Finishing on Digital vs. Finishing on FilmFinishing on Digital

Finishing on digital is often considered easier than finishing on film, and is often used when the final production is planned for exclusive use for T.V broadcast, theaters, or festivals that guarantee digital projection. If digital projection is promised, then there is no need for a film finish. The production can simply stay on digital for completion and delivery.


Once the film is posted and locked, conform, also known as “online,” can begin. The digital master needs to match the locked picture cut. Using the Edit Decision List (E.D.L.) as a guide on specific details of what to cut, dissolve, and fade, as well as where to find all of the original material, will make this process much easier.

Color Grading During Conform

Similar to the sound mix where issues regarding the sound quality and level were addressed, in color grading (also known as color correction or color timing) the color and exposure of each shot is checked. Several color correction notes may be taken during conform; however, those corrections will be made to create a new color-corrected master in a different later session.

Titles During Conform

During conform, the final credit list is turned into the on-screen main and end titles and added to the picture.  Since the picture is already on a digital format, including the titles is easy. Computerized and video logos of financers, video clips from other sources, and text input from the post facility’s computer can also be added to complete the package. This will be the last opportunity to ensure the credits list is correct.

Time Code after Picture Lock

After the picture is locked, a third time code will be laid down. When the dailies were synched, they had their own consecutive time code.  However, due to all of the editing, they are no longer consecutive and will need to be time coded again. This is done during conform to create a final edit to the new picture, including a new, continuous time code.

Layback Sound to Picture

This is the first complete copy of the finished production, including both sound and picture.


A single finished film will need to be formatted into many versions. This need is due to the variations of formats required by different broadcasters and mentioned in the different financing agreements from country to country. For example, some broadcasters may require commercial blacks within the delivery master to make it easier to insert television advertisements in the future.

Additionally, certain countries use specific video tape formats due to their country’s specific electricity cycles. For instance, SECAM is used in places like Asia, Eastern Europe, France, and Africa, NISC is used in places like North America, and PAL is used in the UK and Western Europe.

Because of these variations and specification requirements by broadcasters, it is important to create many versions of the production. An ISAN version number for each of these versions can be registered, so that during distribution the producer can track the revenues and versions separately.

Closed Captioning

If the production is meant for broadcasting, a closed caption may be needed. The requirement will be mentioned in the financing agreement and will include which type of closed caption is needed. Closed captioning is a two-step process: (1) create the captions and (2) encode the captions onto the master.

Versioning to Other Languages

If the production needs to be versioned to other languages, a supplier or transcript of the final edited film will be needed so future distributors can arrange for dubbing and/or subtitling.

Backup of Master

Backing up the master is very important in case the master gets damaged. Typically, if there are several delivery requirements, several protection copies are made. For instance, one copy might be created on Blu-Ray, two on DVD (international and domestic versions), two on Digital Betacam (NTSC and PAL), one with commercial blacks, and one without. Additionally, one version may be created at 23 minutes and another at 28:30 minutes, etc. In addition to the backups, long-term storage of these masters should be planned.

Viewing Copies

Viewing copies are typically for consumer quality. These copies are made on Blu-Ray or DVD. Many viewing copies will need to be created for financers, producers, as well as other crew, cast, or suppliers that have been promised copies of the finished production.

Finishing on Film

Regardless of which format the production was shot on, if the film will be used at a festival, in a theater, or anywhere else where digital projection is not available, a film finish must be made.

There are two ways to finish on film: (1) from the Digital Master and (2) from the negative.

Digital Master to Film Finish

Since the film has already been converted into the digital master, the conform, titles addition, new time code addition, color correction, and sound and picture synch is already complete. A few necessary steps are required, however, in order to produce a finish on film.

Transfer Digital to Film

When transferring from digital to film, a higher resolution with fewer compressions of the digital master will result in a higher quality of the finished film print. Several transfers may need to be completed in order to correct colors or the quality of the transfer before a Release Print is available.

From the Negative

If the production was shot on film stock, there are several steps involved in finishing on film.

  • Conform to Negative – The Editor includes notes on the E.D.L of all the dissolves, fades and other optical effects for the negative cutter’s reference. Cutting the inter-negative, if available, can save the original negative as the process of negative cutting removes a frame on each side of a shot for each cut. The negative is literally cut, the emulsion is scratched from the frame before and after the shot, and a clear negative is glued onto the other film permanently. Once the negative is cut, there’s no way to get it back, so cutting an inter-negative is highly preferred.
  • Inter-positive and inter-negative – If an I/P and I/N have not already been created, it should be created now and the original cut negative should be stored in the lab’s vault for safekeeping.
  • Check Print – The check print is the first print of the cut negative. It is used to check for issues that need to be fixed and allows for an opportunity to make notes on any color timing issues.
  • Opticals & Titles – Opticals are the dissolves and fades between scenes. Titles are superimposed over the picture and are more complex and expensive.
  • Color Grading – Color grading is also known as color correction.
  • Print Optical Track – After the sound track is mixed, it will need to be printed on a separate optical track to join it with the final finished film.
  • Answer Print – A wet gate answer print (the first answer print) is the first time sound and picture are printed together and a completed, acceptable film is made. Typically, though, more than one answer print will be made as editing and the color timing are perfected.
  • Wet Gate – A printing gate where the film is immersed in a solution that fills in light scratches during printing.
  • Release Print – After the final answer print is approved, it’s time to print multiple copies for the distributor, national archives, film festivals, and any other sources that required a film deliverable. This is where having an I/P and an I/N becomes invaluable.
  • Blow Up Print – This is typically done if the film was shot on Super 16. Super 16 uses the space where the optical track should be to allow for more picture exposure. However, the proportions of the frame on Super 16 match a 35mm negative better than a 16mm does. It may be cheaper to early on to start shooting on a Super 16, however when it is time to blow up the print, it is often more cost effective to shoot the film on 35mm instead.
  • Transfer to Digital – The print is back on film stock and will need to be transferred back to digital in order to create digital masters for duplication and versioning.