It’s a tightrope walk between what you find is interesting and what will appeal to others, let alone what works best when editing a film. I’ve loved a lot of scenes that I cut from my projects; scenes that might have been the best shot, written, or executed have found their way to the cutting room floor. With Kittie: Origins/Evolutions, things were different. In all my other films, I had a clear cut vision as I initiated the project, executed, and had the final word on the subject given what I wanted to convey. Kittie hired me to tell their story. There was no way that I could ever be an authority on that subject compared to them. There was no way I could understand the events and subject matter like them because they lived it. So while this distance offers me objectivity when making the film, I also had to defer to the perspectives, and the views of everyone interviewed while making the film AND I had to defer to what the fans would appreciate.
In my last post, I talked about making this film “fan enough” and I think that it’s always going to be a concern in my head. My job as a filmmaker is to present the story with the given materials and also communicate a few messages to the viewers while doing so, usually through shooting and editing techniques, let alone how I’ve written the film. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I included everything, and as appealing as that might sound to a fan, it’s not what you really want… but don’t worry; the film will feed that appetite. While it wouldn’t be possible to include everything, you’ll get the best of the best moments available.
In September 2015, with a rough cut that ran 2.5 hours, we started talking with distributors. “We really only want something that’s 90 minutes or maybe 100. Anything longer won’t sell. You can cut anything down to 90 minutes.” That was the general consensus from most interested companies. I remember thinking, “Well, that sucks because we really don’t want to shit out something that’s a fleeting piss in the wind.” A week or two passed as I considered all the discussions and then called Morgan and Mercedes, “what if instead of a three hour film, we release it as two parts, each being 75-80mins?” They liked the idea. The more I thought about it, the more salable it seemed too. No one would have to schedule the film in a three hour broadcast slot; they could break it up and air part one, one night and the second part, the next night. Dividing the film in half also worked well structurally. The first half would cover the origins of the band and their first three albums. The second half would cover the evolution of the band and their next three releases. Thematically, it works as well because the first half is so much about entering a new world that’s difficult to navigate while understanding and discovering one’s own identity. The second part is about balancing that comfort, risk taking and learning to evolve in world that’s constantly mutating around you. Given how well this made sense, at least to me, I pitched the idea of calling the documentary, “Kittie: Origins,” and “Kittie: Evolutions” or should it ever be aired in one viewing, “Kittie: Origins/Evolutions.” For the first time since signing on, the film suddenly felt like it had a more cohesive identity. The content hadn’t changed and the execution hadn’t changed but the way I was thinking about it had a whole new charm that I couldn’t wait to exploit.
Later that month, I was going to be back in London, Ontario for the Canadian premiere of “Nintendo Quest.” I usually like to have a few shorts or trailers play before my films whether it’s work I’m a part of or some one else’s all together. This was the perfect chance to debut a trailer. We’d been pretty tight-lipped on events and the status of the documentary in terms of public announcements but dropping a trailer is no small ordeal. This was the proof of pudding. Pudding would exist. People could see the flavor of said pudding. But would the pudding be as all expected? Would it be metal-pudding? And… How the hell am I gonna cut a two minute trailer from a 2.5hr documentary? Thankfully, the trailer came easy once I started organizing the most important elements, pictures, and footage. Flash forward to late September. The lights dimmed and the trailer began. What starts with a quiet line by Morgan turns into a barrage of images that scream through all eras, including some footage that no one had ever seen with band members, that shape the story and tease the bigger picture of the finished documentary. But It wasn’t until the trailer played on the big screen to a theatre full of 400 people that I realized how awesome this experience has been and how truly fortunate I was to be apart of this journey. Mind you, at this point there was still a ton of work to do. Each part was only loosely structured and while it told the story of the band, I didn’t love it yet and I knew there was more I could do for the fans.
I was fairly happy with Origins, as I had spent a lot more time sorting out how this film begins and where that part, specifically, would end. So, I started working on Evolutions, and set my sights on some behind the scenes footage of a tour in Chile, which was Ivy’s first tour with the band. There was about a half hour of footage, and I didn’t have much interview content to support aside from Ivy’s recollections, but I started hacking away, and ended up with a decent fifteen-minute, condensed look at what happened for the band leading up to that first gig, which included an signing appearance a record store. It’s since been cut way down, but this footage, coupled with the new two-part format and distinct themes for each half – origins of the band and the search for identity in part one and evolving with the world around you in part two – I knew how to make this footage work and act as a flag marker for everything else in Evolutions and how to help Origins follow suit. If this off-the-cuff tour footage anchored Evolutions this well, then I had to do the same for Origins – and I was able to find a really great chunk of footage from 2004, on the “Until the End” tour, shot at Harpos in Detroit that really illustrates an important time in the band’s legacy. So each half has a nice chunk of tour footage that’s uninterrupted by “talking heads.” It’s certainly the kind of thing that fans will appreciate and it’s the kind of material I specifically left loose. I want to show people how it is in these places with the band and you don’t get that with quick opportunistic cuts. You feel part of it when you breathe in those long takes, like I suggested in a previous post about some of the recording sessions of “In the Black” I included. And comparing these two tour sequences is really interesting because the band has changed a lot even though it’s only a three year gap between segments so they strengthen the overall theme for each section that they occupy but also each segment strengthens the other part by comparison. Now things were starting to feel worthy of fans.
