Tag Archives: post-production

Finished! Big Thanks to Redlab Digital and more.

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LOCKED & LOADED! Michael Legedza, Shawn Whitney, Kathryn Palmateer and Jason RIvera. 

I’ve been meaning to summarize our final stages of post-production for the last several weeks and have final set aside the time to do so. When, many moons ago, I last blogged about our struggle to complete post-production, we had just hired Luke Sargent to step in and take over the role of picture editor. This was both an excellent decision – life changing, in fact – and a lesson in expectations, especially when it comes to timelines for lo-fi filmmaking. 

Luke was contracted to work on the edit until the end of October. But when you only have a few days a week to work on something things take longer than expected. He had every right to step back at the end of October – when we barely had a fine cut – and expect either more money or to move on. But he stuck with us right to the end, through colour correction and sound mix. He has been an inspiration to us and a great learning resource. And incredibly supportive – in the last two weeks he picked up the master files and a BluRay master from Redlab Digital (our post-production house) – to cut a trailer for us and to burn us an exhibition screener. Incredible. Besides his commitment, his work and creative contribution have been incredible. I don’t think that any of us believe that we would have a completed film as good as it is without Luke. Many hat tips go his way.

I have to admit that I’m the kind of person who isn’t always great at planning ahead. I focus on the task at hand, work my way through it then move on to stage. As we approached the end of picture edit we knew we were going to have to colour correct the film – we lit with mostly fluorescent bulbs, for instance, which gave everyone a yellow hue. And of course we needed a sound editor and sound mixer – to get the best quality sound and to get an M&E track (music & effects – you need a separate track from the dialogue if you hope to make any foreign sales so that they can dub in the local language).

This was new territory for me. I have no experience with this aspect of the post-production process and have never dealt with a post-house. I met with one facility and they talked about giving us a great deal and coming in as executive producers in return for an equity stake in the production – then they backtracked a few days later and gave us a very large quote that was out of our budget. But, even more, we were left with a bad taste in our mouths because they had said one thing and then turned around and done another with no explanation and pretending like nothing had happened. Trust is really important to us. So, I started looking around Stage32.com – sort of a Facebook for film industry types. We’d found some crew on their for the shoot and it had worked out well. We got in contact with a few colourists and even met with a wonderful sound editor and mixer, Anne-Marie Ront. But it was clear that separating all of the elements – when none of us had experience with this stage of post – was going to be too much to deal with.

Again, Luke came to the rescue. He introduced us to Ahmad Ismail at Redlab Digital and Ahmad came through with an excellent overall quote for bespoke completion services. We decided not to try and take the movie to Telefilm and seek finishing funds. We’d already had a bad experience of submitting the unfinished film to a distributor who had been asking to see a rough cut – and then didn’t give us notes, just sent a curt email passing on the film (we were expecting advice, not a sale). Filmmakers: in case you haven’t heard this enough, never send your unfinished film to anyone, no matter how much they ask. So we decided to shoulder the extra debt and finish the film ourselves and do it in a one-stop, high quality facility. And it was well worth it – Redlab organized everything and all we had to do was show up and focus on the movie. And we worked with some excellent people: colourist Andrew Exworth, Sound editor Michael Legedza (who provided full foley and created a whole sound design for us!), and sound mixer Jason Rivera. It made it a painless process and gave us a film that was the best possible end product that it could be. There’s no doubt that helped us get into Worldfest, the Houston International Film Festival.

It’s been a long, challenging process and a steep learning curve for all of us. But we made it through and now we’re ready to embark on the next phase of this journey: festivals (yay, Houston!), sales, and a premiere screening in hometown Toronto. Stay tuned!

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Breaking Post-Production Gridlock To Reach The Promised Land

I think I’m mixing metaphors with that title but you probably get the idea. Suffice to say after a very long journey we’ve finally gotten the film to the rough cut stage and expect to have a fine cut by the end of September (barring a few shots that we need to shoot). Getting to this place has been a long, slow, but very important journey.

