Take a Little Time – POST
We had just wrapped Take a Little Time. In a little over two weeks, shooting would start in a similar, done-in-six-days fashion for Lilly Adams’ Pulling Daisies. Since editor Jared Knorr would be busy for a while himself on a separate shoot for our COMM 438 class, I told him not to worry about a rough cut until after Daisies had wrapped. As Jared had copied and backed up all our CFAST files as we shot them, he was doing so onto two 5TB hard drives, one of which I formatted in exFAT to enable cross-compatibility for Mac (my world) and PC (Jared’s). The film existed on those drives as terabytes of 4K RAW footage—I took both drives home for a few days after wrapping, slapped a basic LUT on everything in DaVinci Resolve, and rendered 1080p proxies out for Jared to edit with in Premiere. So each taking our respective (and identically-filled) drives, we went our separate ways, and I threw myself completely into Lilly’s film, more than content to not look at anything of mine for a while.
The Daisies era of October 2020 wasn’t without its Take a Little Time progress, however. I had an assignment for my THEA 484 Sound Recording/Mixing class, where I had to record someone giving a voiceover and mix it with music. The assignment was completely open ended, but I wanted to give Jared an audio reference for the feel of the film’s opening moments that he could edit to. I recorded Lilly reading the essay voiceover lines, and pulled a Mac Quayle Mr. Robot track as a reference for myself when I ultimately composed the film’s score. I captured the sun-setting-through-the-window shot used in the credits with the C200 around this time while on a Pulling Daisies Zoom production meeting at Lilly’s apartment. I later incorporated our audio of Mark and MaryKate delivering the essay lines (over the same Mac Quayle track), throwing together a small reel of otherwise untouched footage as something to play for dailies in class:
Jared assembled the first rough cut by the week before Thanksgiving, by which point we were completely wrapped for the semester and looking ahead at a simultaneous post process for Take a Little Time and Pulling Daisies. Over Thanksgiving break, I sent my first round of notes to Jared and otherwise dove all the way in on score composition. I had the rough cut mp4s of both films to import into Logic and write along to, getting Take a Little Time done over four days.
Having just received the Carmen Finestra Film Project Endowed Grant-in-Aid for the film, I was able to purchase an Imperfect Samples piano EXS24 patch, something that greatly aided both films’ scores. I had a theme for Smitty, and a general outline of the arc I wanted the music to take over the course of the film, but outside of that it really was just taking it scene by scene and seeing what happened. After reaching the end of the film this way, I went back to the beginning and did a secondary pass to tighten the score and its concepts in on itself a little better. On November 29th, I arrived back at Penn State with a score that could use some trimming, but that I wouldn’t have to compose for anymore—a huge weight off my shoulders going forward.
At this point I started gathering sound design elements—as mentioned in the shoot article, we didn’t get any sound whatsoever at Mad Mex for the dishwashing sequences. I knew at the time I was going to lean pretty heavy into foley to get the sound to my liking; however, I wish we’d at least run something basic into the camera to provide a reference track myself in this stage of post. But we learn and we grow! So I watched the cut a thousand times, spotted everything I could think of, listed each element out in a spreadsheet, and went to work in my kitchen sink. Some sounds required I watch the cut on my phone and try to dishwash along in sync, others were one-offs I could do a thousand times to get variety on tape. Or rather, SD card—I used the onboard stereo mics on my TASCAM DR-40 to capture all this.
Jared and I bounced a few rounds of cuts/notes back and forth, until in early December we were happy with the assembly of everything, and any remaining notes were incredibly small nitpicky stuff. With COVID ongoing and both of us juggling multiple films, it was easier at that point for Jared to turn the hard drive back over to me. The Logic project containing the score was still timed to the rough cut, however, so as I fine-tuned the edit I would concurrently shift regions back and forth in Logic to maintain sync points I had specifically composed for. With the end of the semester in sight, I had to turn in a working version of the film in under two weeks. So at a certain point, in order to move into later phases, I committed to the Premiere timeline as it stood. Sync now a given at least through December, this let me use an OMF export/import workflow to bring each individual ZOOM H6 file from Premiere into the same Logic project as the score, without losing sync or the ends of each file before/after the portions used in Premiere (huge for smoothing the clips out into each other in Logic).
Now I could add in sound design elements and begin mixing everything together in one giant Logic project—audio from set, individual instruments of score, foley, and sound design. The longer, ambient background tracks were all pulled from the PSU Film Sound library, as were some of the water elements. By the end of finals week, I had mixed the entire film as it stood, submitting both this Logic project and that of Pulling Daisies as my final THEA 484 projects.
