Adding Total Soul To A Film on the Post Production Table

Adding Total Soul To A Film on the Post Production Table

For most indie-film crew members, ‘that’s a wrap’ is the end of the production process, but for the Indie director it is just the beginning. Post production brings its own set of challenges and demands that must be navigated to turn what’s ‘in the can’ into a finished product that can be exhibited in festivals and distributed to an audience.

Here are some considerations to think about while preparing to direct the post production part of your film:

Shooting to Edit

One of the biggest mistakes first-time filmmakers make is not shooting for the edit, and finding out in post-production that they have either way too much, or not enough scene coverage. As a director, it is important to think about what exactly you need in order to tell the story before you shoot. You must visualize what you need to tell through the story, as well as what the editor will need to edit in the story, and anticipate what the audience expects to see to keep them on their toes. As a general rule-of-thumb, you should always get enough coverage to ‘play it safe’ when shooting scenes with particularly complicated camera movement or action.

As a director you should be thinking, ‘do I have what I need to tell the scene if the shot doesn’t work out, or there is an error in continuity?’ At the same time, it is important to know what you want performance wise from your actors and camera, so that you don’t waste time filming too many takes. Also, when you find the take you want to use, it is important that your script supervisor notes the take number as to make it clear for the editor. There’s nothing worse for an editor than sitting through take after take of almost exactly the same performance sifting for the best one. Time is money, if the last take was the best, note it, and move on. Everyone will thank you.

Thinking Through Deliverables

Many first-time film directors enter post production with only the editing of the film in mind, only to finish the film and be handed a list of additional deliverables requested by film festivals and distributors. Before entering post-production, the director must think through several things – What would the trailer look like? What are the best still frames from the film? As well as what potential scenes best represent the film if they were to be used on their own for promotional purposes? Often distributors and broadcasters will use clips from your film to promote it and thinking through what sections of the film best represents the film while editing can be very beneficial later on. Planning through and visualizing the film’s trailer while cutting the film will also save time and energy because the rest of your post-production crew including the sound editor and composer will already be invested in the film and can easily incorporate these elements in their list of deliverables and schedule instead of having to add it on after the fact. 

Working with Color

Color grading is that part of the process that almost everyone has heard of, but unless you are an editor, director of photography (DP) or a colorist, you’ve probably never really paid much attention to. The Colorist is effectively the ‘painter’ of your film who takes the raw footage that the DP has shot and paints the vibrant strokes that create the world and mood that make your film visually pop. But as a first time director, color correction can be a bit scary – the possibilities are endless, and if you are doing the color grade yourself, so are the possibilities of screwing things up! If you are planning on grading your film yourself, take a deep breath, and prepare yourself because there is a lot to learn about understanding how to color grade. A good place to start is by learning about color theory, and when you are comfortable with the basic concepts check out this article on how to work on color grading.

If you are working with a colorist for the first time, the process can also be a bit scary. A good first place to start is by re-watching the films that visually inspired you to make this film. Note the scenes and looks that you enjoy and screenshot them. Then watch your film and pull stills of each scene. Edit these stills in your favorite photo editing software like Photoshop and try to get the image to look the way you want, or at least the general ballpark. With these stills in hand, you can go to your colorist and communicate what visual look you want to achieve with each scene. Your colorist will then be able to guide you through the necessary steps in creating the right look and feel for your film. Before you do that, make sure you discuss the look and mood you are going for with your DP to ensure both of you are on the same page with what was shot. If you can, bring your DP along with you for the color grading session. 

Working with a Sound Engineer and Composer

A film contains three elements: picture, sound, and music. Of those three elements, two of them are created in post-production, and both of them are mastered and mixed by the sound engineer. Post-production audio is a significant part of making the film ‘feel’ the way you want it to, and in order to be successful, it is very important to have clear communication between your sound engineer and composer. Of all of the words in the English language, there are only about one hundred or so that are used to describe sounds. For this, it is important when speaking with your sound engineer or composer that you are able to describe how you want things to ‘feel’ within your scene, or the ‘moods’ you want to create. Coming prepared with time code marked notes describing specific points in the film where you want the audience to feel a certain way is critical for effective communication. Similarly, having a good command of musical vocabulary will help tremendously when speaking with your composer as you can articulate the tempo, cadence, and intensity that you want using a language your composer will understand. Although sound and music happen at the very end of the post-production process, it never hurts to involve them as early as possible.

Final Thoughts

Post production is a big step – one that can make or break your film. The wrong music, sound effects, or color grade can completely destroy the story envisioned by the director. Yet by treating Post the same way, you treat production with preparation, clear communication, and well thought out goals, a director can take the ‘raw stock’ out of the preverbal film can, and craft it into the film they’ve envisioned in their head.

– Video Caddy