POST Workflow tips (AKA: how to finish your economically challenged movie and not have it be a clusterfuck) by Sam Mestman
NOTE: This article has been gradually updated over the last few years. It immediately becomes outdated as soon as I’m done with a revision because new gear or new workflows come out that make parts of it obsolete. It’ll happen again. So, anyway, just keep in mind that within 6 months of me typing this (latest revision November 2011), your ideal indie workflow is going to be a souped up Mac Pro/Imac with Thunderbolt, thunderbolt drives, solid state mags, FCPX or Adobe Premiere pro and some combination of Redcine X Pro, Davinci Resolve, or whatever crazy thing that comes out that I haven’t heard of yet. Right now, your best bet is still the FCP7/Color combo, but that won’t be the case much longer. However, gear/software/hard drive/monitor solutions I present aside, there will still hopefully be a lot of useful concepts you can take away from this even if some of the tech specs are no longer the best option.
Note 2: Yes, I’m aware that there are different workflows out there than what I describe here. I’m sure they work very well. Anyway, what I’m describing here is the simplest, most cost effective way I know of to have a smooth RED post experience that will benefit your typical LOW BUDGET indie production that is planning on finishing Final Cut Studio or FCPX and Davinci Resolve (but that workflow is still evolving and I won’t cover it in too much detail here). It is designed to be a hassle free experience that does not sacrifice QUALITY. The equipment I’m recommending that you buy is all solid gear by reputable manufacturers and is all stuff I’ve used. There may be cheaper stuff out there, admittedly, but all this stuff will WORK, should not break your budget, and does not require a lot of thought and effort to setup and maintain (for the most part). THIS WORKFLOW IS FOR THE HARDCORE DIY crowd who wear more than just the post/editor hats, and understand fundamental ethos of the production pyramid:
For the most part, the choice I tend to pick tends to be cheap and good. Being an independent filmmaker, time tends to be the only asset that’s free. If you have paying clients on the commercial end, you may need faster methods and additional gear (like a Red Rocket, etc). That’s a whole other animal. Anyway, just keep in mind as you read this who I designed this approach for, and that’s for filmmakers of intermediate post production knowledge who need simple, practical and effective ways to make a high quality product for a fraction of the traditional cost. It’s here to help cut the RIGHT corners, not the essential ones, and to give you the knowledge to know the difference.
Here’s how effective this workflow was – On three separate indies I cut, I was the ONLY post person (except on one show where I had an assistant) on the project, it was cut ENTIRELY on my home system (except the last show), and in one case we had a rock solid rough cut of the movie with a basic color pass finished 3 weeks after the shoot ended. Now, circumstances and deadlines are unique project to project, but this workflow works. Anyway…
First, a list of post equipment you should have for the shoot and for the edit:
- Hard drives – you should have roughly 2 terabytes of space for every 9 hours of footage you plan on shooting to store your .r3d files, spread over two sets of drives. So, if you are shooting 18 hours of footage, you should have (2) 2 tb hard drives to store your footage. I recommend Mercury elite from Other World Computing drives for this as they are fast, reliable, and have both a firewire 800 and ESATA connection (NOTE: The new Thunderbolt technology will completely change this paragraph within the next year… if you have the option to run with thunderbolt drives, DO IT. They’re more expensive, but they’re worth it. Check out the Promise Pegasus Raid, and there are a whole bunch of others coming down the pike.). A 4TB drive will run you about $300. You are keeping all your negatives on these drives. If something happens to these, you’re screwed. Don’t buy crappy drives. Minimum specs for any drive you buy: 7200rpm, FW800 slot (ideally has ESata), NOT bus powered (make sure it has its own plug and doesn’t work off your computer’s power), formatted for MAC OSX (certain drives, especially Western Digital drives, say they’re mac osx compatible, but really aren’t… make sure there aren’t limits on file transfers for Mac OSX when you buy one). Or, if you’re worried about this… don’t buy your drives from Best Buy or some other consumer electronics place. Get em online (www.macmall.com, www.g-technology.com, or www.otherworldcomputing.com are all solid Mac vendors).
In addition, I recommend purchasing (2) 1TB drives to serve as “rounder” (i’ll explain later) drives… for this, I’d recommend the GDriveQ or something else like it. They’re smaller than GRAIDs and offer comparable performance, and aren’t bus powered. These will also get used later to backup all of your offline footage. They will run you about $150-200/apiece last time I checked.
Also, it’s a big time saver if you can get the big solid state Red mags with your camera package. They offload much faster and can do a midday transfer and not be worried about holding up production, and you won’t have to shoot off cards. The old school Red drives are slow and clunky. Not only that, but they’re much more reliable than your typical red drive, and way more practical than the small CF cards.
