Catching a few lobsters...
/ JJ’s PPJ Week 3 – Why DIE Isn’t Working, and How I Plan to Fix It
January 24, 2017

Among other things, like ensuring my group doesn’t eat each other, or upset a faculty member, and maintaining the website, I’ve spent a lot of this week working on editing our DIE sequence. In this sequence, we rejoin our ship after running into the supernova. The ship is broken, floating helplessly through space, and hopefully the audience is moved by the tragic plight of the G.E.S. Honu. At least we hope the audience is moved.

In the last round of critiques, it seemed like it hadn’t worked. We received a lot of feedback saying that the sequence did not capture that emotional impact we wanted. To better pace the sequence, and to continue our tradition of appropriating the emotional beats of our story from outside influences, I accumulated five of my favorite sad songs, and reedited the sequences. Here are the results —

Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton

The quintessential sad song.

I thought this would mirror some of the sentiments we wanted the ship to be feeling in that moment– overall sad, but “must be strong and carry on.”

One of the major benefits of this cut is its slow opening shot of the front of the ship. And, in retrospect writing this summation of my experiments, it was probably the strongest opening shot. It quickly established that we’re back on the ship, and something is wrong. Overall, though, the methodology of cutting back and forth, from wide to close, then wide than super wide, etc. wasn’t working for me. There needed to be more thought put into the order in which the shots were sequenced (which is, of course, the whole point of editing.)

Hurt by Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash’s hurt revolves around a staccato arpeggiated guitar riff. Then, as we move towards the chorus, the pauses between lines decreases. I wanted to capture the hard breaks between the riffs through hard, dramatic cuts, while allowing only a minimal number of fades throughout the chorus part.

Furthermore, through shot selection, I wanted to highlight some of the interesting diction throughout the piece. “Focus” for instance, was an important aspect of the song, so I used a rack focus. “Away” translated to a dramatically wide shot.

Unfortunately, when I stripped the music out of the cut, it felt way too long and like there wasn’t really any thought to the story that was trying to be told.

Drat.

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by LCD Soundsystem

New York I Love You features only a couple of piano chords, accenting the lead singer’s musings about the city. In fact, throughout this cut, there were only 12 chords played and allowed to ring out. I really love how LCD Soundsytem was able to create the feeling of isolation and sadness through minimalism, so I thought it might translate well to our project.

I also decided to use a much more thought-out choice of shots. In this sequence, I start off with a close-up of the injured engine, and end on a wide shot of the ship floating.

While this was a move in the right direction, and a much more reasonable time, it still doesn’t get the emotion that we’re looking for. It just feels odd not establishing this new space that the ship is floating in.

Helena Beat by Foster The People

I loved Torches– I probably listened to that album every day that summer it came out. This one part always got me, so I wanted to include it. In the stripped down version performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk, the verse I cut it to is a sudden adagio within a piece that otherwise carries true to the original song’s more upbeat synth-pop-driven structure. And, that sudden drop into a slower tempo was what we’re looking for in this part of our project.

After the results of New York I Love You, I wanted to try starting wide, and moving in. I also wanted to highlight injuries not only on the engines, but also the wings. To compensate for trying to show the audience two injuries, I decided to cut the upside-down aspect of the shot by inverting it.

While this sequence is the best so far, I felt it needed something more. But why? Every edit had been leading to this one, so it should have worked right?

Casimir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens

This is actually a reedit of one of my tests. I showed these tests to my team last night, and I this is based off that feedback. We decided on a rough shot list, which this follows. We realized we wanted to establish the space, show the engines and wings not working, then pull back with to show the ship, floating in the middle of nowhere.

The song only really provided the pacing. It’s a beautiful song, though. Definitely worth listening to.

But there’s still something off. Why aren’t I sympathizing with this ship?

Why It Hasn’t Been Working

Let’s pretend that we’re not making this project. How do you shoot a sad sequence? What do sad sequences have in common?

Luckily YouTube exists, so I watched 50 Heartbreaking Movie Moments, and learned from the greats. And what I learned really helped. First, sad moments exist in long takes. According to Walter Murch, 3 time winner for the Academy Award for Best Editing, editing should pay attention to your actor’s eyes and when they blink. If your performer is blinking quickly, then you should be cutting quickly. If you’re performer is blinking slowly, you should be cutting much slower. When we’re sad, we blink much less for a biological reason – we have tears in our eyes to clean them for us. That’s why we’re able to have the giant puppy-dog eyes without needing to blink so frequently.

Furthermore, and where we really messed up, is sadness lives on the face. Yes, there’s sad postures and sad actions, but a lot of them bring it back to the person that actually is sad. The reactions and acting within the face are what really sell sad acting.

Our project presupposes that audiences will be able to feel the same attraction to our ship as we would any human. In fact, we even went out of our way to design our ship to have a human-like silhouette for that exact purpose. If we’ve spent this whole film trying to push the emotional connection with our ship, then why are we pulling out of the nova then immediately going to butt shots. It doesn’t make sense. It’s why the best tests opened on the head of the ship, then moved backwards to reveal the broken aspects.

With these notes in mind, we intend to readdress DIE with more shots of the cockpit and longer takes, which will hopefully get us the effect we’re looking for.

Lobster Fact: On 2-17-2026, China will ring in The Year of the Lobster.

About the author:

I'm an animator, illustrator, and all around artsy guy. You'd want me on your Pictionary team.

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