Often moviemakers see postproduction
as a scary, expensive, confusing and stressful process.
It is my claim that postproduction stands wrongly accused.
In fact, some of us who make our living in this job find it
Postproduction should be a magical
time where your project is transformed from a mere concept to
a finished product. All the creative options available, from
visual effects, sound, music, titles, opticals, and even film
stocks can seem overwhelming. But if you know the basics, what
steps to take to complete a project, and where to get help,
the process becomes much less daunting.
With this in mind, let’s take
a look at what postproduction is and the 10 easy steps it takes
to complete a project.
Postproduction encompasses all steps
that take place between production (the shooting of the project)
and final delivery (usually your first good night’s sleep
in months). Every project, including TV shows, features, movies-of-the
week, commercials, and industrials, all go through postproduction.
People who manage postproduction are called Postproduction Supervisors
or Associate Producers—although in some situations it is
the producer or assistant editor who coordinates post.
Postproduction on your project
will include some, if not all, of the following steps: Scheduling, Budgeting, Film Laboratory, Dailies,
Editorial (film or off-line editing), On-Line Editing, Sound,
Completion, Delivery, and Legal Issues. The steps you complete
will depend on your budget and whether you are shooting on film
and finishing on film, shooting on film and finishing on videotape,
or shooting on videotape and finishing on videotape. When you
start planning the post on your project, facing this one fact
will help you: If you are someone other than the producer, you
probably won’t get to choose what steps are included
to complete your project. But, you will have some control over how each phase is carried out. And in postproduction,
the how can be the key to success while the why may remain a mystery. So, with your head on straight, your energy
high and your attitude properly adjusted, let’s make a
1. Scheduling. As post supervisor
you create the postproduction schedule. Make sure every step
you are going to perform is included. When laying out your schedule,
start with the first date of photography, which tells you when
your first day of dailies will be. Then fill in the delivery
date for your finished project. Now that you’ve set the
parameters for beginning and ending your project, you simply
fill in the steps in-between. Each phase is dependent on the
successful completion of the previous phase. Any interruption
may cause a ripple effect throughout your entire schedule. Translation:
your schedule needs to be flexible and you need to be very organized
and possess a lot of patience.
Your post schedule will include a
column for many, if not all, of the following:
A. Principle photography
C. Second Unit Photography
D. Editor’s Cut
E. Director’s Cut
F. Producer’s Cut
G. Temporary On-Line/Temporary Dub
H. Network/Studio View
I. Picture Lock
J. Opticals and Film Titles
K. Negative Cut
L. On-Line/Assembly Edit
M. Answer Print
N. Spotting Music and Sound effects
Q. Color Correction
V. Release/Air Date
The type of project and your budget
will help determine the amount of time it will take to complete
If you are shooting at a distant
location, you will have to arrange to ship your dailies to the
lab or cutting room. This may add days between production and
editing. It may also add days between the time production wraps
and the time the final dailies reach the cutting room. These
extra days will need to be included in your schedule. Also keep
in mind that some steps will take place simultaneously. For
example, if you are shooting on film, principle photography
and the transfer of film-to-tape dailies will overlap. And if
you are finishing on videotape, color correction and the sound
mix will often happen at the same time.
2. Budget. The goal of most
projects is to create a high-quality piece that either entertains
or informs, or both. The bottom line for most projects is the
budget. Unless you are making a high-profile feature, you will
probably be required to stay within the budget allotted at the
start of the project. At the start, your job will often be to
put a detailed budget on paper. This can actually be much simpler
than it sounds if you just follow a few steps.
A. Make sure you have an accurate
list of all of your delivery requirements.
B. Know the shoot dates, when the
picture must lock and the delivery dates.
C. Meet with vendors to discuss your
project. If these are people with whom you’ve worked in
the past, all the better.
D. Negotiate packages and volume
rates based on the work each facility will be doing.
