Behind the Lens: C.O.G. & Kyle Patrick Alvarez
COW Library : Cinematography : Kyle Patrick Alvarez : Behind the Lens: C.O.G. & Kyle Patrick Alvarez
C.O.G. Official Trailer
I had read C.O.G. when I was 15 and really loved the story and wanted to make it into a movie. Up until then, David Sedaris had declined other offers to turn his work into movies, but my idea of how to turn this into a movie was to focus on the story, not try to emulate David. I truly believe that if I had tried to emulate or copy David Sedaris, his style or voice, I'd end up with a pale imitation. I wanted to make something that could stand on its own.
I tried to reach David through his people, and they said thank you but it's not going to happen. I had to go one step further. I went to one of his book reading events and gave him a DVD copy of my first movie and said, if you have the time, watch it. Easier with Practice was based on Davy Rothbart, another writer who is often on the NPR show This American Life, so there was some connective tissue there. My take on the Rothbart story was also to have someone who didn't look or sound like the author. I just wanted the specific story.
David Sedaris emailed me a few months later. It was so surreal. He lives overseas and I got the email really late at night… too late to send it to someone else and ask if it were real. I thought I was imagining it, and I've spent the last three years trying to earn that moment. I worked really hard to try to keep the integrity of the story and stay true to the story.
Jonathan Groff in C.O.G. All images courtesy of Focus Features.
It took me a couple of months to write the script, and I offered David the utmost of creative control; I didn't want to make a movie and have him be unhappy. But the filmmaking process doesn't seem to be that interesting to him; he said he didn't want to impede on it. I would have been happy to have his input but I realized what I needed to do was go make the right film, and not worry about what he would want or other people would want.
Jonathan Groff (L) and Denis O'Hare (R) in C.O.G.
We shot Easier with Practice with the RED One in 2008; my movie was one of the first dozen RED features. I had taken a risk and loved working with the RED camera. My cinematographer for my first movie -- David Rush Morrison -- wasn't available, but Jas Shelton, who has shot a couple of the Duplass Brothers movies, was someone I knew and had always stayed in touch with. We both loved working with the RED, and he shot C.O.G. with the RED Epic.
When we shot Easier With Practice, the RED One was new and I had an idealized vision of editing the footage on lunch breaks while we were shooting. I was super happy with the image quality, but proxies weren't really working the way they said they would. We still had to wait the same amount of time we did for film, by the time the footage was transcoded and backed up. There was a lot of figure out.
Jonathan Groff (L) and Dale Dickey (R) in C.O.G.
For C.O.G., once again, I was very interested in being able to cut on set and not deal with transcoding and proxies, which I find cumbersome. I found out that Adobe was steps ahead of everyone else in this regard, and that's what made me want to transition from FCP 7 to Adobe Premiere. We did a camera test and I loaded the footage into Premiere and saw that the raw footage really did cut together. You simply drag it from the camera's hard drive onto the timeline and that's it. I didn't think it would be as simple as it was.
I also liked the fact that the Adobe CC products fell under one pricing model, which really worked for us as a lower budget indie film. For me, Adobe Creative Cloud has two facets: one is as a workflow solution, where data is stored in the cloud, and that's how you communicate and share with others. The other is the pricing model. For $50 a month I got access to every piece of software I could imagine using… and beyond, in Adobe Creative Cloud.
As a director, I was also an editor, and I worked on music, VFX, and marketing, and having all that within one monthly rate was ideal. You're renting software as opposed to owning it. It's high end software and justifies a high end price. But access to this kind of high-end software for indie filmmakers has never been offered at this price before.
Every penny counts on an "very well under" $1 million budget movie like this and to be able to go to the producers and say, we don't need to rent edit suites -- we'll put the money into a high end laptop and on top of that, all I need to add on is $50/month that will give me everything I need. That appealed to the producers a lot.
The best thing was that it worked the way I wanted it to work on my first movie. During lunch on set, I could start working with the footage we'd just shot and then show actors assembly of the scenes. That is where technology and the creative process are meeting. We were able to create efficiencies and figure out right away if something wasn't working performance-wise.
I was able to buy a Retina Display Mac Book Pro, which we amped up a lot, with 16 GB of memory. We stored everything on one 8-terabyte RAID drive. With the RED Epic, we shot a lot of HDRx; without HDRx, it might have taken up 5 GB. With the HDRx, we were able to take two exposures at different f-stops for all the scenes of shooting out of cars, and avoiding the white-out look that you can get. We didn't send dailies to anyone, so that simplified our workflow. We had an assistant editor who would back up the cards on the drives on set, and then we just had this one drive.
Honestly, in my first film, unexpected things happened, but this time it all worked so well and so much closer to the ideal I had. I want to push that even more, overlapping editing and shooting and trying to make that one thing, on my next film.
Jonathan Groff (L) and Corey Stoll (R) in C.O.G.
We wrapped up C.O.G. and premiered it six weeks later at the Sundance Film Festival. It was a very fast turnaround. We did color correction at Light Iron in Hollywood. Audio was also smooth. The composer Joe Berry and I loaded up Adobe Audition and used that to create a temp mix. We did the final mix at a couple of places; Martin Zub at Wildfire Sound did the final mix.
David Sedaris was at the premiere, which was a bit nerve-wracking for me. But he has been very supportive and really liked the film. I'm looking to do something different next, but I hope to keep him as a friend.
Thanks also to Debra Kaufman for coordination and additional editing on this piece.
Follow Debra on Twitter @MobilizedDebra