“Let’s fix it in post.” It’s a problematic phrase heard whenever a production crew is unable to “get it right” on set. It’s also a sentence that elevates those people in “post” to the rank of miracle workers, and perhaps they are.
[Related reading: The importance of retouchers in post-production of photos]
Table of contents
- What is Video Post Production?
- Video Editor
- Sound Designer
- Visual Effects Artist
- Post Production Coordinator
- Basics of Hiring Post Production Personnel
- Collaboration in Video Post Production
What is Video Post Production?
As the final stage, video post production is a complex undertaking that requires a team of skilled professionals to bring a creative vision to life. It’s the process of editing, enhancing, and finalizing video content after it has been recorded, to achieve the desired finished look. Each process and position is integral to the final product, from the editor who weaves together footage for a compelling story to the sound designer who immerses the audience in the video’s world. Their contributions are critical to the overall production process, and it’s imperative that you select the right candidate for each position on an assignment.
The number of photographers handling video assignments has continued to increase in recent years, making video production and post production, by extension, an important process at Wonderful Machine. Directors and clients must collaborate with suitable candidates at various post production positions to realize their creative goals.
For this article, we’ll look at the most fundamental roles in post, leaving out categories and subcategories that might be needed for projects of significant magnitude – the next Marvel movie being one of them.
Once upon a time, Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited Martin Scorsese’s films for over five decades, was asked how such a “nice lady” could edit the filmmaker’s violent stories. Her response was succinct, revealing the role of the editor as one that equals the importance of the director’s.
Ah, but they aren’t violent until I’ve edited them.
In that regard, editors are the unsung heroes of video production. Without them, there’d be no cohesive narrative paced to suit the beats and structure of a story. They work with the director to trim shots, rearrange sequences, and add special effects when needed, turning a rough product into a polished one. In addition to strong storytelling skills, editors need to thoroughly understand the technical aspects of editing software, the instruments by which they become storytellers.
Presently, the most prevalent instruments are Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Avid Media Composer. Some prefer Adobe’s ecosystem of interconnected products for convenience, while MacOS users may lean toward Final Cut Pro. Elsewhere, Avid maintains its position as a film and TV industry staple. Recently, DaVinci Resolve has disturbed the status quo, offering a platform where video editing and color grading can be managed within the same software.
One way or another, a video editor’s success depends on their creativity and technical mastery of these editing tools.
Hiring a Video Editor
When looking for a video editor, Molly Brock of Cowboy Collective holds up the portfolio as the ultimate arbiter. Every post production position comes with its varieties and specializations. It’s the same in video editing, where no two professionals are alike. For example, an editor with a background in documentary filmmaking could be a poor fit for social media content, and vice versa.
Pay attention to the genre they work in. Look at the different types of footage they’ve handled. Can they deal with multi-camera edits? Does the tone and style of their work match your vision? These are all things to look for.
Molly finds that a successful first gig with a client often leads to a long-term relationship. It’s about clearing that first hurdle, after which a client knows what to expect.
The first gig is your chance to show the kind of editor you are and the kind of work you do. If what you deliver aligns with the client’s vision, and you communicate that effectively throughout the entire process, they’re going to come back to you. Whether you’re a freelancer or part of a production house, it doesn’t matter. There’s a sense of trust, and loyalty, too, to some extent.
Regarding cost, most editors have a day rate covering 8 to 10 hours of work. Editors can also have a weekly rate for more extensive projects, and if they take longer, they may negotiate a different fee with the client. Other factors that come into play include the number of deliverables, the timeline of the project, and the editor’s level of experience. That last element is critical since it influences the quality of work and the time taken to produce the work. For instance, a highly experienced editor can fulfill the client’s creative brief faster than an amateur or intermediate. These benefits the client receives will be reflected in the price.
For this reason, the pay range for an editor is dramatic. According to a Blue Collar Post Collective survey of post production professionals, video editors for commercials and branded storytelling can get a day rate between $175 and $2,000. In the scripted features space, editors can command $3,000 a day and above.
Post Production Workflow
The route to a video editor’s involvement on a project varies. Sometimes, they’re helicoptered in at the very end, told to do their magic with the assets and client brief. In these situations, the more detailed the brief, the easier the process becomes. In other instances, the editor may also be involved in pre-planning, giving them a thorough understanding of expectations.
