Today, March 24th is the theatrical release of Bokeh, an independent feature about a young couple on holiday in Iceland who wake up one morning to find that everybody else has disappeared. The co-writer/director and editor Geoffrey Orthwein takes us through the post production of the movie on Final Cut Pro X.
Setting out to make a feature film, you know you’re going to take a lot of risks. Half the job is really just minimizing the risks while you get the most you can. This is just part of the game, but when you look around and wonder if you’re standing on solid ground or if you’re just ignoring the conventional wisdom, then you’re in that frontier territory where the leaps you’re taking begin to feel scary. This was true for Bokeh, the Lo-Fi, Sci-Fi film that Andy Sullivan and I co-wrote and co-directed.
Bokeh tells the story of a young American couple on a romantic vacation in Iceland who wake up one morning to discover everyone on earth has disappeared. As Jenai (Maika Monroe, “It Follows”, “Independence Day Resurgence”) attempts to reconcile the mysterious event and Riley (Matt O’Leary, “The Lone Ranger”, “Brick”) struggles to survive, they are forced to reconsider everything they know about themselves and the world.
We shot entirely on location in Iceland. We spent three weeks in and around the capital city of Reykjavik and one week traveling the rural interior of the island, eventually landing in Vik on the southern coast. Amazing as that may sound, we are an independent film with a low budget. We prioritized location shooting in the budget, but we didn’t have the resources of a larger production.
Shooting on location is wonderful, but comes with challenges - especially when some of those locations are a 30-minute trek through a canyon, crossing rivers that have no bridges or hiking 45 minutes up a glacier. We decided to focus on shooting while we were in country and other than some basic DIT work, we did not have an on-set editor.
We reviewed dailies at night, but it wasn’t long before we realized that even that had limited value. The idea of reviewing dailies is to make sure you have all the material you need for a scene. But if we were missing a shot - what were our options? There were no extra hours in the day to pick up missing material. Every shoot day was a race to make the day, even getting an extra pickup shot became a special treat.
With the production in full force in a foreign country, we didn’t have the bandwidth to do scene assemblies either. Of course we would have loved that, but low budget filmmaking means compromises have to be made. So we went out into that tundra knowing we had to hit our marks.
Bokeh was shot by cinematographer Joe Lindsay with our shooting set up as follows:
- Two Canon C300’s as primary cameras
- Canon 5D Mark III and GoPros for setups where a lighter weight rig was required.
- Prime lens package with anamorphic adapter for a widescreen cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1
- Atamos Blade and Sound Devices Pix 240 as external recorders capturing ProRes
- Internal CF cards as back up, capturing MXF files
- Zaxcom Nomad audio recorder, sending reference audio and jam-sync timecode to C300’s
- Lavaliere and Boom mics recorded on separate channels of polyphonic WAV files along with location mix
After wrapping principal photography and returning to America we dove right into post. To start, we had a choice to make about editing. In addition to co-writing/directing with Andy, I also edited Bokeh and even though I’d cut short and long form projects, I’d never cut a narrative feature film and needed to find which tool would be best for the job. I did the research and certainly the big NLE’s, Avid, Premiere and Final Cut Pro 7 and X, all have their fans... and their detractors.
In the end the feature that Final Cut Pro X has that made it win out was very simple. I’ve been cutting on FCPX since its introduction in June 2011 and using it is just plain fun.
I knew I was going to be spending many hours on this project and cutting in FCPX just sounded like the funnest way to spend that time.
But could it handle the job? Had anyone else cut a feature film in FCPX before? Back when we came back from Iceland in the summer of 2014, I didn’t know. This was before Focus, before What Happened Miss Simone? or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - this was version 10.1.2 and for a lot of people, the jury was still out.
In addition to a long form project, we had the anamorphic workflow, we didn’t have a major post facility to work in, and I would be primarily handling the edit alone, working on a 2013 Retina MacBook Pro. I knew I wouldn’t be the first person to cut a feature film on a laptop but if I got into trouble and needed help, there was a post production community that sometimes reacted to FCPX with hostility.
The crowd-funding platform saved the day, in more ways than one. We knew after we shot we would have a Kickstarter campaign and the first order of business was to have a video for people to see what we were trying to do with our film. This was the opportunity to put the entire post workflow to the test. I cut the Kickstart promo video in FCPX, exported the audio for the audio mixer to do a proper mix and round-tripped the project to DaVinci Resolve where I graded it.
We also needed to complete one of our big visual effects shots - removing some extra people as our heroes Riley & Jenai walk up a downtown Reykjavik street. I opened the shot in Motion, removed the unwanted pedestrians and exported. I conformed my color graded files, the VFX shot and the mixed audio and we were good to go. The whole process took about three days to complete, from edit to uploading the finished piece.
With the Kickstarter workflow test a success, I was ready to jump into the feature edit. First up was prep: syncing all the audio, setting Roles, de-squeezing the anamorphic footage to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and creating Multicam clips. I had some assistance in this phase, bringing in some help to get through the eight terabytes of footage we had captured in our 27 days of principal photography.
I decided to use the general structure of One Event per Scene, applying keywords for Scene, Take, Circle Take, along with myriad plot- specific keywords that I would come back to during the edit.
On set we also had some scenes where we would just keep everything rolling so we could do takes back-to- back. While we prepped the footage in post, we made keyword ranges in these clips, so that a 20-minute long clip would have the six takes within easily accessed. As the edit progressed I would use Favorites to mark the best takes.
I tested the proxy workflow and while it is incredibly simple, I didn’t feel it was necessary for this project. I was working off an OWC Thunderbay RAID as our primary media drive, attached to the Retina MacBook Pro with a dual-screen set up of a 27” Thunderbolt Display and 23” Cinema Display. Our de-squeezed, anamorphic clips fit perfectly on the Thunderbolt display at 100%. Playback was super smooth; no hiccups even after applying temp grades, effects and re-timing, so creating Proxy files just seemed like eating up extra hard drive space for no reason.
