Lost Creek - A Film by Colin Adams-Toomey

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More Editing...

Welcome back to the creek!  We’ve been out of touch for a bit, hard at work finishing the film.  But, we’re happy to report back that we are close to achieving picture lock!  Hooray!

This leads us into some interesting discussions about post-production and effective editing techniques.

So to begin, what is picture lock?  To answer this question, we should talk a little more about editing practices…

So in the last entry, we started to touch on basic editing techniques, and good filming practices that could help you when you get all that footage to the editing stage.  But we didn’t really talk that much about the creative process of editing itself.

It’s an interesting process, to be sure.  For us, Lost Creek is by FAR the largest project we have ever edited.  It’s a full feature-length film!  This meant that Kevin (the DP and editor) and I approached it slowly, learning some as we went.  There was some trial and error involved.  I figured maybe you guys could benefit from what we learned!

Basically, the editing process for us has broken down into 4 distinct parts: the basic editing of the film, visual cleanup, sound, and soundtrack.  In order to get to the other three steps, step 1 (basic editing) has to be finished, ending in picture lock.  This is when the director and editor are happy with the basic cut of the film, and are not planning on changing it anymore.  There may be visual cleanup (color correction, noise reduction, etc.) and/or added visual effects, but the basic structure of the scenes won’t be touched (length, placement of cuts, etc.).  This is important, because the film HAS to get to this stage BEFORE you can start on anything to do with sound.  Basically, your sound designer and soundtrack composer will not want to start working on a cut of the film that might change, because then all their work will be out of sync with the visuals!

Ok fine, that makes sense.  But it leads to some interesting issues, especially in a film like ours…

So like I said, the editing process has been partly basic technical stuff: cutting the scenes together so they make visual sense, reconstructing performances if an actor makes a mistake, etc.  But it has also been partially on instinct for us, what feels right, how do we feel about the flow of the film, does it land emotionally, etc.  It’s a very subtle art.  For example, we very slightly changed the way the film opens, and that small tweak changed the feel of the entire rest of the film.  We’ve done a basic dialogue sync, so we get a sense of how the scenes will sound.  It will be Sam (our sound designer)’s first task to clean all this dialogue up and make sure things sound perfect, but we have a feel for the spoken words.  But we obviously have no sound or music yet, because we can’t get these things until after we’re done editing.

Herein lies the paradox.  I firmly believe that when it comes to scary movies, you can never underestimate the importance of sound design.  Indeed, many of the best monster films are more sound than visual when it comes to the monster itself!  And that is definitely true of several scary scenes in Lost Creek.  This means that there are scenes in the film that have no antagonist right now, and fall kind of flat, because they won’t come together until we have built the scariness out of pure sound.  Plus, many scenes lack their full impact without soundtrack.  You see the issue?  How do you know you’re totally happy with your film until you have all the elements, sound included?  But you can’t get those elements until you’re happy with the basic film.  What to do?

This is what I suggest, and what we’re doing.  You can still get a very basic sense of the scenes and how they will ultimately work.  Simply use your imagination for the elements that are lacking.  If there’s a scary scene that we know will be sold mostly through sound, we mute the film while editing, and watch it while trying to hear the way we want it to sound.  It’ll give you a general idea.

I also said in the last post, avoid temp sound tracks while you’re in the midst of the work.  I stand by that, but I’m not saying avoid temp music entirely.  Just cut the film together without music FIRST, so you can get a feel without relying on someone else’s score.  But, as you edit, you’ll start to feel when there’s not much else you can do to the film by yourself.  When you reach that point, THEN maybe use a little music.  That’s what we did, and it really helped.  We chose a film whose score fit the feel of Lost Creek pretty well, and layered it over the cut of the film.  It really revealed to us how the film might ultimately look, and where there were still minor issues/pacing problems.  At this point, we’ve only seen the film with the temp sound track once or twice, so there’s not much risk of us getting too attached to the temp music.

Finally, you need to just face the facts: you may need to change it again, even after you’ve done sound design.  There’s a few reasons for this:

Every element you add is going to change the film, and change your perspective.  That scene that seemed the right length without music might suddenly feel too long or too short.  Once you design sound for your scary scene, you may find you actually need to cut it together slightly differently to make it work better.

You cannot send your film out into the world having been viewed only by your production crew.  You don’t have enough perspective.  You’ve been working on this from the beginning and it’s your baby.  You need test screenings.  You’ll want to organize a few viewings of the film for people whose opinions you trust, but preferably not people who were directly involved with the film.  You want fresh eyes, fresh opinions.  And you’ll want to give these people as close to the full experience as possible.  That means you’ll need sound and music.  And chances are, you might get some good feedback from these test audiences that will cause you to tweak the film.  Just be aware of that.  Even after you lock picture, you’ll need to be in sync with your music composer and sound designer, so that everyone is ready to go back to the drawing board to fix things.  Chances are you won’t have to completely redo your film, but you want to send the most perfect version of your film out as you possibly can!

Cool guys!  Next time: the mechanics of sound design!

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