While all this was going on, there was also After Effects work to be done. I performed all After Effects edits using the 4K RAW footage, so I could pass the finished shots along to colorist Bryan Stanley in as pure a form as possible so he could assimilate them into their surrounding scenes. The biggest need here was the timelapse shot from Mad Mex, the very last thing we shot before wrapping. All I had to work with was a dolly pullback shot of Mark washing dishes, and another of Nick dropping dishes off on the counter that we shot at regular speed, just over four times the duration of Mark’s shot. So the first order of business was overlaying the shots—our metronome trick on set kept things in a workable ballpark, but for perfect overlap I had to finesse both clips with position and time remapping keyframes. Unfortunately, I then wasted a lot of time before Thanksgiving on an incredibly crude rotoscope of Nick that went frame-by-every-single-frame…which I don’t understand my process on looking back, since I knew I’d be speeding his clip up (and therefore dropping many of those frames in the process).
By mid-December, however, I realized I should’ve focused first on timing the clips exactly how I wanted them to play, then worry about rotoscoping. Since I did go pretty far down the route of marrying the clips by their original 4x multiplier, however, I did get to see that the whole thing moved too slow and took to long to hit like I wanted in the context of the film. So, I dove further into time remapping, speeding both clips up significantly to open the clip, then slowing Mark’s back down to real time by the point I’d have faded Nick completely out of the shot. Once I had these timings locked, I then knew exactly which sporadic Nick frames needed rotoscoping—so I did a much more in-depth pass on those this time around:
From there, the shot fell down a rabbit hole of precomps and masks—I needed to separately cut out the accumulating pile of dishes from Nick’s clip, to keep those “solid” on the left counter even as Nick faded out. This is the shakiest part of this edit to me—as Mark’s clip pulls out of the time remapping as the dolly physically slowed down, there’s a lot of subtle motion to the counter surface in that clip. Keyframing the dishes from Nick’s clip, which had its own dolly motion and time remapping, to appear solid in place on that counter while maintaining correct perspective…sucked. Given what it looked like on the way, and the tens of hours I put in on this shot, I’m incredibly pleased with where it’s at today—although it isn’t perfect.
I then needed to individually mask moments where Nick’s hands or arms crossed in front of the dishes once he’s fading away, because the parts of his body that entered that incredibly fragile “dishes” mask appeared solid once again over those frames. One final precomp to punch in a few percentage points (on a 4K frame, so no big deal) and hide all the gaps around the frame edges where the illusion cracked, and this shot was ready for Bryan. I’ll get to him in a second, but there’s one bonus After Effects shot in this film…
As mentioned in the shoot article, my laptop died and we lost on-set playback after achieving the long, truck-infused alley shot. We guessed incorrectly as to which way the box faced after falling, so I masked the box in AE, flipped it, scaled it up, masked the street underneath, and keyframed everything just enough to let the left-facing box completely block the true, right-facing box. I brought the credits background clips into After Effects from Premiere, animated the credits on top of them, then removed the backgrounds and rendered the credits in 4K with an alpha channel to easily drop them on top in…
DaVinci. Bryan Stanley offered to color both Take a Little Time and Pulling Daisies long before we shot either one, and that was the easiest “yes” ever thanks to the incredible work he did on his junior year documentary film. At the same time that I locked the Premiere timeline for December so I could move all sound into Logic, I transplanted that timeline into DaVinci, reconnecting the 1080p proxies to their 4K RAW source files for Bryan to color on. I really don’t know too much about that world, but Bryan lives there, so Lilly and I would happily go over to his place as the semester wound down to see the latest on color and give notes.
Rendering the film for class was as simple as opening Bryan’s DaVinci project, laying in the single .wav file of that entire Logic project mixed down, and lettin ‘er rip. The version I left the Fall 2020 semester with was enough of a triumph to feel great about all winter break, but by no means perfect and in desperate need of so many tweaks. I was able to send this version around to those I trusted for notes, which were incredibly helpful and greatly appreciated. Here’s the “POST WORKFLOW” whiteboard I came back to at Penn State when break was over and it was time to touch all these areas up again:
The first order of business was addressing all cut/edit related notes, because of the precarious sync relationship between the film’s Premiere and Logic projects. I’m going to write a separate article soon, just about the digital workflow of these two films, because this is where it really got tricky. The OMF function allowed for perfect sync when I first brought the Premiere audio tracks into Logic, but now I’d done so much to those clips in Logic that simply repeating that process again with the new and finalized Premiere timeline (bringing them in again as untouched clips) wouldn’t be practical. Re-syncing the Logic project to the new cut took some thinking, but it got there.
