Archive for November, 2012

Editor’s Eye: Visualizing Your Film from the
Postproduction POV – Part 4

November 27th, 2012

Laying out the rest of the groundwork for designing your project, this post concludes my four-part bust Laying out the rest of the groundwork for designing your project, this post concludes my four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded engineering requirements of envisioning your film from an editorial standpoint.

3) Shoot right for postproduction
Too many projects show up into the cutting room sadly compromised due to poor audio, lighting, or planning in general. If you’re involved with production, when you’re on location or on the set, be sure to get the critical shots, record the important sounds, and keep accurate logs and records during. Shooting correctly saves time, stress, and money in postproduction and reaps fantastic footage that you can’t wait to start editing!

Bringing together the MAGICAL and the TECHNICAL
Once you’ve got the shot footage in front of you:
Be organized and know your shots
…while it’s great to talk about how revolutionary Avatar is, we were still making a movie…when you come down to it, all this technology is just there to make the images more compelling and to tell the story better. Ultimately, we’re asking the same questions editors always ask: Does this shot work? Does this scene serve the story? It’s all about performance and story. Things just take a little longer to get done when you’re on the moon Pandora…
John Refoua, A.C.E., co-editor, Avatar

You’ve got to know your raw material in order to have an idea of how you’re going to edit it. View the footage for the scene and make mental and/or written notes about shots, lines, angles, or cutting ideas. Also, review any notes you took when screening dailies or that you received from the director. The late Dede Allen, who edited Bonnie and Clyde, Dog Day Afternoon, and many other major films related how she works: “If you have a great deal of coverage, you really can’t just go plowing through the whole thing, you’d never remember all of it… I make massive notes which I have if I need them, but I memorize the material so thoroughly that I seldom even look at my notes.”

You’ve already read the script but now you have the real, filmed version of a scene along with the lined pages that the script supervisor labored over for your benefit. As you approach cutting the scene, familiarize yourself with it as well as the scenes before and after it. Since you usually edit a show out of sequence, it’s important to be clear on what the scene is about. Ask yourself: What led to this scene? What does this scene lead to?

If your project is a doc, PSA, or other non-scripted piece, review the paper cut and keep it and your logs of the shots handy as you cut. Since non-scripted shows normally have fewer guidelines than scripted shows, your editing will have a major impact on its content and structure. Initially you will be the one who decides what the audience sees and learns and when they see it and learn it, so you want to know your shots and laser in on the story you’re molding from them.

Doc or drama, you want to be clear on the purpose of the project you’re editing and who will be seeing it. Is it a training film for navy recruits or a cereal commercial aimed at kids? Is it a muckraking documentary on the food industry or a drama about Navaho code talkers in World War II? You get the idea.

Finally, as much as you have ideas for how you will put scenes and the show together, as you progress, you will find things don’t work as envisage. This is normal and means you will have to try other approaches to making a cut or a scene work. Remember the wise words of sound and picture editor Walter Murch, (The English Patient, Apocalypse Now, and many more): “Editing is not so much a putting together as it is the discovery of a path.”

Editing practices, Editor’s role, Technical & process, Visual FX editing

A thoughtful, thankful, thinking Thanksgiving to all

November 20th, 2012

Time to pull away from the pie, the family, the game, the parade, the historic basis of this holiday, and the soldiers abroad and pull in here for a reflective video set to a Thanksgiving song by George Winston. This resonates deeply for me as I went back east to peak colors followed by the death of my beloved mother, Mary Beth Denny Chandler, on October 26.


Editor’s Eye: Visualizing Your Film from the
Postproduction POV – Part 3

November 12th, 2012

This third part of a four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded engineering bust 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
digital system 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

Editor’s Eye: Visualizing Your Film from the
Postproduction POV – Part 2

November 3rd, 2012

Here’s the second part of this four-part series on the magical, imagineering aspects and grounded bust engineering requirements of envisioning your film from an editorial standpoint. MovieMaker magazine will publish part of this series as an article in their December 4 issue as part of their annual filmmaking guide.


2) Visualize your audio – and plan

One misconception that many people in the film business have…is that if you want great sound in your movie you don’t really need to think about sound early on.

Randy Thom, sound designer and mixer, How to Train Your Dragon, The Incredibles, The Right Stuff, and Return of the Jedi.

To produce the best-sounding film or video, anticipate how your show will sound, budget for sound, and record your desired audio during the shoot. This way you’ve got the sound you want for when your picture comes together audio wise during sound editing in sound editing and the mix.

Create a sound vision. Imagine what your viewer will hear. Think about the different scenes or parts of your show and how you want them to sound: light and sprightly, cheery with a sinister threat in the air, painful but upbeat, etc. You might start by imagining each character or subject as an instrument or a theme: What would they sound like? What tune would they play? Next, envision how scenes or sections will sound as purely musical themes. The goal is to get an idea of the subtle and grand tones of your film and consider how sonics can support them.

