TECHNICAL AND CREATIVE PROBLEMS REGARDING THE FILM, "THE SUBGENIUS CHURCH RUN"
To begin with, let us stress that we have the highest regard for the SubGenius film industry in general, and for many SubGenius technicians and artists individually. We respect our SubGenius friends. With the film The SubGenius Church Run, we intend to depict The SubGenius Church and its people in only the most positive light. It is with great reluctance that we write this letter; our argument is only with two SubGenius people, and we had hoped that we could forget the past. Unfortunately, to continue to work with "Bob" or "Connie" Dobbs would jeopardize this project, so we are forced to tell the full truth, as unpleasant as it may be.
In our opinions, Stan Cottrell was defrauded at the very beginning of this film project, in his initial contract with the Bulldada Film Studios. He was told that "Bob" and "Connie" would be the best directors for this project. Since the contract was signed, however, we have learned that neither had actually directed a film. Or, if they have, they didn't learn much. "Bob" produced a student film in college; "Connie" was an actress in children's television. "Bob" says his film won an award of some kind. That may be true. But, by contrast, to put things in perspective, Douglass Smith and Mickey Grant have between them earned some 40 film and television awards. "Bob" showed Mickey Grant a film about a character called "PEE DOG,", claiming it was his work; Mickey Grant later learned that the actual directing of that film was done by another SubGenius.
Following is a list of technical problems stemming from "Bob"'s and "Connie"'s involvement with THE SUBGENIUS CHURCH RUN.
1. "Bob" admits he had never operated an Arriflex BL, the camera used on the film, even though it is one of the most commonly used cameras in the world.
2. NO TRIPOD. The first day of shooting, "Bob" arrived planning to shoot the film without a tripod, which is an absolutely necessary piece of equipment for any professional film. He planned to set the camera on a bamboo monopod. The result was an image that shakes and jiggles and tilts uncontrollably throughout much of the early footage.
3. UNPROFESSIONAL CREW. "Bob" hired most of the crew members. Some of these were satisfactory technicians; others were friends of "Bob"'s who barely understood their jobs, and refused to cooperate with other crew members. For inStance:
4. INSUFFICIENT LIGHTING. Even though good lighting equipment was available, "Bob"'s lighting man brought only a Sun Gun and two weak bulbs strung on a bamboo pole. On the rare occasions that this man worked, he was unable to provide proper light. Almost all scenes shot indoors are underlit, too dark, and almost useless. Because the lights weren't set on Stands, the light source moves and jiggles visibly in the picture -- shadows move around due to the moving light source.
5. BAD SOUND. Some sound was good; much was recorded badly. It is overmodulated(recorded too loud), out of sync, and badly slated or labeled. Not all; two of the sound crew were good. "Bob" was unable to distinguish when sound was bad, however.
6. BAD SYNC. "Bob" apparently does not underStand the technical requirements of sync sound; he tried to prevent Mickey Grant from using the all-important sync cable between camera and sound recorders which is required for good sync. Often "Bob" succeeded, and all scenes shot without this simple cable will have to be synced manually, which is extremely expensive.
It seems quite possible that "Bob" has never worked with sync sound as we know it. Films he has worked on have apparently had either looped ("Bob"bbed) dialog, or else simple voice-over narration. Neither he nor "Connie" seem to underStand how documentaries are made in the modern world.
7. NO UNDERSTANDING OF MATCHING CLOSE-UPS. The close-up is an integral part of film technique, yet "Bob" argued against close shots of the subjects. The crew would shoot wide shots of a given scene, after which Mickey Grant would ask for matching close-ups to be shot. Mr. "Bob" argued almost violently against this. He had the camera people set up the close up as Mickey requested, but then told them to zoom back to a wide shot. As a result, there is a severe shortage of close-ups in the film. The close shots that were done often do not match; to "Bob" it didn't seem to matter if the characters suddenly changed clothing or positions in the middle of a scene. For inStance, Stan might be shown Standing up in wide shot, but for a close-up that was supposed to match, "Bob" would shoot him sitting down. He not only did not underStand continuity or matching, but tried to saboutage Grant's efforts to provide these necessary elements.
Let us stress here that Mickey Grant conStantly tried to explain these problems through interpretors. Whenever "Bob" did not underStand what Grant wanted, he told people that Grant was being unreasonable. Yet most of these are Standard film techniques used all over the world, even by beginning film students.