Some “highlights” of this new final cut (just in terms of clip edits and timings) include: adjusting pacing of the dishwashing intercuts so they build as the film goes on, removing a few insert closeups that confused more than they helped, and reconfiguring the cooking/drinking montage at the end. The hardest cut to make was dropping this shot of MaryKate at Mad Mex (the only reason she came to set that morning):
I’d imagined it would play like this: she joins Smitty at work the night he gives the set back to her, and since she helps him, he’s able to leave before sundown for once and they enjoy that dinner together. But great notes from great people showed me I did too much of the heavy lifting of that thread in my own head, and not in the script, and it was too jarring trying to figure out how or why she was there that it took away from the ending. Fortunately, I was able to use the very end of this take (Smitty putting his towel down and walking away) to fill the space the original shot took up, close out his dishwashing arc, and not raise this confusion.
Anyway. The timeline was finalized again, Logic was re-synced, and Bryan was back at work on color with his own copies of all the necessary files. I recorded yet another dishwashing audio session (I didn’t plan on it that night; the sink was overflowing with dishes and I knew I needed more sounds, however, so it all worked out for everyone) and laid that in, bringing that 100%-foley’d opening to something like this:
I also significantly revamped the sound design over the December cut. I bled the background ambiences together more between scenes so they’d work together with the transitions written into the script, and really went in on the water-related sounds. This included building the motif of the soundscape dunking below, and bursting back out above, an imaginary water surface. Lots of automation on lowpass filters. I wanted this to complement the shot selection to really put the entire story through Smitty’s perspective—if he’s “drowning” in his head, or gasping as he comes back up for air in a watershed reflective moment, I want you to feel it through that audiovisual hybrid. Sometimes this meant putting sounds that he should hear just fine, like Jake Mayer’s character asking the appraiser if they can get paid “today? In cash?”…on the “other side” of the water surface, so Smitty has to fight himself to snap back into that moment and take charge. And so on and so forth—again, Sam Esmail is a huge inspiration on this front for me. Per Carson’s note that my apartment kitchen sink doesn’t sound like laser beam of water that we’re watching on screen, I layered in additional sounds from, of all things, our Dawn dish soap power sprayer in order to meet those subconscious expectations.
Just a couple weekends before this whole project went live, Mark was kind enough to come through the film facilities at Innovation Park to re-record his voiceover lines. We’d only captured these before on the shotgun mic in my apartment during shooting, with traffic going by outside the window. That made it very hard to scrub the clip of frequencies outside his voice, while keeping his voice present in the mix.
I set my Blue Yeti mic up in the soundproof recording booth, where I fed live sync of the film (out from Logic) to an IKAN monitor. Mark (inside the booth) and I (outside) could both listen to, and watch, the film in its near-final form, just with the old VO muted and his live mic mixed in. I had a blast directing him through those lines for several hours that day, and later cut together multiple takes to mix that “perfect” take into the film. Mark also humored me and laid down a lot of breathing, gasping, uh-huh-ing, etc. for the dishwashing sequences, which added so much life into those soundscapes.
Amidst all of this sound work…Bryan finished coloring, and I tinkered with some After Effects work in the film. This included cleaning the timelapse shot from the opener, as well as the credits—fixing typos, thanking more people, and speeding them up by over a minute. All of these processes were being mirrored on Pulling Daisies at the same time, mid-February through early March. The last thing I did before assembly was re-mix the entire Logic project with all the new sound work:
Finally, it all came down to clicking finished pieces into place—marrying Brayn’s new color work with the new Premiere timelines (using Remote Grades in DaVinci, everything stayed with the clips themselves so no effort was wasted), adding the new final mix audio file and revised After Effects renders, then rendering out in 4K an obsessive number of times in a week and making minusclue final tweaks between each one.
That brings us to now—Take a Little Time is up on Vimeo in 4K, and I’ve never been prouder of a piece of creative work. The fruit of this 14-month endeavor wouldn’t exist without extraordinary effort from some extraordinary people, to all of whom I owe so much love and so many favors. There were approximately 300 times in the last year I thought this would all come falling down, so to be writing this final paragraph is quite the insane feeling. There’s still more articles to come about this project and the other one I simultaneously helped create—please check back in, reach out with any and all thoughts, and thank you so much for taking a little time (one for the road!) to read about my most exciting project yet!
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