Docs

Post Positive

Filmmakers often forge ahead with production, secure in the assumption that post production wizards can remedy any technical glitch. But, even these sorcerers have their limits. JENN KUZMYK talks with editors, colorists, sound technicians and effects gurus to find out what's really possible in post
November 1, 2001

Filmmakers often forge ahead with production, secure in the assumption that post production wizards can remedy any technical glitch. But, even these sorcerers have their limits. JENN KUZMYK talks with editors, colorists, sound technicians and effects gurus to find out what’s really possible in post.

John C. Graves

president, Command Post, Winnetka, California

What mistake or assumption do producers often make that impacts the post process?

I run up against a myriad of quality of sound issues with microphones. With a lavaliere mic, clothing can scratch against it. If you have a radio mic, you can get static and radio interference, and a sometimes thin sounding frequency response due to a small diaphragm on the microphone. With boom mics, you can get wind blowing and it creates a low rumble, or a loose mic on the mount of the boom itself creates clicking and knocking on the audio track. These things are extremely difficult to clean up and fix.

What’s one of your tricks of the trade?

I am able to change the eq (equalizer) curve in real time and compensate for dialog problems in that way – lighten up hiss, or roll off hiss, or roll off rumble. I love my programmable eq on my work station and my mixing board. It’s one of my personal heroes.

What is your most important piece of technology?

Protools Mix Plus 5.1. With that, I’m able to mix the most complex stuff imaginable.

What’s going to be possible in the future?

Right now, what the systems can do is phenomenal. I am hard-pressed to answer that. I guess I wish it were possible for computers and operating systems not to crash. Sometimes you can have an operating system that’s wonderful and works for years, then you install something and it just goes down.

Any words of advice for a documentary filmmaker?

If you are shooting on 16mm or 35mm, be very careful about the negative cut, because a bad negative cut can be really detrimental to your chances for a commercial success.

Gina Fucci

coordinating director, Films at 59, Bristol

What mistake or assumption do producers often make that impacts the post process?

When DV cams first came out, people tended to shoot a lot more, because footage was cheap. There wasn’t as much planning. I think people forgot that it was then going to take much longer in the post process. You had a lot more tape to look through and not enough time to do logging prior to the edit.

What’s one of your tricks of the trade?

There are definitely grading secrets – the way people handle contrast and color. Something flat and lifeless can be so easily changed with time in the grade.

What is your most important piece of technology?

Our high definition equipment – this gear is the format of the future. It is a gateway for low-budget films. It offers stunning, 35mm-like images that can be digitally manipulated at an affordable price. It is important to recognize there are tools for each program style, and many people prefer film, but hd allows creative program makers the opportunity to work on high-end products at a low-end price. The streamlining of the post-production process enables such cost effectiveness.

What’s going to be possible in the future?

We are very excited about the technological opportunities that will allow producers to access their rushes from the Web. The most exciting future working method is one where you can come back from a shoot, have someone load your rushes onto a server that logs the media by shot change, stores the media at low resolution for Web access and offline editing, and stores it at high resolution for online and promotional work. The producer can then mull over the rushes, log each shot change with key words, and prepare the material for the offline editing process. With storage getting cheaper there might be a time where this is possible and cost effective. For the length of post-production, the project is kept ‘online and live’ and backed up to tape at the end. Most importantly, all the media is databased, enabling re-use of content.

Any words of advice for a documentary filmmaker?

Involve the post house sooner. A lot of producers think we aren’t interested in being involved at the beginning of the project, but we can cooperate and give good advice early on, which can save a lot of time and money.

Jerome Poynton

American liaison for Swiss Effects, New York

What mistake or assumption do producers often make that impacts the post process?

There are producers who only become familiar with the DV (digital video) production chain during production instead of prior to production. Every filmmaker who can afford to should shoot a two-minute test of dv material and transfer it to 35mm. Some companies even do this service for free, and if you can get it done for free, do it with several companies. This test was created to answer questions regarding movement and lighting. Others use the test to experiment with verité. What’s important is to work within the framework of your means, and to know your post chain prior to production.

What’s one of your tricks of the trade?

If you telecine film material to video to integrate the video into the project, you can crush the black in the telecine, so that when you go back to film, you still have something to work with.

What is your most important piece of technology?

The online edit is a very important step, so perhaps the Avid Symphony. But, there are so many competing technologies and they are all good. There are lots of ways to get from point A to point B.

Any words of advice for a documentary filmmaker?

If you can afford to shoot in high definition, you can afford to shoot in 35mm.

Patrick Hutchings

president and COO, The Bakery, Hollywood, California

What mistake or assumption do producers often make that impacts the post process?

By the time they finish their Avid editorials, their final cut, they think they are at the end of the tunnel. But, they often haven’t addressed some of the sound issues. What was edited for picture and continuity and story now needs to be edited for sound and continuity of the sound track. It often involves acquiring new elements, like going out in the field and shooting new interviews, then we typically have to acquire voice-overs and music. That takes more time than people generally budget.

What’s one of your tricks of the trade?

With archival footage, there is a lot of clean-up work that can be done, using not terribly sophisticated computer tools, both on the visual side and on the sound side. People probably think they have to live with what they have and that’s not always true.

What is your most important piece of technology?

The Internet. It can save you a bundle of money and time when acquiring footage. You may have a person in America, but you need an interview in England, so someone can do the interview and make it a QuickTime file, or post it on an ftp site, and that quality is often good enough for a documentary.

In post we can use the QuickTime files in an avid or in Protools. We can use them directly, so it streamlines the process quite a bit.

What’s going to be possible in the future?

More interactivity. When documentaries run tracking according to the interest of the viewers. There is a level of artificial intelligence required to do that, [but] it would give us more business because [we would be] even more able to follow the interest of the user.

Any words of advice for a documentary filmmaker?

Surprisingly, some documentary filmmakers don’t really have a clear idea of how they want their story to run, so they end up with too much information. Whatever they can do in terms of housekeeping and organization of material can help to get a monolith into a controllable situation, and serves them very well during the post-production process.

Dave Gibson

colorist, Post Perfect, New York

What mistake or assumption do producers often make that impacts the post process?

The assumption that anything is possible no matter how your footage looks or was shot. Often miracles can be worked and silk purses are produced, but it is dangerous to think this will always be the case.

What’s one of your tricks of the trade?

Every colorist has a handful of looks and approaches that can be applied with various degrees of success to any project. The trick is not to overuse them.

What is your most important piece of technology?

As a colorist at my level in the industry, my gear is the same as the next guy’s, give or take a La-Z-Boy and PlayStation, so my most important assets are my eyes, my mind as well as my creativity and the ability to make what I do look easy.

What’s going to be possible in the future?

High definition will open the floodgates in terms of pushing the envelope. I think the sky will certainly be reached and surpassed.

Any words of advice for a documentary filmmaker?

Don’t skimp on the post! Eight hours of color correction is often cut to four hours to save money because the shoot went long. The project is hobbled before it gets off its feet. Just about anything can be ‘fixed in post’, but if you had just moved that camera box when you shot the film, you’d have saved yourself thousands.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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