The real issue is, as always with the microbudget, a lack of resources. We had an excellent editor, who we were excited to work with but we didn’t have the money to be able to expect that we could dominate his time. That meant waiting for a break in his schedule. But when another film kept coming back for more work, it meant that we kept waiting, always a few weeks away from reaching the front of the queue.

Finally, after about 8 months (time really does fly that fast) we brought on board Jordan Crute, who was completing his year at the Canadian Film Centre. He agreed, gratis, to build us an assembly so that we could already be out of the gate when Greg, our main editor was available. The first thing I ought to say is that the CFC is the gift that keeps on giving. I attended as a feature film program resident back in 2007 and maintain connections with people there. In particular Isabel Gomez-Moriana has been an awesome resource and source of advice and encouragement. I’m not sure we would have made it this far without her.

Jordan somehow squeezed us in between working on a pair of films for the Short Dramatic Film portion of the CFC program – no small feat. By the time May rolled around we felt like we might, just might, be able to reach the deadline for TIFF if Greg were to become available, as he expected. That’s when we launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise some financing for the post-production costs.

This deserves a post of its own, and we did basically reach our goals – though it wasn’t all in cash but rather a combination of cash and post-production services being provided. We quadrupled the number of fans on our Facebook page to over 500, deepened some of our connections with people in the film industry, and had a great closing party that over 100 people came out to (thanks to Steamwhistle for the free beer and the wine rep for Lula Lounge who gave us a case of wine).

In some ways, I think that the IndieGoGo campaign idea was most important in terms of spurring us to kick the machinery back to life after a long period of dormancy while we waited for the edit. In the lead-up (starting back in February) we hired an intern (Ashley Chiew) to build us a website and create a company logo, and we had a poster design made using designcrowd.com. When the IndieGoGo campaign kicked off we had two more awesome social media interns really carry the ball in terms of regular postings, updates and some great memes involving cats (kudos to Evan Daurio and to Yamini Coen!). I can’t say enough about the importance of interns for a small production company – from on-set crew to marketing & publicity. We also hired someone through elance.com to create a media list for us. For $60 it was worth it, though this got us less publicity than we might have hoped but we did have two articles – one online and one in local media. Indie films raising cash through crowdfunding just isn’t the news novelty item it once was – unless you’re Spike Lee.

The one goal that we didn’t reach was submitting to TIFF. In retrospect we were being utopian thinking that Greg could come off an intense and extended run on another project and then jump onto ours, especially when he had only a short window before another paying gig was coming up. It was with sadness that we decided it made sense to move on to another editor, though Greg had contributed a lot in terms clarifying the kind of movie we were making tonally, corollary films, etc.

Again, Isabel came to the rescue and connected us with a number of CFC editor alumni. Luke Sargent (’11) agreed to come on board as our editor early this month. One of the things he and we agreed to right away – and this is a tip for all you other microbudget filmmakers reading this – was the need for a contract determining a pay schedule and a delivery schedule. Expectations were clear – we all knew by what date he would deliver each cut of the film and he knew how much and when we would pay him. It was more than we originally budgeted but, let me tell you, it was worth it. Even though it cut into our budget for colour correction, etc. it doesn’t matter. You can’t colour correct an un-edited film. Ditto sound mix. But you can take a solid, picture-locked film to Telefilm (if you’re in Canada) or to a distributor and ask for finishing funds as a form of investment in the film.

The lesson here is clear: even if you aren’t paying much try to pay something and get a contractual delivery schedule in return. This creates accountability and clarity for everyone – which is one of the hardest things in general, never mind on a nano-budget project. As an aside, our production team are already clear that on our next film we will hire an editor to cut the film during production so that we can shoot any pick-ups while we have every one together and have an assembly by the end of production, rather than suffering a lengthy wait. This is the norm on a lot of European productions, though I’ve heard it less in North America.

So, here we are! Today we watched the rough cut from end to end for the first time – 14 months after we wrapped shooting (more to come on the editing process as we move forward). As the saying goes, either you have to have money or you have to have time because one buys the other. Still, for the future we have an idea how to keep the post-production process under control, even if we shoot another nano, micro, ultra low or low budget film.

