What We Do in the Post Production Shadows

Shining Light into Darkened Editorial Lairs

Originally printed in the New Zealand Film and Video Technician’s Guild national publication, “NZTECHO 65 WINTER 2015” as Jen Metcalfe. (Previous name.)


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Whilst us souls in post-production don’t have to worry as much about safety regulations as we sit down all day, we do have our share of concerns.

There are issues such as how to get someone’s attention with headphones on. Lessons in patience, spending endless hours watching little blue progress bars travel from left to right as footage exports. Mastering Vampiric skin care regimes to prevent bursting into flame after not seeing sunlight for days on end. Keyboard tippity-tappitings gone wrong via repetitive strain injury. Or, most embarrassingly, having sleeves caught in the security swipe door: most of our domains are in sealed, windowless bunkers. (Perhaps the Guild should investigate a ‘Singlets for Safety’ regime for post-production workers after all.)

We spend inordinate amounts of time in the dark, but it seems like no one really knows the minutia of what we do there. This is an industry publication, so I’m not going to patronize you and explain that we put the movie jigsaw together to showcase the story and all of your hard work. There aren’t many of us shadowy workers in the Guild, however, so I do hope that I can explain a little bit more of the post world to you. We all function together, so it’s important we’re on the same page.

Firstly, editorial rooms are quiet. To the observer, they are actually quite boring places: folk sitting at desks, not saying much, watching a screen, beavering away. As if workers have taken a vow of silence. A monastic work place.

…Until the screams set-in. Not from workers – well, it depends on the day – but more from repeatedly playing on-screen action to iron out cut points. By the end of the film, one knows every line by heart and every blood-curdling scream or battle-cry right down to exact pitch and pace. Sometimes your day will go by and you’ll feel as if you’re stuck in a time loop watching the same thing over and over. A monastic wormhole.

Secondly, we’re an endless hub of material pumping in and out. Footage in, footage out. Sound departments, music departments, visual effects vendors and colour graders all work together in a massive data tennis match. If you add in our cloistral work environments and hermit-like dedication, the simple post-production explanation is that really it’s just a load of monks playing tennis in a wormhole.

There are multitudes of different codecs, frame-rates and aspect ratios to contend with. All have their upsides and downsides to form a vast technical pros and cons list that is always being upgraded and outdated with new software. This often scares off the less technically minded, but please remember that it’s all ways of doing the same thing. When in doubt, remember that if you add any three letters together and say them with enough confidence, anything can be an acronym to represent an awesome new-fangled codec that nobody has heard of yet. Or, should I say – no one has heard of .YET*.

*(Fresh off the press!)

There is nothing to be scared of with post-production, so please, talk to us in the darkness. Whilst the classic line of, “fix it in post” does prove true, many productions would benefit from having a post coordinator on board early to save time, money and frustration spent. After all, the joke only works if there is some footage that we can actually fix from.

Our monastic data tennis matches make for jobs that are a good mix of technical and creative knowledge. This is fantastic – as really, isn’t that what we love about working in film? All aspects of the world and ways of working are represented. Provided you don’t feed workers after midnight or get them wet, darkened post- production lairs are fun and safe places to be, assuming we implement the “Singlets for Safety” regime.

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