- Laptop – Macbook pro. In a perfect world, you’ll get one with Thunderbolt so you can hook your superfast solid state mags that I told you to rent into it and have lightning fast transfers. If you don’t have that, everything will take quite a bit longer, and you need to read the next paragraph.
If you don’t have thunderbolt, you should get one of the older macbook pros with an expresscard reader that you can put an ESATA card into. Firewire 800 is SLOW. Try and avoid it. At the minimum, though, you should have a Macbook Pro, regardless of model, simply because you need a Intel mac laptop that has a firewire 800 port (if you try and do big transfers with firewire 400 or USB, you’ll be there all night… it’ll suck).
If you have the money, do yourself a favor, skip this next section, and just read this:
Anatomy of a Pro Edit Suite by Walter Biscardi
If you want to save a little money, and get some additional tips, here are my suggestions (which are not radically different than what he suggests):
- FCS 3 or FCPX (if you’re brave… despite what you hear, it’s a great program, but you should be comfortable with what it can and can’t do before cutting a feature with it) – You will also need the latest versions of the red quicktime codec and RED FCS3 installer.
- Redcine-X Professional – You can download this in the Recon Thread over at Reduser.
- MAC PRO System, or a new Imac or Macbook Pro – Any of the current mac pro’s will work. Faster is better, obviously, but get what you can afford. If you can run Thunderbolt off a new Imac or Macbook pro, you can even transcode with these and probably be okay so long as you max it out with Ram and a nice Graphics card. You should have a MINIMUM of 4 gigs of RAM. 6 or more is probably ideal (so you can have other programs open and not hurt FCP’s performance). Final cut 7 can only currently use 4 gigs of RAM (X is unlimited), so tricking your system out with 20 gigs of Ram if you’re just editing in FCP7 is overkill… final cut will still only use 4… same with Color, motion and the rest of FCS (although Color and Motion are both GPU intensive, which means their speed is more determined by the graphics card you have than by the RAM). RAM tip: don’t buy it from Apple when you buy your mac. It’s WAY overpriced. Get it from a place like www.Otherworldcomputing.com. You should definitely upgrade your graphics card to the whatever high end ATI card is currently available (ATI cards play better with Color than the NVIDIA cards). Color, like Motion, is a mostly graphics card intensive application. If you plan on doing color work, this upgrade is pretty mandatory, and it’s only a couple hundred bucks.
- ONLINE Hard Drive – Here’s what I’d recommend to buy that should be more than enough for all your online/offline needs. This is a ready made 4-12TB, 4 BAY enclosed RAID drive. Buy this for $699, or something comparable from another manufacturer, and you should have plenty of space to keep all of your offline edit files, sound files, graphics, music, online files, and any other movie related files, and still be able to get solid perfomance in Color, working with the native .r3d files. I’d also recommend having it set to RAID-5, so that you have some protection in case one of the drives fail. You should even have enough space left over to do full time machine backups to it of your system drives. This thing is plug and play…. and extremely easy to use as far as RAIDs go. You can make your own raid cheaper, and save a couple hundred bucks, but it’s a pain in the ass, and will probably be less reliable. This is a nice compromise of speed, efficiency, and affordability.
Add-ons you’ll need for Mac Pro system-
- ESATA PCI-E Card – Make sure the card you buy has at least two ports, so you can run multiple hard drives through it. Ideally, it’ll have 4 ports. Be ready to spend anywhere from $40-200 for one of these.
- Blackmagic Card – If you have a little money to spare, buy the Decklink HD extreme 3D($995) or their new Thunderbolt version- It’s got more options and is the best card for the money. It’ll also allow you to run a HDMI out and HD-SDI out simultaneously (meaning you can have an HDTV playing in addition to your calibrated HD monitor. This is great for clients.
- HP2480zx dreamcolor monitor – FYI: my Dreamcolor setup involves The Blackmagic HD Extreme 3D running through the HD-SDI out, into the AJA HDP2 signal converter, which then sends an RGB progressive signal into the HDMI port of the Dreamcolor monitor. It works great, if you were actually able to understand any of what I just typed. That being said, this is probably the most controversial and complicated thing I’ll tell you to buy. WARNING: this thing is a pain in the ass to set up. Support for it from HP sucks. Finding the Mac version of the Advanced Profiling Solution drivers is a nightmare. Calibrating it takes some getting used to. There are all kinds of gotcha’s with it: for example, even though it has an HDMI input for it, you need some extra gear to make it work. If you try to use the HDMI port, and you don’t have the proper converter or card (for a list of the HDMI compatible cards and some explanation for the Dreamcolor HDMI situation, go here), you’re fucked and you won’t probably realize it. So, yeah, okay… that said, once you get it working, it’s AWESOME, and will save you thousands of dollars over a competing product. Here are some whitepapers that will help you do that (scroll down to the bottom of the link page and you’ll see them). Cost: $1999-$2499, plus you have to buy the Advanced Profiling Solution ($349.00).
