HOLLYWOOD — How fitting that The Social Network, David Fincher’s new movie about maverick social networking entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, would employ a highly-inventive workflow using Apple Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe’s After Effects CS5 and Premiere Pro CS5.
“The principles are still the same for any given workflow,” says The Social Network assistant editor Tyler Nelson, who also worked on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. “You still have to go from point A (your edit system) to point B, (your conform) to point C (your online to your DI). Anybody can do it, you just have to learn the tricks of the trade to do it in the most efficient way.
“The footage is on our Xsan,” he continues. “There’s no reason to call a studio and say, ‘Can you scan these files for us?’ When I output an EDL I can run it from six computers simultaneously to debayer what I need to debayer. We’re just accessing the files we have locally in a different way than we did on Button.”
The Social Network was shot on the Red One using the Mysterium-X chip set mostly at 4K 2:1 4096x2048 Redcode 42 and released as a 2K digital intermediate. Additional high-speed photography was shot 4K 2.169 4096x1888 at RedCode 36.
As lead data wrangler, Nelson first had the R3D files transcoded to ProRes 422 LT for offline editing in Final Cut Pro using the Red Rocket card and RocketCine-X. He used FileMaker Pro to keep track of all the footage, files and visual effects in a master database. He wrote a script in Filemaker that took the Final Cut Pro EDL and sent it through RedLine in Red Alert to generate mostly 2K DPX files from the original Red footage for visual effects and final conform.
The Social Network was conformed for digital intermediate in After Effects CS5. Nelson imported the DPX sequences as a multiple layered composition in After Effects and lined that up frame accurate to a QuickTime reference movie exported from the offline edit and imported into the layer above the DPX files.
“I used Premiere as a stepping stone to get my EDL from Final Cut talking to After Effects,” describes Nelson. “Because Premiere and After Effects talk to each other, I was able to bring an offline into Premiere and open that same file in After Effects. This made all of my edits in Final Cut Pro and my layers in After Effects match. The tool that I wrote is the secret behind having my DPX frames match up to my offline edit.”
The movie contains nearly 1,000 visual effects shots that were handled by Lola VFX, Savage Visual Effects, Outback Post, Eden FX and Ollin Studio VFX. Nelson provided mainly 2K DPX plates to the vendors depending on the quality of the image. There were some night scenes that were rendered at 4K and then processed by Lowry Digital for noise reduction and sharpening.
Having the final conform in After Effects enabled Nelson to do additional effects work. “So if anything needed to be painted, anything needed to be comped, additional repositioning, stabilization whatever needed to be done [we could do it].” At least 150 effects shots were done in-house using After Effects, SynthEyes and a plug-in called Immigration that was used to help auto relink offline layers to DPX image sequences.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
On the story side, with a script by Aaron Sorkin, it fell to Fincher’s dynamic editing duo Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter to turn nearly 256 hours of footage into a movie that was less than two hours long.
“It’s a human story about success and greed and clamoring to the top,” says Baxter, excitedly. “Someone invents something, and who owns it? It’s a timeless tale. It’s not just a study on Zuckerberg, it’s also about the key players around him. That’s the story; Facebook’s a vehicle for it.”
“This movie demands a lot out of the audience,” adds Wall. “It’s obviously a lot of words; it’s a lot of information. Our goal was to make it digestible and to stay slightly ahead of the audience in terms of what was happening, but not too far ahead.”
“The script is so tightly put together,” notes Baxter. “We didn’t drop any scenes, we didn’t have to shorten scenes. It was very well written, and very well executed by David Fincher. It was easy to over cut the movie because the dialogue can be so rapid. We did have to be aware to hang back and not get too aggressive and too fast, and not just cut for cutting sake on each line.”
Wall recalls, “The first scene in The Social Network is eight pages of dialogue. One of the things that I started doing on Zodiac was breaking the scenes down into micro-scenes or sub-scenes. David is very specific with his actors and he’s very close to the script. At first blush, the takes look the same, yet he’s really auguring in a very specific tone. The only way to find that tone and appreciate the difference between takes is to subdivide them and compare subdivisions of each take against the subdivision of another take. There were probably maybe 10 or 12 subdivisions of that scene that I broke down accordingly. By breaking them down and looking at these subsets against one another you start to appreciate that, ‘Oh, this part of this take is a lot better than this other take.”
“You are never fixing things, you are always helping things,” says Baxter. “Fincher’s always got things technically correct. In regards to moving the camera, he will do that to transition into scenes. Or if he’s got larger scenes that are playing between rooms he will swing us out of one thing and into the next.
“There’s a lot of deposition room scenes, which is current day, so to speak,” he continues, “and we’re intercutting that with going back to previous tales of what they are talking about in the deposition room. So the deposition room can be quite static, but very engaging because it’s aggressive.”
“Whenever you cross cut you create tension,” echoes Wall, “visually and dramatically. Whenever we had those opportunities to cross cut between the past and the present it underlines the structure of the movie. You have this through line [the deposition room], which does not appear until about a quarter or a third a way through the movie. Then basically you’re looking backwards once you introduce the deposition room, which structurally is great because it allows you to make jumps that you wouldn’t normally be able to make if were just telling a story in realtime.”
“This film came together fast,” recalls Baxter. “Our first assembly was only about four minutes off in length from the final film. We probably cut it too quick to begin with. Then we had another pass where we loosened it up. This one was so enjoyable and it did come together with ease.”
Concludes Wall, “David gives you so many options you can craft something that’s perfectly symmetrical; you can do this perfect version of a scene or the film. The problem is that it can get somewhat predictable in terms of where you are cutting and where you are going to go with your next shots. I tried to be a little more freewheeling in terms of scene structure with this.”