I remember the moment, eight years and five months ago, when I had the idea to make a film about my father. I was laying in the bottom of a canoe, drifting in Higgins Pond, near the ruin of what had been our summer home. I had come to Wellfleet to volunteer on a work crew. The house, designed by my father, was being restored by a non-profit as a prime example of mid-20th Century Modernism. I was not sure what had propelled me to fly across the country from California to do this. The house held terrible memories and had been lost to my family for forty years. The last time I had been inside I was an adult. The weight of those childhood memories crushed the breath from me and I had to leave quickly. Yet a decade later I sensed I had unfinished business there. I wanted to know the man my father was outside the constrained circle of my experience of him as a father. So began a long journey.
Last night at around 9:00 I clicked “export” on my film editing software. Overnight the high resolution master file of The Restless Hungarian Film was digitized. My journey had come to an end, a journey that began as research for a film, morphed into a book (Spark Press, 2019) and came full circle as the film was completed. During that time, my hair has gone white.
I procrastinated, or rather found creative and useful ways to make the work last. The three months of summer have been devoted to the final critique of my excellent board of advisors (see this previous post about them),securing rights for archive images and film footage, sound mixing, and color correcting the film
Obtaining archive rights and permissions was a nerve-wracking slog, punctuated by moments of connection and generosity. Mixing and color correction are highly technical processes that I have always delegated to specialists whom I regarded as members of an exclusive society of wizards.
But this time I couldn’t afford the wizards, so I went to school online to learn sound mixing. Such a small word, “mix,” such an enormous field of technology, protocols, options and decisions. Thank god for Daryn Roven, a sound engineer who works with my composer, Ed Bogas. Though we’ve known each other for many years, Daryn and I only became intimately acquainted this summer. As my guide and tutor, he logged onto my Zoom call twice a week to grade my “homework” and teach me about the equalizers, compressors, “wet” and “dry” sound, automation, and how to hunt for the best frequencies, the sweet spot in each of the forty-five separate voices in my film. What made this possible virtually was an app that streamed the sound from my computer directly to the speakers in Daryn’s studio. It enabled us to hear to the exact same sound, uncontaminated by the audio distortions on Zoom. Daryn, who has done this for 35 years, has the ear. I’d say, “Daryn, please put on your bat ears,” and then I’d play a sequence that I thought I had made perfect. He would listen, then teach me how to hear subtle errant sounds and delicately excise them without compromising the whole. He called it sculpting. It was magic. I enjoyed immensely the process of learning while working with my teacher, not to mention the satisfaction of listening together to the completed mix.
It’s poignant that those of you who watch The Restless Hungarian will see it on your small screen, hearing only a fraction of what I am rhapsodizing about. Most computer speakers simply cannot reproduce the tonal and dynamic range we once experienced in a movie theater, but I like knowing it is there.
For eight and a half years, I allowed myself to do what I had never done before on any film or creative project; give no thought to the marketplace. I did not want my perception of how an audience might respond to contaminate my judgement. It is perfectly fine, legitimate, and even advisable, to think deeply about your audience when you are making a documentary about external conflicts, events, people, or an important cause. But in making a film about one’s own family, to have the courage to be honest, you cannot think about what kind of impression you are going to make. Fortunately my advisors understood this, and helped to give me the courage to see deeply and be honest.
So what happens now? A moment I have lived and worked towards for so long… has finally come. It is time to start submitting The Restless Hungarian to film festivals. Please stay tuned.