RESEARCH: Penalties for breaking picture lock

(Outcomes – PER2, GR2)

This post deals with the perennial bugbear of audio post production for films – editors and directors breaking picture lock.

All of the clients bar one who provided us with a picture lock version of their work ready for post production subsequently made changes to the picture, sometimes after discussion with us and other times surreptitiously (apparently in the hope we wouldn’t notice…duh). This is always an issue when fine post production work has started, because changes to picture mean the resyncing of large and complex audio tracklays in the DAW.

We’d seen this happen in the first term, and several questions existed for me about the problem which is apparently widespread enough to spawn memes on the internet. Having receipt of a picture delayed or having changes made to it at the eleventh hour could impact an audio producer who has a busy schedule of work, and cause them issues with completing other jobs they’ve taken on.

I turned to Grant Bridgeman for some research here and asked him whether it is normal to contractually stipulate penalties for productions which do this. The answer was the inevitable ‘…depends on the client!’, but he did send me his Sound Post Production Delivery Specifications documentation (this was furnished by email to the markers as supporting material, as I was asked to keep the documents out of the public domain). This document has a clause which directly addresses the problem and, whilst the document isn’t a contract as such, I would think it would provide some protection against the ramifications of the issue in the future. [PER2]

Practically for this project (and since no money is changing hands no renegotiation of fee is possible) we knew from experience last term that there is nothing to disincentivise these kind of changes, so decided upon a policy of Morton’s Fork – the proverbial rock and the hard place. At the discretion of the supervisors for each film we were prepared to make one or two changes after picture lock, but as deadlines approached we simply refused to accept new versions (once the version we had was of good enough quality for our hand-in, since we are not marked on picture) and suggested the film editor would have to be asked to cut and resync the final audio supplied.

This worked well for us in the academic environment but realistically such a hard-line method would be deployed only as a last resort with a trusted client in the real world. [GR2]

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Research into managing productions which break picture lock. – Research

  • [PER2] To develop a better understanding of the wording and content of contracts, agreements and rate cards offered in the film audio field.

How we dealt with it for our productions – 
Process Management

  • [GR2] To organise and fulfil an operating strategy and schedule which deals with multiple productions simultaneously, and which maximises efficiency and minimises issues or risks to delivery.