Confessions of a Post Production Supervisor
There’s humor in filmmaking. To wit …
What’s the difference between a DP and God? God doesn’t think he’s a DP.
Why is thunder after lightning? Even God has to wait for sound.
How many grips does it take to change a light bulb? “Not my department”
How do you know if a filmmaker is at a party? Don’t worry, he’ll tell you.
But if you don’t hire a post-production supervisor to manage the most critical aspect of your film – it’s completion? Well, that’s not funny …
“Post-Production Supervisor are too often an afterthought or totally overlooked,” says Indie Film Hustle maestro Alex Ferrari in a serious tone. “But failure to engage one – the right one – and your film will suffer. And everyone will notice.”
Can you get along without a Post Production Supervisor? “Sure, as long as you’re fluent in every aspect of post – from final edit mix and assembly and color correction to visual effects and deliverables,” Alex shrugs. “But odds are your name isn’t Robert Rodriguez.”
And Alex Ferrari should know. Although he’s an award-winning director, Alex has spent a good portion of his two decades in the film industry off the set … and in the miasma known as Post.
As a filmmaker myself, who coincidentally engaged Alex’s Numb Robot production house to handle post, my main goal was to make a good film and hopefully make money. I achieved the first one because of a great script, crew, post production supervisor and team. At the end of the day my wife didn’t murder me or file for divorce (yet) because I did out what I set to do – and hopefully, the film will set me up for other opportunities. So, without further ado, here’s Alex’s insights for you:
1) What does a Post Production Supervisor do, and why do I need him?
(Alex refrains from slapping me and, with much restraint, proceeds to answer the question…)
ALEX: The Post Production Supervisor is responsible for the workflow for your film. Once you get to picture lock, they ensure a smooth process and align the right resources so everything moves smoothly and cohesively. Just as your editor syncs the right clips and scenes, so to does the Post Production Supervisor synch the final assembly with sound and music, then adds visual effects and color correction and organizes everything – labeling files, splitting tracks – to satisfy distribution deliverable requests.
This person is not only essential in Post, but if you bring them in during pre-production they can help by looking at the script and assisting the Line Producer in creating a more accurate budget for the film. I mean, normally Line Producers do the budget; yeah, I get that. But most Line Producers stick in a number without knowing the true cost – or even a cheaper or alternative way to do something. If you’re on a tight budget, getting the Post Production Supervisor involved early can help assure an efficient production and avoid those back-breaking “fix it in post” expenses down the road.
2) Okay, so I contact the Post Production Supervisor once I lock picture, right?
(Alex takes a deep breath, balls his fists and speaks slowly …)
ALEX: Most people wait until then – but that’s not what a filmmaker should do. At the very least, a filmmaker – particularly a newbie – should hire a Post Production Supervisor, like myself, for a few hours of consulting to review the script and make recommendations about how to save money and stretch resources in the planning stages. 98% of people don’t do that – but only 2% of the population are highly intelligent so go figure.
But the right answer about when to engage a Post Production Supervisor is when the money is in place. That’s when you should build your core team, which should include your entertainment lawyer, producer, director, DP, line producer, and post-production supervisor. Or if you have some money and need to build a budget and smart workflow, that’s when you might want to start thinking about your Post-Production Supervisor.
3) What types of Post Production Supervisor are there, and where do I find one?
(Alex relaxes, as evidently, I’ve hit on a good question. Either that or he likes the word “Supe”…)
ALEX: There are basically two types: Type 1 is the afore-mentioned Robert Rodriguez type that can do almost everything. They’re hard to find. Type 2 is more of a general contractor who knows what needs to be done and gets the right people to do it. Kind of like a director who builds a crew to execute his vision. There’s also a Type 3, which is a production house – but they can be more expensive, may not specialize in every aspect of post-production and, if they are large and your budget is small, probably won’t give you the level of attention a direct-hire would.
As for where to find one, there are a few ways:
- Do a Google search
- Look on IMDB for films similar to yours
- Visit your state’s film office online and search for post-producer supervisors in their production handbook
- Or, when you are interviewing line producers, ask who they recommend
But here’s the important thing – find someone who is comfortable and experienced working on your budget level. There are phenomenal Post-Production Supervisors on blockbusters, but they won’t know how to cut corners or manage the tight parameters of micro-budget movies.