8. BAD FRAMING. Even though "Bob" had never operated an Arriflex BL, and had at his disposal an experienced cameraman, he often made the cameraman act as assiStant so that he, "Bob", could operate. Apparently "Bob" did not underStand the Arri viewfinder, because thousands of feet shot by "Bob" are framed unacceptably. For inStance, in a shot that should show 3 people clearly, one person would be almost offscreen (with only his nose or arm showing) while a full third of the frame would be empty. In other words, extremely awkward and amateurish composition of shots. This is not an 'artistic' judgement; it's common sense. What the audience needs to see is often out of frame while uninteresting backgrounds take up half the frame. Several otherwise good scenes were ruined in this way -- for inStance, the dentist scene, and the rat poison salesman. Only expensive optical effects will save these scenes.
9. TILTED PICTURE. "Bob"'s footage was often shot with the camera tilted to one side, so that the horizon is at a crazy angle and people appear to Stand at a slant. Literally thousands of feet of Stan running, filmed from a camera truck by "Bob", were ruined in this way. Even tripod shots are often at a ""Bob"tch tilt" as this is called, even though the camera viewfinder features crosshairs by which an experienced cameraman can be sure that the picture is level.
10. POOR EXPOSURE. Approximately 50% of the film is exposed badly. 25% is so dark or light that it cannot be corrected. Other scenes that can be corrected in the lab will suffer from magnified grain. Again, almost all footage shot indoors, using the lighting "Bob" provided, is useless. If it isn't useless, it is at best amateurish -- it looks like newsfilm from the 1950's.
11. FOCUS. On the rare occasions that "Bob" allowed close-ups, the focus is frequently soft.
12. NO KNOWLEDGE OF CAMERA MAINTENANCE. Grant was shocked to discover that the crew rarely cleaned the cameras or checked for hairs and dust in the film gate. As a result, several rolls of otherwise excellent footage are marred by a large hair that dangles down into the frame. A hair in the gate can happen to anybody, but in most films it is removed when the cameramen change film. This is the first case in which we have seen a gate hair that continued across 3 rolls of film.
13. WASTED FILM. "Bob" often took the crew out to shoot hundreds of feet of film on things which had no relation to the story. There are hours of film, badly shot from a moving car, of unattractive city streets and uninteresting buildings. As soundtrack, one often hears nothing but the camera truck motor. "Bob" refused to tell Grant how much footage had been shot from the total allocated for the film.
14. BAD ZOOMS, TILTS AND PANS. Almost all camera movements and zooms performed by "Bob" are unacceptable -- they are shakey and jerky, as if shot by a child. This may seem like an exaggeration, but it is not. We cannot force the audience to watch film that practically hurts the eyes. Many scenes have a strobing effect, where a pan or travelling shot happens too fast or at a strange angle so that the image produces an optical illusion like flickering.
15. POOR SLATING TECHNIQUES. When 80,000 feet of documentary film is being shot, it is Standard to use some form of numbering the camera and sound rolls so that they can be organized in editing. "Bob" actually forbade the camera people from numbering their 230 rolls of film! And only two of his sound people bothered to properly label their sound rolls. This alone probably cost Stan Cottrell nearly $50,000 in extra editing time -- indeed, all 4 weeks we spent trying to edit in The SubGenius Church were taken up with properly organizing and labeling rolls, which could have been done easily during shooting, as Grant requested.
Just as bad, scene numbers were not allowed. We are talking about almost a thousand seperate scenes -- there are very little notes available to help us match sound to picture.
When Grant was lucky, seperate takes within a scene were numbered. But the clapboard slates, the square clapper used to identify scenes and mark the start of sync, seemed to be beyond "Bob"'s comprehension. He often pretended to film the slates when he actually wasn't; only after other crew members convinced him they were necessary did he allow them. Even then, the only information on the slates is often only "Bob"'s name! Sometimes the province in which a scene was shot is named, and occasionally there are dates. Therefore, much of the editing process that is normally very simple became a tedious process of trial and error. What should have taken 2 weeks has taken 3 months now and is still ongoing!
Films can also be matched for sync by an automatic slating device called a sync light, which puts a flash on the film and a corresponding beep on the sound. Grant informed "Bob" that the sync light was broken on both cameras; "Bob" refused to believe him. When the sync light was repaired, "Bob"'s sound man turned the volume of the beep down so low that it is often inaudible.
