"Making an indie feature is a wonderful experience, but it is also a grueling one, especially in post once the excitement of the shoot has long since past," notes producer/director David Krae of Toronto's Aquila Pictures, who recently finished his first feature, The House. "Be as prepared as you can and learn as much as you can along the way," he advises. "Remember, nothing goes exactly as planned. A lot of people will promise you many things - some will deliver - some will not. Your job is to finish your movie and carry it all the way to the marketplace so you can get it sold and make more movies."
HDV IS IN THE HOUSE
Described as "a cross between a character drama and a dark comedy," The House (www.thehousemovie.com/) is the first of Krae's 10 screenplays to be produced. A Toronto native who had been living in LA where he worked in production and as an actor, Krae returned to his home town with the aim of directing his first feature. While he was looking at cameras he discovered that DP Kevin C.W. Wong, editor Thomas "Chopsocky" Lieu and line producer Ian Chan, who comprise 4Lanes Productions, were beta testing JVC's HDV camera and Lumiere file-conversion software. It was serendipity, and soon The House was in production.
For Black Dahlia, period footage is being captured on a 24p SD Panasonic camera while contemporary footage is being shot in 24p HD. Wes Paster (left) offlines the film on a FCP HD system while shooting continues. Director Ramzi Abed is at right.
Wong shot the feature with multiple JVC JY-HD10 HDV cameras, which offer 720 progressive horizontal lines of resolution in a native format of 16:9 so no cropping (resolution loss) is required when delivering for a widescreen final product.
Wong and production designer Peter Wilde conferred about how to light and shoot The House to give a very distinctive look to the film. "I found the HDV format pretty clean," says Wong. "It was quite sharp and the colors very contained. We had to do only a little adjustment in post."
"It's a tribute to Kevin's talent that we have such beautiful looking images," comments Krae. "When he sent some raw still frames to JVC they asked what filters he used on the camera, but it was just the bare lens. With clean, color-rich master footage, [we didn't have to do] a lot of 'fixing it in post' [which)] saved a lot of money."
Editor Alex Ferrari used Final Cut Pro V.4.5 to cut Push, a dramatic thriller shot on DV.
Simultaneous with Wong shooting The House, Lieu was capturing from tape and formatting M2T files using LumiereHD. Next he demultiplexed M2T files to M2V files readable by Apple Final Cut Pro HD for the online and master. Then he demultiplexed the files again to DV-NTSC, a lower-resolution format for offline editing.
Lieu, who's been using Final Cut for the past five years, rough cut scenes for Krae, got his feedback and then honed the shots in a "very collaborative process," says Krae. "Every time we took the film through another step it evolved, yet the final product remained very close to the original script. In the editing process we worked painstakingly to capture those moments where the magic happened."
Lieu ran the Final Cut project files on a VideoRAID5 Medea drive and stored footage on a stack of LaCie drives for 5TB of hard drive space. He was able to online the footage on his system by replacing the DV offline clips with M2V clips. He output the completed movie as Targa sequence since "most post houses are based on Linux systems and still do not accept MPEG-2 [QuickTime] formats," Krae explains.
Matt Chesse (top) likes the portability of Final Cut Pro. He using it to cut Ellie Parker, an early Naomi Watts vehicle.
Technicolor in LA handled the conversion and blew up the HDV footage to 35mm. "They did a great job; we're very pleased with the result," says Krae.
Although he reports that "all the post houses we've gone to have been very generous helping us with tests," it "would be nice if they were more onboard with HDV and DV features. There's still some resistance by the larger post houses [to working with these formats]. They're not accustomed to people like us. We're a lot of trouble to these guys."
Krae urges indie filmmakers to give serious thought to audio post. "If you don't have a clean stereo or Dolby mix you can't sell your film," he points out. "Be aware that almost all major motion pictures also have a high level of ADR. If you want to make a professional product you have to do what the pros do."
Krae went to Toronto's Renegade Audio for dialogue editing, Foley and sound effects, and thanks to "very affordable, high-quality prosumer-level technology" he was able to build an ADR studio in his house "for a fraction of the price of renting one."
The House will make the film festival circuit and aims for theatrical distribution.
The latest documentary from veteran filmmaker Marc Levin, The Protocols of Zion (www.blowbackproductions.com/) examines the alarming upsurge in anti-Semitism worldwide since 9/11. It premiered at Sundance 2005 and was screened at the Berlin Film Festival. Thinkfilm will be releasing it theatrically in North America this fall, and it will air on HBO in 2006.
Smile went through a 2K digital intermediate process at Matchframe Digital Intermediates.
As unscripted films typically incorporate interviews, archival material and news footage, documentaries offer their own set of post challenges. Protocols was true to its genre in making use of myriad sources, but it also posed a challenge of a different sort.
