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  • Daniel Harding


If you hear someone on set saying "we'll save it in the edit" run a mile! Or at least, that's what we're told to think, right? But there is a lot you can do if you keep it for the edit room, especially if you're working with a low-budget

Low-budget filmmaking

Obviously, you'd love to have a huge budget so that you've got all the time in the world to get what you want whilst on set. Film school, classes, books, podcasts, they all tell us that the phrase "save it in the edit" is a bad thing. Like, really bad! I think fundamentally this is because it breeds bad habits. Short cuts. Laziness. A willingness to do one take and move on. But I'm suspicious of short cuts, and I'm certainly not lazy. But, and this is a big but, there is in fact a lot you can do to save your footage and film in the edit. The obvious reason you didn't get what you wanted and/or needed whilst on set is probably going to be because of a restricting budget. Schedule is tight and somewhat stressed, especially if you've given yourself too much to do and think about (if you're anything like me!), which means no one is keeping an eye on what needs to be, and if it can be, done. Disaster is bound for your project. Watch out! It could be a shot out of focus, a shot missed, poor audio, bad performance, odd direction, or a poorly crafted scene. Often for me, it's that two shots won't cut together - not that they won't, but they shouldn't. Why that happens could be for a number of reasons, but once you're in the edit room and you can no longer shoot pick ups, what do you do? This is where a good editor earns their salary. Anyone can chop shots together, but if you can get yourself out of a sticky situation, then you'll be worth your weight. If you're a director, you need to find yourself an editor like this, and if you're an editor who prides themselves on problem solving, feel free to get in touch! Because that's what post-production typically is for me. Problem solving. 99% of the time you're going to have footage that is different to what you imagined and it doesn't work for some reason. But you've got no choice but to figure it out and save it in the edit.

Cut the problem

The easiest way of saving it in the edit is to cut the problem entirely from your film. Let's say you've got a very important shot but it's out of focus, what do you do? Seriously hurt your DP/Focus puller? Maybe. But let's assume you filmed it yourself. What are you going to do now? Cry, probably. Work on something else for a while, likely. But either way, at some point you're going to be faced with that problem, so you better deal with it because it's not going anywhere. A very important shot that is out of focus is every filmmaker's worse nightmare. There is literally nothing you can do, unless, you do one of two things (assuming you don't have the budget to re-shoot), and they are; 1. Embrace the out of focus and make it part of the scene, and 2. cut it. Both are quite drastic solutions, but if you don't choose one your film probably won't get finished. Personally, I think option 2 is the most likely. You never know, it could actually improve your film! I'm not saying it will, but it could. Often problems offer us an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important about our film. I shot a film several years ago and I allowed the actors to use real wine as a prop, but stupidly, they kept sipping the wine. Give that an hour or two, and they've drunk a fair few glasses of wine. They were tipsy at least, and drunk at most. It was my fault. But when I got into the edit, the footage and scene was unusable. It was bad. I was depressed for a bit, but then I thought, "do I need that scene?" Maybe not. It turns out, I didn't. And you'd never notice! So I cut the problem. I saved it in the edit, because now it was actually a better short film as I got rid of some unnecessary exposition that wasn't important to the narrative. I took a bad situation and turned it into a positive one.

Learn what you can save in the edit

If you're a self-shooter like me, that means you'll be editing your own footage. This gives you a huge advantage when filming if you learn to know what you can save and what can be done. Personally, I sometimes underexpose (sorry!) if there is a wide exposure range in the image. I do this because I know I can mask the dark areas and bring them up in the grade, whereas, I can't save something that is over-exposed. This is perhaps a stylistic choice, but I'd much rather be under-exposed than over (I'm sure many people would disagree, but that principle works for me). Ideally you'd want correct exposure, but for this scenario we are assuming for whatever reason that you can't - often for me, it's because I don't have enough lights on set, so you have to make a compromise and understand what you can save in the edit. Because I edit, it's made my filming-life so, so much easier. I know the process of what I need in the edit whilst shooting. It saves me a lot of stress and time. I'm sure (and know) there is a lot of conflict between the shooters and the editors within indie-filmmaking because typically the shooters won't think about the edit - some do, but for most, their job is over when the other is just beginning. If you've got a good shooter then they'll typically understand, but a bad one will make the editor's life hell. There are so many things you can do to make the edit easier, and understanding that means that saving it in the edit is a viable option and not a 'make do'.

