Today I saw “See Saw” again. This is the feature-length thriller I DPed in Manhattan back in 2007, where I met my wife Katie. Amazingly the film is still in post-production after more than four years – enough time for Katie and I to get married and for director Tom Muschamp and producer/actress Aimee Denaro to sadly get divorced. We saw a rough cut a couple of years ago and recently Tom sent me a newer version with some significant changes.
One of my favourite things about the filmmaking process is the power you can wield over the narrative in post-production. Think outside the box a little, perhaps add a little ADR, and you can completely repurpose a scene or change the entire meaning of a film. The changes to See Saw haven’t been quite that extreme, but Tom has still taken the pretty major step of cutting the entire first act. Carl was forever telling me trim down the first act of The Dark Side of the Earth‘s script, and I’m sure it’s a battle many writers and filmmakers face: to set up the world and the characters with the utmost economy in order to get to that end-of-act-one plot point as fast as possible. So why not cut the first act all together?
See Saw actually seemed to get away with it for the most part. The lead character has amnesia, so the lack of set-up enables the viewer to share in her disorientation. There are one or two little bits of plot that probably do need to be re-inserted in order to give the climax its fullest impact, but overall I think this brave decision has worked for this particular film.
Watching it again brought back lots of memories of the shoot, a crazy three weeks in the punishing heat of a Manhattan August, with only two days off. Tom and Aimee secured some amazing locations, including a boat circling Liberty Island, Tavern on the Green (the exclusive restaurant used in the Ghostbusters scene where the terror dog finally catches up with Louis), Central Park and The Supreme Court of New York. I still can’t believe how lax security was at the latter. Seeing the crew approaching with large cases and assorted metal poles and stands, the security guard simply moved aside a barrier and directed us around the metal detector. The actors even managed to smuggle in their prop guns with great ease.
But my main reaction on seeing See Saw again is to cringe at my lighting. Back then I was all about hard-lighting everything with clearly-defined and very black shadows. While this looks great in the nighttime scenes, nowadays I would be much more subtle in the daylight scenes, using kinos and hard sources bounced off reflectors to give a more naturalistic look. This is the problem with feature films, no matter in what position you work on them: they take so long to make that by the time they’re finished they no longer represent your best work.
Well, that’s enough disjointed rambling for now. I’ll be sure to let you know when See Saw’s finally released.