The gentle art of post-production


It’s a changing world out there and none more so than in the post-production business. Large facilities that initially set up to cater for productions shot on film, with telecines and Flame suites that cost millions to install and maintain, are challenged by digital origination and new software-based post-production technology, which makes barriers of entry lower and caters for the ever increasing demand for budget cuts.

It would seem that film is almost dead. Estimates show that just one out of every 20 productions is shot on film. Sad but true. Digital is the “now’ and craft is becoming second to price and turnaround. There is little doubt that post-production facilities are evolving, and it’s happening worldwide.

Everything is more accessible these days and this means that the larger facilities are under enormous pressure to compete with the smaller shops which have far fewer overheads; this means that they can service a production at a far lower rate. Clients give agencies far less money than they previously did but expect far more in return. Are we in a race to the bottom perhaps?

As far as larger facilities are concerned it’s not necessarily a matter of losing out, as the established facilities will stand their ground, but there is definitely a swing towards smaller boutique-style edit facilities.

Clients pay larger facilities to ensure that their product’s quality and deliverables are perfect. They pay for the entire functionality of post-production at the highest level, from the assistant editor to the CAR who plays out the final 60 seconds worth of content at the end. It’s quality assurance from beginning to end. Smaller facilities may not be able to offer this but are nevertheless an important factor in this evolving equation.

Non-linear changes

Another element undergoing revolutionary change is non-linear editing. It has long been the case that Apple’s Final Cut Pro (FCP) was the industry benchmark with Avid perhaps considered as the higher end offering and losing out somewhat to FCP. Let’s not forget Lightworks, which went open source in April 2010 and created an awareness about the system and the opportunity for everyone to use it.

In the past year Lightworks has had over 140 000 registered users. Top local editor Tessa Ford is vocal: “We have FCP running on both our edit suites but Lightworks is absolutely our system of our choice. We feel that it is the most advanced and intuitive system available and allows us complete creative freedom.’

It was Scott Brock (Blue Road), an accomplished editor and Thelma Schoonmaker’s first assistant on Casino, The Departed and Gangs of New York, who said: “The most important tools an editor has are his or her eyes and ears. The Lightworks editing surface facilitates using these better than any other system.’

Questionable update

The FCP X launch last year was seriously compromised as this “massive update” turns out to be a quick rewrite from scratch of a 15-year-old programme. As result the update is missing a vast number of features needed to do work and no compatibility with files generated with the previous version of the programme. This means that all previous work done on FCP has to be thrown out or redone from scratch at immense cost.

Of course Avid, long eclipsed by FCP, is now making a comeback and with the recent launch of Avid Media Composer 6, many editors are switching back to this system. Avid Media Composer 6 also offers an easy way to manage and edit stereoscopic 3D projects with a comprehensive set of tools and workflows.

Talking of 3D and apart from those shooting in this format, is there a requirement for 3D post yet in South Africa? Kirsty Galliard of General Post responds: “A few of our clients are using it but it’s not mainstream just yet. I would imagine there would need to be a greater penetration of 3D TV sets and broadcasts in this format for it to become a standard.’


Another big issue concerning the post-production sector is whether there is sufficient work to go around. Also, are visiting overseas filmmakers using local facilities?
When BlackGinger opened seven years ago 70% of its work was international. Now it’s about 30%. This is due in the main to the global recession and the fact that companies are discounting jobs in New York, Chicago and London up to 70% just to keep the jobs at “home’.

Cape Town still attracts internationals but it remains a case of “shoot and go’.
The logistics of remaining in South Africa for post-production are still against us as international productions find it more beneficial to return to the country of origin for the post, not only for the cost saving benefits but also by the end of a shoot they actually want to go home.


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