…if you encourage the sounds of the characters, the things, and the places in your film to inform your decisions in all the other film crafts, then your movie may just grow to have a voice beyond anything you might have dreamed.

Randy Thom

Like picture images, sound and music elements contribute to the story. Sound augments POV sequences, helps put the noir in noir, and is the backbone of many a dream and fantasy sequence. Sounds, words, and music can inform a character, prompting an action or reaction or revealing overt or underlying emotions.

Ensure that each piece of sound and music enhances and supports your story. It’s not always a matter of “see a bird, hear a chirp effect.” Sound can represent something or someone unseen – off screen – and comment on or deepen a scene. Yes! Routinely, sound and music bound from the backseat to drive the story. Think of the ways the off screen kaboom of a bomb or swoosh of an advancing tsunami affects a town of people or recall how Rick reacts to hearing “As Time Goes Byin Casablanca.

Hitchcock believed that “To describe a sound accurately, one has to imagine its equivalent in dialogue” Hitchcockand gave this illustration from a scene in The Birds: The flock gathers, surveys, and attacks, saying, “Now we’ve got you where we want you. Here we come. We don’t have to scream in triumph or in anger. This is going to be a silent murder.” The Birds is noteworthy because it relied heavily on sounds – there was no score – to make its farfetched plot plausible.

The buzz words today for sound are “organic,” “real,” Hurt Locker poster and “natural.” The Hurt Locker, which won the 2009 Academy awards for sound editing and sound mixing exemplifies this trend. A memorable scene of GIs on a night-search in Iraq depended entirely on the bed of sound the editors built. Avatar, the runner-up for the Oscar that year, embodies the other end of the sonic spectrum: Its audio palette paints an imaginary planet where the synthesized sounds are anything but real. What these two sound styles have in common, however, is crucial: They both aurally plant the audience in the movie’s environment.

Whether you have many layers of sound or minimal sound, sonics are pivotal to the audience’s perception and reception of your show. They transport viewers away from the filming on the soundstage and into the characters’ world. Sound sustains and is an integral part of a film’s voice and vision. Bear this in mind when you design sound; every sound effect and piece of dialogue should strengthen your show’s purpose.

And don’t overlook the power of silence. Sound design can include planned sections of silence or minimal sound. (No show is entirely silent as there is always ambient sound. If you drop out all sound, you risk viewers’ hostile glares at the projection booth or channel surfing.) Silence, especially during a gripping scene or after a cacophony of sounds, can put the audience on the edge of their seats until they’re literally living and breathing with the movie.

3) Visualize your music – and plan

Music can strongly influence how the audience feels about a show’s subject, characters, themes, and plot. Well thought-out music sets the appropriate tone for the picture, clueing viewers in as to what to expect: a comedy, a romance, or a chance to rock and roll. Music, like sound, affects our hearts and senses and seals the movie in our memories: John Williams’ music in Schindler’s List, played by the incomparable violinist Yitzhak Perlman evokes the suffering and loss of Jews during WWII.

Music anticipates and foreshadows action, often warning that a villain is just around the corner, or, as in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, hinting that this is no ordinary hamlet. It can also conjure a time or place. Scott Joplin’s upbeat piano tunes peppered The Sting, rooting the movie in the 1930s and paralleling the characters’ optimism. The musical theme in Somewhere in Time sustained its time travel plot. Regularly, music accents key and not-so-key points: entrances, exits, scene transitions, and act outs.

Music can counter what’s on screen to convey a larger truth. Composer Toru Kurosawa posterTakemitsu delivered a renowned score for writer-director-editor Akira Kurosawa’s epic movie Ran. Here’s what one scene in the script called for: “A terrible scroll of Hell is shown depicting the fall of the castle. There are no real sounds as the scroll unfolds like a daytime nightmare. It is a scene of human evildoing…The music superimposed on these pictures is, like the Buddha’s heart, measured in beats of profound anguish, the chanting of a melody full of sorrow that begins like sobbing and rises gradually as it is repeated, like karmic cycles, then finally sounds like the wailing of countless Buddhas.”

Music can let the audience know something before a character does – that good or bad news is on the other side of the door. It can also do the opposite – set the audience up – as the melody at the end of Carrie does, lulling the audience so the movie can deliver its final jolt of fright. Music often conveys characters’ inner thoughts and emotions. Bernard Hermann’s score for Vertigo heightened its characters’ nightmares, dreams, and schemes right from the opening carousel music which mirrored the circular camera movement and the spiraling mystery plot. Sometimes characters even have themes e.g. Lara’s theme in Dr. Zhivago or the shark’s theme in Jaws.
Once you’ve got your music plan, be sure to allow enough time to obtain rights, hire a composer and allow time for their work, record that band you’re dying to use, or create it yourself. Skywalker Sound Ltd., George Lucas’s sound company, states that, “Music provides an emotional bedrock for a film.” Lay out your conception of it ahead of time to once again craft the best sounding, most efficient-running project.

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, Sound & music editing, Technical & process