Planning During Pre-Production
is usually not on the minds of filmmakers during pre-production,
but it should be. I can think of two obvious reasons for this:
Money. Anyone who has made a film knows it isn't cheap.
Not having a good plan for post-production can cost you
dearly, or stop you completely. A good rule of thumb to
remember on shows with a budget under $500,000 is: the smaller
the budget, the larger the percentage of that budget will
be required for post production.
2) Quality. The best story, beautifully shot and brilliantly
acted can be sabotaged by a poor film post, and ruined for
the audience. This can happen on both the creative and technical
sides of the post-production process.
Traditionally, film schools have focused on the creative and
technical side of production, without much emphasis placed
on post beyond the editorial process. In some cases, this
is due to time constraints, in some it's a money issue, and
in others, it is just a lack of knowledge. Whatever the case,
the student usually ends up with an edited workprint or video,
but little or no understanding of what is required to truly
finish on film. For many filmmakers, this can spell future
problems on projects that require the complete post process
in order to present at festivals or sell their film. I do
work with some film schools that demand a complete post from
their students, and applaud them for their efforts.
subject of post-production is also included in some books
on filmmaking, but I have yet to find one that speaks to the
possible problems that can be self-induced by the crew during
production, or caused by ignorance of post-production intricacies.
Post-production is something akin to building a house. You,
the producer/director/filmmaker, are acting as the general
contractor. Just as the contractor hires the various trades
to build the house (plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc.),
you will hire the various individuals and companies you need
to finish your film. Like the contractor, the more you understand
the process, the easier it is to deal with potential problems,
and the better the finished project. Also like the contractor,
you should contact the people you will work with early, to
both introduce yourself and educate yourself as to what they
will require of you.
That being said, let's pretend we are in pre-production, and
look first at some of the personnel used in production, and
how they can affect post-production costs by what they do
or don't do. Then we'll break up post into the individual
areas, and look at what each area needs from you, as well
as possible problems that could arise.
In a perfect world, every production would have complete crews,
ideal conditions, and delicious buffets. I know that this
is usually not the case. Both you and your crew often have
to wear many hats during the film project--but I will refer
to each task as an individual and separate function here.
Director of Photography
have a lot on their plates. They are responsible to take the
creative vision of the director and apply that to the literal
vision of the film. They must understand the workings of the
camera, the filters, the set-ups, and lighting, and manipulate
all of it in order to create a distinct visual point of view.
They must be able to communicate effectively with the laboratory
timer, first about the dailies, and later about the answer
print. The DP should know that a slightly overexposed negative
is preferable to a slightly underexposed negative. In the
jargon of the laboratory, the more 'meat' the negative has
(1/2 to 1 stop over exposed), the more the laboratory timer
has to work with.
From a post-production point of view, the DP's job comes down
to balance. Balanced lighting gives balanced color & density,
which gives a balanced negative.
The operator looks through the view finder when the camera
is rolling and keeps the shot framed, making sure nothing
unwanted comes into frame and everything wanted stays in frame.
Even if you can afford a color video tap, the operator knows
better than anyone what the camera is seeing.
He or she should make sure that all slates are well-lighted,
in focus, and in frame-including the clapper. Syncing without
being able to see a clapper closing, or with unreadable slate
information, can be a difficult process. Trying to find takes
in the negative without readable slates can cause unnecessary
I realize that your camera loader or focus puller may also
be your assistant cameraman (or vice-versa). In this area,
there are two other sometimes overlooked issues. One is correctly
writing camera reports. Be certain that:
1) Camera reports are identified with correct information
(roll #, camera #, title, company, date, circled takes,
print all, process for video xfer, etc.).
2) Any special needs are identified in writing (ie. pushes,
or pulls in developing).
3) You identify unusual shots, weird filters, day for night
4) When you are shooting in both color and black-and-white
that you are careful not to mix them up. Identify them correctly.
Negative processed in the wrong bath will make you an unhappy
The other issue is that of using "short ends". Every production
has them, and every production should use them. Used correctly,
short ends are great for pick-up shots, cut-aways, transitions,
and anything you forgot to shoot during primary production.