Here’s what it does once you get it up and running – it works not only as a secondary 24” computer monitor through your DVI input, but it also is a fully accurate, calibrated broadcast quality LCD display that has 100% accurate profiles for Rec709 (HD), Rec601(SD), web (adobeRGB or sRGB), and a 97% accurate DCI-P3(cinema) color profile. The blacks are black, and the color’s even. A good competing LCD Broadcast display will run you at least $5,000 and can run you anywhere from $20-$50,000 for something super high-end. Not to mention these monitors are sometimes just as complicated to calibrate (but for different reasons), so there’s that too.
Anyway, a couple things to keep in mind… you only get 8-bit color (if you don’t know what that is, you probably aren’t reading this paragraph) with this in DVI mode. You can get full 10bit if you go the extra mile and get the HDMI setup with this working. I recommend this if you can afford it. It’s only a couple hundred bucks extra.
- HDTV – This is mostly for clients and screenings (also, make sure you calibrate the TV to match your Color monitor as closely as you can to prevent client/director freakouts). If you want a great deal on an HDTV, www.macmall.com always has some amazing deals on refurbished HDTV’s. I own a 47” that I got from there for $600. It’s great. You can probably find something even cheaper there now.
- Flat near field audio monitors (speakers) – do yourself a favor and spend $300 on a nice pair of flat, near-field monitor speakers… so you actually have a clue what your movie sounds like. Won’t be like in a theater… but it’ll be nice… also, it’ll make everything coming out of itunes sound great… so there’s a quality of life angle too.
- Blu Ray burner – Put this in your second superdrive bay in your mac pro, and you can make basic blu-ray screeners of your movie for festivals and screenings.
TIPS FOR HANDLING RED MEDIA WHILE ON SET
Everyone always forgets the little things. I’ll tell you a story. Was on super low budget shoot where they didn’t want to spend any money on a surge protector (amazing), and didn’t really think about things like how on-the-set transfers and backups would go… not only that, but they had the DIT set up on a particular day in the grip truck and had the hard drives and laptop connected to the generator (first off, don’t EVER do that with the hard drives to your negative… especially WITHOUT A SURGE PROTECTOR… generator power fluctuates all over the place, and is really bad for your drives and laptop… use this in emergencies only). He started his transfer and, production guys being wrapped for the night, they wanted to get the fuck out of there. Forgetting the DIT was in the truck, they turned off the generator. Transfer fucked, files damaged and unusable, and his laptop wasn’t quite the same. Fortunately, this was the backup transfer (they at least made sure to do two transfers), but if this had happened even 10 minutes earlier, that entire day’s shoot WOULD HAVE BEEN LOST. That is bad.
You do not want lose a day’s footage because you were too cheap to buy a surge protector and you didn’t plan well enough to have your transfers take place in a safe and secure manner. There’s a difference between being broke and being stupid, and certain precautions have to be taken with this stuff. It’s your negative, and your whole shoot is totally pointless if you can’t get your footage transferred. So, anyway, here are some do’s and dont’s for handling media on a RED production (note: this section is more for producers than post people. Please make your producer reads this, so they can plan properly and you won’t get yelled at when bad shit happens):
- Set your transfers up in a secure location out of the way of production – seems like common sense, but when you’re on location, it’s real easy to not do this. I’ve done transfers hooked up to generators (bad idea), in cars through a cigarette lighter jack (even worse idea), and in places where cast and crew are walking through constantly (worst possible idea). Doing things like that is just asking for trouble. While I have been fortunate enough to never have had a transfer where the footage was made unusable, there’ve been some really close calls. The best place to put your DIT (or whoever is doing your transfer) is wherever you’ve set up holding for the day (holding is where you’re keeping your actors who aren’t shooting/wherever your production coordinator is spending their day) or in the honeywagon/trailer/production office if you’ve got one. This should not be outdoors. Ideally, this should be in its own room, in a corner/on a desk, where no one will touch anything. I realize this probably reads like common sense… but, well, I’ve violated this rule and most indie sets do as well. And while I’ve never been totally screwed, there’ve been some really stressful moments that could have been avoided had I just done it the right way in the first place.
