Rookie Moves

Advice on dealing with a post facility for the first time
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LOS ANGELES
The do-it-yourself filmmaker might view the traditional lab or post facility as the last resort, but there are numerous reasons to rely on outside resources. Sometimes, clients simply don't know where to start, what to ask, or what's expected of them. I posed some of these questions to a roundtable of post professionals, including Terence Curren, owner of Aphadogs (Burbank), Mike Most, chief technologist at Cineworks (Miami) and Peter Postma, U.S. product manager for Filmlight.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Is up-front consultation part of your sales effort?

CURREN: We absolutely offer that service! We find ourselves consulting on everything from cameras and recording formats, to file naming conventions. When a client contacts us in advance, we can help to steer them clear of any potential problems with their intended workflow.

MOST: Clients these days read a lot on the Internet or elsewhere, or talk to others who have used the equipment they're planning to use. Often the knowledge they gain is either inaccurate or based on production or post conditions that differ from theirs. We try to steer them in a direction, so that what they do will flow easily into the finishing steps that we provide. We try to make the process smoother, more efficient and more economical.

TV TECHNOLOGY: What should the producer supply for an online edit or a DI conform?

Terence Curren MOST: We need the original materials, an EDL, some visual copy of their offline cut as a reference, titles and some idea as to how they're finishing the sound. If the program is cut on an Avid, it's useful to receive a bin with the final sequence in addition to a traditional EDL. Some Final Cut editors use techniques, such as nesting, speed effects and other visual embellishments, which do not translate to an EDL in any kind of useful form. So with Final Cut, it helps to have a copy of the project file.

CURREN: With the new file-based formats that offer higher resolutions at smaller file sizes, we often receive the project with the media already attached. In this case our work starts by fine-tuning effects, adding any graphics, color correcting and the final mix of the audio.

MOST: I do find that many users of newer formats, such as RED, are very confused about what they do and do not have to deliver to us. They do a lot of work themselves to create elements that serve no purpose for us. Hopefully in the future, there will be more communication prior to picture lock between clients and finishing facilities and much less bad guesswork.

TV TECHNOLOGY: How much time should be allowed for finishing and color grading?

CURREN: Our process is to re-import any files, then recapture any media from tape. With older analog formats like Betacam, we will actually ride levels on recapture to avoid any clipping of the video, which cannot be retrieved later in the process. We figure about 100 clips captured per hour on Avid and about 90 on FCP.

POSTMA: A commercial can be done in a day, though several days may be used for creative reasons. A feature film - including scanning, color correction and recording - can be done in three weeks. Again, it may be longer if you want to spend more time making creative color-correction decisions.

CURREN: There are really three parts to color correction. Part one is to make it legal for whatever your distribution is going to be. Part two is to make it even, meaning all the shots in a given scene should look like they belong together. The first two steps are fairly objective. Part three is purely subjective. That's where the magic can take place in color correction. Giving a slight green tint to a scary scene or a slight blue tint to two lovers silently arguing are examples of subjective choices.

Peter Postma MOST: I can speak more to the feature film side of this question, because the time factors are usually dictated by things like budgets. For a feature shot on film, we usually allocate 3-5 days to scanning, 2-3 days to conform, 5-10 days for color correction, 1-2 days to do final renders and create the HD master, and about a 5-7 days to do a film recording. All of those time factors can vary, depending on editorial complication, show length, creative choices and, once again, budget.

TV TECHNOLOGY: How do you color correct the same project for TV, digital cinema projection and film prints?

MOST: Cineworks has a DI theater that's specifically calibrated to Digital Cinema (P3) color space. We use a film print preview lookup table for projects going to film. During the session we're basically looking at a preview of the eventual film print. The files are created in 10-bit log, film print density color space, and are used directly by a film recorder. We then use various custom lookup tables, along with minor color tweaks, to derive all other deliverables from those same files. The look remains consistent across all platforms.

POSTMA: Filmlight's Truelight color management system handles these conversions, so a DI facility that uses it should only need to color correct once and Truelight will handle the color conversion to the other spaces. It usually makes sense to color correct for the medium with the most color range (film or digital cinema) and then downconvert to video, Web, etc.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Should a producer worry about various camera color spaces, such as Panalog, REDlog or the cine-gamma settings in Sony or Panasonic cameras?

An Avid Symphony suite at AlphaDogs CURREN: I'm a fan of leaving things in the native space through to your final finish; however, that can make for a very flat looking offline, which is disturbing to many folks. You might need two versions. One version—the master—should stay in the native space. The second—the offline editorial working files—should be changed over to video (601 or 709) space.

MOST: Color space issues should be for finishing facilities to deal with, but the use of custom gamma curves in electronic cameras presents some educational issues for shooters. We usually try to discuss these during a pre-production meeting, but they primarily affect dailies creation. For finishing, we can deal with all of these color spaces without much of a problem.

TV TECHNOLOGY: Who should attend the finishing sessions?

POSTMA: Cinematographer and director. You definitely don't want too many people in the room or you can burn up time in a very expensive suite making decisions by committee.

CURREN: Who is signing the check? I'm not trying to be cheeky, it is just that someone makes the final decisions, or they have authorized someone to make the final decisions. That is who should be there at the end. For feature work, often the DP will get a pass at the color correction. In this case, it is wise for the producer to set some guidelines. There has to be a clear understanding of where the cut off point is. When is it good enough? Without that direction, the DP and the colorist can rack up quite a bill.