Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Locking the Edit

Many people will see me and ask "so how's the movie coming?" Sometimes, I don't know how to answer that question. I might launch in to "Well, we went through the last round of edits from the producer, on the verge of locking picture, trying to coordinate a little second unit, sending CGI raw footage on to the computer graphics guy, setting up for the M&E with sound and getting the picture to the composer so he can spot music cues." Sometimes they glaze over, giving me the "you could have said 'pretty good'."

Others might pick a phrase I used and ask me what that means. So today, we examine what it means to "lock the picture."

In the olden days (the first one hundred years of filmmaking), you would cut the original film negative together. Think of it all lined up there, wound around the spool-- the sound people would need to make a spool with just the sound elements on it (called an "optical negative"). So it had better match *exactly* or peoples lips and music could be off. So if you remove even so much as one inch, or a frame of film from your edit, it could make the sound people off. Thus "locking the edit."

Until you lock the edit, sound and music cannot really do anything. So the first big milestone (not the last), is to edit the movie together and get it "locked." No more changes to the picture. Whatsoever. It's all about length of time. It has to remain exactly the same time length. You could change one shot for another if the time was exact, same seconds and frames.

Now, in the digital age, it's still the same. Sound needs an exact timeline to work from. It's slightly easier to make a change but "slightly easier" should not be interpreted in any way as "easy."

Another way to explain is to imagine that the movie is two distinct elements-- the Sound and the Picture. Both need to be the exact length, because they get worked on separately and eventually at the end have to come back together.

So we're nearing "picture lock" on the current movie. Once that's done, it goes to sound, music, coloring and computer effects. Then it all comes back together in a few months for the final version.

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