VII - MAKE OR BREAK
Good Enough Is Good Enough
In January 2021, I dove right back into Premiere Pro and proceeded to re-edit the film with both Myriam’s narration and the news shots in Pornichet. I was finally ready to get it finished.
However, the first couple months of 2021 turned out to be unexpectedly busy for me, meaning I couldn’t progress on psi as quickly as I hoped. I mentioned before that I had a new girlfriend, Claire, who I met around the time of the first lockdown. We both dove into our relationship full pelt, building a very strong connection from the get-go, and by January 2021, we’d been together for almost 9 months, through lockdowns and curfews. We’d hardly been apart. Although she worked as a marketing researcher, just before we met, she wanted to take a gap year and had already applied to work for an NGO that helped underpiviledged kids develop their professional skills and find a stable job. After various organizational setbacks due to Covid, her assignment was finally confirmed: she was to start work in New Delhi, India, on March 1, 2021, and remain there for the duration of the program, 13 months.
We were therefore facing a major fork in the road. At that point, though, we had no desire to end our relationship, and I had no intention of talking her out of her mission. But because of Covid travel restrictions, Indian tourist visas were suspended, and the French government required having an exceptional reason to leave the country (needless to say, going to visit my girlfriend wasn’t on the list!). If she left, we'd be apart for an indefinite amount of time. And we didn't want that. We wanted to overcome the circumstances and stay on the same path at the fork. So we went for it: we decided to get married. It was a wild, scary, spontaneous decision, but also one which felt obvious and naturel. We had to take the leap, so we both jumped right in. It was, as Kane would say, “a bet on the future.”
With only a few weeks to set it up, on February 22, at the town hall of the 18th arrondissement of Paris, we gathered a few friends under the strict Covid limitations (our families couldn’t be there) and tied the knot. It was a completely surreal moment. Thom, who’d been along with me on the psi journey from the beginning, was my best man. While I’d remained coy about my excitement during the preceding weeks, playing down the importance of the occasion given the circumstances, when seeing Claire for the first time in her wedding dress and hearing the Mayor say “you may now kiss the bride,” I must admit I felt elevated by the weight of tradition and the love of those around us. It did feel like a seminal moment in my life.
Less than a week later, Claire flew out to Delhi, and I joined her shortly after upon getting my spouse visa.
Claire’s NGO was based in Pahar Ganj, in the heart of the Indian capital. By the time we settled in, I still had some work to do on psi: in particular, some editing tweaks and reworking the overall sound mixing. The same applied to the 9-episode series, which I hadn’t looked at in almost 3 years. With the end now firmly in sight, I also proceeded to write the preceding chapters. Re-reading everything I’d written previously about the whole journey thus far, I realized how truly unpredictable life is. If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be married and living in Delhi, I wouldn’t have believed them. And yet, here I was.
While in Delhi, I managed to finish the final edit and pre-mix of the film, as well as finalizing the edit of the 9 episodes of the interview series. It was there I discovered one final way to upgrade the quality of the film: de-noising. With the film being shot in natural light with the Canon 6D, once I had applied adjusted brightness, contrast and color correction, many shots revealed themselves to be extremely noisy (i.e. they had flickering, jagged pixels on the screen), especially in low-light settings or large patches of single color gradients (such as blue skies). For some reason, until then, I had accepted that this would be an issue for the film, as I assumed that cleaning it up digitally would either be A/ very expensive, B/ very time consuming, or C/ very ineffective.
But as I approached the final edit, a little voice in my head kept pushing for one final verification: "Just go online and check for noise correction." And so I did, and I landed on a few articles and Youtube tutorials that suddenly alerted me to the fact that it WAS possible to clean up noisy footage rather quickly, cheaply and effectively. So after some research, I installed Red Giant's DeNoiser pluggin, which is part of their Magic Bullet Suite. I played around with it for an afternoon, focusing on my most noisy footage, and honestly, I was amazed by the results. Once the noise had been cleaned up, there was no going back, I couldn't believe how dirty the picture was before. While there is a slight loss of sharpness, the viewing experience became so much more pleasant, and the overall quality of the film improved. It actually felt like I had shot the film with a better camera. So after discovering this, I spent a good 2 more weeks cleaning up the film, shot by shot, with the Denoiser tool. And it was time well spent.
In May 2021, India suffered a record-breaking second wave of Covid that hit Delhi particularly hard. Claire’s NGO got shut down, compromising her mission. And despite doing our best to observe social distancing, wearing facemasks and cleaning our hands, Claire and I both got infected. For a full week, we had high fever, headaches, loss of smell and taste. The threat of having caught the so-called Indian variant was scary, but thankfully, we recovered quickly within a couple weeks. However, given the overall situation in Delhi, Claire chose to interrupt her mission, and at after less than 3 months, we headed back to France.
The "Dehi" experience had been intense and short-lived. And upon returning to France, I had to hit the ground running. After a mandatory 10-day confinement in Claire's hometown of Toulouse, I returned to Paris to finish the final mixing of the film. Julien Rochard, my sound engineer until then, wasn’t available at that time, so I called upon Studio MarcAurel (recommended to me by Eve Brémond, my producer on other projects). We spent a full day in their sound mixing booth and cleaned up the pre-mix I'd prepared in India.
And then, on July 1st, Marc sent me the master track of the film. I imported it into Premiere Pro, placed it in the timeline under the final edit of psi and hit Export for the millionth and, hopefully, last time.
And there it was, on my laptop, the film.
I’m now switching to the present tense, as writing this has finally caught up with the present moment. It's the end of July 2021. I'm currently sitting in Pornichet, at my mother's house, with Claire.
