“Movies are made in post-production.”
While some producers and cinematographers may take issue with this maxim, Nancy Kirhoffer, an accomplished post-production supervisor whose credits include “Memento,” “50/50” and “Bernie,” makes a compelling case: “Movies are three things: picture, sound and music and two of those happen in post-production.”
Kirhoffer recently spoke to Film Independent Members about the responsibilities of her position. “I basically take over from the line producer. My job is to get the film through post-production. I oversee the editing, sound, music and I make sure it’s delivered.”
Kirhoffer recommends finding a post-production supervisor in pre-production. After all, they’re the ones responsible for helping the film reach the finish line.
“I’ve worked with so many people whose first movies never get finished.” By bringing in a post-production supervisor early on, filmmakers can know what to expect when they arrive at the editing bay, how long they should take to finish the film, and how much they should expect to spend.
“The truth of the matter is whether you spend $100 million or $100,000, the process is the same,” said Kirhoffer. “In that same vein, if someone is going to pay $15 to see your movie in the theater, they don’t care that you only had $100,000. They only want to make sure it’s worth their $15, and there’s an expectation that the film is going to sound a certain way, and it’s going to look a certain way, and you can’t get over that fact. It has to sound good.”
And good sound isn’t cheap. “There is no world where a sound job costs $20,000. No world where that happens. You’re going to need to spend at least $65,000.”
That’s why it’s key for low-budget filmmakers to bring on a post-production supervisor. They need to know, according to Kirhoffer, “the bare minimum that it’s going to cost to get your movie to where you can distribute it.”
To demonstrate just how tricky navigating post-production can be, Kirhoffer brought along her calendar for post on Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising. A variety of stages stretch and overlap, different tasks to accomplish by different points in post-production, comprising a tightly organized period of about 23 weeks from editor’s assembly to finished film.
Or at least, that’s how things should go.
“I call [the calendar] my work of fiction. It never goes this easy, never this good.”
Often, delays are caused by filmmakers not accurately estimating the cost of post-production. “I [was offered] this super cool movie,” said Kirhoffer. “It was like a $35 million movie, but when it came down it, she got $5 million [to make it]. She invited me onto it, and I thought it would be great until I looked at the budget. There was no money for post-production. $4.5 million went into production. So I said I can’t do the movie.”
A second common error occurs when a director goes too long without feedback. “Eight months later, I get a call again. They’re on their third editor and no one has seen it yet,” said Kirhoffer. “You cannot be cutting a movie for eight months. You have to stop, show it and get feedback.”
DGA rules grant directors 10 weeks to assemble their cut of the film. Kirhoffer urges that filmmakers, even on non-union productions, hold a test screening after this period. “[After] 10 weeks, you want to show that film.” She noted that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg love holding test screenings.
Kirhoffer said that while changes in digital technology have had a major impact on post-production, the process remains largely the same.
“It used to be in the old days, when we had film, that in the cutting room would be an editor, an assistant editor, a second assistant editor, an apprentice and then myself and then usually a coordinator and a PA. In the new world order, you have an editor and assistant, and then me, and maybe a PA. Even on 200 million dollar movies.”
This is why Kirhoffer stresses: “Don’t cheap out on your editor.” The same goes for his or her assistant. “You need an assistant editor. An editor does not have time to do assistant work.” According to Kirhoffer, even non-union productions can’t afford to skimp on hiring an assistant editor.
Kirhoffer works on multiple projects at one time; currently she’s attached to eight. Her job is to “fly in, set things up, and fly away. I don’t serve coffee.” She stays available to her clients from morning to night. “I consult a lot. I’m happy to teach post-production. I think it’s awesome fun.” She thrives in that final leg that takes the film to the big screen and urges directors to take it just as seriously.