Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

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Post-Production

Welcome back Lost Creek fans!

Sorry for the long silence on our part, but rest assured, it’s for a good reason: we have been hard at work finishing the film, and we’re getting closer and closer to being able to share it with you!

We are now officially in post-production, so I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss some of the ins and outs of this final, crucial step in the process of turning that dream we had almost two years ago into a finished film!  So here we go…

So you did it.  You had your vision, you wrote your script, you organized your production company, you sweated over fundraising, you worked like an insane person to shoot your film, and you got your footage!  Hooray!

But you’re not done yet.  Far from it.  You’ve got all this raw footage (many hours of raw footage in our case), what do you do with it?  How do you turn all this stuff into a finished, polished film?

EDITING.

This is a slow, meticulous art.  And I cannot stress that enough: editors are truly artists.  I would argue that a good editor is just as important as the film’s director.  It is the editor that actually puts the story together.  They’re like painters, and the raw footage is their paint.  A good editor can do amazing things with this footage: they can change the nature of a scene, even cut an actor or storyline completely out of the film without having to shoot a single extra frame.

So my first word of advice is this: make sure you’re working with a good one.  All that work you did to shoot the film, get a great cinematographer and sound mixer, cast wonderful actors, none of this means anything if you don’t have a good editor.  Luckily for us, DP Kevin has about 8 years of experience as an editor, so we’re in very good hands.

And editing, while slow and laborious, can be really creatively rewarding.  If you’re like me, you’ve been wearing two hats the whole time: director and producer.  That means that while shooting and directing was awesome and creative, I was always slightly distracted by practical matters: can we afford this in the budget?  Is it too cold to shoot?  What’s the weather tomorrow?  Why is one of the actors late?  And on and on.  Editing is a return to the purely creative storytelling process.  Not since writing the script has the film felt this purely creative.

So, you’re sitting down to edit your film…what do you do?  How do you start?

It can definitely be daunting.  Especially if, like us, you’ve never edited a project of this scale before.  But here are a few immediate words of advice going in:

Be disciplined.  I know it’s a relief that principal photography is over.  You don’t have to organize 16 different people’s schedules, you’re not worried about locations, or transportation, or the weather anymore.  You feel like you can finally relax.  It’s just you and the editor in a room together.  That is true, but do not therefore slack off.  I myself have experience here, and I can tell you: small-scale indie films can die in post-production.  People get distracted, other projects come along, editing is long and slow…you can see what might happen.  I’ve been a part of at least 2 films that never saw the light of day, because no one stuck through to the end.  Treat editing almost like a job.  Create a schedule, and stick to it as much as you can.  Work steadily, with the same motivation you had while shooting.

Go into editing knowing the film isn’t perfect.  It is so exhilarating to see it come together in editing, to suddenly realize, “hey, we have a MOVIE on our hands!”  But know that it won’t be perfect, and don’t get discouraged.  Even with careful planning, a good script supervisor, careful slating, you will miss things.  You will find some scenes, or parts of scenes, didn’t work out the first time.  Be ready for that.  Be ready for pick-ups and re-shoots.  It’s just part of the process.  We are very excited with how well the film is working out, but we still have about 2 days worth of pick-ups and re-shoots to do.  It’s just how filming goes. 

On that note, be open to change, and creative solutions.  I heard a saying once about filmmaking, something along this line: “There are actually three films: the one you wrote, the one you shot, and the actual finished film.”  Sometimes things will not work out the way you planned, but they might end up better, or at least different.  As long as it doesn’t destroy the intention of the film, be prepared to find creative alternatives.  That’s already happened to us at least once.  Going into editing, we were very worried about one of the scenes we shot.  And it didn’t work the way it was scripted and shot.  But, with some careful editing, we re-structured the scene, and now it is actually better than the scripted one.  Or in another scene, there’s a small but important emotional moment between two actors, conveyed by a line one actor has.  The actors never quite delivered the lines right.  But, they gave some great silent reactions that conveyed the emotions.  Since I think “show rather than tell” is better, we simply cut the lines altogether, and let the actors silently convey the subtext, and that works better.  So if things don’t totally work the way you planned, don’t panic!  Turn lemons into lemonade!  That’s the beauty of editing.

This is why we started our post production with a simple review.  We just sat down and watched everything: every take of every scene, in order.  It took us two solid days, but it was worth it.  We discovered what we had, what looked good, what we were missing.  That allowed us to take stock, create a list of pick-ups and re-shoots, and go into editing knowing exactly where we stood.

On this note, I think this is a good time to talk about the importance of some shooting practices, because you’ll see how important they are once you get the footage into your editing suite.

