“Fix it in post”

I hate those four words.

Those four words are the bane of my professional existence.  Those four words are the mating call of the lazy cameraman, the dog whistle of the unskilled sound recordist, the battle cry of the hopeless producer.  Those four words are what is wrong with post production.  Post production shouldn’t be about fixing footage that was screwed up on set.  Post production should be about telling stories with the excellently produced footage handed to the post crew by the production crew.  In some cases, those four words can even translate as “The guy who shot this really doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

I just did some work on a film.  A narrative.  It was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II in 1080p with audio recorded separately.   I won’t get much into the specifics of the project here, though I think it’s pretty cool and it’s being finished by a sound designer right now and I can’t wait to see what it looks like in the end.  Tragically, Plural Eyes had trouble synchronizing the audio in places and that made things a bit complicated when editing.

This however pales in comparison to what not having a script supervisor does.  I’ve seen it a lot in recent work of mine, both reality and narrative.  When you don’t have a script supervisor and your director and camera ops don’t notice the inconsistencies you wind up with some major continuity errors that make clips unusable.

About half of the shots on this recent project were rendered useless because of continuity errors.

When there are these sorts of errors, most of the time no one has noticed on set so no one utters those damnable four words until the footage has been screened and the line producer has told the director that if he or she intends to reshoot, they should consider paying for it with their own credit card.

The time it would take to go through a film and add or remove a Hawaiian shirt from an an actor and the expense of it make reshooting the cheaper alternative.  Not only that, but even with say, the budgets and money slung around ILM, you’ll still wind up with some pretty appalling looking fixes.  Oh, you say you want to know what these sorts of fixes look like even when you spend millions on them?  Have a look at this clip, 45 seconds in:

Star Wars Re-Edited

The scene you just saw was filmed when Jabba was just a humanoid like Han.  Short, fat, wearing furs and leather.  It added nothing to the film so the scene was cut from the film.  Once Jabba was around in the third film this scene had to be Ret Conned because Jabba could no longer be circled by a person without climbing all over him, or floating like an animated South Park character.

When Lucasfilm decided to add this scene to the “deluxe” versions of the film, the “mistake” had to be fixed in post.  You just could not reshoot it.  This was then a giant continuity error, something there really is no fix for and no way to prepare for when shooting.

When a continuity error is this bad, saying those four words is like a little child asking a parent to fix the pet that just died.  Some people think a lone editor can pull off the same results as ILM.  Sorry, I’m a magician, not a wizard.

I’m preparing to shoot a narrative short of my own, my first in a while, and it made me think long and hard about the importance of a continuity person.  In post production we can do a lot to overcome continuity errors.  We can flip negatives or resize the frame a bit to cut out a mistake but in the final analysis, the best thing is for the director to get it right on set.  This is why I’m so in favor of people learning to shoot on 16mm film.  Film teaches you not to mess around on set.  Film teaches you that it is expensive to get things wrong.  Film teaches you to get it right on set because when all you have is a razor blade, some tape and a wax pencil, there’s no fixing it in post.

Unless you’re George Lucas.

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