Rough Cut Delivered

I must say it’s very exciting to see it all coming together.

Before I left Toronto on Tuesday I delivered the rough cut and I love the direction the movie is headed. I guess, what I’ve learned recently is that really, at the core, this is a film about “the little team that could”. And part of why the film is also looking so wonderful is that there have been amazing people working on it.

In the next few days I will get the profiles up for people who have been working both behind and in front of the camera. But, for me, this project has attracted great, creative, giving people and, as a result I think the film is about a little team that could by a little team that could.

Next step: Fine Cut.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll have a fine cut together. I think most of the original music should be in and most of the VFX will be roughed in too. We should have all of our footage by then (expecting some archival Super 8 and 16mm to arrive next week from Dr. DeLaurier and his co-creator Jerry Harris).

A rough cut also means that it’s time to get started on the paperwork, revised spending, budgets, cost reports and deliverables…oh well.

The end is in sight! And with it, a new beginning!



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The Narration

Narration is a contentious issue sometimes.

Some filmmakers are anti-narration, the idea being that you leave your subject to answer the questions and lead the audience through. And, in some cases, this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do – particularly in a verité film.

I’m not anti-narration. I think that if narration makes it easier to tell a story then it’s a worthwhile tool to use.

In this case, we will use narration.

I think about the questions that I had to ask many, many times to understand what on earth was going on during the year we were filming. “What’s an ornithopter?”, “Why is it towed up?”, “How does it flap?”, “What are the risks?”, “What does it mean to achieve sustained flight?”…I know that the audience will ask the same questions and we will need to communicate the answers to those questions in such a clear and concise way.

That said, it’s no small feat to be ‘clear and concise’.

Right now we have temp narration, voiced by me. It’s rough and poorly written, on-the-nose and often fumbled. Essentially it’s a place marker that I will refine and refine and refine until, eventually, we have to record it. At which time I will panic a little and refine some more before finally making a commitment to the words that will then forever be part of this story.

For now, it feels a little ugly…but, if past experience has taught me anything, I have to trust it will get better!

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The Opening

We’re six weeks into the edit and all is well!

The pieces are coming together and it feels like we’re asking the right questions but the proof will be in the pudding on Friday when we dare to unveil the rough cut (or fine assembly) to a few fine souls for some feedback before we finalize the rough cut for the broadcaster.

We just want to make sure we’re on the right track for character/story etc. Make sure we’re giving the right information at the right pace at the right time.

The biggest challenge, I think, is getting the first 3-5 minutes right. Of course the rest of the film has to deliver, but if you aren’t engaged in the first 5 minutes you’re going to change the channel and see what else is on. So, we need to reveal the format, tone, history, information, stakes and main character(s).

We’re getting there. Happy with the first 90 seconds and then we’re playing with the next couple of minutes.

Of course we’ll get there, we’ll definitely get somewhere, but I hope it’s where we need to be to keep an audience engaged.

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I never thought I’d be interested

Well, truth be told, I would have thought I would be the last person to make a documentary about a human-powered ornithopter.

Not because I’m not interested in the world or even science…I am…but it’s not where I generally first gravitate to. My last film ‘Capturing A Short Life‘ is about parents and families dealing with a loss of an infant in the first few months of life. A number of years ago now I made a film about men serving life sentences in Canadian penitentiaries.

So this morning when my husband sent me a link to a story about students who got their pedal-powered human powered helicopter off the ground and I went right to the article to check it out, I realized that the inner geek in me is alive and well, mostly thanks to Todd, Dr. D and the gang and their passion for their project.
Two weeks to rough cut and a lot of work for me to do! Yay!

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We’re Editing!

It’s so exciting and, at the same time, a little nerve-wracking.

Robert Swartz is editing this film and so far it’s pretty great. We’re working at a faster pace than I thought we would, at least it seems that way (only if what we’re doing is actually working), and my fears about the use of the dramatic elements are allayed, at least for now.

