13-11-27 Post-Production

    When I first started writing, I learned that in order to tackle an entire novel, I had to break the novel down into its component parts and handle each one, one at a time. Often, the first step I take is creating a plan, or a map of where I’m going. Basically, it’s a vague outline of the plot. 

    Often, though, stories start quite a bit before the larger idea of a plot… with an idea. But, that’s another post for another time.

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    I break my scripts down the same way I break the novels down. Actually ALGORITHM is the first time I’ve worked from an actual outline. Scrivener makes that easy and clear. Once the outline was done, it was matter of filling in the scenes as described by the outline.

    As a aside, I write exclusively in a program called Scrivener. It’s intimidating at first, but it’s so unbelievably powerful compared to everything else out there that whatever delay you get by having to learn it is well worth it. Also, there are tons of instructional videos out there that teach the basics.

    But, I’m backtracking a bit here. This is ALGORITHM’s Post Production Blog, not the Pre-Production Blog.

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    The lesson I learned in breaking large things apart and dealing with manageable smaller parts is something I carried with me through every aspect of production and into post-production.

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    A bit of vocabulary, for those who would like it. Production is the actual capturing of the events on either film or digital medium. 

    Pre-production is technically everything after the script has been okayed, but before actual production begins. (For the purpose of this blog, I use the term pre-production to also include development, though that’s mostly be cause the idea of starting the blog didn’t really gel until I got it into a shape that had potential.)

    Development is when a studio likes a script and buys it and hires someone (sometimes the original writer, usually someone they have a relationship (aka, not the original writer)) to bring the script up to a level that Hollywood likes. This usually involves the writer writing and delivering a draft. The studio executive(s) will give notes, then the writer will write another draft. This can take anywhere from a week to, I’ve heard stories of projects in development for up to 10 years. But, usually when a script is in development for that long, most of the industry considers it dead (no movie will ever be made from the script). Most scripts end in development, which is one of the reasons its called development hell.

    Post-production is everything after production, but before distribution. It’s where ALGORITHM is as I type this. It’s the editing, the CG or FX, the foley (sound effects) the score (music), and color correction. It also includes getting the movie into the formats that are required for distribution. In the case of ALGORITHM, it also includes figuring out the legality of how to do what we’re doing.

    Distribution is fairly self-descriptive. This stage, if the filmmakers/studio/cast/crew/writer never ends. It’s when the movie goes out into the world and is seen. This can often begin with a festival showing (which can continue for up to a year, after which the project usually either has enough traction to move forward, or the filmmakers realize it’s not going anywhere and move on). Distribution includes movie theaters, DVDs and Blu-rays, Video-On-Demand or V.O.D. (VOD is everything from Netflix and iTunes to Cox/Comcast/Time-Warner’s pay-per-view systems).

    I’m planning on having an ALGORITHM Distribution Blog as well, for those who care to continue the journey with me. Of course, at that same time I’ll probably (if ALGORITHM makes enough money) will also be starting another blog for the next project. I’ve got three possible ideas, each of which I think are viable. The choice will probably be determined by the budget I’ve got.

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    But, back to ALGORITHM.

    I broke ALGORITHM down into it’s production segments (as defined above). I further broke each production segment down into manageable parts.

    I’m going to give you some more vocabulary here, in the order I did them.

    Back-up: This is making copies of the data. This is what all the work was for, and is the only evidence that the movie was made. If you lose your data, the movie ends there and will probably kill the project and possibly your career. BACK UP YOUR DATA. Be religious in your devotion to this as the result of not backing up could be catastrophic.

    Transcode: This getting the video from the version it was recorded in (we shot in a variation of RAW) to something that can be edited. Sometimes the transcoded video files are so big that it’s easier to edit on a smaller version. So, some studios will transcode multiple times, one of the edit, one for the final output. This is a fairly simple solution and can save a lot of time on slower machines. If you edit on lower-quality video, all you have to do is relink all the video to the higher-resolution files once you’re done.

    CG: This is an acronym for Computer Graphics. Most major studio movies now have CG in almost every scene, sometimes it’s all you see on the screen. CG can be a long and expensive process. However, the worst part of CG is that we, as an audience, slowly learn to recognize the difference between reality and CG, basically giving a lifespan to movies that use a lot of CG. The best example of this, though it’s still a great movie, IMO, is The Last Starfighter

    I use CG for ALGORITHM in several places, mostly for screen replacements, but it’s a computer screen, so that will never look any older than the operating system looks. I also use Apple’s Motion to create smoke. It just wasn’t affordable for us to actually set fire to a building in downtown San Francisco. But, I think it looks pretty good, for what it is.

    VFX: These are things that are seen but aren’t real, but also aren’t generated by a computer (that’s a bit of a misnomer, since almost all of the editing process is done on computers, but it’ll be clear what I mean in a moment). FX shots can be an explosion shot in a desert, that then is cut away from the desert and brought into a city. It can be muzzle-flashes from a gunshot (I don’t use these because I have fired quite a few guns and have never seen a muzzle flash. 

