How to Make Short Films (That Don’t Suck), Post Production and Distribution

How to Make Short Films (That Don’t Suck), Post Production and Distribution

How to Make Short Films (That Don’t Suck), Post Production and Distribution, A blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere

So you still wanna make short films huh? Good for you, read on.

In this third installment I wanted to bring this to a close and talk about the post-production stage and distribution.

Post-Production

First off, what is post-production? Most people know that this is everything that happens after shooting is completed, but a lot of times different parts of post-production start before the film even begins shooting and during shooting.

What? Yeah, now with the extensive amount of VFX and CG a lot of times, previsualization needs to be done ahead of time to give the director and crew a good idea of how to frame and shoot the footage that’s going to be composited into those scenes.

Anyways, my point is, just because it’s considered post-production doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be thinking with those steps from the start.

So what are the usual activities grouped under post-production? These are:

  • Editing
  • Sound Editing and ADR or Audio Dialog Replacement.
  • Foley/Sound F/X/Sound Design
  • Music
  • Visual Effects/Computer Graphics/Motion Graphics
  • Mixing
  • Color Correction
  • Mastering

Now in a really small production you might be doing some version of all of these yourself, but in larger productions you should be working with other professionals who will be helping you to tackle these.

Editing, you know what this is, it’s where you cut the film together. On a linear timeline, the film edit gets finalized first and then everything else starts. In bigger productions and tighter schedules, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes as the final edits of scenes get locked, they get passed over into post-production so that things like visual effects with long lead times can get started.

But back to shorts, remember to have fun in the edit bay and try new things. Most of the stuff I had shot prior to this almost always began with a traditional establishment long shot and then worked into medium and then close-ups. On Ready to Kill I wanted to try starting from extreme close-ups and then gradually revealing our characters through the scene. I thought it worked well and it gave me confidence to try this on some of my bigger shoots.

And yes, sometimes you shoot a short and look at it in the editing bay and are horrified. Remember that the editing bay can help salvage anything no matter how bad you may think it is. And if you can’t figure it out editing yourself, get another editor in there with a fresh set of eyes.

One piece of advice with a short that isn’t working in the edit bay, cut it as short as it can possibly get keeping all the best stuff and finish it. Don’t let it die on your hard drive. Finish it and show it to people. And don’t be disheartened by the response, learn from it and the next one will be better!

Sound Editing is when either you or a pro sound editor takes all the sound files, cleans them up and puts them against the finalized edit. If the short or film is going to be mastered for 5.1 sound, they have a lot of work to do to get all the dialog separated out from sound effects and background noise and put into one track so that if the film sells to foreign countries they can easily replace the actor’s voice with actors who speak the language for that country.

Also if you don’t have good audio recorded for an actor’s lines, you may have to re-record this using ADR or Audio Dialog Replacement. The actor’s usually sit in a studio recording booth and watch the edit and re-read their lines. These are then given to the Sound Editor who will then replace the bad audio in the film with the new pristine recordings.

As a comment on ADR. Avoid this if at all possible. We unfortunately had a major sound issue on Ready to Kill and we should’ve just spent the couple hundred bucks extra during the shoot, because it cost us $900 to get all the ADR and sound editing fix-ups afterwards. It delayed the short film by almost a year and was a painful lesson to learn. As a word to the wise, be very judicious when deciding to shoot next to busy roads, it will make getting clean audio a matter of carefully timing red and green lights when cars are stopped.

 The cars driving by on this road made getting good dialog a nightmare.

The cars driving by on this road made getting good dialog a nightmare.

Foley/Sound FX/Sound Design is when the sound effects are created and added to the film. Foley artists are the people who make all the amazing sound effects you hear that make movies sound realer than real life. You know those door and floor creaks in scary movies? Those breaking bones that make you cringe? The sound of the lighter being flicked? That’s your local sound effects artist kicking ass. Sound design often refers to people who create sounds that don’t naturally exist, think like Star Wars light sabers, laser rifles, robots fighting and stuff like that. They also help create ambiance in scenes like the wind blowing through the trees in an exterior, the bugs chirping in the desert and so on.

 Sound effects helps sell the small details.

Sound effects helps sell the small details.

Music. On short films it’s great if you know a composer or have access to free/creative commons music. Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts under Creative Commons Attribution so that was the soundtrack for this short. Moby also has some great music resources for indie filmmakers. There are also a lot of stock music sites out there for licensing music very cheaply. Don’t skimp on music, it is the yin to the yang of the power of cinema.

Visual Effects and CG. Rain, storms, hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires, smoke, giant robots, bullet hits, blood spurts and on and on. VFX and CG make anything possible, but it takes time so make sure you are very clear with what you want and talk to your VFX artists before you even start shooting to ensure that what you shoot is going to mesh with what they make. For larger shoots there will usually be a VFX supervisor on set to ensure everything goes well. And visual effects isn't just about big fighting robots or big robots fighting, it can also be getting rid of signs and distractions in your scene too.

 Hmm, we don't really want to have that sign on the theater...what can we do? Fix it in Post!!!

Hmm, we don't really want to have that sign on the theater...what can we do? Fix it in Post!!!

 There we go. Sorry Danny!

There we go. Sorry Danny!

Mixing. The mixer is going to make your movie and the music in it sound amazing. They will ensure that the music doesn’t overpower the actors and that the music can still be heard. They will even out everyone’s talking, they will ensure the film is ready for surround sound, they will help sweeten the audio and make it sound sexy. And lots more. Mixing doesn’t take long, but it can be expensive as good mix studios are easily a couple thousand dollars per day. Don’t despair, for smaller projects you might find a mixer that works from a small home studio that can still get you a great sounding short.

Color Correction. This is where you take the footage from whatever format it was shot in and make it look great, adding whatever stylization you want to and getting your film into it’s final visual format. Da Vinci Resolve is the weapon of choice for most productions these days. But Premiere Pro/Speedgrade have some great tools to get your short looking fantastic.

 Original Footage

Original Footage

For Ready to Kill, I wanted to experiment with Film Convert to create both a black and white look and a stylized look for the rest of the short. It was remarkably easy to use and got great results quickly.

 Test Look 1

Test Look 1

As a tip, whenever I’m doing color correction in Adobe Premiere, I create an adjustment layer and do my color corrections on that so I can easily turn that track on and off so it doesn’t hog computer resources when I don’t need it.

 Final Black and White Look for the Intro

Final Black and White Look for the Intro

Mastering. This can either be really easy if you are just exporting for youtube or vimeo or it can get far more complicated if your film is being mastered for cinema showings. If it’s going to be projected on the big screen, there are still a few theaters that will project blu-rays but by and large it is done with what is called a DCP, or digital cinema package.

Distribution

For short films you really have two choices:

  • Self-distribute on the web to vimeo, youtube, facebook or other online video sharing platforms.
  • Send it to festivals via a festival submission website. The one I always use is withoutabox.com. Very easy and has access to pretty much every festival in the world.

As a warning, Festival submissions can get costly, so make sure you research which festivals you really want to submit to and realize the larger and more prestigious the festival is the tougher the judging and the competition. For your first films you might want to consider starting at festivals that are closer to you and as your work starts getting noticed, branching out to larger and larger festivals. Then again, if you’ve got a fantastic short that’s gonna take one of the academy awards for best short this year get it out there!

Ok. That wraps up this series on shorts, if you’ve got any specific questions that I haven’t answered, feel free to email me!

I wish you luck, remember to have fun and experiment.

How to Make Short Films (That Don’t Suck), Post Production and Distribution, A blog post by Darius Stevens Wilhere

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