My upcoming feature film Shadows on the Road is currently in the finishing stages of post. Final editing tweaks, sound mixing, and scoring are all occurring simultaneously to meet our goal of having a festival-ready submission mastered by the end of this month.
In order to meet these deadlines, I needed to implement a new workflow that would enhance speed and efficiency throughout the post-pipeline, which I get into in detail below.
Back in March when production first wrapped, I anticipated only needing 2 months or so to get to a picture lock. But for a number of reasons (mainly to do with scheduling pickup scenes), the editing process took longer than expected, and only now at the beginning of August is the picture finally almost locked.
Ultimately, I’m grateful for the extra time that the process took, as it ‘s improved the film in many ways… More time was spent refining edits and experimenting with structural ideas, new pickup scenes were shot and integrated into the cut, and there’s been some extra breathing room to try out musical ideas with my composer. All in all, it’s been time well spent.
But with festival deadlines on the horizon – in particular Slamdance at the end of this month – it became crucial to pick up the pace and get to a picture lock, so that coloring, scoring, and mixing could get underway.
My initial plan was to lock picture and move into finishing using a very standard workflow. Like most of my other films, I intended to simply edit the picture until it was just right, lock it, and send it off to be scored and mixed. The usual protocol.
Unfortunately though, things couldn’t be that simple this time around…
At the rate I was working at, and with the amount of edits and refinement still left to go, I knew I wouldn’t have a locked picture until the middle of August. That would only leave 2 weeks to get color, sound, and music done, which would be virtually impossible.
So instead of going with the usual workflow, I decided to lock the picture differently… Reel by reel.
Often times, once a film reaches picture lock it will be sent out to post-audio (and sometimes even color) in reels. A reel is essentially just a 15 – 25 minute segment of a feature film, most often used to enhance speed and efficiency during the collaborative finishing process… A 90 minute feature film for instance, might be sliced into 4 – 6 individual reels that can then be ingested into ProTools, DaVinci Resolve, etc.
The logic behind breaking down a feature edit into several reels, is that shorter segments can be less intensive for finishing software to handle, and may result in less bloated project files. This is especially the case when working on legacy systems or slower machines.
That said, in the case of my film, I didn’t break things down into reels for that reason… In fact, we could have easily handled a standard workflow/post-pipeline that didn’t involve reels at all.
In my case, I used reels to allow me to lock the picture in stages, which meant we could get to the finish line faster.
By working sequentially through the reels and locking them as I went, I was able to keep pushing material through to post-audio on locked segments, even as I continued to tweak additional edits in other reels that had yet to be signed off on.
Rather than taking the standard approach (which would have meant the lock wouldn’t have occurred until mid-August), I was able to use this alternate workflow to lock the first reel in late July, which was immediately passed off to sound.
Now, I am about to lock Reel 2 (of 4), and the remaining reels will be complete in the next couple of weeks. So it will still technically take me until the middle of August to lock the film, however the majority of the picture will have already been signed off on / in post-audio for weeks. And this of course means that the amount of downtime along the way has been reduced significantly.
Interestingly enough, having now used this workflow, I’m not sure that I would change the process at all next time – even if I had all the time in the world.
Unlike locking an entire picture at once, breaking down the process into smaller steps (one reel at a time) can actually be really helpful from a creative standpoint. It demands more specific editing deadlines in a shorter timeframe, which has the positive side effect of forcing momentum.
If you give yourself 2 months to complete 4 tasks, chances are you won’t spend exactly 1/2 a month on each task… It’s just human nature. We tend to procrastinate or use our time less efficiently when there is an abundance of it.
Alternatively though, if you gave yourself those same 4 tasks, but now took them 1 at a time on a 2 week deadline, you might just hit your targets more quickly… I know I did in this case.
Everyone works differently, so I’m not suggesting that every film should implement this type of strategy or workflow… In particular, films that have a non-linear structure, or those that are still really rough around the edges may want to avoid this approach entirely.
But for filmmakers that are relatively close to a full picture lock as it is, but want to buy some extra time before officially committing to a lock, working reel by reel is an excellent tactic.
What do you think? I’d love to hear about some of your experiences finishing projects in the comments below…
And if you liked this article, stay tuned as I have a follow up article on the technical aspects of our editing/finishing process coming soon.