14-01-16 Post-Production

    To say that I’m happy with the current edit of ALGORITHM would be an understatement. In fact, everyone who has seen it, really loves it. Of course, there are always notes, but then… there are ALWAYS notes. A bit on that before I continue.

    When I ask people to comment on my work, I can tell how close I am to it being done by the quality of notes I get back. If the note is very general, broad in scope, then I know I’ve got a long way to go. If I get a lot of specific notes, I have a little way to go. When I get one or two notes that are really specific, that means it’s done. 

    The general rule I’ve heard is that if the edit doesn’t change the whole more than 10%, then it’s done. I’m a bit more specific than that, but it’s a good standard if you’re the kind of person who will edit forever, never actually producing anything.

    The other thing with notes is, when you ask people to give you a note, they will find something wrong with the project. Here’s the weird caveat though: just because they see something that could be fixed doesn’t mean it should be fixed. In the words of Charles Munger “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s just the way hammers work. When you ask for a critique, they’re going to find a problem. If you’re asking sane people, it won’t be about their ego. They’re trying to help. Don’t take it personally. Read it; compare it to other notes and see if it’s true. Be objective about it.

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    Last week I made the edits I needed for Monday’s screenings. I finished those edits on Wednesday. Since there were still two days left to the week, I decided to move back into color correction. The crappy thing is, there was a glitch in Final Cut Pro 10.1 and it randomly referred to a previous render, so a bunch of the scenes weren’t correct. Some of them were so bad that it looked almost like the Solarize effect in Photoshop. That’s not good for what I’m trying to do.

    The fix I found for that Final Cut 10.1 bug is to go into the project and delete all unused render files. Then, re-export the DVD.

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    I like to do color correction in three stages: 

    1) Bring everything to broadcast legal; 

    2) Bring the saturation up, bring the colors to where I like them, then change the brightness to be scene-appropriate; 

    3) Go through scene-by-scene and make sure all the colors match. They don’t have to be identical. That would be boring. But, they should all look like part of the same project. If someone notices the color, or any other specific attribute while watching the movie then I haven’t done my job.

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    [I had to pause the writing of this post here. I finished it on January 23, 2014.]

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    Back when things were broadcast using an analog wave, the wave couldn’t be bigger than was specified for each channel. The reason for this is because if it was bigger than that specification, then the signal would bleed over into another channel.

    The size of the wave is determined by what it contains, in this case, color. For this reason, the FCC, (Federal Communications Commission) set limits on the range of colors represented in the editing program’s scopes by a set of markers labeled 0 for black and 100 for white. Broadcast Legal is anything between 0-100.

    Since ALGORITHM will almost never be broadcast in an analog format, I don’t have use for Broadcast Legal for the reason mentioned above. However, because we used the camera we did, the contrast settings are set lower than what makes for a good final image. The result is that the image looks a little muddy, like you’re watching the movie through a sheet of gauze. It’s great for getting the most detail so I have options in post-production. Of course, Satsuki knew this and now I’ve got beautiful footage to work with.

    The Broadcast Legal markers in the scopes then have a use as a standard when choosing brightness of a scene. For instance, how bright should the brightest light in the room be? What about if there is no direct light? What about when there is direct light, but it’s sunlight? What about when the sunlight is a reflection off of a surface (only someone who doesn’t really like their camera will point it at the sun, without a very powerful filter)?

    All of those questions can be creative choices that are made. And, those choices radically affect the look of each scene. Once a standard is established, then the movie gains a continuity, it looks like it’s an intentional movie instead of a collection of found-footage.

    So, my first pass is really about brightness and contrast.

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    The second color pass is for color. This includes saturation (how intense the colors are), the colors themselves, and getting a more stylized look.

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    ALGORITHM is as much about Will, the main character, as it is about hacking. Will begins the movie disconnected from his friends, and believing that the universe of computers is more valuable than the world of humans.

    To augment that in a way that should be only be perceived subconsciously by most people, I use color. So, the beginning of the movie has the mid-range saturation turned up to 30%, which basically brings it back to zero, based on the gauze-look mentioned above.

    Once the colors begin to stand out, I can then remove red and add a bit of blue. This is to make the world feel cold, as though there is less life, or that the life that does exist is less desirable. It reflects Will’s cold, calculating nature as he’s been living his life before his cathartic algorithm takes hold of him (See what I did there?).

    However, as Will’s catharsis continues, he begins to recognize the value of his friends. He begins to see that humanity has value. I use the colors reflect that. The mid-range saturation goes up to 40%. I increased the saturation of the highlights to 40% as well. Now the colors are bright, almost too bright. I also bring up the reds globally, and turns the blues in the midrange down, just a hair.

    Increasing the reds at this point gives the sense of vitality. But, it also does something else. ALGORITHM would be rated R for language and violence. What that means is that blood flows. And, because of color correction, it flows everywhere. 

    This needs to exist, but not so much as to be distracting. The goal is to get the viewer to feel it. If they notice it beyond a feeling, that means they’re out of the dream state that is the movie-viewing experience.

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    During this second pass I also go back into the brightness and contrast. Now, I’m far less concerned with Broadcast Legal as a standard, and instead use it simply as markers for continuity.

    ALGORITHM takes place a lot at night, outside, using natural, available light, almost exclusively. Filming in San Francisco, using a Canon 5D Mk3, means that we had more than enough light to do what we needed and still get a great image. But, it also means a lot of black things show up with more detail and begin to feel a little unnatural. Maybe “unnatural” isn’t the right word. They don’t feel like part of the heightened reality that I intend ALGORITHM to be.

    In order to achieve that heightened reality, I deviate from the Broadcast legal standards, pushing the blacks way down further than Broadcast Legal. This is called “crushing the blacks.” It basically means that black is black, and that there are more things that are black. It does a couple things. It increases the contrast, making an even more beautiful image, and it brings out the subject I want to be the focus of the image. 

    There are two dangers of this technique: 

    1) ALGORITHM can’t be broadcast via standard analog signal, which is fine since analog video signals broadcast in the U.S anymore. If ALGORITHM needs to be broadcast in a country that hasn’t adopted a digital standard, then it’s easy enough to apply a Broadcast Legal filter and re-export it without it really affecting the crushing of the blacks; 

    2) The blacks now include colors that used to not be black, like any darker color. That can subvert the goal of increasing contrast and the picture can begin to lose detail. For ALGORITHM, that’s bad. However, as long as I keep that in mind with each scene, it’s not a problem.

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    The final color pass is really about continuity. Is something that should be white orangish? If so, do I like that? If I like it, is it orangish in every scene it appears under the same lighting conditions? If not, that needs to be fixed. While this is the most direct and technical pass, with the least amount of artistic variations allowed, it also takes the longest because it has to be specific, and right. 

    It also has to look good on various kinds of monitors. I edit on two 27” Apple Cinema Displays. When I have screenings, it’s on a 55” Vizio. In fact, every single screening I’ve done of ALGORITHM that isn’t at SV HQ, the screens are different. And, the settings are different. 

    I’ve gone through the trouble of correcting my monitors according to industry standard. Most people won’t have done that, including movie theaters. A lot of very talented, famous directors complain how different theaters make their movie look different. But, good color correction will keep that variation from being distracting to the non-industry viewer.

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    I know this post has been a bit detailed and that I geeked out on color. My goal with this is to keep a clear journal for myself, for future projects, and to possibly help anyone else who is considering making a movie on their own. Also, some people just like this kind of thing. I hope that’s you.