Indie filmmakers have plenty of choices of new
digital tools that change the status quo of post

Not long after ReelChicago asked if I had any thoughts on changing technology’s impact on postproduction, I came across an interview with director David Fincher. He casually mentioned he’d edited most of his new film, “Zodiac,” on his laptop while loitering in airports.

Even if he exaggerated a bit, the viability of that statement is worth examining.

Let’s face facts. We live in a culture increasingly obsessed with cutting out the middle man. Bloggers don’t like the idea that news editors get to pick the story that goes on page one.

TiVo users don’t like network execs to decide when their favorite show will air. Film directors are less than thrilled by the prospect of dropping work off at a post house and then coming back later to see what’s been done with it.

The technical term for all of that is disintermediation. But if you’re a filmmaker, are the tools to act on it really readily at hand? The short answer is yes. After years of nonlinear digital postproduction development, it’s finally evolved into a mature, readily available and more importantly easily used technology.

Ubiquitous FireWire ports have removed connectivity hindrances so that anyone with a computer can download digital NLE video.

You can cut that video, edit its soundtrack, add titles and author it to DVD with a $1,100 program suite like Apple’s Final Cut Studio, which combines Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Motion and DVD Studio Pro.

It’s relatively easy to use, as accessible as your nearest, and will run on just about every Mac. Even those of you without Macs have access to similar suites, like Adobe’s $999 Premiere Pro that runs on any mid range PC.

The freeing effect of a technological “perfect storm”

“We envisioned video editing becoming a commercial commodity akin to desktop publishing,” said Adobe Premiere’s group product manager Richard Townhill. He has long believed that a technological “perfect storm” would free post production from capital-intensive facilities.

“All we were waiting for was processing power in everyday PCs. Now you can shoot with an HD camera, feed the output into a Premiere-equipped PC, edit it and get HD playback with Dolby Surround Sound,” he said.

Not so long ago post professionals, like Pinnacle Systems’ Laurin Herr, were predicting that there would always be a place for traditional post houses because: “. . . There will always be expensive specialty pieces of the chain that only established facilities can afford, including telecines, cutting-edge graphics generators and color correction units.”

But his reasoning just doesn’t hold water anymore. Thanks to growing the popularity of HD video with independent filmmakers and the proliferation of three-CCD HD camcorders, like Canon’s XH G1, and new disc-based cameras like Sony’s XDCAMs, the need for professional telecine services that dominated the post scene of the not-so-distant past has reached the end of its rope.

Both Final Cut and Premiere include a color correction utility. As for the high-end graphics and visual effects side of the postproduction equation, there’s software that’s laptop compatible enough, like Adobe’s After Effects and Apple’s Motion.

Consensus among amateur users, however, seems indicate that no such application boasts the ease of use that characterizes most sound and video editing software.

Of course, there’s always tomorrow.