This third part of a four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded engineering requirements of envisioning your film from an editorial standpoint launches the discussion of how to plan the mundane, engineering-type aspects of your project. MovieMaker magazine will publish part of this series as an article in their annual filmmaking guide on December 4.
1) Know what happens before and after editing in the filmmaking process.
Ten years ago postproduction was at the end of the food chain. Now we are in production meetings.
Alicia Hirsch, VP of post production, Fox television studios
There are six stages to any film or video project: Greenlighting, Development, Preproduction, Production, Postproduction, and Distribution. Understanding what goes on before and after editing (postproduction) will give you more insight into the successive stages of filmmaking and make you a better participant in the process. It will help you communicate more effectively with those whose work overlaps yours, primarily the script supervisor and cinematographer (from the production phase) promo producer and publicist (from the distribution phase). More importantly, current workflows are converging post production with production and even pre-production, especially in animated shows and those with loads of VFX (visual effects). The lines between filmmaking phases are less distinct today and will get even fuzzier in the future.
2) Backwards engineer your show
In other words, to know where you’re going when you’re setting up and designing a project, you must know the end result. This advanced planning covers several fronts:
a) Know the venue(s) your audience will use to view your show.
Will your audience see your show in a theatre? On the ‘Net? TV? Or where? Determining your show’s viewing venue will enable you to decide its final delivery format a.k.a. finishing format. The four finishing formats are: film, tape, file, and disk. Your show may need to deliver on more than one format. Each format has many different types, e.g. 16mm or 35mm film, .mov or .avi file, DVD or Blu-ray. Be as specific in your planning as possible. The format you finish on may not be the format you shoot on. For example, you may shoot on a file on a card but deliver on tape, called a “tape out” show or shoot on film and have a file out show. Which brings us to workflows.
b) Know your project’s workflow
Workflows are the name of the game in planning a projects’ path through postproduction today. There are workflows for HD shows, workflows for 3D shows, for low budget docs, for low budget dramas, for animated shows, reality shows, TV dramas, features, for FCP shows, for Avid shows: You name it there’s a workflow for it. Workflows are also designed according to editing system, type of show, budget, camera used (Genesis, RED, Viper, etc.), region, and politics among many other reasons. While there are ordinary workflows, it’s just as ordinary to deviate from them; each project is different.
How to make sense of it all?
Know the common workflows – tape, tapeless a.k.a. file, and film – so that you can create your own. Get input >from the post supervisor or associate producer – whoever’s in the know on your show. Understanding your project’s workflow has the additional benefit in that it will ground you in the basic steps and processes of postproduction.
c) Set a postproduction schedule
Every project has a schedule sheet with dates that you must meet such as First Cut, Director Cut, Producer screening, etc. If you’re a student or an independent filmmaker, knowing the schedule is doubly important as its part of budgeting – another area to cover when visualizing your show. You may make the schedule on your computer using a calendar program or receive it from the post supervisor – or both – but in either case, allow for easy updates as most schedules can and do change. Since postproduction takes place at the end of the show, If it’s running behind or the schedule gets shortened, editorial gets pushed to work harder and longer!
d) Know the digital system you’ll be cutting on
Cutting digitally requires a lot of general knowledge. You need to understand time code and video tape, have solid computer and internet skills, be able to create VFX on third party software (preferably), and
have experience with film if you’re hired on a film show, not to mention know how to edit! Working on a digital system, even when you’re totally comfortable, is a constant learning process. Just when you become familiar with the current software there’s an upgrade or new version and more to learn.
No matter how experienced you are with an editing software, don’t assume everything on your system is in working order unless you own the system. Put your system through its paces by checking out everything that you will be doing: ingesting and outputting to tape, mixing sound, recording with the mic, making DVDs, importing from CDs, etc. You don’t want to wait until dailies are flying through the door to find out your deck isn’t reading time code or a channel on your mixer is muted. Secure an expert friend or system guru you can call on when a technical breakdown is beyond your expertise so you can keep your project running smoothly.
If you’re picking out a system for your show, make sure that it can perform what your project requires (fit your workflow and achieve your finishing format) and that it is compatible with all equipment – tape deck, servers, or another editing systems third party, etc.- that you’ll need to interact with.
This concludes the Imagineering part of visualizing your film. My next post will alert you to the more mundane engineering requirements that are part of envisioning your film
Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process, Visual FX editing