Netflix feature film Mank takes editorial workflows to a new level

Post originally published on the Adobe blog

Citizen Kane has long been regarded as a movie masterpiece for its cinematography, storytelling, and ahead-of-its-time visual effects. Who better to pay homage to the 1940’s film than director David Fincher, whose films are often lauded for these same characteristics? Fincher’s most recent project, the Netflix feature film Mank, brings to life a screenplay written by his late father, journalist Jack Fincher.

Netflix describes the film as “1930s Hollywood…reevaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish Citizen Kane.” This movie about a movie showcases the unique approach to storytelling and visual style that continues to make Fincher’s work stand out.

Helping Fincher to bring his signature style to life is a talented post-production team that includes post producer Peter Mavromates, editor Kirk Baxter, first assistant editor Ben Insler, assistant editor Jennifer Chung, and a number of additional assistant editors and VFX artists. Their collective credits include MINDHUNTER, Gone Girl, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, House of Cards, and other features.

As co-producer of Mank, Mavromates oversaw the timing, budget, schedule, and integration between the editorial, visual effects, and finishing departments. Insler was responsible for integrating the overall project workflows. Chung prepped dailies and supported the editorial team throughout the post-production process and liaised with the sound, color, and visual effects teams.

The team constantly looks to refine and improve their workflows. “I love the mechanics of post-production,” says Insler. “If there’s a way we can eliminate a bottleneck or figure out a more efficient way to do things, I’m all over it. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”

Insler had that opportunity while working on Mank, which was edited using Productions in Adobe Premiere Pro. Already long-time users of Premiere Pro, Productions made it even easier for the editorial team to organize projects, collaborate, and scale, while solving issues such as avoiding duplicate clips and providing the ability to break large projects into smaller segments so that they open and save faster.

Productions took efficiency to a new level for the team. The Productions panel acted as a hub for managing multi-project workflows. Rather than having to navigate to different folders, all Premiere Pro project files were saved to a single Production folder. The team divided the complex workflow into manageable projects, and each team member could see what others were working on. Assets were easily shared between projects within the Production, with changes synced and reflected in the Production folder.

“One of the great things about Productions is cross-project referencing,” says Chung. “The project stays small and everything cross-references back to its original place. The scene projects remain the scene projects, and as you build reels, the reels projects only contain the sequences assembled from those scene projects. You can always match back to any of the original projects and it gives us the ability to work in parallel.”

The team can set up separate projects for sound, dailies, VFX, and graphic elements. This makes it easier, for example, to navigate back versus trying to find a particular audio file in a project that contains every asset from a specific scene or reel.

“I love that Reel-3 on Mank is just the sequences of Reel-3 — there aren’t 35 scene folders also lumped in there,” says Insler. “Our reel project isn’t cluttered with every piece of music that has ever been auditioned in Reel-3, with duplicates of that same music also found in the Reel-4 project because we also auditioned some of the same tracks there too. The music stays in the music project. Everything just feels a lot more targeted to what exactly you’re working on rather than repeatedly sifting through a project that contains everything.”

The team also used split screens to fine-tune performances — whether that’s joining two performances together, tightening the pace, or changing something so that story is revealed in slightly different ways. Baxter frequently sends the splits to the assistant editors to refine in Premiere Pro or in Adobe After Effects.

“Premiere Pro’s flexibility allows me to get ideas on screen quickly, so I can spend my time focused on where I want to go, not on how I’m getting there,” says Baxter.

The team on Mank was lucky to have just completed filming when the Coronavirus pandemic hit, so post-production transitioned to working remotely with the entire film in the can. Nonetheless, the transition was a big one that had to happen quickly. Conversations that would normally take place desk-side occurred digitally. The team needed to still function as if they were all in the same building, but now scattered across Los Angeles.

Thankfully, the team already had some remote tools and processes in place to ease the transition. The PIX System was already being leveraged on Mank for fast, digital remote collaboration, as it has been on many Fincher projects. Insler also says that the way Productions organizes project files and manages collaboration made a remote workflow easy to design quickly.

The next step was to make everything more robust. The editorial team was given a copy of the media in H.264 form to work on locally while utilizing remote VPN connections to the main office computers to leverage additional horsepower as necessary. To optimize the remote workflows, the team relied on third-party tools Resilio Sync for real-time syncing and Chronosync to sync and backup media unrelated to project files.

Part of the reason for the seamlessness of the process goes back to the familiarity that comes from working together for so long, and the culture of performance and collaboration they’ve cultivated. Everyone takes part in quality control screenings, and no one’s notes are considered unimportant or wrong. And everyone is willing to step in, and step up, when needed.

“Our post team works like a submarine crew in a way,” says Insler. “Whether your job is to load torpedoes, operate the periscope, or plot the course, we all share a lot of knowledge and can quickly rotate to provide support wherever needed to make sure the ship keeps moving smoothly.”

Watch the full-length editor’s spotlight on our You Tube channel here.

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