Waist Deep, an urban action thriller released by Rogue Pictures, takes on the challenge of how far would a father go to save his child. Director and co-screenwriter Vondie Curtis Hall (Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story, Gridlock’d) says, “To save your child, you would find the adrenaline that allows you to run much faster than you have ever run. That’s a universal story, and it’s the starting point for our movie. You don’t get to see love between a father and son often enough in urban movies. Here’s a black man who’s trying to do good by his son, loves his son, and would do anything for him. That’s the way I feel about my son, and the way a lot of black men feel about their children.”
Waist Deep stars Tyrese Gibson (Four Brothers, 2 Fast 2 Furious), newcomer H. Hunter Hall, hip-hop star The Game, Larenz Tate (Crash, Ray, Menace II Society) and Meagan Good (You Just Got Served) in a film that takes audiences through contemporary Los Angeles where a 21st Century Bonnie and Clyde hit the streets. Single father O2 (Gibson) – an ex-con trying to go straight – will do anything to save his son Junior (Hall) after a failed carjacking turns into kidnapping. Gang leader Meat (The Game) expects $100,000 ransom for Junior. O2 and Coco (Good) seize the opportunity to pit rival elements of the south Los Angeles underworld against each other. This is the premise behind Waist Deep.
The production and post of Waist Deep took a number of interesting approaches, so I spoke with the editorial team to see what sort of challenges they faced. Teri Shropshire, A.C.E. (editor) and Kenny Marsten (first assistant editor) formed the nucleus of this team. This was Shropshire’s second collaboration with director Vondie Curtis Hall following their work together on Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story, which played at the Sundance Film Festival and then aired on the FX cable network. This earned her an American Cinema Editors (A.C.E.) Eddie Award for Best-Edited Motion Picture for Commercial Television. Some of her other feature editing credits include Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Biker Boyz, and Eve’s Bayou.
Working with multiple film formats
Teri explained to me, “From the filmmaking point-of-view, this is both an action film and human story. It had to have the action film sensibility, but it is also a father-son story. It’s an urban story that takes place in LA during the summer and that’s when it was shot; so we also wanted to convey some of that LA summertime heat. On the technical side, we mixed a lot of formats: 3-perf and 4-perf 35mm film, 16mm and HD video. Plus, this was my first film for a digital intermediate finish, so I wanted to make sure that everything went smoothly when it came time to do the DI.” The bulk of the film was shot in the 3-perf Super 35mm format, which gave the filmmakers the most “bang-for-the-buck” in producing a widescreen finished product using the DI method. High definition video was used for a lot of the nighttime helicopter scenes. Teri continued, “Vondie wanted an interesting way to create transitions, so he come up with the idea of shooting car-by scenes from underneath as a transitional device. It turned out that only a 16mm camera was small enough to safely go under the vehicle, which is why we ended up with 16mm as one of the formats.”
As a longtime Avid editor, Teri cut on a Meridien hardware based Avid Media Composer tied to one terabyte of shared storage on an Avid Unity system. Two Avids were used by Teri and her assistant Kenny Marsten. In total, about 500,000 feet of film was available as raw footage using the Avid 14:1 standard definition resolution for 24fps film projects. As the first assistant, it was up to Marsten to establish the best way to deal with this mixture of formats inside the Avids. According to Kenny, he approached it this way, “The Meridien Avids won’t let you mix film formats and gauges within the same projects, like Avid’s Adrenaline systems. So my solution was to create a separate project for each format type. Within the Avid project, you can open any bin from another project, so that you are able to use that ‘borrowed’ material in your sequences. We would work out of our 3-perf project and open 4-perf, 16mm and video elements from there and bring them in.”
