Suzanne Hines cuts PSYCHO BEACH PARTY

For Class #13

 Instructor: Norman Hollyn T.A.: Beth Moody
 Office: 310-821-2792 Phone: 323-472-1164

 E-Mail: nhollyn [at] cinema.usc.edu

E-Mail: elizabethmoody [at] gmail.com

By James Monohan

Monday September 25, 2000

"Psycho Beach Party," a pastiche hybrid of beach and horror movies from the 50's and 60's, was directed by Robert Lee King ("Boys Life", "The Disco Years") and edited by Suzanne Hines ("The Players Club," "Ringmaster").

"'Psycho Beach Party' can be described as 'Gidget' meets 'Scream,'" Hines said. "It tells the coming-of-age story of Chicklet, a young adolescent girl who wants to learn how to surf. She has a split personality and suspicions are raised against her when people started being killed around the beach. There's a 'whodunit' plot running through the whole story, but it's very funny. Since a whole series of people are bumped off, the film keeps the audience guessing about the identity of the killer. One of the challenges was to maintain the mystery and misguide the audience throughout the film, which became increasingly difficult as more and more characters were killed."

According to Hines, the most salient challenge of the film involved juggling the dual tones of the piece. "There's a lot of exhilirating comedy in the film," Hines said, "and we had to keep up the film's campy energy. However, at certain points we had to breathe a bit and emphasize the more serious moments. The music helped to guide the feel of the scenes as well."

A further challenge was that the film was dealing with a large ensemble of characters. "I told the director that I thought he was very ambitious to take on a project with so many characters, since it was a large amount of people and storylines to coordinate," Hines said. "Fortunately, the director had a very clear vision of what he wanted. In addition, the script -- originally a play by Charles Busch -- was well-adapted and revised for the screen."

"Psycho Beach Party" was shot on 35mm and cut with an Avid Film Composer. "We started out on an older version of Avid and I was adamant about getting the production to provide us with the new version, which we were finally granted," Hines recalled. "Unfortunately, when we moved Avids, we had to re-imput much of the material, including the sound and music. Fortunately I had a great assistant, Omar Daher, who digitized and organized the footage and sound on the Avid. He also helped to accomplish mock-ups of complicated CGI, many of which occurred when Chicklet switched personalities. For sound, I brought in sounds from my own library. On many of the CD's, I had marked which tracks I had liked and used on other projects. Daher spent a large amount of time searching through these CDs to find sound effects that supported the mock-up CGI graphic sequences.

"The visuals of the CGI sequences were challenging as well. We initially had to cut scenes without the CGI elements. Then, through a lengthy process that involved importing '.pict' files that the CGI artists had composited, we assembled together the elements as layers, creating a temp version of the final effect. However, in order to optimize these sequences, we were often updating and adjusting them. As is often the case with CGI, we'd think, 'Yes, we've perfected everything; the dots are round enough and swirling and zooming fast enough and we won't have to change it again,' only to have to change it again for technical reasons. Anything could be redone at any moment; nothing was ever final. Thank god for the Avid and its utility."

Hines started cutting film during the production's ambitious 23-day shooting schedule. "Since they were shooting so much footage each day, I wasn't able to receive all of the dailies each night," she said. "As a result, I wouldn't be able to cut particular scenes immediately since I wouldn't have all of the setups."

As is the standard practice, Hines' first assembly followed the script as closely as possible. "It was my responsibility to include everything in that first cut even though I knew a large amount was going to fall out," she said. "One has to see a film in its broad strokes in order to know what shots need to be picked up, where things lag and where things need to go.

"The very first cut was only seen by the director and myself. From that cut, I had an initial feel for how long we could suspend reality and keep things propelled. I thought there were at least 30 to 40 minutes that could be cut out of project. As we were watching that first cut, we were already forming ideas for the next version. Without hesitation, we continued to cut, working very quickly. Often, we didn't even bother to make tapes of cuts. In the end, we went through about 15 versions of the film."

In addition to the challenges of the visuals, Hines also used the Avid to tackle dialogue and sound effect issues. "Cutting out dialogue on this movie was particularly difficult since two of the characters spoke in rhyme," she said. "Fortunately, there were other moments of dialogue that I could eliminate in order to tighten up scenes. Cutting scenes that took place on the beach were another challenge; the sound of the waves was louder than one might expect."

In addition to cutting picture and dialogue, Hines and her assistant created mock-ups of CGI sequences. "For a surfing scene, actors were shot against a greenscreen and we had to layer in the waves using the Avid," Hines said. "When I first saw the greenscreen shots, I thought it wouldn't work. However, after some experimentation, I found the waves that worked with the actions of the actors."

According to Hines, the Avid is a great tool for facilitating experimentation. "It's not that you do less on the Avid then on film in order to achieve the end product", she said. "What the Avid does is allow me to try out more options and change elements at a relatively inexpensive price. An independent film like 'Psycho Beach Party' would have been greatly affected if it were costly to make changes."

Regarding the appearance of "Psycho Beach Party" at Sundance, Hines commented, "Many films that screen there are really serious. I think this film is refreshing for its entertainment value."

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