GRAPE EXPECTATIONS – OR Now That It’s Finished Is it Any Good? May ’09

Boy am I tired!

On February 2, we shot the last sequence of my feature documentary Pinot: Sonoma Dreams. It was the bottling of Wall Street trader turned winemaker Jamie Kutch’s ’07 vintage. Almost exactly a year earlier we’d shot the ’06 being bottled. The amazing thing is that with all my experience, this year’s shoot is so much better. Yep, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.

Wall St. escapee turned wine maker Jamie Kutch is the subject of "Pinot: Sonoma Dreams."

What did we do differently? For starters, no tripods. This year Trish has a monopod (just 50 bucks from B&H) and I hand hold. It’s tough to shoot all day, even with a lightweight camera and two radio receivers, gaffer taped to the handle.

In the old days of film, my 16mm Éclair NPR would sit nicely on my shoulder, that was good — the bad was that without a flip out viewfinder, it was hard to get those low angles and fluid walking shots.

It’s a tricky shoot. I’m inside the bottling trailer inches away from high speed dangerous equipment. One slip and the camera, and maybe my hand, gets mangled. Anywhere else there would be safety guards. I risk life and limb to get the shot.

We get home. Tricia runs a bath and pours me a glass of Jamie’s new wine. Did I have two glasses? Perhaps. I get out of the bath, slip on the wet floor and land — whack — on the wine glass. The cut on my leg is deep, way down to the bone. Ouch! It still hurts.

MY DEADLINE. With Michael Moore following my lead and making a feature doc about the Wall Street bailout, I decide to have my movie “finished” by end of February.
I had done some major editing in November last year, when Tricia and I visited family in Sydney, Australia. I took my new MacBook Pro plus two terabytes of storage. We’d visit her mother and I’d sit in the garden happily editing away. Bliss compared with being in an “edit suite” surrounded by po-faced clients. By February this year I have most of the major harvest sequences cut.

Editing al fresco in Sydney

Moving from MacBook to MacPro makes editing faster — besides it’s cold and wet back here in San Francisco, no chance of editing on our deck. Cutting individual sequences is relatively easy. The hard thing is to join them up and make a 90 minute movie that has structure and continuity. Some sequences have to go. They can be “deleted scenes” on the DVD.

This is a real documentary. There’s no script, re-retakes, no talking heads and no voice over. The movie must have natural, internal “glue.”

ROLL THE DICE. I finish the edit on February 27. It takes a day to figure out how to burn a 90 minute HD Blu-ray. My tests in Toast 10 are a waste of time. It automatic settings don’t work and the menus are awful. I move to Apple’s Compressor and Adobe’s Encore CS4. They work fine but oh so slow. It takes six hours from FCP timeline to finished Blu-ray.

I had never seen the movie as a straight 90-minute piece. We email our kids and say, “No phone calls.” We put a “GO AWAY” note on the front door. Dim the lights and run the Blu-ray projected on our 8′. screen.

I love it. Tricia hadn’t seen it before and is “blown away!”

Next, I join Without A Box to enter our masterpiece in Film Festivals around the world. I’ve got to tell you has the slowest, most rigid software ever. It wants a lead actor. Hey, it’s a documentary. There is no lead actor. I hit “skip”. Nope. ENTER A LEAD ACTOR. I put in Jamie and then write his biog. saying that he’s not an actor but a real person.

After hours of struggle, our entry is finally up and I immediately enter in six film festivals closing between February 28 and March 1. Personally, I’m not a festivalgoer. But if it wins a prize and gets noticed, it’s a good way to find an agent or make a sale.

Now to burn DVDs, write a press kit, pack ’n post. Hurray! The first six are away!

Wish us luck. You can see a trailer at

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