Remote Post Production FAQ
Remote Editing & Color Grading Has Become A New Paradigm…
In principle remote post production is very simple… I sit in my studio in Santa Cruz while you sit at a computer wherever you may be in the world, and if you have an internet signal we can both see what I’m doing with your video footage while you provide guidance so it best meets or exceeds your vision. This applies in just the same way to video and film editing, color grading and color correction, audio final mix (to some extent) and finishing edit, and mastering.
It makes post-production possible in many scenarios where health, time or distance make working side by side impossible or time and cost-prohibitive – and it produces great results… once you have got your mind around what compromises in the traditional process are acceptable to you.
Of course, things are never that simple because of technology – and that old rule of picking between cost, quality and performance…
I’m always very aware of real world concerns, and while a big budget feature may demand the ultimate in viewing quality and interactive performance, regardless of budget, for an indie film or a corporate kickstarter a very different balance has to be achieved. So let’s look at the no extra cost and the big budget options, along with everything in between.
Remote Offline Video Editing
Remote offline or content editing of a film, a corporate video or any other type of piece is the easiest post scenario to handle. You first choice is whether you want to give feedback on my editing in real time, or to take more time, view the edits multiple times and then send notes for me to work from.
If we can work through notes this is a piece of cake. You send me all of the footage and audio, graphics and whatever else you have on a hard drive via FedEx next day to my Santa Cruz studio, along with instructions. We have a skype conversation, and then I start editing. After a few hours, a day or whenever is a good point for feedback – I render out what has been done as a small H264 quicktime file and send you a link to download the video. When you have downloaded and watched it we chat, you email me notes, I make changes and move forwards, then send another file, etc..
It’s a simple system that works very well, so long as we are organized and make change decisions at the right point. If you are somewhere that you can’t download files I put them privately on to Vimeo, or send out a transport drive for next morning delivery.
If you want to work as if you were sitting next to me then this gets a little more complex – but there are several options available. The easiest is to setup a Zoom conference and share my edit and/or preview screen with you, then open up a Facetime call so we can talk the editing through as it is being done. There is a little delay but it is quite workable as a simple, flexible and cheap live edit solution.
In some editing software I can share my edits with you in realtime, if you have the same layout, software and media as I do. This often means working with small low quality proxy files to fit on both systems – it’s another option, though. Premiere also has a good half way house system that allows me to work on a section of the program, then jump to work on another, while you review and even make changes to the first section as a separate version.
The final solution for remote offline editing is for me to live stream my edit and preview screens out to you in absolute real time at the full quality and color rendition that I’m seeing on my high end systems. This may need additional hardware and software on both ends, and is an expensive option that, frankly, rarely makes much sense for an edit – where a lower quality image and a second of time delay are usually immaterial.
In my experience the option that works best for content/offline editing is a combination of live zoom conference for tricky bits of the program, starting and finishing the edit – then downloading full quality rendered versions of the program as it builds and giving me back notes to work from. This allows the flexibility of getting feedback when it is really needed and still having time to think while being able to stand back and see the big picture not just the individual edit.
Remote Online Video Editing
Online editing is a messy but very precise process – that part of post-production where a heavy duty editor with a big system takes the rough offline edit and a bag full of video, audio, music, graphics and animation “ingredient” files, and turns these into a perfect little film. To a large extent it’s a technical process with the creative piece only really coming into play once the techie stuff has been completed.
Although audio plays a big part in the process, this edit mainly focuses on image quality – and maintaining the required technical specifications of the output media. It can also include detailed effects work, creating titles, mixing audio levels and adding sound effects, as well as putting in time warps, graphics and so on.
Once this final edit has been done, and the timeline signed off and image locked, there is a final stage of the online edit where the program has to be prepared for color grading and sound sweetening. The audio is easy, it is just sent out as multiple channels of discrete sound bites at the highest quality. Preparing the picture is another matter.
You may have edited in, say, Premiere, Avid or Final Cut – but the Colorist is likely to be working in DaVinci Resolve to get the best possible control and quality. This means that the entire edit and all of the components have got to be prepared for conforming, where the Colorist rebuilds your timeline and links to the original master files to do the color grade. In an ideal world we will have edited in Resolve – and then the process is much much simpler!
