Foley artists at work
Getting to wrap can seem like such a sprint across the finishing line that you might be worn out by the time you get to post-production. However, as we all know, production is a marathon and although post sometimes seems like the home straight, really you’re only half-way there.
Ok, that’s the last time I’ll use the running metaphor, I promise.
In recent years, Ireland has become a hub for post-production facilities and has garnered an international reputation for excellence. To get a handle on current trends, I spoke to some of the leading names in post-production in Ireland.
With the current advancements in this field and the apparent affordability, it is easier than ever to push post-production to the back of your mind. However, as Paul Moore, Chair of Ardmore Sound says, ‘The smart money sees post-production as being as much a part of the creative process as shooting.’
Dublin in particular has become a strong base for post houses with more than 10 major facilities operating in the capital alone, and then there are other post production centres like Telegael in Galway, The Mill in Cork, and Banjax Studios in Belfast. The specialities of these various companies range from television and commercial editing to feature editing, as well as facilities concentrating mainly on sound, animation and visual effects (VFX).
I’ve been travelling around to some of these companies and speaking with their directors, editors and supervisors. Getting time to speak to them is very difficult – the good news is, they’re busy! As well as domestic film and television projects, post houses are dealing with major international productions that see Ireland as somewhere with a suite of options open to them.
‘All of the facilities in town have proved that they can provide post-production services in an international marketplace for both broadcast and theatrical release,’ says Jim Duggan, MD of Screen Scene. ‘The main one we did last year was Game of Thrones. Effectively, Screen Scene was the post-production home for Game of Thrones and at one stage there were 66 people in this building working on the show. The post-production industry here has proved that it has the capacity, the capabilities, the knowledge and the people required to service international television and feature films. I think we’ve always had the talent and in the last few years there has been a volume of work that has allowed the talent to prosper and show that this work can be done in Ireland.’
A trend of collaboration between companies has also emerged here. When I visited Windmill Lane, they were completing work on the impressive visual effects for Titanic and at Ardmore Sound they were also hard at work on the sound mixing for the same series. A ten- to twelve-episode series like this can bring a post-production budget of around €4m, so there is huge value to the economy in building a strong post-production base to attract world-class projects. The work can be spread across various companies and capability has grown massively in the last two to three years.
One area that is in its infancy in this country is VFX, however, this too is changing. Windmill Lane has been developing their VFX department with great success. As well as creating the visuals of the Titanic hurtling towards its imminent demise, the company has also recently completed work on some very exciting projects including the sci-fi thriller Lock-Out Lockout, starring Guy Pearce. The demand for CGI and VFX has grown in the past few years, but it is not just fantasy and sci-fi that require this sort of imaging. As well as blockbuster-style filmmaking, lower-budget films are turning to VFX to save money in high production costs.
As James Morris, CEO of Windmill Lane, says, ‘Makers of period films are turning more and more to VFX to help recreate eras. For example, these methods were used heavily in the recent adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was set in the sixties.’
‘Although the VFX department grows out of post-production to a certain extent, this will only go so far,’ says Morris. To build a successful VFX industry, we will have to look at it as a completely separate process that requires its own departments, personnel, and scheduling. As the reliance on these sorts of skills grows, filmmakers are going to have to familiarize themselves more with terms like layering, compositing, tracking, modelling, texturing, building assets and rotoscoping – but please don’t ask me to explain any of these.
‘The thing that we’ve discovered is that it’s a different discipline and people need to think of visual effects as part of an art department and not as a separate thing at the end,’ says Jim Duggan. ‘The most successful visual effects that we’ve been involved in were ones where the art department and the visual effects department are working hand in glove. When they talk early on, they collectively find the best way to spend the budget on the look of your show.’
Post-sound is another area that can seem somewhat overwhelming. There are various roles that you may not be familiar with, so Ardmore’s Paul Moore gave me a quick rundown of the post-sound process on an average film project. It goes a little something like this: once the rough cut is assembled, the director will go through the cut with the sound supervisor and break it down together into the elements needed. Usually the first job is the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) – this is when the actors will be brought back to re-record certain scenes for sound. Nowadays post-sound facilities have the ability to co-ordinate this internationally, so often the actor will be in a different studio in a different country to the director and supervisor. The dialogue editor will then bring these recordings into the appropriate scenes and clean them up.
The next person to do their thing is the sound effects editor, and a Foley artist may also be brought in at this stage to record specific sounds like footsteps, doors opening, slamming etc… I was lucky enough to see a Foley room and I must say it is quite an experience. The floor is covered in different rugs and surfaces, there are boxes and boxes of different shoes and buckets full of different materials like sand and gravel, all just to get the right kind of footstep.
Finally, the music will come in at this stage and all the elements are ready to be mixed, in the final stage of the process. However, the sound supervisor’s job is still not done. He will often have to deliver many different versions of the soundtrack, for example producers might require a Dolby 5.1 version, a stereo version, a version without dialogue for dubbing into foreign languages, a de-sweared version and so on.
So is post-production getting more or less expensive? Well, there is a massive gulf between higher and lower-scale budgets. At the lower end of the scale, filmmakers are taking a much more hands-on approach. More affordable and accessible hardware and software has allowed filmmakers to do a lot more themselves. If you look at any of the film centres around the country you will find that the most popular courses are the ones giving training in software like Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Pro Tools, After Effects, etc…
These software packages have led to filmmakers editing at home and then bringing their projects to post facilities for finishing touches.
‘It’s become more normal than abnormal except for bigger projects,’ says Eugene McCrystal of EMC post, which specialises in online and grade facilities. ‘For most projects that I’ve been involved in, we have a discussion with the filmmakers at the start of the process to come up with the best workflow, so by the time it comes to me hopefully it’s straightforward because a plan is in place. When there’s no plan, it gets more complicated.’
However, just because low-budget filmmakers can edit at home, it doesn’t mean they should. Post houses are happy to talk to filmmakers from the very beginning of their career.
‘I’d say this about all of the post houses in Dublin, that all of the facilities here are incredibly supportive of the industry and always have been,’ says Jim Duggan. ‘I say to people that we’re good with every budget from zero to whatever. What post companies hate is somebody coming and saying I spent all of the money on the shoot, so I say to people be realistic about post-production needing a percentage of your budget, whatever that budget is. However, I think that people need to acknowledge that the infrastructure does require feeding. It’s not here by accident and I think it’s important that people support it when they do have money.’
The playing field has been levelled in terms of equipment and technology. However, what really counts is the skills and experience of the talent sitting at the desk, pushing the dials and twiddling the buttons in the studio. In recent years, Irish post-production talent has proved it’s up there with the best in the world.