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David Fincher's Streamlined, Almost DIY Post-Production Workflow for 'The Social Network'

I had no idea when watching David Fincher’s generation-defining (yeah, I said it) The Social Network that the RED-shot film would utilize a post-production process similar to what you or I could execute. It turns out that the crew on the award-winning film conformed all shots — and did some basic visual effects work — using Adobe After Effects, after utilizing Premiere Pro to get their Final Cut Pro timeline into AE. Yes, they also used higher-end tools — notably Quantel’s Pablo for the color grade — but the basic editing tools are the same as you or I might use on a no-budget project. Here’s Fincher and assistant editor Tyler Nelson on the process:

Swap out Quantel Pablo for Apple Color or Magic Bullet Suite, and you’re working with very similar post-production tools as David Fincher. As he elucidates perfectly, “there are $25 million movies being made that look like $150 million movies from ten years ago. It’s at everyone’s disposal. If you can put those tools in the hands of people who want to figure it out, it’s going to be about the quality of the ideas.” Of course, those budget ratios also apply to the lower end — using these same tools, can one make a $500,000 movie that looks like a $3 million film? Absolutely.

[via Filmmaker IQ]


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  • I like the workflow he used. I tried it out a little bit ago, and the only thing I ran into was that once you are in After Effects its hard to get to a program like Apple Color. And without having a lot of visual effects it didn’t seem really worth it.

    Any thoughts? I did try Log and Transferring into Apple ProRes 422 (Proxy) and then conforming within FCP up to Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) once I was done editing and before I graded. Any thoughts on how it could work well for a DSLR workflow?

    • instead of exporting to Color from After Effects try using Color Finesse. It’s a Plug-in that ships free with AE.

  • Andrew McCauley on 05.25.11 @ 5:04PM

    Time to show my ignorance.

    What exactly is conforming video?

    • Conforming is traditionally, when the final work print, which get scratched, taped, etc, is matched up with the untainted camera negative. In this instance, conforming is matching the final edited sequence which was probably done with smaller, lower resolution files to the larger uncompressed raw files. Although, it seems as if the assistant editor was doing what I would consider simply “editing” (when the over shoulder was matted and jogged forward).

      • Andrew McCauley on 05.25.11 @ 9:34PM

        Thanks for the education, Brian.

        I got really confused when I was sure I saw him “editing” but he called it “conforming.”

        • Why even use Premiere? There is a script that sends FCP XML into AE. Also, it should be quite obvious that AE is not a conform tool. The billions of layers is a mess to work with. Smoke, Flame, etc exist for a reason.

  • Why in the world would they not just edit the film in PP cs5? I mean its like converting a word document to a txt file and writing the document in Notepad. Doesn’t make any sense to me.

  • Larry Ridgewood on 05.25.11 @ 11:19PM

    Seems like a bit of PR. There was quite a bit of major work done on the film, including what’s talked about here. This oversimplification of post is annoying….it’s not all about the tools, but the creative talent and pipelines facilities have built to tackle tasks:

  • Anyone know which graphic tablet was being used?

  • Agreed, its annoying, not only is this nothing new at all, its undermining the reasons there are bigger pipelines. I use low budget pipelines all the time but its the work that’s carried out at the top of the game that is influencing tools like AE and allowing us to work on low budgets. Its also dangerous to allow non technical people think that all we need is a laptop and CS5 to work 24hours a day so that more money can be made from a movie at the cost of those involved. I have to say though that Fincher’s comment at the end was spot on, this era of cheaper tools and hardware is going to put the “idea” back at the top of a film maker’s priority, not just gloss and expensive vfx.

  • this is exactly the Stu Maschwitz workflow: edit in final cut pro, XML to premiere pro, in order to take it to after effects, where you can do the color correction, visual effects, etc

    the FCP part is there just because they prefer to make the initial edit there; if you prefer premiere pro, you can skip that bit and just work in PP and AE

  • Hm, it’s certainly interesting to see that it’s being done, but how about showing us actually HOW they went about managing the hundreds, maybe thousands of clips that make up a two hour movie using After Effects? We got glimpses of the timeline and I could probably guess a bit, but it would be much more useful to actually show how instead of just saying that they did it.

    • This leads me to think that what would be most interesting is to get the cut itself. Can you imagine getting the edit of the social Network as a buttload of dvd’s you could just load up in AE and mess with? (/learn from?) We’ve seen Music multi-tracks appear for remix purposes, when will this happen with a film?

      Social Network would be the perfect film for this to first happen with.

  • I have worked on over 9 feature films in both on set production and post production/visual effects for the last 10 years and I can safely say that David Fincher and his editing/fx bitch are talking total rubbish.

