October 11, 2012 —
A few weeks ago I wrote about my adventures of heading up to Scranton, PA and filming a music video for a friend’s local band, The Great Party. I finished the video yesterday and so this week I wanted to take you behind the scenes on the post-production process. A warning for the faint of heart, this is about to get real nerdy and technical.
My good buddy and very talented director of photography, David Jacobson, shot this video on a Canon C300 camera. People don’t shoot on film anymore; people don’t even shoot on tape. The footage is recorded onto cards, and as they are shot, those cards are downloaded onto a hard drive. The footage then gets trans-coded from the raw files that came off the cards to a codec (file format) that is more easily edited.
In this case, we trans-coded the footage to Apple ProRes. Backing up files is very important because the cards are cycled through, wiped and then new footage is shot onto them. This is nerve wracking and instills a constant fear that you are losing footage by wiping cards that haven’t been downloaded.
ProRes works well with Final Cut Pro, which is the software I currently use for editing. The other industry standard is Avid. It is very similar in process but uses different codecs.
I asked my assistant editor, Nikita, to edit the video. It was important to me that I work with an editor rather than editing the piece myself. I work as an editor with directors all the time and wanted to see the process from the flip side.
Editing is such a fascinating process. I felt the video come alive between cuts two and three. We really found the energy and feel of the video. Then it was on to tweaks, tweaks and more tweaks.
This is a small video with no one to answer to—no label, no manager, just the band and me. At times, it was a little tricky to navigate as the excitement of the shoot faded and we started getting into the nitty-gritty of making tough decisions about the edit. It was, for the most part, a resoundingly positive experience and I definitely got to make the video that I wanted to make. (Unfortunately, this is not always the case.)
It’s kind of a heartbreaking process of acceptance as you sit there, literally watching the choices you made a few weeks ago play out. Of course, now you have hindsight, and with it, many other ideas. You see the things you should have done things differently, and they seem so simple, so easy. You want to reach into the screen to your past self and shake him, screaming, “Just get a close up!”
It took us about five cuts to get the video to a place where I felt we had tried everything that we could and it was finished. This is called “locking picture.”
The next step is working on the color. You do this at the end so that you only have to spend time color-correcting the pieces of the shots that are actually used in the video.
It just so happened that the best colorist in the city, Sam Daley at Technicolor, was available and David and I went in for half a day. I was going for a ’90s vibe and Sam took that to the next level. He pumped the greens and crushed the blacks. (Honestly, that’s so much of an understatement it’s impossible to express just how much control he has over each individual color. It’s more like painting than anything else.)
He gave us back a ProRes file, which we took back into Final Cut Pro. We had a few effects (a binocular matte and some overlays on a TV screen) to put back on.
The band member who had recorded and mastered the album helped me fix a part in the song where I had looped the bridge to make more time for story. He pulled all the instruments out and added them back, one at a time, so that the whole thing built in a more natural way.
This video was made for YouTube, so we did some tests of sizes and qualities that would look the best. We opted for a simple 1280x720 H264 file. (H264 is a small compression that is excellent for viewing things but not good for editing.)
I sent it off to the band a few hours ago and it’s going live this week. It’s really very amazing that this little thing that started as an idea in my head has now grown up to be something new and exciting. It’s about to go off and have a new life of its own.
Good luck, little video. Don’t take any guff from anyone.