What Is Post Production?

How a Director's Footage Becomes a Movie

Filmmaker Frank Capra editing film
Motion picture dir. Frank Capra draped in film, holding end of reel in teeth while examining frame by frame in editing rm.

Photo by Rex Hardy Jr. / Getty Images

When a director exclaims, "That's a wrap!" on the final day of shooting a movie, it typically marks the end of production. However, the film is far from ready to be shown to audiences. At this point, the film enters the post production process, a lengthy period in which the final film is assembled from a variety of elements to create the movie that will be shown in theaters.

Did You Know?

Post production of Orson Welles' final film, 2018's The Other Side of the Wind, was finally completed 42 years after shooting ended in 1976.

Post Production Processes


Editing is the process of taking raw footage shot during production and assembling it to present the narrative that the filmmaker intends. Traditionally, film editing required physically splicing film strips, but since most films are now shot digitally, editing is done on computers.

While most feature films have a runtime of between 90 minutes and two and a half hours, much more footage is shot then is actually used in the final edit. The footage consists of alternate takes, scenes that are later deleted, and (mostly in the case of comedy films) alternate line reads. The ratio of footage shot to the footage used in the final film is known as the "shooting ratio." Because of the price of film, independent films typically would have a much lower shooting ratio than a Hollywood studio production.

For example, filmmaker Shane Carruth shot just 90 minutes of footage for his 2004 sci-fi film Primer (which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival). Carruth edited Primer into a 77-minute movie. However, with most films now being shot digitally, in recent years many filmmakers have shot productions much more liberally in terms of the shot ratio. For example, director George Miller shot nearly 500 hours of raw footage for Mad Max: Fury Road, which was later edited into a 120-minute movie.

In fact, there are examples of films that completely changed in style and tone during editing. For example, while editing his 1977 film Annie Hall, filmmaker Woody Allen decided to focus the film more on the relationship between the lead actor (Allen) and the lead actress (Diane Keaton) and the tone of the film shifted into a relationship comedy.

Editing of a film is overseen by the film's editor and director, though studios have been known to demand edits on films contrary to the filmmaker's wishes (often resulting in an Alan Smithee credit).

Foley Artists At Work
View of a pair of foley artists from the sound effects department of WLW radio station as they stand at the ready to provide background effects for a radio production, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1945. Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images


Though sound has been a part of cinema since the first "talkie," 1927's The Jazz Singer, adding sound to film has always been mostly a post production process. While sound is recorded live on set with microphones, many additional sounds such as sound effects and actors re-dubbing parts of their dialogue, is recorded after production has wrapped. For example, a prop gun fired on set will typically not sound anything at all like the sound that later appears in the final film. For fantasy and sci-fi films, many sound effects need to be created for elements that do not exist in reality. For instance, the sound of Chewbacca's voice in the Star Wars movies has been created by combining the calls of a variety of animals, including walruses, bears, and camels.

There are different roles in post production sound, including sound designer (who typically oversees all of the film's sound), Foley artist (who is responsible for creating the various sound effects added to a film, which was pioneered on radio), and sound mixer (who is responsible for ensuring the use of the film's various sound elements are balanced per the filmmaker's intention).

As the sound quality of theaters has improved over the years, such as the various iterations of the Dolby Digital technology, the options for sound designers have increased.

John Williams and Steven Spielberg
John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic


A musical score is an important aspect of a film for creating its tone. Scores for films like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966), The Godfather (1972); Rocky (1976); Star Wars (1977); Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) have become recognizable in pop culture. In addition to a score, a film's music might include pop songs to set the correct feeling intended by film directors.

Many film composers and their scores have become iconic. Composer Alfred Newman holds the record for winning nine Oscars for Best Original Score. Composer John Williams has the record for most nominations (46), winning five times.

Color filmstrip
A section of the silent film "Little Brother" which shows a splice with tinting at the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, VA, February 10, 2011, which houses 6.3 million collection items (1.2 million moving image, 3 million recorded sound, 2.1 supporting scripts, posters, photos, etc.). Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center is a state-of-the-art facility where the Library of Congress acquires, preserves and provides access to the worlds largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts, and sound recordings. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON. JIM WATSON / Getty Images


Oftentimes, when a film is shot, the lighting of the shots may not match what the filmmakers intended the shots to look like, or the filmmakers may want to give the footage a particular color temperature not reflected in the raw footage. Color timing is the process in which the film is "tinted" in order to match a particular aesthetic desired by the filmmaker. With the increase in popularity of digital filmmaking, filmmakers have virtually infinite possibilities when coloring their movies digitally.

Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray in a scene from Ghostbusters (1984)
Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray in a scene from the film 'Ghostbusters', 1984. Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Visual Effects

Visual effects have become a key part of most blockbusters, and nearly all of the highest-grossing movies of all time feature extensive visual effects. Obviously, many of these effects cannot be shot during production because they are created digitally afterward. Visual effects artists are responsible for creating everything from background elements (such as green screen or set extensions) to entire characters or creatures created by motion capture performances (such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy). In recent years, visual effects have even gone as far as de-aging actors (such as Samuel L. Jackson in 2019's Captain Marvel and Robert De Niro in 2019's The Irishman) or even to recreate the physical appearance of an actor who had passed away (such as Peter Cushing in 2016's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).