Wednesday, September 19, 2007

So That's Why They Call It Layback

We're in the very last stage of post-production on Mr. Gary today. It's called layback, because it's when your audio mix is laid back into your finished picture. We've been driving like crazy to get this done in time for the Sundance deadline for short films. 'Layback' is also what I'll be doing shortly after it's in the mail. Along with 'breathe again' and 'sleep enough'.

Our layback is happening at Video Arts, one of the top online edit facilities in the country. It's been truly inspiring working with this team. You know edit-head? When you're deep in a script, and you've opened it all up and you're trying to make it all work together. You get obsessive. You start breaking down the story into smaller and smaller elements until there's almost infinite complexity in front of you? That's what happens in the online edit. And a good color correctionist or compositer is deeply engaged in that obsessive attention to detail every day of their working lives. Yeesh.

What's exciting for me as a writer is to realize just how important story is to these professionally obsessive people. A compositer's job is to pull together diverse elements and make them all work together and look natural on screen. If you see a TV show on a TV show, the compositer is the one who puts it there. To make it look natural, you have to understand how reflections that the average eye won't pick up affect your perception. You have to understand how to mimic the light in a room. And you have to understand why an old TV screen looks the way it does -- how it skews toward one part of the spectrum or another. There's no "looks natural" to a computer.

To a compositer or color correctionist, each of these tweaks is a chance to tell the story. Your story. Do you sit down and explain everything to them? Well, to an extent. But if they're going to do a really exceptional job, they need to be inspired by the story. They need to know what they're building on. That's when a professional decision becomes an aesthetic decision.

As Mr. Gary builds toward its climax, the beginning of the movie starts showing on the character's TV set. The compositer decided to skew the spectrum on her old TV toward purple. How did he decide that? He saw how the 'red' in the script and on the screen was otherwise darkening, and going toward purple. Now, the untrained eye just sees "old TV". And most people don't even give the compositing a thought. But it's clever, script-based choices that make the composition seem coherent and engaging.

Hiring these professionals usually costs thousands and thousands of dollars. We got to use them for our weird little masterpiece because of an HD Residency Grant from the Bay Area Video Coalition. The grant also got us top-of-the-line audio recording and engineering in-house. So a big shout out and thanks to them!

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