I just spent the last month getting everything ready to finally shocase the project, which means:
And as such, I have to admit, I feel a huge sense of relief at finally being able to say: “It’s done. No more re-working it.” All the files are exported, backed-up on several hard-drives and now uploaded online. I can now stop stressing about losing my laptop. I'm still typing on the same Dell Inspiron I started with 7 years ago, although it did need to undergo a hard-drive-transplant a few years back and it has lost some keyboard keys. Over the past years, I've been genuinely terrified of losing everything in a robbery or a fire. I had tasked a few friends with keeping some backups hardrives, but still, they didn’t have the latest developments. Now, even if all my hardrives got destroyed at the same time, all my work was safely online.
I also feel relieved to finish the project because throughout the past few years, people aorund me started to suspected that, on some unconscious level, I didn’t actually want to finish the film, as though it was my baby and I didn’t want to let it go. Towards the end, whenever I mentionned that there was one last step I had to complete - be it re-recording the narrrator's voice, or cleaning up the noisy footage - I could see some eyes rolling. And I could understand what they thought. But it never rang true to me. I really, deeply wanted to finish the project and get it out there. I just didn’t want to finish it until I’d done everything in my power to do it right.
This leads me to reflect on one issue I learnt a lot about making this project: perfectionism. If I’d clearly been guilty of something, it was this. Especially in the last 3 years. I relentlessly tried to reach a famous actress to voice the narration, pursuing the ideal vision I had for my film, unwilling to compromise or just be realistic. In doing so, I brought myself to a standstill, and it was like quicksand. The more I refused to move forward unless I'd gotten what I want, the more I sunk in. And the more I struggled to make it happen, the deeper I got trapped. Eventually, I had to relax and let it go to wiggle free.
What helped me out was taking a step back and realizing that this film is, fundamentally, imperfect. On so many levels, it's flawed: image-wise, it’s not up to standard anymore, as it's all in 1080p, with some shots even in 720p; the camera work is often wonky, sometimes underexposed, improperly balanced and poorly framed; the color correction isn’t as good as it could be. Sound-wise, the voices have been oveer-treated and there's a lack of direct sound. And even narratively: the pacing of the film is challenging, with a middle section where many people lose interest.
But I’m now okay with all this now. More importantly, all these shortcomings are what give the film its identity.
Overall, I’ve noticed that making this film had changed my perspective on my own life and decision making. As though the film had served as classroom, to analyze my own psychological faults and, without knowing it, self-improve.
Before this whole adventure, I was far more in conflict with the world, with how things played out, with how luck sometimes intervened, than I am now. And whenever I expressed my irritation at some unsatisfactory event that occurred in my life, there was a saying people often confronted me with that irked me even more: “You can’t change what you can’t change.” This motto only made me even more combattive, as it clashed directly with my obsession about control and agency. I'd find myself fighting back: “But you can change things… If I had done that differently, I could have got this or avoided that…”
Now, weirdly, I get it. I spend far less time dwelling on my past decisions of fretting over future ones. During my interviews, Galen Strawson often claimed that he doesn’t think about his past much, that he’s just forward-looking and that when he does face an important decision, he doesn't reflect on it too much - he "just makes jumps." At the time, when listening to him, I remember smiling with bewilderment, as if I was chatting with someone who was completey at odds with how I thought most people conduct their life. Yet, now, I know what he was talking about. I get it. In a way, life is just a continuous flow of present moments (until it isn't), and the quality of one's present experience doesn't have to be indexed on the actuality of past experiences or the hypothesis of future ones. It is, after all, Strawson who, in his self-proclaimed hippie, buddhist way, said: "There is a model of a good life that says: live in the present."
There is one big question remaining now: What is going to become of psi now? What am I going to do with the film, the series and the journal? What should I do?
My instant urge is to release everything online for free. I've been witholding it from sight for too many years and I don't want to fall back into a trap of pursuing higher goals that never materialize.
One of them is trying to secure some form of distribution. I could send the film to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu. Or other platforms such as Curiosity Stream or Mubi. But if any of these platform wanted to showcase the film, they'd need to clear all the image rights and secure commercial licensing for the artwork. One estimate that a producer gave me upon reviewing the list of artwork is that such a clearance would cost approximately 200.000 dollars. That is obviously a stumbling block, although for these platforms, that is a relatively cheap price for a ready-made feature film. I'm not completely decided about whether or not I will go knocking on their doors with the final product. Undoubtebly it will get more exposure if it gets picked up. But it may take time and I would lose control over what came of the film down the road.
I'd also like to send the film to festivals, especially in Paris, Los Angeles, Helsinki, Jerusalem and London. IIt would be a great and fitting achievement to get the film be screened in the 5 cities it was shot in. But again, many film festivals only screen films that are exclusive, in the sense that they aren't viewable elsewhere. This would require that I don't upload the film to the Internet for all to see. And again, I don't know if I have the patience and self-restraint to do this.
Whether the film ends up on a commercial platform, or being screened at a festival, I don't know yet. I suppose I'll give myself a few months to apply to both, and see where it takes me before releasing it online.
People have also suggested that I try to get this journal published as a book. I know this book may seem completely self-centered, self-indulgent. Come to think of it, this whole project is, in a way. I did about myself, and, first and foremost, for myself. But I do genuinely hope that it will provide some entertainment, inspiration and insight for others.
I might continue writing here about what will happen on these fronts - but I really don't want to anymore. I feel like I've completed the journey of making the film, and so this journal should stop here.
I think it's time now I really follow one of the main lessons of psi, which is provided by Barry Schwartz in the film:
"Good enough is almost always good enough."
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