- Do more than one transfer during the day/ have more than one Red Drive – This is a quality of life thing. If you’re shooting a lot of footage, your end of the day transfer is going to take hours because you have to transfer your footage off the Red drive twice, once to bring to your editor, and once as a backup (NOTE: this is not as bad as it used to be now that solid state and thunderbolt are coming around… but if you’re still stuck with FW800, this still really applies to you). No one on the crew wants to wait for the transfer to finish after they’ve just put in a 10-15 hour day. Save everyone some time, get an extra Red drive, do one set of transfers at lunch, and do one at the end of the day. If you time this right, you can actually be out of there by the time the crew is finished wrapping for the day, all your footage will be secure, and you can go get drunk with everyone else.
- You don’t need a dedicated DIT – honestly, if you toss a PA with some basic computer knowledge a little extra money ($50-100/day), this will be a lot more efficient, and there won’t be any noticeable difference in how things get done. All a DIT does is copy files from a drive for the most part (unless they’re doing the assistant editor’s job too). If you accept you won’t be doing much editing on set, what the hell do you need an expensive DIT for? Most entertainment people have macs and know how to copy files from drives. All you got to do is have your editor come down to set on the first day and supervise the first couple transfers so that things are being done the way he/she wants them (and to train whoever is doing it to do it properly), and you’re good to go. Not only that, but you’ve just saved yourself some money on a dedicated crew position.
- Do two separate, individual transfers of your footage directly from the RED drive/card/CF mag – Do not transfer your already copied material from one drive to another. Make sure it comes straight from the red drive/card itself. Why? Well, just in case something happened on a transfer (very unlikely), you’ll have an entirely separate transfer to work from in case something happened. That said…
- YOU’RE JUST COPYING FILES (this ain’t rocket science) – a lot of people will tell you you’ve got to get a special Red transfer software program (like R3D data manager) and crap like that. You know what? Those programs just slow you down and get in your way (I’ve used them and verifying the files and doing all the checksums takes fucking forever). The likelihood of a bad transfer if you do it in a secure environment is tiny. The likelihood of it happening twice if all of your equipment is well maintained is smaller than getting hit by a bus. Life is a risk. Making a movie is a risk. In the grand scheme of things, running a checksum program while on a set is not a very efficient use of your time. And hey, even if it catches something, it’s not like you can go back and reshoot that day anyway. If you’re really concerned about verifying files, have your editor do the transcoding that night once the shoot is done, and report back to you in the morning that everything came back secure. DISCLAIMER: I only recommend this approach, like everything else, if you’re the boss. If you’ve got a high paying client or lunatic producer that you have to play the CYA (cover your ass) game with, recommend doing it this way, but be very clear that you at least understand what his/her other options are (you know what R3D data manager is and how it works), and how those will effect his production workflow… then allow them to make the decision as to how they want to do things, and wash your hands of it.
How to properly spread your drives around
Okay, so, to recap, you have purchased the following set drives so far:
- (2) 1 tb “rounder drives” – One of these will always be on set, and one of these will always be back with your editor during the shoot. At the end of every night, an exchange will be made, with a runner handing a drive with the day’s transfer to your editor, and your editor handing back the drive with the previous day’s footage to be brought back to set. Repeat til the shoot’s over.
- (2) 1 tb drives for every 9 hours of footage – Generally, you’re likely to be working with larger drives here (2 or 3 tb increments), but the point is your editor will have one, and you will have one on set. At no time will these matching drives ever be in the same place (to insure that your negative and its backup is never in the same place). So, whoever is doing your transfers will be making TWO individual transfers from EACH Red Drive that was used on a particular day. He will first transfer to the “rounder” drive in his possession. Then, he will transfer to the on-set backup edit drives. He will leave these drives in a designated secure spot on set. He will then take the “rounder” drive to wherever the editor is, and make the exchange for the other “rounder” drive that he will bring back to set to make the next day’s transfers. The Editor will then take that day’s “rounder” drive and make a copy of that days footage onto his own set of “backup” drives, which will have an identical file structure to the ones that are currently on set. Generally, you will be able to keep anywhere between 3-7 previous days of footage on the “rounder drives” which means that a days footage can almost always be found in 3 separate places (on-set backup, rounder, and editor backup). This an efficient and secure way of transporting footage to and from set and guaranteeing that you will have a working backup AT ALL TIMES.
How to label your files – Every time you make a transfer from a drive or card, it’s going to have it’s own unique file structure (i.e. A001, etc.), and within that will be the individual clips. On your drives, you will make two kinds of folders to place these files in. First, you will make a folder for that days transfers (Day 01, 02, etc.). Within that folder, you will make another folder for every transfer labeled with the transfer# followed by the reel # (for example, transfer01_reel10. Your camera dept. should be keeping track of the reels, and every transfer should be one higher than the last (A0001, followed by A0002, etc). So a sample directory for a days shoot would look like this:
Red drive says A009_bunchofothernumbersandstuff. If it’s day 3 of your shoot and your first transfer of the day, that Red drive folder would go onto your drive with the directory structure looking like this: Day3_Transfer1_ReelA009. Within that folder, it would be placed into the Transfer1_reel09 folder. Drag, drop, transfer, you’re done. If your “rounder” and on set backup drives both follow this same structure, it will mean that your on-set backup drive can be interchangeable with your editor’s backup drive because everything will be following the same file structure and they will contain identical material. NOTE: these are just suggested names… there are plenty of different, perhaps better ways to do this. Pick one and stick with it with every transfer.
