How I Make an Independent Film, Start to Finish: Part Three

You’ve got your film in the can!! Woohoooo!! There is no greater joy than wrapping your movie. It’s truly an on-top-of-the-world feeling. So what happens now?? Well, if you’re just finding my blog, you should start here. If you’ve been with me the whole way, read on…

There is still much work to be done! Post production is a bi-atch, to put it frankly.

I’ll jump right in with the final stage of making an independent film from my experience, which means editing all that footage into a palatable movie.

The Post-Production Process

First of all, one grave mistake many newbies make in this business is that they don’t budget properly for post-production. They fundraise or find investors and spend everything in pre-production and filming. Then, when the time comes for post, they’re up poo creek with no paddle.

Don’t go up poo creek without a paddle.

poo creek

Know what you’re looking at and what everything is going to cost. Know how post-production breaks down and what type of talent you’ll need to hire for this process. There are four key people you’ll be working with:

  1. The film editor
  2. The colorist
  3. The sound designer
  4. The music composer


Editing is a HIGHLY technical job. I think a lot of people think it’s just about cutting scenes together, which it is, but you have to know lots of techy stuff. You have to know bit rates and frame rates and compression and encoding and blah, blah, blah. Plus, you have to have the drive space and the processor to work with all these giant files. And who knows, I’ve probably said half this stuff wrong, but that’s kind of my point.

While I do possess all my raw footage on a hard drive, I’ve never actually touched the stuff myself.

It’s important, as a director, that you work closely with your editor so he or she is familiar with your vision and cuts the film together the way you want. Also, the line script and shot list have already determined a large part of what the editor has to work with. So, this person will be able to take HOURS of footage and piece the puzzle together.

I worked with an editing student for my short film, 1426 Chelsea Street. He charged me $15/hour, which was half his normal rate. At $30/hour, with the amount of time an editor puts in, you’re looking at spending a lot of dough. That’s why you have to budget for post.


Once the film is in picture lock, the colorist does color correction. This means he or she modifies the coloring of EVERY scene to achieve the tone the director wants. This scene needs to be more of a cool blue to communicate the protagonist’s despair. Or this scene should be a warm, golden hue to highlight that the protagonist is happy playing with his kids on the front lawn… Colors and tones make people feel a certain way, so you can use color correction to help tell your story and heighten audience reaction.

On my short film, my editor was my colorist. He charged me $45/hour for color correction. Even as a student.

Sound Designer

This is HUGELY important!! First of all, it’s critical to make sure you had a top-notch sound mixer on set getting everything down crisp and clean. It’s also critical that your 1st or 2nd AC marks every take correctly with the slate so that your sound designer can easily sync sound with picture in post.

If you have not done these two things during shooting, your sound design is going to be a godforsaken mess.

Now…the sound designer is responsible for the way your film sounds–for lack of a better explanation. He or she is the one who makes sure the dialogue matches the actors’ mouths, who turns up the volume on the sound of the door slamming or the baby crying, who adds ambient noise that you didn’t get while filming, like birds chirping or distant lawn mowers mowing, who inserts certain sounds that help tell the story, like the sound of someone annoyingly crunching potato chips, or the scuffle of footsteps. And, in the end, he or she controls the levels of all these layers of sound so that they mesh together perfectly and seamlessly.

If you were to look at any given film before sound design, you would be shocked at how much is missing…how much is added in AFTER the film has been shot.

There’s some quote that says the auditory component of a movie makes up like 75% of the viewer experience. Something like that. Basically, it’s really important. Bad sound design can make a beautifully shot movie look like crap, and massively increase the production quality of a movie with mediocre cinematography.

Music Composer

You may want to buy songs from artists, which involves licensing and rights and whatnot, and have a movie soundtrack. Movies like Garden State and Twighlight are known for having great musical soundtracks.

Or you may want to hire a composer to score your film with music specifically designed to augment the story. The famous composer John Williams is responsible for many of the greatest and most memorable musical scores of all time… that intense Jaws score, the beautiful music of Jurassic Park and E.T., the classic hero-song of Indiana Jones, the unforgettable tune of Harry Potter, and MANY more.

It’s your choice. You can even combine the two, which was what I did for my film. I hired a friend who went to school for music composition. He was willing to do the whole job for only $250, which was a steal. It was a perfect trade-off, because I was the first person to offer him such an opportunity, and it opened up the doors for him to do a lot more scoring on independent films. And then I also used some music from local indie bands that I love. Of course, I tracked down their contact information and asked their permission. They were willing to let me use their music for free.

That’s it for this post! Come back again next week for the fourth and final installment of this series…the film festival circuit!!

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