This is the fifth part of an ongoing series about the making of The Pact - links to the previous parts are below.
Originally I’d planned to write a full blog about the marathon shoot that wrapped The Pact, but on reflection I don’t know that there’s too much of any value to say about it. Not from my perspective anyway. I know it was grueling and intense for Pete and Rose – three of the series’ most intense episodes were shot back to back in one day – but for me that week and a bit in which the last half of the series was shot was a succession of updates on how each episode had come together. It was an absolute change of pace, after the drawn out filming of the early eps, but by this stage the team knew what they were doing and worked efficiently.
We hadn’t quite plunged into lockdown 2.0 at that stage, which meant that at least for a little while there John, Kashmir, Pete and myself could all be at the editing sessions. Together we watched and discussed every episode, as John worked incredible magic to make our series function before our eyes. Seriously; we were all wowed by how quickly he could piece the episodes together, how it took him mere seconds to make cuts or swap in footage from other takes. Par for the course for a professional editor, I’m sure, but for us plebs it was pretty exciting to watch him work.
The process did take longer than we expected. Every editing session would start with a rough aim of where we planned to get up to that day, but we never quite managed it, especially as the series went on and the episodes became longer and more complex.
For the most part there weren’t any major catastrophes. There were inconvenient discoveries along the way; like how the best take used for one episode had an object in frame that wasn’t present in the parts of the other take we were also using. In all those instances, John confidently and with seeming ease found ways around them. If there is one big lesson I’ve taken away from The Pact as a whole (and there are many) it’s how essential a good editor can be. And we had a great one.
There was also a bit of a looming deadline, or so we thought. After all, the reasoning behind the marathon shoot and the big whole-cast rehearsal had been the fact that, as we came out of lockdown, the novelty of the series and arguably its most interesting selling point, the fact that it was something made almost entirely remotely during lockdown, lost value.
Of course at that point we didn’t know that we were about to plunge back into Stage Four restrictions.
As we went on I found myself getting more and more ruthless with what would be cut. We (I) came up with some wildly inappropriate terms for our satisfaction when episodes came in under five minutes, which was the aim for at least the first half of the series. Splitting the difference between showcasing the subtleties of the scripts and performances but keeping the episodes punchy was a real challenge, but as we went on I was taken aback by how many moments that had seemed essential or justified on the page didn’t need to be there on screen. Occasionally there would be the distinct thrill of realising that whole minutes could be ripped out of the episode and actually make the story work better. Many of the later episodes, in their rough-cut form, were well over ten minutes. By the end of the edits, only the finale retained that length.
The best example of how this ruthlessness could end up serving us had to be episode nine, the monologue episode written by Damian Robb and conceived as a chance for Rose to show off just how good she could be alone on camera. The performance and the script were fantastic, but the episode was too long (ten minutes) without enough crucial new information at a point where the story had to be speeding up and delivering answers. We agonised over how to handle it, torn between wanting to show the full extent of Rose’s incredible, one-take work but knowing we needed to up the pace. Of course, given the episode was done in a single shot, we didn’t have the same luxury of being able to cut between moments as we did in others.
Or so we thought.
As we grappled with what to do, an idea was thrown into the mix; what if we did cut, harshly and jarringly, between key moments in the performance? We decided to give it a try and quickly we were blown away by the result. The cuts not only highlighted Rose and Damian’s work, but created the sense of coming in and out of consciousness, as Morgan, who by this point has fully descended into alcohol abuse, absolutely would be. The episode being framed as a filmed message for Brett meant that it also gave the impression of Morgan leaving multiple rambling messages one after another. It was a case where losing half the material actually allowed the episode’s role in the story to shine, underlining what it was trying to say while getting the length down to five minutes. Upon release it was one of the most well received episodes, referred to in one review as ‘five minutes of gold’.
Those hours in the edit suite, now that we’re on the other side of the series, are probably among my favourite memories of the whole project. Working together with good friends, pushing through disagreements and making discoveries as we all did our best to create something we could be proud of, something that had slowly grown into a lot more than the quarantine time-killer it had been conceived as. Between edits we had long conversations about all sorts of things, ate pizza and and left every night with a real feeling of excitement about what we had on our hands.
Meanwhile, covid case numbers grew and strict rules returned to Melbourne. Our worries that the series would be released too late to capitalise on the circumstances started to look grimly unfounded.
Almost matter of factly, we settled on a release date after much back and forth over when the best date would be. The finished episodes went to reviewers. After all the work we’d done, the release of the thing felt almost like an afterthought. I don’t think I even remember the moment when we knew that the series was fully locked.
So, after everything, we were finally done. The project that had been far bigger and more stressful than any of us had planned for was finished. All that was left was to see how it would be received.
Writing words about writing words.