As part of Cowboy Collective, Molly has been part of both the pre-planning and production phases of campaigns. This gives her greater clarity over what components must be emphasized in post.
The best-case scenario for any editor is to see everything from start to finish. You get to see what the focus is on. For example, they may have spent hours trying to get a shot, so I know it’s a priority, and that I must include it in the edit one way or another. Any role in this industry involves a collaborative process, so being able to work with other people’s perspectives can make you the best at any role you have.
However, the collaborative process requires some norms and best practices to be in place. The further along an edit is, the more difficult it becomes to make adjustments. Clients may request that certain shots be cut, new shots be added, and song selections be changed. Early during an edit, these could be furnished easily. But closer to the finish line, one change can lead to so many others. Cutting a scene can affect the timing of the background beat, which may demand a change in music. Changing the music can affect the video’s tone, which may require rearranging shots to recreate the previous ambiance. The law of unintended consequences on full display.
Once again, this makes the editing stage longer and costlier for the client. Maintaining strong lines of communication throughout the process and avoiding late-stage edits are crucial to avoid these pitfalls.
An uplifting PSA video is not likely to feature a moody and brooding visual palette, and neither is a commercial for an amusement park. Visually, the tone of a video must suit its intent, with the style matching the substance. It’s the colorist’s job to make sure this state is accomplished with the assistance of the director. This includes adjusting the brightness, saturation, contrast, and other parameters to achieve the desired look and feel.
A colorist’s job falls into two broad categories.
- Color Grading – the process of adjusting the appearance of video footage for creative or technical purposes, including contrast, color, white balance, black level, saturation, and luminance. The objective is to create a specific atmosphere, style, or emotion. For example, flashback sequences in a movie may be distinguished with muted colors and low saturation, while the present is revealed more vibrantly.
- Color Correction – A subcategory of color grading concerned with creating a balanced and consistent look across all footage. Most commonly, this involves fixing the light in a video to ensure consistency and continuity from scene to scene or within a scene.
Hiring a Colorist
Once again, the portfolio can function as the be-all and end-all. Look through a colorist’s website, social media pages, and industry profiles to understand their work. You’ll find that some people have niches they’re comfortable with, like commercials or music videos.
Separately, pay attention to the first couple of meetings or emails you exchange with a colorist to assess their suitability for the job. Dave Bauer, a colorist, and editor based in Philadelphia, elaborated on some of the skills and qualities of a good candidate.
Being able to bridge the gap between the technical and the creative is essential. You don’t necessarily have to know 100% of Resolve, Baselight, or other software, to be able to be effective. Nor do you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the looks and styles that have ever been established across the entire breadth of the visual arts. But being able to use your chosen medium, knowing where you want to take an image, and having the skill set to get it there is key. Not to say there isn’t a lot of experimentation or playing around – it can be very subjective.
Ian Schobel, another colorist based in Philadelphia, expanded further by honing in on the elusive concept of instinct.
They need to have an eye for getting the most out of your footage. Knowing when to push and pull white balance, deepen tones in one part of the shot but not the other, blowing out highlights when you’d normally keep the shot within a safe range – everything the colorist does is a combination of technique and instinct. Whether it’s a heavily stylized piece or a realistic documentary, the colorist’s job is to emphasize mood and feeling by creating a visually consistent world. It’s just as important to zoom in and adjust the finest of details for every shot as it is to zoom out and examine the context of a scene in motion.
To obtain a sense of the above, you can ask a candidate to provide a sample showing how they’ll transform your video project. This step will naturally separate an amateur from a professional colorist. An experienced colorist will furnish you with a color palette, reference images, descriptions, and several options. On the other hand, an amateur may just supply a couple of screenshots. You can certainly go with one or the other if you feel they’ve nailed the aesthetic, but the difference in their skill and experience will be reflected in the cost.
Post Production Workflow
While it’s ok to provide your preferences on the literal “color” or “colors” you’re after, defining the tone and ambiance you’re trying to create is more helpful. Is this a horror movie where the audience must be suffocated in a fear of the unknown, lurking in the dark of the night? Or is this a horror flick in which the danger is in plain sight, in full display under the bright summer sky (think 2019’s Midsommar)?
A good colorist can quickly get to work once you accurately define the tone in your creative brief. If you have difficulty finding the right words to explain the tone, reference images are a safe option.