Tips for the cutting room
Technicolor provided lab services, but one aspect that made life easier was to use the same facility for telecine, HD online editing (for preview screenings) and DI finishing. Waist Deep used Laser Pacific for all of these functions. Laser Pacific transferred all dailies – not just “circle takes” – to HDCAM, DVCAM and Avid hard drives for viewing and screening. This posed some challenges for Shropshire. “I’m a firm believer in viewing all the dailies in a screening room. I usually like to watch them twice – once to enjoy and a second pass to take notes. With this film, the sheer volume of footage was a real challenge, because I started cutting from the beginning of the production. I’d cut during the day and then screen dailies at Laser Pacific in the evening. Since this was a ‘print all takes’ situation, that meant some days had four hours worth of dailies. This made for some really long days!”
Waist Deep shot with multiple cameras for many scenes and Teri pointed out that Avid’s method of grouping clips was a big help in the cutting room. “I’d have Kenny prep a scene by grouping clips or placing multiple angles or different takes onto higher tracks of the timeline. This was a great way to see all the alternatives in sync and compare them.” Another interesting idea was how they chose to work with audio and the necessary reference tapes. Kenny explained, “Production audio was recorded as broadcast WAVE files using the DEVA recorder. We synched these up in the Avid, but used separate partitions for our project audio. When it came time to send the material to sound, it was simply a matter of sending an OMF file out of the Avid for the sequences and to clone the audio media over to another set of drives, which were delivered with the OMF file. This gave the sound editors all the media without having to recapture any sound files. We also opted to send the sound department QuickTime movies as a picture reference instead of videotape. In fact, the film was mixed to a QuickTime movie. Rather than take the hours to encode a file from our Avid timeline, we simply ran our Avid video output through a Canopus video-to-FireWire converter. This was connected to my PowerBook and I used Final Cut Pro to capture the incoming stream for each reel of the film. This was a real-time process and made it easy to quickly deliver the necessary files.”
As a first time DI project, both Teri and Kenny confirmed that it went better than expected. Rogue Pictures only used the HDCAM tapes to assemble official preview tapes for screenings and not for theatrical release. Instead, the negative was scanned in again at Laser Pacific using Kenny’s EDLs. “As long as I brought each format into its appropriate project on the Meridian I was able to export my EDLs from my primary project (3-perf) and it linked back to the 24 frame timecode on the HD master tapes for all formats.” From this timecode, Laser Pacific was able to cross-reference back to the telecine files and matching keycode. Teri adds, “We were fortunate that all our efforts to be meticulous worked. There were no mistakes in the Avid output that was used for DI. The worst case was that a few clips had slipped sync by one frame, which is very minor and totally correctable in the DI stage. Not only was it a big benefit to have the same post facility for all the tasks, but we ended up having the same colorist, Tim Vincent, for both the dailies and the DI timing. This is pretty unusual but happened because of a scheduling change. Since Tim had done the dailies, he already knew the visual language we were going for, so we didn’t have to start from scratch with someone new to the film.”
Post on the fast track
Waist Deep had a very tight post schedule. Shooting started in August and production wrapped at the end of September. Teri points out that her first full assembly of the film was completed four weeks after the production had wrapped and then she only had another three weeks of working with the director before the film was screened for producers. Teri explained, “I like to make a cut as tight as possible before showing it to someone. I’d have to call this first version a ‘director’s cut in-progress’. Vondie and I had taken at least a pass through all the scenes by this time, but because we were on an accelerated post schedule, he was OK in showing this without pushing for any sort of official ‘director’s cut’ first. We locked the film by Christmas and had the first official preview screenings on January 10th. The final lock was February 3rd after both previews.”
Teri and Kenny have a good rapport even to the point of letting Marsten do the preliminary cut on a few of the simpler scenes. “People lament that the loss of hands-on film cutting means the loss of that journeyman sense of training for new editors,” said Teri. “I think that with the new nonlinear systems like Avid, you have work harder to find ways to include and train the next generation of editors. In this case, the volume of work, the mixture of formats and the concern about an accurate output for DI made me glad that Kenny was instrumental in finding ways to make all of this work.”
Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine and NewBay Media, LLC.