I cannot stress this enough: ALWAYS have a script supervisor, and ALWAYS record everything in your script log.  And ALWAYS slate scenes consistently and clearly.  I know some nights, you’re running out of time.  You’ve got thirty minutes to get six angles, and it is only wasting your time writing everything down and slating over and over again.  Do it anyway.  You’re going to end up with a ton of footage.  Some of it will be really bad.  If you have no idea what you’re looking at, or what is good and what isn’t, editing your film will be a nightmare.  Without a good script supervisor, maybe no one is checking continuity.  Maybe you’ll only realize your actor was wearing the wrong shirt between two scenes AFTER you wrap.  That means re-shooting that whole scene.  I’ll give you an example:

Halfway through shooting our film, our primary hard drive/monitor kicked.  It was fine, we didn’t lose the footage (it was recoverable from the hard drive) and we got a new hard drive.  But all these months later, while reviewing the footage, we realized we were missing a few scenes, and in some cases, halves of scenes.  Everything was still on that old hard drive.  Now, this could be a nightmare.  It’s months later, I would have no idea what the hell was on that drive, where it was supposed to go, what scenes, where they went, why we shot them in the first place.  But, because we carefully slated every scene and meticulously recorded everything in our script log, we know exactly what angles of what scenes we’re missing, where they go, why we shot them, and how it’s all supposed to work.  Do yourself a favor, and keep your film organized.  Use your script supervisor and slate well.

SHOOTING WITH AN EYE TO EDITING

This is also important, and a bit tricky.  When you’re shooting your movie, you have to strike a balance: you want to shoot efficiently, but you need to adequately cover your scenes.  I guarantee that some of those takes you thought were fine will have small problems that will drive you crazy when you’re editing.  Maybe your actor delivered the line perfectly, but accidentally glanced at the camera for a second.  This is why I say: cover everything really well.  There are several scenes in our film that were saved by this.  They don’t work as scripted, but because we had plenty of footage to choose from, we could re-edit them so they worked.  I’m not endorsing the Stanley Kubrick 200-takes-per-angle method because your actors will probably murder you.  But don’t skimp on coverage.  If you have the time, get that extra shot.  Do another take for safety.  Don’t just decide it’s “good enough.”  You’re short-changing yourself and your film.  Your “good enough” take may actually NOT be good at all.  If you don’t have any other takes to choose from, you may have to schedule a lot of miserable re-shoots months later, and do your best to match the original footage (which can be hard, especially if you’re shooting exteriors and the season is now different).  In some cases, you may never be able to get back to do a re-shoot, and then you’re stuck making do with whatever sub-par footage you have.  Make sure you give yourself enough time to cover each scene as much as you can.

Sound: a lot of sound design we’ll leave for another entry, since A) we’re not there yet and B) it’s a whole other artistic and technical process.  But, I’d say this: you should have set yourself up already by hiring a really good sound person.  Get the sound files and sync them.  Nowadays, there’s great software out there to do this.  Take advantage.  If you can’t afford the software, use the free trial!

Music

I’m not talking about soundtrack yet, that’s for another time.  But I thought it worth mentioning: some editors and directors like to use temporary soundtracks to help them visualize the movie.  That’s very subjective, and people come down on either side depending who you talk to.  Some people will say it’s a bad idea: you might get married to your temp sound track and won’t be open to other ideas, and maybe your temp music is unobtainable for your film.  I myself associate music and film, and songs often inspire film ideas for me.  So I personally think music is ok in small doses, but don’t use it as a crutch.  In other words, a good sound track can smooth over rough parts of a film.  Before you use music, listen to the movie without it.  Is the movie compelling enough without the help of music?  That’s what you’re aiming for, because then the soundtrack will only make it even better!

Finally, scheduling.  I said you want to be consistent and keep the momentum up.  But you need a goal.  Getting the film done in a reasonable amount of time is a good goal, but remember your ultimate aim: you want this film to be SEEN.  So, now is a good time to start thinking about the next step: festivals.  I’ll leave MOST of this for another entry because that’s a WHOLE different kettle of fish.  Then we’re talking distribution, marketing, selling your film.  But for now, I’d give this advice:

You know the next step after finishing the film is submitting it to festivals.  But festivals happen at different points throughout the year, and some festivals may be better for your film than others.  Now is a good time to do that research.  Read up on festivals, find which ones might be a good fit for your film, find out when their early submission deadlines are.  That’s important.  I’ve heard a lot of people say, submit your film as early as possible, it’ll give you a better chance of being accepted to that festival.  And that makes sense.  If you’re programming a festival, you need to know the run times of the films so you can schedule it all out.  If they receive a film they like early, they’ll be happy to pop it in a slot.  The longer you wait, the harder it is for them to fit your film into their line-up, no matter how much they like it.  So figure that out, and use that as your deadline.  That’s what we’re doing.  I know we’ll need a few months to finish, so I found the early submission deadlines for some festivals we really want to hit are in a couple months, so we’re working to finish on time for those!

Thanks guys, more to follow soon!

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