“[Post] facilities are like going into a hospital. You have to trust the doctors.”—Joe Beirne of Technicolor Postworks NY
Joe Beirne and Ben Murray, both veterans of Technicolor Postworks NY, want to earn your trust. They start with a universal offer: “If you have a project and know when you’re finishing, meet with [us] and bring samples.” They’ll help you assess where you’re at and how you can best be prepared for a smooth post process. And if you hire them to do it, all the better.
“We don’t look at it like 'how hard can we squeeze the lemon,' it’s more like you have something you need to fulfill for a broadcaster and we try to be as efficient as we can. We help you do as much as you can yourself to help you save money. Having time helps a lot.”
It turns out there are many things filmmakers can do to save money, and a lot of it has to do with planning ahead and being as organized as possible. But many early-career or self-taught filmmakers don’t have the knowledge to save themselves—and their post facility—the headaches of down-to-the-wire rushed jobs (most often begun in pre-festival premiere panic). On the DOC NYC panel Post Production Secrets, Beirne, Murray and filmmaker Daniel DiMauro, whose film Get Me Roger Stone premiered at Tribeca Film Festival this year and is now available on Netflix, shared some tips about ways filmmakers can do the leg work, both during production and just prior to post, to make the most of their post-production budget and time with a seasoned post-house.
1. Test your footage and cuts on a big screen and a small screen
Says Beirne, “the camera on cell phone is better than any HD cam that existed 5 years ago! But it can break down on the big screen. The opposite is true too. If you shoot too big it doesn’t look right on the iPhone. ... we test everything so that it works everywhere.” Beirne advises filmmakers to prepare for the whole ecosystem and spectrum of end goals and how to sensibly meet those standards.
2. Get an archival researcher
Murray has had experiences where a filmmaker comes in with a file ripped off YouTube and wants to use it in the film. Making sure you can either use it under the Fair Use clause or secure the rights to use it is one issue, and the other is the quality of the file. “You need to think about how to source it,” Murray says, and that’s where an archival producer or researcher can be helpful.
On Get Me Roger Stone, DiMauro hired an archival producer to hunt down a hard-to-find clip. By searching worldcat.org, the producer found this clip in the special collections at the University of Georgia. It seemed like they were good to go, until they discovered that only a University of Georgia student or faculty member could gain access to the file. Then, it turned out that this university member had to be physically in the library and could only watch it there.
The experienced archival producer worked this all out. When the film team finally got the file, it had a giant watermark plastered on it. Technicolor Postworks then overlaid this video with that earlier, lower resolution one that had been snagged from YouTube, and with some clever post work, they cut out the watermarks. Through working with a top archival producer and post-production house, the Get Me Roger Stone team was able to make professional use of an essential clip that they otherwise might have foregone. “That’s the only real secret we’ve given in five years,” Beirne joked at the panel.
3. Get organized
If you arrive at Technicolor Postworks with 20 terabytes of data strewn across 10 hard drives, Murray said, you’re probably not making the most of your time and post budget. It’s also essential that your timeline is organized. “We’re willing to spend time in your cutting room looking over your shoulder and helping you save time,” Beirne offered. The more time you save up front, the more your post team can do the little unexpected things because they’re not worried about hunting down those lost files hidden on different drives. A benefit to thoroughly organizing your drives? “You find things you didn’t know you had or [you find] that things you need are not there,” said Beirne.
“When you tell the truth, what you say is more important than what you show.”
4. Mind the sound
Beirne suggests you “pick the sound over the picture if you have to pick one over the other. When you tell the truth, what you say is more important than what you show.”
5. 24 frames is the magic number
According to Beirne, at the moment, it’s essential that all digital cinema packages (DCPs) must be delivered at 24 fps (frames per second). “What’s happening is that everything is dispersed across the international market. Because we now have the equivalent of a film print (DCP), most have to be 24 frames.” He hopes it will become more open, but currently the Academy only takes films at 24 fps. “It’s a practical thing. The projector is designed to show 24 fps,” Beirne said.
6. Shave your cost by hiring freelancers or junior assistants
When it came time to get graphics done for Get Me Roger Stone, DiMauro was looking at ways to shave the cost. “[Technicolor Postworks] can do anything for you, but they’ll be more expensive than my freelance graphics guy.” Even Beirne and Murray often suggest things to filmmakers that they can do themselves to save money. Another option for lowering costs is to employ a junior crew. “We have a junior night crew we are training. We have hungry people who want to learn. To everyone, it’s a great way for a film to get made more cheaply and for people to develop their careers,” said Murray.
7. Get stabilized
Murray suggests that subtle footage stabilizing can really help, and that Adobe Premiere has the best tool to achieve this. If you’ve got cell phone footage you’re hoping to use, Beirne says the “biggest problem is depth of field because of the way camera works. The smaller the image area, the greater the depth of field.” This is related to the issue of stabilization as the footage may appear more jittery when you move with the phone because of the depth of field. “There might be a subtle jello vibration [when you shoot] with a phone that you might not notice,” said Murray. It’s a simple post trick that not everyone makes use of.
During the panel, Beirne offered this quote by Niels Bohr: “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field.” Hopefully, with some research, organization and pre-planning, and perhaps some expert advice, some of these mistakes can be avoided during post-production on your future film projects.