Lecture by Tracy Sorensen
April 28, 2010
Wednesday 5pm C02 – 101
The last stage of the creative process
As you’re aware by now, there’s a convention that breaks film-making into three stages: pre-production, where you write the script and get everything ready, production where you hit record and post production, where you bring it all together in the edit suite.
Of course a lot of fine film and video makers go about it in a more higgledy piggledy way than this, sometimes working for hours on a computer-generated scene before writing a script or recording any live action. But in big productions where you are working with others and maybe even spending a lot of money, a clearly staged approach through pre production, production and post production is essential.
This lecture is about post-production, that final stage.
A new creative endeavour begins when you sit down to edit your movie. It’s possible with the same raw footage to create entirely different versions, entirely different meanings, in post-production. The more conscious you are about what’s possible and how you can control the process, the better.
Before I get going, I’d like to show you a piece of my own work, which relies heavily on post production. I did this little no-budget mockumentary as a TAFE assignment in 2006, so it has some fairly trashy production values but I believe a strong script and a strong editing process that brings it all together in the end. While it relies heavily on post-production effects, they’re not used just for the sake of it. They’re there to support the meaning of the piece.
[Show DVD: Lost Arts of the 1970s, Part 2]
I’m going to talk about how you can achieve some of the effects I’ve used in that piece. But before I do that, I’ll just dip into a tiny bit of film history. The first films used a static camera angle. The frame was fixed, like the edges of a stage. There was no editing at all, so everything had to be performed or caught right in the camera’s view.
Try to gaze on this in wonder, as the first viewers of film would have done – this is an 1895 film by the Lumiere Bros of workers leaving a factory (of course this was a silent film & the music added later):
Within a couple of decades of those early films, you started seeing movies like this by Soviet film make Sergei Eisenstein:
So from no editing at all, you have them going wild in the edit suite. Here he is:
The October film shows how fast cuts, especially set to music, create a sense of excitement. Slow cutting slows everything down. Slow cutting is important if you want your viewers to slow down, look all round the screen, scrutinise details. The important thing about pace is that it needs to be varied or you risk exhausting your viewer with relentless fast cutting, or boring them with nothing but slow cuts. If you want to build excitement, you’ll start slow and get faster and fast cuts. Control over the pace of cutting is as far away as the razor blade tool.
Editing copies our natural ways of seeing
Early analysts of the art of the film were interested in why film editing works. After all, people had been happily watching plays for hundreds of years. There are no big close ups in traditional theatre. Logically, it would seem jumpy and disruptive to go from seeing someone from a distance in profile and then have a look at a big close up of their face. And yet it works. The reason it works is that film editing follows our natural way of taking in information in the world. Let’s imagine you’re a small child and your mother and aunt are in the next room discussing whether or not to go and buy some icecreams. You have a huge investment in the outcome of this conversation. As you go into the room, you take in, in a flash, that there are two women standing near the sofa. As they speak, you peer intently into one face and then the other as you follow what they’re saying. As we go around in the world, we can’t take in everything at once. We’re constanly switching our attention from the big picture (a kind of mental wide shot) to closer examination (a mental close up). We physically move ourselves around to get the best view – a sort of reframing of our internal cameras. Generally, unless you’re being deliberately disruptive (which is valid but you really have to know what you’re doing), you want your editing to reflect the natural way we see things. That’s why it generally works to use a mix of wide, mid and close up shots. We need the big picture so we know where we are, but we also want to see the detail.
This relates to the idea of getting coverage. If you got good coverage in production, the editor’s job can be much more creative. This basically means shooting exactly the same scene from a variety of camera angles – wide, mid and close up or from under the table or looking down from the ceiling or whatever. This means that the editor has options. There’s a naturalness to a well-edited scene. Editors work to a sort of rhythm based on natural ways of seeing combined with their own style. As an editor the next logical shot in your rhythm might be a thoughtful close-up on a face as the character reaches to pick up a coffee mug. But if the director didn’t shoot it in the first place, the editor can’t use it. (The editor’s friend or enemy in this case is the director.)
Overlapping images, voices
If you think back to the child anxiously looking from mother to aunt, willing them to agree to go and buy icecreams, she’ll still be hearing some of aunt’s voice as she swings round to look at what mother is saying. Or she might even just keep her gaze imploringly on mother as the aunt is speaking. This is important in editing, too. It can get tiresome if you watch a whole conversation that ping pongs backwards and forwards and we always see the face of whoever is talking. Instead, it makes it more natural and varied to overlap vision of voices and faces. The editor’s friend in this instance is the little figure of eight lying on its side, which delinks the audio and video lines, so that you can manipulate audio and video independently.
