Breathing In During Post

Many thanks to the folks at the recent New York City Film and Finance event ‘Eyes on the Film Festival’ for providing valuable insight into the festival programmer side of this discussion.

There’s always a lull in the post-production process, and it usually appears somewhere between picture editing and sound post. Typically the end of picture editing is marked by somewhat arduous, anticlimactic chores, to get the OMF and Quicktime files ready for your sound designer and composer. You might also be getting various comps and elements ready for the visual effects artist, and, depending on what you shot on, going back to your camera masters to conform for your colorist.

And then… there’s very little to do. All the people that you’re working with will need time and space. After thinking mechanically and technically for a few weeks, it’s time to start looking a couple of moves ahead again. Which is where I’m at now.

How Do You Know You’re Locked

Before you deal with any of what I’ve just described, ask yourself: are we really picture locked? It’s worth taking some time before answering that question. There’s really no magic formula. Dan and I watched the film several times, all the way through, then made minor changes after each viewing. I could tell we were close because the changes kept shrinking in scope. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference – a few frames left in can let a moment breathe, a few frames cut can trim the dead space out of a scene.

One way to gauge whether a film is locked is to look at your dissatisfaction with the film. Is it based on things that you can change in picture, is it because you don’t like something that you can still fiddle with (like an audio or music cue), or is it due to factors absolutely beyond your control/budget? If you keep coming back to a performance or a moment you never got in production that you can’t synthesize in the edit, then you’re probably ready to move on to sound post (or you’re headed towards further reshoots).

Another way is to look at the flow of the film – the moments within the scene, and the transitions between scenes. If you can allow yourself to relax a little, and not hang on every cut or word of dialog, are you still entertained by the film? Do you feel unsettled by a cut, or does it all seem to flow by smoothly? If you feel that it’s all pretty smooth, then you’re probably done.

Getting Back To The Big Picture

At a certain point, you have to throw your post schedule out the window. Not that you shouldn’t be striving to finish the film in a timely way, but the film becomes the boss. And in a larger sense, the budget is as well. I’ve been lucky enough to snag really excellent people to work on Found In Time for very modest rates, in part because we understand that if a better paying gig comes along they’ll have to take it for a little while. As long as the film isn’t moldering on a hard drive for months on end, I think it’s a fair way to work.

So while the film winds it’s way through post, you should start thinking about what you need to move the film forward once it’s ‘done.’

  • Press Kit: This should include a PDF with cast and crew bios, a synopsis of the film, photos (see below) some happy production stories, and ANY reasonably positive press you may have gotten during production.
  • Photos: If you didn’t grab stills on set, get the best-quality frame grabs you can. You’ll need a set of 300dpi TIFF files for print, and a set of 72dpi JPGs (high quality) for the web.
  • Short Teaser: This should be about a minute long and can contain rough audio and temp score elements (as long as the audio isn’t completely awful). The idea is to deliver some sizzle, but not much steak – give the audience a taste of the film.
  • Full-Length Trailer: Somewhere between two and four minutes long. You’ll want to hold off on creating this until the sound post and color correction are further along. Uncorrected audio and picture can make a trailer unwatchable or at the very least unprofessional looking.
  • Key Artwork You should at least be thinking about this at this stage. It’s okay to send out sharpie-inscribed DVDs in sleeves for festival submissions (some will argue that even here better packaging helps). But for handing out to press, industry, producers reps, and even (who knows) selling a few units directly, you’ll want to put together a central, iconic set of artwork – title logo, poster shot, and tagline that you can base a campaign around. Mock up a poster, one-sheet, DVD face and wraparound sleeve cover in Word or (better yet) InDesign or Photoshop. Print a few out at home to see if they’re pleasing to the eye, before dropping money on a print run.
  • Pitch: You probably developed this during the developing and financing stages, but revise it to reflect the film you actually made. Can you explain the film in one minute/three sentences or less?
  • EPK: This can (and usually does) include all of the above, plus behind-the-scenes footage and/or interviews with key crew and cast members.
  • Get on the Web – Build Your Site, IMDB, and Withoutabox Goes without saying. Also start getting people on your emailing list, or weed out the deadwood from your existing one.

As you can see, this is a lot of work to tackle. But now is the perfect time to do it, while the film doesn’t require as much of your attention.

The Bigger Picture

When you’re doing all of the above things, it’s important to figure out what the story of your film – as a product – is about. It’s difficult to think in these terms, especially if you’re the creator. It’s like trying to justify your child to a bunch of strangers. But it’s essential in order to create publicity materials that are enticing and organic to the story. Think of it this way: people have a LOT of choices – perhaps too many – and limited time and attention spans. Why should they choose to plunk down their hard-earned dollars on your film, rather than another (or watch tv or a webisode, or play a video game, for that matter)? What is special about your film?

The easiest way to tackle this is to ask yourself some questions: Who is your film good for? What films is it like? What films is it not like? Do you have niche appeal – for example, do you have a film that tackles a specific issue or fits a specific genre?

Look at the ad campaigns for films that are similar to yours. Is there a common graphical element, something that separates them from other films? It could be a typeface (I remember in the 80s horror films often had red, dripping titles), how the photo elements are arranged, or the tagline (“this time it’s personal” or “the girl is out there”). Perhaps the trailers had similar music.

The trick is to stand out from the crowd, without pushing producer’s reps, festival programmers, and sales agents out of their comfort zones. So while you’re looking OUTWARD at other films, you need to also look INWARD at your own project. Is there an iconic image, scene, or even line of dialog that captures what you’re trying to say? This will (hopefully) supply you with the inspiration to craft a publicity campaign that highlights the uniqueness of your work, while retaining the conventions of the genre your film is in.

While you probably did a version of this work early on during the financing stage (so you could put it in your business plan), the film that’s in your hands now is doubtless very different from the one you set out to make. So you’ll need to reappraise and readjust your artwork.

Graphic Language

Part of how you get people to respond positively to your DVD cover or poster rests on your ability to command the language of graphic design. It’s similar to, but not the same as, the language of film. It’s too big of a discussion to get into here, but if you don’t have a good print/web design sense, or if you don’t really know the difference between CMYK and RGB, work with someone who does to create your media.

Last point: for DVDs that are going out to reps, agents, and festivals, you’re better off eschewing graphics for readable text. Whether you handwrite on your DVD or have them printed, make sure you include the title, your name, phone number, email address, total running time, language, sound type (stereo, 5.1), the DVD type (region code), the video type (NTSC/PAL), year completed, and whether it’s in color or black and white. This may seem like common sense, but I’ve gotten a LOT of screeners over the years that lacked this information, which forced me to have to hunt down the missing information from the press kit or email. So I’m already in a bad mood by the time I start watching the film. And I’m not even a festival programmer – they watch thousands of Da YEAR generally.