Obtain an existing budget
form to follow which closely matches your type of project. Also,
there are software programs for your computer that can be tailored
to your project—you simply fill in the blanks.
The areas you’ll likely include
in your postproduction budget are: film processing and prep
for dailies transfer, editing room equipment, telecine transfer
and editorial, second unit, titling and opticals, sound editorial
and design, sound mixing, looping, effects and layback, music,
duplication, delivery elements, negative cutting, and visual
effects. If this is your first project, your vendors will be
able to help out with budgeting time and costs.
We must also mention purchase orders.
Purchase orders are a written record of work ordered, items
purchased or rented, and the projected cost(s). If I don’t
accomplish anything else in this article, I hope to impress
upon you how vital purchase orders will be to you when reconciling
your budget and tracking the moneys you authorized spent during
the postproduction process.
3. The Film Laboratory. If
you aren’t shooting film, you can skip this section and
move onto dailies. If shooting film does apply, you may want
to investigate what really happens in a film laboratory.
In addition to processing your film,
printing film dailies and prepping your dailies for transfer
to videotape, the lab is also where you go to procure bags,
cans and cores which go to the production set. When picking
up these items, the lab needs to know the film’s gauge
and what size “loads” you’ll be using. Your production
manager can answer these and other questions. Be sure to meet
with your laboratory contact prior to the start of production.
This will help you avoid expensive mistakes down the road. It
will also insure that the lab is prepared to process your dailies
when you need them.
Your lab contact will need to know
the details of your shoot. This will include the amount of film
you expect shot on a daily basis, if you have any night shoots
or weekend shoots scheduled, and if you are cutting on film
or videotape (or both).
I recommend you arrange a film lab
tour for yourself prior to starting the postproduction process.
This will give you a leg up on how film is processed and what
information the lab needs to do the job correct and on time.
Have someone show you what to look for on a camera report. There
is vital information the lab needs from those reports to even
begin your job. Understanding this information will allow you
to properly communicate should information be missing. On a
busy night, a lab may process 200,000 to 300,000 feet of film
and yours will definitely go to the back of the line if there
is any question on how to process it.
Labs usually process film at night
(machines are started up and tested between 8pm and 10pm). Your
lab contact will give you a cutoff time for dropping your film
at the lab for processing. Unless arranged ahead of time, any
film you drop off after this time may not
be developed in time for your morning screening or transfer
session. Special daylight processing can be arranged, but it
must be done ahead of time. Before shooting begins there are
usually camera tests shot and processed. You may be responsible
for arranging this.
Most film laboratories offer a variety
of services. They develop your film and prepare it for transfer
to videotape, create prints, and repair damaged film. Some have
optical departments where they create your film effects and
titles, blow-ups and repositions. To fully understand and appreciate
the work that goes on at the film lab, take a tour. Your salesperson
or laboratory supervisor will be glad to arrange one for you.
4. Dailies. In a film shoot,
dailies, as the name implies, is the footage that is shot each
day and rushed to the lab for processing. It then moves on to
telecine or printing so you and your crew can view them, usually
the next morning. The dailies from a tape shoot are still the
footage that is shot each day; it just does not require processing.
If yours are film dailies, it is
important to tell the lab what time your dailies need to be
completed. If your dailies will be printed and then viewed in
a film screening room, your editor will need time to cut them
together with the sound. If your dailies are to be transferred
to videotape for viewing, you need to tell the lab what time
your telecine session is scheduled to start. Based on this information,
the lab will let you know what time your exposed negative (film
shot that day) will have to arrive at the lab. 4,000 to 5,000
feet of film is an average day’s shoot. Based on this,
the lab will need from four to six hours to process and prep
your film for telecine. They will need six to eight hours to
process and print film dailies. In other words, if you are shooting
4,000 to 5,000 feet of film and your telecine session is at
4am, you will need to have your film into the lab by 10pm the
Your dailies sound will go to a sound
house to be recorded onto magnetic tape (mag) and “sunk”
to picture by your film editor or the facility doing your dailies
transfer. Often, for transfer dailies, you can leave your sound
at the film laboratory so it can be picked up by the transfer
facility when they pick up your film. While
this is standard procedure for many jobs, it is a detail you
must still arrange before your first dailies are shot.
