Snip, Snip… the Twilight Angel gets a Final Edit

Hot on the heels of the Twilight Angel being awarded a Silver Remi in the WorldFest Houston film festival, the team decided a little re-edit was in order before finally unleashing our creation at public venues.

Our process during pre-production and the early post phases had always been to encourage comments and get feedback at the test screenings -and from private audiences. We paid attention to what was said and took notes on what people liked, how they reacted, etc. To compliment these notes James, Julie, Linda Leslie and I also did our own critical review. It was decided we would trim down and rearrange the film slightly before we sent it out anywhere else.


Witham with discs of Twilight Angel footage

It was also a bit intimidating to think of re-editing. As the editor and music producer, I’d put hundreds of hours into the original post production. I knew we didn’t have much time. Even if everything went smoothly it was a big commitment. And then there is always the, “what if…” Several flavors of the unthinkable could happen.

Just to be able to start the re-edit, I had to round-up the hard-drives where the original footage was stored, all five of them, and load the data into the edit system. Which itself had been rebuilt and the software had been upgraded recently. It actually took a surprising amount of time just to do this and get all the paths in the old media database pointing to the right files on the right drives.

Technical issues aside, it was also very exciting to be back in the world of the Twilight Angel. With fresh eyes I could see the sets, hear the voice, the music and feel James weave the story again. Our story.

So I dived in and started with some new voice-overs. They formed the basis for re-cut scenes and tightened up pacing of the early expository material.

The new sequence flowed together so much more smoothly. Almost a year later, the story had distilled and it’s essence was so much clearer now.

The principals got together to review the results. Our stalwart producer, Julie remarked several times, “Is that a NEW scene?” The fresh juxtaposition was working it’s magic.

We were playing the film directly out of the editor timeline. We got to the end and all of us had the insight to cut one more of the scenes right near the end. We talked briefly, all concurred and then made the final edit together.

Done deal. Let’s push it out into the world now.

Creating the Music of Twilight Angel

Back in the Fall of 2012 when we were just trying out production strategies for the Twilight Angel, we decided to put together a little experimental short based on James in the process of painting. It needed music to help hold the editing together. My legacy of producing music-videos asserted itself in the pinch for putting this thing together in time for an event we were using to drum up support for our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

I shot the footage one night so James and I could get a feel for working together in the intimacy of the artists’ process. We got some good material, but it wasn’t part of a narrative yet. So, to edit something together, I chose as the foundation a piece of music I had created with Rusty Kirkland about a year earlier.

It was sort of an exotic groove with a lot of polyrhythmic guitar and percussion that I knew would be fun to cut the video to it. I layered-in a spoken word recording I had of James’ and the short “Duende” manifested itself.

When we showed it at the fundraiser it got such a great response that it served as a model for most of the painting scenes that we did for the movie. Based on the feedback we got, it seemed like the music was a good fit. James encouraged Rusty and I to come up with more contributions to the soundtrack.

Months later, after the narrative story and the production strategy was more nailed down, we revisited the need for a substantial amount of music. We felt like it was essential to balance the monologue parts of the film and had evidence that viewers liked the way music worked with the act of painting.

Witham and Kirkland in the studio

Rusty and I go way back as co-creators. We were friends and had done some music together in college in the mid 70’s. A few years later he came into the studio in Chicago to help me out when I was working on finishing some of my own ideas after my band, the Free Lunch Theory, drifted apart. He was awesome on guitar, and adapted well to improvising within a context. Plus, I think he had a lot of fun immersed in the technology of the recording studio environment. We liked working together.

For Twilight Angel I knew Rusty and I already had about 4 or 5 pieces that might work well in some of the scenes that we had finished shooting. There was another test screening of substantial portions of the film coming up in 6 weeks and I needed some more new music to edit in to what we would show to our supporters and new fans.

After that first screening of Duende, James had been very supportive of Rusty and I doing the majority of the music for the film. We finished shooting all the principal photography and I began editing, I needed the tracks to integrate with the editing. James sat in with us one day at Rusty’s studio to get the ball rolling for creating the rest of the soundtrack.

