A few weeks ago, we held the first of our new ‘Masterclass & Networking’ sessions at the Outhouse, a new strand designed to bring filmmakers together and to give seasoned professionals an opportunity to share their knowledge about the industry.
For our first edition, Amanda Rogers talked to Ali Murray (sound designer), Naomi Spiro (editor and producer), and Stephen C. Horne (colourist), as they took us through the dos and don’ts of working in the post-production process.
Here is the full audio recording of the panel, and our top 5 takeaways from the discussion.
1. Aim wide, or don’t aim at all.
Starting out in their career, everyone wants to be a director, while most people don’t even consider a career in film production. But staying the course can lead you to places you never even considered. For Ali, it’s been a ‘long weird way’: first a cellist, then a rock drummer (while studying engineering and robotics), settling as a professional musician, then back to uni, and finally film. Meanwhile, Naomi started out as a PA on a set through a relative, eventually undertaking multiple relocations as an assistant editor, before success as a full-time editor and producer.
As for Stephen, his speciality in colour-grading grew out of a dissatisfaction with his own projects while studying television production in Aberdeen. Having learned the basics of all the occupations on a set, the grade would bug him the most; moving to Edinburgh, he came to study this facet of post-production and discovered an incredible gap in specialist knowledge fro this particular craft, one which exists to this day.
2. It’s actually all in the pre-production – prepare, prepare, and PREPARE!
Your ethos from now on? Communication – craft your vision into a language that is focused on story and broad strokes – what do we want to achieve with the sound design, the grade etc? You don’t need the specialist lingo to get your idea across with team member; talk through it ‘conceptually’ – it’s primarily about the why, not the how. By that token, a filmmaker should be as versed in a pool of influences that they can reference, as much as a technical glossary.
By investing in conversations with everyone in pre-production, you ensure a level of preparation from everyone involved – a collective vision. And next to their creative ideas on story and structure, post-production personnel will give you the technical advice or that extra (but eventually crucial) cutaway that you might just miss on the chaos of the set.
3. Time and Records: the most valuable investments.
To re-iterate our last point: bring your crew in before post-production. After articulating your vision, it is imperative to consider the best use of your time throughout the whole production. Many filmmakers take it one stage at a time – prepare, shoot, cut. But integrating each step (as labyrinthine and energy-consuming as it may seem) will prevent panic, and keep you on course for a more cohesive final product.
In effect, plan your workflow for post-production by keeping a filing system and paper-based notes – again, what do we want end up with, what’s the story we’re telling, and where can we find the content after it’s been shot? Moreover, as Naomi points out from a general editor’s perspective, the process of viewing rushes and editing during the principal photography phase can be far more efficient in terms of spotting mistakes and calling for re-shoots and pickups when they are most practically possible. Indeed, sorting through multiple takes and rushes can be lengthy, and this advice can ensure that the director’s vision is met quickly and efficiently.
4. Consider colour – it should not be an ‘afterthought’.
Colours, more often than not, carry the immediate emotional weight of the film while also being one of the most technical tasks to nail during production. In that way, deciding on a general palette beforehand is beneficial when it comes to spotting inconsistencies between shots on set, cf. day for night shooting and specific light sources, and nipping them in the bud.
Additionally, for those interested in colour-grading as a specialism, while Premiere Pro and Avid contain their own colour-management options, Stephen recommends Da Vinci Resolve as a system primarily designed for grading images and maintaining maximum quality (and the program on which he learned his trade). That said, software specs are not everything – as long as what you’re using gets you to what you need and at the highest quality possible, job done.
5. Collaboration stems from story, not money.
Finally, the key is to surround yourself with enthusiastic and technically capable people – it’s all about the relationships and their outcomes. Many post-production personnel like Ali, Naomi and Stephen will not charge for those early sessions about a film’s story and how it’s going to shape up, while undertaking these minimal, but crucial, steps will ensure that the process is easier and more constructive for all. And as Naomi points out, it is this integrated method of approaching your workflow which will raise the bar of filmmakers approaching production from an indie standpoint.