Director Michael Dunn would have been happy to have released the HD version sven years ago, so why wait so long? And why go the George Lucas route and change up everything about the film for the rerelease? According to Dunn, the original files were accidentally deleted, and the only way to create an HD version was to painstakingly match single edits from an unorganized mess with no guarantee all shots would be accounted for. Also, due to computer upgrades, the master edit file in Final Cut Pro couldn’t be used anymore so any effects and grading would have to be redone. So the hope for an HD version of the film was lost.
When THE BET premiered at CineVegas in 2007, it played in HD, but a few minor tweaks were made before the DVD release at the end of the year. Audiences were receptive if confused, but critics praised the short film which has gained a small band of ardent supporters. CityLife, in an article about CineVegas’ local filmmakers program, called THE BET “Enigmatic and profoundly disturbing,” and lauding both the look — “Stunningly shot” — and the director — “Worthy of David Lynch.”
In fact, nearly every review called out the look of the film. So why change it? Dunn says that to match the original release exactly would have been difficult since different programs were used for grading. Additionally, director of photography Kurt Rauf requested adjusted shots for his reel since the overall look of the film was a bit darker than he’d hoped for. It was this request that led to Dunn regrading the entire film from scratch. But where did the files come from if they’d been deleted? Associate Producer Chris DeFranco had the original tapes used to shoot the film. Cleaning out the studio, he found them and offered to transfer the raw footage to a hard drive. Now Dunn could easily recut the film and had more time and better tools to regrade.
During the edit, there were only a few bits that changed. A little trim here, a little longer there. One scene that got a major reworking was the monologue by James. In the original version, he looks like he’s looking into camera at the audience. Not Dunn’s intention and something called out by one of the festivals the film was submitted to. The Sydney Underground Film Festival said in the rejection that the film was great until the point the character breaks the fourth wall with a monologue. Alternate shots were found that matched the original audio (at the time of re-editing, the audio was locked in). Other shots were replaced either for timing or continuity, while Dunn admits a few were changed just because the could be. A couple of shots received a digital makeover to fix or enhance the image. A number of clocks were added to the wall above The Girl for the wide shot, and the white lining of Henry’s pocket was digitally removed (the shot actually has an outtake where the white was masked by gaffer’s tape. These tweaks were always intended to be done by the director, but the deadline to release the DVD loomed.
What else has changed in the film? The sound got a slight adjustment. During the re-edit, Dunn requested the audio stems from sound designer John McLain to accommodate the lengthening or shortening of shots. Hearing the isolated tracks, he fell in love with the atmospheric opening and decided to remove the music, allowing the sound design to come through. A few other adjustments were made on the levels, and some of the music was remixed, including a new piano track on HALLWAY which plays over the end credits.
The Rubbersquare and Abe Froman Productions logos were redone. A subtle cloudy fade was added to a few of the transistions. Vocal effects were adjusted. The “Demon Eyes” were redone. The edges of the frame were darkened in the hallway scenes and in the final dialogue between James and Henry. The “Knife Wielding” shot was added back in. Plus several minor cuts, tweaks and image replacements.
Purists would argue the new version isn’t the real version. What does Michael Dunn think? “I think both versions are similar enough to be considered the ‘real’ version. I haven’t gone full Lucas and made the original version unavailable. I think each is worth watching. Some people will like the gloomier, rougher look of the original; some will prefer the cleaner look of the remastered version. Either way, the story is the same. That’s all that really matters.”