I’m only in town for a week, which is a little frustrating, but I’ll skype in and do some directing from afar. Adamm was in today and had a look at some stuff and agrees we’re heading in the right direction.

It’s amazing after working on a project for nearly two years and carefully collecting all the details and elements to see it coming to life.

Within the next month it is safe to say we should have a rough cut…I will be journey back in two weeks to help tighten and refine.

It’s amazing how quickly perspective is lost, how hard it is to figure out whether a cut is working or whether a sequence goes together, where the transitions happen and how. It seems important to simply rely on instinct: “too sappy”, “too melodramatic”, “too cheesy”, to trust the feeling of boredom or an emotional moment, to understand that if something makes me laugh every time, it’s likely funny…to know that, if after 2 years, I’m feeling the excitement or emotion of a particularly moment that it’s likely translating.

I’m a believer in doing test showings. We’re making this film for an audience so it’s so valuable to know whether what I’m seeing is what their seeing. If they like the characters and care about the story (and vice-versa).

I will have a sense of this in a few weeks and I can’t wait!

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Countdown to EDIT!

Wow, the day we’ve all been waiting for…well, really the day I’VE been waiting for is moments away.

With all the footage “in the can” the magic is soon to start.

At this point I actually have no idea how many hours of footage we have. I’m guessing about 80? I think we shot about 40 hours of footage while we were following the building of “The Snowbird” but then with additional interviews, stock footage, footage shot by Todd and the team etc…gotta be about 80.

And how long will the final film be? Well, the final cut for TV will be about 42 minutes (much check my deliverables). There will probably be a version for international television that comes in around 52-54 minutes and (drumroll please) my big question is: is there a feature length film in this material? (71 minutes +). Not sure. I loathe creating a film that’s too long for the sake of creating a longer film so it will all come down to the material and the story. What can we sustain?

Time will tell.

And what is the timeline for the edit? Well, we should have a rough cut by mid-June and the process will unfold from there with feedback etc. Then we should have a fine cut sometime in July and a finished film in August/September.

There are some variables in terms of the VFX and music composition, access to stock footage and the likes…but I’m hopeful that September will see the film out in the world!

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Finishing up in Europe

I think it’s quite appropriate that the final interviews for this film were shot in Europe since that’s really where the dream began centuries ago.

We started in Turin interviewing Pierluigi Duranti, a representative from the FAI. A lovely man, passionate about aeronautics, he was able to clarify many of the questions we’ve had along the way about records and achievements in ornithopter flight.

From Turin we flew to Nantes and then traveled about an hour east where we were fortunate to meet the charming Yves Rousseau and his wonderful wife Marie-France. We interviewed him and worked with him over the course of two days and were given insight into the two decades he spent building his flying machines (including two ornithopters). He enlightened us on his process and the lessons he learned along the way.

Where many of the other people we have spoken to about their work in the last two years are engineers or have spent years formally studying aeronautics, Yves describes himself as a ‘self-made man’. His journey started with a love of flying and that love led him to spend decades following his curiosities about flight and efficiency.

Now, the time has come to put the camera away and move into the edit suite.

I’m excited to see it all come together!

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Build your own glider

If you’ve been thinking about building your own glider and wondering where to start, here’s a sneak peek into the design of the Lilienthal glider we used for our shoot.

Thanks to the Otto Lilienthal Museum for your help!

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Some More Pictures

This gallery contains 11 photos.

They’re so beautiful and fun, I have to share more!

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Answering the funding question (?)

Big sigh as I approach this question…how does the funding work and how does the documentary get made.

The answer is bittersweet.

Bitter because it has been a relatively long road and the number of things that need to come together in order to get funding for a documentary in the current climate in this country are substantial.

Sweet because we live in a country (right now) that DOES provide funding for documentaries, there are avenues, and even though it takes a long time if all those aforementioned variables do come together then a project can get made and people can get paid for their hard work.