4) How much should a filmmaker budget for a Post-Production Supervisor?
ALEX: It varies on how well prepared or inept the filmmaker is because there are invariably complications in post-production. But a good range is 15-20% of your budget, which might seem like a lot until you realize a good chunk of your film’s life is spent in post-production and it is the most important time in terms of delivering a final, polished and professional product.
5) How much time should a film be in post?
ALEX: See the first sentence in the answer above – it depends on how well the filmmaker has their act together in delivering the picture lock. And is it really the final picture lock – I can’t tell you how many films I’ve worked on where a mistake is discovered and BANG! – it’s a do-over. Even adding a frame can knock the whole process out of synch and cause costs to mount.
6) You’re serious … a frame?
ALEX: Absolutely, even one frame – not a scene, mind you – can cost a lot of money because now the entire timing is off. You have to look at it like a train leaving the station and heading toward its final destination. To stop the train and return it to the original station because something was not right, and then to start the journey all over again – well, imagine the cost and delay.
Put this in bold: Once a picture is locked, all dollars go to post production. It has to stay locked.
7) Okay, so at picture lock (in bold) what should be delivered to a Post-Production Supervisor?
ALEX: The filmmaker (or editor) should deliver a QuickTime reference file (with time code and shot reference), the EDL (“Edit Decision List”), and any raw footage on a hard drive. Then the “Supe” rebuilds the film in an online suite and sends out the mix for sound, music and color correction. Some Post-Production Supervisors can do color correction and visual effects themselves, but usually, you want a specialist to do the sound mix and music score. Sound is the most important thing in a movie – people might forgive bad picture, but bad sound? That’s a death knell.
8) Wait a minute – visual effects? Why would I need visual effects for a low budget film?
ALEX: If you plan to get your film broadcast or even on platforms that require E&O (“Errors & Omissions”) insurance, there’s a chance you’ll need to blur out logos, license plates, faces, etc. Maybe not, but it happens more than you might think. Other films might not want to deal with the insurance hassles if guns are used – so visual effects would insert flares for realistic rubber guns. That’s just one example.
9) How long should the process take?
(At this point Alex asks me how long my film was in post-production, we both roll our eyes, and banish the thought.)
ALEX: Ideally, if all the stars are aligned, a Post-Production Supervisor should be able to hand off deliverables within 6 weeks or so. That’s how long THIS IS MEG took. But often you’re waiting for someone – like music. I’m always waiting on the music. Or even visual effects, depending on how much work is involved. If it’s taking more than two months then there’s a problem. But unless you up against a deadline to submit for Sundance, take the time to get your film right. I’ve even had to re-edit some films in post, then re-assemble, and get the music and sound synched. Color correction is also critical – it’s the makeover your film needs to make it attractive to everyone who lays eyes on it.
10) What are the things a filmmaker should have “in the can” for festivals and distributors?
ALEX: A QuickTime master and compressed Vimeo link, Blu-ray (5.1 and stereo), and a DVD for screeners (not to screen at a festival!) – if a festival is screening DVDs, run away. You might also consider burning into the bottom of the DVD screeners “for screening purposes only”. Also, a Vimeo Plus or Vimeo Pro membership is essential to upload your QuickTime master, compressed master, and teaser/trailer.
11) Lastly, any “horror stories” you’d like to share?
ALEX: Too many brother. Filmmaking is an inexact science and it’s the human element that makes it frustrating and fantastic. Here’s a quick one purely as an example of how inexperience and ego can get in the way. I was working on a (hypothetical) film with two well-known stars and a first-time director.
Let’s call him “FTD”. So FTD thought he was Steven Spielberg and he hired a DP who thought he was Roger Deakins. So FTD and DP shot on 3 different cameras; none of them calibrated, one with a dead pixel and the piece de resistance? The third had a dirty lens … for the entire movie. And oh yeah, attitude the entire way – everything was someone else’s fault. Basically what they delivered had to be re-edited. A ton of work, at a pretty high cost. In the end, it did get distribution because it was (mostly) saved in post-production and because of the name recognition of the two stars. But that train left the station and came back several times!
Also check out this podcast episode: How a Post-Production Supervisor Can Save Your Butt! It could save you a ton of cash!
Thank you Alex. See you in Post!
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