I'm going to say right here and now that the real purpose of color - correction is to make composites work. That's a secret. Don't tell anybody. But the purpose of cc is to make composites better. That's the only purpose for color correction. Now. Forget that I said that and read this:
Color correction. It's all the rage. Indeed, lots of big Hollywood pictures do it... too much. And now the little indy producers like us have the ability to do it... too much.
Now the fact is that there are some technical reasons to color-correct. But those technical reasons quickly bleed into aesthetical reasons and your life is a big ol' mess. Let's start with technical.
But first, a word about our methodology
The best way to deal with the picture is to drag each act onto a timeline so that you can apply a letterbox and a color correction "look" to all or a portion of each act.
We edit features into acts of about 10 pages of script. That's about 10 minutes per act. Then we take all of those acts and we put them into a "master" sequence which contains the entire movie.
The buyers will hate you if you're illegal
The important thing is to make sure we have broadcast legal video and it's all letterboxed the same way.
"Broadcast legal" means that your chroma and luminance values never go above 100%. If they go over 100% (which is something that's possible to encode onto videotape, even digital) then (if there's no limiter on the broadcast amplifiers which feed the antenna, and there is always a limiter there) your broadcast engineer might send a signal to the satellite which is more than 100% of the legally - allowed signal.1
The impact of this is that the audio on the signal might start to crap out and that the transponder on the satellite out in space might overload and could even affect other channels on the transponder, making other broadcasters very unhappy and incurring a fine or the loss of a broadcast license.
Nobody wants any of those things.
But note too that it's very unlikely that your buyer will run into these problems in real life. First of all no broadcaster in their right minds will ever broadcast without a limiter (both audio and video) in their signal chain. Secondly, when we make HDCAM or DigiBeta tapes from our ProRes masters, we ask that the lap put a broadcast limiter in the signal chain then.
But what the heck? We use Final Cut Pro's Broadcast Safefilter. We just apply it as the last filter to the project which contains the entire movie. All problems are solved by doing that.
If you rely on the Final Cut Pro letterbox filter (under "mattes") to letterbox each and every individual clip in each act the movie, you're bound to miss at least a few clips. Then when you play back the movie you will have shots where the aspect ratio will suddenly change to 16:9 from the 2.35:1 you so meticulously cared for.
That will suck.
So by and large we apply our letterboxing globally to the whole movie (before the broadcast safe plugin). Fun fact: the buyers will ALSO reject your video master if any of the letterboxing changes. They hate that.
Ah, but there are many shots which need to be shifted up or down slightly because the cinematographer (ahem) did a lousy job of lining up the shot. In that case, you additionally put a letterbox on the individual clip you're having trouble with and you adjust the offset of the letterbox in that clip to get the shot to look right. In the master sequence that clip will end up being letterboxed "twice" but that's OK, the offset you apply to the clip in the individual act will put the shot where it needs to be and the letterbox filter in the sequence with the whole movie will act as a "safety".
We like to make one set of masters for delivery. I hate hate hate having to make a second set of masters, whether that's for North American delivery or some other territory's deliverables. So we try to satisfy everyone with the same master tape of the movie.
As far as the legality of the video, most buyers don't actually raise a fuss. That's because most buyers are only concerned with DVD's. There's no "legal" standard in video levels for DVD conversion. Nobody cares. Nobody's license is on the line. But we go to some degree of trouble to make sure our video masters are legal because every once in a while you'll have a buyer who thinks (apparently, wrongly) that they'll make some money with VOD (Video On Demand) sales. That means they have to sell to regular broadcasters. And regular broadcasters can be major - league pains about their video levels. To find out what sort of pains we go through to make sure our audio levels are correct, just look at the mixing section.
Making Images Prettier
There's another book you should go ahead and read. It's the DV Rebel's guide by Stu Machwitz.
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Stu goes over a lot of things about color correction. At this point, the book is somewhat out of date, and there are many methodologies which I flat-out disagree with. Stu is primarily a commercial guy, although he works on big-budget features too. The biggest thing we do that he tells you not to do, that we do, is to color correct in Final Cut rather than After Effects.
We use Colorista and Magic Bullet for color-correction. In Final Cut Pro.
1 Can we get a real broadcast engineer to confirm what I'm saying here? I'm just a sound guy, what do I know?
2 Again, let's get a broadcast person to look at this.