Post Production Update as of April 23

We’re deep into post production and there’s not quite as much to write about in terms of behind the scenes activity — it’s basically two or three of us locked up in a room with computer screens and speakers and lots of coffee. But we’re progressing through the edit and feeling better and better as we get deeper into it.

One thing that I know I’ve blogged about in the past but maybe some of you haven’t seen it, is to explain the steps in post production.  And anyway — this time it’s a little different since we shot on the red camera, which has it’s own post production workflow.  So here are some bullet points:

  • Director’s Cut:  Normally if you have the entire film in the can, the director is given about 10 weeks to do his cut.  If it’s a DGA (Director’s Guild) film, the director is mandated those 10 weeks.  In indieland, it might be a bit less. In the old days before Final Cut Pro and Avid Express, the director’s cut always involved having a fulltime editor simply to work the machines.  Nowadays many younger directors (or young at heart anyway) have their own editing equipment and in some cases the editor isn’t brought on fulltime until the director has had his whack at it.  Anyway — April 15 was 10 weeks past the end of our shoot so that gives you a sense of where we are.
  • After the Director’s cut, there are producer revisions.  In my case, since I’m a director and a producer, what happens is that I try to follow two different thought patterns.  During the Director’s cut phase, I try to make sure that everything I was trying to do at every step of the way in the film at least gets tried out.  I also try to shape the story the way I was shaping it when I directed the scenes–thus if I felt there were three or four particular “moments” in a given scene that were important, I emphasize that.  Or if it’s more from one character’s point of view, I skew it that way.  And I just basically plow through the film trying to get the most out of I can based upon the script, the shooting plan, and the directorial “vision”.
  • After that, though, it’s time to look at the film differently.  Invariably, films shift and change during the making.  They are not just a carbon copy of what the director wanted — they in some fashion take on a life of their own and it becomes important to “listen” to the film and what it’s trying to say, and begin to make changes that are more responsive to the film.  In our situation, the editor and Susan Johnson are the ones who take the director’s cut and then have their wicked way with it.  I go away and wash my head of it.  Then — after 2-3 weeks of that, I’ll come back in and we’ll work our way to the finish line of the EDIT (which is a long long way from the finish line of Post Production.)
  • When we get to a finished edit, what we have is something that’s pretty watchable — it’s got temp music, maybe some effects, perhaps some effort has been made to equalize the sound and get rid of any really offensive production sound elements.  But all of this is just temp stuff done in the service of trying to make the cut watchable enough that it can be judged.  Now, with the cut decided on (at least provisionally), the post moves on to the next stages which involve:
    • Building up the sound.  The dialogue must be cleaned up and isolated, the foley added (foley is natural sounds you make on a stage by replicating the sound you should hear on the screen — a glass getting placed down, the rustle of clothing, footsteps).  The reason you need to foley eveyrthing is that eventually your sound track has to be compartmented in souch a way that the dialogue can be removed for foreign language dubs without removing all the other sounds that are attached to it on the production recording.  So that’s why you “re-record” the sound — through foley and hard effects you try to recreate and enhance the naturally recorded production sound, making it more expressive and compartmenting it.
    • Special Effects Shots.  Some of this can be one while the first round of editing is happening, but most of the SFX shots happen later in the game, replacing temp effect shots that were dropped in during the edit.
    • Music–The composer in indie films usually doesn’t start until the edit is complete, although he or she might start ‘noodling’ with some themes before the cut is done.
    • Eventually the sound is locked (6 weeks is about normal for sound) and so now we have locked picture and locked sound, with special effects shots in place.
    • With the RED camera, at this point we have to do a conform which is really pretty easy.  The RED gathers so much information that for editing purposes, we only use a “reference movie” that has 1/4 the info on each digital frame that the “real” Red frame has.  So now before doing color grading and final visuals, we rebuild the film using the full resolution of the red.
    • We then go on to color grading and finalizing the picture, adding titles, and getting all of the SFX shots in place so that we can finish the film.

Anyway, if that sounds complicated first of all I’ve simplified it a bit so apologies to any techies out there — I know I didn’t describe that well enough to satisfy you.  But it’s actually a bit easier and more streamlined than the traditional film system, wherein as soon as the edit was “locked” you would then have editors go and physically start cutting and assembling negative.  Plus you would have to do “opticals” for things like dissolves and fadeouts and so on.  Then build an “Answer Print”.  Not so anymore.

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