[Powerpoint Slide: sound vision linked]
[Powerpoint Slide: Overlapping sound & vision]
[Powerpoint slide: The green delink guy]
Use levels to heighten or dampen sound
Our ears have a way of tuning out irrelevant information, although some are better at this than others. You’ll always hear your own name among a hubbub of voices. The microphone, especially a non-directional microphone, has no such powers of discrimination. In the edit suite, you can raise or lower sound levels to heighten attention on significant details and dampen the irrelevant. Wind up the creaking of the door as it opens. Tone down the hum of the fridge. Nightclub scenes on TV are always totally fraudulent – you normally have to shout to be heard over the racket. But the editors turn the music right down and have the actors speaking to each other at a nice, listenable volume. Your friend is the sound levels buttons.
[Slide: audio levels]
This brings us to the music. In my Hobbytex mockumentary I rely quite outrageously on the creativity of George Harrison and Helen Reddy for effect. This is legitimate but the problem here is copyright. This is what happened when I put this movie on YouTube (the entire soundtrack was blanked). I deserved it, too. So be aware that if you use copyrighted material you won’t be able to use your work much beyond your class assignments. If you want to take your work out to festivals or beyond the classroom, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of using copyright or royalty-free production music or better still, get musical friends to give permission to use their work or even better still compose something for you. Note that Garage Band has a series of musical “beds” that you can use in your projects.
See sites like
for royalty free music that you pay for once but then can use forever however you like.
Don’t forget to duck and fade your music. Your friend is the little diamonds as seen on the sound levels screen grab above.
Looking for sound effects? There are plenty of sites on the internet where you can grab bits of sound. One of the best is freesound.org
People just love recording sounds and uploading them to use for free. What’s a sound, any sound? Let’s see what they’ve got!
[At this point in the lecture, students call out sounds, eg a cat meowing, and I call up and play these sounds]
Foley art is the art of making your own sound effects. The classic is the coconut halves meant to suggest the clip clopping of horses hooves. You might need to record sound specifically for your movie. If you didn’t get the door creaking loudly or spookily enough, you might want to go back and record just that noise. You might want to use a squeakier door!
There’s an all-too-often used phrase which is “fix it in post”. That means well, we’ve got a really bad recording but we can fix that up in the edit suite.
If it was bad to start with there’s only so much you can do, so the moral of the story is to get a good recording to start with. Having said that, there are some filters you can use to fix sound and vision.
You’ll find your filters tab sitting behind the main browser window. You can click and drag the wanted effect straight on to a video clip on the timeline, double click and start playing with the filter effects. You can make things darker or brighter, correct the colour, or desaturate so that it’s black and white.
[Powerpoint slide: Video filters]
Sound filters: you can tone down certain frequencies, or maybe add an effect like reverb – great if you’re doing a spooky movie.
Note: you may need to check in Final Cut that filters are enabled. Go to Final Cut Preferences>Render Control and check the “filters” box. Check the other two boxes while you’re at it – that’ll help if you want to speed up or slow down some footage.
First ask why you are doing this thing… it can look VERY TACKY. But if there’s a good reason, go for it!
One good one is motion. There’s a tab behind the view window. You can change the size and position of your clip there. You can also use the diamond button on the bottom of the canvas filter to set points at which your clip changes shape, or orientation. You can crop your clips, give them a fuzzy edge – have a play in the motion tab!
[Powerpoint Slide: motion screen grab]
You can also do a half-dissolve – use the same levels mechanism as you use in sound to bring down the video. You can pile picture on top of picture, and you can pile sound below sound.
Organise your clips & sequences into bins
If you right-click in your browser window, you can add new bins and new sequences. You can put all your Scene 1 clips in a bin, all Scene 2 in a bin, etc. So then you don’t have a mass of clips in your browser. You can also right click from your browser window and create new sequences. You can create as many sequences as you like and then a final sequence. You can then drag the sequences themselves down onto the timeline and they’ll sit there nested neatly together.
DISTRIBUTION & STORAGE
Finish it! Put it on a DVD, make a cover in Photoshop, put in on your shelf, give a copy to Mum. Upload to YouTube (start creating a digital presence that goes beyond drunken photos on Facebook).
You can use iDVD to create an authored DVD that can be played in any player. But do also keep a high-resolution copy of your digital file, because technology is changing so fast. Maybe keep a copy of that file on the cloud, eg on Dropbox.
Tutor, COM108, 2010
Lindgren, Ernest. 1963 The art of the film / by Ernest Lindgren George Allen & Unwin, London