WHAT YOUR EDITOR SHOULD BE DOING WHILE YOU’RE SHOOTING
Alright, so what should you expect from your editor while all this is happening, and what is the most efficient workflow for he/she to follow? Well, if you’re editing Final Cut and plan on finishing in Color, make sure your editor reads the RED FCS studio whitepaper. This comes with the FInal Cut Studio 3 installer that can be downloaded here. Or, make sure they’re comfortable with Redcine-X (regular or Pro). Now, there are plenty of ways to get to the same place, but these are simply the methods I’ve found effective. I’m sure certain things can be improved. So, that said…
- During production, your editor should be responsible for making your previous days’ dailies and organizing your project – This is the number one responsibility while shooting, and the goal is to have a fully formed FCP project, as well as a bunch of rough sequences edited by the time you’re done shooting (maybe even the whole movie). Yes, this is possible. Many good editors don’t like to do assistant work (I don’t blame them, and I don’t like it either… it’s boring). However, when hiring an editor, make sure ahead of time they’re going to be down with this. It is probably better to hire someone with a little less experience who will work a little harder and will hustle for you when making a lower budget indie than it is to hire a “pro” who’s going to bitch and moan all the time about how “unprofessional” everything is. Remember, if someone looks at a job they’re doing for you as a “favor”, they will be willing to put up with a lot less of your bullshit. Make sure they understand what is expected of them ahead of time, make them sign off on it, and then hold them to their word. If they’re unwilling to do this, don’t hire them. Find someone else. Better to do it before than have something blow up in your face later. Also, be very clear that this will be a full time gig. You need their complete and undivided attention for this, and you should pay them a solid weekly rate (a grand a week for the right person will keep complaining to a minimum, and you might even be able to get away with $750, and still get someone who knows their shit, and is good at what they do). Despite what people will tell you, most editors got into this business to cut features, and they will hustle for you and take less money for the opportunity at a feature film of their own (as long as they can pay their bills while they do it).
How they should bring in their dailies –
- FCP 7 workflow – You should have the new final cut pro 7 installed, which has the new Prores codecs installed on it. They should bring all of your offline dailies in as Prores Proxy or Prores LT files using Redcine-X pro, or do something similar if you’re planning on using FCP log and transfer workflow set to “as shot” settings (so they will come in how they were monitored on set). At this point in the game, though, I’d really recommend using the RCX workflow to transcode your files as you will have so many more options to make your files look better. Now that you can import FCP XML’s back into RCX pro, there’s not much of a point in using the Log and Transfer method.
- FCPX/Premiere Pro/Davinci Workflow – You’re still going to use RCX for your offline at the moment if you’re in FCPX, but the truth is that with 64-bit processing and Thunderbolt, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see people editing features natively in full 4k in FCPX and Premiere and then sending these off to Color in Davinci Resolve. That’s where the puck is heading… but it’s just not quite there yet. Indies are still gong to be stuck with RCX for a little while… but we’re getting there.
- Note about transcoding dailies if you shoot with more than one camera – You will need more than one person and more than one computer for transcoding if you don’t have a redrocket card. If you have 2 cameras going regularly, you’ll want to hire a dedicated assistant editor/DIT for this so they can prep all the dailies for the editor AND set up the transcodes to go overnight. Your post team should be working overlapping shifts to maximize efficiency. With that much footage, basically, just know you’ll need a second person to make this work well.
- Make your editor’s life a better place, and make sure your sound is Jam synced to timecode– If you take a little time with your sound and camera depts to make sure this is working as it should with a smart slate, this will save your editor WEEKS of work if he doesn’t have to sync all your sound manually. Believe me, I have had to manually sync an entire movie’s worth of Red clips with the original sound files off the DAT. It sucks and is a total drain on the workflow. I could have had an entire rough cut done of the last movie I edited a day after they were done shooting if it weren’t for all the damn syncing I had to do because the camera and sound guys couldn’t figure out how to Jam sync the timecode correctly… Do a couple tests, and get it right. Your editor will thank you by being about a thousand times more productive. NOTE: this is one of the really cool things about FCPX – if you use an Ipad as a slate, you don’t need to jam sync. The synchronize clips feature in FCPX will work perfectly every single time. The ipad slate thing is pretty cool, actually… and it’s cheaper to get one of those than it is to have a smart slate.