Once the colorist begins their work, there’ll be around two to three review points where feedback can be provided. When it’s time for the first review, the colorist would have made all the large-scale changes to the video. This is the point at which you should provide any detailed comments. By the second review, the colorist should have incorporated your additional feedback into the video. At best, there’d only be some minor aches and pains to fix at this juncture. Finally, when it’s time for the last review, the video should be good to proceed to the next stage. However, the process has morphed quite a bit over the past few years, as Vancouver-based colorist Sam Gilling pointed out.
Pre-COVID, the norm for a color session was to have all parties physically present in the room, watching and approving the grade over the full course of the session. Now that remote work has become more common, we’re often running into situations where the final decision-maker on the client side isn’t able to join the virtual session, whether temporarily or at all. So we’re having to change how we approach scheduling and billing for extra time on projects. Before, there’d be a firm start and end time of people physically showing up to the suite.
Looking at the process from afar, the colorist usually gets involved only in the post-production stage. However, there are cases where they’re on hand during pre-production, facilitating lookup tables (a preset that transforms the color and tone of an image/video) to the director and cinematographer. On other occasions, they may even be present during production to accommodate color-graded dailies to the producers.
George Lucas once said that sound is 50% of the movie-going experience, and we’re not planning on disagreeing with him. The audience will quickly realize when the audio is not in sync with the picture, whether it’s dialogue not matching the actor’s lips or the music is undermining the mood of a given scene. Everything in this realm comes under the sound designer’s jurisdiction, who is responsible for creating and mixing the audio for the video. This includes designing sound effects, mixing dialogue, and adding music to create an immersive audio experience.
You could easily find an army of personnel handling sound, depending on the size of the production. These include composers who create custom music, music supervisors who oversee production and licensing, and music editors who synchronize music with the visuals. Then there are ADR editors who replace and enhance dialogue, followed by dialogue editors who clean up audio and ensure consistency. Elsewhere, Foley editors improve sound effects while sound effects editors assemble audio elements. Dubbing mixers balance sound elements, and lastly, supervising sound editors oversee the entire department. Sometimes, sound designer and supervising sound editor may be used interchangeably. Either way, the range of personnel involved highlights the complexity and importance of sound in production.
Hiring a Sound Designer
The hiring criteria for other professions is equally applicable here.
- The Portfolio – Consider their previous projects for indications of their creativity and technical expertise. Get a sense of the work they gravitate towards (e.g., documentary filmmaking or music production)
- Technical Expertise – How proficient are they with industry-standard software like Pro Tools?
When speaking to Dave Nelson of Outpost Studios SF, he highlighted the importance of the connections you make along the way. Work begets work, and the last person you worked with can easily help you land another gig.
In my experience, it’s mostly about who you know. Most of the time, a director will reach out to somebody that he already knows and ask for a recommendation. Making a demo can’t hurt. It’s great practice and teaches you all the intricacies and the speed of doing work. But I’m a little suspicious if it gets a job.
Post Production Workflow
As discussed earlier, the production size will determine everyone’s expectations. On larger projects with multiple post production personnel, each will have clearer and narrower responsibilities. For example, the Foley editor handles just the Foley, and the dialogue editor sticks to the dialogue. But as the budget dwindles, fewer people will juggle more responsibilities. When this happens, clients need to be more mindful of the time spent getting the final mix and the quality of the output as well, since a specialist isn’t handling each audio component.
On another note, the work for sound designers becomes much easier if the video edits have been finalized, reaching the stage of “picture lock.” Dave brought attention to the costliness of making video changes while the audio team’s efforts are in progress.
If we get to sound before the picture is locked, it’s going to cost the client more money. Because then we’re gonna have to conform. It’s one thing if there’s a few edits, maybe under 20 edits or under 10 edits. Then the conform is not that big a deal. But if there’s a hundred edits, and if you take a scene that happened later in the movie and move it earlier in the movie and reconstruct the entire timeline, conforming is going to take some time, and we charge for that time.
Looking at the horizon, using AI for audio editing is going to be commonplace. The selling point primarily includes improvements to productivity and reductions in cost. For example, the sound effects library Soundly recently launched a Voice Designer, letting users tailor a voice to their liking before creating artificially generated dialogue. For a more compelling example, consider Resemble AI recreating Andy Warhol’s voice using three minutes and 12 seconds of his audio recordings. This synthetic Warhol narrated his diary entries for 2022’s “The Andy Warhol Diaries,” marking a new AI-fueled world with opportunities and threats, a point Dave readily admitted.