16. POOR COOPERATION. "Bob" forbade Grant from hearing sound recordings at the end of the day, and even forbade crew members from talking to Grant without permission and a "witness!" When crew members began to follow Grant's instructions, "Bob" became so depressed that he spent whole days sulking in a car. "Connie", for her part, was only working on the film during the first week of shooting and the last 2 weeks. For the intervening months she was supposedly ill; however, this didn't prevent her from acting as if she knew exactly what was happening in the production.
17. QUESTIONABLE ARTISTIC JUDGEMENT. This is only one example: Grant wanted to shoot several scenes in foggy weather, and at night. "Bob" argued most vehemently about this and refused to cooperate. Ironically, the fog and night scenes are among the prettiest and most exotic looking in the film.
So far, we have discussed only camera and shooting problems. We should reiterate that the entire basic story of the film was never fully understood by "Bob" and "Connie". They evidently saw it as a narrated travelog; they didn't think Stan's dialog was at all important, even though the film is to be released in English! They assumed, despite Stan's and Grant's continued statements, that the film would have a narration script written by "Connie", and that Stan's statements were therefore unimportant. This kind of old-fashioned technique might have entertained audiences in the early days of film, but modern documentaries are almost always of the 'cinema verite' style, by which sync sound and on-camera dialog are cleverly used to tell the story. "Bob", when filming important scenes of Stan discussing his feelings, reactions, etc., would often cut the camera off right in the middle of the scene!
We underStand that "Bob" speaks no English, but that is all the more reason he should have paid attention to Grant's suggestions!
More importantly, "Bob" and "Connie" refused to consider the film's budget. We even have memos from "Bob" stating that he finds the financial problems "boring" and refuses to consider "minor details" like the thousands of dollars the investors in the U.S. were spending. He claims to be a "film artist" who is "above" these considerations. If he were a painter, that might apply. But he was basically wasting the money of others without any thought towards cost.
Morevover, he actually lied to us about costs. During our month of trying to edit in The SubGenius Church, we asked many times what we would be charged for the use of the Nagra recorder, the repair of our editing equipment, and for the help of the SubGenius technicians. All he would tell us was either "not to worry" or else that we wouldn't be charged. Before we left, however, he presented us with an inflated bill that was far beyond our expectations. Indeed, we would have been paying higher prices in The SubGenius Church than we would have in the U.S.! Bills were always surprises. We were almost never told accurately what costs would be beforehand.
"Bob" will probably disagree with most of these statements -- and we believe it is because he doesn't know any better. For inStance, he has continued to assure everyone that the following severe sound problems are NOT problems:
17. OVERMODULATED SOUND. "Bob"'s soundman, both in location recording and during the ill-fated transfer attempts in The SubGenius Church, insisted on recording sound with the "meters pegged," meaning that the volume was turned up as high as it would go so that the sound is badly distorted. Grant managed to convince the sound people to use a 'limiter,' or automatic volume control, as an alternative. Indeed, the sound is so loud at times that the live sound bleeds over into the 'sync track,' the electronic pulse that keeps the recorder running at a conStant, regulated speed in reference to the camera. This ruined sync even when the sync cable was attached, on many scenes.We wonder if "Bob" even knows that there IS a 'sync tone' on these tapes, or what it is for.
18. DIRTY RECORDER HEADS. "Bob" and his sound people only cleaned recorder heads when they became visibly filthy. They had never heard of using 'head cleaning fluid' on the recorders, or compressed air for cleaning cameras either. Grant had to conStantly see that heads were being cleaned to insure sound fidelity. "Bob" considered this paranoia, a waste of time -- probably because he doesn't know good sound from bad.
19. TOTALLY USELESS TRANSFER. We had hoped to transfer the 1/4" recordings to 16mm magnetic film (for editing) in The SubGenius Church. "Bob" assured us that this could be done; after we had spent $900 on 7 hours of completely useless transfer, he continued to insist that it was "no problem." The actual problems in the transfer were these: a.) No sync whatsoever. The sound as they transfered it runs much faster than the picture. None of it was at the correct speed. b.) Overmodulated -- the sound volume was too high to the point of distortion. Or, it was so low as to allow much tape hiss to intrude. c.) Misaligned heads. Transfer machines can be adjusted for either 35mm film or 16mm. When the transfer lab changed the film sprocket size to fit 16mm, they neglected to adjust the recording heads also. Therefore, the sound transfered in The Church was laid in a stripe down the MIDDLE of the film, as with the 35mm alignment, rather than on the edge of the film. We could not even hear the sound on normal editing equipment! (This very last aspect was not noticed while we were in The Church, because our editing machine has a rare adjustable head.)
