The Sundance Film Festival is often a showcase for established Hollywood professionals to premiere their edgier and more avant garde films; but, truer to the original spirit of the festival are many of the innovative independent films created by budding filmmakers who have been lucky enough to be accepted. One such film is Death To The Tinman, a twelve minute short film conceived, directed and co-edited by Wesleyan University film student, Ray Tintori. According to Tintori, his short is loosely adapted from the twelfth book in L. Frank Baum’s Oz series, The Tin Woodman of Oz.
In our conversation, Ray explained to me, “The twelfth book goes into the origin of the Tinman. He was originally a normal lumberjack who was in love with a girl. But a witch didn’t want them be together so she put a curse on his axe, causing him to accidentally cut off his limbs one by one. Each time he lost a limb it was replaced with a new part made of tin. Eventually he was completely made of tin and his former girlfriend fell in love with the Meat Puppet, a figure constructed from his former human parts. I took the concept of this story and placed it in a sort of surreal version of rural America somewhere in the 1940s, substituting the mysticism of wizards and witches with that of Evangelical Christianity. In the end it’s mostly just a really romantic story about someone trying to get their life back.”
Death To The Tinman started life as Tintori’s thesis film at Wesleyan. The program’s strict film guidelines required production and editing to be done on 16mm film, including cutting the film on a flatbed. Tintori did the first cut of the film on an old film bench, but when he decided that the film had life on the festival circuit, he felt that the picture and sound quality weren’t good enough. To remedy this he enlisted the aid of Par Parekh, another Wesleyan alum, to bring the film into the digital realm. Transitioning from film to nonlinear digital editing was an interesting experience for Tintori, “I absolutely love the tactile feel of working with film. I love holding the film in my hands and seeing how each frame is unique and changes from one to the next. On the other hand, this film has over 250 shots in twelve minutes, so cutting this short on a flatbed was an absolutely insane experience. I love film as a shooting medium, but I don’t think I will ever cut another film on a flatbed. Digital editing allows you to keep really complicated projects organized and in sync in a way you can’t really appreciate until you’ve cut something this elaborate on a flatbed.”
Par Parekh originally entered the process to clean up the film and make it ready for presentation, but actually ended up doing quite a lot of trimming and some re-arranging of shots. Par continued, “The film was shot on 16mm, but we wanted to end up with an HD master. The negative was transferred to HD tape and we received a downconverted NTSC tape to load into my Avid system. Since Ray didn’t really have any film numbers to go by for an electronic cut, I used an old film school trick and videotaped his print running on the Steenbeck showing the frame counter. This was loaded into the Avid as a picture reference and then I eye-matched the new transfer to his cut as a starting point. Ray’s cut had a lot of edits in such a short time frame and that’s very difficult and time-consuming to do on a flatbed. The resulting workprint has a lot of splices in it and it gets pretty jumpy when you play it, so I think that makes it hard for an editor to get a good feel for the pace of the film. Once we got it into the Avid, it was far easier to judge the pace and make some trims and changes to improve the film. As a result, the film was really recut in the Avid and wasn’t simply a recreation of the first film cut.”
Tintori’s budget was about $11,000 (partially covered by a grant from the National Board of Review), so every effort had to be made to stretch dollars. As Ray puts it, “I was going for a real 1930’s type of look. This film was shot in black-and-white and we used a number of rear projection shots, much like a film of that era. Robert Leitzell, my DP, supervised the transfer of the film to HD and was able to get a really rich black-and-white quality out of the negative. The colorist did a lot of work with power windows during transfer to enhance shots in ways that can only be done in digital finishing.” Since the film was recut on an Avid, the final online went very smoothly. Par explained, “I was using Avid Xpress Pro on a Mac for this film. I had just upgraded the version and it performed very solidly. Ray did the final assembly in New York on an Avid Symphony. Since we had cut on an Avid, there was a direct translation of the lists. No nightmare or surprises.”
Death To The Tinman will make its premiere at Sundance and be available for sale on the Apple iTunes Store, but the filmmakers aren’t stopping there. Ray, Par and a third partner Benh Zeitlin are currently in production on the next film, Glory At Sea! For now they have decided to call post-Katrina New Orleans home. Texas-born and Brooklyn-based Par Parekh finds New Orleans an amazing place for indie filmmakers, “There are so many great stories here. I have met some of the most interesting characters with the most inspiringly extravagant tales to tell. We are working out of an old egg factory that offers us a 2,000 square foot studio and my office is in a green school bus parked out back! Not only did Katrina physically ravage this remarkable city, but it devastated its arts community, as well. We’re trying to rebuild the independent film infrastructure to give this city a place to tell its endless stories. We’re making an outrageous movie down here using a predominantly local cast and crew who think we are totally crazy. They just look at us and shake their heads in awe, and in the next breath ask if they can help. Since we’re shooting the whole film on HD with P2 cards, Glory at Sea! will require an entirely different workflow. Our 2nd AC will actually recycle the P2 cards on set while we are shooting by dumping the footage to a laptop with Xpress Pro. This gives him the ability to assemble a scene right on set. We’ll immediately know whether something is working or not. It’s going to be a totally revolutionary way to shoot an independent film.”
With a Sundance film as a calling card, Ray Tintori hopes to expand into the music video market, where he can combine narrative with interesting visual techniques. Meanwhile, this small band of filmmakers call New Orleans home with several features in planning or production.
Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)