Written by Ali Laventhol
Now that you have sailed through prep and production, get ready for POST! Here is a breakdown of what you need to know as the writer of your episode regarding what happens after production wraps.
The truth is, because writers’ rooms are wrapping earlier and earlier in the process these days (See WGA Strike) many writers aren’t given a chance to stick around for post. Even if you’re no longer on the payroll though, you should ask to be included in at least watching cuts and giving notes on your episode—because you were on set the whole time and your showrunner probably wasn’t, so you have information that can be very helpful.
Let’s get into it…
1. THE TEAM
The Post-Producer on your show is the person who oversees all of post-production including the budget, editing, music, vfx, ADR, sound, mixing, closed captioning, basically all of it. They are on par with the Line Producer, who is in charge of production. They will likely have post-supervisors, post-coordinators and/or post-PAs working for them as well. Usually there are 2-3 editors (each with an assistant editor) depending on how big your episode order is. The team will also include a composer and music supervisor and usually offsite vendors to take care of color correction, VFX, ADR, Foley, Sound Mixing and Playback.
The first cut of your episode will be appropriately called the Editor’s Cut – this is an assembly based on notes that your Script Supervisor has sent the Editor about which takes were best. From there, your director gets an allotted number of days to work on their Director’s Cut during which time no one is allowed to go in the edit bay – per union contract. They’ll turn their cut in, and then it’s off to the races for you. This is also when the showrunner steps in and starts to work with the Editor on the cut. It’s important to ask your showrunner when they want notes from you—or if they want you to work with the Editor directly. We’ve done notes on Director’s Cuts, or in some cases waited until the Producer’s Cut which comes next. In some cases, we’ve done notes on both. After the Producer’s Cut, there will generally be a Studio Cut followed by a Network (or Streamer) Cut, much the same way a draft goes through its many versions.
When giving notes, list them with the corresponding timecode – how many minutes/seconds/frames into the cut (there will be a timecode bar on the cut you’re watching) where your note applies. While watching a cut, be sure to refer to anything you jotted down while on set about which takes had the best reactions or performances or whatever.
You may have thoughts on pacing or trims or the order of scenes, or which coverage to use when – like, “can we go in tighter to make this particular moment land harder” kind of thing. If you know there’s a take with a better performance – note it, even if it’s just one little line or reaction within a scene. Director’s Cuts often come in long and if it does, you’ll be looking for cuts and trims, so if you spot a place to pull the air out or even lose a line or two, note it. And finally – remember the cuts at this stage only have temp music and haven’t been color graded so don’t freak out if it doesn’t look and sound up to par yet. You are still early on in the process.
Once picture is locked and everyone all the way up the food chain has signed off on a cut, it’s time for music and sound spotting. In a spotting session, you will sit with the showrunner, music supervisor and composer along with editorial to determine what sound effects and music are needed and exactly where they will go and how long they’ll last. You’ll also be determining where you need ADR lines and Voice Over if you have it.
4. COLOR GRADING
After picture lock, the cut will be color corrected. Think of this as basically a filter like one you would use for Instagram or any other photo editor except it’s more complicated and powerful and it’s a moving image instead of a still. More contrast, more saturation, that kind of thing. Writers generally do not attend these sessions, and are generally thrilled with the results—because your cut will finally look like the show!
At this point, all the sound effects, music, ADR, etc should be done and laid in. This is the session (usually offsite on a mix stage, although since COVID perhaps this is happening remotely) where you’ll watch the cut back with final sound and take notes about all the cues. Like, if you need a certain effect to be a little louder or end a little sooner or if a certain line of dialogue is still getting lost or BG is too distracting. At this point however, the notes should be minimal. The mix stage is expensive so this session is aiming to do last tweaks and get sound locked.
Since visual effects take a lot of time, this work will need to start ASAP. Your Post Supervisor will generally be working with the vfx vendors to coordinate all the shots that need effects. Typically, this isn’t something the writer is heavily involved in unless there is a new effect being created for a moment in your episode and the team needs your creative input on how it should look. Tawnya and I have not worked on a vfx-heavy show, so I can’t really speak to the process from a writer’s POV. Our advice would be, if you’re on a show like Game of Thrones and haven’t worked with vfx before, ask one of the Upper Levels on your staff what your role is, if any, within the vfx workflow.
As you can see, your primary role in post will be giving notes on cuts. We’ve been on some shows where the entire writing staff was given the opportunity to watch early cuts together at lunch and discuss thoughts. This was so wonderful, because it caused the whole staff to feel included and invested in ALL the episodes, not just the one(s) they wrote. Everyone felt heard, and everyone’s opinions were valued and taken into consideration. (Shout out to showrunner Peter Ocko who implemented this utopia – one of the best humans and bosses ever.) However, on most shows since this has not been the case, in our experience. Either the writer of record will watch cuts on PIX or whatever remote system your show uses – or in rare cases we’ve watched in the edit bay.
Additionally, on a few shows but not most – we’ve sat in the bay with the editor while they work on the cut. In these instances, we’ve been able to offer thoughts on the fly which is typically how your showrunner will do it if they have time. This is especially helpful if you have problematic spots in your cut – since you’ll be able to roll up your sleeves and try different things (alt takes, alt coverage, or switching the order, omitting lines or adjusting pacing or whatnot) which can sometimes reveal a better version you didn’t even know was possible. If you can make this happen, definitely do it – not only will it generally result in a better episode, but it will give you the chops you need to have once you become a showrunner yourself.
Ali Laventhol has been Tawnya‘s writing partner for over a decade, most recently as the Co-Executive Producer for My Life With The Walter Boys (Netflix), and Bel-Air (Peacock), as well as several Lifetime movies. She is a long time Script Anatomy instructor.