How To Avoid Ruining Your Next Production: A Perspective From The Post House


Dentist: You may experience some slight discomfort

General Custer: Relax. Reinforcements will be here soon.

Director of Photography: Don’t worry. We’ll fix it in post.

If these statements all sound perfectly fine to you, you really need to read this article. And to be honest, we’re going to be mainly concentrating on the third misconception—fixing everything in post.

We know from experience that this is one wish that often doesn't come true. We have personally witnessed many mistakes made during video shoots that could NOT be fixed in post.

However, just so you don’t have to take our word for it, we talked to someone who’s an expert at post production, Mike Quinn from Portland's leading post house, Mission Control.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
First of all, you have to know that Quinn’s production experience extends back through the mists of time to the era before tape-to-tape video editing. As a high school sophomore he spent so much time hanging around his local TV station in Lewiston, ID they finally put him to work as a studio tech. 

This was back in the days when the news crews would shoot stories on 16mm film and then would rush back develop it in-house hours before it aired. Yes, they could really say, “Film at eleven!”

Then an incredible format came along that changed everything. It was called 3/4” U-matic. 

Stop snickering.

Even though the tape decks were the size of hope chests, it meant that news teams could record video in the field and bring it back to edit tape-to-tape.

Today, Quinn and his team at Mission Control are now operating in a video editing world that would have seemed like science fiction just a few years ago. Lightweight cameras shooting up to 8K resolution, a quality surpassing 35mm film. Completely digital non-linear editing. And digital effects where nearly anything is possible—if you have the budget.

Yet despite these incredible advances, you still need to plan carefully before you shoot anything.

Since Quinn has seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—we first asked him to tell us about the absolute disasters he’s seen. Situations where DPs have literally fallen to their knees and screamed, “NOOOOOO!” while the rain pours down and the camera climbs quickly away in a high crane shot.

Quinn said, surprisingly, that the true disasters were caused by the same mistakes people have been making since there were tube cameras. For example: not being careful about focus, shooting with the wrong camera settings, or losing or corrupting the recording media.

These are mistakes people will probably continue to make until the end of the world. 

But there are other, more subtle errors you can make that can hamstring your production. Like not thinking everything through ahead of time.

We believe very strongly in careful pre-planning. (Yes, we tend to go on and on about it in these articles.) So we asked Quinn if he had any pre-production advice from a post production perspective. He said he really couldn’t think of anything.

Just kidding. He gave us three foundational tips.

Three Valuable Tips From The Post House

1. Determine your deliverable. Get the client to tell you exactly how the video will be used. Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and broadcast all have different specs. Not to mention all the different web streaming formats. And then there's the challenge of European framerates. The point is, after you find out exactly where the piece will play, but BEFORE you shoot, talk to your post house to make sure you can finish your piece without a lot of extra trouble.

2. Organize your files. For example, make sure the drive you drop off for post has a folder with the specific project name so your editor can find all the parts. Also, include a text file in that folder with script notes, the model of camera you used, resolution and frame rate, and other pertinent information.

3. Make sure your multi-camera shoot is in sync. This means you should synchronize the timecode on all your cameras. “You can do it,” says Quinn. But it also means that you should be using the same model of camera. It’s very difficult to cut together footage from cameras that are not the same quality.

Bonus tip: Double-check your camera settings every time you change batteries, locations, and shooting days. Many times Quinn has seen whole days of footage where the camera reset to the default settings and nobody caught it.

So the takeaway from all of this is simply plan ahead.

Talk to the people who will be working on your project BEFORE you start. Quinn says he welcomes anyone who wants to call up and consult with him. 

“We don’t charge to talk,” he says. “Because it makes our life so much easier.”