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Trying to make things right


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Strange title - this is my first post on these forums. I have a dilemma.

I made a short film in 2003 and had a "pro" crew, starting with the DP. I was the director - but looking back, he basically produced the film. He made it happen, despite my nearly non-existent budget (10K). I didn't know what I was doing. He pulled in a lot of favors to get a lighting crew in, sound crew, set designer - everyone basically. He even procured a studio space in which to shoot it (it all takes place in a hotel room, which we built.

I think the 10K I had paid for the set building, the rental of the camera (XL1s) and the Zeiss prime lenses. The most expensive thing was the insurance to cover the lenses.

In short,  a lot of people worked for either nothing, or next to nothing.

After principal photography, a friend of a friend threw together a rough cut and I made some DVD's (once again, not knowing what I was doing), one of which I sent out to the DP.  All I remember is him being furious, that no color grade had been done - basically that it still had a lot of "post" work to be done. I thought post-production meant editing/cutting the film together (again, I didn't know what I was doing.)

Shortly after this, the DP unexpectedly passed away.

I couldn't afford to have a color grade done by a professional (I'm being told now, that for a 20 min short, it will be a five-figure number) - or any of the post work and shelved the project - thinking selfishly that I had made the DVD and that was that.

I still don't have money for all of the post-work, but I can certainly do a better job now on the post production than I did then. It's going to be a long process - it's a labor of love at this point.

My question:

I remember the DP liked the look of a film at the time Sex and Lucia, and proposed that kind of "look". I'm pretty sure he was referring not only to the look of the film, but camera placement/setups, etc. - as there are a lot of scenes with lovers in a hotel room, and so similar to our film. 

I'm wondering if a cinematographer could look at some of the footage and be able to see what sort of "look" he was going for by looking at the actual footage. He was a pro, and so tried to get it all right in camera - not with the attitude of "fixing it in post". That's part of the reason I thought it wouldn't need a color correction/grade - but after that phone call, clearly it needed something, perhaps simply tweaking black/white levels. 

I want to somehow stay true to what he wanted - to make things right - not just the color, but finishing the project properly - I owe it to him, and to everyone else that worked on the film.

Apologies for the long post - I think my only chance is reaching out to the community to get pointed in the right direction.

 

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FWIW, 5 figures for a 20 minute short sounds insane, unless your footage is a complete mess or you need to do something really complicated with it. Did you get actual quotes, or was that just what someone told you? I would shop it around and see. The cost of color correction has come *way* down because it no longer requires half a million dollars worth of hardware to do. That doesn't mean everyone's a colorist, but it's made it possible for very talented freelancers to get into the game at reasonable rates. 

A basic pass at a 20 minute film shouldn't take an experienced colorist more than an hour or so, and then you take it from there, if you want to tweak and adjust. Definitely look around for reasonable pricing on that. 

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Depending on how much work needs to be done, one may want to spend from 1 day to couple of days on the grade. But one can get pretty good results even in couple of hours. 

How much other post work the short film would need, are the graphics and end credits available in their final form and so on?  Usually the color grade phase includes other necessary post work like online editing and mastering which need to be counted in too.

I would probably want to reserve from 1k to 3k on the post work depending on how much needs to be done and a freelancer would be a good choice if there is complicated time consuming work to be done, especially if additional editing is needed. And if the finishing is not time critical it will be cheaper than otherwise because it is easier to arrange time for it between higher paid projects. 

If you would like for me to evaluate how much work it roughly is you can dm me a link to the current cut and details about how it was edited and how the graphics were done

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As a reference, the entire post production budget for a mainstream feature film here may be in 20k - 50k range unless excessive amounts of vfx needs to be done. That is for a roughly 2 million dollar budget movie or so and probably they would sell at least 12 to 15 days of color grading for that price. Charging the same amount for a 20 min indie film would be insane in any part of the world

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Thank you all for your replies - indeed, I need to shop around. IMO, after researching color grading for a few months now - the footage I have is likely to be considered in excellent shape - it's certainly not a mess. I'm confident about this for a few reasons: I remember we devoted a whole day to setting up the camera and running it through a battery of various tests - a lot of time tweaking settings for white balance - but also testing lenses, etc.

The other reason: the entire short is essentially one long scene, in the same room - no change in time of day - so the lighting is for the most part consistent throughout (on a soundstage and so completely controlled the entire time) - I'm not trying to "match" a look from one room, e.g., to some scene in another location. In short, I would think a colorist would likely be relieved after the first glance, at least in terms of how much time it would take, and what needed to be done. I'm going to reply individually to other responses - thanks again - I'm grateful!

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6 hours ago, Perry Paolantonio said:

FWIW, 5 figures for a 20 minute short sounds insane, unless your footage is a complete mess or you need to do something really complicated with it. Did you get actual quotes, or was that just what someone told you? I would shop it around and see. The cost of color correction has come *way* down because it no longer requires half a million dollars worth of hardware to do. That doesn't mean everyone's a colorist, but it's made it possible for very talented freelancers to get into the game at reasonable rates. 