If you are having your film dailies
transferred to videotape, you will need to speak with the transfer
facility prior to the beginning of your job. As with the film
lab, they will have a list of questions for you to answer before
they can schedule your job. The information they will need includes
details about what type of film and sound you are shooting,
how you plan to complete your project once shooting is finished,
and what your time schedule is for your project. How much film
is budgeted for each day, and how many days you will be shooting
will also be important.
Some information must be taken directly
from your film during the transfer process. Whether you plan
to do a film and/or videotape finish will tell the facility
what information they need to gather at the time of telecine.
Not planning ahead and having to go back to get this information
is extremely costly and time consuming.
5. Film Editorial and Off-Line
Editing. Film editorial describes actually cutting your
picture on film. You begin by cutting your film print dailies
and end up providing a cut list to a negative cutter who will
cut and splice together your original camera negative (OCN).
Off-line editing indicates an electronic
cut. This means that either your film print dailies (once projected
so the director, cinematographer, etc. can view them) will be
transferred to videotape or your processed negative shot each
day will be transferred to videotape. This videotape is then
provided to the off-line editor to be recorded into electronic
editing equipment for (non-linear) editing.
One of the recent changes to effect
postproduction is electronic off-line editing. Even big motion
pictures that finish on film are now editing this way. The ability
to make and view changes immediately appeals to the creators
of all projects. Before non-linear editing was so widely available,
it could take days to see film and sound reprints and have them
cut into the workprint to then be projected. Now directors can
try different cuts and move shots, scenes and simple soundtracks
with a few key strokes. It is inexpensive to make changes and
since the changes do not effect the source material, they can
be changed over and over without damaging the original footage.
6. On-line Editing. The on-line
is where you do the final videotape assembly of your project.
If you are not doing a videotape finish from videotape dailies,
you can skip over this section.
Just like each earlier process (film
processing and telecine dailies transfer), the on-line facility
will have a list of details they will need from you before they
can book your on-line session and complete this process. This
will include questions about what videotape format your dailies
are on, where the tapes will be coming from, what off-line system
was used to create the editing list (called the edit decision
list-EDL), and any instructions involving special effects. Sometimes
the same facility that did your film processing and telecine
will also be doing your on-line, sometimes not. Other steps
that will take place as part of this process may be creation
of special effects, titling and color correcting your picture.
7. Sound. Sound for your project
actually starts in dailies with your “production sound.”
This is sound recorded right on the set at the same time your
picture dailies are recorded. Whether you are shooting on film
or videotape, you will probably have some production sound.
The exception will be a project that relies solely on voiceovers
or sound and effects that are recorded later. Animated projects,
for example, record all of their sound after the fact, as the
picture for these projects is not shot “live.”
Production sound elements are delivered
to sound editors to be used to help “sweeten” the
sound that was married to the picture either in the film editing
room or the off-line editing room. Once all of the sound edits
have been agreed upon, production sound, along with any ancillary
sound effects and music are mixed together. This is called “sweetening.”
Audio sweetening takes your production audio and finalizes it
with enhancements, looping, music, sound effects, and various
clean-up procedures. Your sound is “built” under the
direction of a sound supervisor. Sound, when done well, tells
the audience how to feel, when to laugh, when to cry, and in
TV, when a commercial is coming up. Once completed, the sound
facility creates an element called an “optical track negative
(OTN)” which the film lab then marries onto film to make
release prints or onto videotape for broadcast or home video
8. Completion. Once you have
the picture and sound elements nailed down, your delivery requirements
will determine how you complete your project.
