Q: Who edited the movie?
A: I did.
Q: After writing and directing the movie why not hire someone else to edit?
A: There are a lot of benefits to bringing in a new set of eyes and a new perspective but I decided early on that I would edit it. I had never edited a full feature to that point but I had full confidence I could.
Q: How long was the rough cut?
A: Over two and a half hours.
Q: How was it?
A: It was nice to see things cut together. I shot a lot of coverage to ensure I wouldn’t find myself in a hole six months down the road. That paid off. Nothing was missing from the film. However the pace was horrible. It was too slow and way too long.
When I first got out of college I made a demo reel and sent it out to every company in town. After a few weeks I finally got a call. The gentleman had no ability to hire me. Instead he called to offer some advice, “Always put the running time on it. And the shorter the better. I have no interest in some anonymous work. But it if it says TRT: 4 minutes, I might go, yeah, I got four minutes to kill. Why not?”
After years of watching independent films I felt the same way. The shorter the better. And the more likely someone would take a chance on watching it.
Ninety minutes seemed to be about the shortest you could be and still call yourself a movie. So that was my target run-time since day one. I was far from that. Stuff had to go.
Q: What was cut out?
A: I learned a lot about screenwriting from editing. My act one break was currently sitting at the hour mark. I knew every second of screen time had to service that moment. I needed to lose over thirty minutes in just the first act alone.
The first thing to die was the opening scene. Originally the film opens with Eric crying in the backyard. His wife and daughter have just been murdered. He returns to the house to call the police. There were multiple problems. It took too long. I didn’t like the transition into the news footage. But ultimately I needed time back and the scene was axed.
In the rough cut Bucky actually talks his way in to Thanksgiving dinner at his daughter’s house. Of course it doesn’t go well. Bucky ends up in a tense standoff with a knife and only comes to his senses after screaming at his daughter. I loved the scene. It was a nightmare to shoot but Tom really nailed the performance. But it had to go. To make it work I used a sound effect of a door slamming and had just enough space to squeeze in one line of dialogue. Both happen off camera but luckily I had a shot to make it work. It was a shame to cut the scene. There were a number of actors in it. I felt bad for cutting them. But the film was better for it.
Detective Bavich probably suffered the most. He had two scenes that really gave him more depth. One where he stops by his ex-wife’s house and another where he speaks with his father. Both provided some insight into his motivation and his obsession with Eric.
Eric originally spoke to his lawyer brother in the police station. It was to be Eric’s Fugitive scene. That’s seriously what I was trying to recreate. He’s innocent but everyone thinks he’s guilty. We lost nothing in cutting it. Less insight into Eric just made him more mysterious. Forcing his innocence down peoples’ throats could have easily backfired anyway.
In the end a lot of longer scenes survived but in a shaved down state.
Q: How long did it take you to edit?
A: The rough cut only took a couple months. I spent every waking moment locked to my computer editing. I grew a beard. My hair got long. I was a reclusive editing fool.
By May I was finishing the next cut. That’s when my rent went up. I had been flirting with the idea of moving to Los Angeles and this seemed like a kick in the pants. So I did what any other responsible twenty-something with $25,000 in credit card debt would do; I quit my job and moved to Los Angeles. I packed my car with my editing computer, a fresh pair of underwear, and drove 3000 miles. I slept on a leaky air mattress in an apartment I couldn’t afford. By day I’d take jobs for little or no pay. By night I edited Victim’s Song.
I thought I was done in 2007. The film began showing in festivals and got a few reviews. A lot of time passed and it became clear another round of editing was required. In part due to length but also to make it more attractive for possible foreign distribution.
The final cut of the film finally came in 2008.
Q: Who did the music?
A: Mark Nolan. I found him through Craigslist in Philadelphia just before I moved. He was a brilliant collaborator. He just got it.