A basic pass at a 20 minute film shouldn't take an experienced colorist more than an hour or so, and then you take it from there, if you want to tweak and adjust. Definitely look around for reasonable pricing on that. 

I did not get an official quote - here are some things he said though:

Quote

 

The tough part is true color correction and grade would be 5 figures plus for a 20 minute piece.

I believe our rate usually would hit in the 3500 per day or so and would take quite a while with that total running time.

 

He mentioned a grade and a "correction" though I made it clear I wasn't looking for a new "look" i.e., grade. He told me I'd probably need both, perhaps that's why the quote is so high. The terms get confusing to me as they are used inconsistently over the course of my research (lol, I just noticed I used the term "grade" in my original post, and meant correction). All this is to say that perhaps he was running under assumption the footage was indeed a "mess" and that I was looking for both a correction and a grade.  If he saw that the footage was nearly there as captured in camera, as others have said, it might require just a half day in the studio which falls in line with other numbers mentioned in this thread (1-3K).

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4 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

Depending on how much work needs to be done, one may want to spend from 1 day to couple of days on the grade. But one can get pretty good results even in couple of hours. 

How much other post work the short film would need, are the graphics and end credits available in their final form and so on?  Usually the color grade phase includes other necessary post work like online editing and mastering which need to be counted in too.

I would probably want to reserve from 1k to 3k on the post work depending on how much needs to be done and a freelancer would be a good choice if there is complicated time consuming work to be done, especially if additional editing is needed. And if the finishing is not time critical it will be cheaper than otherwise because it is easier to arrange time for it between higher paid projects. 

If you would like for me to evaluate how much work it roughly is you can dm me a link to the current cut and details about how it was edited and how the graphics were done

Thank you! DM inbound.

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4 hours ago, Daniel D. Teoli Jr. said:

OP...dunno. But it is admirable you are looking to make things right. In 2021 people can't even be bothered to answer emails, let alone the work you need to do.

Good luck with your project!

Thank you! 

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4 minutes ago, Brandt Ryan said:

I did not get an official quote - here are some things he said though:

He mentioned a grade and a "correction" though I made it clear I wasn't looking for a new "look" i.e., grade. He told me I'd probably need both, perhaps that's why the quote is so high. The terms get confusing to me as they are used inconsistently over the course of my research (lol, I just noticed I used the term "grade" in my original post, and meant correction). All this is to say that perhaps he was running under assumption the footage was indeed a "mess" and that I was looking for both a correction and a grade.  If he saw that the footage was nearly there as captured in camera, as others have said, it might require just a half day in the studio which falls in line with other numbers mentioned in this thread (1-3K).

A day rate of $3500 is not normal in 2021, outside of A-list post houses. A short shouldn't cost you more than $1-$2k for color correction and file export, unless there are issues that require a lot of work. We do feature films all the time for under $5k, but we only work with film-originated material that we scan in house, so we can control the whole process. A 20 minute film does not take many days to grade unless you start getting really fussy, or you're doing a lot of tracking/matting/relighting in post. 

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16 minutes ago, Perry Paolantonio said:

A day rate of $3500 is not normal in 2021, outside of A-list post houses. A short shouldn't cost you more than $1-$2k for color correction and file export, unless there are issues that require a lot of work. We do feature films all the time for under $5k, but we only work with film-originated material that we scan in house, so we can control the whole process. A 20 minute film does not take many days to grade unless you start getting really fussy, or you're doing a lot of tracking/matting/relighting in post. 

Perhaps this local (Indianapolis) production company was trying to shoo me away, thinking I had ran out and "run and gunned" the movie with 10 locations, and imagining the mess, just wasn't interested.

At any rate (ha) - what is considered a normal day rate? 

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Quote

At any rate (ha) - what is considered a normal day rate? 

That's going to depend on the lab and how they do it, and also your location. I would just shop it around. If you don't need to be present in the room you'll save a lot of money doing an unsupervised grade, because clients in the room slow everything down. The presence of a client in the color room makes the job of the colorist a lot harder (it's not just about color at that point, it's about customer service, providing coffee, chatting, trying 10 different variations, etc). 

Color correction costs have really come *way* down since DaVinci Resolve went from a couple hundred grand to basically free. There are a lot of very good colorists out there who work freelance and have high quality monitoring without the overhead of a fancy studio, so you just have to look around.

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15 hours ago, Brandt Ryan said:

Thank you! DM inbound.

Thanks! I watched the movie and sent you an estimate of how much work I think it would probably take for the grade, audio and mastering and what type of final look I think the Cinematographer was probably after. You can disclose the details here if you want 🙂 

to me it looks like the entire finishing can be easily done for way less than 3K depending on how it is done

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Per aapo lettinen's suggestion, I'm posting his DM response below. I'm sure it will be helpful to others in the future who might be new to the post-production process. Again, I appreciate everyone's responses to my questions. I was a bit intimidated coming in here, but have found it to be friendly, inviting, and of course, extremely helpful. I thought I might be reaching with the idea that someone might be able to analyze the footage to see what the DP was shooting for (npi), with the limited information I have nearly 20 years after the fact.