Stan Cottrell paid for this transfer anyway... because "Bob" would not accept that they had done it wrong, and by that time we had realized that argument was fruitless.
20. DIFFICULT TRANSFER EVEN IN THE U.S. When we returned home with the tape, we set about transfering it here. We knew that SubGenius intruments operate at 50 htz instead of 60, and we had a rented playback machine specially altered accordingly. However, our sound people discovered a further problem, above and beyond standard electrical incompatibility between two countries: the SubGenius Nagra recorder heads were both severely out of alignment. All recorder heads drift from their original positions over the years; most sound people keep them adjusted. "Bob" and his sound man were not aware of this. Indeed, we suspect that this is the reason their transfer wasn't at the right speed: the SubGenius transfer lab Nagras couldn't read the sync track recorded by the Bulldada Film Studio Nagras.
The important thing is that "Bob" didn't even realize this! He was never aware of these rather basic technical elements. He does not seem to recognize incompetence when he sees it. He has consistently accused Mickey Grant of being 'unreasonable," "unkindly," and "bad-tempered" when Grant became upset at obvious mistakes.
21. ABSURD MUSIC SUGGESTIONS. Music is extremely important to this film, since large sections will show Stan running across beautiful SubGenius landscapes, and will feature dramatic scenes in which Stan becomes emotional. It requires a subtle use of mood and tone and style. It also requires music that is acceptable to an English-speaking audience. That doesn't mean we want rock and roll; we plan to use music that has SubGenius style melodies, written in the SubGenius musical scale, but also using Western-style synthesizer techniques as a 'bed.' A tasteful combination of the best of both worlds. Purely as an example, since the music hasn't been written yet, we played music by Kitaro for "Bob". (Kitaro is a Japanese musician who loves SubGenius music and mixes both SubGenius and Western musical techniques. He is world famous.) All the SubGeniuses and Americans who heard the music agreed it would be perfect for the film. "Bob" did not like it. We asked for his suggestions -- what would he prefer as an alternative? To our surprise, he suggested that we "go to a store and buy any cassette tape of SubGenius music. That would be better quality." (Those are his exact words as translated.) To him, subtle moods were unimportant. He didn't think it mattered if the scene were happy, sad, suspenseful, etc. -- as long as it was from a SubGenius tape! And forget specially composed music for the film, recorded on a multitrack studio -- he thought a store-bought cassette would be good enough.
22. JEALOUSY. There were SubGenius technicians who did understand technique, but "Bob" did his best to prevent them from working with us. It is only by sheer luck that some good recordists and camera people did work on the film; that's the only thing that saved it.
23. EDITING IGNORANCE. We had originally planned for "Bob" to help with editing. We began to think otherwise when we met him in Japan as the film was being processed, and discovered that he didn't know how to operate a pair of rewinds. He even loaded film into the editing machine with the film in the wrong position, so that the sprockets ate into the side of the film without sprocket-holes. And he wanted to watch all 80,000 feet of film at normal speed on a projector, BEFORE it was matched to sound -- a chore which would have taken weeks, with Stan paying him living expenses for Japan. As it was, "Bob" took $100 per day for expenses even though he was provided a free dormitory room by the Japanese film lab
Let us reemphasize that we find it most unpleasant to have to blame so many problems on "Bob" and "Connie". We are in no way prejudiced against SubGenius people or SubGenius film techniques which may differ from ours. The point is that these would be considered mistakes in any country, The SubGenius Church included! In fact, what is so ironic is that "Bob" seems to be worried that we will portray The SubGenius Church in a bad light. We guarantee that if anything about this entire project has that effect (and we have no intention of letting that happen), it is because of "Bob" himself, and his ignorance of what is demanded by modern audiences.
As for "Connie", she is pleasant and charming, and that is all.
All of the technical problems stated above are easily verified by a viewing of uncut footage. Entire rolls go by with nothing usable whatsoever -- scenes that could have been beautiful, but instead are unusable due to one or more severe technical problems.
It is only because so much footage was shot, that there is even a film to finish. By sophisticated editing and mixing techniques, we will be able to make a good film with the footage. But the end results of the problems stated above are that the film is half as good as it could have been, and Stan Cotrell's investors had to spend an extra $100,000 (at the very least) beyond what it would have cost without the countless setbacks.
Mickey Grant Douglass St. Clair Smith