Our latest short film, The Ruse, has been completed and may I say, we are damn proud of it. This was our first production with something resembling real production values. We had a lot of real equipment at our disposal and a small but immensely talented crew working with us. It was all very exciting. We learned a lot, and though it is far from perfect, we are very satisfied with it.
Read on for the full story including in depth technical film making crap.
Most of what we have filmed before this has been done in a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, down and dirty, make the best of what we have, guerilla film making way. Therefore, being used to that, we really thought that this would only take us a few hours to complete. Well when working with real equipment and crew (and an amazing Director of Photography who is even more of a perfectionist than we are) things take longer. A LOT longer. We convened at our Greg’s house at 6 p.m. and 13 hours later we were racing the sunrise to get our final shot.
One week later, we had completed post production. Larry and I edited it and then I set to doing all the fine technical tweaks. I started with a first pass on sound tweaking. I found we didn’t get as many takes or as much coverage as we should have and consequently sometimes there wasn’t much of a choice as to which take we could use. Much of my coverage in the car was from a take when we had left the car on so there was extraneous noise. Luckily, we were consistent enough that I actually managed to take audio from some of the other coverage (like my close up) and just plug in right in and have it match with the picture!
Then there was some finer tweaking such as the fact that Zoë’s coverage had a little bit more natural ambient sound (crickets and such) than my coverage so I took some of her ambient sound and put it over my coverage to make it all sound consistent. There was unfortunately one line of mine that was only captured in the noisy take. I could have ADR’d the dialog (re-recorded it later in my studio) but I really wanted to try and avoid that if at all possible. I ended up just keeping the sound faded out (except for the now added cricket ambiance) right up until I speak and then fading it back out as soon as I was done so that the only noise is while I’m speaking and my dialog helps conceal it. It’s not perfect but it’s unobjectionable enough that I can live with it. I also put cross-fades between the audio of most cuts to eliminate any clicks or pops that sometimes occur at the edit point between two clips.
Some other scenes had a good amount of background noise (not sure if it was A/C or the refrigerator or what). A little 60-cycle hum elimination helped, though didn’t completely eliminate it. some of the clips that cut into this footage were much quieter so I actually had to add the noise into these clips as I found it much less noticeable to have it the entire time than when the noise would cross-fade in and out between clips.
A few clips had a little noise from the boom pole of the mic. A highpass filter eliminated the most objectionable low end rumble of the boom noise. What was left sound like it could just be miscellaneous ambient noise of the characters moving, shuffling, setting things down, etc. so I think it was decently masked. Again, not perfect, but passable.
I was going to compose all original music, as I usually do, but I really felt like a song by my friend, Craig Davis, was perfect for the beginning and the end. Then I recorded my own small piece for the kiss scene.
In general, I find sound is absolutely one of the most difficult things to get right, especially with no budget to actually hire a dedicated pro sound guy. Contrary to what most people might think, sound is the most important part of a movie. It’s been proven again and again. People will forgive much more visually than they will aurally and yet sound guys don’t get nearly the respect they deserve in my opinion. Many times, they are practically an afterthought.
Visually, there wasn’t as much work to do, but still a lot. There was one set of coverage that just didn’t match the master shot at all for some reason so I had to use some plugins in Adobe Premiere Pro 2 to do color correction and make the coverage match the wide shots. One scene had the boom just barely dip into frame so I digitally zoomed it by 1% in Premiere and solved that.
I spent about 6 hours working on the opening title. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just flailed about bending it to my will using duct tape, paper clips, and bubble gum. I eventually did what I wanted although I’m sure I did it in a completely inefficient and wrong way. I’m not even sure exactly why it works.
Sadly, I just edit on my computer so I don’t have a nice big calibrated monitor to use and thus when I burned a DVD to test on my TV, I noticed one shot that had something on the lens that was very distracting to me. It hen embarked on a very complicated process of using a “mask” to mask out the spec and hiding it by laying the identical footage underneath it but dynamically shifting it ever so slightly to replace the spec with the appropriate surrounding color.
Then there’s the export process which is another area in which I kind of flail blindly until I get what I want. Deinterlacing, pixel aspect ratios, and other things I don’t fully understand. I ended up with about 7 or 8 DVD’s of imperfect versions as I continued to watch and tweak. I think I’ve finally finalized it as much as it can be. Iskra (our DP) still thinks we might want to tweak the contrast and such. Sooner or later I have to walk away and call it finished. Hopefully that is imminent. I think you could tweak until the end of time. What I’ve detailed here is just the highlights of my tweaking. So much goes into post-production (if done right) that most people never even know about.
We have a lot of room to improve, but we have also made huge strides. I think this is the first thing we’ve done that is actually worthy of being entered into some film festivals and such. Very exciting. Every time we watch it we squeal with giddy delight.