We also set up a remote review process. Editing took place in the San Francisco area, while my co-director is based on the other side of the country in Philadelphia. Every day I would cut scenes, then upload compressed review drafts with burned in timecode for him to review. He’d watch them the next morning, then we’d discuss the structure and narrative and I would go back to work. He also spent quite a few weeks in California so we could work side-by-side.
(Right click for larger image)
While in post-production we were invited to be a part of the Independent Filmmaker Project’s Narrative Feature Lab. This is an incredibly educational program that provided some amazing insight into the independent feature film market for first-time feature filmmakers. I would highly recommend applying to any one of the IFP labs.
It is based in New York and when we needed to present our work-in-progress for the lab, I needed to take the project on the road. It was at that point that I created Proxy files for the scenes we would be showing so that I could take them to New York without bringing the whole RAID.
Once we had picture lock (sidebar - does anyone ever really have picture lock?), prep for the finishing departments began. We brought on some visual effects artists and I exported all the source clips for VFX with the help of ClipExporter. We used Frame.io to review and refine the VFX drafts with the artists. As I received versions from VFX artists, I assigned each clip with a “VFX: DRAFT” or “VFX: Final” video Role to track the drafts and assure that only completed shots were included in the final export of the film.
We went to Color a Go-Go in San Francisco for Bokeh’s color grade. I used EDL-X to output EDL’s and Kent Pritchett at Color a Go-Go brought each reel into Autodesk Lustre for the full grade. With the standard color grade completed, we are going back to Color a Go-Go for a High Dynamic Range grade which will take full advantage of the Wide Color Gamut of new displays and FCPX 10.3.
I worked with our supervising sound mixer David Sandwisch extensively on the audio mix. I used Marquis Broadcast’s X2Pro to export our five reels from FCPX as AAF files. David did the initial audio edit in ProTools then prepared everything for foley work at Footsteps Post-Production Sound. While the majority of our production audio was good, we did need to record some ADR and David brought the project to the Wild Woods sound facility in Los Angeles for recording sessions with Maika and Matt.
Once we had the foley work, ADR recordings and our initial mix, we took the film to Skywalker Sound in Marin County, California. Despite our limited budget, we were able to nab an open spot in their schedule and got to spend a few weeks there doing the full sound design and audio mix with the same ProTools session that David created from the X2Pro AAF’s. With the help of Re-Recording Mixer Zach Martin we put together a full 5.1 Surround Sound mix for Bokeh’s theatrical run.
The time at Skywalker Sound was one of the biggest treats of the whole process. As a small film, we never had any expectation that we would be able to work in a facility as storied as Skywalker. Walking the halls past mixing rooms working on the latest Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars movies was pretty amazing.
After all the finishing departments delivered their work I conformed the project back into FCPX and delivered mastering files in ProRes 4444 for DCP authoring. We got to view the DCP when we premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in February.
I often get asked how Final Cut Pro X held up on the film. People want to know if I will use it again for another feature. I mentioned the fun part earlier, but there’s hard truth about independent filmmaking - post-production takes a looonngg time and you’re always racing for a deadline.
Rough cuts, polish cuts, fine cuts, sample cuts, VFX cuts. festival submissions, buyer screenings, picture lock, legal changes, preview screenings, reference movies for color grade, audio mix, foley, ADR, VFX, Blu-Ray discs and on and on.
You’re in a constant state of iterating for the next deliverable and that is where FCPX excels.
Whether its minor changes, full re-cuts, or just another reference movie, the speed and facility to go through this iteration process in Final Cut Pro X makes even these utilitarian tasks joyful.
The question of would I choose FCPX on the next film is valid, for many its the obvious question. Every film has its war stories and everyone wants to use the right tools and every editor’s passions run high on why one NLE is superior to another.
The idea of taking a gamble on a huge project like a feature film can be a hard sell. A tough argument not just for the producer watching the bottom line, but for yourself knowing the responsibility you’re taking on. It’s not easy to go out of that comfort zone. But I find that it’s like those days shooting on location in Iceland. Pushing out into those hinterlands to see what the world is capable of was challenge and a risk, and when you return from those days in the tundra you know there’s never going to be any other way again.
The edit on Bokeh started in FCPX 10.1.4 and when we delivered the master files for authoring the DCP I was exporting out of FCPX 10.3.2. Conventional wisdom of not upgrading in the middle of a project had to be thrown out.
A lot of status quo had to be thrown out. But you take calculated risks, sometimes in direct opposition to what the industry standards are. And when you do and you can see it working, that's when you know you’re on the frontier of something great.
Bokeh opens in theaters, on iTunes and On-Demand on March 24th.
It will be available in the USA, Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. Additional international dates TBA.
Geoffrey Orthwein – Writer/Director/Editor
As photographer, editor and director Geoffrey’s work has been shown in film festivals across the US and Europe, museums, and broadcast television. He got his start in post-production, working as editor and colorist on independent films and documentaries. He spent four years working on underwater documentaries including Ocean Voyagers, narrated by Meryl Streep. This culminated in the custom, multi-screen film Ocean Odyssey, a permanent installation wrapping 270 degrees around the Smithsonian Institution’s Sant Ocean Hall in Washington DC.
From there he went on to live production, where he toured the world as technical director for live shows for companies including Google, Salesforce, The Walt Disney Company, T-Mobile and Virgin.
Geoffrey and Andrew have worked together for over twenty years, collaborating on scripts, short films and interactive projects. Since finishing Bokeh Geoffrey edited another independent feature (in FCPX) and is currently developing his next project.