    No industry standard pipeline would comp without a node based solution plus an unlimited amount of custom made tools, as well as a 3D pipe that fed into it for FX relate work, These guys are just talking completely out of their asses.

    Just because the social network sucked does not mean that it was done using after effects :)

    • Dirk: no one’s saying The Social Network’s post pipeline was “industry standard” — that’s the whole point, that it wasn’t. Sorry that you though it “sucked.”

      As for why they didn’t use Premiere, FCP is definitely more proven for feature-length work. It used to be that once you get to thousands and thousands of edits, Premiere would slow to a crawl — CS5.5 may be more stable than earlier versions.

      • @ koo: Nothing wrong with being a die hard FCP guru…but in the nicest way I could possibly say it…don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it. :). It doesn’t come close to slowing to a crawl…quite the opposite which is why this NLE is getting some serious props lately. Give it a try, it rocks.

      • The point i meant to get across was that realistically; if FCP and or AE were used, both these tools would just be a tiny part of their pipeline and not the bees knees as the interview suggests.

    • @DIRK it’s pretty ironic you think Fincher is talking out of his ass, when this is coming from some anonymous internet poster. It’s also ironic that you think The Social Network “sucked” while not disclosing the titles of any of the “over 9 feature films” that you’ve worked on.

      Anyway, here’s some more of Fincher talking out of his ass about how he edited Zodiac with Final Cut Studio without all the specialized equipment:

      David Fincher is an artist. You, on the other hand, sound like a hack or tool that’s threatened by how evolving technology is lowering the barriers of entry and making it more about the art than the tools.

  • @Dirk – I think that was the point of the video, to show people who are used to thinking about expensive, node-based, “industry standard”, compositing tools that it is possible to do what he did. I truly don’t think he was lying. What does he stand to gain from making it up?

  • @Dirk,
    you should check out
    nuff said

    • yeah checked that out, looks like a blog made by some dude that used to work at the “O” till it went bankrupt back in 2008…

      • I used to use FCP but it crashed a lot…moved over to Avid MC5 I love it! I would recommend to any of you to at least take a run at Avid plus it’s pretty much industry standard.

  • mark georgeff on 05.26.11 @ 8:09PM

    First of all.. Fincher is on the spot of what he’s talking about…and even now, as of may 26 2011, it’s going to change even more rapidly than it has for the past 5 ro 10 years.

    Expensive standard of making movies is going to be gone pretty soon, outside of those insane 300 mil 3-d projects or whatever the accountants and PR people are lying about.

    The rapidly changing tech in cameras, and lenses and editing software is basically because of the foundation it all lies on — the digital chip. As these chips gets faster and can hold more info and not be as heat seekers…everything that rests on them will change too.

    What’s going to be really unique and great for us indie moviemakers, is when the big houses like PANASONIC, SONY and even RED now, look over their shoulders and find these unknown upstart companies finally come out with the right HD digital camera, with the right lenses for under 6 grand.

    Nobody has absolute proprietary control on changing technology in the digital age.
    They may claim so and do whatever they can to keep it…but eventually. somebody in a garage or basement
    will come up with something new…and not just sell out lock, stock and barrel.

    So…what does that come dow to all of us/

    Do you, creatively, have s story to tell that is meant to be a movie?
    Is it image driven?
    Can the story work visually without dialogue giving all the info and emotion away?
    You’re going to be reaching for a diverse audience in so many countries; in so many ways of watching your story unfold.

    The tech is out there for all of us. Just create outside the box…do the hard work…and don’t get hung up on the costs.

  • Thanks for the article! I’m a long time FCP/AE user and on my current project, decided to take the plunge with Premiere CS5.5 – largely due to the interactivity between Premiere and AE.

    It’s probably more due to my familiarity with FCP than anything else, but I find certain (not all) aspects of Premiere to be counter-intuitive. Because of my deadline, I began to analyze how I could return to FCP, mid-project – and then finish in AE – it’s doable and I will.

    One alternative worth mentioning to the above workflow is; do the basic cut in FCP and use Automatic Duck or Boris XML Transfer to bring it into AE. This would bypass Premiere altogether.

    Thanks again for the article – and your cool site;)!

  • Sorry for my ignorance, but what’s the advantage to using a Wacom tablet?

  • FCP botched my projects before by burning effects onto my source footage, i ended up editing in premiere too. Both programs are pretty terrible.

  • Fincher didn’t even have the Social Network scored. He had Trent Reznor write some music without picture and then edit it in to the film, like a library. So much for the art of film scoring. As for editing, I prefer editing in Avid. Most high end projects are cut on Avid. Those of you who don’t use it should really give it a try. Stop settling for what is mostly used on low end projects by semi-professionals.