Independent Digital
Feature Production

Creating Digital Movies


by Malcolm Ferrier - Director of STOP


STOP - A Film by Malcolm Ferrier There are a lot of options for Non-Linear Editor (NLE) software. I started STOP with Pinnacle Studio 8, an awful editor that constantly froze, destroying hours of work. It nearly drove me insane. Do not use this software if you value your mind. I don't believe it would be possible to complete a short feature with this program.

Next I tried Roxio Videowave 7. It was somewhat better than Pinnacle, but still had some stability problems and did not allow full control of audio envelopes, making solid sound production very difficult.

I am now using Sony Vegas 5, a wonderful video and audio editor that is stable, easy to use, and functional enough to do whatever I can think of. It's not too cheap and I'm not paid by Sony, but I can't say enough good things about this software. Perhaps coming from two editing solutions that were less than excellent has colored my judgment, but I love this program. I'd highly recommend this NLE.

At the beginning, my computer was an Athlon 1.4 GHz PC running Windows XP. Lots of RAM and hard drive space is essential for video editing, so I expanded the hard drive capacity to ~260 GB and the RAM to 1 GB. However, I'd still get artifacts (little blocks on the video) when I rendered with Vegas. Since a faster processor can also aid video editing, late in 2005 (using the advice of Videoguys) I affordably upgraded my motherboard to an ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe and changed the processor to an Intel P4 3.2 GHz. The system has functioned perfectly since.

I mentioned earlier that in the first year and a half of making STOP, 70% of my time was spent dealing with technical problems. After getting Sony Vegas 5 and upgrading my computer, my technical problems went away, allowing me to spend my time creating and filmmaking. The main point of all this bafflegab is this: do some research, get the best technology you can afford, and you'll save yourself lots of time, effort, and sanity. After all, time is money, right?


To paraphrase William Strunk, Jr.'s classic The Elements of Style, omit needless frames. Tell the story, no more.

When I started STOP, I was hoping it would be feature length (~90 minutes) while the script was only 27 pages long (remember, 1 page = 1 minute of movie). Because of this, I was reluctant to lose any scenes that we'd filmed because it would make the film shorter. I realized, though, that it was more important to have the story flow than for the film to reach a set length, so I became ruthless about removing unnecessary material. The film did become shorter, but it also became better.


Greenscreen Effects Blue/green screen compositing works well for combining two separate video streams together. It works by filming an object or actor in front of a blue or green screen and then using an NLE (like Vegas 5) to make the blue or green transparent so that a second layer of video can be seen behind the object or actor. By using this technique I was able to film a moving hand in front of a still picture of a frozen stream of water. I was also able to make two handguns freeze in midair.

Muzzle Flash Through a similar technique, a gun's muzzle flash (the flash seen when a gun is fired) could be placed in front of a toy gun's barrel and with the added sound effect of a gun firing, a highly convincing gun effect is created.

Morphing Morphing, the computer-aided effect of blending one image or video into another, was used to create the effect of the protagonist emerging from a Quantum time tunnel. The software used to accomplish this was free to download from DebugMode.

CGI Other computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects were created using UnrealEd 3.0 (the Quantum Accelerator Simulation) and Blender 2.41 (the Big Mind Productions introduction, created by Dean Massecar).

Although there are programs available to give video the look of film (FilmLook) I didn't use these with STOP as I found the effect didn't look as good as the original footage. These solutions are options for other projects, but they may take some experimentation and significant rendering time.


Any dialogue that was garbled or difficult to hear had to be recreated in the post-production environment. This is called Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR). The method used on STOP was to play the garbled version several times to the actor and then have them repeat the line as close as possible to the timing of the original into a microphone. This new line could then be used to replace the original.

Any gaps in the background sound created during editing can be filled using the 30 seconds of ambient sound recorded on location. Also, sound effects can be found on the Internet or created using whatever is available at home (Foley). Convincing sound effects go a long way to maintain the viewer's suspension of disbelief.

Music can be obtained from friends who are musicians (a source of a lot of the music in STOP) or by using music looping software like Sony ACID 4.0. I'm a musician and I find the ability to quickly create useable music using a program like this invaluable.

The final mix can be adjusted using the stereo panning tools available in a program like Vegas 5. You can also do a complete surround sound mix by moving sound around in a virtual two-dimensional space. You'll need a good sound card and a 5.1 speaker setup (or a set of headphones that can emulate the placement of a 5.1 speaker setup) to do this, however.

Poster Design

STOP - A Film by Malcolm Ferrier I was fortunate enough to get Steve Weigh, a talented graphic artist and designer, to do the poster and title design. My graphic design skills are limited (at best) and this was yet another example that filmmaking is a collaborative art. If there's something you're not especially good at, get someone who is to do it.


Once you're happy with the final version of your film (a moment which may never come) you can use software to burn it to a DVD. Sony's DVD Architect works well with Vegas and can be used to create advanced menus, commentaries, subtitles, and other elements such as scene selections and special features.

You can also send a signal from your video card to your VCR to record a VHS version or through a Firewire connection to your video camera to record a MiniDV version.

The Next Steps

Now that you've got a finished version of your film, you have a number of options. Host a premiere, enter it into film festivals, send it to an agent, try to arrange a distribution deal, distribute it yourself over the Web, or a combination of these and other possibilities. You can also use your completed film to arrange funding for an even more ambitious follow-up project. I'll probably try all of the above and see where it takes me. I'll keep you posted…


Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier