The Film You Save May be Your Own: Five Rules for Smooth Post-Production without Going Broke

Young directors spend years thinking about their movies, the ones that they hope will put them on the map and make them household names.

Unfortunately, considerably less time—if any—is given to the grueling hours they’ll spend in pricey editing suites, with equally pricey equipment, putting the damn things together.

All told, moviemakers spend between 10 and 20 percent of their budgets in post-production—and that’s if they’ve managed to do everything else right! For many, those costs spiral upward because of poor pre-planning, leading to time and money wasted in the post-production process. This can, of course, easily mean the demise of a low-budget film in this business where only the wily survive (and get distributed). The film you save may be your own.

Here are five Rules for Smooth Post-Production without Going Broke:

1. Cut a Deal

As in the production process, a post house may make deals with a moviemaker who is willing to experiment—either with a new facility or a staffer who wants to move up the ladder. For The Squid and the Whale, director Noah Baumbach used Goldcrest in New York, which had just installed a mixing studio.

“We saved a lot more money by giving them a shot to prove themselves with their new facility than we would have if we’d gone to an established place,” says Baumbach. “This was a way for us to have a first-class sound mix, but save money doing it.”

Keep in mind that “everything’s negotiable,” says micro-budget director Richard Brandes (Penny Dreadful). “Independent filmmakers sometimes think costs are etched in stone. You can negotiate much more than you’d think you could.” If you’re lucky, you may even find a post house that loves your project enough to give you a discount just to work with you. Writer-director George Gallo (Local Color) says, “Fotokem bent over backwards. They’re doing stuff nearly for cost. You do something from the heart, people want to be a part of it.

2. Consider Outsourcing

Although it’s financially and logistically impractical to export your entire film to post, technological advances mean some companies outside the U.S. are able to severely cut costs on specialized elements of the post process. Scott Coulter’s Worldwide FX is based in Bulgaria, and has nearly a dozen projects (largely in visual effects, motion effects, motion graphics, and titles) in the works. Edited projects have tape masters or edit decision lists sent to his company, where Coulter estimates he can save half of stateside costs in those areas.

Editor Robert Ferretti (All the Invisible Children, Halloween: Resurrection) who has worked with Worldwide, says a turnaround time is lightning-quick (product is sent back to the U.S. for viewing online). “My experience in L.A. is that CGI places give you a ton of attitude,” says Ferretti. “They don’t like making changes. In Bulgaria, they’ll change it 10 times a day and not complain. It’s been so cheap and fast, and their quality is as good as Industrial Light and Magic.”

3. You Needn’t Use Every Technical Innovation, But…

“Audiences care about a story. You should be trying to technically deliver that story,” says Visionbox president Chris Miller. “A lot of the stuff we think about and obsess on, audiences don’t even know exists.” Again, research the equipment. Says Baumbach, “In post, there are all these new things offered up to you. You need to find out if they’re something that even applies to you, because in a lot of case, they don’t.” “Right now, there are so many different machines out there that people think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to have that souped-up system,” adds Miles Ferguson, partner at The Film Spot. “They don’t realize they could do the same thing with a smaller, cheaper system.”

Generally, post supervisors agree that if a low-budget film is a “traditional” indie, then there’s no need, for example, to pay extra for higher resolution. “If a project has a lot of titles or supersaturated colors or animation, then go for 4K,” say Ferguson. “If it’s just two guys in their apartment, stick with 2K. It all depends on how image works with the story. If you have a glossy movie like a romantic comedy, it’s got to look supersaturated—and then you need 4K.”

4. Don’t Plan To “Fix It In Post”

If anything will give a post supervisor hives, it’s “We’ll just fix it in post.” “That old adage ends up costing a ton of money,” says Ferguson. “It makes sense to get it done right on set, especially on a limited budget.” The truth is, says Levinson, “There are limits to what you can technologically do in post-production.” Doing it right in front of the camera the first time may seem expensive, but may turn out to be the least expensive way to go.” One way to ensure it gets done right the first time out—particularly with special effects—is to take the post-production supervisor onto the set. “A lot of time people shoot it the wrong way, then don’t look at it for months or weeks. Then it gets to the visual effects and the visual effects people are like, ‘I can’t do anything for this,’ and they have to shoot it again.” Still, Evan Edelist, executive VP and general manager for iO Film, says a good cinematographer will know when a post fix will help. “In some instances, they know that they can—in the post process—follow-up and do certain things that they may be able to save time and money on.”

5. Find Your Own Way

Baumbach suggests that working on the weekends is an excellent idea. “If you have the energy,” he says, “start cutting while you’re shooting.” Miller advises that you seek help to avoid burnout “It doesn’t take much money,” he reminds, “to convince a filmmaker friend to lend an objective eye and help in key places during your post process that can save you heartache and blood.”

Perhaps the most important rule—and the hardest rule to follow—is knowing when to say “The End.” Says Writer-director George Gallo (Local Color), “When you’re making lateral moves and not going forward, that’s when you have to stop. You can get so involved in this process that you can’t see it getting better, just getting different. You have to rely on your initial instincts to tell the story. It’s the story, and whatever you can do to support that, that’s where you spend your money. A lot of time can get wasted ticking stuff up. Avoid that at all costs.” MM

This article appeared in MovieMaker‘s Complete Guide to Making Movies, 2013. Image courtesy of Pixabay.

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