A film finish means that all of your
work toward delivery will be done on film. This does not preclude
making a videotape master from your film elements, but the videotape
master will only be struck once the film’s picture and
sound elements are completed. A completely finished film element
must be created to satisfy your delivery requirements. The negative
is cut once the show has been locked (final edits are approved)
and opticals (fades, dissolves and titles) are ordered.The film
lab creates the color-corrected print. The movie is color-corrected
prior to striking release prints and can also be color-corrected
for use as a telecine print master.
For a feature or movie-of-the-week,
allow at least 10 days for your negative to be cut and spliced
into a finished piece. Allow another week (or more) to arrive
at the right color-corrected film element.
If your videotape is to be your only
delivery format, and you will not be cutting negative prior
to delivery, you have chosen what is referred to as a tape finish.
A tape finish can also take place on a project that will ultimately
be finished on film if materials for preview or advertising
are required prior to the film finish being completed. A two-hour
show can take at least one day to several days to complete.
One-hour TV shows usually spend one to two days in color correction.
Videotape is electronically color-corrected
scene-by-scene. Depending on the complexity of the look of the
project and the evenness of the negative exposures, it can take
from hours to days to color correct a videotape master. The
facility can help you determine the amount of time necessary
to complete this step.To help correct imperfections such as
dirt and minor scratches in your film you will always
make a wetgate film print. On videotape,
these corrections are done electronically. It
is rarethat any project, even TV shows, can avoid
scheduling a session to fix picture imperfections
If you are finishing on film, any
formatting will be taken care of during the editorial process
and incorporated into the film cut. If finishing on videotape,
formatting will either be incorporated into the EDL or done “tape-to-tape”
near the end of the process. Formatting
can include adding logos, bars and tone (videotape) and commercial
blacks (videotape), and closed captioning (again, videotape).
When finishing on film, titles, credits, locales,
legends, etc. are created optically. They are shot on film using
the plain “textless” backgrounds. These backgrounds
are matted together with titles creating a new piece of “texted”
film which is then cut into the final-cut film negative. On
videotape, these are done after all of the picture alterations
are accomplished (such as special effects and color correcting).
As with film, the “textless” pictures are mixed with
text, making a new “texted” picture.
9. Delivery. Delivery is completed
successfully only when you have fulfilled all of the delivery
requirements and the distributor has accepted the elements.
While hopefully your project will be a labor of love, in the
end somebody will want to be paid. Incomplete delivery will
hold up that payment. The only way to safeguard against missing
delivery materials is to get, read and understand the delivery
Delivery elements are best made along
the way, at the steps where they are the easiest and most cost-effective
to create. They often require paperwork and contracts drawn
and signed. Collect delivery requirements at the start of your
project. Make a checklist and keep it updated so you are not
caught short and costing the producer unnecessary expenses.
10. Legal. There are five
items which require you to seek legal advice or involvement.
These are stock footage purchases, music clearances, product
clearances, reference and inference clearances, and film or
video clip purchases. Be conscientious about consulting an attorney
and, when doing so, be efficient. Most attorneys, of course,
bill hourly. Know the questions you need answered and make contact
with attorneys complete but concise.
While experience is once again the
best teacher, you will not be alone when posting your project.
You will have the support and expertise of your postproduction
crew to lean on. The facilities where you do your work are an
invaluable resource. The work they do for you is work they do
every day. They are the experts and will always be willing to
help you get through your project as efficiently and professionally
Have fun with your responsibilities.
It’s an exciting, creative and powerful position you hold.
Take pride in your work and take satisfaction in a job well
Susan Spohr has managed postproduction
for more than 36 features and tv shows. She is co-author of
Guide to Postproduction for TV and Film (Focal Press). She teaches
a seminar on managing post for the Institute of Postproduction.
To learn more about postproduction, Susan, the book and the
Institute of Postproduction visit www.learnpost.com.