A lot of people are rightfully nervous and scared about it. I am, too, because I have a thriving ADR business, and it might be possible to just feed in some of the actors’ lines from the rest of the movie and be able to duplicate it and eliminate the traditional ADR. Just type in what you want them to say. And I should be scared about that because I don’t want to lose my ADR business. On the other hand, it’s so exciting. I’m kind of thrilled about it too.
Visual Effects Artist
The primary responsibility of the visual affects artist is to create and integrate computer-generated imagery (CGI) and visual effects into live-action footage. Their diverse work range covers everything from creating titles to match moving, where a VFX artist must seamlessly composite live-action and CGI assets together. As a foundation, the position requires a thorough understanding of various software on top of an entire list of intangibles, as Arcade Edit’s VFX artist Tristian Wake mentioned.
They need to have an eye for detail and understand how things look in the real world. Being patient and being able to work in a team are just as important. Great client skills and being able to interpret what the client wants is also a must, since clients may lack the technical vocabulary to explain their vision. They also need to be able to quote time durations and what resources will be needed.
Hiring a VFX Artist
There’s an infinite variety of VFX artist categories. In some cases, their job titles could be used interchangeably with a military special ops team without causing any confusion. Think “nuke artist” or flame artist.” In addition to jobs concerning specific technical functions, some VFX artists will make themselves available only to a specific type of work, such as film and TV or commercials. Meanwhile, other roles within this space are client-facing, such as VFX supervisors and producers. As with any field, Tristian listed a few key factors to consider when hiring a VFX artist for an assignment.
- Experience in a given discipline as seen through their past work and portfolio
- Educational background and qualifications
- Bare in mind that people get into this field from different avenues. Some will have film and video degrees while others may be straight of school and learning on the job.
- Understanding of software and hardware for a given discipline, e.g., Adobe Creative Suite, Nuke, Maya, etc.
- This final component is in a constant state of flux, especially given the exponential rate of change taking place via AI and CGI.
Post Production Workflow
When asked about the most significant challenge faced by a VFX artist, Tristian wasted no time mentioning that it was always a lack of time.
There’s never enough time. Things are always changing right up until delivery. Shots that you’ve worked on might be changed last minute, and then there are instances where shots can be cut as well.
So, to get the best out of a VFX artist, providing adequate time for deliverables goes a long way, even though the video production landscape is one in which “sooner” is always preferred. When this can be a difficult accommodation, involving the VFX team as early as possible during production is good practice. Tristian insisted he gets involved as early as the planning phase to understand the client’s vision and see edits before things get to the wire.
Post Production Coordinator
Regardless of a project’s size, there has to be a central figure who oversees the multitude of functions taking place in post production. On a project with a shoestring budget, this could easily be the producer. On more extensive campaigns, it would be the post production coordinator. They work closely with the production team, post production team, and the client to ensure the project is completed on time, within budget, and to the desired quality standards.
When dealing with a production company, there could be people besides the coordinator, including the Director of Post Production. At Novus Select, that is Bryan Liscinsky, who condensed his responsibilities into two categories.
- People Management – Coordinate the efforts of each team member to meet the project’s requirements.
- Quality Control – Review deliverables to confirm they fulfill the brief and are error-free.
Post Production Workflow
While some personnel could be dropped in just for the post production phase, that usually isn’t the case for the coordinator or director. It would be ill-advised to hide the whole picture from this individual. Bryan laid out the usual processes for a project at Novus Select.
Our typical workflow begins with being looped in during pre-production to hear about the creative and deliverables, then build a bid. Once the bid is greenlit, we’ll build out a proposed post production schedule. We typically work backward from a final handoff date. When the schedule is relatively set, we’ll identify an editor for the project and put them on hold. Aside from our director, the editor is the most important piece of the puzzle to lock in. We’ll place holds for their time well in advance to make sure we have the right talent for the project. The next step is chatting with the creatives to figure out who our composer should be, then lock in a musician to score the film. At this point, I’m starting to breathe a little easier.
Once production concludes, the editor gets rolling, working their way through the footage, incorporating the client’s feedback across different cuts, and finally hitting Picture Lock. Color grading and visual effects work come next, followed by the audio mix. The footage is then conformed, and the deliverables are sent to the client.
During this entire phase, assets and deliverables shift back and forth between different parties, relying on each individual punctually completing their work. In that regard, Bryan’s emphasis on scheduling isn’t a surprise.