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A BRAND NEW UPDATE:

ImageLots of people have written us or asked us in person the status of A Brand New You. The short answer is that we are still in post-production. As you know, if you don’t have a lot of money you at least hope that you have time. We, of course, want to get ABNY out into the world as soon as possible – but we have to make due with compromises in the time department that means things move a little slower. C’est la vie. 

To be honest, if we may be “glass half full” for a second, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Getting some distance from a story can actually strengthen your objectivity and, in the end, strengthen your ability to see the areas that need work: things that seemed obvious and clear appear murky after you’ve forgotten the connections in your head. And jokes that made you split a gut in the context of too little sleep and the frenetic energy of the set fall flat when you’re well rested and sitting down to watch it. We like to think of this as an opportunity gifted to us by necessity.

We hope to have a rough cut before the end of the year and are super-excited to see all the bits and scenes and shots assembled together into a story. We’re already thinking about some music and an IndieGoGo campaign to raise the money for things like an audio mix and a music supervisor to help us assemble the score for the film.

We’ll definitely keep you posted on all this and let you know when we have a trailer, test screenings and are preparing to launch the IndieGoGo campaign. In the meantime, we aren’t just sitting around, we’re already working on our next edgy feature comedy and we’ll keep you posted as it moves forward. We’ll also be ramping up the blog in the coming weeks to share some of the news from the world of scifi, comedy, science and filmmaking that inspires and interests us. Hope you’ll enjoy the “musical interlude”.

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Watching Our Footage PLUS An Out Take

Watching footage to “check the gate” and make sure we got the shot.

Photo by SHARON MENDONCA

Kathryn and I began the process last night of systematically watching our dailies – all the footage shot on any given day – to decide which takes were the strongest (or, sometimes, which parts of particular takes were strongest so that we can combine them as cut between different angles). It had been just over a week and, to be honest, I was glad to have the distance before trying to approach the footage with a critical eye – distance gives you… distance. I was also dreading it. I mean, what if it sucked? What if we didn’t get the performances we want/need to make a good film? What if…what if… You get the picture.

Not to worry, dear reader, the footage looked better than I could have hoped for. I mean, it has been compressed into low res files to upload it to our Vimeo account (god love the interweb) so that we could share the dailies with Greg Ng, our editor in Richmond, BC. As a result the edges were fuzzy and there are lots of jpeg artefacts that are unpleasant to watch. But the composition, lighting and focus were quite lovely. I’m going to start asking for a commission for all the free advertising that I’m giving to Alex Lisman, our Director of Photography, but he’s done some lovely work with very limited resources and he did it from day one.

And it’s the first day’s shooting so we only saw Manuel Rodriguez-Saenz, our lead, and Dalal Badr, who plays his dearly departed wife. As we watched we were reminded that the first shot on the first day was a scene with them dancing in their living room with Viviana (Dalal’s character) singing a nursery rhyme/love song to Santiago (Manuel’s character). They had met perhaps 20 minutes before shooting this scene, in the context of the furnace room, I mean, dressing room in the basement of our location. They immediately were able to generate romantic sparks somehow. In the middle of the song they began to kiss and you could feel the passion between them. It was as though we were ghosts who they couldn’t see. Such good acting is always a miracle to me. It was also funny to watch because Kathryn and I had just finished watching Almodóvar’s sci-fi melodrama from last year The Skin I Wear with Antonio Banderas. ABNY has a certain kinship to that film in terms of a number of scientific themes, though our film is a comedy, which is why we wanted to watch it. Well, other than the fact that Almodóvar is a brilliant filmmaker. After watching the film itself (a weird and wonderful journey into Almodóvar’s obsessions) we watched the special features that had behind the scenes footage of the film being shot, of Almodóvar working with the cast, etc. He, of course, is a genius and a veteran filmmaker, but I think we felt a connection to his process, seeing those scenes being shot, though I was a bit surprised at how detailed was his work with the actors. He said the lines with them, directing them as to specifically how he wanted them delivered (of course, these are excerpts and those moments may have been the exception – but I have heard he likes to shape, at that level of detail, the performances of the actors). Our attitude, after blocking for camera, etc. was to let the actors follow their instincts and perform it how they had interpreted it – unless they had questions – and then refine and clarify where necessary and request variety in performance whenever there was time. Perhaps we’re too anarchist but I think that we felt that people are professionals – not just the actors, the other departments too – they need to be allowed to do their job and discover new possibilities and meanings. Our job, as directors, was to keep in mind the overall vision and try to facilitate the harmony of the different elements towards that common goal. Not that there is any one “correct” method – every director has a different method (and, no, I’m not comparing “our” method to someone of Almodóvar’s calibre, just musing on approach) – though I think that at our level (i.e. our first feature film) more humility is in order viz the production than for a veteran director.

