Postproduction  MagicThe long days and retakes are over, but you are now about to enter a whole new world — the world of postproduction. Working with an editor (or teams of editors and assistant editors), you will begin to bring your film to life. Cutting the takes together, deciding on which angles work best and adding music, sound effects and special effects will take your footage to a whole new level. The creativity of the editor will also add a new perspective to your work and, hopefully, make a good screenplay a great film.

If you’re lucky, the rough-cut stage is when you’ll start to notice all of the little imperfections in the footage that can’t be fixed through any amount of shifting or cutting. If the shadow from the microphone is caught on your lead actor’s face, or an ambulance siren wails through the background of your shot, now is the best time to notice it, because now is the time when the magic happens.

It’s now that your editor will show you just what he or she is worth, bringing in music, special effects, dubbing, dissolves, fades, wipes, optical and timing techniques to “fix” the shots that are less than perfect. Some editors and directors are averse to opticals, such as wipes, either because they perceive them to be old-fashioned or because they would prefer to rely on the power of the acting and cinematography rather than relying on gimmicky fixes. But when the acting or the cinematography are not up-to-scratch, and there is no option for reshooting, sometimes these “gimmicks” are the best option.

Take the example of the ambulance siren in the background of your shot: an editor can add music to drown it out, add the sounds of other traffic to help create an outside world or get rid of it entirely by replacing the dialogue with a dubbed (recorded) soundtrack. If a scene is too bright, the editor can lighten it. If the cuts are too choppy or jolting, the editor can soften the hard edges between cuts or create a sense of time passing.

You might think that there is nothing you can do about the wooden delivery made by an actor, but a clever editor can play around with a number of techniques to make a lackluster performance into an interesting shot. A drastic action is to remove the sound from the footage and replace it with a dubbed soundtrack. This requires recording a separate vocal track, and then adding in any other background noises as needed. But there are lots of other options, too, most of which are quicker and easier to implement: if the actor’s lines are not crucial, they can be used as a voiceover on top of a more visually interesting shot; if the sound of the actor’s voice is the problem, the editor can adjust the volume levels and mix in music or other sound effects to soften it or take the focus off the actor. These little “tricks” can often be just the thing to fix a bad shot that you don’t have the time or money to reshoot.

The editor’s job doesn’t just involve fixing problematic shots, though; the editor also provides a level of creativity that can add a whole new dimension to the film. Editors can take the essential step of centering your film in a wider world, creating a third dimension outside and inside of the space created by your film and the sound you shot to accompany it. This can be done by adding background voices, the sound of a dog barking in the street, footsteps as someone enters the room or the fluctuating volume of music coming from a car that drives past.

Production companies often employ the services of specialist music editors or sound-effects editors for just this purpose. Next time you watch a film, take the time to listen to the complex network of music and sound, and you’ll realize just how much it adds to the production.

Music in particular adds depth to a film, creating tension, lightening the mood, creating a believable background or calling attention to a particular emotion. Some producers will use original music for a film, recording large orchestras in a studio attached to the editing suite or commissioning a songwriter to compose a particularly memorable theme song. In other films, prerecorded music and sounds are cut and rearranged to create a new score for the film.

Of course, there is a lot more to editing than what has been covered here, and each editor will bring his or her own style and recommendations to a project. A good director or producer will trust in their editor, and a good editor will be able to suggest a whole range of techniques to really bring your film to life.