The whole process is like a logistical chess match. It’s on us, the post team, to keep everyone on track, and hit our benchmarks. If we start to trail off schedule, it could have major complications for the availability of our vendors (colorists, flame artists, mix engineers, editors).
While it’s within the coordinator’s purview to oversee each team member’s progress, their presence mustn’t stifle everyone else’s efforts. As Bryan noted, knowing when to step in and step back is vital.
I try not to tangle myself in with the creative process aside from leading logistics. You often have to separate yourself from the creative and let the team do their thing. I’ll always know the general scope of the creative, but not dive into the weeds. Sometimes I’ll speak up if the music isn’t feeling right in some parts or have anything specific to point out in the edit, but I generally reserve myself until we’re into finishing. More of my input comes during the color grading, compositing and sound mixing.
Basics of Hiring Post Production Personnel
By and large, the criteria for hiring anyone from a video editor to a sound designer remains the same. The individuals we spoke to for this article singled out the same few elements.
- Past Work
- Recommendations from Industry Peers and Colleagues
- Technical Expertise
- Educational Qualifications
Most of the time, the emphasis is laid on the first two items, and it’s enough to indicate the technical proficiency required for a job. It all comes down to what they’ve done before and with whom. In many cases, a portfolio of incredible work should attract plenty of suitors. Similarly, someone’s attitude and work ethic will leave a lasting impression on people’s minds, making it more likely that they’re on the top of the recommendations list.
Freelancers vs. Post Production Houses
When putting together a team of post production personnel, one option is to hire various freelancers. It’s a more affordable route since these individuals don’t have to cover large overhead costs as production houses do. However, rallying the right freelancers can be as challenging as assembling a group of superheroes. While they will offer specialized services, the team members could be unfamiliar with each other’s post production workflow and creative inclinations, leading to a more conflict-prone and less productive process.
While post production houses may be costlier, you’ll work with individuals who’ve developed chemistry over previous assignments. As a result, they’re more likely to be on the same page creatively and operationally, enabling a smoother post production stage. In addition, they’ll have a selection of in-house talent to deploy for a project, whether it’s an editor, composer, or VFX artist. And if there’s a deficiency of talent for a given project, they can lean on their network of regular freelancers to fill the gaps.
When considering both paths, though, the budget becomes the ultimate constraint.
Price and Budgeting
Ideally, the client would want the most suitable candidates across every production stage. In reality, the budget determines the level of talent at each position. It’s a fact reiterated by everyone who spoke to us for this article, including Molly and San Francisco-based photographer and director Rachid Dahnoun. They quickly pointed out that on some campaigns, one person wearing several hats is a common sight. Rachid said,
Budget is usually the largest determining factor in how we approach post. Sometimes, the editor will handle color if the budget is tight, so we can allocate more money to things like music and sound. We look at every project and make a call on what resources are best spent where. Every project is different so I prioritize different elements of post based on the needs of the story. I’m also never afraid to ask the client for additional budget if there are post production elements that will really push an edit over the top.
Molly is all too familiar with the video editor masquerading in different positions, whether that be as a colorist or sound designer.
Oftentimes, the budget is the foundation of most things in this industry. Color grading in itself is an art form. The same goes for sound. But because of budget and resources, it can fall on us. We do our best to make it look and sound natural, but it’s always great to have someone who’s from that niche.
A project’s complexity and a candidate’s experience all come into play when ascertaining their price. However, the Motion Picture Editors Guild facilitates wage and salary information for its freelance and staffed members in post production professions as required by law.
Collaboration in Video Post Production
There are more moving parts in the world of motion than stills (pun intended). Just talk to a photographer on a hybrid campaign, and they’ll give you the rundown, where the video crew on set and in post production tends to dwarf the stills team handily. But this situation can easily go from “more the merrier” to “too many cooks” if the team members aren’t on the same page. Across each role, a deft hand must guide the creative needs while being mindful of the usual operational constraints at play: time, money, and ego. The first two are easier to quantify and manage, but the last one requires a give-and-take between client and creative that is much harder to attain, yet critical to the success of any campaign.
About the Author
Sankha Wanigasekara is a content writer and an Entertainment and Arts Management graduate from the Cinema and Television concentration at Drexel University. You can connect with him through LinkedIn. This article was originally published here and shared with permission.