If you are in the business of creating, perseverance is key. Even in this digital age, and in this digital world, where you can theoretically control so many variables, things rarely go to plan. People are complicated. Directing teams is hard. Even if you’re a band of one, you can’t fully predict the actions and feelings of your customers or your audience. To be successful you need to finish what you start. What gets you there?
Passion? That’s a strong emotional connection to something. It doesn’t mean that thing will get done.
Tenacity? That’s being determined or holding tightly to something. Closer. But I’d challenge you to be flexible. Be humble. Setup a healthy feedback loop, and anticipate correcting your assumptions.
Perseverance is a steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. Bingo. This is the virtue that I see in the great creators around me.
Allow me to share a story from nearly two decades ago about a project I was passionate about and how I reacted when it hit a major roadblock.
I was a tenacious young filmmaker in my final year of college at TCU. I had written a short script over the summer, and I signed up to shoot it as a senior thesis film in the Fall—the best possible way to earn my last 3 hours of credits to graduate with a degree in Mathematics and Film.
Classmates and friends comprised the volunteer film crew. We’d stop students on their way to class to play background actors, and locations were scouted in every corner of our lovely Fort Worth campus. We used all the political capital we had accrued throughout our 3 prior years of undergrad to beg, borrow, and steal whatever we needed to get our shots in the can.
There was literally a can back in those days. The film was shot in black & white on 16mm negative film using an Arri 16BL.
Sound was recorded using a Nagra reel-to-reel.
Shooting on location means sync sound is important. That’s why people choose reliable Nagras. That’s why you see clappers clap the beginning or ends of scenes. The audio is record separate from the film, then during the film transfer process, it’s synced. A cable tethers the Nagra to the film camera to make sure any variances in speed in the film reels are compensated for on the audio reels.
Our camera was always tethered, but our sync was broken. We still don’t know why.
The audio was sometimes faster and sometimes slower than the live action. It was completely inconsistent between takes. We didn’t know it during the shoot. There’s no way to know because it’s film. It has to be developed.
I remember getting the phone call from my film processor, Colorlab. They were incredibly apologetic, but there was nothing they could do. They transferred the audio tape to a DAT. All the film footage came back transferred beautifully onto BetaSP tape but silent.
Undeterred, I rented time at my university’s radio station during night-shifts when only one booth was in use and the other was free. For a week I used a reel to reel player with variable speed to slow down or speed up the audio to normal speed. I did this all by ear. I used the timbre of the actor’s voices or the whirl of the film camera as a guide. In one scene the audio was so sped up it sounded like a chipmunk’s holiday album. The slowest setting on the reel to reel still sounded way too high. I had to use a technique called bouncing to record at the slowest setting from one reel to another. Then I took the new reel and slowed it down even further until the audio was acceptable. I then took all of these corrected audio tracks and manually sync-ed them with every clip of the transferred film.
To save money we had a really tight 6:1 shooting ratio, which was the saving grace of this whole debacle. That means for my 30-minute film we only shot 180 minutes of footage. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I think it took about a day per hour of footage. And those were long days!
It was only after I had all of the footage with audio manually synced that I could actually begin editing the film. All the audio mostly lined up, but for longer takes the audio would get out of sync in the latter part of the take. In these cases, I would have to cut the audio every few seconds, in the spaces between dialogue, and put air between the audio clips to spread them out to match the video. Looking back I probably should have ADR’ed the entire film, which is not uncommon, but that would have required wrangling all the actors back into the studio. Plus, I knew I could fix it. And I did.
Here’s the trailer for the film, now almost 20 years old:
If you want to see the full film, e-mail me at email@example.com and tell me why.
I have had quite the charmed life. I don’t know where my ability to persevere came from, but I think it is one of my greatest strengths. The majority of my successes have come from believing in myself and never losing hope. It may sound cheesy, but don’t mistake hope for faith or wishing. Hope is one of my favorite words, and its definition is to expect with confidence. I dare say that if you value perseverance in people then you must accept the presence of hope.
Perseverance. Do you have it?
P.S. Here’s a screengrab of me, from a rare moment I was caught on-camera, clapping my own clapper.