Rusty Kirkland, guitar

I recall so clearly being at the recording console that afternoon. After the three of us had some discussion, Rusty strapped on the guitar and started to play, just improvising freely based on thematic concepts we had talked about. After pacing about a bit, James settled on the studio couch, leaned back and closed his eyes. Rusty played and I provided some minimal beats for timekeeping. I recorded everything.

At one point James exclaimed, “Oh! That’s Grandma’s house.”

We kept on. Rusty exploring an ambient approach at some point later elicited, “That’s me going AWOL” from the couch. Each time I annotated what got a response and then over the next few weeks we produced something from those seeds. We finished 6 more pieces for the test screening and another 3 soon thereafter. There are 15 Witham-Kirkland pieces in the full feature.

Studio Collaboration

Studio Collaboration

That first afternoon in the studio epitomized the creative process for me: you put several artists in the room together, and they will invariably make something dynamic and evocative. I believe it is a testament to the cooperation of the individuals involved that we ended up creating such a wonderful soundtrack for the Twilight Angel in such a short time.

The Movie as Shamanic Ritual

The film being “done”, you’d think it was the end of the journey. The product was tied up, finished. A milestone, years of work. You rest from your labors. But the film was never created with those goals in mind. That’s where this idea of mine comes in: film-making as shamanism.

The vision quest is to know yourself truly and deeply in a different way than you have before.

A Place of Power

Koskinas finding a place of power

With the film now being finalized in the editing stage, and having seen it a few times, I started realizing its effect on me. Forget the work, the hours spent; that was great fun, I was like a child I was making something without realizing what I was getting into. Beginners mind, that’s a great place to be.

And then I realized people were going to see it, even if it was only five, they would see what I had made, see my paintings, hear what I had written. Mine and John’s work. But the words were mine and I realized I had to stand behind them and what they meant. I had to be very serious about this.

The film has forced me to get very clear about the person I am now and the kid I was when I went off to war. I had to go back through my memories, feel my way back and claim the purity of that kid.

When we first started making the film, Johnny Witham, my cohort, the D-O-P, sound, lighting, co director and fellow chief bottle washer told me, “we’ve got to trust our creativity.” We’d have to go with what was inside of us and trust it would come out they way it was supposed to. The film wasn’t going to be anymore, or less, than our own: his and mine.

We had found our place of power standing there in that moment, and that’s what we went with.

No amount of planning, organizing in the search of something perfect could have ever gotten me to take the first step. Nothing intellectual could have prepared me for something so vast, so daunting.

We had a script, to be sure, yet nothing was written in stone. The sets, the props, the lights, the staging, all lay out in that fog bank of creativity. We’d have to row over to it.

In a real sense the film is still becoming a shamanic ritual. When shooting it, I had to use my unseen instincts and talent for survival. I followed my bodily sensations around. What was coming up, I moved towards it.

The technical end of things: all in John’s hands – the lights,cameras, sound – manipulated and collaborated in this instinctive process. Machines have souls, or do they?

Throughout our creative process, a jazz-oriented call and response, all the elements seemed to be right there when we needed them, a meeting of linear and nonlinear points of view.

We left fear out of the equation, leaving him at the front door early on.

The set glowed with its own magical process, taking on its own life. At some point I realized that the fate of the film was always hanging in a precarious balance, just as was the character I was enacting.

Yet that was part of the excitement, the challenging act of balancing the unknown with what we trusted.

I clearly feel that the universe needs me to play this role. I may have been Cabeza de Vaca, a front man. Clearly Johnny was some force behind it all orchestrating, directing, repairing.

Now that it’s almost done, I feel the film is asking me: who am I really? Why say what I say? What are the motivations behind my intentions? And, finally, am I responsible for what I’ve made?

If it’s truly a real heart-felt, passionate film, and not a ploy for ego needs, I’ve got to revisit the process.

The film is a way to keep me informing myself about myself. Instead of an end, it’s an initiation for something new: a new me. That’s the point about shamanism, that’s the real power of making it. Nothing is separate from me.

I think the character in the film makes that turn into himself, dealing with the pain of uprooting his personal history, his bumps and warts. In speaking about the war he is actually reliving it, living his own fate. Precarious yes, but he keeps on painting, the only thing he can really do. I think it leads him out of the film and into himself. And we want to show that.

Taking the Squad Home

The walk home