I kept working on Evolutions and kept extending segments including clips of recording, and anything that’s part of archived footage that doesn’t delay the pace too much but that I think is great supplemental content. I add concert footage, interviews with reporters about album releases, and a brand new section on how the music industry has evolved since Kittie first entered the scene. Suddenly this documentary about a band was becoming a documentary about the music industry, and about the reality that musicians face. See, folks? Theme and vision is everything and it all happened because of the title. Before the title, it was an A-B story with convenient footage. After, the film became about people commenting and exploring something universal yet specific to their world which was strengthened by other ingredients. I can’t overstate how much this rationale changed the film. You could watch the version before I called it Kittie: Origins/Evolutions and see after and it would be hard to believe it was the same film despite a runtime difference of thirteen minutes. Thrilled with the progress, I set up my camera and lights, and record an update for the fans. I announce the official title – because even the trailer we showed didn’t have the title reveal – and discuss the two-part strategy while showing a rough cut section pulled from Origins. While a few observers expressed issue with not delivering a four hour cut, overall, everyone was ecstatic that this was not going to be a 90-minute parachute down memory lane. So what happened next? Lots and lots of editing which was really hard because we didn’t have an ending. It’s hard to shape the experience if you don’t know where it’s going to end. Most times, the ending is the piece I craft first and work backwards, seeding material that help enhance our destination. I couldn’t do that with this film, because we were still exploring a few options and waiting for things to fall in place that might ultimately become our end point.
It’s no secret that the Morgan and Mercedes started to jam on a few songs in September and October of 2015. I actually filmed one of the sessions and it was pretty cool to hear the beginnings of what might be a couple of tracks on a future album but when would they record that next album and under what conditions? Did we want to include that in the film? Filming the recording process of the next album would certainly be great to promote the doc and to promote the album. This was the tentative plan; Kittie: Origins/Evolutions would premiere the tracks and the showcase the recording process of their next album, and I think we even discussed orchestrating a possible day and date release, or releasing the documentary and the album close to another to capture the momentum. Same with the pending book. Everything looks good on paper though and while that would be great, schedules started to slip, budget for the film started to dwindle and we had to make a conscious decision to dedicate time and money to the twenty year legacy instead of any future release – and I think that’s the best choice. I still managed to create a pretty powerful ending that closes the loop and points to the future. I’d also suggest that given Kittie has shot behind the scenes footage for the last twenty years, that they’ll likely continue to shoot material going forward and I don’t necessarily need to be apart of that process though it would be a great experience. It was pretty cool to witness their song writing process that early on and see them jam out some riffs, make some changes on the fly, and really start to plant the seeds of structure for a pair of tracks that were pretty fast-paced, metal offerings. One thing apparent from this session is the natural chemistry between Morgan and Mercedes. Being sisters is one thing, but they were completely in tune with when, and how to throw curve balls during this session. They call it, “jamming it out,” and I call it, “impressive.” I’m sucker for watching the creative process, and I’m sure you’ll see my fascination with letting “process” moments in this film play out too. Needless to say, it was a very cool moment for me.
The cuts for Origins and Evolutions, as of this writing now sit at 90 minutes and 88 minutes respectively – which is even longer than I thought, but right in so many ways. In addition to this cut, we’ve also found a way to create the shorter cut for the general fan that uses Origins and Evolutions as the basis but strips away a lot of commentary, a lot of archived footage, but tells their inspiring story in a current run time of 107 minutes. There’s things I like about both versions. The pacing on the short one is really fast and extremely engaging, but the longer cut is more exploratory, patient, and in-depth. We’ve got something for everyone’s poison and while my preferred cut would be somewhere split between the two, I couldn’t be happier to have the option and flexibility to make two versions of the film and if I had to choose a favorite cut between the two, it would certainly be the longer one.
I’ve been thinking about how I should end these blog posts because they’ve been a lot of fun to write and share with my filmmaker friends, the band, and of course, their fan-base. So here’s something for each of those groups that have inspired me to write these behind the curtain entries that will no doubt continue with other projects.
To my Filmmaker friends,
There is always a way around the obstacles that prevent you from accomplishing what your heart feels is right. It may take time, collaboration, and transparency, but it’s always possible. It’s rare to make a film that’s 3 hours long; it’s been so incredible that I can’t wait to make another long form documentary and it looks like I’ll have that chance with a fan cut of, “Power of Grayskull.” If you have the chance to craft something that is longer than the norm, do it!
To Kittie and everyone part of that circle,
Thank you for trusting me with your life and thank you for this opportunity. By learning your story, I feel that I’ve grown as a person and an artist. This experience will shape every film I make going forward and has changed the way I listen to music.
To the fans,
Thanks for welcoming me into this world. Know that you have been the major driving force behind every aspect of this project. Kittie is working on new material and it’s awesome. We’re also working on a way to promote the film around the country but schedules, time, and cost will dictate the kind of promotion and the extent of it – but it could be really fucking awesome!