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HomeCraftsPostproductionPP-Sundance Editor Michael Miller-Slipstream

PP-Sundance Editor Michael Miller-Slipstream


By Mary Ann Skweres
Michael Miller’s complex editing succeeds in creating visually the sense of what thought is, while it shapes the dreamlike narrative of Slipstream – a surreal roller-coaster journey through time, dreams and reality that takes the viewer into the workings of the creative mind of a screenwriter who is mystified when characters from his screenplay show up in his everyday world.
The creative mind behind the groundbreaking independent film is the film’s writer, director, composer and star – Academy Award-winning actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins in his first screenwriting foray.
Miller, editor of independent classics such as Raising Arizona and Swing Kids, modestly admits he was lucky enough to get the editing job because his agent was Dante Spinotti’s agent. The renowned Italian cinematographer, Oscar-nominated for his lensing of The Insider and L.A.Confidential, was the first crew member of the internationally renowned cast and crew that Hopkins attached.
Hopkins wrote the nonlinear screenplay as a stream of consciousness, starting at scene one. He wanted to break all the rules of writing cinema and was particularly interested in seeing the peculiar structure of memory portrayed visually.
When reading the script, Miller was reminded of the play, Six Characters in Search of an Author. Hopkins knew the play and thought that was a good indication that Miller had gotten what he was going for in the screenplay. Miller also recommended to Hopkins a novel, Time’s Arrow, where the entire story unfolds backwards. When Miller called Hopkins about an hour after the meeting to relay how excited he was about the project, he discovered Hopkins was at Barnes & Noble tracking down the book. Miller says, “I knew then that the interview had felt good on both sides.”
At that first meeting, Hopkins also began to raise questions about the use of subliminal imagery. Miller brought up the fact that a film frame – 1/24th of a second – is not subliminal. It is seen. Editors can notice even a tiny spot of negative dirt on a single frame.
“His raising the question got me thinking right from the start about superimposed imagery for very brief intervals,” Miller says. “Perhaps superimpose a shot over one frame of another shot, or superimpose two shots – two extra layers – then we might get close to creating the feeling on the part of the viewer that maybe they’ve seen something or maybe they haven’t.” That technique ultimately got used in the finished film.
Although the early footage with Kevin McCarthy was shot on 35mm months before principle photography began, Spinotti proposed working digitally for the bulk of the production, which was shot in high definition using the Sony Genesis Camera. The format not only gave the company the ability to shoot for 55 minutes without changing stock, but it also saved time in the editing room, being more efficient for creating the numerous visual effects – multilayered supers, blow-ups, repos, flops, solarizations and iris ins/outs – which were easily previewed when working digitally.
Because of the portability of the Avid Express Pro he edited the feature on, Miller worked on the set in the middle of the Mojave Desert. “I wasn’t losing the time an editor normally loses while on the set. I could show cut scenes. When I wasn’t working with Tony, I could be in a trailer editing,” explains Miller. “The editing began slowly. The first assembly was much less complex than the final cut, but there were hints of what would be seen in the finished film.”
For instance, there are images in the film depicting the horrors of the twentieth century that are in the mind of the main character, Felix (Hopkins). “Either in the script or in dialog with the director, the notion of putting that kind of imagery in the scene came up. We began getting stock footage. The idea was that films can convey a character being distracted, but we took it a step further. We not only showed Felix barely paying attention to Tracy (Lisa Pepper), gazing around, not really looking her in the eye, but we added what really had his attention. So when she says, ‘The waitress, she’s from Russia,’ he connects that to an image of Stalin. She’s talking about channeling and all these things that she thinks will make for a better life and he’s thinking about all these horrors. You have washes of imagery like book burning in 1933 Germany, Hitler speaking and dropping the atomic bomb at Hiroshima.”
According to Miller, the final edited narrative follows the script order fairly closely, with minor deletions and compression of the scenes. The style of editing, however, is not really in the script, but began to emerge in different ways. Things “exploded” after the first cut, according to Miller, but there were small evolutions throughout editing. At one point Miller said they decided to “rewind the film” and repeat a scene, not just to make it easier for the audience to comprehend an unexpected line, but because the technique visually worked to represent the character’s feeling that he was having a nervous breakdown. In working to visualize the different stages of the mind, Miller found that the editing didn’t just have to rely on the speed of cutting, superimposed imagery or associated imagery.
In putting together the cut, Miller experimented with effects such as desaturating the color to black-and-white. The set design by Ismael Cardenas and light filtering through Venetian blinds, and the suits and hats that Julie Weiss dressed the characters in, made the scene feel like film noir.
“The perfect film noir is in black and white,” says Miller. “So when Felix says, ‘They didn’t shoot it the way I wrote it.’ I had Felix imagine it in black and white. (As an editor,) when you do something like that, you have this terror that the director is going to think you’ve lost your mind. The great thing about editing on an Avid is you can always show them the other version, the boring color version. The thing that was amazing about Anthony Hopkins is that he would look at something like that and say, ‘Oh great! We can do that ten other times, a hundred other times. We can use sepia.’ In fact that process never stopped, even in the timing of the digital intermediate, we continued to experiment with color, even changes of color within the frame.”
Changing the color of the Corvette was done during the final DI. Miller admits editors tend to resist anything that is not motivated or meaningful, even an unmotivated change in color. Miller recounts that the choice to keep changing the car’s color in the final film was very specific to this story because it is based on what is going on in the writer’s mind. Changing the Corvette’s color merely reflects the writer changing his mind during the process of writing. “What I love about the style of this film,” says Miller, “is that it is not random or arbitrary. That’s what makes Slipstream so exciting to me. And if that’s the case, we have to watch this film very carefully to get it. We have to watch it more than once. That’s the joy of the film to me. How rare is it that you get to really focus on a film?”
Slipstream premiered in the Frontier section of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and has since screened at the Seattle International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival and CineVegas. It is scheduled for release in this month.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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