- Get an oflline edit going as you shoot – provided all of your sound is being recorded properly, and they don’t have to do any syncing, your editor should have plenty of time during the day to start cutting, especially if they’re doing their log and transferring overnight while they’re asleep. If that’s happening, your editor should really only be a day or two behind your shoot in terms of cutting and having all your dailies prepped and organized. Organizing a days’ worth of dailies isn’t all that time consuming (especially if you give your editor script and sound notes when you hand off the drives for the night). It should take two hours MAX. With the rest of their time, they can be editing. If they’re any good, they can have a rough cut done within a day or two of your shoot being done (won’t be a finished movie, but it’ll be a great starting point for a director to have a good idea of what he’s got). There’s no reason you can’t have a rough cut of the whole movie done within a week of being done shooting if you follow all these procedures. And then you can spend the next couple weeks refining… or take a break, and come back to it fresh.
- Once the shoot is over – Well, this is up to you. Do you know what you want? Can you make a decision on whether you’re happy with something or not? Is your editor any good, and are they committed to the project? How reliant on feedback are you, and how many test screenings do you plan on doing? Can you edit yourself? The answers to these questions will decide how long it will take to edit your movie, and how much you’re going to have to pay your editor. It’s been my experience that the biggest thing that slows down the edit process is indecision and not knowing what the hell you want or how you want it done. Often, producers/directors will go about blaming everyone but themselves for this. However, if you’re accountable, and really understand the process and what you want, there is no reason your edit can’t be done in a timely and efficient manner. On the other hand, I’d definitely recommend taking a mandatory break after a defined period of time so you can come back to your edit with fresh eyes, and really finish it properly. It’s easy to lose perspective when you look at something for too long. Take a month or 6 weeks off off and don’t look at your movie (maybe do a couple test screenings) once you have a solid rough cut. Then bring your editor back and you should be able finish it with a couple weeks of hard work.
- FOR THE BUDGET CONSCIOUS/POST SAVVY DIRECTOR/PRODUCER – If you know what you’re doing on the post end, and you own your own edit bay, all you really NEED is an assistant editor for this process, and only during the shoot. If all you’re interested in is having your dailies prepped and a FCP project ready made for you to edit, it is possible to have just an assistant editor for this process. Simply have them follow all of the above procedures, and if you don’t expect them to do the edit themselves or cut while you’re shooting, you can actually make them responsible for the on-set transfers as well. You can even have this all happen from a macbook pro (but your log and transfers will take much longer than on a mac pro) while you’re on set. Hell, you can even edit your offline files from a macbook (your machine will have absolutely no problem with the prores proxy files). And if you plan on just having a post house or someone with a nice Color setup do the finishing for your movie, all you’ll really need for the entire offline process is a macbook pro and your hard drives. Then, when you’ve got a cut you like, just bring it in for finishing to whoever you plan on hiring to do your online. This will cost you money on the back end, though… so be ready for that.
All that being said, even if you plan on editing the movie yourself, regardless of how good an editor you might think you are, there is absolutely something to be said for having another pair of eyes and a different creative perspective that you can bounce ideas off of for the edit process. Oftentimes, a good editor will push you to be better, and point out solutions and cuts that never would have occurred to you. So, at the end of the day, my recommendation, if you plan on doing some of the edit yourself, would be to hire an editor for a few weeks after you’re done shooting, cutting with them til you get an initial rough cut that you guys like, then take a break, and when you’re ready, just come back and put the finishing touches on yourself. Then, you can split the edit credit, or, if you’re an extremely cool director who’s secure enough with themselves to do this (and you don’t need the edit credit professionally), give the full credit over to your editor as a thank you for taking less money to work with you. Regardless of how you do this, just make sure you’ve got it all figured out beforehand, and make sure everyone who is involved knows what to expect and how it will play out, so that there are no hard feelings when the process is over. One of the biggest risks with low budget productions is the hurt feelings that often occur when people feel like they’ve been taken advantage of or lied to when it comes to credits, as the credit is typically the reason someone takes your project in the first place. If you’re up front and straight with people from the beginning, this shouldn’t ever be a problem.
THE ONLINE EDIT
Alright, so your movie is now done… well, at least the creative part is. Now here’s the question you’ve got to ask yourself? Where is my movie designed to finish? I’m going to break this section down into two answers:
- “I want my movie to eventually be shown in theaters across the nation either on film or digitally”.
B. “My film is just going to festivals/my own grass roots screenings, and then I’m going to sell it online as a download/blu-ray/dvd.”
