At last, we get to the end of the film pipeline. Postproduction is everything that comes after shooting has finished (except for pick-up shots, which are just more production, and won't be covered except to say that if you're doing any something went wrong and hopefully you left room in your budget for reshooting. If not, a great postproduction crew (especially a great Editor) may be able to save your film anyway. Maybe even make it just as good, if not better, than it would have been had you spent money reshooting and skimped on post.
Here is a visual guide to postproduction, followed by a summary of the process:
Before any postproduction happens, your footage must be taken into the system. If you're shooting film and cutting the negative you shot, then you're all set -- and you're probably also time-shifted back about 20 years or so. Even if you are cutting film, you'll want to make a dupe neg, cut that, and then conform the original negative.
More likely, however, you're going to scan your film digitally, or deliver your digital footage into the digital system (and then ultimately either do a negative conform to the digital edit decision list to create the dupe neg -- or just make your dupe negatives using a film printer).
Both film and digital delivery into post may require conversion (not all digital formats are the same). Either you've set aside money in your budget for this or, and only a no-budget shooter would even contemplate this, you're going to spend a ton of time mastering the conversion system and acquiring footage yourself. No, simply opening up Final Cut doing the default acquire for your device isn't going to give you the best possible results.
Visual Effects and Effects Editing
Visual Effects are optical or (nowadays, generally) digital techniques used to create imagery that isn't in the photographed footage. (Special Effects are practical techniques for creating effects in the photographed image, generally 0n-set and with the actors in the shot with the effect -- though not always.) The images generated can range from fantastical fantasy and sci-fi creatures, buildings, and vehicles, to dangerous things like explosions, fires, tornadoes, and tidal waves, to "mundane" things like normal buildings and scenery (and these backgrounds may be traditional matte paintings, or sophisticated digital 3D set extensions).
Effects artists work from the storyboards and photographed footage to create these new elements, compositors layer the effets work into the original plates, and effects editors cut the results back into the film based on the Editor's overall pacing and tone decisions balanced against the special requirements of the effect.
VFX is an extremely technically complex aspect of filmmaking, and it since most Indie Auteurs won't be dealing with VFX much, if at all, it's a topic best left to a future post -- but only after the release of the <a href="http://www.visualeffectssociety.org" target="_blank">Visual Effects Society</a> Handbook for which I am writing chapters about pipeline.
Editing, Sound (Editing, Design, Foley, Dialog Editing and A.D.R.) and Music (Scoring)
Editing is the third and final major revision of your film. First the script (and boards, if you made any) were revised and revised. Then the film was shot, with all sorts of on-set decisions being made that changed the shape of the film. The editing room is where the last big changes are made before the film is released.
The basics of editing are simple: look at the shooting script, breakdown, shot logs, and footage, and create from the footage what is in the breakdown. However, a skilled Editor has as his or her job helping the Director make the best possible film, including going off script and picking different takes than the circle take, changing shot order and length, and pretty much anything else than can feasibly be done given the footage in the can. Collaboration with a great editor always results in a much better film.
Since editing is assembly of the final film, this is where the pacing and tone is established. Pacing is all about timing. When do we see what, and for how long? What comes before and after? Tone is in part dictated by pacing and what is left in and what is taken out of the material. It is also in part dictated by the acting -- but it is also the result of choices made about sound design, music, and color palette.
During the Edit phase of postproduction, generally the longest phase (unless it is a VFX heavy film, in which case the craft-intensive VFX work may take longer than everything else involved in making the film combined), pacing and tone are the order of the day, and that is what everyone is working on: trying to use picture and sound to get the proper emotional impact out of every moment in the film.
Here are some of the specific jobs involved in doing so:
- Editor: While the editor generally does the actual work of cutting the picture his or her self, they are also the person responsible for the overall editing of the film. Other than the Director, the Editor has the most influence over the pacing and tone of the film because all other editorial decisions are made based on what is happening in the picture edit.
- Assistant Editors: Handle acquisition, logging, data management (of footage and sound, but also script, breakdown, and shot log info in a database) for the editor. May also do rough assemblies of sequences for the editor (sticking closely to the breakdown, log and shooting script specifications).
- Sound Editor: The person responsible for editing sound on the film, which may mean all the sound, or it may mean all the sound except for the music, or it may mean just the sound effects and foley (the term comes from the latter, but in the cases of very talented major sound editors and/or low budget features with small crews, the sound editor may do all the sound). Without the effects and foley, a film sounds quite flat and lifeless -- this is a very important job that is often underappreciated.
- Dialog Editor: In the traditional case where Sound Editor is responsible for effects and foley editing, the Dialog Editor is responsible for the potentially very complex task of dialog editing. This means cutting in and syncing-up the best possible dialog choices that correspond to the picture editing choices. This may mean trimming, cleanup, and sync of dialog from the same take, or clever manipulation and syncing of dialog from one or more other takes. When the dialog is spotty for either technical or performance reasons, the Editor may be doing a lot of tricky cuts that in turn mean tricky cutting and syncing for the Dialog Editor.
- Sound Designer: Sometimes a Sound Editor does all their own effects selection and/or performance, and sometimes they work with a full-time Sound Designer whose job is to create new sound effects.
- Foley Artist: A Foley Artist is basically a performance sound designer whose job is to create, in real-time as they watch running footage, sound effects that match the image. Foley Artists are the ones who clap blocks together for running horses and punch slabs of meat and break bambook for fistfights. Digital sound design and editing is making Foley less common, which is a shame as it's a lot of fun.
