You made it. You wrote the thing, you planned the thing, and you shot the thing. Now you have to creep back into the madness of your mind and put the thing together. Now you have to make your film come to life.
Editing is my favorite part of the filmmaking process. But it’s also the most maddening. It’s when you get to explore subtle manipulation and craft the film you set out to make. But editing adds to the emotional confusion of making a film. I wrote and edited Wait on the same computer, entirely by myself. During pre-production and production, I had to bring other people on – producers, actors, boom operators, etc. We formed a family for a few weeks. We laughed together, cried together – we created together. When filming was done, it was weird to be alone again. It was weird to watch all of the actors and crew members quickly move on to other gigs. I would see them around town, and they’d be talking about their next thing. But I was still on our thing.
|Murielle Zuker in Wait|
Edit Yourself or Hire Someone
I have edited everything I’ve ever shot. To hand it off to someone would deprive me of something I love. Being my own editor informs the way I shoot. On set, when I know we have it, I know. I don’t need to do an extra take to be safe; I simply know that I will be using that take in editing.
That is one of the significant benefits of editing yourself: it makes for a more streamlined shoot. Other pros include saving money by not having to pay someone else, being solely responsible for the assembly of your film (for better or worse), and learning how to shape a movie. I crave learning about anything film related, and editing allows you to tap into a seemingly limitless bag of tricks. That excites me, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone.
Editing takes time. It is extremely tedious. If your patience naturally runs thin, you might consider hiring someone else to cut your film. One of the major benefits of hiring an editor is that they can be cutting your film while you’re shooting it. For example, when Martin Scorsese is shooting a movie, he sends every day’s footage to his editor, the great Thelma Schoonmaker, and she assembles that footage into a cohesive scene. That way, when Scorsese finishes filming, it only takes a few days for Schoonmaker to deliver a rough cut of the movie. Rough cuts are, simply put, an assembly of all the footage based on the script. Schoonmaker chooses her favorite takes (incorporating notes Scorsese has given her), and she puts everything together. Rough cuts have no music, completed sound, or color correction, but they provide a blueprint to work with.
|The great Thelma Schoonmaker. She cuts Martin Scorsese's movies while the director is still filming.|
And then there’s Steven Soderbergh, who is a filmmaking beast. His workflow is as follows: Soderbergh shoots everything himself, he even holds the camera. When a filming day is complete, he goes home and edits that day’s scene himself, and then uploads it to a server that people involved with the production have access to. When filming is complete, he essentially has a rough cut done. That is an insane and envious work ethic that very few people have. I prefer to wait until the entire shoot is done before I begin editing, but if you can manage Soderbergh’s method, then Godspeed.
Take Your Time
Again, editing takes time. The key is allowing yourself time to edit. This is a microbudget film; there won’t be producers breathing down your neck for a rough cut of the movie. Take your time, work at your pace. When I wrapped filming Wait, I knew I needed a day job as soon as possible to live. The majority of my days immediately following production were spent applying and interviewing for jobs. We wrapped filming in mid-January 2014 and I had a well-paying job by the end of February. With money coming in, I could relax a little and fully dive into editing Wait.
The last time I had edited something was in the summer of 2012 when I cut together my short film, Earrings. While editing that short, I had a demanding day job as a magazine editor. I worked more than 40 hours every week, and by the time I got home, I was exhausted. Yet I forced myself to edit Earrings quickly. I would get home around 6:30 p.m., eat something, and be editing by 7:30 p.m. I’d edit until 2 a.m., sleep for four hours, then get up for work. On weekends, I would edit the moment I got home on Friday, through midnight Sunday, catching an hour or two of sleep when I could.
|A still from Earrings. I started editing it in May 2012, and released the film on July 28, much to the detriment of my health.|
All told, I spent about nine months editing Wait. I started basic edits in January 2014, had a rough cut ready by October, and began submitting it to festivals at the end of November. I allowed myself the space to breathe. Wait is a complicated assembly, the film spans seven years and is told out of chronological order. I was hell-bent on having the puzzle make sense; I never allowed for narrative leniency or plot holes. Nine months is a long time to edit a microbudget feature, but I stand by the assembly of the film, and I’m glad I didn’t damage my health in the process.
