The finishing touches

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Those last-minute finishing touches you make to a film – dropping in a small bit of audio here, adding a title there – might seem trivial. But somehow they can make all the difference to how you feel about the project.

When I say ‘you’, I mean the editor, really. Well, okay, I mean me.

These are details that will almost certainly go unnoticed by the audience. But the editor sees the film in all its gory details. You spend hours agonising over two shots that refuse to cut together … until, magically, and thanks to a shift of editing point of a few frame, they suddenly do. You’re confronted over and over with the camera movement that isn’t as smooth as it should have been or the lighting that isn’t quite in the right place.

Familiarity breeds contempt, and you can be discouraged by what you see as the film’s flaws (many of which will also go unnoticed by the audience). For me, it’s only when you add the final details that the project mysteriously shifts from being a rag-bag collection of shots into that marvellous and sometimes baffling creation – a ‘movie’.

Actually, it’s not just one moment. In editing The Garden, there were five steps that transformed the film for me:

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Grading: We had some issues with changeable weather on a couple of the days. And the film was shot partly in winter and mostly in summer, with the shift of season being significant. The changes of light in the summer scenes were somewhat jarring until I put a unifying yellow tint across all the shots. That made them flow together far more naturally. It’s like the transformation that occurs when you finally manage to cut two shots together to achieve a smooth cut-on-action (match cut). Similarly, a blue tint on the winter scenes made the transition more apparent and helps give the impression of a continuous flow through the scene, when previously all we had was a collection of seemingly unrelated shots.

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Music: Adding a music soundtrack not only makes it feel like a ‘proper’ film, in the case of The Garden it has also contributes significantly to the mood of the piece. And you might think that obvious, but the thing is that we only use a very small amount of music – a few bars at the beginning over the opening shot, and the tune in full over the closing credits. Yet that topping and tailing of the film with music encapsulates the whole piece and makes it feel complete.

Replacing a take: When editing, you get to see the mistakes over and over. There was one shot where the actor gave four excellent performances in a row, undermined by my inability to pull focus properly. On the fifth take, the performance wasn’t so good, but the focus pull was perfect. When putting together the first assembly of shots, I naturally gravitated towards the technically perfect one. But that performance kept bugging me (partly because it was evidence of my failure to ask for another take). Finally, I got over myself and looked again at the other takes. There was one with a much better performance. And yes, the focus is very slightly off for a second or two, but not badly so. And which matters more? The improvement to the film overall is startling (to me). And now that moment doesn’t nag at me at all.

Sound effects: There were two sound effects we needed – a pot smashing (to which a character reacts) and an ethereal laugh. For the purposes of editing, I dropped in a temporary sound of a smashing lamp taken from Logic Pro, but the fact that it was wrong annoyed me every time I heard it. Adding those two effects, plus one overdubbed word of dialogue (the subject of the next blog post) not only helped complete the film, it finally made sense of those two scenes and allowed the narrative to flow more easily.

Titles: It’s really not a film until there are titles, is it?

So, just a few final tweaks to the sound mix and we’re done. Now the really scary bit … showing it to people.

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