- A.D.R. Editor: Additional/alternate Dialog Recording, or Dubbing, is the process of replacing the voices in a film with alternate performances. Dubbing foreign language films is one use, but the one we care about here is using A.D.R. to salvage footage that has good picture but bad sound (either for technical or performance reasons), or to add or change dialog because something isn't working in the text. The A.D.R. Editor works with the Director to guide the Actor through this process, in which they watch the shots being altered, and attempt to deliver the new performance in a manner that fits the footage as closely as is possible.
- Composer and Orchestrator: The Composer and Orchestrator create the score to match the film. Sometimes this is done well before postproduction begins, though that is suboptimal. It is much more successful for a Composer and Orchestrator to score based on early edits of the film, refine until the film is near final picture, and then let the orchestra, band or synthesist perform the score while watching something close to the final edit.
- Music Editor: A Music Editor may edit the score into the film in the case where the Sound Editor is only a sound effects and Foley editor. In the common case where things change after the Composer and Orchestrator have already wrapped off the film, the Music Editor is responsible for recutting the existing musical performances in a way that best fits the changed picture and sound edit.
In order to nail down the pacing and tone, Editing is often done in close collaboration with sound editing, dialog editing, sound design, and scoring. The timing of shots influences the length of pieces in the score, and where the highs and lows are placed in the music, and vice-versa. The same goes for sound design and editing. Each new cut of the picture influences the Sound Mix.
All that editing results in an assemblage in which the timing may be perfect, but the sound and picture levels most likely are not. Sound mixing is the process of getting all those levels right for the sound, and balancing the dialog, effects/Foley, and music in a manner that allows the audience to always hear the text, and brings forward the music and backgrounds for effect at appropriate moments.
The dialog and effects/Foley are generally mixed separately from the music, which is mixed by a professional music producer/mixer in the manner music is mixed for an album release (i.e. the levels are mixed relative to the rest of the music to create tonal and emotional dynamics). Only then is a final sound mix done where the three elements are brought together and the overall levels are balanced out so that the text is comprehensible while also giving you the layers of background and music that make it feel like a film to an audience.
How the three elements of sound are first edited, and then mixed, heavily influences the tone of the film. If you've got the same war footage, adding bombastic music and keeping the sound effects frequent, loud and clear (Michael Bay, etc.) is a much different tone than adding brooding music and/or occasionally bringing in a cacophony of sounds atop a baseline of muted backgrounds or outright siglence (Saving Private Ryan Beachhead Scene, etc.).
On very low budget films, the Sound Editor may very well also be the Sound Mixer (and maybe even the Music Mixer), and all the cleanup and mixing may happen on an ongoing basis alongside the editing.
Color Grading / Timing and "D.I."
Color Grading is the process of digitally adjusting the imagery to get the final visual tone, similar to how sound mixing creates the final aural tone. If a lot of manipulation is done to the image, sometimes the term "Telecine" or "Digital Intermediate" is used instead of Color Grading (even though no matter how little you do to the image, any process that takes film, digitizes it, digitally alters the image, and then films out for release is a digital intermediate process). Color Timing is a holdover term from optical filmmaking wherein the final color was balanced by timing how long each color of light was shining on each frame during exposure of the dupe negative.
All this terminology just means: we took the original image, possibly converted it to a different format, and then did something to it to modify the appearance of the image in frame.
What is done can be subtle or extreme. Traditional grading consists simply of adjusting the color and value of the image (optically or digitally) so that adjoining shots that are supposed to appear to the audience as being in the same time and place look as much like they were shot under the same lighting conditions as possible.
But a lot of the tone of a film comes from this process. When Directors and DPs have ideas about the thematic, emotional, or philosophical aspects of a film being coded by a look -- warm vs cool, high contrast vs low, and so on -- they traditionally did as much of that as they can with on-set lighting. But rarely is that perfect, and shots must be corrected relative to each other.
This correction technology evolved to today's digital technology, which is causing more people to shoot a neutral palette put off the final decisions about tone until post. (Why taking that attitude too far can easily lead to acting performances that don't match your tone may seem obvious, but if it were so obvious it wouldn't happen so often and thus it still will wind up the topic for a future post).
Extreme lighting effects (deep blue lighting, extremely high contrast, etc.) which when done on-set could pose a high risk to the footage being usable at all are now more often being shot with a more subtle on-set treatment and "punched up" in post -- or whole new looks are created in post, using digital tools (if you've never seen a big grading system like a Lustre, think Magic Bullet Colorista or Apple Color (or the built in FCP color grading) or the keying, rotoing and color manipulation parts of After Effects or Shake on steriods, and if you've never seen any of those things -- think Photoshop optimized for moving images, and then some).
Once you've done all this, there's nothing left to do but print the film and release it. (Which involves mastering and printing, distribution deals, the logistics of the distribution process, marketing and advertising, merchandising, publicity, and other things that will be covered in future articles.)
There is a saying in the business that projects are never finished, they're abandoned. Eventually you run out of budget, or energy, or inspiration -- or a Studio Executive arrives to inform you that either your film arrives at the duplication house tomorrow, or you'll never work in this town again. Then you're done.
If all has gone well, you've done every thing in all four pipeline posts at least twice (meaning you've iterated on every step a couple times, done at least a couple takes of every shot, and generally given yourself and your crew the opportunity to make changes for the better at every step along the way).
You could iterate on every step more or less forever, because you can always find something you <em>think </em>could be better (though eventually you'd just be making it different, but not necessarily better). Fortunately, you're eventually forced to either move on or abandon the project, and as a result films are occasionally completed and released.
Now rush out and see your film with an audience so you can take your friends out for beers and make them listen to you brooding and raging about that guy who got up and left in the middle of the best f***ing part of the whole film! (Because 99% of all artists are too self conscious to ever bring themselves to focus on all the people enjoying themselves and appreciating their work).