Post-Production So Far: Cameron’s Take
First: to address the elephant in the room. Hello, elephant. I said in my last entry that we would be doing post-production blogs periodically and we really haven’t been. Sorry ‘bout that.
A semester has come and gone since we wrapped on Apocalypse Theory. Following our triumph, Brandon and I took a few much-needed weeks off. We hoped to hold a wrap party, but I’m afraid our organizational capabilities sputtered and died right when shooting ended, so we never quite pulled it together. We’ll have to throw a kickass premiere party around late February instead.
We lucked out about as hard as we could imagine (not for the first time) when Maria got permission from her workplace, Matrix, for us to edit in one of their offices. We’ll be grateful for this forever. Editing can get stressful—never quite approaching the I-think-we’re-already-dead despair crashes that filming occasionally brought on, but still stressful—so it’s been nice to have an office with some privacy, temperature control, and enough space to do jumping jacks when the work gets tedious and the body gets sleepy.
Editing has primarily been a team effort between me, Brandon and Maria, with some audio help from Annette and effects work from Scott. Though post-production is uncharted territory for us all, and even more mysterious in some ways than filming, Brandon’s been doing a bang up job keeping the process organized, setting deadlines and essentially determining what remains to be done, and in what order.
Once our footage was all uploaded and organizized, I began work on the Assembly Cut, which for our purposes was comparable to the rough draft of a paper that takes an hour and forty minutes to read. I was extremely grateful for Margo’s on-set script supervision work. I already knew in my head the general order of shots I wanted—those were mostly figured out from storyboarding—but if I had to comb through every take of every shot individually, it would have taken me to the end of time. Fortunately Margo had written down how usable the audio was for each take, along with whether I had called a take “good,” “great,” “just dynamite,” “beautiful,” or “like music” after shooting it. Having these notes on hand allowed me to narrow my options down somewhat, clearing an easier path for me.
When choosing between takes, using the actors’ performances as my deciding factor, I felt a new, huge sense of responsibility. These skilled performers had given their all to this project, forcing the crew to stifle their off-set laughter during the funniest times, pouring their souls into the more dramatic moments, and often foregoing sleep to best portray these characters. I owed it to them to show audiences their very best work, and to put their performances together in a way that properly, consistently portrayed each character’s personality and journey.
Another vital component of the editing was the pacing. On a scene-by-scene basis, this started out as a matter of awkward trial-and-error. Much like an optometrist switching between lenses and asking “better or worse?,” I found myself adjusting the length of clips over and over again to ask myself “funnier or less funny?” “More natural or less so?” It started out very slowly, but eventually I was able to feel the film’s rhythm without overthinking it. Editing with Final Cut Pro gradually became as natural and expressive a form to me as sketching or piano.
It was a glorious evening when we had the Assembly Cut completed and put on a DVD. Brandon, Maria, Matt, Annette and I gathered at the editing bay with some popcorn and raisinets to view the film front-to-back in its first vaguely movielike form. And to my delight, I can say, without a shadow of a shadow of a doubt:
This movie works.
Even in its earliest watchable form, we saw how our unconventionally-structured script was becoming a uniquely but smoothly-paced film, how jokes that we had written three years ago had become funny again even to its weary creators, and how these many characters each came alive throughout the film. My confidence in Apocalypse Theory was reinvigorated, my worst fears subdued.
It’s interesting how the process of writing the film has really continued even through editing. As we examined and re-examined the movie’s pace, we decided to cut one scene and shorten a couple others, improving the film’s flow quite a bit (though cutting footage can be emotionally exhausting). And throughout, we’ve occasionally decided to remove a line here, incorporate some improv there (there are one or two scenes that consist almost entirely of brilliantly improvised dialogue), or in a few cases, even create new jokes by juxtaposing lines or reactions that didn’t go together before.
Since I’d taken the lead on constructing the Assembly Cut, I took a backseat as Brandon polished it further, swapping in our proper microphone audio in place of the inferior camera audio and generally polishing the film as he went. After a few weeks of focusing on my schooling, I returned to the editing bay to help with the sound placement, as well as edit the movie further now that I’d spent some time away from it and had a fresh perspective.
Post-production audio work is one of many skills that Brandon and I have had to learn as we go, mostly through scouring tech message boards for individual answers. Fortunately I think we’ve been picking it up decently well—particularly Brandon, who’s been diligently putting in the most hours on sound. It’s easy to see a film’s audio as secondary to its aesthetics, and to neglect it as a result, but we’re doing our best to make sure the sound is as clear, vibrant and full of life as the visuals.
I’m now approaching the end of my latest task: adjusting the volume of each audio clip and choosing between its microphones (we used two at a time on set because we’re cautious cats; narrowing it down to one in post greatly improves the dialogue’s clarity). With the advent of 2012, I’ll begin work on the film’s closing credits as Brandon continues on the audio. Then we’ll be doing the score, effects and as much perfecting as we can manage until the premiere in late February.
Besides editing, we’ve had a few other odd jobs to do along the way. We conceptualized our title shot some time ago, and in early November, we were ready to shoot it. Brandon forged a large, wooden contraption to lift our camera up over the bar on which we’d written our title and placed four color-coded flaming shots (I can’t really do the shot justice in blog form, but trust me: it’ll be SO SICK). Maria composed the shot as Brandon and I, with the help of a few hausmates, balanced the contraption atop several textbooks, duct taped it into place and held it still with our bodies. Miraculously, the contraption lasted just as long as it needed to, falling apart literally seconds after we’d completed a great shot. We’ve placed it in our rough cut now; I think it’s one of our most beautiful, technically impressive shots, and it’ll be a fantastic way to kick off the movie.
Later that month, we had a wonderful chance to reunite with several of our actors for voiceover recording. The DMAT at the Comm Arts Building had a recording booth available for our use, so we simply arranged times for our actors, got in there and recorded their parts, including a vocalized Facebook chat, a blazed inner monologue, and little things like characters calling from unseen rooms. It was great to work with the actors again, this time in a far less stressful setting where we could focus solely on the performances.
We also had a day set aside to record voiceovers for smaller, uncasted parts. For this, we created a Facebook event and invited many of our friends and neighbors. We gave them characters as they arrived, and they all did a stellar job bringing humor and authenticity to these small but vital roles. Once we had all our voiceover lines recorded, I brought them to the editing bay, chose the best takes and worked them into the film.
It hasn’t all been smooth cruising since filming wrapped. Whenever something takes longer than expected or a new hiccup arises, it’s easy to blow it out of proportion and become suddenly convinced that the project is crashing and burning, and Brandon and I have had the occasional spat due to disagreements concerning the division of tasks or simply being on different wavelengths. But we’ve always been able to pull out of these rough spots fairly quickly, and move forward stronger than we were before. Whenever I see the film front-to-back in its latest form, I find myself re-energized and re-inspired to see production through to its end.
Since there’s been a whole semester of post-production, I’m sure I’ve skipped over things that Brandon could better illuminate, such as our meeting with Matt about score, our marketing plans or the adventure that’s been our acquisition of songs for the film. He should probably write a blog. But at this point I’ve blogged enough; if you’ve stuck with me this far, I thank you, and ask once again that you keep an eye out for our premiere. We’re planning to hold it on campus in late February, and we hope to see y’all and everyone y’all know there.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the remaining hours of 2011, and have a fantastic new year.