Thoughts on the ongoing restoration of my film Awaken and the journey we've all gone on to bring it into the world.
It was Oscar season of 2017, I had just been to a small private screening of Angelina Jolie's brilliant film, First They Killed My Father. It was at a private home high in the Hollywood Hills. The type you imagine only exists in the movies, but this was real. It had a near-360-degree view of Los Angeles and the valley, a massive pool and a screening room for 75 people (in the house, no less). Who knows how many bedrooms, etc. But it wasn't the house that struck me, it was listening to Angelina talk about directing that made me sad about my "lost" film.
I had directed the film in 2004, and I was immensely proud of what we had accomplished. I knew it was a powerful piece of filmmaking. A story told from a woman's perspective, with stunning performances by the actors and a film with something to say about our times and the violence we perpetrate on each other.
I was so confident in what the film was, that I invited the investors and producers' group to come see a screening of what was essentially the editor's assembly at Fotokem. This was a really bad idea. For those who don't know, usually a director spends ten weeks refining their cut until they share it with anyone. There's good reason for this. Francis Ford Coppola is quoted as saying "nothing is as bad as the first cut of a film..." He's right.
We were just two weeks into mine. You can guess, that the screening did not go well. The film was nowhere near finished and didn't yet work. It'd be like asking someone to taste the cake batter and comment on the finished cake.
After this screening, there was a general sense that the film was a failure. In a panic, plans were hatched to shoot a new ending. Scenes were rearranged from how they were in the script. The thrust and focus of the main character, Jessica, (brilliantly played by Gabrielle Anwar), was cut significantly back. As the director, and co-creator of the story, I had always felt it was Jessica's story.
However, there was a feeling by many men (not all) who saw the film early on that her character had too much to say and was too independent - literally, not supportive of her husband. Which was oddly the complaint of her husband in the film too, LOL. They also felt that the story was really about the two men and that she, Jessica, needed to be a more supporting role.
So, for reasons largely (but not entirely) outside of my control, I reluctantly cut her back. There's a point when a director needs to fight for something important. In retrospect, this was THE moment for that fight, but too many people were saying the film did not work and drastic changes needed to be made to salvage something.
Of course, the more we tried to fix the film by fighting against what it was and was trying to say, the less well it worked. And the less well it worked, the more that proved that it didn't work.
A version of the movie came out as 9/Tenths, that was forced into the box of a post-apocalyptic thriller, something it never delivered on - because that's not what it is! It was released in a few countries around the world. Still, it received several awards and some recognition. The oddest of which was becoming part of the collection of the Library of Congress "for its cultural significance."
The upshot of this was my feeling like I had failed as a director.
Listening to Angelina Jolie's passion about her film got me wondering if the film I had made in my head actually existed. By some bizarre fluke (or maybe not!) I had acquired all the rights to the film a few years earlier. The film in it's 30+ boxes was sitting in Public storage.
So while in Los Angeles in December 2017 for Oscar season, I started digitizing the old BetaSP dailies tapes to start an exploration and see if the film I thought I had directed actually existed.
First, I started exploring whether the original ending could be restored. It could, and it actually worked!
Excitedly, I moved on to the opening of the film, where we had done the most damage to Jessica's character. And over the next few months, I privately and without telling anyone, worked away at the restoration - with the goal to edit the film I saw and wanted it to be.
I was splitting my time weekly between LA, San Fransisco and New York City, so I developed a way to edit portably with my laptop and my iPad working as a second screen.
I'd edit in coffee shops in NYC, in my hotel in San Francisco and the room I was renting in LA when I was there.
Eventually, a year later in 2018, I got serious about re-editing the film and switched from playing around in Final Cut to seriously working in DaVinci Resolve. It was a somewhat involved process because we had shot on 35mm film and cut the negative to make the first version, so I had to work around the previous edit. (You can read about complex issues with restoring the 35mm negative here.)
Anyway, by the end of 2019 I had a good sketch of what the final version of the film might be, proving to myself I HAD directed the version of the movie I always thought I had.
And that was the end of that. I had healed a lot of my trauma around the making of the project. There seemed no way to do anything more with it. Few people knew that I had been working on it.
Then, CoVid happened. Several friends mentioned to me that we were living "my film," as the structures of our society were falling apart and cities had become unsafe. People were fleeing the cities. The exact themes of the film I had made years earlier.
I shared my cut of the film with several close creative partners and the actors and there was a universal opinion that the film was indeed great and very, very timely.
We hatched this idea to raise the money we needed to complete the original version of the film, by scanning our 35mm negative to 4K digital scans, recording a new score that fit what the movie now was, and completely re-do all the sound work.
Shockingly, we raised 106% of our Indiegogo goal, during a pandemic, no less. And since that time, a small group of us has been finishing it. As of this writing we are working on the sound editing, the music is almost finished and Fotokem is about half-way through the 4K scanning. Responses to the final version have been electrifying.
At the end of the day, what we all realized that the film's time and what it has to say, is for this era - that the delayed completion is actually a great blessing. And as Orson Welles intoned in his wine commercials of the last century "We will sell no wine before it's time." Perhaps, I will release no film before it's time! LOL!
And that time is now. I can't wait for you to see it!