Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Sarah's Choice," Part Four, Post and Beyond

Director Chad Kapper and his usual team at StoneKap Productions were slated to do the post-production work on "Sarah's Choice."  Within a week or so of the shoot, my fellow screenwriter Tim Ratajczak and I received a quicktime of a short scene between Rebecca St. James and Staci Keanan.  It was very promising.  We couldn't wait to see more. 

But we did wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Before long, the scheduled release date loomed ominously ahead.  We called producer David A.R. White repeatedly only to discover that Chad hadn't shown them the film yet either.  People were getting nervous.

Finally, Tim and I were emailed the rough cut.  I asked David what he thought of it.  He said he wasn't able to watch it all the way through.  What did his wife Andrea think?  She was one of the stars.  Surely she had watched it....   Nope, she didn't get all the way through it either.  Apparently no one at PureFlix, with the possible exception of Russell Wolfe, who was the partner in charge of the production, had watched the film in its entirety.

Tim and I with Byron Jones at the Boston Premiere
Now I was nervous.  So was Tim.  Neither of us could bring ourselves watch the film alone, so we decided we had to watch it together.  Rather than view it on a computer monitor, I burned a DVD to watch it on my big screen television.  Tim and I sat on the sofa.  My wife Debbie sat on the love seat with a pen and paper to take notes.  With much foreboding, I hit the play button.

The movie was terrible.  Terrible!  We could see why no one watched it all the way through.  We quickly went from appalled silence to sarcastic anger.  Debbie even had to stop taking notes.  Tim has known me since 1982 and says he heard more expletives from me in those two hours than over the previous decades combined.  An anguished call was placed to David.  He didn't think we had time to make any real changes.  I asked him how much time we had.  He said two weeks. 

Two weeks....  That wasn't enough time.  However, as appalled as I was by the rough cut, I knew there was a good film hidden in there.  Chad was a real director.  He knew what he was doing.  He shot good stuff.  The performances seemed sound.  The problem was clearly the edit.  I told David I could fix the film.  David was skeptical.  He didn't think I could do it in time.  I wasn't sure I could either.  I told him, ideally, I would like to work from the front of the film while Chad and his team worked their way from the back based on our notes.  David asked me if I thought they could repair it on their end.  I wasn't so sure.

The problem with the editing of the rough cut wasn't a result of carelessness or sloppy work. It was the result of a distinct editorial philosophy.  They were imposing an arbitrary structure on the film.  Good directors usually envision a stylistic structure for a film while they are shooting.  However, just like they say battle plans usually don't survive first contact with the enemy, those stylistic structures are usually just ideals.  In the end, you usually end up letting the footage tell the story rather than forcing an arbitrary structure on it.

What do I mean by forcing an arbitrary structure on it?  For example, the film is called "Sarah's Choice" so they focused the attention on Sarah in the edit.  In conversation scenes, they rarely cut to both individuals.  They usually let camera hang on Rebecca St. James while the other actors talked.  They took this to such an extreme that in the scene where Rebecca is talking with an abortion counselor, we only see the counselor's last line on camera.  Well, that's a problem.  The counselor was played by Charlene Tilton of "Dallas" fame.  When you pay for Charlene Tilton, you want to see Charlene Tilton.

My wife Debbie, Rebecca and myself
David asked me to write up some notes to see if Chad and his editor were willing help make the needed changes.  Sadly, the notes were not well-received.  The editor saw no problem with the film and instead passionately defended his choices in every example we brought up.  I expected that.  David asked me if I was prepared to re-edit the entire film in two weeks.  I said yes.  I had no choice.  If I said no, they would release it as it was. 

Here's the hard reality.  Quality is not always job one for distributors.  This was a small, independent film aimed at a niche audience.  Most of the people who would purchase it would generally do so for one of two reasons:  the pro-life message appealed to them, or they were fans of Rebecca St. James.  In the dollars and cents eyes of a distributor, an increase in "quality" would not substantially boost the sales.  This is not just true of faith-based distributors.  It's the same way with companies that distribute low budget horror films, African-American-themed films, etc.

Breakfast in Boston with Tim, David A.R. White, Andrea
Logan White and Julian's parents.
This would be just one of many films PureFlix would release that year. Some would be good, some would be bad.   For the company, it would all even out.  Tim and I didn't have the same attitude.  This film was important to us.  We had to fix it.  So I agreed to do the edit.  The irony is that, in my pre-shoot conversation with Chad, I had told him that he should expect PureFlix to take the edit away from him.  Little did I know I would be the one who did the editing.

I didn't have time to start from scratch.  I would simply re-arrange the takes Chad and his editor had chosen of the performances.  Generally speaking, they picked the best performances.  In two weeks, I managed to cut over twenty-minutes out of the film while adding back a number of scenes and lines of dialogue they had inexplicably left on the cutting room floor.  When I was done, I was worried about what Chad would think.  His response was short:  "You made some good choices."

Deb and I living the high life with Tim, Julian,
Rebecca and Julian's parents.
I was happy.  I try not to go through life alienating directors.

The film proved to be a success.  It premiered at the Boston Christian Film Festival.  It was a great time.  A number of the cast and crew showed up.  More importantly, a pregnant woman who watched the film that first night cancelled the abortion she already had planned for the next day.  That's what kind of effect the film has had on people. 

I have subsequently attended many screenings of the film, and remain amazed by the flood of emotions that follow.  Often a line forms in front of me afterwards filled with women who want to tell me about their their abortions and the guilt they still live with decades after the event.   This film has touched many lives and brought people peace and healing.

John Molli, Activist, Rebecca, Sean & Tim
at a screening at a CARENet event.
I am grateful to have been a part of it.

Here's the trailer:

Previous Installments:
"Sarah's Choice," Part One, "In The Blink of an Eye"
"Sarah's Choice," Part Two, The Writing
"Sarah's Choice," Part Three, The Shoot

Read about the making of my other features:

21 Eyes
Hidden Secrets
Holyman Undercover
The Encounter

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.


  1. I really enjoyed reading all of this from your perspective. I cringed at times.. however, your facts are all correct. Maybe we should make a movie about the movie we made together ;)

    1. Chad, it really was a pleasure making the film with you. You had a vision. You knew what you wanted to do and you got it. You made one of the films I am most proud of at PureFlix.