The 13 Steps of Post Production

Posted on October 9, 2014

The three stages to film-making are Pre-production, Production and Post-production.

Pre-production is where you try and convince everyone that your film is about to start shooting. Many filmmakers are in a continuous pre-production stage. It’s the nervous stage where you wait for financial commitments to materialize, and for cast and crew to agree that they will definitely show up.

‘Real’ pre-production is when you are spending money on script development, casting, scouting and securing crew. Basically pre-production is not difficult.

Second stage is production, is right after you get financing. So now you quickly get everyone together and spend 9-18 days together of 14-18 hours each. Production is hard work as your shooting from dawn to dusk!

During production everything happens at once. The actors, lights, camera, props, schedule, film stock, egos, frustration, and all the rest. Production, although typically presented as being fun, it will probably be the worst two or three weeks of your life. But you just get on with it. Your film is in the can. You bring out the flat beer and celebrate. Everyone celebrates with everyone (except you the producer) and goes home. You sleep and wake up approximately two days later!

You will find twenty hours of tape when you wake up, or the equivalent in film stock by the end of your bed. You’re alone. So what do you do now? The answer, of course, is simple. You begin Post-production.

Post-production, is the part of the process that intimidates people most. Remember, Production is hugely difficult. Post-production is not, as long as you take it step by step. Your first phone call will probably be to your cinematographer who, although he/she hates you, will be able to introduce you to several good editors. The thirteen steps below will help you through production and help you finish that film. Just take them one step at a time, in the order they appear. No 18 hour days. You will hire people and oversee them by dropping in here and there. Post-production again is not difficult!

The 13 Steps of Post-Production

1. Pick an editing format

There’s two ways of doing post-production. One is the old way.. the film way. Shoot film and edit, or splice film on film editing equipment. There’s a few filmmakers who stil edit this way today.

The second is the digital way. This way is the new way… the electronic way. Get all your rushes digitised (if shot on film you will need them telecined, or scanned to a digital format). The steps are pretty much the same in either format.

2. Hire a picture editor

The best person you can ask for recommendations for an editor is your cinematographer. An editor’s job is to create an Edit Decision List (EDL). The editor will read your script and look at the rushes, and from this information, cut the film according to their opinion of what makes the story better. A good editor will advise on the types of shots they will need, and advise on tricky post-production issues before the film starts.

The normal time for editing a feature is 8–10 weeks. During this time, your editor will create different drafts of your film. The first is called the Rough Cut, and last is the Answer Print. There are two conclusions to an edit: the first when you are happy with the visual images (locking picture) and the second when you are happy with the sound (sound lock).

3. Hire a sound editor

Now, about two months later, the picture film is tight but you need to enhance the look with sound. Hire a sound editor and an assistant for five to six weeks to cut dialogue tracks, re-create sound effects, and get cue sheets ready for simplifying Step 7, The Mix.

4. Do ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement.)

It is actually a large hollow room with a projector that projects your most recent picture draft from Step 2 and has the actors come back and lip sync and loop dialogue that wasn’t sharp and clear.

5. Do foley

Go to a room that looks like (or could very well be) the ADR room and this time, without actors, have sound people called Foley Artists or sometimes ‘walkers’ put the noise of footsteps and certain other sound effects into your film.

6. Secure music

First, for your musical score here’s what not to do. Don’t use any popular old song that you haven’t purchased the rights to. Don’t even think about public domain or classical music either, because it’ll either get expensive or it’ll be rubbish! Don’t use any pre-cleared CD-ROM music because it won’t be good enough quality. Simply hire a musician with his or her own studio to compose brand new original songs and tunes that you have the rights to then you have nothing to worry about.

7. Do re-recording/the mix

Now that you have 20-40 tracks of sound (dialogue, ADR, Foley, music) you must layer them on top of each other to artificially create a feeling of sound with depth. This is called the re-recording session or the Mix.

8. Get an M&E

In the not-too-distant future you will be selling the rights to your film to foreign nations. The distributor/buyer in that nation wants a sound track without English dialogue in so they can dub the dialogue. Thus the M&E stands for only *Music and Effects*

In the movie I just made, we waited until we had a sale where they demanded an M&E track – in our case to Germany. Then we used part of the proceeds to pay for it (about £3,000/$5,000).

9. Get your titles

With your editing done, Now what is left is to get the final pieces needed for the answer print. The first three pieces to get are your six-to-eight Opening Title Cards and then the Rear Title Crawl. These title files are then added to the master track.

10. Get a DCP

Create a Digital Cinema Package in order to deliver a film, a hard drive which contains the final copy of your film encoded so it can play in cinemas.

11. Get a dialogue script

In order for foreign territories to dub or subtitle your film you will need to create a dialogue script which has the precise time code for each piece of dialogue so the subtitler or *dubbing artist knows exactly where to place their dialogue.

*Dubbing: Mixing or re-recording.

12. Get a campaign image

Your campaign image is likely the first thing a prospective distributor or festival programmer will see of your film. A picture says a thousand words. The image with titles and credits should let the viewer know exactly what your film is about.

13. Get a trailer

Create a 90 – 120 second trailer that conveys the mood and atmosphere of your movie. Often programming and distribution decisions will be based on the strength of your trailer.

Again, the shoot (production) is extremely difficult and overwhelming, but the edit (post-production) is a very doable process. Just relax and do it one step at a time.

You will now be ready to start marketing by giving your films to film festivals!

Happy film-making!