First, here's a definition for those of you who don't make movies every day. A "rough cut" is essentially a rough draft. It's an assemblage of images and words and sounds to show how a scene or even an entire program fits together. By definition it's not something you'd want to show to a paying crowd; it's rough.
Recently I began to realize something about how people who make media every day regard rough cuts. It occurred to me while looking at one with a close colleague. It occurred to me and made me laugh. Then it made me curious.
To be clear, anybody in this business worth his or her salt understands that a rough cut is generally a wreck. The messy condition of the piece shouldn't be cause for concern, and yet that's where the comedy comes in. No matter how many times I'm sitting with a pro who's either watching or presenting a rough cut, the experience always comes with caveats or questions.
"Wouldn't you agree that these colors are awfully dull?"
"Try not to pay any attention to this big black space in the middle of the scene."
"Aren't we going to have music here?"
"I can't hear the narration."
"The narration is way too loud!"
"Try to ignore that the special effects aren't done yet."
The list is endless.
The funny thing is that if you do this for a living, rough cuts are a daily part of the process. We all know how they work; we shouldn't need to explain to others in the business about the stuff that's not done yet. ("IT'S A ROUGH CUT!")
So, what's the problem?
It's so obvious that it's easy to miss. The problem for creatives showing rough cuts to each other is that we care about our work. We care how we'll be perceived, and we also care about achieving the goals we set out for ourselves. Even if the value of showing an incomplete piece to trusted colleagues on the same team is to aim at a higher goal, the concerns are always the same. "What if they think this is the best I can do?"
Usually it's not. That's the whole point. But that's also why I'm very careful about with whom I share works in progress. Without substantial trust in the relationship, the merits of early internal reviews can get convoluted quickly. It's one thing to show a rough cut to a client who wants to follow the progress of a commission. Those kinds of demos usually need some explanation precisely because your client is not usually an expert in how these things go together. Those kinds of demos can also bring risks. Clients who can't overlook the polish that hasn't yet been applied can sabotage a project still in it vital stages of formation. Clients aren't versed in the nuanced rules of viewing rough cuts, and therefore, early demos of works-in-progress can not be left to chance. (If you're one of our clients wondering if you've been shown a carefully prepared demo, rest assured: YOU HAVE! We WANT you to love it!)
But among those who do this kind of thing everyday, I offer a word of advise. Relax! It's going to be okay. We're in this together, and everyone on the team knows how it works, that it's not done yet, that it's still cooking. Deadlines focus the mind, but perfection only grows bit by bit.
PS -- The new year approaches fast. Guess what? There's still time to share this blog with all of your friends before the new year begins! Don't wait to make it a resolution for 2014, 'K?
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