We’ve wrapped. The crew has gone home. Cameras have been returned. For many it’s a big sigh of relief: we made it, we’re done, we shot a movie! Then reality sinks in. All you have is several hard drives of raw data and files; hours upon hours of material and hundreds of variations in which this can be assembled to actually create said film. The first cut is the deepest, and as you toil away at this you realize the work has really just begun.
We wrapped initial principle photography on August 18th. On September 30th I had completed my first cut of the film. Though I felt I had a good grasp on the edit/revision process from my experience on other projects as well as the script, I had no idea what was about to come my way through the post production process of Almosting It.
There is no part of production that is more important than the other, but post-production is the time when you really get to polish out the blemishes and make your film into a movie. Through editing, color grading and sound design, you will find a way to better enhance the overall sensual experience of the story you are working to tell. It’s incredible how each of these aspects of post serve to enhance the audiences’ experience, and will buy you a trust that will make the next 90 minutes of their lives more engaging and memorable.
(This article was originally written in 2015--just before the premiere of my first feature)
I feel very fortunate that my time in the English program at my college broke me of the angst of having my work viewed and critiqued by others. Having spent hours in writing workshops and one-on-one sit-downs with my professors—forcing myself to embrace feedback and beatings over words I thought were good and was quickly told otherwise—I have no problem “killing my darlings” for the greater good of the overall narrative. I know how hard this is for creatives. I’ve had peers ask me how I handle it so well, and my only response is that I have grown to like it. Having been through it all, my time in an edit or critique is my own “fifty shades of red ink.” What I don’t like, is having my feelings spared. Nothing irritates me more than knowing or finding out that someone refused to speak out because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. There can be no growth in that approach. The best thing you can do is seek and accept criticism. You don’t have to be a masochist about it, but understand the importance of the process because you will never grow without it.
Editing embodies this, and it is why it is so important to have an editor on your project. Sure, we have all spent years having to “assemble” our own material because no one else was around or we had no budget for it; but this does not make us editors. Editors don’t simply stitch together the takes of a scene to match continuity and get us from start to finish. An editor will find ways to enhance pacing, manipulate tone, bring out performances that were not initially present, and trick the eyes of the audience. They will also have the balls to tell you if something you thought worked, in fact, does not.
I learned more in the 11 days spent in the editing room on Almosting It than I did on the pre-production and production of the film combined. I showed up to my editor with my “assembly,” and together we stripped it down to the core, rearranged the entire work, trimmed the fat, and walked away with a completely different film—one that worked in a way I could not have imagined.
I spoke before in the article on writing that a lot of my mistakes in shooting—which were resolved in the edit—can and should be taken care of at the script level. Notions like starting the scene on the first line of dramatic dialog, not setting the scene, showing over telling, putting an emphasis on keeping scenes around the one minute-or-less mark when ever possible. I agree with what I stated, and the next script I do will reflect this—however, it took going through the editing process for me to truly understand the difference it will make later.
I think it is very important for the director to execute the first cut or assembly of their film. This will get the ballpark vision and potential of the film onto the page (or timeline). It is also a huge load off the back of the editor, who would otherwise have to rely solely on a script (heavily fractured) or storyboards (irrelevant). This will also get the director familiar with the project and workflow so he can better communicate with the editor. When Taylor asks, “is there a take where _____ happens?” I can say, “Yes, I’m pretty sure it’s around take 7 of set-up C. The notes from your script supervisor can also be very helpful here as well.
After your first assembly, let your editor do his job. They know it better then you do. And TRUST them. At this point (for me at least) you are likely so saturated by the material that it becomes difficult to have a clear perspective of it all. Remain accessible to answer questions, and certainly sit in on as many sessions as possible, but understand that there needs to be a level of trust between the two of you. Stick to your guns, sure, but know there are likely variations and decisions you wont like but are necessary.
I trust my editor wholly. Like any other skilled specialist you bring on to help you make a film worth watching, you need to know enough about their job to work together—but at the end of the day, they are the one who knows how their craft works.
Get an editor. Trust your editor. Let them help you tell your story in the best visual way possible.
I know a lot of other filmmakers who are not fans—and actually avoid the color grading process. I used to be one of them, before I understood that this is likely the most visually imperative cue for audience reception there is—especially if you did not shoot natively on film and are chasing a “cinematic” look.
To be clear: color grading is not the same as color correction. Color correction is simply bringing uniformity to each image—making them match one another’s Kelvin temperature to achieve true white. Color grading is manipulation of color and light to achieve a visual aesthetic.
All the recent advancement in camera sensor technology (4K, RAW, high dynamic range) has not been created to help you achieve ultimate laziness as a filmmaker by knowing you can re-frame a shot in post, or get away with less lights on set. The entire point of this technology is to give you latitude in color grading, allowing you to make use of one of the greatest tools in modern filmmaking.
If anything, with RAW and 4K it is more important than ever to have good lighting and framing, because it means anything is possible once our colorist gets his hands on the material. You can accent mood by building greater contrast ratios in your lighting. Depth can be added to a shot that was otherwise slightly flat. The color palettes you meticulously selected and built your entire set design around can now be accented to an even greater level. Most importantly, you can fine-tune it to a point that you get to really put your own unique stamp on your vision. Working together with your colorist, you can build a feel and aesthetic that no one else has ever used, tell the story more visually, and really give an added cinematic depth to the film.
“Real” movies don’t look like “real” movies because they visually mirror reality, they appear that way because it is what we have come to expect from high production. They are heightened reality. They are vibrant and full. I found a great groove with my colorist. It’s incredible the options there are, so don’t be afraid to push the limits, but understand that this is a very important part of the process, and if you skip it, you may as well have had your mom shoot the movie on her phone (which you might have to do on the next one because your cinematographer will never forgive you if his images are presented to the world flat and colorless).
Post-production does a lot to fill in gaps that help build audience trust. “Sound isn’t that important,” said nobody ever! The only problem is that a lot of folks only follow that advice during production—which is a good start, because good sound begins at the source—but as we all know, good sound is only appreciated when it is no longer present.
A lot can be said in silence. More can be said through what fills the silence. A breeze. Distant cities or suburban life at work. A sound designer will find a way to make both your spoken and unspoken interactions resonate and carry weight within the scene. The addition of scoring and Foley will obviously add to the equation as well.
This is another example of an area where I don’t know need to know how to do the work, as long as I trust my sound designer to work his magic. Which I do. I understand the significance and have learned a lot thus far, but mostly look forward to sitting back and supervising the final mixes before we master all the tracks, knowing my sound designer has already done his job.
Post-production for me has been a very weird process. It requires extreme specialization from individuals, and a great deal of trust that they understand their craft better than I do. It’s sort of the final let-go before you regroup once more for the final assembly and exhibition. It’s the last coat of paint, the taper before the big competition. Here, a film can be saved, lost, enhanced or marginalized. Fatigue has set in on everyone, but the end is so near that there is no choice but to be excited for what will come.
Each step and each day yields a better and cleaner product, and when the final track is finally laid—and the last layer of color has been applied—you know what you have is what will forever be your film, and will be seen and heard as is. Unless you’re George Lucas, and decide twenty years later that everything was wrong. Good luck, and keep plugging away. It can all only get better and better from this point on.