Love of post knows no international boundaries, which is why American icon Francis Ford Coppola, Aussie Roger Donaldson, Frenchman Louis Leterrier, and Brit Paul W.S. Anderson essentially all come from the same place as they discuss the strengths and weaknesses of digital cinema, and air their excitement and concerns about digital projection and the year ahead.
Francis Ford Coppola
Youth Without Youth, The Godfather, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now
STRENGTHS: “For me, the strengths of post are now fantastic since electronic cinema — or digital cinema — has all become a reality. In the past, sound was always a very magical element that you could compose in the most subtle way as it was electronic, which is why we in San Francisco [at American Zoetrope] always emphasize sound and always do these big, beautiful soundtracks. We really invented the modern five-track soundtrack for film. And now that cinema has gone digital and is edited on electronic machines and now ultimately will be shot on electronic cameras, the picture which used to be mechanical — you’d glue one piece of film to another — has become as magical as sound.
“So the marriage of picture and sound now is now much more like alchemy, and the whole post process is this playground where you can do all these effects — and I don’t mean effects in the way they’re used in these big effects films or even in these miraculous films like Sin City or 300, where all the scenery is created digitally — but what you can do with effects in very subtle ways, like adding the reflection of something that wasn’t even there in the shot. And subtle effects are always the most beautiful. So it’s a different game entirely now, and post production has become magic essentially, and each year the magic becomes cheaper.”
WEAKNESSES: “The only weakness is that ultimately, for the most part, cinema, like theatre, is the collision of writing and acting. So when you try to rely on effects or digital magic, inevitably it’s never enough in my opinion. Yet you’re tempted to rely on post effects as you can do such amazing stuff now. Cinema can aspire to greatness when it has great acting and writing. And everything else, from visual effects to costume design, cinematography and so on, can support it. But it’s a mistake to think that amazing visual effects alone can make a great film. I don’t know that anyone goes to see a movie just because it’s beautifully photographed or has some wonderful visual effects.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “Post production is steadily going to get cheaper and cheaper, so the idea of these post houses that invested huge sums in these big computers that do all the rendering and stuff — ultimately, that’s not where post opportunities lie. You’re going to be able to do it all on a $5,000, or even a $2,000 laptop. Post production is essentially finishing. You have the shots, you’ve edited and you have the film. Now post becomes all the stuff — the music, sounds effects editing, visual effects — you need to finish the movie. But it’s still hand work and requires people with great talent to do it well. Maybe you can use fewer people because you have so many digital tools now, but it’s still a lot of hand work, and you’ll always need that talent.
THREATS: “I think the big threat is in exhibition. Where will movies be seen ultimately? I think if the captains of industry have their way, you’ll be seeing movies on your cell phone, and I don’t know if that’s a very good thing for movies. But if it makes sense for them, that’s where they’re going to push it.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “It’s been rough with the strikes. Hopefully 2009 will be a lot better and more stable, but of course you never know in this business. A few big hits and everyone’s happy. If box office is down, then it’ll be gloom and doom.”
No Way Out, Thirteen Days, Dante’s Peak, The Bank Job
STRENGTHS: “I remember when I did my first film, Sleeping Dogs, back in ’77, and I had to mix it all in one take. You couldn’t rock ‘n’ roll — you just had to keep going. Now, thanks to digital, you can change one syllable if you want. And post now makes a period piece like The Bank Job, which is set in London in the early ‘70s, so much easier, as you can use visual effects to change buildings and take out anything too modern.
“The other big revolution is that now you can post a film anywhere. We shot The Bank Job in London, but my dad was very ill so I was able to post it all at Omnilab in Melbourne, so I could be close to him. I did the mix, the DI, everything, down there, which would have been impossible years ago.”
WEAKNESSES: “The challenge is not to fall in love with your navel. It’s very easy to become obsessed with quality and lose sight of what you set out to do. It’s a bit like music for me. Some of my favorite music of all time is stuff like Buddy Holly, and the genius of it is just how simple it was. And it’s the same with post effects. Often the simpler and more straightforward you are, the better and more effective it is. Don’t make it all too flowery or get carried away with the technology.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “The digital world offers you so much now. I shot The Bank Job totally digital. We used the Arri D20 digital cameras, which take film lenses, so the look you get is very similar to film. It has the same depth of field and so on, and the big plus is that you really see what you’ve got as you’re shooting. So if anything’s out of focus, you know instantly, and you go home feeling a lot happier, I think. Then I graded it electronically and outputted it to film.”