Like writing and directing, everyone has their style of editing, and it’s important to find a workflow process that works for you. For Wait, mine went as follows: While I was applying for jobs, I spent all free time watching raw footage from the movie. I took notes about which takes I liked, which moments I preferred, and I relied heavily on those notes a month later when I started to assemble the movie. Assembly is putting all of the footage in the order you prefer, typically as it’s written in the script. You edit one scene at a time, then place those scenes together.
Some scenes are easy to edit; others haunt you. The final five minutes of Wait, for example, took me one day to put together. That’s it. When I was done, I watched it and knew I had what I wanted. The most difficult sequence to edit in Wait was a sports bar scene involving four speaking parts, eight camera set ups, and a long tracking shot that eventually introduces of another character. This thing took me months to get right. I had so many different versions of that goddamn scene that I ended up throwing them all out and starting from scratch, four months after I had started working on it. That helped. If you get stuck on a scene, move on and let it breathe. When you’re ready, come back and rewatch all of the raw footage. Begin again.
By July 2014, I had an assembly of Wait that I was happy with. Sound mixing came next. On a recommendation, I found a sound mixer named John Thomas who would work within my budget. John and I agreed on a flat fee of $1,000 for his work on the film, which is very cheap by industry standards. John is talented and in-demand, and $1,000 to mix a feature film was not a lot of money to him. Because of this, he agreed to spend five days total working on the film, and he could only work on it at night when he had finished mixing higher-paying gigs. Unfortunately, those five days were not in a row, and it took about three weeks for John to complete his work.
|John Thomas sound mixing the sports bar scene in Wait|
After sound, I moved quickly to color correction. I found my colorist, Anthony Harris, via this blog. An indie producer named Lukas Kendall reached out to me and asked if I’d like to interview him about his new found footage film, Lucky Bastard. (If you’re a film blogger, Lukas may have contacted you about this very topic.) While I interviewed Lukas, I told him about Wait, and mentioned I was looking for a colorist who would work within my budget. He recommended Anthony, and I contacted Anthony right away. When Anthony and I spoke on the phone, I was completely unaware of his skillset. We introduced ourselves, and he said he was interested in working on the film. I told him my budget, and he said he would email me a fee. When we hung up, I Googled Anthony and was fucking dumbfounded. His IMDb is insane. He’s worked on Spider-Man, X-Men, Life of Pi, Friday Night Lights, Moneyball, and countless more. I knew I couldn’t afford this guy.
|Anthony Harris color correcting Wait|
My biggest learning curve while editing Wait was figuring out the different types of footage people needed. It took me months to learn the difference between .mp4, .flv, .avi, .mov, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264. Months to learn about sample rates, stems, EDL, OMF, AAF, Audition, ProTools. At first, I was too embarrassed to ask John and Anthony about this stuff, but I quickly realized I had to swallow my pride and deliver footage to their precise specifications.
If you don’t know what any of this stuff is, and don’t have the patience to learn, then hire an editor who gets it. I edited Wait in Adobe Premiere, and I spent hundreds of hours watching videos and tutorials about the various ways to output your film. And the thing is, I’m still learning. When the technology changes, you have to enhance your learning. I love learning about this stuff, but if you don’t, consider hiring someone who does.
In hindsight, I actually could’ve had John and Anthony working on the film at the same time, which is how bigger movies operate. I would’ve saved about six weeks of time, even if I hadn’t been able to be present for everything.
Similarly to letting people read your finished script, it is beneficial to show people your completed film, but it’s important to keep that number low. Also, if you are overly susceptible to opinions, seriously consider not showing your film to many people. Some people are not going to like your film. You may be related to some of them; you may be friends with some of them. This is okay. Just because you made something doesn’t mean all of your friends have to like it. We all have our personal taste, which is partly based on our own experiences.
Since completing Wait, I have edited some short films for other directors. Some of these filmmakers are so vulnerable to the opinions of others that it is infuriating. My advice is to stick to your vision and don’t let any note break you. If you show your film to six people, and they all have the same issue with it, then, yes, examine that issue closely. But if one person says they hated the film, then fuck it. Accept it and move on. There is no one film in the history of cinema that everyone universally loves. Understand that, and maintain your creative vision.
|Catherine Warner in Wait. We had to reshoot this scene twice.|
Also, while you’re editing your movie, various cast and crew members will hound you for footage. Politely tell them they will receive their requested footage when the film is complete. Do not let yourself be distracted by people’s demands. They can be patient.
