13 Steps of Post ProductionThere are three stages to film-making: pre-production, production
and post-production.

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

'Real' pre-production is when you're spending money on script development, casting, scouting and securing crew. Bottom line -- pre-production is not difficult.

The second stage, production, is right after you get financing. Now you quickly get everyone together and spend nine to eighteen days of 14-18 hours each, shooting from dawn to dusk. Production is a ball buster.

During production everything happens at once. The actors, lights, camera, props, schedule, film stock, egos, temper tantrums, and all the rest. Production, although typically presented as being fun and joyous, will probably be the worst two or three weeks of your life. But you persevere. Somehow you get that Martini Shot. Your film is in the can. You bring out the flat beer and celebrate. Everyone hugs everyone (except you, the skinflint producer) and goes home. You pass out and wake up approximately two days later.

When you do wake up, you find twenty hours of tape, or the equivalent in film stock by the foot of your bed. You're all alone. What do you do now? The answer, of course, is simple. You begin post-production.

Post-production, somehow, is the part of the process that intimidates people most. Remember, it is not difficult. Production is massively 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. All you need to know about post-production and finishing your film is the thirteen steps listed below. Just take them one step at a time, in the order they appear. There will be no eighteen hour days. Your function will be to hire people and oversee them by dropping in for half an hour here and there. Post-production, I repeat, is not difficult.

The 13 Steps of Post-Production

1. Pick an editing format

There are 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 are few filmmakers who edit this way today.

The second is the digital way. Two 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

Your cinematographer is probably a good person to ask for recommendations for an editor. 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. Given this huge creative responsibility, I always like to get an editor well before the project goes into production. 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 schedule 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. Thus, hire a sound editor and an assistant for five to six weeks to (a) cut dialogue tracks, (b) re-create sound effects, and (c) get cue sheets ready for simplifying Step 7, The Mix.

4. Do ADR

This stands for Automatic Dialogue Replacement. What it actually is, is 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 stink. Don't use any pre-cleared CD-ROM music because it won't be good enough quality. What you should do is simply this: hire a musician with his or her own studio to compose brand new original songs and tunes that you have the rights to.

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

Somewhere 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 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

Your editing is now 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

In order to deliver the film you will need to create a Digital Cinema Package - 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.

12. Get a campaign image

A picture says a thousand words. Your campaign image is likely the first thing a prospective distributor or festival programmer will see of your film. 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.

Here is the poster image and trailer we created for our movie, Deadly Virtues: Love, Honour, Obey.

Once again, the shoot (production) is outrageously difficult and overwhelming, but the edit (post-production) is a very calm and do-able process. So relax and just do it one step at a time.

You are now ready to start marketing your film by sending it to film festivals.

Happy film-making.

Elliot Grove
Elliot Grove founded Raindance as a thought experiment: Can you make a film with no money, no training and no experience, he asked? When people like his first intern Edgar Wright started making movies he started the Raindance Film Festival to celebrate their work in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998. Elliot has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 (1997) was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe, Japan and America. In 2006 he produced the multiple-award winning The Living and the Dead.
In 2013 he relaunched the production arm: Raw Talent with the cult film director Ate de Jong. Their first venture was the psychological thriller Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. finished late 2013.

Here you can watch the 2015 BIFA's from the red carpet to all the awards. Elliot's interview is at 1:27:00

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008), Raindance Producers' Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). He was awarded a PhD in 2009 for services to film education. His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

Elliot teaches several courses at Raindance including Lo To No Budget Filmmaking and Writer's Foundation Certificate.

The 24th Raindance Film Festival has now released it's 2016 festival trailer: a homage to Stephen Spielberg who celebrates his 70th birthday this year:

https://youtu.be/BRSlpe03-w4

Read articles by Elliot Grove.

16 thoughts on “The 13 Steps Of Post-Production

  1. Thanks so much for this. I don't know how, but as a Post Production Supervisor at major studio, I somehow mistakenly added another 2057 steps to the process. But now I know I can do almost nothing and my movie will still look and sound perfect for print, digital cinema, 14fL 2D, 3.5fL 3D, premium grade 6fL 3D, IMAX, and will magically make itself in 5.1, 7.1, ATMOS and AURO as well as archive for future UHD and EXR formats. I guess you're right, it's really this simple!

  2. This is great content! however, unless i missed it – I would add somewhere between #2 and #9 – Hire a COLOURIST! The DOP and the Director sit down after picture lock, with the colourist, and apply the final LOOK on the picture. ( I teach your Canadian workshops… ) lol!

  3. Hi. What is the rationale behind doing the titles at the end of the process? I do mine before I lock cut, which is an acceptable method. The titles impact the duration and feature music, so why would you add them later?

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