The one-off documentary does offer its own unique challenges. CTV isn’t doing them anymore. CBC has cut programs like The Lens and The Passionate Eye is doing more acquisitions than production.

This project is produced with Documentary as the broadcast partner.

From what I can tell this is what’s required to get a one-off documentary funded. 1) A great idea with great characters and a great story arc. 2) This great idea and great story usually can’t be imminent, but should have elements or characters you can shoot now so you can make a great trailer. 3) A story that actually starts and can be followed starting 12-18 months from when you first start to pitch it. 4) International/audience appeal.

Of course there are exceptions to this, but I think these are good elements to start with (even better if you can make it into a series)

So, we first spoke to Todd Reichert back in early April 2009 on the recommendation of Dr. James DeLaurier (Dr. D). Todd was considering maybe making a film himself and after a lengthy phone conversation I agreed to meet with him at the University of Toronto and film a little bit of the packing up process. I also agreed to provide him with my small Canon HV20 camera so he could do some shooting too AND I agreed (against my better judgment to never start following things that don’t have funding attached) to rope in Robin and Jason (DP and sound recordist) to come up to the barn for one day to do some initial shooting.

And there it began…

It was clear that what Todd, Cameron and the HPO team were doing was pretty cool and their enthusiasm was pretty infectious and for some reason I agreed to return one more time. I also agreed to start to see if there was any way to make a film about this human-powered ornithopter and the team behind it.

That year at Hotdocs I was part of a mentorship program and I had to submit project ideas to Bob Culbert (who is now at CBC’s The Nature of Things, but then was flying solo after his post at CTV went away). Bob took to this idea and offered to come on as Executive Producer of the project if we could get a broadcaster interested. Ironically, we met with The Nature of Things who said it wasn’t for them. We approached Discovery’s Daily Planet but it was no-go too – the timing was off. Eventually, Bruce Cowley at Documentary agreed to provide a small development budget.

With the development money we did some shooting and put together a 4 minute trailer (way too long for a traditional trailer but good to give Documentary a sense of what we want to do). Then the process began of trying to get Bruce to agree to coming on board for production. One of the big obstacles in his decision-making was that we didn’t know whether the ornithopter would actually fly, and if it didn’t the end to our film wasn’t all that spectacular.

We came up with some alternate ending solutions and Bruce came on board.

Now, this IS exciting, but it’s the middle step in an 18 month process to secure the remainder of the funding. Documentary comes on with a license fee for a percentage of the approved budget. They also agree to put in money from their CMF (Canadian Media Fund) envelope. Then I have to track down the rest. 90% of my labour and production (federal and provincial) tax credits have to be in the budget. This is fantastic, but this money won’t actually turn up until a year or more after the films finished, so that money has to be interim financed for now. I applied to Rogers Documentary Fund, Rogers Cable Network Fund and Shaw/Hotdocs. I was rejected by all three in Spring 2010 round of funding.

This left me in a bit of a pickle. Able and obligated to make A film, but not the film I had in my head.

In Fall 2010 I reapproached Shaw-Hotdocs and they came through – yay and thank you!

I am almost there…well, I’m technically “fully” funded, but nearly 25% of that funding is producer contribution and tax credits and, since tax credit amounts aren’t guaranteed, this could mean 3 years of work with no paycheque to speak of.

I’ve re-applied for Rogers Documentary Fund and I’m hopeful that it will come through and that I’ll know before June when I have to apply for Rogers Cable Network Fund.

We’re so fortunate to have some funding bodies who support documentary in Canada. What’s unfortunate is that we’re losing places for the films to play.

At the end of the day I feel very lucky to be making a film, but I also can’t help but wonder what happens in 4 month when this one is done. The reality is I can ‘afford’ time and energy-wise to make one film at a time myself before I employ a team of people, but once I employ a team of people I need to have 3 or 4 times the work.

Time will tell.

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