Back to the dailies. In general directors watch their dailies from the day before at the beginning of the day, while the first shot is being set up and while the talent are in with make-up and wardrobe. So, why have we waited so long to do this process? First off, we did watch some of the footage at the end of the day – but in the face of exhaustion and an early start the next day (and a three-year old who rightfully expected some attention, food, and a bedtime story from her parents) it wasn’t systematic. In the mornings it simply wasn’t possible. First off we were in our house and were often trying to get Beatrice (our daughter) fed and dressed and out the door for 8:30 (crew generally arrived at 7am to start set-up). That was our childcare reality. One of us would focus on childcare and one of us would focus on getting the first shot ready, etc. Cast would arrive at 8am and be ready (in theory) to shoot around 8:45, though in reality it was generally 9:15 or 9:30 before we got the first shot off. In between there was more than enough for the directors to do to fill the time, including reviewing our plan for the day, discussing different performances we wanted to get from different actors, etc. Besides which, our computers were often being used to deal with data management and weren’t available. Such is the reality of a microbudget film. But it is also freeing. We didn’t have the kind of hourly expenses – whether we were shooting or not – of a typical feature film, even a low budget one. There were no lighting rentals, grip trucks, trailers for talent and make-up, et al. In fact, we had no rentals at all (other than a car for one day). So the clock wasn’t our enemy in the same way. And, to be honest, I don’t relish the idea of working 14 hour days. I don’t see how that is conducive to the making of good art. Even 12 hour days are not appealing to me. We worked over one weekend, which was gruelling, but not as difficult as going four weeks without seeing my kid because I leave before she gets up and return after she’s gone to bed. My brain also shuts down after about ten hours – creatively anyway.

Our goal now is to watch at least one day per day while Greg re-organizes and prepares the files for editing in Adobe Premiere, before sending a hard drive back to us. One of the brilliant things about Premiere (I’ve never used it but Kathryn uses Lightroom for still photographs) is that you work on proxy images and the software simply saves a project file that doesn’t include the footage itself but references the edits. It means that once we have a clone of Greg’s hard drive with all the organized files, he can send us a small project file via e-mail and when we open Premiere on our end, it can reconnect to the footage on our hard drive and let us see the work he has done. I’m looking forward to the first assembly!

Now, for a little treat, here’s an outtake from the first day. I’ll try to put one up every day after we view the dailies. Let me just say that no one ruins a pair of pants like Manu.

Manu splits his pants from Shawn Whitney on Vimeo.

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After Production: Wrapping Out

Some of the stuff we decided to sell after the shoot

BY SHAWN WHITNEY

If you’re a first time filmmaker, you’re probably going to be like us and not think about wrapping out production. Oh, I knew in my head that this would come but I wasn’t thinking about it until we hit it. It’s not surprising: we’ve just been through 12 days of intense filming, the euphoria has ebbed and the hangover from the final day’s wrap party has finally subsided. We’re ready to move into post-production with our editor.

Not so fast. Production ain’t over just because the camera’s stopped rolling.

Especially if you’ve used free crew you can expect that lots of things will be left incomplete. They’ve given you the gift of their time and commitment for two or three weeks but it’s hard to sustain that for the paperwork, file prep, etc. – the boring stuff. People need to return to their jobs, move on to other projects, etc.

Not you, oh intrepid filmmaker.