Frankly, you don’t want to watch me doing all of these many hours of work, and I would rather have your notes to work from and a quiet, isolated space to work in! So the remote part of the equation only really comes into play when you send me a drive full of the files, before a quick chat through everything, when I reach a difficult part of the program and need live interaction, and then at the end of the process when there is an opportunity to fine tune the master edit.
For this, the Zoom and FedEx/Download combination process works perfectly well and is very efficient… allowing interaction just when it is needed.
Remote Color Grading
Getting it just right in camera is one of the most important steps in achieving great cinematography on screen, but color grading is what can really take your work to an entirely new level. It has the potential to elevate a good image to great, or a great image to outstanding… and invisibly recover shots which you thought were lost.
Like lighting, the color grade dictates the mood and feel of a piece, and through this how we interpret the final image. It has incredible power over how we perceive both the film and the characters, and the way we react to them.
A lot of the colorist’s work is not done under direct supervision, which is a good thing, because remote color grading is a far trickier business than remote editing. The various options that applied in remote editing are pretty much the same – Download files and/or FedEx them; Zoom screen sharing and Facetime interaction; Software Sharing; and Realtime Transmission. The problem comes in the technology we can use – what I can send out for you to see, what you can view this on, and where an acceptable compromise can be made.
If you sit next to me in my color grading studio then we both get to view the same perfectly color balanced high grade monitors – and, quite literally, what you see is exactly what you will get on the master. If I make a tiny tweak to the balance you will see it, and at the end of the day I can create outputs for, say, YouTube that we can view on an iPad or a DCP for theater projection, to see and fine tune what changes.
If I use a Zoom conference to share this same preview screen with you, then the image is reduced in quality and resolution by the Zoom software, and you see it on a screen in your home or office – which is probably not color correct or very high resolution. So we are looking at different images, and you may not even see when I make a tweak to a setting.
This is a problem for working interactively together. The low or no extra budget way of getting around it is to rely on sending you outputs/options as file downloads or FedEx carry drives – or a combination of this and Zoom, and then getting back timecoded notes and images with specific change requests. It’s not perfect, and it does mean I’ll probably end up doing things two or three times, but it works.
To get to a true fidelity and instant responses then I either need to setup a remote session in DaVinci – which means going into a local studio to you, with the same DaVinci setup and files as I have, and watching the buttons fly around as I play with them remotely. Or we need to use a Streambox solution where I send my images into a Streambox encoder in my studio, the very high quality live stream is sent to your location over the Internet, runs through a decoder at your end and onto your own color perfect monitor. This is a great option – easier and cheaper than adding a local studio booking – but it is still very expensive and takes time to setup and test.
In the real world outside of top features and international commercials, I’d suggest working with a combo of Zoom for instant responses and FedEx/Downloads for viewing the best quality output. It’s a very valid solution that can be made to work perfectly well so long as everyone is aware of the compromises in what they are seeing.
Remote Finishing & Mastering
Finishing is the process of re-assembling your film, and then giving it the final polish it needs to make it as seamless and professional as possible prior to mastering and output. The degree of finish editing needed is very much dependent on the editing and color grading softwares used…
If you edited the program in one of the big 3 software programs, Premiere, Final Cut and Avid, and color graded in DaVinci Resolve then you sent the project to the Colorist as lots of pieces for him to recreate as a timeline and work on individually, often with the effects, timewarps, graphics and titles taken out to avoid these coming out wrong. Now the finishing editor has to put all the bits back together again and add in all of those extras, as well as the audio master tracks from the composer and audio engineer.
If you edited and color graded in DaVinci Resolve (as I usually do) this has all been done automatically as you moved between the different parts of the software.
At this junction between grade and master you also have technical and creative elements to play with like noise reduction, image pixel blow up and repositioning, shot stabilization, advanced retiming, film grain emulation and even skin beauty work if it has not already been done by the Colorist. I also often include a final audio mix in this section to tailor delivery for different media.
Once the entire master timeline has been reassembled and checked – both creatively and technically – the mastering of the multiple different codecs and versions can be done, with tweaks to the overall look and sound as needed. So you may want a 4k DCP for theater projection and festivals, an H264 1080P master for Vimeo, a ProRes 4:4:4:4 file for broadcast with sound effects and without and with titles and without, and so on…
Much like online editing a lot of this process is technical, and much of it requires long render times before you can see the output. As such there are points where a live interaction through a Zoom type connection has value, but for the most part this type of remote work is best done by Downloads and/or FedEx transfers of the finished media.