Learn to mask

Wow, when I learnt to mask, my life changed. It was the biggest eureka moment I think I've ever had. Suddenly there was so many things I could do to save my work. Masking, if you don't know, is where you take a tool like colour grade, and use it to specifically select which area of the image you want to change. This may sound like common sense to a lot of you, but I guarantee there are more than a few filmmakers out there that don't know how to do it. I learnt over years and years of trail and error, and figuring it out with my own very rudimentary way of doing things, until I eventually ended up on an animation feature film, and I began to learn about animation. Frame-by-frame movements, moving the mask around a subject, animating your tool. It does take a lot of work and patience, but there have been times where I feared having to call up my client and explain that I had fucked up, but now I know what I can to do save the shot by masking. Perhaps the window was too bright, or there is something in the shot you want to remove. You can learn to do this, and it's relatively painless once you know - I do it without thinking now as part of my ordinary work flow. Removing unwanted props from shots has been a HUGE benefit to my overall production value. Because let's face it, if you're shooting low-budget, you're going to make a prop mistake at some point. I did it recently in a film I made. I left a bunch of lenses and bags in the back of the shot by mistake, but because I had learnt to mask, I could remove them easily. This consisted of building a base-frame (where the props had been removed via photoshop) and then masking around it so it covered the area on the original shot where the probs were mistakenly placed. I strongly recommend looking for a youtube tutorial if you don't know how to do this. It's saved me so many times!

Can you save audio in post?

I want to say no. Because out of all the things you shouldn't (and probably can't) save in post, is sound. Bad sound recording is an absolute nightmare, and I still dread listening to the takes just in case there is a problem. Inevitably, there sometimes is. Not as much as when I first started out. But I do make mistakes - they can't be helped when shooting with low budgets. But you must, must, must learn how to fix them. Let's assume there was some interference or crackling during a performance take, for whatever reason, perhaps the actor scratched their chest and moved the mic. Unfortunately for you, that's the take the director wants to use for performance. So what do you do? The expensive option is to reshoot. If you can't do that, you could re-hire the actor so they can lip-sync to their performance (this does cause it's own problems with sound quality and the difference between on-set and studio recording) or, and this is my most valued and used option, you can audio from different takes and overlay them on the video track you want to use. About half the time this won't work, but knowing how to do this has saved me more times than I care to admit. Most of the time, no one notices (if done properly), but it's not always 100% accurate. If done poorly, it can be quite jarring. But if it works, you saved yourself a whole tonne of problems and money. Professional sound mixers can work wonders with dodgy audio recording, but if there is one thing you shouldn't allow yourself to 'save in post' it should be audio. But just know that there are some things you can do to save it, if you don't have any other choice.

Lastly, if you've never edited before, learn to edit

For me, I'd struggle to accept why a filmmaker has never edited before. If you're a self-shooter who doesn't edit, my recommendation is to start. It will improve your filming ability ten-fold, because I guarantee there are a lot of things you're doing that you don't even realise is causing the editor problems - which could be easily fixed if you just knew. It doesn't have to be a professional edit, but just sit with your own footage and throw it together. Try and get it to work. If it doesn't, take note. Because when you film next time, that problem will be there in the forefront of your mind. Every time I film, I am thinking about the edit. If I wasn't editing the footage, I'd want to have a chat with the editor first to see what I could do to make their lives easier. Too many crew members in indie-filmmaking don't ever meet or talk to each other, they just do their job and then go home. Fair enough, there isn't a budget, but you can still take it upon yourself to make sure you're doing a good job for whoever is editing. Learn to edit, it will make everything so much easier.

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