“Re: Your Brains” post-mortem

So, 28,000 hits later, it’s been an amazing weekend. It’s true, what they say, refreshing the YouTube page every five minutes when you know they only update the page every hour is a completely different experience when it’s your video and not Maru.

What went right

Pre-production: Rather than storyboard (which I hate doing, but know is absolutely necessary to force myself to think visually rather than verbally), I did a pre-visualization video using stock photos. This allowed me to set up shots in my head and more importantly time the shots to the music. “Re: Your Brains” is 4 1/2 minutes long, and I was really worried we would run short of bits. The pre-visualization also made it much easier for me to explain to the crew what I wanted. It’s much easier for me to edit video of stock photos than to draw, as I get embarrassed by my doodling.

The Shoot: Beyond just having incredibly talented, patient people to work with, some behind the scenes stuff:

  • Amanda Kudalis, our producer and production manager, broke down the shot list that we had discussed and checked each one off as we got it on tape. This was absolutely essential because at the end of the day, I was getting tired and just wanted to go home. But as I learned on our previous shoots, when you’re in editing, either you have the shots you need or you don’t, and with this project there was virtually no way we could go back for reshoots.
  • Changes made on the fly: Originally I had planned for the vending machine bit to be done with a glass-fronted machine that sold potato chips. I was planning on doing the glass shatter and blood on the chips as a digital effect. Honestly, that effect is probably beyond my skills at this point, so when I saw the pop vending machine, I decided to go with that, and do the blood splatter as a practical effect.
  • Coverage. Thanks to the pre-visualization video, I planned out the coverage I wanted (close-ups, etc.). This has been a problem for me, as a director, to remember, and me-as-an-editor really hates that.

Post-Production: Once I got the footage pulled I realized, much to my happiness, that I would probably have more footage than I needed, especially since we shot several takes of the zombies singing the chorus while improvising at the desks. Again, the pre-vis helped tremendously getting the first cut together.

Second, I used Bleach Bypass from PHYX Color to desaturate the video and give it a real horror movie feel. If I had to point to the one thing that I did that really helped this video look great, it’s the color processing.

Bleach Bypass also gave the blood a crustier, dried look.

There were a couple of shots that we had to get in one take (most notably my lovely (and tolerant) wife Sharon getting blood shot all over her face). We got really lucky, and it looked great.

Distribution: I was initially going to post the video on Friday, April 1st. Sharon, who is much smarter than I, pointed out that the ‘net was going to be awash in April Fool’s Day pranks, and I should put it out on Thursday. She was, as usual, right.

As we got ready to release the video, I sent links to the actors and other friends to get them involved with spreading the word. I let them know when the video was coming out, and sent another email when we had posted it publicly.

What went wrong

Sound: Since this was a music video, we were able to dispense with sound for almost the entire shoot, which made it a lot easier to shoot, especially in the cafeteria, where we simply could not have unplugged the refrigerators.  The only bits we needed sound for were the very beginning where you hear the footsteps. Unfortunately, as we captured that sound at the end of the day, no one was on headphones and there was a loud electronic whine that ruined every second of it.

I tried to foley the footsteps myself using my Mac and Snowball mic, but the consensus on that was that it sounded fake, was the worst part of the video, and since it was at the beginning, it was bringing the great bits down. So, we re-foleyed the footsteps using our good mic. My good friend Olga also gave me advice on how to use sound to help enhance the visual image.

Craft Services: I want to mention this only as a matter of shooting on a low budget. Since I promised to feed the actors, I decided to save money by buying pizzas  to cook for them in the office cafeteria. When we got there, however, I discovered that the “oven” was a small toaster oven, the kind you’d use to warm a sandwich. I ended up ordering pizzas to go which not only cost more money, but took me away from the shoot to order and meet the delivery guy.

Lessons learned

  • Always have someone on headphones when doing sound.
  • When you ask people you trust for advice, listen to that advice
  • If you hate drawing, use stock photos or other ways to think visually
  • If there’s a part of a job you hate, find someone who wants to do it. They’re out there. Don’t torture yourself by half-assing something you don’t like to do.

Addendum: after discussing it with a friend, I’m told that point #2 above would be better phrased as “”I often ask for crticism in the hope that they’ll tell me what I know needs to be fixed doesn’t need to be fixed. I am always wrong in this.”

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