Death To The Tinman


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)

Year of the Dog


Any movie fan that enjoyed the brain-teasing ride of Chris Nolan’s Memento or the spectacle of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven has seen Dody Dorn’s editing handiwork.  Dorn’s latest effort, Year of the Dog is making its debut at Sundance.  Described as a quirky comedy starring Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon, Year of the Dog couples Dorn with first-time director and writer Mike White (Nacho Libre, The School of Rock, The Good Girl).  Dody Dorn explained the movie to me this way, “IMDB describes the plot outline as, ‘A secretary’s life changes in unexpected ways after her dog dies.’ but really, it’s hard to describe a film like this without giving it away.  Molly Shannon delivers a very nuanced performance in a humorous, thought-provoking and emotional film.  Viewers should discover what this film is for themselves, because it’s far subtler than you would expect from her previous roles or the films that Mike White has written as of late.”


Although considered a low budget film, Year of the Dog is a studio project that will be released by Paramount Vantage in April.  As a studio film there are still certain minimum expectations. According to Dorn, “We had three Mac Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems networked with shared storage.  This might seem like a luxury compared with other low budget films, but studios have certain expectations throughout the editing process.  This all takes time and it can best be done if you have enough systems to allow the editor and assistants to be able to access the same media.”


Year of the Dog was shot on 35mm film and then telecined to Digital Betacam and delivered to the editing team on FireWire drives, Digibeta and DVCAM.  Dorn continued, “We are going to cut negative instead of doing a digital intermediate.  Due to the budget limitations, there were no film dailies.  One downside to going this way is that you never really see what the negative looks like until the end.   Color correction in telecine is such a different process from color timing on film.  In our telecined dailies, we had a case where Molly’s sweater was green in one scene and pink in another.  We thought it was a continuity error.  We were actually prepared to fix this with a visual effect.  Imagine how pleasantly surprised we were when the effects house examined the negative and discovered that the sweater was already pink in every shot.  It turned out that this was simply an error in the video transfer of the dailies.”  Dorn was on board from the start of production, which began in June and proceeded for eight weeks.  Total post was about seven months – an average length of post time for a dialogue driven feature film, but very short compared to the fifteen months she spent on Kingdom of Heaven.


Comparing notes on the length of time it takes to cut a feature, Dorn pointed out that a film takes time to find itself.  “Each film is different and it takes time to shape a film.  On Year of the Dog I was on from the beginning of shooting.  My approach during production is different from post.  During the production phase, it’s my job to make sure we have the necessary coverage to tell the story and to communicate with the director how the material is coming together.   Sometimes in dailies a scene might not immediately reveal itself to me.  Then when I cut it, I rediscover the alchemy of the editing process.  I might hate something in dailies, but love it in the cut.  I like to shape the edit and see the film come together using the gems from all the takes.  I stay away from the set so I can be an objective viewer and see the film the way an audience sees it.   In Year of the Dog, Mike White gave me about two weeks of space after production wrapped to shape the film, before starting to work together on the director’s cut.  I really appreciated that.  We showed a cut to the studio about ten weeks after we wrapped shooting.  We knew that the script would run long, but Mike wanted a movie where it felt as if you were stepping into the middle of a scene rather than seeing it from the beginning.  In order to get that, he wrote and shot much more dialogue than he intended to use.  We worked together to pare the material down to the heart of the scene.  I love working with Mike because he’s so open to the collaborative process.”


Dody Dorn has edited on Avid nonlinear systems since their beginning.  “I started cutting on film, but then transitioned early to Avid systems.  I cut differently on nonlinear systems than on film.  Because I don’t have to worry about messing up the workprint, I can quickly put together a scene or multiple versions of a scene.  Sometimes there are happy accidents that come out of slamming shots and scenes together.  Nonlinear being nondestructive lets you experiment in ways that you might not do otherwise.  I like to give scenes to my assistants and they can be as radical and experimental as they want.  I enjoy working with assistants who have opinions and want to edit.  We can talk about the film as it’s coming together during production and it often leads to new perspectives.”


Many editors have favorite ways to structure the material, so I wondered if Dody Dorn used any of her own editorial aids or tricks on Year of the Dog?  “This is the first film I didn’t use note cards pinned to the wall.  The chronology of the film was very domino-like, one scene and it’s consequences leading to the other, so we weren’t inclined to rearrange many of the scenes.  If I do use cards, it’s a good way to see at a glance the sweep of the film’s structure and to experiment with changing the order of the scenes.  When I drop a scene, I turn the card upside down, so then I am reminded the scene exists and sometimes those scenes go back in.   Also, nowadays, I use the effects palette on the Avid as an editorial tool.  For example, I’ll do a split screen on a shot, like an over-the-shoulder with two actors.  I can combine two portions of a take to get better timing to the action between the actors.  It has to be recreated for the cut negative as a digital optical, but it is a way to better tell the story or keep the continuity flowing smoothly.” 


With a filmography that ranges from thrillers to action films to comedies, not to mention such A-list directors as Ridley Scott, Chris Nolan and Jim Cameron, Dody Dorn was pretty philosophical about her contribution to these films. “My job as an editor is to be in a creative partnership with a director to get his or her vision onto the screen.  I feel privileged to be able to spend hours, days, weeks and months in dark rooms with such creative people.  I love that I am able to be a part of such an exciting process, and yet I can still relax in a theater and enjoy the film along with the rest of the audience.  That’s the magic of filmmaking!”


Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)