PART IV - POST-PRODUCTION
(March 2016 - Sept 2017)
(March 2016 - Sept 2017)
Sound, Narration & Color Correction: New Senses
Sound, Narration & Color Correction: New Senses
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 on Premiere Pro: 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. When I switched back to the original, un-processed footage, it immediately looked pale, smoggy, bland. I did the same thing with sound: while the original takes seemed fine to me, once I had removed the noise, compressed and equalized the voices, the unprocessed audio sounded terrible. In both image and sound, once these improvements had been applied, it was impossible to go back to how things were at the start.
I decided to begin with sound, and thought I'd give it a go myself, if only to get a grip of the workflow. So, again, I tried to educate myself online, and after a few days messing around in Adobe Audition, I realized I was totally out of my depth, and 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 Rochard, whose studio was based in Paris. 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 process: 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 we had to record the narrator's voice. By narrator, I mean the female character who we hear throughout the film as she guides us through the story. In the final version of the film, she turns out to be the mother of the protagonist. But originally, she was meant to be his psychologist - at least in his original life, the one where he's stuck in his apartment after failing to choose a life to lead. The concept was that, in order to help him find his way, she travelled to parallel universes to interview his alternate selves, show him who he could have become and give him the opportunity to trade places. Her identity came to change many years later, as I explain in a another chapter. But back in 2017, she was still supposed to be this psychologist.
I had several ideas in mind about how I wanted her character to be voiced, but there was one goal - one fantasy almost - that I had been nurturing for several months already and that I planned to pursue for the final product: and that was to convince a famous actress to play the part, with the catch being that this psychologist/narrator would be this actress in another life. She'd essentially be playing an alternate version of herself, one where she hadn't become an actress, but gone on to become a psychologist.
Before ever trying to reach such an actress, though, I needed to have one solid version of the film I could show and, eventually, send to agents and actresses. Which meant recording a temp version. And so, in September 2017, through common acquaintances, I met with American actress Tiffany Hoffstetter, who was then living in Paris and had a lot of experiencing doing voice-over work for film and commercials. We spent half a day at Julien's studio recording her voice, and she did a great job.
Once that was done, Julien 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 few days binge-watching color correction tutorials on YouTube on how to use the Lumetri tool 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 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 learning all about Color Correction and 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.
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 seemed to make no difference whatsoever. Now I got it, or at least I could imagine how much nuanced detail and variance they were seeing that I wasn’t.
In 2018, I met a professional colorist who offered to color correct the film for 1000 euros, which is an extremely generous fee. But at that time, I had little money and explained to her that, when the time was right, I'd contact her again and ask her to do the final pass. But that day, unfortunately, never came. At that time, I believed I wasn't far off completing the final two steps of the project: 1/ I knew I had a copyright issue regarding all the artwork in the film and needed to sort that out, and 2/ I still had to find the right actress to narrate the film. I assumed these two steps would take me a few months, by which time I'd have saved some money and could pay the colorist. But those two steps turned out to be so complicated, time-consuming and emotionally draining that they almost drove the whole project into the ground, as the following chapters will explain.
Eventually, over the following months and years, I lost touch with this colorist, and refined my original color grading. That's how the final version of the film is today. I'm sure it could be a lot better, but, as the film strives to point out, so could most things in life. Doesn't mean they're not good enough - to me at least, and that's really all that matters.