In the process of reviewing the footage and making notes, it’s readily apparent that aside from the standard hard work of sound design, editing, mixing and three static CGI plate shots (no animation), our post-production requirements on Lilith are actually very, very small.
This is in large part due to our budget - we have no money for fancy CGI effects - but also to our commitment to doing as much as possible in-camera and with practical effects. We could very well do things like add CGI blood and wounds, but then nothing can ever replicate the real thing. We relied on old-school camera tricks to create effects, which are still remarkably effective and make my editing life that much easier and cost-effective. I can’t imagine doing this particularly grisly scene from Lilith with CGI blood:
Now I’m not eschewing the use of CGI, as it has become a staple and extremely valuable tool of filmmakers. But I do think that there is a growing trend of turning over more and more of physical filmmaking to the computers in post-production, a trend which personally irks me.
I was recently watching the amazing extra features on the Criterion edition of David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and was incredible to see that despite the CGI-intensive work on the film, the overriding philosophy was to physically capture as much veracity as possible during photography. Fincher’s commitment to physical authenticity rings true in all of his films, and the key to this is in his planning. Fincher knows exactly what the computer must do, and what the camera must capture. He doesn’t rely upon post-production to provide things that he can’t readily capture with his camera.
I feel this is a dying mindset, as I’ve been privy to film shoots where the director so-readily declares “we’ll fix it in post.” No. You don’t fix it in post, you fix it right then and there, by re-doing it. It takes valuable time and physical resources, but it’s all about maintaining the truth of the material and the moment.
This unfortunate idea of correcting flubs in post before even reaching post-production doesn’t limit itself to photography, it’s extending to performance as well. I was on a film shoot where an actor continuously flubbed a line, and the producer of the film made the executive decision that instead of doing re-takes to get the scene right, that the actor would just ADR (re-record) the line in post-production. My jaw dropped.
Our reliance upon the technological gifts of post-production has now extended far beyond the normal boundaries, and the skills of directing, cinematography and acting are being handed over to the tech wizards in a disparate number of post houses. This is not a slam on the artists of post-production, but rather an observation of a growing complacency in physical filmmaking.
We should only utter the term “fix it in post” after all other options have been exhausted, or when we are actually in post-production and we notice a flaw that went under the radar. We cannot think of post-production as a universal fix-it solution; it’s cold and distant, takes a lot of time, and costs a hell of a lot of money. It’s a band-aid on a bullet hole.
Are there things on Lilith that I wish I could fix in post? Honestly, no.(EDIT: at least not yet!) As I go through the footage, my crew did an admirable job in covering our bases. Are there things I wish I could re-shoot or gather more footage of? Absolutely. But that’s not about fixing in post. That’s just being able to capture so much in a given amount of time.
But with filmmaking becoming increasingly post-production oriented, our responsibilities and descriptions as filmmakers are evolving. Can we call the camera work in Avatar true cinematography? Of course we can. But now we have to include CGI artists along with the traditional gaffers and grips in the lighting team. It’s all becoming very gray.
I don’t know. I’m a bit old-school in that I like to keep it as real as possible whenever I can, and if I need a character to jump flat-footed into the Earth’s atmosphere then I know I’ll need to do that in post-production. I love that filmmakers like David Fincher, Spike Jonez, Kathryn Bigelow, Jonathan Glazer, Neil Blomkamp and Darren Aronofsky, all of whom fully embrace post-production, use it only as a tool to amplify what they physically shot. It boils down to these filmmakers knowing exactly what they want and not compromising the truth when it comes to telling their stories.
But we also have to acknowledge that less than two decades ago, some of the most amazing and eye-popping sequences in cinema were created without the benefit of high-tech computerized post production, and the budgets of those films were significantly less. CGI has its place in movie magic, but it has to serve the film, and not the other way around. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button uses cutting-edge technology as a narrative tool - the aging of a single character and actor - and not as a gimmick or a patch. The original Star Wars trilogy was not a slave to post-production, unlike their dismal prequels. Compare Ray Harryhausen’s work on the original Clash of the Titans and compare it to the 2010 remake, and the ‘updated’ version lacks heart, it’s only bells and whistles, in my opinion. It’s the classic case of post-production effects driving the principles of classic filmmaking, and it is a consistent result that these films lack the depth and heart of the epics of yesteryear.
Again, I’m not poo-pooing the use of CGI, but unless it is used for an entire film (i.e. what Pixar has accomplished) it is only a tool to bolster the original captured image. As is consistently stated throughout this blog, it is my opinion that the technology works for us, and not vice-versa. This applies at every stage of filmmaking, and for that matter for our lives in general. When I see the ad for the new iPhone that states “I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone” it makes me cringe. We could, and did, do a LOT of things before there were iPhones. Some might argue that we were actually more productive before apps like “Paper Toss” and “Pocket God” were created. Just a thought. :)
P.S. I highly, HIGHLY recommend watching the DVD extras for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Many times we hear the term ‘DVD film school’ and this is one of those discs that embodies it. I might just make a list of DVDs with amazing extra features in a future blog post. These are invaluable tools for filmmakers, as it’s the next-best alternative to sitting with David Fincher in person or being on a major film set.