This is the final instalment in my ‘DoP Life’ series of blogs. In this post we look at my work in Post-Production of a project.
As the name suggests Post-Production comes after the shoot and encompasses editing of the footage, sound mixing, colour grading and producing the final deliverable, whether that be a .mp4 for the web or a DCP for cinema release.
So, after we finish shooting I say goodbye to the Director and Producer and sail off into the sunset… well sometimes – but most of the time I have some sort of involvement in Post-Production (here on in described as Post). That said, my involvement in Post is generally in the Pre-Production stage of a project! Confused?!
As with my two previous blogs, this could also be split into scripted (drama, promos etc.) and non-scripted (corporate, documentaries etc.) content but I am going to avoid that on this occasion and look at the DoP’s role in Post as a whole.
Now, before we even get on set I would discuss some of the technical aspects of the film making process in detail with the Editor, Producer and Director before the shoot.
It may seem silly, but discussing how you plan on actually recording your footage with Post-Production team ahead of the shoot can save much time converting footage or a certain amount of fiddling to get thing to work further down the line. As a general rule of thumb 25p – 16:9 – 1080×1920 – HD is standard settings in the UK but variations on this can occur when doing specialist projects. For instance, when matching other footage, working on projects for overseas transmission and cinema releases. So I will discuss; image quality (HD, UHD, 4K), frame rates (23.98p, 24p 25p) & aspect ratios (4:3, 16:9, 2.35:1) ahead of the shoot with the Director and involve Post in these conversations so they are up to speed with what we are planning and can chip in if they see any problems or have any requests.
I will also discuss with Post the codec we plan to shoot with. Now each camera seems to record in a different format, or codec, and sometimes requires certain plugins to be installed on an edit machine to make them work. I ensure Post are fully up to speed with the codec we want to shoot with and ensure they can pull this into the edit suite with no issues.
Further, if we plan to shoot in a Log profile (more on this in LOG & LUTs) I will ensure Post are familiar with how to deal with this ‘flat’ looking footage.
To help with the seamless progression between Production and Post I would generally send Post (during Pre-Production) some sample clips, shot using the same settings we plan on shooting with, to ensure they can handle the footage and that there are no problems. Most of the time this isn’t required but when working with new clients, cameras and formats it is always good to test!
LOG & LUTs
For most productions these days I am shooting with a LOG picture profile on the camera. What is LOG I hear you say? Well it is a way of cramming as much dynamic range as possible into a picture to give the most scope for colour grading and Post-Prodcution. Wonderful – I hear you say – what’s the catch? Well, as you are cramming about 14 stops of dynamic range into an image and displaying on a display (such as a standard computer monitor or TV) that can only show around 5-6 stops of dynamic range, you end up with a picture that looks very low contrast. Also, as you are recording a wider colour space than displayed on a standard display, you end up with a picture that looks desaturated and ‘flat’. To make the picture look more normal you have to apply a LUT to the picture.
LUTs transform the image in two ways; firstly in exposure, making the picture look more contrasty, and then in colour, making it look less flat and washed out. LUTs are just text files that you apply to an image using a plugin or app in your editing suite. Most edit suites come with basic LUTs for the major camera manufactures these days but generally these are very ‘video looking’ and generally not to my taste!
Usually I will send Post the LUT we used in the camera as a reference before grading or to apply to the finished film if Post is tight. Now, I hear what you are saying, if you record all that information but can’t display it why do it in the first place? Well, LOG pictures allow you to manipulate the images much more than recording the usual 5-6 stops of dynamic range in a standard picture profile, for example, it allows you to adjust exposure with little noticeable picture quality loss. Equally, as there is much more colour information in a LOG picture over the standard REC709 image, it allows you to manipulate the colours much more too. It also gives subtle image improvements in the extreme highlights and shadows of the image where a normal picture would just blow out or become noise!
Now, for projects that don’t want to deal with LUTs I do have a halfway house option with my Sony FS7 camera kit that allows me to ‘burn in’ my LUT of preference into the cameras footage, providing an ‘instantly graded’ image out of the camera for the edit. Now there are some flaws and benefits to this approach, but if considered can work well! The flaw – dynamic range, you don’t get the benefit of being able to adjust exposure drastically in Post as if you had recorded in a LOG profile. The benefit – colour, you do get some of the flexibility of colour manipulation that a LUT offers, allowing you to get ‘The Look’ you want in camera. For me this is great as while I shoot with the wonderful Sony FS7 camera I really don’t like the Sony colours and skin tone. Working with either a burnt in LUT or LOG picture with a LUT applied in Post I can use manipulations that make the pictures look more like film stock or, as is quite often the case, the Arri Alexa (with it’s fantastic skin tones), depending on the LUT I select.
THE LOOK & THE COLOURIST
For most corporate and documentary productions this is about as far as I go with working on a ‘Look’ with Post. But with much scripted content, like drama and promos, I get the benefit of working with a specialist Colourist.
A Colourist brings so much to the table and where possible I will work with the colourist ahead of the shoot to get a LUT we can apply ‘in camera’ that is the closest to the way we want our finished picture to look. Basically, on these projects, instead of picking an off the shelf LUT, they develop one to use during the shoot and then grade the image, from scratch, after the footage has been edited using the ‘Look’ we developed in Pre-Production as a starting point.
With these productions I generally attend the grade as the image can be manipulated so much I want to ensure the Colourist is on the same page as me!
Overall, a lot of the work I do in Post-Production is actually done in Pre-Production to ensure Post-Production runs smoothly. If I get it right I sometimes do get to ride off into the sunset after the shoot. Of cause ensuring the editor is happy with everything!
That said, I do love being sent first edits and sample clips to look at and ensure everything is looking as I intended. While every film is the Director’s film I feel that I want to ensure I give the Director my best and that includes ensuring everything is looking as I intended!
I hope you have enjoyed this series of ‘DoP Life’ blog posts! They have been really interesting for me to write down my thoughts and approaches to a project. I hope that they are not only useful to those looking to work as a DoP but also to Directors, Producers and Production Managers who want to get an understanding of what work a DoP does and would like to do (with their support) in the other stages of Production other than the shoot itself!
Until my next series, Dan Mears signing off.