13-10-08 Post-Production

    I don’t know why, but a post-production journal entry feels like it’s bursting inside of me. I’ve had three pretty good ideas for subjects so far, and it’s only 9:51am. So, rather than having my editing constantly interrupted by ideas, I’ve decided to just let it out.

    And, since this is the post-production section of the journal, I’d like to talk about that.

    We shot on the Canon 5d Mk3, using the Magic Lantern mod. That means, we shot in RAW, uncompressed video. (If you really want to geek out on formats, it was 23.98 1:85.) The amazing part about shooting in RAW is the level of detail that remains in the uncompressed footage. Things I’ve never seen before, since I’ve never used the ML mod prior to this shoot.

    Another amazing aspect of shooting RAW is the color data. Actually, the details mentioned above are really a subset of the color data. But, again, never having used the ML mod before ALGORITHM, I didn’t know what to really expect. I mean, I’ve editing some RED footage and that is some beautiful stuff.

    As a demonstration to my wife a couple days ago, I showed her how easy it is to do color correction in Final Cut X. What I noticed during that demo is that the colors, rather than breaking down, which is what I’m used to, became richer, more full and vibrant. You see, I edit uncorrected footage and it really looks washed out, almost out of focus. It’s just bland. So, when I saw it become as beautiful as it’s going to get, I was really thankful I let Satsuki (ALGORITHM’s DP) convince me to shoot RAW.

    Another aspect of the ML mod is that when we shoot RAW, we can’t record sound. I wasn’t really upset about this because Hollywood solved this problem almost a century ago. Their film didn’t record sound either. I’m coming to really love the clapper board. It’s a very elegant solution that solves a quite a few problems at one. 

    Our clapper board is just a plain, plastic thing. There are some more expensive versions that display digital time-codes to make synchronizing sound in post-production easier. We didn’t have that. And, to be honest, I’ve never used time-codes in editing, so I wouldn’t really know what to do with it if I had it.

    The clapper board has the scene number, the shot number, the take number, and it’s got a handy little flap on top that you can bring down to make a very distinct clapping sound. Hence the name, clapper board. In post-production, this gives me a visual and auditory queue. However, since NLEs (Non-Linear Editors) also display audio files as a waveform, the clapper also provides a rather distinct spike in the audio. That means, without even listening (it’s a good idea to listen just to be sure because some sounds can imitate the clapper) I can synch the video and audio.

    This entry felt really dry, for some reason. I’ll end it with a bit of a problem that arose.

    There’s a very important scene in ALGORITHM: Scene 42. It’s the scene that establishes all the character and their relationship to each other. I’ve gotten some critiques about the existence of Scene 42 from my early readers. There are two basic arguments against it: 1) It doesn’t seem to take the plot forward; 2) It’s pretty long.

    I did consider removing or modifying Scene 42 based on that input. I mean, what good is having early readers if you’re just going to ignore their advice? If I wanted someone to tell me “Good Job” I’ll call my dad who always encourages me. 

    So I really thought about the critiques. The scene remains, for three reasons: 


    1) It’s the only scene that really establishes all the characters; 

    2) The reason it doesn’t seem to move the plot forward is because ALGORITHM doesn’t follow the standard 3 act structure as formally as some are used to, nor does it follow the Hero’s Journey, as there are no heroes in ALGORITHM. But, there are several vital events that happen in Scene 42 that may only be visible on a second or third viewing.

    3) It definitely has a lot less intensity than the scenes preceding it, which may make it feel flat. However, that flatness can also be viewed as a moment for the audience to catch their breath before we accelerate again. And, I’ve got to say, there isn’t much more space to breathe until the end.

    But, the reason I bring up Scene 42 here isn’t to justify it’s existence in the movie, but to talk about a post-production problem. We shot Scene 42 on September 23rd, in an actual restaurant in San Francisco. The owner gave us 12 hours on a single day. It was originally scheduled for two 10 hour days, so we were gonna be a bit pressed for time.

    I should also mention that Scene 42 was not the only scene we had to shoot that day, at that location. We ended up shooting 20 pages on 9/23. As you might imagine, that caused some serious logistical complications. And that doesn’t even address the fact that it was also the day we had the largest crew, and the most cast, including 5 extras. It was a gnarly day.

    And, as it happened, a mistake was made… involving Scene 42… something I didn’t find out about until after we’d wrapped and I got back to Costa Mesa. Files A-042-04-01 and A-042-05-01 were missing. Of course, that might not make any sense to you until I explain my naming convention. A is for Audio. 042 is the scene number. 04 is the shot number (though the crew preferred to use a letter on set). 01 is the take number. So, A-042-04-01 is audio for Scene 42, shot 04, take 01.

    To add a bit of gravity, that is the master shot for Scene 42. A master shot, for me, is the shot I use to build the scene in post. I tend to edit very quickly. The way I make this possible is with a lot of preparation and a method. I find the shot I love, that sets up the whole scene—the Master Shot. I bring that shot into the NLE. Then, I switch to other shots as the scene, and my intuition, dictates.

    Without the Master Shot for Scene 42, I had to do some very fancy editing. I still used the Master Shot. I tried to edit the scene without that, but it really looked awful. So, I went back and recut with the Master Shot. Without audio, I had to do a lot of lip reading and use audio from other shots to match up with the Master Shot.

    This is very hard to do and is only possible because of ALGORITHM’s amazing cast. Let me elaborate. Before we shot Scene 42, I insisted that we rehearse, for 2 hours, to get the scene down tight, so that everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to say, when and how, as well as all blocking (that’s what movies and theater call movement).

    Because we were able to get everything down tight, I can use audio from one shot and put it in another, and they match. Not perfectly, but so close that when you actually watch Scene 42 (which you may or may not have done, since I’m posting this on my blog prior to ALGORITHM’s release) you probably won’t even notice. My detail-oriented wife didn’t notice until I pointed it out to her.

    After I cut around the missing audio, I continued editing. Of course, I sent out a quick email to Claudia (one of ALGORITHM’s Sound Recordists) and asked her if she had the audio. It was largely an academic problem by this point, since, I’d already solved the problem, but I wanted to know where the system broke down.

    We have about 7 backups of ALGORITHM in raw, unlabeled formats, in at least 4 locations. So, it wasn’t about not having the backup.

    Claudia had the audio. She was amazing on set and it’s no surprise that she’s just as skilled after the fact as well.

    The breakdown was in data management. The audio files, for some reason, were never copied to our 4 drives on set. I don’t know why or how this happened. It might have been copied to some of the backup drives, but not to mine. 9/23 was a long, intense day. The fact that only a couple files didn’t get copied and everything else went flawlessly is a testament to everyone involved in that day.