Nearly 45 percent of Wait is either footage that was reshot, or additional footage that was added after principal photography. This is where things get dark. While editing Wait, I found myself routinely unsatisfied with a few key sequences in the film, including the long dinner conversation that opens the movie. I also felt that the movie moved too slow. I grew to loathe portions of the film. This is difficult for me to admit, but I hope it’s helpful for filmmakers who eventually find themselves in a similar situation.
I had to swallow every ounce of pride I had to admit that some footage from Wait was not well done. I felt sorry for myself for a month, quit the movie twice, and finally picked myself up and reached out to the actors. Everyone understood and agreed to reshoot certain scenes. Even though many of us had lost touch, they genuinely cared about the overall film. I’m indebted to them for coming back and giving me another chance.
The most significant scene that was reshot was that opening dinner conversation. The initial scene was sloppily composed and sounded horrible. We booked the restaurant location for free, but we were too rushed while filming. I also went to great lengths (and failed) to make the scene look like it took place at night, even though we shot during the day. Shockingly, this initial scene was in the version of Wait that premiered at film festivals. I still can’t believe festivals accepted us. When the festival run was done, I humbly asked the actors to give the scene another go, and they agreed. I set the scene at one of the character’s apartments, purposefully limited the number of camera setups, and we eventually had an opening that is vastly improved from the one we had before.
|A selection of scenes from Wait that were either reshot or added after principal photography had wrapped.|
My first cut of Wait was 85 minutes, which felt too long. I cut 22 minutes out quickly, which made it too short. In my first written draft of Wait, I included a standalone sequence of a man getting ready and driving to work. This character seemingly had nothing to do with the plot of the film, until he did. I knew the scene was going to be complicated and expensive to shoot, so I cut it from the script. But with my movie running 63 minutes, I knew I had to put that sequence back in. There was one man who could play this role, and that was Andrew Bongiorno, who auditioned for another character in Wait. In late May 2014, I emailed Andrew, reintroduced myself, told him about the scene, and told him I would not shoot it unless he agreed to do it. I knew he was my one and only guy. He enthusiastically agreed to shoot it, and a week later, we filmed that entire sequence in one day. That sequence stands as one of my favorite things I have ever put on film.
Reshooting scenes can be seen as a financial and emotional loss. Remember in Part 3, when I encouraged you to save half of your budget for post? This is why. Sound mixers and colorists are costly enough, but every film I have ever been involved with has had to reshoot or add new scenes after principal photography. If you don’t set money aside for this (as I didn’t), then you’re going to get screwed. I lost a shitload of money reshooting that opening dinner sequence, because all the money I spent on the initial scene went to waste, as that footage was thrown out. So what. It took me months to adopted that attitude, but genuinely – so what. If you have the resources, make the film you want to make. Do not settle, do not move on. Shoot new footage, shoot new scenes. Be kind to your actors. Explain your vision. Do not deliver your final film until you are ready for it to be delivered. Many people told me I was crazy for reshooting the opening scene to Wait. I listened to them for a while, and then I didn’t. And the film is better off for it.
Main Takeaways from Part 5: Post-Production
—Decide if you want to edit the film yourself, or hire someone else. There are pros and cons to both. Measure them and make a reasonable decision.
—Take your time while you edit. Your film will be better if you are clear-headed and give yourself room to breathe.
—Like writing and directing, adopt an editing workflow that suits you.
—Look hard for quality sound mixers and colorists. They are out there, and they are willing to work at a reduced rate. Be honest with them, be appreciative of their work.
—Do not show your final cut to too many people. Make a valued list of stick to it.
—Swallow your pride and reshoot what needs to be reshot. Want to add a new scene? Then do so. Maintain your vision.
Primary Costs for Part 5: Post-Production
—Sound editing: $1,000 for five days
—Colorist: $2,500 for three days
—Reshoots/Additional scenes: Hard to calculate exactly, but roughly $6,500. I paid all of my actors and my crew. I also fed them and paid for transportation.
Emotions to Expect for Part 5: Post-Production
—Overwhelming joy that you finished shooting your film.
—Loneliness that you’re alone again, editing by yourself.
—Anger/confusion that you aren’t editing your movie sufficiently.
—Delight when you edit a scene exactly how you envisioned it in your head.
—Shame when you realize you have to reshoot and add scenes.
—Appreciation when you finally get those new scenes right.
How I Made a Microbudget Feature Film