Short ends can save the filmmaker a ton of money. Used incorrectly,
however, short ends can cost the filmmaker that same ton of
money and then some.
key to all this is being certain that all short ends are head-out
for shooting. The reason is, there are latent key numbers
(keykode & bar code) on one side of the negative. In other
words, they were created when the negative was made, but only
become visible when the negative is processed (developed).
They are located on one side of the negative only, and count
in ascending order from the head of the roll.
negative manufactured by both Kodak and Fuji is shipped heads
out, and therefore in the right position. Short ends are sometimes
wound out of the magazines (in the dark). That would mean
they are then 'tails out', and if shot that way would have
the key numbers on the wrong side of the negative. The numbers
would also run in descending order from the "head" of the
you are workprinting for editing, this problem can be overcome
be asking the laboratory to print "key lites" of both sides
of the negative. The lab normally only prints the "key lites"
on the "head-out" side of the negative.By
printing both "key lites", you have overcome any 'tails-out'
is not the case if you are transferring to video for a digital
non-linear edit. The bar-code reader on the telecine machine
only reads the bar-code from one side of the negative. If
your numbers (bar-code) are on the other side, you can be
shucks-outa-luck, having a video transfer with no relationship
to the key numbers for the negative cutter.
If you do get caught in this web, there are two possible solutions:
the first is to have these rolls transferred with a footage
count rather than the normal keykode. This would create a
relationship back to the negative once the edit is complete.
The other (I'm told this works, but have no practical experience),
is to transfer the film base (cell) up. Then, while editing,
flop the shots used from this roll to put them in the right
position. Trust me--it's a whole lot better to shoot the rolls
correctly in the first place.
It's all in the name. Soft-focus shots can be a killer. If
you are editing with workprint, you can project your dailies,
but you are learning about a problem after the fact. At least
you can re-shoot during production. Without workprint (in
the digital world of non-linear editing), it is extremely
easy to miss a "soft shot" until the negative is cut and you
are looking at the answer print. This is not a good time to
The dexterity and competency of your camera loader dictates
whether or not you have captured an image on film at the end
of the day. Any type of fogging can render a scene unusable,
and edge fog is the easiest to create and the most insidious
in nature. The image may be usable, but with the key numbers
and/or the bar code fogged and unreadable, problems can occur
during telecine transfer (if digital editing), and again when
cutting the negative. The laboratory will usually alert the
filmmaker to the problem, but that can't save what is already
fogged. Note: A bad magazine or camera can also be the culprit.
It is always wise to run some test footage through the equipment
you will use.
if the slate information is written inaccurately or it cannot
be read, it can make syncing dailies, and finding a certain
take in your negative, difficult. If the clapper is not kept
closed after making the clap, if the bottom half of the clapper
is in motion during the clap, or it the slate is moved out
of focus, out of the light, or out of the frame when it is
clapped syncing can be complicated. Sometimes the clapper
can clap the slate too early, requiring "second sticks". In
that case he or she should know to signify it with a hand
signal. If it is a tail slate the clapper should know to hold
the slate upside-down.
As important as a good image is to a film, the sound is even
more so. The reason for this has to do with the difference
between visual perception when compared to aural perception.
For whatever reason, our internal sensibilities give more
latitude to visual problems than to audio ones.
Properly recorded production sound can make daily syncing
easier, editing faster, reduce or eliminate the need for ADR
(Automatic Dialogue Replacement), supply the always-important
ambient background sound, furnish necessary effects, and produce
the necessary dialogue.
sound recorder is relied upon to correctly identify the take
verbally, record it in its entirety (including the clap of
the slate closing), let the director know of any potential
problems, and be able to correctly fill out the sound reports.
Poorly recorded sound can compromise an otherwise excellent
take. Unidentified or incorrectly identified slate information
can cause problems when syncing dailies.
