PART 4: POST-PRODUCTION
Sound and Color Correction
Sound and Color Correction
By the time the film was edited to the original soundtrack, I thought I had a pretty solid version of the film: the raw footage from my camera looked pretty nice and the raw audio from the interviews sounded fine. I knew, however, there were more steps to go, namely sound design/mixing and color correction, and I clearly didn’t understand just how big a difference they could make before starting. And this is the kind of thing that you need to experience to really get it.
On the one hand, I had shot my footage with my Canon 6D camera in H.264 format (this is compressed footage) but with a CyneStyle preset that captured the flattest image possible – this means a highly desaturated and low-contrast image that keeps as much information as possible within that compressed format. And honestly, I really liked the way it looked as it was. But then, I did a rough pass at color correcting: I started by adjusting the white balance, then the brightness and contrast, then I added some vibrance and saturation, and little by little, process by process, the picture changed, got more real and vivid, and when I switched back to the original, un-processed footage, it immediately looked pale, smoggy, bland. Same with sound: the original takes seemed fine to me, but then once the noise had been removed and the voice compressed and equalized, the original audio sounded terrible. Once these processes had been made, it was impossible to go back to how things were to begin with.
I started with sound, and after about 1 hour messing around in Adobe Audition, I decided to look for help. It was James Huth’s daughter, Shannon, who was herself producing a Web Series called Jeune Diplomée, who put me in touch with her sound designer, Julien. We met and he agreed to work on the film for a low pay. I think the subject of the film spoke to him: he was also turning 30 soon and reflecting on his life choices. Over the course of approximately six months, we worked on several stages of the sound post-production: first, sound design. Here is where not having recorded sound while shooting became a major issue, because we realized that some natural sound would be welcome when we are with the characters, and therefore Julien had to recreate most of them. Then he cleaned up all the voices and proceeded to mix all the layers: sound effects, voices and music.
When it came to color correction, at first I didn’t think it needed that much and so embarked on that process myself. I spent a couple days learning with Youtube Tutorials how to use the Lumetri Color Correction in Premiere Pro and dove into it. However, after spending a few days color correcting the first Act of the film, I showed a photographer friend of mine the results and she spent about 1 hour demolishing everything I had done. It was either not enough, or too much – and I could sense in her criticism a kind-of annoyance that I had thought color correction was something I could just pull off in a fortnight. So, I went back to the drawing board. By this time, my money had severely ran out and I couldn't go on the hunt for a professional colorist. So eventually, I spent about 5 weeks doing a sort-of “acceptable-first-color-correction” of the film, which looked definitely better than the raw footage and would be good enough to show around.
However, while obviously I didn't do a perfect job, performing this first pass of color-correcting and color-grading myself was incredibly instructive. It was like I was learning a new language, and I could actually feel my brain augmenting its capacities day by day, my eyes becoming more and more sensitive to color palettes, to different color temperatures and hues, paying more attention to the amount of contrast in pictures and in our natural environment during a given day. I used to be amazed and frankly skeptical about the amount of time my photographer friends would spend color-correcting their pictures, fiddling with nodes that to me seemed to make no difference whatsoever on the picture. Now I got it, or at least I could imagine how much nuanced detail and variance they were seeing that I wasn’t.