The Basics of Post Production

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Has the constant refrain of “Make Your Own Stuff” finally gotten to you? Have you and a plucky band of compatriots cobbled together a script and a camera and some sound and actors and snacks to shoot your thing? Yay for you!

Well, guess what. You aren’t done making it. There is still post-production to get through before you have really made your thing. What’s post-production? It’s just a fancy way of saying after production. Aren’t you fancy, using filmmaking jargon like a pro? Well, unless you went to film school that’s the last time you’ll feel like you know what you’re talking about in this process. I hope you enjoyed it.

The level of post-production you’ll need to do ranges widely based on what type of thing you’ve made and where you want it to end up. If you’re just shooting something for YouTube vlog style maybe a quick edit yourself in iMovie is all you need. Congratulations, you just made everything very easy on yourself. Teach me how.

If you’re looking to make something for film festivals or to use as a sample to try to get directing jobs or just make your acting reel look as fabulous as possible you might have to go a little further and recruit $ome more people who know what they’re doing.

Editing. You’ve done it in iMovie, editors use Final Cut or Avid. These are very complicated programs that you shouldn’t bother with unless you want to go wayyyy down the rabbit hole. Don’t get me wrong; it is smart to learn these. Maybe you can turn around and fund your own projects from the money you earn as an editor now? I wish I knew how to use these programs, but I also wish I knew how to forge the metal and grind the lense to make a camera, but there are only so many hours in a day, so…

Editing is VERY important. There are two editors I usually work with. I’ve known them both for years and they are two of the funniest people I know. This is important because I usually make comedies. They say your movie is written three times: on the page, in the camera and in editing. That is totally true. You should probably try to find an editor before you shoot. Invite them to set. Invite them to dinner. Invite them to your wedding. This is a very important member of your team.

Sound. Sound is also VERY important. Even for YouTube videos you made and edited on your phone. People will forgive almost anything but bad sound. Bad sound makes people turn off your movie. Bad sound is unwatchable. Your onset sound person is very important. They make sure everything is caught, let you know when there are problems and call “plane” in case you hadn’t heard it yet and were under the misconception that you could shoot instead of having everyone stand around doing nothing for two minutes. But your post-sound person (or people if you have the money) is important too. They reconcile the sound difference between the lav mics and the boom, they decide what needs ADR (Additional Sound Recording) and they build the aural world of the piece. Are there birds? Is there the hum of a refrigerator? Is that sound of the dragging body loud enough or does it need foley? They also do the final mix, put in the music and fix that weird rustley blouse you were dumb enough to put on the lead actress. There are lots of different computer programs the different aspects of post sound use but many designers use Pro Tools. It is probably also too complicated for you to learn yourself unless you really want to do your own sound design.

Music. You like music. You listen to music. This should be easy. Well, you’re wrong. Is there a popular song you like and want to use? Forget it… unless you want to blow thousands and thousands on buying the rights just forget it. There are festival specific contracts, but I don’t like these because then you have a movie that can only play at festivals. Just forget about that song you like.

Here’s what you can do. Find something in the public domain. That’s easier said than done because of the truly bizarre world of copyright, but there are some things that you can be pretty sure of with enough research. Use those!

You can hire a composer. This is essential for longer pieces, but will absolutely cost you some money. A truly great film composer is worth their weight in gold many times over and can make the ok thing you made shine. This is something you should be thinking about very early.

You can also approach musicians who own their own music and beg them to let you put their song in your movie. This works best with friends. Know a great indie band because the lead singer’s husband was your friend in college? Would their latest album be a great soundtrack to your feature film? Then you are set. Make sure you get the right paperwork so everybody is clear on the legalities. Nobody wants to get sued.

Special Effects. Your movie might not have any special effects. That was smart of you! If you do have special effects you have to know what you’re going to need to do before you shoot. If someone on your team has some experience with this they may know how to just toss up a green screen and get the lighting right. If not you’re going to need your person to come to set to make sure you don’t screw anything up. A simple mistake could cost you a lot or make it so you just have to do reshoots. There are a lot of special effects companies and people out there. Some of them will work magic and some will…not. Know if what you’re asking for is easy or impossible and you should be able to get the amazing thing you want without buying a whole new house for the owner of the effects house.

Color Correction. This one is fun and pricy and important. The best way to describe color correction is putting an Instagram filter on your movie. Suddenly that washed out selfie that looked terrible is amazing! Suddenly your blah movie looks like a real movie! Color correction helps skin tones look real, gives you power over the mood of a piece and lets you emphasize things that you want people to look at and deemphasize things you wish you’d cut out of the shot in the first place. Most color people use DaVinci Resolve. Yet again, a very crazy program you should probably stay away from unless you think you want to go into color.

Titles and End Crawl. If you’re lucky your editor will put your titles in. But you’ll have to know what they’re going to look like. Are you going to keep it simple and all the editor is doing is plugging them into Final Cut and deciding with you where they go? Or are they more complicated and need to be shot or designed somehow? You should know what you want in case you have something fancy in mind so it doesn’t catch the person who you expect to do it by surprise.

The end crawl is more complicated than you might think because they’re essentially animated. If you do them wrong they can jump and skip to the eye and make everyone in the theatre throw up. I’m kidding. Everyone already got up when the movie ended, but your mom is still sitting there and she’ll throw up if you don’t do them right.

If you’re working with an all inclusive post house they’ll probably include the end crawl in their package but for the film I’m making now we’re using Endcrawl. Now they’re still in beta and we haven’t done the final render yet but so far I’ve loved using them. We’ve been changing things and adding them as we go. They render as many times as you need so you can check the two columns vs. three for your special thanks, or anything else you might want to change 50 times.

Online Edit. You may or may not need to do this. Online editing is an artifact left over from the video days but with the giantness of digital files it’s often still an important process. You’ll probably want to edit with proxy files that are smaller than what you shot on and the process of reconciling those and putting all your full sized files together from all your different departments is done here. Maybe your editor can do it. Maybe your colorist can do it. Maybe your post house will include it in their bid. Just be aware that such a thing exists and you might need money to pay for it.

Well, that’s postproduction in a nutshell. There are still things you need to do like decide what kind of format you want to have the movie on, what format to provide to festivals and how to show it online. There are also things like closed captioning and all kinds of deliverables you’ll need if a distributor or TV channel picks you up. I’ll get into the basics of that another time. Just be aware that all costs money too.

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Etta Devine

About Etta Devine

Etta Devine is an actor and content creator. Along with her partner, Gabriel Diani, she is responsible for "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn {Robotic Edition}" the web series "Mary Olson" (1.3 million hits on YouTube), and the comedy team Diani & Devine. Their feature film "The Selling" is currently out on DVD and they are hoping to shoot their second feature this year. Want to invest?

  • Willena

    Good overview. Thanks for the specific recommendations on software.