NOTE: Finding the right workflow for your online edit very much depends on your technical expertise and the budget for your movie. How you should finish if you have a $100,000 movie is very different than if you’ve got a $1,000,000 movie. I’d highly recommend talking to a consultant before you hit this point (me, or someone like me, and I know quite a few people I can recommend). If your technical skills aren’t bulletproof/ you’ve never done any of this before, you should find someone who can really talk you through what is best for your budget and situation. There are simply too many different variables to list a specific universal workflow if you plan on finishing for theatrical release.
ONLINE WORKFLOW #1: “I want my movie to eventually be shown in theaters across the nation either on film or digitally”
Okay, well, good luck with that. It’s harder than you think, unless you’ve got some real money behind you (and you’re probably not reading this if you do). Anyway, without going too into specifics (there’s a lot more information about this in the distribution resources section), you’ve got a lot of things going against you here. First, you’ll either need to find a distributor willing to do the dirty work and take the risk of putting your movie out theatrically in theaters (rarer and rarer these days), you’ll hire a service deal company who you will be paying to handle your release (expect this to run you a minimum of $100,000+ to even get this off the ground), or you will have to go through from what all accounts is the soul sucking process of booking these theaters (or working with a theatrical booker) and handling the release yourself on a city by city basis. BUT…. If you truly want your movie up on that Marquee, you’re also going to have to plan accordingly in the post process. Welcome to hell. You do have some options, though. Here they are:
Just pay someone to do it, and do it the way the studios do – always the easiest solution. Just expect it to cost you in the neighborhood of $25-60,000 (and that’s not even counting making all the release prints, which’ll run you $1200 a pop… this is just for the digital master or film negative). Now, this is not even beginning to count sound design, which’ll likely run you another $15-30,000 to do it right. The reason it costs so much, especially if you plan on going to film, is you are working in a different color space and gamma setting, and you have to color and finish according to theater specs, so your corrections must be made in a high end posthouse with a proper reference projector. The guys who really know what they’re doing with this will charge you $250-400/hour and you’re going to need a minimum of about 40 hours of color correction to do this properly. You’re also going to need to have that same correction refined down to a home video color space (rec 709, gamma 2.2) for video release, which will require another couple grand. On top of this, there’s all kinds of renders and conforming (in addition to marrying your sound) that you will need to pay for as well, which is going to run you another 5-10 grand depending on how extensive the work is (not to mention if you’ve got serious vfx in there). There’s that, and, if you plan on going back to film with everything, there’s a built in $30,000 (give or take) cost just to get your negative made.
If you are just going to release digitally, you will need to spend $3-5,000 just to have a DCI compliant JPEG2000 file made for you to deliver to theaters (unless you happen to know someone who’s got access to a Pablo). Also, keep in mind, that a digital release severely limits the number of theaters you can play at, and will more or less prevent you from being able to play at most indie arthouse theaters (who almost universally project only on film). Also, there are the hidden costs of required publicity most theaters will expect you to have (usually at least a few grand per city). Bottom line is you need to budget all this beforehand, or you’re in deep shit. On a small movie ($100,000-1million in total production/distribution budget), all this just isn’t very cost effective. That money needs to be spent on a publicist/internet marketing/making people aware your movie even exists. FINALLY, your final cut/color workflow may not work. Most high end places work on a scratch/pablo/da vinci/lustre workflow, so there may be some extra steps/hoops for you to jump through once you hit this stage. Ideally, you will know which house you plan on having make your prints beforehand (so you can prep your workflow accordingly) OR you will find somewhere with a Color workflow. The guys at Hollywood DI can make this work for you if you live in LA, and you’ll save a lot of money working with them.. They’re good guys and they’ll work with you. Basically, figure out who your finishing house is before you begin shooting, and have them walk you through their preferred workflow if this is the path you wish to take.
MAJOR ASTERISK (and I don’t know if it’ll work): Has anyone out there used the DCI-P3 profile on their Dreamcolor monitor to finish their movie at the DCI-P3 standard? Theoretically this should work, and would be a game changer that could save you tens of thousands of dollars by allowing you to make your theatrical corrections from your home system. I’ve been looking for months to find any kind of posts about this and have so far found nothing. If anyone out there has successfully done this, I would love to talk to you about your workflow and how it all went. Please drop me an email…firstname.lastname@example.org
A hybrid correction making your prints from an HDCAM SR master – If you’re doing a small theatrical release (1-10 cities), I’d recommend this approach. Look, you’re still going to have to pay to get your film negative made (prices vary on this depending on where and how you do it, but plan on the whole process with Dolby Sound coming in between $20-40,000, plus whatever it’s going to cost to have your release prints made). Do you really want to have to pay a post house a crazy amount of money to color correct your movie as well? Well, if you use your dreamcolor monitor to make your color decisions in Apple Color, finish everything at 1920×1080, and get an HDCAM SR master made, you don’t have to worry about all that DCI-P3 stuff and gamma shenanigans, and everything will still look pretty nice once it’s scanned to film. No, it won’t look EXACTLY the same… but honestly, if you bring it to the right facility, and you know what you’re doing with FCP and COLOR, it will look very nice. Here’s how this process works:
- Online your sequence in Final Cut Pro – Split your movie into 15-20 minute reels, Bring all your edits down to the lowest possible video tracks, remove all temp color filters and through edits.