    Sure, they look cool on screen, but if real guns did this, it’s basically a strobe light, telling the enemy where you are. If guns still do that, they need a serious redesign. Thus ends the muzzle-flash rant.) In the case of ALGORITHM, most of our FX are screen replacements. We didn’t have the time in pre-production to create all the screens we’d be seeing. Plus, timing them with the actors really requires at least one extra person on set, which we didn’t have.

    Color Correction: There are a lot of different terms for this, from color timing to color sweetening. Color timing probably comes from how long the film was was left in the developing chemicals to get the right colors. Color sweetening is a recent term that just means you change the color to something you like. 

    For ALGORITHM, the format we shot in didn't have much contrast (the difference between black and white). Our eyes adjust to whatever we're seeing, so white looks white. This is different than white-balance, which I'll go into in a moment. I did the contrast already. I've still got four steps left to color correction. I've got to make sure all the colors, red, green, and blue, or RGB, are balanced. Then, I go into continuity. Does an angle match another angle of the same scene? If not, I've got to fix it. Finally, I take the now-pretty images and stylize them so they can augment the story I'm trying to tell.

    White balance: It's the color of white in the image. I'm in a room that's very dimly lit. I look around my room and see what my brain tells me are white walls. But, I've retrained my brain and now I see a beige/gray. On movies, this is called white balance. It's normally done on the set, by the cinematographer, but it can also be done in post.

    Soundtrack: Socially, meaning, among people who aren't in the movie industry, this usually refers to the music in the movie. However in the industry, we've got to be more specific as there are several components to the soundtrack, each of which has to be dealt with individually. Here, I'm going to define soundtrack as everything but the music. It's the voices of the actors, each of whom should be on a different track which can be independently edited and EQed. In ALGORITHM, I've decided to mute ever voice track that doesn't show up in a given shot. This makes for much cleaner audio.  

    EQ: This is short for equalize. Sound is made of a bunch of different sounds, called frequencies. Those frequencies can each be manipulated to create a specific feel, bring out a specific instrument, or made bird/car-horn/refrigerator-hum vanish.

    AFX: This is the audio of the things that are heard but aren't real. The creation of these sounds is hard to do right and is usually done by a specialist. In fact, that's true for almost everything I've specifically defined. In the case of AFX, this specialist is called a Foley Artist. For ALGORITHM, I've chosen to forgo AFX, not because of the difficulty of getting them. The programs I have (Final Cut X, GarageBand, and perhaps Logic) come with large libraries of just about every sound I could want. I'm not using them in ALGORITHM because the main character is largely unaware of them, unless they bring his attention away from what he's doing and back into normal reality.

    SCORE This is the actual music used. However, if you go to a music store (if you can find one) and you buy the score to a movie, you're not going to get the music by the band you know. You may actually get lucky and be able to buy the music as cued for the movie, including all the nuances. If you want the complete music, you've got to ask for the soundtrack. But, I've gone over that.

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    I originally started this post with the intention of going into where I am with the score and what my thoughts are. It's gone longer than most of my other posts, with all the definitions so I kind of want to stop and do a second post. However, since I'm not making a dictionary, I'm not going to stop.

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    So, Back to ALGORITHM.

    Right now, I’m working on the score. I’ve chosen to go with symphony music because, to me, it’s the musical style that is most inherently indicative of the programing/computer-hacker mind. It’s got multiple things happening at once, but is still a part of a single piece. It’s also mathematically precise, and requires talent and skill to do well.

    One of the great things about symphony music is that it gives me access to the undisputed masters of the genre because most of them have been dead for more than 70 years, which is the term of copyright. That means, all the compositions are all public domain. 

    We're still a little sketchy on the performance thing and how hard getting the rights to that are going to be, but that's another post for another.

    A few months ago, I quickly chose some of my favorite classical music and put it in ALGORITHM for the screenings I did. The music in the beginning, in fact the whole style I established in the beginning was powerful and moving. The problem was that I hadn't stayed with that style. The content of the movie changed. Will began interacting with people. The editing style had to convey that.

    And then there was something I hadn't noticed until this week. I began my work on Monday by muting all the audio and simply listening to the music. I heard a contiuity in the early choices which wasn't reflected in the later choices. For Will, there was a lone instrument, usually a violin, but sometimes a clarinet. Either way, it was a solo peice. 

    That perfectly reflected the feeling of Will. He's alone in the movie, when we start. In fact, for me, ALGORITHM is largely about Will leaving his lonely life and learning to live with people.

    When Will interacts with people he believes to be his friends, the style of the composition stays the same, but now the music changes to more than a solo. It's still got the solo feel, but it's also joined by other instruments.

    The other thing I noticed was that the style of the compositions changed. I started with Classical (the time period) and romantic and then went into post-war or post-modern. The post-modern stuff is really beautiful and still reflects the mental symbolism I'm hoping for, but it's got two problems. It's radically different in its use of harmonies, scales, and timing. And, it's later, which means I start to hit the copyright wall.

    As long as I stick to a specific period, the music becomes powerful and cohesive. I've still got a couple days work left before my next screening and I hope to have the music pretty solid by then. The screen replacements take a long time and aren't nearly as influential on the audience's mood or receptivity. As such, I've chosen to work primarily on the music right now because that's what seems to make the most difference.