THREATS: “The weak end of the movie equation is exhibition and screening, and it has been for many years. But I think the new digital projection is going to revolutionize this area in the same way that digital revolutionized sound quality. Quality will improve dramatically, you won’t see all the dust and scratches you still see, and ultimately the consumer will get a much better product.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “Cameras are going to get smaller and more mobile and cheaper, and it’s going to make a big impact on how films get made. And post and editing gear is getting cheaper too, which will help keep costs down as you’re getting less and less money to make films with now. I think people will soon have cinemas in their own homes, with these big new flat-screen monitors and high-quality DVD players and Internet downloads. It’s all going to be about quality.”
The Incredible Hulk, Transporter 1 & 2
STRENGTHS: “Before, I think post felt more like a burden that you had to go through. It was really boring. But for me now it’s really freedom. Post is freedom! It’s not just like, what you’ve shot is what you’ve got to make the film with. Post gives you wings. It helps you soar.”
WEAKNESSES: “Post weaknesses are all human-based, to me. Now we have these amazing tools that allow you to do pretty much anything you want or can imagine. But it’s still down to the people behind the machines. You have to inspire them and get them excited, and they have to be well managed. It’s impossible on a huge film like The Hulk to micro-manage everyone anyway, so you need to ensure that the artists doing all the visual effects and so on are as excited as you are.”
OPPORTUNITIES: “CGI is going to help us save so much money down the line, and it makes doing a dangerous stunt so easy now. You stick a cable on the guy and then just erase it in post for just $500. I think there’s huge opportunities for effects houses now, and I don’t think we have enough of them. We need more post houses and CG studios. Right now they pretty much set their own prices, which are sort of inflated. But once HD cameras are the norm, in 10 years there will be so many little houses doing projects, hopefully. I wish there were some people out there, like great artists and potential filmmakers, who’d just focus on CG stuff and help us come up with the never-before-seen visuals.”
THREATS: “For me it’s all about keeping up the quality. The acceptance of bad CG is a threat. People will get lazy. The DI is getting easier and easier, so now DPs are starting to say, ‘We’ll just fix it in post.’ No! When someone says that on my set, I usually kick them off — ‘Take a break and then come back.’ There’s no, ‘we’ll fix it in post,’ as it never works that well. You shoot it once, and then you give it wings in post and make it magical.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2009: “I’m really excited about digital projection. That’s the most exciting thing for me, as you’ll see and hear the director’s vision if the cinema’s well-calibrated, and it’s such a different experience, just to hear the non-compressed audio not going through Dolby or anything else.
“I’m also very excited about 3D movies. I really love that experience. I loved seeing Beowulf in 3D, and I think that’s the future. Now I can’t wait to see Jim Cameron’s Avatar. These are exciting times in movies.”
Paul W.S. Anderson
Death Race, Resident Evil, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Mortal Kombat
STRENGTHS: “I cut my first two films on film and I’m glad I had that experience, but cutting on Avid has changed post completely. It’s so helpful being able to see multiple versions of a scene — and quickly.”
WEAKNESSES: “Nonlinear editing is both a blessing and a curse, because if you don’t really know what you want, you can drown in possibilities and you can make changes so fast. You have to be very disciplined to find and see a different structure to your film, for example.
“And for all the fine tuning you can do with the DI, ultimately you have to remember that most people are going to see it in a cinema where the bulb is turned down to save money. I’ll never forget being in Hawaii and seeing my first American movie, Mortal Kombat, in the local cinema, and they still had reel changes and numbers coming up! It wasn’t how I imagined my movie being!”
OPPORTUNITIES: “The DI is a huge opportunity now for a director. I always used to find the chemical process very frustrating. You’d go, ‘Make it a little more blue,’ then ‘a little more green,’ and then the third time you went back and said, ‘it’s not quite blue enough,’ then the timer would say, ‘If we go again we’ll screw up the negative.’ I hated that. It was such a key part of the process, but you only had three stabs at it before you were suddenly destroying your film if you wanted to go any further. So the DI has opened it all up and made it far more creative. But it’s like icing on the cake. You can refine the look and add maybe five percent to your movie, but changing the cut is huge.”
THREATS: “For me, the biggest one is the 10-week Directors Guild cut you get, which quite often studios pressure you to give up so you can hit a certain release date or they can see it slightly earlier. I don’t know how long it’s been in the Guild’s contract, but I bet it’s an old thing, and it’s one thing to cut a film that’s a simple drama, with people talking in a room and drinking tea. But to cut an action film, where you not only have to tell a story, get fine-tuned performances, and cut a drama, but also have to go through maybe over half-a-million feet or more of action scenes and then compose great action sequences — that’s a huge challenge to do in just 10 weeks. So I wish we had longer to cut the film. And you soon realize that every week you get above that 10-week period makes a huge difference.”
OUTLOOK FOR 2008: “Digital projection, enhanced sound and 3D is coming. But I honestly don’t know how much all that really increases the audience’s enjoyment. For me, seeing a movie is all about a shared, immersive experience.”