Monday Prescriptions – Shoot It, Don’t Post It

Hello Film Doctor friends. 

Our Monday Prescription for this week holds a magnifying glass to the infamous film saying “We’ll fix it in post” and explains why this statement mostly leads to terrible results.


Film Doctor - Post-production tricks

Here we go:

1. Dialogue deliveries/acting faux pas – Not capturing the right performance, “drowned out” lines and generally badly prepared actors don’t have a post-production remedy. If a line of dialogue is not delivered correctly or the exchange is not captured in a suitable fashion – too tense, not tense enough, too fast / slow, over the top, too flat, etc. – there are only a limited number of editing tricks that can save your performances. Sure, you can use some “off camera” dialogue, where the visuals don’t seem right or play around with sound levels for some off-key renditions, but the ultimate solution is to cast your movie well and get exactly what you want on set.

Shoot it, don’t post it: Cast your actors carefully and thoughtfully, so that you end up working with the best talent suited to your project. Rehearse. Rehearse. Rehearse. Get to know your actors, work with them, guide them and achieve the performance you want. If your leading man/woman sucks, no amount of beautiful colour grading or clever voice-overs can save your film.

Film Doctor - Post-Production

2. Wrong lighting – You can’t save the overexposed/underexposed data in post, full stop. Trying to salvage footage that is too bright/too dark will ultimately result in a rather amateur looking image – with ‘noise’, grain and all the bites you can think of. In many cases, you will not be able to rescue any detail. So instead, light each scene and expose appropriately on the day.

Shoot it, don’t post it: Work closely with your Cinematographer, discuss the lighting options and make sure to convey to him/her exactly what you’d like the mood/tone/feel of the shot to be. Then s/he can make the appropriate technical choices – type and amount of lights to use, where to place them, filters or no filters, etc. Now and again, you can supervise the look of the image on the camera monitor. If you are the Cinematographer, take time to play around with the tools you have on the day – the camera settings, the lights, the lenses, etc. – rather than rely on the digital post production technologies to save your work later on. In case of a heavy amount of colour grading/correction, SFX is planned for, shoot everything as ‘RAW’, as possible, to allow for better editing adjustments.

Film Doctor - Editor's job

3. Ah, that one shot that you could do with right now – Not enough coverage – biggest mistake of all. Often happens with first-time directors or on independent productions in general, as the shooting schedule is usually tight, money scarce and the main focus remains on getting through the key scenes. But what about cutaways? Extra wide shots and scenery? Extra close-ups? Things that could serve as ‘glue’ to the ‘main’ material in your movie. You can’t blindly follow the shotlist for the day, as you might decide to assemble your film slightly differently, once in the edit suite. So get as much footage and scene coverage as possible on the day(s),  so that later down the line you don’t tear your (and your editor’s) hair out for that one particular “wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have-it” shot.

Shoot it, don’t post it: Plan your shots. Storyboard them. See what coverage you’d like to get before you shout “Action!”.  Make sure your shooting schedule accommodates the amount of footage desired, so that you’re not left just with the bare minimum for the edit.

Film Doctor

4. You can’t save ugly – Amazing things can be done during the post production process and in the color grade. But no matter how good the tools are now, or will be in the future, you can’t fix ugly. If the image lacks vision, direction, and skilled use of lighting, movement and composition, no amount of clever post will save you.

Shoot it, don’t post it: Work out precisely what and how you are filming. As a Director, you should already have the movie done in your head – now convey clearly all its production elements to your team, so that the real life results match your imagination.  Another point to take is don’t be afraid to experiment. Play around with colour, sound, find unusual framing, movement techniques, etc.

Film Doctor.

5. Allocating post-production money in advance – So, you said you’re going to “fix it in post”, but what are you going to save it with, if there’s no money left for the post-production period? Often, first-time Producers and Directors get so focused on the actual shooting, that they fail to account for the amount of time and money required to put the footage together. One common pitfall is getting to the editing stage and realising you have hardly any resources left, postponing the whole process for months – and, sometimes, years – thus sentencing your movie to a long haul.

Shoot it, don’t post itProducers and Directors, make sure you plan for your post-production in advance – estimate how long is it going to take (can add a couple of extra weeks, just to be on the safe side) and how much money it is going to eat into. And be realistic in your estimates. Only then will you avoid mistakes in editing facility fees, film premiere dates, project’s quality.


‘Monday Prescription’ No.70 – Don’t fall for the “We’ll fix it in post” idea. This will require a substantial amount of time and money, and often there’s only so much you can salvage, anyway. If the base is not there, no amount of special effects can cover up the holes in your project.

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Have a great week!
The Film Doctor Team
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