Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"The Details" Part I - Vancouver, Canada

I am standing in the theater screening FLYING at the Vancouver Film Festival. The audience is full and we have done our introductions. I have walked up the aisle to the back and the lights are down; now it is only a matter of listening to check sound before I can escape to the anonymity outside. I hate this moment when I have to make sure everything is right. I can feel the pressure in my body rising and I recognize the flutter of something else: it is cool, tight, high pitched. Fear - I name the devil in my own mind. And there is a kind of embarrassment inside of me; after all these years I can still feel fear before showing my film to a new audience.

The trailer for the sponsors play and then the trailer for the festival. Normally I love trailers because it allows time for the stragglers to enter the theater, time for the audience to settle. But I realize the sound is too low. The temperature in my body is dropping. My film will come on too low.

I hate this: tweaking sound with an audience. Pon Chu, the lovely festival programmer, is standing next to me, unfazed. I lean over and whisper in her ear. I am pretending to be calm - she was so generous to program my six-hour film.

“We better get them to raise the sound….”

“Lets wait, maybe the film will be fine….” She whispers back serenely.

I nod. Several minutes pass with more promotion so low that I can barely hear. My head begins to roar: they will not enter properly; they will not get the impact, all is lost. I cannot stand it any more; I am trying to avoid a train wreck.

“Maybe we shouldn’t wait…?” I whisper to her again as evenly as I can.

This time she slips out to tell the projectionist. She comes back. But it is still too low. Then the house manger pops her head in. My film starts: it is the opening sound of a plane and it is almost inaudible.

“How is it now?” she mouths.

“Can you raise it?” I say.

She disappears. After an interminable time, it comes up a hair. Better, but still not loud enough. The manager pops her head in again.

“More…” I mouth, “a little higher.” Out again she leaves, minutes pass then she returns looking at me in the shadows:

“Ok.” I say,

But this is the part that really bothers me - I am not sure anymore. Have I made it too high? Perhaps I am hurting their ears now? What about the people in the front? I can’t stand the torture any longer and I leave the room. I hope I have made the right decision, but I really don’t know anymore. I just want to escape this horrible feeling.

In the lobby, Pon Chu and I agree to meet back 15 minutes before the question and answer session in three hours, then we will have dinner together and get to know each other better. She has to go back to her office.

“Do you want a ride back to the hotel?” she asks.

“Oh no, it is good for me to walk, get some air…” I say relieved to have a few moments alone.

And I am suddenly liberated, walking down the street. It is misty but not raining. I am thinking about the fear and the relief and how lovely it is not to have anything pressing on me for two hours. There is so much about my job as a filmmaker that requires me to be sure of what I think, even if others don’t agree. To fight for some unseen vision that I want against the masses of those who don’t ‘get it’. It also requires me to be a perfectionist; because to me a film can be ruined if I’m not being vigilant enough. Especially in the last few days of completion, when all I want to do is stop fighting and rest.

What amazes me is after all these years of making films is that I can still loose my center so quickly that I don’t even know what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong anymore. And sometimes, I think as I happily saunter down the streets of Vancouver and gaze in the shop windows, maybe it isn’t so important….

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