf of feedback from approximately a dozen viewers, ranging from directors, producers, sound mixers, scriptwriters, visual effects artists, and friends who watched it purely as an audience. Everybody has been highly complimentary, they all know how much time and effort has gone into the project compared to money, and they’ve all offered constructive criticism too.

The most commonly brought up issue

Yah, shouldn’t really talk about this here, in public, but this is what the behind the scenes blog is for.

The most common issue people found was a core issue: Dan’s emotional journey. Dan is our main character, an emotionally isolated chap whose world is changed when he begins receiving messages from the future.

Chronesthesia Dan Richard


Richard (Nick Blake) and Dan going for a stroll

Without spoilers, suffice it to say throughout the course of the successive 90 minutes, Dan learns a lot and changes for the better. However, does this change elicit an emotional reaction in the audience? Not really, at the moment. Why not? Because it’s not clear what his issue is in the beginning.

This is relatively easy to solve. There are scenes I left out of the first cut in the interests of pacing, and plenty of opportunities to elongate shots of Dan (making his life feel lonelier), or use more wide shots of Dan alone in frame (symbolising the fact he is alone in his life – genius). Making small changes like this throughout the film, with a few well placed off screen ADR lines emphasising Dan’s problem, has really made the difference already. By playing up his isolation in the first half of the film, we deepen the effect of his emotional integration in the second half of the film.

Another thing I love playing with is…

The Temp Colour Grade

I know, I know, the cut hasn’t even been locked! How can I colour grade when I don’t even know what the finished film feels like?

Totally hear what you’re saying, however, I’m too excited about this second cut to leave the colour controls alone. I’m finding myself distracted by the blandness of the current image, and I can’t help thinking how much a colour grade will add for the audience.

It’s a temporary colour grade, more of a colour correction than anything else. It doesn’t take long thanks to Final Cut Pro X’s remarkably user-friendly interface and speedy controls. Look at the difference between the raw footage and under 20 second’s of colour correction.

As you can see, it lifts the film a lot. This is a far cry from what the finished film grade will look like of course, but it gives my test screening audiences more of a feel for what we’re going for, as opposed to seeing a raw image straight out of camera.

Due to Simeon’s incredible Sony FS7 camera and his expensive lenses, we’ve got a raw image rich with information before touching anything. The downside of this: the blacks look milky, the highlights aren’t really highlights, and the saturation is dialled way down.

Wait, what’s a colour grade? (for the un-filmy folks)

I’m glad you asked. Wikipedia says: Colour grading is the process of altering and enhancing the colour of a motion picture, video image, or still image either electronically, photo-chemically or digitally.

Colour grades add a lot to the film watching process, and can change the way an audience feels about a story, or even a particular character. Some filmmakers do it more than others. You’ll notice Hollywood blockbusters often use orange skin and cyan shadows (once you see it, you can’t unsee it), and romcoms often saturate their images and lighten everything so skin is flawless and the settings feel like fresh, enlivening places to be in.

It can be used in very clever ways too. In Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro uses colour to great effect, using a different palette for each ‘world’. Blue for reality, Red and gold for fantasy, and green for Pan, the faun. Read more about it here.

Perhaps my favourite use of colour grading is Jean Pierre Jeunet’s masterpiece Amelie.

Jeunet uses this technique in a lot of his films, and back in the days before digital intermediary made grading easier (when they’d use chemicals to alter the physical makeup of the film stock), he’d have his actors wear white make up, so when their skin was colour corrected to look like normal skin tone, the rest of the image would warm up drastically. More about the Amelie look.

Other comments about Chronesthesia’s First Cut

  • Dan’s too handsome
  • Dan couldn’t pull all those beautiful ladies
  • I don’t understand what’s happening with the time travel (working on that!)

The list goes on and on, but I won’t bore you. Plus, what a stupid thing to do, telling you all what’s wrong with the film’s first cut! I don’t want to spill my heart out about what the film’s lacking then have you watch it, nod sagely and mutter, ‘yeah, it’s missing *aforementioned problems*,’ that’d suck.

So it’s in your own interests that I withhold that information.

Take my word for it: The second cut is going well. I have finished five of the eight reels and have sent the XMLs to Simeon. He’s already finished two effects shots, and is working on a look for the time travel sequences we have throughout the film. I should be editing now instead of making this BTS post. Onward!