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Producing an Independent Documentary Part 3: Post Production or A Long Walk to the Finish

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Andrea HeadshotIf you have ever been in production on a project of any length and thought “I can’t wait until we’re in post; at least then it’ll be a little bit easier”, then, like me, you were probably very surprised by how that dream of an easy post production period would prove to be so inherently and completely unrealized. Or perhaps, unlike me, you had the budget and wherewithal to hire an editor that is independent of the director and yourself.

I’ll be honest. The burden of editing MY AMITYVILLE HORROR  predominantly lay with the director Eric. We were not able to hire a separate editor so we did not have dailies to work from. Eric was the most intimately knowledgeable about the subject matter so we figured it would make sense for him to edit the project, but it was rough going.

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Archive material on location. MY AMITYVILLE HORROR. Queens, NY. Photo credit: Larry Westler.

It took him awhile just to sort through the footage and then from there to be the only person editing – that took quite a toll. Much later on, we brought on our editor friend Nate to work as a sort of consultant/post production supervisor, but this was after many months of Eric editing on his own.

Looking back, I’m rather in awe of how well Eric was able to dive into editing the film and yet still be able to pull himself out in order to meet with John and I about everything else. During our meetings, Eric would show us ideas and chunks of footage he’d put together for feedback and we’d discuss the various story arcs that could be integrated into the final film. I continued our trend of working at his house, so Eric would be editing while I followed up on paperwork, budget, etc. This worked well until I landed a full time job in March 2011. Shortly thereafter, we decided to bring on a few other people to help us out with things like festival research and strategy. Michelle and Christine joined the team. We met every weekend to research festivals, discuss promotions we could do to drum up more interest in the project, pitch connections we had that might be helpful, and to watch the current itineration of the film. Later on, we brought on another person, Rebecca, as Michelle’s schedule caused her involvement to lessen after a time. Rebecca and Christine’s help proved to be invaluable, especially as added viewers and opinions who could chime in as the cut took shape.

At one point, it was determined that we needed to give the skeptical point of view more depth. We were also considering incorporating Eric’s personal history in the Amityville community into the film, so we ended up scheduling a brief two day shoot in Los Angeles. We filmed Dr. Elizabeth Loftus at her home and also flew Laura DiDio out from the East Coast to discuss and interview Eric, as she was our through line for the piece.

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 Laura DiDio on location. MY AMITYVILLE HORROR. Photo Credit: Larry Westler

This two day shoot was extremely stressful to put together, made more so by the fact that due to my day job, I couldn’t be there. I really believe Dr. Loftus’s involvement adds a great deal of weight to the film, even if she’s only featured briefly. We didn’t end up using Laura DiDio’s additional scenes in the film, but you can see some of it in the extras on the DVD.

Throughout the editing process, I was always extremely vocal with my opinions. I encouraged all of the members of our closely knit team to be just as outspoken, but I feel that I was most often the lightening rod opposite Eric. We would sometimes get into what I call “Creative Difference Discussions”, but which from an outsider’s perspective, more likely just looked like us arguing with each other about edit choices that anyone else would have deemed minute. While we would be annoyed with each other at the time, Eric and I both trust each other enough to always listen, even if we don’t like what the other person is saying. On Amityville, we both understood our mutual commitment to the ultimate success of the film, so we knew that we wouldn’t make a stand on something unless we felt strongly about it. A creative relationship like this is important. Equally as important with a small film team like ours is that none of the other producers or crew work to undermine the relationship that the main creative talent have, because discord caused by a divided group can harm the production. Luckily, we were and are all friends who can work hard under stress and pressure, then cheers each other on a job well done at the bar afterwards.

One of the most significant decisions we made that improved our film immensely was holding a test screening. While nearing what was to be our first stab at a final cut, there were some plot points and story lines that were not unanimously supported. After much internal conversation, we decided to put together a very casual test screening to see what an audience might think. Of course, it was a lot simpler than the carded test screenings that those clipboard-wielders outside multiplexes across town hawk.

We were able to use a small screening room that a local visual effects company let us borrow (thanks New Deal!) and all of us invited our friends and family to come see the film. Before the screening, we made a little announcement stating that we would love to hear everyone’s thoughts, positive and negative, as well as suggestions. Our audience was welcome to discuss with us in person after the screening or via email later. We scheduled our test screening in mid-December, right before the industry break for the holidays. We are very thankful to the group that made the effort to see our film despite the many obligations at that time of year. The feedback and critiques we received directly informed our choice to cut certain elements from the film, helping to bring it in under 90 minutes. Without those generous viewers’ help, we would not be where we are at today.

What choices in the post production process have you made that you regret or are proud of? Do you have any tips or tricks to give? Leave them in the comments and join me next month when I discuss our film festival strategy and the joy that is traveling the festival circuit.

Before then, if you’d like to see the documentary, MY AMITYVILLE HORROR  available on Netflix, VOD on most cable subscribers and DVD.

Andrea Adams

About Andrea Adams

Andrea Adams Spellman is a Colorado transplant who has worked at companies including Anonymous Content, WME Entertainment, Team Todd and Davis Entertainment. She has received credit in Disney’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE ROMANTICS and CHRONICLE. Andrea produced the documentary MY AMITYVILLE HORROR on Netflix, DVD and VOD. Andrea now works for a software company that supports the entertainment industry by day and (attempts to) write by night. Andrea fosters dogs through Much Love Animal Rescue, is a Daughter of the American Revolution and a P.E.O. member. She got married in September 2015 and her current obsessions include her husband's shrimp tacos, Stranger Things and tennis.