"I've done 20 to 30 films, and this is the first where I'm a character in the documentary," notes Levin. "That became an issue in editing. I'm a fairly confident guy, but I was self conscious about being on camera, so I looked to [editor] Ken Eluto" for guidance. "It was a matter of me letting go. I always told Ken to keep me at a minimum, but he showed me an alternate cut, with me on camera, that he thought was better. The more we screened it for people, the more I saw that was what people responded to."
Levin says he "never imagined this film would be as personal as it became." Not only was the director an active on-camera participant, challenging people's anti-Semitic views, but also Levin's father joined him on "the journey," and Levin's roots and relationship with his family became part of the story.
Protocols was shot by cinematographer Mark Benjamin with a Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO-50 Cinema 24p camera, a camera he's come to consider "the documentary camera of choice" for its lightweight, softer edge, similarity to 16mm and native 16:9 and 24p. He also used Panasonic's AG-DVX100A Mini-DV 3-CCD camcorder as a second, run-and-gun camera on the shoot. Footage of Levin and his father was shot on Digital Betacam before the production opted for the SDX900.
For the offline with Eluto, ACE, the footage was downconverted to DVCAM and digitized into an Avid Media Composer V.7.2. Levin, a former editor who began in the business as an apprentice on the Maysles Brothers' legendary Gimme Shelter, has developed an "unspoken language" with Eluto, with whom he has cut four other films. "We don't even have to talk," says Levin. "Sometimes I'd come in and leave ideas on the Avid, he'd see a shot and [see] where I was going."
Eluto trimmed about 60 hours of original footage plus stock clips into a first rough-cut of about two and a half hours. "Then it was a matter of figuring out the best narrative structure and getting it to about 90 minutes," he recalls. "Interweaving Marc's personal story was one of the main challenges. One of our goals with such heavy subject matter was to have elements of humor while maintaining emotional resonance."
Eluto delivered a sequence to online editor Ken Sirulnick, president of New York City's Glue Editing & Design, who finished Protocols on Avid Symphony. To integrate the Digital Betacam footage with the DVCPRO-50 24p footage, he used 3 Prong's Speed Ramp plug-in to simulate the 24p motion and Symphony's color correction capabilities to match the look. Glue partner Steve Pequignot prebuilt moves on stills, replicating those crafted for the offline, with Stage Tools' Moving Pictures plug-in. These moves were then incorporated into the online for fine tuning and color correction.
Sirulnick cleaned up stock and news footage in Symphony, resized it and panned and scanned to fit the clips into the film's anamorphic mode. Glue also redesigned and rebuilt the rough opening title sequence using Symphony and Sapphire plug-ins. The end credit roll was recreated in HD at 1080/24p in Glue's Avid DS Nitris in preparation for an eventual film-out. Upconversion to 1080i/30 HD, a requirement for Sundance, was performed at PostWorks, NY.
REVISITING ELLIE PARKER
Matt Chesse's background as a commercial editor, formerly with Crew Cuts in Santa Monica and now with LA's Cut & Run (www.cutandrun.tv/), has proved invaluable as he "bounces back and forth" to feature projects. "Commercials are kind of a crash course for storytelling," he says. "I've learned a lot of tricks, like time compression, that I can apply to films."
From his indie film cutting debut with Everything Put Together, Chesse went on to edit Monster's Ball, which earned Halle Berry an Oscar, Finding Neverland, which netted Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination, and Stay with Ewan MacGregor and Naomi Watts. He's now in prepro with Stranger Than Fiction.
A constant throughout his longform career has been Ellie Parker, writer/director Scott Coffey's first feature. Starring a then-unknown Naomi Watts, Ellie Parker tells the story of an LA actress dealing with the insecurities of her profession. Initially, Chesse cut Ellie Parker as a half-hour series pitch to the likes of HBO and Showtime. "Scott shot on a consumer DV camera and the tapes were dubbed to 3/4-inch, so I could cut on an older Avid Media Composer," he recalls. "A lot of people around town saw the episode, and it got a cult following. It had a kind of Curb Your Enthusiasm rhythm to it."
Coffey shot two more episodes of Ellie Parker, which Chesse edited, one on an Avid Xpress DV. Then Chesse moved on to Monster's Ball, and Watts hit it big with Mulholland Drive becoming too high-priced for a prospective cable series. But Watts loved the Ellie character and in the summer of 2003 went back into production with Coffey to shoot "enough material to connect the three episodes. Scott totally changed direction and reinvented Ellie Parker as a feature," Chesse explains.
