Sunday, February 14, 2016

Withdrawing SEPULVEDA: an apology, a reflection and a Valentine's note.

This morning I emailed Jim Mendiola, the accomplished filmmaker who also runs CineFestival in San Antonio, to inform him that though we'd accepted his invitation to world premiere our new feature Sepulveda there we'd in fact have to withdraw the film. This was one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make as a filmmaker. And like all difficult decisions it has offered me a valuable chance to self-evaluate.

It pained us to pull out of CineFestival so close to our premiere, but after a very, very important consultation with someone who loves the film, we came to the conclusion that while we have a good film, we need more time to develop it into an even better film. At present, Sepulveda is 105 minutes long. That's a brisk running time by most standards. But given the unconventional storyline and structure, we came to the conclusion that the film would play even better if it were pared down even further.

I am not a young filmmaker. I'm middle-aged and it's been almost 22 years since I started film school. I don't have unlimited arrows in my quiver. In fact, every time I draw back my bow string at this point, I have to make it count. I would not have made this decision 10 years ago. Then I'd have plowed ahead figuring that the film's imperfections were part of what made it unique. I'd have figured that the people who get the film would be untroubled by its technical flaws or running time.

But as Tony Bennett memorably says in the documentary Amy, "Life will teach you things, if you let it." We've already worked hard on Sepulveda. Thanks to crowdfunding, we are the beneficiaries of the generosity of many friends and family. To honor that generosity, it's incumbent on us to make the best film we can make. And while Sepulveda has gotten positive notes, we think there's more work to do.

Jim Mendiola was gracious and understanding in his reply and I thank him for that. We hope to have Sepulveda play CineFestival in the future. Thanks also to all the words of encouragement that came after we announced the film's invitation.

To be clear, this was my mistake. Jena, my wife and co-director, always felt that the film could've stood more editing but I assured her we had something solid and that the film was done. I was wrong. This has been a chronic issue with me, rushing through work not to be done with it but in the belief that the act of rushing forces one to work at a heightened level and brings out the creativity in a furious tsunami. It's a punk rock notion. And it's past time I let it go.

We wrapped production on Sepulveda just 6 months ago. That's a very short postproduction that frankly isn't long enough even with as able a collaborator as my wife. Digital technology and computers allow for an accelerated pace in post, but that's not always a good thing. Editing, it has been widely stated, requires intervals of rest and reflection. I didn't allow much time for that. Shooting in the summer puts us right up against festival deadlines. And while it may go against my impatient nature it is better to spend a year in post than take a film out before its time.

Have I always been this way? I suppose I have. Am I more impatient with the knowledge that there is very likely now more life behind me than ahead of me? Possibly. A lot is riding on this simple little film for me personally. You don't get a second chance to debut a film (okay, not actually true but premiering a new cut is not a luxury afforded to all filmmakers).

I don't know today whether Sepulveda will hit the big screen in 2016 or 2017. But I do know that whenever it does it will be the absolute best film we can make. I figure if that's the case, everything else will take care of itself.

Finally I want to praise my collaborator in cinema and in life. Without my wife, the film wouldn't be as good as it is. I've wisely taken her counsel and already reaped the benefits. I hope she'll pardon me if occasionally I forget how valuable her insight is. She's made me a better man, and she's made me a better filmmaker. I will continue to strive to be worthy of her faith in me.