‘No Tag-backs’ – Post-production

I think I spent a good week editing the short film. And by week, I mean 40+ hours of work.

Since I obtained the footage already digitised (thank you Chris!), the first thing I did was to import all the files in Premiere. There was a strange error preventing them from being previewed at the beginning, but after some attempts and clicking in menus, I hacked my way around it and was able to use them all. At some point halfway through editing, one of the files suddenly lost its audio when played in Premiere – but thankfully, I had them all backed up, so I was able to replace it easily.

File management

I kept two separate folders: one contained the raw files (6 MPEG files, total size 20 GB) and was called No Tagbacks RAW, and another one called No Tagbacks WIP (for ‘work-in-progress’) which I used for scratch disks. This is also the directory I used to save the Premiere .prproj project file. Since I was changing hard drives and there was a big difference in the size of the two folders, I found it most appropriate to use this type of file management – it allowed me to quickly switch between folders, relink the files and get back to work. I have two copies of the raw files (one on my computer and one on an external drive), plus I backed up the WIP folder every day.

Selecting the clips

After importing the clips, while playing the footage back, I selected all the bits that could be used. I kept all the scenes between ‘Action!’ and ‘Cut!’, as well as footage that only had proper video or only proper audio. I made a separate ‘sequence’ in Premiere for each scene, because we had lots of takes and different angles, with varying quality and relevance to the script. In some, the audio was good, but there were some minor problems with the visual part, in others – the visuals were perfect, but there were some audio problems. I kept them all in the scene sequences:

Premiere - scenes and sequences

Premiere - scenes and sequences

I also tried to give the files / scenes / sequences relevant names, most importantly INT or EXT. This proved very helpful because of the amount of footage we had – more than sixty minutes. I was also constantly changing my workspace layout to match what I was doing at the moment – when I was working on effects and filters for a separate clip, I would have the timeline in a very tiny window, giving the Effect controls and the Preview windows more screen space; sometimes I kept the preview window half the size of my whole screen, to focus on the end result; at times, I had the timeline as a main focus etc.

First problems: scene relevance

Since we weren’t following the script scene by scene when shooting, it turned out some scenes were not filmed according to the script. We were meant to have people bumping into each other and running in different directions in one or two scenes, which we didn’t film exactly as scripted. We did have a lot of footage of them running, which helped keep the story’s main idea. But on the whole, this wasn’t a major obstacle. The most important scenes in the film were shot properly, and were more than usable.

Technical issues: loss of sync

In the first couple of hours of filming, we were using a clapperboard, which even though not always said the right scene and take number, was helpful. But after changing the tape, we lost interest in the clapperboard. Of course, that’s when a problem occurred: in one of the digitised files, half the scenes are out of sync. As I later found out, James digitised them again and didn’t have this problem, so I guess it was just my versions of the files. I didn’t feel like digitising again, so it took me an hour to test frame by frame and figure out what the difference between video and audio was. It turned out it was exactly one second – but because there weren’t any loud sounds in shot (and no clapperboard), it was a hard problem to solve.

A mistake that actually saved time in editing

It turned out we hadn’t switched the internal camera microphone off and it had made a separate track in the recording. We first noticed it when watching a scene that we recorded with the XLR microphone unattached, that still had sound. But it proved to be rather helpful – even though the sound quality is worse and it sounds a bit different, I ended up using this sound. It is not perfect, but it works. I can’t imagine having to use sound from a different take – the movement was different, the position of the microphone was different, etc.

Positioning the microphone

In some scenes, instead of close to the action, we had the microphone close to the camera. We ended up with more sound from the camera operator than the actor, and in the cases of running, I had to scrap lots of good takes. Plus, in scenes where we used the tracks, the microphones picked up more sound from the tracks than the action. I kept them as they were, and hope it doesn’t compromise the story too much.

Foley and background sound

I did’t insist enough while filming, so we didn’t record separate ambient sound. In all the footage there is either action (footsteps, moving around or speech), or the crew talking between takes. There were a number of scenes where I wanted to replace the ambient sound with something better or more consistent, and after looking and listening to the footage two more times, I could only find two clips 4-5 seconds each.

Crew and members of the public in shot

There were a few scenes I scrapped because there were other people in shot and it caused continuity problems, plus they were irrelevant to the story. But two important scenes had either people or members of the crew (me, actually) in shot, so I ended up using the Motion effect and zooming in the footage. In the first scene, it compromised the image quality, but it is a very short scene right at the start of the film, so I hope it’s not a major problem.

Cars

Cars were everywhere – if not in shot, their sound could constantly be heard. We spent a lot of time waiting for cars to move away from where we were filming, but still, we have some beautiful scenes that I ended up not using because of the cars. Thankfully, the most important scenes were OK.

Continuity: the two suns

I hope it is not too obvious, but if you pay close attention, there are two big sources of light opposite to each other in the film. This is of course because some scenes were filmed in the morning and other in the afternoon. I figured out a possible solution just now: instead of mimicking the morning sun in the kitchen, we could have left these scenes without a big light source, and use the afternoon sun as the only sun, as if it were morning. No one else but us knows which part of the house is facing west, so I think it could work. A note to take for our next projects.

The good sides of the story

Even though I listed so many ‘problems’, the project was more than successful as a whole. We had an extremely good camera operator (shout out to Chris Hammond, as always), who was constantly coming up with creative camera angles and framing solutions. The film would have not had this impact if it weren’t for Chris. There are a number of beautiful shots both indoors and in the street, with great attention to composition, light and relevance to the story. Here are some of my favourite frames from the film:

INT KITCHEN

INT KITCHEN

(I am also using this one for the film thumbnail)

INT KITCHEN

INT KITCHEN

EXT STREET

EXT STREET

INT HALLWAY

INT HALLWAY

INT DOOR

INT DOOR

I also love the final scene, where the camera tracks back while the door is closing. It wasn’t intentional, and when it happened on set, we were extremely happy – I think it is a very effective way to end the film.

Colour correction wasn’t a problem either. I did try to make the outside scenes more vivid and the inside ones more bland, increasing the contrast and saturation in the outside ones and decreasing in the inside. I hope it helps the story.

With all this great footage, what more could I have wished for?

Our actors / producers also did a wonderful job, (shoutout to Jack Harris and James Root) and I am thankful we chose to work on James’ script – the story was written well, with a simple but straightforward twist.

Final touch: stereo sound

For the first version of the film, I wanted to have a consistent sound in terms of levels and quality. I chose to force it all to mono, so I have more control. Plus, I know the lecture theatre we are using to screen the films has some channel problems, so the safest bet was to have a mono version of the film. When that was done, I started working on sound panning. I think the end result is worth not only watching, but also listening to. Since there isn’t any dialogue in the film, the visuals and sound are supposed to move the story forward. And I think it works:

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