- Export an XML. Bring that in RCX Pro. Regrade your sequence and export as ProRes444 – Be sure to use Redcolor2 and Redgamma2/RedlogFilm as your color/Gamma spaces as they will make a big difference to your image. In addition, be sure to use HDRX, FLUT, Saturation, exposure, and convert your ASA as needed. Make sure you don’t clip your whites or crush your blacks as you do this so that you get the best possible image to grade in Color.
- Export a new XML and bring that into FCP – Check it out. Make sure it’s all correct.
- Send to Color.
- Make your color corrections in Apple color with your dreamcolor set to the Rec709 color space
- Render out your reels from Color and send them back to FCP as ProRes HQ not prores444 – Little known fact is there tends to be some weird gamma shift problems with VFX clips/titles if you use 444… it’s better to master in prores HQ.
- Do a test screening at a place with a nice reference projector – invite a couple people to come check it out. You do this to get a feel for how your movie looks on the big screen in a theater. Take overall global notes about how your movie looks (do this if you’ve got some extra money or move to the next step if you don’t). I highly recommend paying your post house for a couple of days of final corrections on a real projector in a real theater setting if they’re okay with it (I know some places that are, so drop me an email and I’ll refer you… just make sure you have your shit together if you’re going to try something like this). It’s like how sound designers do a final mix. If you’re designing your movie to play in a theater, you should do your final mix in a theater. By doing most of your corrections and all of your renders on your own, you are saving yourself tens of thousands of dollars. Taking the final step of making your final color decisions against a true reference projector will give you a piece of mind that you won’t be able to find any other way. Not only that, but have a true PRO check your work, and another pair of eyes looking at what you do can only help you. If you bought the “Online” hard drive I told you to buy, you should be able to just bring that in with all your 444 quicktimes, and be able to work directly from the color projects you’ve made. It’s should just be plug and play into their system through ESATA. Anyway, if you don’t have any money at all for this, it’s not the end of the world, you’ll just have less piece of mind…. just go to the next step.
- Adjust your corrections back on your home system based on how the movie looked on the projector when you screened it.
- Get your sound mix from your sound designer and marry it to your picture – If it’s in 5.1, make sure your audio outs are in the proper order before you lay back to HDCAM SR (Ch. 1 – Left, Ch. 2 – Right. Ch. 3 – Center Ch. 4 – LFE Ch. 5 – L Surround Ch. 6 – R Surround, Ch 7&8 – Stereo mix L&R.
- Go back to where you did your screening with your finished FCP project or output. Lay it back to your HDCAM SR tape, watch it down, deep breath… you’re done. Except:
(This is really step one) find out who’s going to be doing your tape to film transfer, and find out their EXACT delivery specs as far as how they want the sound and reels broken down – Go back to the last two steps 8 & 9 and adjust based on this steps, and you are set for delivery provided your checks still clear at the bank.
If your delivery spec is digital, find out the exact specs from your distributor, and bring your finished quicktime to a posthouse to get what will likely be your JPEG2000 for theaters made – This will cost you a few thousand dollars… but there isn’t much you can really do about it.
Online Workflow #2: “My film is just going to festivals/my own grass roots screenings, and then I’m going to sell it online as a download/blu-ray/dvd.”
Okay, you see all that crap above that I just wrote? Ignore it all! Use your Dreamcolor and the RED/RCX/FCP workflow and finish with a beautiful looking 1920×1080 Prores HQ master, and save yourself $20-80,000. Skip the posthouse scene entirely (except for sound design, although I’d recommend you trying to find a sound designer with his own Pro Tools setup, and then doing a final mix on a stage), buy your own video projector/screen and speakers (there are some EXTREMELY high quality projectors available for less than $10,000, and your movie will look much nicer than it would at a festival), spend your post budget on publicity and internet marketing, and then start taking your movie on a blu-ray screener (that you can make in FCP) across the country, the way a band might tour a new album. For more info about how this process might work, buy Jon Reiss’ “Think Outside The Box Office”, and read the Distribution resources page on this website for alternative places to distribute your movie online/ make your own DVD’s, Blu-rays and downloads.