Overview of Editing
There are three distinct paths that editing can take--the
physical (workprint editing), the virtual (digital non-linear)
editing, or some combination of the two. If you are doing
it yourself, the decision is often based on what you're most
comfortable with, and what your budget is.
I ran a cost comparison between the two formats (workprint
& digital), and found very little cost difference. That was
using an Avid or Lightworks system for the digital side of
the comparison. With the new desktop software systems now
available (like FilmLogic and Slingshot), I would have to
say that the cost question favors the digital side. Yet even
with your budget favoring the digital path, there are a number
of issues that you need to be aware of. This is covered comprehensively
in Andy Compares Digital and
If we look at how editing happens from the cash money angle,
going from top to bottom, it would look like this:
BIG BUDGETS IN EXCESS OF $10 MILLION (funny, I used to say
$5 million). In production they print select takes and transfer
tracks. The dailies are synched up, and transferred to video.
The video is digitized into either an Avid or Lightworks
digital non-linear editing system. The film dailies are
also screened by the major players (director, DP, editor,
the producers) to insure that everything is satisfactory.
After the rough cut is completed on the digital system,
a cut list is produced, and the assistant editor conforms
the physical workprint to the digitally output edit decision
list. Sometimes simple effects are created (fades and dissolves),
and dropped in the edited workprint. After the rough cut
is reviewed in a screening room, a fine cut is done on the
digital non-linear system, and then on the edited workprint
is conformed once again. When everyone is satisfied, the
workprint is used as the guide for the sound edit, effects
edit, music edit, and the negative cut.
2) AVERAGE BUDGETS OF WELL-FUNDED INDEPENDENT FILMS--USUALLY
$2 TO $10 MILLION. They usually follow the same editorial
path as their big-budget cousins.
SMALL BUDGETS (NOT-SO WELL-FUNDED INDEPENDENTS)--GENERALLY
$1 TO 2 MILLION. They have a decent budget, but have to
be a little more selective with what they're spending their
money on. What they normally do is pull select takes from
the negative after the digital non-linear editing is completed
(on the Avid or Lightworks). Those select takes are printed,
and conformed to the digital edit. This allows the filmmaking
team to see the project on the screen prior to either cutting
the negative or mixing the sound. Any fine cuts are then
done on the edited workprint, and it is used as the guide
for the sound mix and the negative cut.
MOW'S (MOVIES OF THE WEEK) have strict guidelines that generally
hold the budget to $1 million. Depending on the producer,
they will often follow the same path as the small-budget
5) TRUE INDIES (MINI-BUDGETS) are working with little budget,
and often don't have all of the finishing funds. Sometimes
it may take these productions as long as 2 years to grind
through all of the different areas of post. Generally the
editing takes the form of whatever is available for little
or no cost. Either it is completely workprinted and edited
on a flatbed, or transferred to video and edited digitally
on a non-linear system. The workprint method still allows
you to see the project on the big screen, the digital edit
does not. This can become a problem.
NO-BUDGET (NO FORMAL FINANCING PLAN). These productions
usually plan on a digital edit and output to video to create
interest in the film and generate finishing funds through
a new wave of investment.
I feel that the preferable way of editing is a combination
of digital (for speed and ease) and workprint editing (for
accuracy and reliability). You may not have the budget that
enables you to do it, but by understanding the possible pitfalls,
you can minimize headaches during post-production.
Not every production can afford a post-production supervisor.
This is one of the reasons that we at Andy Pratt Negative
Cutting act as informal advisors for our clients. If you can
afford one, a post supervisor is normally hired during pre-production,
and has the responsibility of locating the various individuals
or companies needed during post. During production, the post
supervisor coordinates with the production crew, the laboratory,
and the editorial staff. During post-production, he or she
oversees the entire post process and delivers it all on a
specific timeline, within the budget. The post supervisor
should have a basic understanding of each of the different
processes required during post-production (including the time
each stage takes), and the ability to work with the different
companies. The greatest error a post-production supervisor
can make is assuming. Due to the number of different areas
of post, and the level of coordination required among them,
assuming anything can cause lost time and the sudden hemorrhaging
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