DM response from aapo lettinen:

Quote

 

Hi! Thanks for the link, I watched the movie and did some quick tests on Resolve to see how it was shot in-camera. 

You said that the DP made extensive tests to get most of the look in-camera and that the look was partially influenced by the Sex and Lucia movie. I watched the trailer of that movie and there was two distinctive interior looks in the trailer: one of a "daytime interior look" which was on cold-neutral colour scale, a bit overexposed on the highlights and a bit lowered saturation but not super low blacks.  The other look was this evening/nighttime interior look with tungsten light influenced colour scheme with pretty low and crushed blacks, a type of copper-coloured sepia style colour scheme and lowered saturation, kid of a halfway-bleach bypass style of copper-ish sepia look. 

From the way the original image was exposed in-camera it looks like to me that the DP was probably after the copper-tinted sepia style look. I got this impression from the white balance settings and how it was lit and where the blacks are in the original material. The originals seem to be always tinted towards the warm reddish orange tones (all the colours are between neutral and warm but little reddish tinted tones already in the camera) which to me looks like the final colours could be intended to be towards the copper-sepia style grade. 

So I got the impression that the original colour grading intention could have been to tint the image even more towards the copper-sepia tones and lower the saturation accordingly. Instead of the "burn-out highlights" full negative bleach-bypass look I would instead leave the highlights more around their original levels or definitely not burn them out, but instead the blacks would be crushed to match more the Sex and Lucia copper-sepia look which has very deep blacks. 

So the final look would be closer to 'positive bleach bypass look' with certain amount of copper-sepia tint and moderately lowered saturation by couple of dozen % . To me it looks like this is what the DP was probably originally looking for.

I think one would get pretty good results if using about 2.5 to 3 days for the grade. Additionally I would try to use some modern upscale and denoise software to remove some of the DV compression artifacts and test what the movie looks like if upscaled to 1080p for final delivery. I would make at least a 1080p upscaled "tv-master" in proreshq and if needing any other delivery formats later one can easily convert them from the prores master. 

The sound needs some work like you said, there is some dialogue parts which are difficult to hear and there is some background noise (air conditioning or similar??) in some of the lines which would be good to clean up. The sound would need to be mastered in the final delivery standard as well.  

The easiest and most cost effective way to get the new titles made would be to make them in the editing software or AE in hd or ultrahd resolution already timed and animated in their final positions. Then render out a video file of the whole movie in this hd or ultrahd resolution but leaving out the actual image and only rendering out the titles with transparent background (with alpha channel). This way you can send out the final cut to grade without titles and after the movie is graded it is easy to add all the graphics over the image in mastering software (probably davinci) when they are already rendered into a separate video file which has transparency. I use this method a lot when working with making of and documentary footage.

I would reserve about 3 days for the grading work if using a pro freelancer and one day for the noise removal and upscaling tests. One additional day for mastering and other finishing. These you would need to order from the outside and they are assuming that the graphics are already made into a video file with alpha channel which can just be laid over the graded final image, and that the audio is re-edited and mastered elsewhere and brought to the mastering as a complete final audio files in wav or aiff format.

The amount of audio work might be about a week or more depending on how much is remade and how good the master needs to be. Surround sound takes some extra days but if stereo mix is OK then it will be quicker. You said you are able to do most of the sound editing by yourself which makes this stage much easier because only the cleanup and mastering are of concern.

My quick estimate is that the grading, noise reduction+upscale experimentation and final mastering to one final format would be approximately 5 days of work which you need to order from the outside. You can ask around how much a pro post house would charge for this work and how much a skilled freelancer would charge. I believe you would end up around 2000 to 2500 usd when using a relatively pro post house for this work, possibly needing to drop one day from the grade and make quicker noise reduction and upscale tests which might not affect the end result much.  A freelancer would probably be from 250 to 300 a day which would be from 1250 to 1500 usd for the grade and mastering work which would be pretty reasonable I think.

The sound work depends on how much you can do by yourself and how much the hired person would charge but I would reserve 1k or more for this and if it will be cheaper, I would use the rest for marketing the movie for festivals etc.

So my estimate would be around 2250 to 2500 for finishing the movie including both the image and sound, at most 3000. If you need a DCP from it, it may take two additional days if having a stereo master of the soundtrack as a source, or 1.5 additional days if the final audio master is made in surround 5.1 already. A skilled freelancer can handle the DCP mastering too as long as you can manage with unencrypted dcp which is much easier to make. You can, however, get the dcp made from the prores "tv-master" later on if you want so you don't need to decide it immediately.

 

 

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