At this point, you should hopefully have the footage from your film in a safe place (even better, multiple copies in multiple safe places), and now it’s time to enter the final phase of your filmmaking: post-production.
This is where your film finally starts to take shape. Sure, you might have some excellent performances, great action, and attractive images, but it doesn’t mean much unless it all comes together cohesively.
Editing creates meaning. What you choose and choose not to show has a significant impact on what your audience knows and, subsequently, feels. This isn’t just affected by what images you choose, but also the order in which you show them.
Without context, an image of a sad face generally elicits few genuine emotional responses. Much could be said for the image of a solitary, empty soup bowl. But if one were to show them in sequence, it could reasonably be inferred that the empty soup bowl is the cause of such sadness.
The meaning is non-existent until you provide context, and the context is created by the order of the images.
The pace of the edit will often dictate the mood (content of the images aside), in much the same way that camera movements do. A fast-paced edit doesn’t always have to match a fast-paced camera movement, but you build upon the mood that you’ve been attempting to cultivate.
The best means of getting any movement to flow, fast or slow, is to cut during a movement, be it camera or object or person.
Editing can be seen as a form of time compression, and no one really wants their time wasted. As a result, the best advice that you can take on board while editing is that if it’s not necessary to service the story, then it’s probably not worthwhile.
Some tools for editing:
Final Cut X: Great for beginners who want more power than iMovie can provide. (Mac OSX)
Adobe Premiere Pro: Excellent range of tools that link together natively with the rest of the Adobe Creative Suite. Works well if you want everything in the one place.
Avid Media Composer: Different workflow to either Premiere or Final Cut, as well as different editing concepts used (in terms of technical application). Widely used amongst professionals, but much steeper learning curve.
Sound is the much-neglected child of short filmmaking. The role of sound recordist or boom operator will often be given to whichever poor soul happened to show up on set without a job, and the disdain many have will often turn to despair when they realise their audio is crap.
Sound, though, should not be neglected, but embraced. It provides context and life for objects or people off-screen. It creates atmosphere out of disparate tones. It creates a world that you can’t see.
You don’t have to use the sounds that you think you have to use to achieve the effect that you want. As an example, the sounds of velociraptors communicating in Jurassic Park (1993) is actually a sample of tortoises mating.
The human mind has a habit of filling in the gaps when processing sensory information, and will often leave mismatched sounds unscrutinised due to the manner in which they’re used. It is this phenomenon that allows Foley artists to do what they do.
Some tools for sound and music:
Adobe Audition: Works extremely well with other Adobe products.
Avid Protools: One of those industry standard programs. More plugins than you can poke a stick at, but less intuitive than Audition.
Visual effects should only be used when absolutely necessary. Most effects shots should be planned well ahead of time (I’m talking pre-production), and planned for. Sadly, sometimes you’ll notice something amiss in your footage and find yourself unable to reshoot.
As general rules, shots without movement are easiest to manipulate. If your shot has movement, it’s best to use as little of the shot as possible. The mind is incredibly good at recognising patterns, so small inconsistencies over long periods of time become very noticeable.
Some tools for vfx:
Adobe After Effects: Relatively easy to get your head around, especially if you’ve used Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Many excellent, free tutorials to be found online.
Colour grading is the practice of manipulating the colours of your image to create a certain look, mood, feel. The first film to be colour graded in its entirety was O Brother Where Art Thou (2001), and since then it’s become ubiquitous in filmmaking. There are few films made these days without any colour grading, especially as digital cinema has become prevalent, and can add a lot to creating a distinctness to your film.
The extent to which you can colour grade is dependent on your colour and lighting choices during production, and the technology you used to capture your images. You don’t need to become a master colourist to get excellent results, though, with adjustments to contrast and brightness providing some of the best outcomes.
Some tools for grading:
Blackmagic Davinci Resolve: Extremely robust and considered the industry standard. Free versions available with all the bells and whistles.
But wait, there’s more!
Even though I’ve said a lot, I’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s an absolute wealth of information regarding the filmmaking process, and below you’ll find a few places to start.
I hope you enjoyed the series, and good luck in your future films!
IMDb: Extensive and exhaustive resource regarding the world of films.
FilmSound: Everything you need to know about film sounds.
Cinematography.net: Great resource for camera, lens and filter tests, etc.
IMSDb: Massive collection of scripts for major motion and independent productions.
Video Copilot: Loads of VFX tutorials and plug-ins.
Film Freeway: Festivals and entering them.
American Cinematographer Manual (Vol I & II), by ASC Michael Goi
The Camera Assistant’s Manual, by David E. Elkins SOC
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, by Walter Murch
Sound for Film and Television, by Tomlinson Holman
Music Editing for Film and Television: The Art and Process, by Steven Saltzman
Film Theory and Criticism, by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder