What is Post-Production?
Post-production is everything that happens to film footage once it’s been shot, before it’s a fully-fledged, watchable film or video. On the surface, that may not seem like a lot, but the truth is that a lot of work goes into post-production before most films or videos are ready.
Post-production takes into account everything that needs to happen to turn some film or video clips into a finished article that we can watch on screen. This includes the process of editing, as well as work on individual aspects of sound and visuals, mixing, rendering and exporting and/or printing the final film (more on this later). All of this work, the post-production, takes place on the journey to transform lots of footage – usually far more than will ever make it into the final cut – into a finished article we’re able to watch as an audience.
A lot of it happens digitally. Some post-production work is necessary, for instance basic video editing is crucial for telling the story. Some post-production work is there for creative effect, or as a way to refine the film or it’s quality for the audience. Sound mixing and grading are examples of post-production activities that might not always be necessary, for instance in student or low budget films, but will usually happen for larger productions to ensure the quality of sound and image is consistently high thought a production.
Usually the post-production journey can take just as long, if not longer, than the production phase, where a film is shot.
Post-Production – Editing:
The most well-known post-production activity is probably the editing. This is where the footage is sequenced (assembled on a timeline) and particular shots or moments in the footage are selected or discarded. It’s also where additional elements, such as the credits, titles, sound effects, or visual effects, are added in to the edit to tell a complete story.
Editing is typically a collaborative process, including editors and the director, as well as other post-production specialists, such as sound supervisors and mixers.
The process of editing also includes stages. There is normally at least one “rough cut”, which is then refined further into the eventual “final cut”. There might also be a “director’s cut” – a version directed by the film’s director without other input from the producers or audience feedback. Each version will include different choices and each version of the film will look, sound and feel slightly different, even though they all work with the same original material.
Editing can take a long time. It’s a focused, detailed process that can take anywhere from a few hours, to several months in the case of feature films. In our film courses, we usually find that editing takes around the same length of time to complete as the duration of the overall duration of the footage, or sometime longer.
In the editing process, further work on specialised areas might also be included.
Sound effects need to be chosen, or recorded from scratch. Visual effects, or special effects might also need to be added in. On large scale productions, there might be whole teams working in individual areas or on individual effects, so that they can be included in the finished film.
Special effects supervisors and sound supervisors work to make sure their teams produce everything needed. This work often takes place independently of the shooting process, with work taking place in post-production studios. Once the effects have been sourced, or made, then they are ready for inclusion in the film as part of the editing.
The process of including the effects can often reveal unexpected challenges. They might not work as intended, they might need to have timings adjusted or to be reworked. Just like in other areas of post-production, this can also take a lot of time. Producing custom visual effects, in particular, is a lengthy process, and if a film has a complex soundtrack then this can also take a long time to produce.
Sound in film generally is a bit of a hidden art form. A great deal of work goes into both sound production and sound post-production, but the aim is that we hardly notice it. This is often achieved with the work of sound specialists, who will pay lots of attention to the detail during shoots and in post-production too.
In post-production, sound supervisors or mixers will work with the recordings to “fine tune” the audio. This might involve editing the sound recordings, as well as mixing a number of recordings together. This is necessary where several microphones might have been used and several audio tracks generated. They’ll also work to include atmospheric sound, as well as the sound effects, the score and any additional sound included in the edit. On a feature film, there are usually hundreds of audio tracks included.
Post-Production: Colour Correction and Grading
Two processes in post-production work with colour. Colour Correction is designed to make the footage look more natural visually. It also helps with blending in special or visual effects. Colour correction adjusts the colour, contrast and exposure to make it all look as natural as possible. This often includes adjusting the lighting states digitally – colour correctors can often save footage that otherwise would have been cut, by working on the lighting and the colours in post-production.
Grading involves similar work and processes, but here the intention is to add style and character to the colour and lighting, which can help to add atmosphere, as well as give a film its own distinct look. Think about different film genres: sci-fi and fantasy films often include pronounced grading effects.
Post-Production: Rendering & Exporting
The final stage of post-production, before film is printed, or uploaded to a sharing platform, is for it to be fully rendered and the exported by the software into a file that can be played.
Different players or destinations require different formats, which use different standards or settings. Films destined for a cinema screen require different settings to films destined for YouTube. Films for bigger screens require specialist programmes to render and export them, whereas video files for streaming can often be exported at high quality by the editing programme alone.
Post-production, especially at scale, requires a large team of dedicated, talented and skilful operators to ensure that all the different elements of a production are brought together effectively. It often involves teams of people, and many, many hours. Even on smaller productions, or solo films, the post-production is likely to take a considerable amount of time, as well as a variety of different skills. It’s sometimes underestimated as an area of film production, but in the UK, post-production is one of the leading creative industries, with a huge range of opportunities for young filmmakers.
Want to Learn More about Post-Production?
We cover post-production techniques in our filmmaking class memberships.
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