Movie Making Manual/Post Production Overview

Post Production


After 20-60 days of filming, you are finished shooting your motion picture. After all that effort, the only thing you have to show for your work is about 100 reels of film, 60 rolls of audio tape, and a well-worn copy of the script which has been marked up by the script supervisor. That's it! Other than publicity stills and maybe a documentary and perhaps some effects shots being done at effects houses around town, this is all you get for your 40 million dollars. So now, what do you do?

Now you start Post Production. Now you turn the developed film and audio reels into a motion picture for viewing at a film festival. (Much later, you worry about getting the movie ready for distribution.)

Once the dailies are prepared for editing, the film editor begins to edit the picture and the dialog. The sound department will get busy creating an infinite number of sound effects and the film composer will create beautiful music for your movie. If any visual effects are needed, they will get done too at special effects houses... along with the titles and credits.

Finally, when everyone is happy, the negative will be cut to match the edit of the movie and a print will be made for showing at Sundance.

Let's look at these steps individually.

Dailies/Workprint/Telecine/Capture/Syncing Audio


Each day during production of a feature film shot on motion picture film, dailies are prepared for viewing by the director, the crew and the studio executives. To save money, the same dailies can be used by the editor to edit the movie... or at least they can be created at the same time.

Preparing the dailies for editing seems like a trivial task but can be a major headache if not done very carefully. This is just as true for digital video as for film. Some people think that just because they use a digital camcorder, they do not have to process the film dailies. Dailies still have to be captured into the computer so they can be edited. And if you are using a separate sound system for recording the dialog, you will still have all the problems of syncing audio to picture for your digital dailies.

For more information on preparing film dailies for editing and the telecine process, see the section on Telecine in the Movie Making Manual.



If you film and edit only one scene (or a short), you can easily keep track in your head of all the raw footage. But for a feature film, keeping track of all the different shots is not easy. Walter Murch uses Apple's FileMaker Pro. At Macworld Expo, there is usually at least one lecture on how he uses this database during the editing process.

Picture and Dialog Editing


When the movie is edited, the editor must think about more than just the picture and the dialog. The sound effects and the music work together with the pictures and the dialog to tell the story. The sound effects, music, picture and dialog all interact. The editor must figure out how all these elements work together to tell the story.

In Hollywood, there are special teams that do the visual effects, music, and sound effects. But if you are just one person doing the edit of low-budget motion picture, you might have to do everything yourself as you edit the movie.

Narrative Films Only
This manual covers dramatic movies with scripted dialog. Be aware that editing a documentary, corporate video, multimedia or event video is totally different from editing narrative dramas. For more information about the process of film editing for narrative motion pictures and television drama see the section What is Editing in the Movie Making Manual.

For narrative feature films, there are two different kinds of scenes - Action sequences and Conversation. When you edit a conversation, there are lots of constraints... special the script which dictates the spoken dialog. Action sequences have few constraints.

There are two kinds of music - Background music and Narrative music. Background music means very soft music while narrative music is music that gets in your face. At this stage, a temp track is acceptable for background music but for music which tells part of the story, you really need to use something which will be close to the final music.

While there are many kinds of sound effects, at this stage you are only worried about the sound effects that help tell a story, not the sound effects which make the scenery seem realistic such as Ambience, Walla and Foley. These can be done when the editing is finished. For now, just worry about the sound effects that help narrate the story.

For more instructions on how to edit a dramatic scene with scripted dialog, see the section How To Edit a Dramatic Scene in the Movie Making Manual.

ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement)


Once you have edited the movie, you might need to replace some of the spoken dialog. For more information on ADR, see the ADR in the Movie Making Manual.

Sound Effects


Once all the scenes are edited, you begin to add all the little sounds which makes the movie seem real. If a scene does not seem realistic, you have not added enough sound effects such as:



The background sounds of the environment.



At its most basic, this is the indistinguishable sounds of people talking in the background - what the extras or BG performers in the BG might be saying if they were actually talking during a take. However, it can also include any off camera voices for unidentified characters (ie. telephone operator, PA announcement, etc.) or off camera lines from the general crowd (i.e., "somebody call an ambulance!" or "He's got a gun!").



The footsteps and the rustling of clothing make your scene seem real, which are so numerous that it is faster to record these sound effects live while watching the movie. If you have only a few footsteps, you can do this from sound effects libraries in your editing program. But in general, when you need hundreds of tiny sound effects, it is easier to do them with Foley

For more information on Sound for motion pictures, see Sound Design in the Movie Making Manual. For more information on Foley, see the section Foley in the Movie Making Manual. (Note: "Foley" stands for Jack Foley who pioneered this kind of sound effects creating.)

Visual Effects


When doing the basic edit, blank frames or storyboard frames are used in place of visual elements. Once the effects shots are finished, they must be inserted into the edit.

Titles and Credits


Titles can be done any way that you wish. Determining which people to include in the credits can be complicated. This is a good place to make a lot of people angry. Therefore, you must be very careful to list all the people who deserve credit for making the movie. Sometimes, the unions decide this. Sometimes your contracts with the cast and crew decide this. Doing the credits is not as easy as it looks.

Film Scoring


Music creates the mood. Once the edit is complete (with a temp score), the temp score must be replaced by the final score. For more information on film scoring, see the section Music/Film Scoring in the Movie Making Manual.

Breakdown into reels


A motion picture must be in manageable pieces for distribution and projection. In the break between reels, there must be no sound or picture.

Conform the Negative


Most of the time, it is not possible to edit at the highest possible resolution. In these cases, up until now, editing is off-line. If there is no digital intermediary, you need to conform the negative.

Prepare for Distribution


This should be in the marketing section because it is done after you have a distributor but before the distributor accepts delivery of the motion picture and all its elements. Therefore, only after you have sold the movie, do you learn what film formats are required. This is a hidden expense can be rather nasty. If you have not planned ahead, this can cost you a fortune. Read Robert Rodriguez' Rebel without a Crew which is about the making of "El Mariachi" This book should be required reading in all film schools.

Animated Feature Films


Note that if you are making an animated feature-length motion picture, the procedures above are done in a slightly different order.