Dailies Storm and Strife

Look out! It's a Portkey!


There’s this thing that filmmakers do called “watching dailies”. This consists of sitting down and watching all the footage that you shot on a previous day and comes from the days when productions were shot on actual film and would be sent to a lab to be developed overnight.

For a director or an editor sitting alone, watching dailies is just a matter of getting to know the palette from which the final film will be built. Dailies are raw footage. There is nothing glamorous about them and often they don’t look very good. This would be fine if they were only meant for the eyes of the director or the editor or the select few people who will actually be transforming them into the finished film, but the trouble is that watching dailies is a team sport in which everybody wants to take the ball and run with it and all the opinions about what direction it should take gets piled in a heap.

Watching dailies is filmmaker rugby.

Yesterday was my first official “dailies screening” as part of the production program and I’ll admit that by the time I left class I had sustained a few bruises. Screening dailies means showing work in which the success or failure of your original concept might not be completely apparent. My original concept was to do a comedy scene all in one continuous shot. One of the first questions asked by the cinematography professor was:

“Do you think you were successful?”

To which my Director of Photography teammate, bless his heart, replied: “Well not when you put it like that!!”

I knew going into the project that it was a creative risk and that the payoff would mainly be in the attempt rather than in the final product, but that doesn’t make it any easier to show work that may-or-may-not be reaching an audience and then knowing that you may-or-may-not have much that you can do with it to change that. I still think it was a good idea. I also still think I can turn it into a good film. If I’m feeling discouraged it is good for me because it either means that I am pushing my limits to find out how far I can go without failing- because if I just stay with a fail-proof plan I won’t get any better at filmmaking.

It’s discouraging, but at the same time I have a good concept and I have to learn to fight for it and not just try to please everybody with an opinion. It’s possible that even if I’d delivered the dailies to, say, “Schindler’s List” for the classes inspection that I would have left feeling just as discouraged because someone would have thought it was “too much of a downer” and “no one wants to watch a movie in black and white”. The screening of dailies is a scrum and I’m always going to take a battering. If I’ve learned nothing else I now know that I should always choose projects that I am willing to sustain damage to defend.

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