Post Production Survival Guide

As highlighted this week on Below The Line, Cinema Libre Studio is proud to welcome our new VP of Post Production, Todd Brown. Read more about Todd at Below The Line’s site before you begin his Post Production Survival Guide.

The film post production process on an indie project is a critical, yet complex road riddled with constantly changing technology and methods.  Add to this the lack of a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ workflow that is appropriate for every filmmaker, and you can find yourself in an overwhelming, budget-draining situation before you know it.

Here are some pro tips to help you ensure the post process on your film is less stressful and more effective and will be most beneficial to maximize sales with a film distribution company:

1. Choose shooting format & equipment wisely

These choices will impact cost and complexity in every step of the process from the shoot, all the way through post production.  You may be able to score a ‘great deal’ on a high-end, digital camera package, but make sure that camera is a good fit for your project and doesn’t end up creating more problems than it solves.  For example, a camera that creates humongous files that are overkill for your needs, will cost you more in time, storage and video transcoding then it might be worth. On the other end of the spectrum, saving money by using your buddy’s loaner DSLR may seem like a good idea, but it might lack certain features a more pro camera would have such as quality sound & lenses and so forth.  Also, try to pick a solution that you will be able to stick with throughout the entire project.  Switching cameras mid-way can create other costly issues.

2. Have a post production plan before shooting

Consult with trusted editors, post production supervisors and post facilities to determine best plan of attack based on their advice.  But, keep in mind that there isn’t just one correct way to proceed for every project. Consider the source of information and their possible motivations when regarding their advice.  Consider speaking with a few sources to assess common advice and contradictory advice so you can make informed decisions. A solid post plan takes into account workflow, budget, equipment choices, personnel, finishing & the type and schedule for deliverables.


3. Choose the best frame rate for your movie and stick with it

This is a confusing subject that even experienced pros often trip on (you say 24fps but do you REALLY mean 23.98fps?). Mistakes made with fps (frame per second) choices for shooting and editing are possibly the most common areas to make expensive mistakes.  This issue should be fully discussed and decided upon during #2 above.  Casually mixing frame rates while shooting will bite you later.  With documentaries, it is common to use archival footage of various formats, intercut with new footage.  This is ok IF your frame rate conversions were done properly and to a common format appropriate for the project. If not, you could end up with embedded artifacts such as duplicate frames which are barely noticeable to an untrained eye, but might make the film unsellable to certain markets such as broadcast & digital platforms.

4. Consider the end first. Know your film deliverables!

Knowing the likely distribution paths for your film will guide many of your post decisions. Speak to some independent film companies or digital distribution platforms about their deliverables requirements AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE to learn their delivery requirements even if you don’t have a deal in place yet. These discussions will inform many of your post decisions. For example, the earlier you know whether it is likely you will need certain versions or elements such as textless, m&e tracks, various frame rates and file formats, to name a few, the better. You should be thinking and planning for potential film sales beyond your first film festival as it is way easier to address these items while your crew is still on payroll and the required elements are still easily accessible.

5. Not all creative editors are expert in delivery.

Film finishing and deliverables are very specific requirements. Most creative editors are not familiar with exact specifications required by various distributors or platforms and that’s perfectly OK so long as you know this early on. Just be sure to interface with a person or organization who IS an expert, and can take into account bigger picture aspects of your film, so the handoffs between the offline cut and finishing steps are as smooth as possible.  There are a lot of technical specifications for digital content delivery to platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. that aren’t common knowledge and can change without notice. Make sure you know your deliverables before you wrap your project.

6. Stay in control!

It’s your film and the better you understand the post process, the more you can make sure your interests are protected.  You don’t need to be an expert with all the technical details, BUT knowing enough to make sure your team is on track with your needs will save immeasurable grief.

7. Get Help!

An experienced post production supervisor is a great investment and can be the glue to help make sure all the parts flow together as well as act as your eyes and ears to avoid finger pointing and other wasted resources. Unless you are very experienced with the post process, managing it by yourself is like building a house without a general contractor.  It can be done, but it will almost certainly cost more in dollars and aggravation then bringing in a pro to help out.  With post, small mistakes can have huge ramifications.

8. Budget Properly and Protect Your Post Line Items

Budget properly (hire an expert to help if needed, it might be a great investment) then protect the budget. Being near the end of the process, post production budgets are notoriously raided due to shortfalls in other phases. However, post is probably the worst place from which to borrow budget dollars from since it is the step that leads to what you, and your audiences, ultimately see and hear on the screen.  The final picture and sound quality will have an enormous impact on how seriously your film will be taken and will greatly influence the audience experience. Do your best to protect film finishing funds!

9. Don’t skimp on color correction!

A professional colour correction pass can make a huge impact on the perceived quality of your film and can have a positive effect on your ability to sell foreign rights of your movie and recoup costs. Color correction can serve many purposes from actually fixing incorrect colors to matching shots, adding a ‘look’ to your film and even simple vfx (visual effects ) like blurring parts of a shot, spotlighting parts of a shot etc.

10.  Ditto with Sound Mixing and Design

Digital audio post production adds an enormous value to your film and communicates consciously and unconsciously to your viewers about its quality. Even the average, uninformed viewer can tell that ‘something is missing’ with an unpolished sound mix. A good sound mix can have a significant return on investment.

11.  Save your original footage.

Prepared by Todd Brown, VP, Post Production and Business Development, Cinema Libre Studio, Send mail

Give us a call to learn about our companies recently expanded post production space in Burbank, CA (we recently took over the THX offices) conveniently located to downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood! For the months of December 2014 – February 2015 we’re offering a FREE one-hour post-production & distribution consultations at our new facility!

Have suggestions for a monthly Eastside indie film post-focused gathering? Email your suggestion to Todd, Send mail

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