As the force behind Silverwood Films, Lynette Howell has produced some of the most distinctive and successful independent movies of the last six years: “Half Nelson,” “The Greatest,” “Blue Valentine,” “On the Ice,” “Terri” and “28 Hotel Rooms.” Eight films in the Sundance Film Festival program in seven years is an amazingly strong record. In January, she launched Electric City Entertainment with frequent collaborator Jamie Patricof, and the duo has “Blue Valentine” filmmaker Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up “The Place Beyond the Pines” ready for its premiere at the Toronto film festival Friday, September 7.
Howell here provides a concise and concrete checklist for rookie filmmakers to steer them around common obstacles and guide them through a successful post-production.
1. Don’t cut money from your post budget during prep.
The desire to cut money from post-production when you are trying to lock a budget or close a bond, or initiate cash flow from your financing source, can be strong. It seems easier than trying to cut a day of shooting or rework an expensive scene. The typical assumption is that money will be saved during production that you’ll then be able to add back to those post lines later. This is often shortsighted (if not delusional) since rarely is money saved during production that compensates for what was cut. And often, if this money is saved, it is inevitably needed for the unforeseen issues that arise throughout the making of the film. So be sure to keep an honest and realistic post budget intact from the start.
2. Know your director and his/her needs.
Every director has a different process. This relates to time needed to edit, the staffing support they need during the process or simply the way they work best. Talk to your director about how he or she has worked in the past and build a post schedule realistic to their needs. There are industry-standard schedules that directors are expected to adhere to during post-production, but if your director hasn’t worked within these schedules before and is unable to deliver a cut in 10 weeks, then make sure everyone is aware of this up front — especially the financier or distributor. Often on independent films there is a bit more flexibility when working out the right post schedule for the director, but know this ahead of time and plan and budget accordingly so no one is surprised later on.
3. Have a great post supervisor and bring him/her on early to consult.
Having a great post-production supervisor can save your movie time and money. They will have strong recommendations for all steps of the post-production process, and they are often able to negotiate better rates with vendors. I like to bring on my post supervisor to consult during prep while creating the budget. Vendors for sound, color and VFX will need to be included in the budget, and the bond company will require written proof of the bids, which a post supervisor can help obtain. They can also help budget and prepare the correct workflow for post based on the choice of shooting format.
4. Know your delivery costs.
Budgeting for a movie includes the costs of getting a movie into domestic and foreign distributors’ hands. This is another area where producers don’t always realize they need to budget accordingly. Even if you are making a movie without domestic or foreign deals in place, at some point down the line you will have to figure out how to pay for your deliverables. Check standard delivery schedules for movies of a similar size and include these in your post budget. It is wise to have a post-production supervisor look at this, as not all line producers are as well versed in what is going to be necessary, especially given the astonishing rate at which technology changes.
5. Communicate with your financier(s) and distributor(s).
The golden rule of moviemaking is communication. Share information as much as possible and be ahead of potential problems. This includes making sure you are communicating with the financing parties of your movie. Your financing may be made up of a variety of sources, but each one of them is contributing to the movie getting made. Respect that, and make sure always to keep everyone informed every step of the way. The more included everyone is, the less they will worry. This can be especially important during post when you may want to access some contingency money for enhancements. The better the communication throughout, the more likely it is that they will understand the reason behind your requests.
6. Screen the movie, collect feedback.
This is often a controversial issue, especially for directors. But I believe that, if handled the right way, screening a rough cut of the film in private, for friends and family and those you trust, before locking picture can help identify problems early on. If the majority of the audience flags something as an issue, then it is better to know that before the film is put in front of press and real audiences when you still have the opportunity to deal with it. I combine these screenings with a 1- or 2-page feedback form given out directly after the movie has finished and then collected before a verbal Q-and-A starts. I often advise directors not to answer questions, to just ask them and to listen to the feedback of the audience without defending his or her choices. These screenings are a tool for directors to get information. Be aware that often in the Q-and-A session there are one or two loud voices — so take very specific opinions with a grain of salt and instead look to the opinions of the group as a whole. Ask questions about what may be bothering you about the movie and keep them as non-leading as possible to get the most honest feedback.
7. Deal with music early on.
Leaving music to the last minute is another common mistake. This includes both source music and score. Remember, a composer needs time to come up with themes and ideas, so including them in the screening of rough cuts can be useful. However, most composers (but certainly not all) like to compose to a locked movie. So if this is the case, allow proper time for them to work on the score between picture lock and the sound mix. With regard to source music, hiring a seasoned music supervisor is the key to clearing songs quickly. They can also make suggestions for your source cues so you run less of a risk of falling in love with temp music you put in that you can’t afford to license. Remember, securing festival licenses without negotiating the full licenses is a risk, as somewhere down the line you’ll need to have the full rights for your music.
8. Don’t give out DVDs of the rough cuts.
The main reason to be protective about giving out DVDs is piracy and trying to prevent an uncompleted version of the film from leaking. It is so easy for a movie to end up online now, so protecting any copies of the movie should be priority number one. People are not maliciously trying to sabotage your film, but no one will care about your movie like you do, and often movies get passed around and copied by assistants at agencies, etc., without them thinking about it. I destroy all DVDs that we need to screen and never let anyone keep a copy of the film. If someone needs to screen the movie (your sales agent, a publicist, an actor) then set up a screening for them — even if this means personally driving the DVD to their house and waiting two hours for them to watch it before bringing it back.