The new direction required Chesse to "start over on Final Cut Pro HD so I could be mobile and cut wherever I was going to be." He added new footage but where he had "nailed" scenes in the previous cuts he needed to "stick to the blueprint" he had established. "I had to replicate what we had and insert the new material keeping a similar rhythm and making sure Ellie Parker was still the same character four years later. Naomi's ability to find the character, to get raw the same way she had earlier when she had less to lose was very impressive."
Editing on Final Cut "was not as easy as breathing, which was what editing on Avid had become to me," Chesse acknowledges. "The best thing was Final Cut's portability: I carried it with me when we were mixing Stay at Skywalker Ranch. We called Ellie Parker the 'movie-in-a-bag.'" He found Final Cut to be "very stable," however, and discovered that it was "set up really well for exporting for finishing."
Chesse's edit was laid off to 20-minute Digital Betacam reels for audio post with a dialogue editor, sound designer and composer, "all new things for Ellie but what we needed to be fully-fleshed out for Sundance" where the feature premiered last January. The material was upconverted to HD with a Teranex system at Laser Pacific in Hollywood, then taken to The Syndicate, Santa Monica, where Beau Leon did tape-to-tape color correction on a da Vinci 2K and MB Emigh conformed on Discreet Flame. Leon and Emigh had previously teamed with Chesse on Everything Put Together, and Emigh did the title sequence and digital fixes for Monster's Ball.
"Beau brought so much to the color," says Chesse. "We had a lot that was blown out, that was yellow and dingy. Beau was able to balance the color and give it some girth. It was very exciting to watch Ellie get stronger and stronger."
Bruce Nyznik, dialogue editor for Stay, served as post sound supervisor on Ellie Parker. He suggested working with Pirate Audio's Peter Cole, who did extensive audio clean-ups, while maintaining a guerrilla-style sense of intimacy to the sound, and performed the Dolby stereo mix.
The feature was cut onto one long HD reel for projection at Sundance where Chesse says it got "lots of bites" and should soon be on a big screen near you.
Smile (www.smilethemovie.com/) tells the story of how the international charity organization Operation Smile, which provides free reconstructive surgery in developing countries to children with cleft lips and cleft palates, changed the lives of a Malibu teenager and her counterpart in rural China. The feature film is based on the experiences of writer/director Jeff Kramer's own daughter with Operation Smile in the Philippines. The motion picture premiered in California theaters last month and is now rolling out nationally.
Dave Parmenter, a 36-year industry veteran and Smile's post producer, put together a full 2K digital intermediate package with Burbank's Matchframe Digital Intermediate (MDI). "The film was shot in Malibu and China on 35mm Fuji negative and was originally budgeted for a traditional film finish," he reports. "I was brought in when Smile was in editorial, and we knew there were going to be 192 subtitles. [With a traditional film finish], as soon as a subtitle came up we'd be two generations away from the original and they'd pop out against the gorgeous footage of China."
So Parmenter proposed a DI solution. EDLs from editor Maysie Hoy, who cut Smile on Final Cut Pro, and the negative went to Magic Film & Video Works in Burbank where Syd Cole pulled select shots and made select rolls for scanning. MDI's David Waters did 2K scans of the takes with four-frame head and tail handles. "Then we were completely in the digital domain," says Parmenter. "We could manipulate the data and not touch the film."
Eighty hours of FilmLight's Baselight color correction was done on 1K proxy files by Julius Friede, working with Kramer and DP Ed Pei. "We had countless windows within each frame for color correction," says Parmenter. He cites an interior shot of a car with the beach and ocean seen out the window completely blown out on the film. "We isolated that and brought it down so you could see the people and the beach."
Concurrent with the color correction was frame-by-frame dirt removal on the 2K files. The final conform was done on the 2K files with first-generation fade-ins, fade-outs and dissolves. The subtitles, with crisp drop shadows, were inserted first-generation into the 2K files as well, so "a shot with a subtitle looked exactly like a shot without one," Parmenter explains. Four weeks of sound editorial, including a Dolby 5.1 mix, was performed after the picture was locked.
The DI process enabled numerous deliverables to be created to maximize Smile's earning potential. In addition to a film-out at MDI with FotoKem Lab providing the film prints, Deleah Emery used the 2K files to generate HD D-5 masters. From those masters NTSC and PAL masters in various aspect ratios were made.
"The advantage of what you can do with DI is huge," observes Parmenter. "DI is definitely becoming the norm. It costs more than a traditional film finish, but what you end up with is magnificent and producers and DPs recognize the benefits. With the prices of DI packages coming down and post budgets increasing a bit [to accommodate the process], we're at the point where we can meet somewhere in the middle."