If you know this in advance you won’t be as freaked out and stressed as if it hits you as a surprise that you’re going to end up being the janitor of sorts – cleaning up after the wedding and putting out the trash. Remember, this is your film and your project – you wrote it, directed it, maybe co-produced it. You will be with it through post-production, scoring, mixing, etc. And you will then send your baby out into the world of festivals (if that’s the route you choose to go), screening events, online distribution, etc. Your crew were mostly only with you for the production and the premiere (we are trying to include as many crew and cast as are interested in the pre-release marketing phase of the film also, which I’ll come to in future posts).

Here’s a bit of what to expect and how to approach it to keep your sanity.

1)   Expect a lot of fiddly little bits of BS that have to be dealt with and don’t be surprised when there are.

2)   Remember: your crew was free or cheap. Savour the contribution that they gave to your film don’t begrudge that their contribution came to an end before you would have liked in an ideal world (i.e. one in which you could pay them so that they would stick around and could pay their bills).

3)   Data file management is an excruciatingly boring, time intensive and absolutely necessary task. It’s also fraught with lots of potential pitfalls – especially if you’re not using (i.e. paying) professional data wranglers and assistant editors. We had troubles with our hard drive docks and we had confusions about the file organization system, et al. It happens. And each day’s worth of footage took basically a day to file, rename, synchronize the sound to it, and put it on a timeline for ease of use by our editor. That didn’t even include outputting ProRes format files, which would have added days (weeks?) to the process. What’s the upshot? Martha, our on-set data wrangler, had to return to her job and there were at least four days remaining of syncing sound to video and creating FCP timelines with the synced files organized. I work from home where I read a lot of scripts so I can do a lot of the work while I’m doing my paid job. You may not be so lucky if you have leftover data wrangling. Expect this to take days and days of tedious work if you’re not lucky enough to have it go completely smoothly during production. Give in to it, think of it as meditation and try not to lose your temper (I confess that I punched my monitor ever so lightly yesterday because the syncing process puts so much demand on my processor that I couldn’t do anything on my laptop when I needed to).

4)   Paperwork – yes, I mentioned this before and yes it never ends. Expect to be missing contracts for ACTRA (if you went with union actors as we did) and deal memos, that you’ll have location agreements to get signed and music licensing that needs to be worked out. We also have some photo clearances to deal with because we used an actor’s headshots and the headshot photographer may not have licensed the actor to use them in a film.

5)   Returning equipment. Some stuff may be rented (we didn’t rent anything – one less thing to deal with) or borrowed from family and friends and needs to be returned. You’ll be surprised at how many places you got gear from. We have lenses from three different friends, one camera body, plus a bunch of gear – lights, tripod, gels – that Alex, our DP, brought to the shoot.

6)   Selling Gear. Part of the reason that we didn’t rent gear was because we figured that it was cheaper to buy stuff and then sell it afterwards, even at a loss. Well, now you will have to take photos of the gear and post it on Craigslist, Kijiji and eBay. So far we’ve sold our three piece lighting kit plus extra CFL bulbs as well as one of our spare HDD docks. But we have to sell our shoulder rigs, on camera monitor, a 28 mm lens, and more (we will post all this stuff for sale on the blog in the next couple of days.) It’s extra work but probably will end up saving us thousands of dollars. And we can buy new gear the next shoot again – since it’s probably going to be at least a year between this shoot and the next, why keep the same stuff around gathering dust?)

7)   Thank you notes to everyone. Hey, people volunteered their time, the least you can do is write them a little note thanking them for their hard work. It’s also just nice – the art of thank you letters has been lost (by everyone except Kathryn’s family who write thank you letters for everything). I used to be skeptical but people really appreciate it – take the hour or so to do this, especially if you want to work with these crew members again (people remember being appreciated just like they remember good food). We also thanked our cast and even the actors who came out to audition but whom we didn’t end up hiring.

8)   Keep up the momentum. If crew and/or cast were enthusiastic about the shoot and the film project, invite them to your next production meeting to help out with the marketing work during the post-production phase. Audience building can never start too soon.

9)   Organize a proper wrap party once everything is squared away. It takes a village to raise a film, and villages need celebrations when they reach milestones. If you’ve managed to shoot a feature film on next to no money, that’s a very big milestone.

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