In this clip, Jay/Dave/Conan, I play Farmer Earl, who has just discovered a dead body on his property and called in Deputy John (Robert Satiacum) to investigate. The dead body is of course the Dead Man, who is alive enough to punch Deputy John right in the choice of a new generation. Hey, Native American comedy can be as lowbrow as anything the brothers Farrelly dared to dream.
We have about 50 minutes of rough cut (scenes 1-52). The clip I gave you is how all of it is – very rough with absolutely no audio remixing or anything.
This here is the most I’ll be in the movie. I’m sure a great deal of my performance will rightly end up on the cutting room floor as the scene is pared down for story. (Yes, my character is entirely irrelevant to the story. As much as I’d like to hog screentime, the movie as a whole will be better with less of my Barrymoresque profile.)
As I understand it, the first pass on a feature is often all the director’s choice takes laid end to end, jump cuts and all. The editor later pares it down and does various versions of each scene to play up certain emotions or story elements. These scene versions are mixed and matched and even reordered or cut entirely. Temp music and effects are put in. Hollywood movies usually undergo extensive test screenings. That’s why there are so many alternate endings on DVDs. For some reason test audiences never like the endings of movies.1
As in so much of life, the key to editing is keeping an open mind. For that reason, sometimes the editor is not even shown the script. Watching a cut you’ve seen a million times with someone who hasn’t seen it all is something kind of magical. Especially when you know the person. Because you get to watch the movie through their eyes. It works the same even when it’s not your movie.
So, when your cut is refined enough to show to a few people — just like with previewing the first draft of a screenplay — you show your most trusted filmmaker friends (who understand rough cuts’ drawbacks and can ignore them). Hopefully they give you valuable feedback. That means that Lillian and I will be getting a VHS screener in the mail from Joel and Christine when the movie reaches that stage.
I’m looking forward to that day.
1. But seriously, Hollywood wouldn’t spend so much money on test screenings if they didn’t work to some degree. Part of the problem is, I think, that most of these screenings are done in New York and LA. If you’re ever at a big theater on a Friday night and approached by someone with a green flyer, just deny you’re in the movie business and they’ll give you an invite to test screen a movie. I definitely recommend the experience, and it’s not a deception if you’re not actually in the movie business, only aspiring to be.
The problem with the results from a Hollywood stand-point, and why every movie that undergoes extensive tinkering is not a massive hit, is that NY and LA audiences are so much savvier than the rest of the country. That’s why they get all the cool foreign and indie movies. Because those movies actually make money in NY and LA.2
So the point is, if you want to make a movie that will ‘play in Peoria,’ krunking test-screen it in Peoria.
2. And Seattle. Seattle is cool.