Congratulations, you’ve completed your film shoot! Now what? In this installment of the Industry Newbie series, I’ll give an overview of the post-production process. Let me start by saying that post-production is not my area of deep expertise and many articles have been written on this topic that go into far more detail than I will go into here. My goal is to help you understand the key steps and terminology involved so that you can ask for more detail and resources where you need, and so that you have a foundation for meaningful conversations with your post-production team.
What Does Post-Production Include?
Post-Production includes the following steps that are vital to completing any project: editing (or picture editing), color correction, title cards, music, sound editing, Foley, ADR (not required on all projects), and sound mixing.
When I completed my first project, I did not know what all of these were, let alone that different people might be needed to fulfill the different roles. While you do not need to be an expert in each area, you should know the distinctions between the skills so that you can properly interview candidates for your project and have educated discussions with your team members. Often post-production professionals can take care of more than one of these tasks, but during the interview process you will need to clarify (a) which exact skills they have and (b) what their rate is for each task or if they can work with a fee that includes multiple tasks.
Editing/Picture Editing – Cutting and combining the video footage to create the final picture that viewers will see.
Color Correction – Adjusting the color of the video to ensure consistency across takes and scenes, and, if necessary, to better reflect the mood the director wants to communicate. Ideally the color created by the cinematographer on set properly reflects the director’s vision, but sometimes adjustments are made in post-production to convey certain moods even more clearly. And, even if the overall color is accurate, there are typically inconsistencies in lighting between different takes and different angles. If you do not correct the color, then when you cut the final footage together, the lighting can seem off as you jump from one take to another.
Title Cards – Designing and creating the opening and closing credits.
Music – Composing or finding music that fits the video. Whether you are using original or pre-existing music, you must make sure that you have the rights to use it in your project or you will likely not be able to screen, sell, or distribute the project.
Sound Editing – Pulling together the sound that will be attached to the video. Just as picture editing refers to going through all of the video footage to find the best takes and the best way to cut the takes to build the story that matches the director’s vision, sound editing refers to reviewing all of the audio recordings to find the best takes and the ones that fit the final video best, and collecting appropriate sound effects.
Foley – The sounds of actions that are happening on-screen. Often the audio recording taken on set does not include (or does not include clear versions of) the sounds of the events that are happening in the video, e.g. footsteps, chewing, a door squeaking, or cars driving by. Filling out these sounds in post-production significantly enhances the viewer’s feeling that what they see on screen is actually happening.
ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) – Re-recording the dialogue that happens on screen, after the shoot. This is typically required when the audio recording from the shoot was not clear, e.g. there was too much background noise, or something happened to the audio recording after the shoot so that it is no longer usable. ADR is recorded by bringing the original actors (or sound-alikes) back into a recording room, and having them record the dialogue while watching the video so that the emotions of their recording match what is happening on screen.
Sound Mixing – Balancing all of the sounds that have been collected for the video (the final audio recording takes, the music, the Foley, and the ADR) so that everything sounds clear and in proportion to each other, for example Foley of background noises sounds farther away, music does not overshadow dialogue, etc.
Finding Post-Production Crew
Finding post-production crew is similar to finding the rest of your team members. I strongly recommend asking trusted colleagues for recommendations first, so you know you are working with people that have a positive, high quality, and reliable track record. If you do not get referrals for all the roles you need, post in trusted (key word: trusted!) filmmaker discussion groups and browse the Women in Media Crew List.
As you research and interview post-production candidates, be sure to include your director in the process. The director typically works very closely with the editor in particular, and you need to make sure that the two people’s visions, personalities, and work styles align with each other.
Depending on your plans for screenings and distribution, research your exact file format needs and discuss them with your editor ahead of time. You want to make sure you are both on the same page with the final deliverable they need to send you.
I hope this high-level summary of post-production was helpful. I encourage anyone wanting to know more about any of these topics to do more research and find producers with deeper knowledge of this stage in the production process.