PUSH-ING ON 24P MINI DV
Alex Ferrari returned to his roots as an editor when he cut and post supervised the dramatic thriller Push from first-time director Dave Rodriguez. Ferrari, who has been directing commercials for the past six years, opened The Enigma Factory (www.enigmafactory.com/) in Hollywood, FL, last year with the idea of eventually providing post for his own productions.
Push came to Ferrari as a script with Chad Lindberg and Chazz Palminteri signed for the leads and Michael Rappaport, Otto Sanchez, Charlotte Ayanna and Paul Ben-Victor in supporting roles. "They were thinking of shooting 16mm or HD but had a lot of above-the-line costs," Ferrari notes. "They needed the kind of image quality required for a possible film-out."
Ferrari suggested 24p Mini DV, and DP Steve Goodman used Panasonic's DVX-100A camera for the production, which shot entirely in the Miami-Broward area. A former Avid editor, Ferrari says he invested in a Final Cut Pro 4.5 HD system. "I've based my company around Apple products."
Assistant editor Tim Rousseau logged 30 hours of footage via FireWire and synched audio from the original DATs. Ferrari took just two and a half weeks to get the first cut of the story about the freefall of three 20-something preppies into a world of criminality. "About 85 percent of that first cut made it in," he reports. "The director and I have very similar sensibilities. As a director myself I look at scenes for performance and storytelling efficiencies as well as from an editing perspective."
Ferrari kept the story's energy flowing with tight editing, jump cutting and double and triple cutting; he tapped Apple's Shake for clean-ups. He was also charged with designing the opening title sequence with visual effects supervisor Sean Falcon and visual effects artist Dan Cregan. Ferrari shot Mini DV B-roll footage of the back alleys of South Beach, which he combined with Shake, Adobe Photoshop and Alias Maya type treatments. All color correction was done in Final Cut.
"Between Final Cut and a handful of filter packages we were able to create a very customized, stylized look," says Ferrari. Sound design was created by Mark Roumelis, one of the partners in Hollywood, FL's Cmpozr, Inc. Push was mastered on Digital Betacam for film festival submission and distributor dubs. When needed, "I'll output a clean version without color correction and bring it into DI for recoloring, then we'll record out to film" he explains.
Ferrari previously directed, co-wrote (with Jorge Flores Rodriguez) and edited a 19-minute thriller, Broken, (www.whatisbroken.com/) about an abducted woman who discovers the key to her survival lies in a recurring dream. The $8,000 short film was shot on Mini DV and features over 100 effects shots done in Shake. Ferrari took Broken to Sundance where it "got a lot of attention" and is developing a feature-length version of the tale.
"The tools are there now with Mini DV and Final Cut; it's up to the artists to learn how to use them. There's no excuse for not being able to make a feature or short film that can compete with a studio production," he declares. "With Broken we proved we could make a short film in Hollywood, FL, at a quality level [on a par with] Hollywood, CA. We showed that you can compete with the big boys."
24P HD FOR BLACK DAHLIA
A film within a film, Black Dahlia is the story of Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia murder victim whose grizzly death remains unsolved. Set partly in contemporary LA and partly in 1947, the movie from director and co-writer Ramzi Abed explores the last two weeks of Short's life.
Abed is shooting the contemporary portion of the story of Black Dahlia on 24p HD using a Panasonic VariCam and the post-war portion on 24p SD with a Panasonic DVX-100A camera, creating different looks and color palettes for the time periods in-camera.
Abed decided to shoot and offline Black Dahlia (www.blackdahliamovie.com/) concurrently. "We're now just past the halfway point in production and are almost at the halfway point in cutting," he reports. "A lot of distributors are interested in our film and the best way to keep them updated is with promo teaser packages of scenes." Having edited scenes is also important for the film's additional financing and gives the filmmaker "a good way to test the cameras, to make sure we were getting the color the way we want it when we go into full post.
"By fine-cutting scenes as we shoot, we get closer and closer to the final scenes and know what we'll need for pickups and for sound and the final mix," he adds.
Wes Paster is offlining Black Dahlia on his Final Cut Pro HD system. "For me, the storyboards and script are blueprints: everything happens in post," says Abed. "We're really reshaping the film."
Paster, who is also cutting the current season of The Bachelor, taps Red Giant's Magic Bullet plug-in, a package of adjustable filters, to give each era a unique look.
Abed is a former post supervisor who has shot 16mm short films, which he cut on Avid. "Final Cut is an interesting change, it's pretty astounding," he reports. "We can bring everything in from DVCPRO HD and Mini DV uncompressed and export it all out to HD at the end. The final da Vinci color correction will be a crucial stage."
John Neff, sound mixer on Mulholland Drive, is handling the film's sound design. The movie will feature an extensive jazz and swing score by David J of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets. "We started scoring before we shot a frame to set the mood," Abed notes.