Post Production Supervisor Andre Coutu: Let’s start at the beginning. What led you to Post Production?
Post Production Supervisor Lori Waters: I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do at first. I applied to Carleton for journalism and radio and television at Ryerson, which is now Toronto Metropolitan University. I got into both but decided to do RTA because my aunt actually went to RTA and had a career in Montreal at CFCF. Her husband also worked for CFCF and Hockey Night in Canada. I’m not calling myself a “nepo baby” or anything, but they knew the people who started Magnetic North in Toronto. So, while I was still in my third year at Ryerson, I started working at night at Magnetic North, but because I was a woman, I was assigned the role of nighttime receptionist. When I graduated, they kept me on, and then I eventually ended up in the tape room with a fellow DGC Member, Michelle Conroy, and we worked together as tape operators. That’s how I ended up in Post and never left. That was a long time ago! It was Doug Wilkinson who first contacted me because he was Post Supervising My Secret Identity. He needed a Coordinator, and that’s how I got into Post Production Coordination and eventually Supervising.
Andre Coutu: I also applied to Ryerson and Carleton for film studies. Carlton awarded me a scholarship, but Ryerson did not. Since I’m from Ottawa, I ended up going to Carlton. My first job was in the equivalent of a tape room at a company in Ottawa. They had a contract with the National Archives, so my role involved making duplications of specific hockey games or other requested materials. That’s how I got started, but the reality is that I focused more on film theory, art history and film studies at first rather than practical aspects. This led me to a job at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, where I worked as a Technical Director for five years. Being part of the program committee and travelling the world for film festivals was a lot of fun, but I reached a point where I needed something new. At that time, I didn’t realize that I could work on films directly. When I left the festival, someone offered me an opportunity to work on a very small film. I thought, “Sure, why not?” Since I had some graphic design skills, I could assist the Art Department. Little did I know that my skill set was more suited for Post Production. In that first film, I took on multiple roles: First Assistant Cameraman, First Assistant Editor, Colorist, and Post Supervisor. When you have no money, you get to do all these different jobs. I got stuck in the Post Production side, and it all went from there.
Lori Waters: Yeah, once you get stuck in Post, you just sort of go with it. Our backgrounds are similar in the sense that we were hands-on people. I experienced the transition from analog to digital. I also worked in film because I worked at a commercial house. I worked with actual steam decks and syncing rushes. Michelle Conroy worked there too! It’s funny how we were on the same trajectory, but she eventually went into editing. I’m finding that our diverse backgrounds helped inform us in our current roles because we have a knowledge of what everyone else does.
Andre Coutu: The reality is that most people end up in Post Production without trying to make it their aim career-wise. Their interest in different aspects of Post Production, like music, sound, or editing, can be the initial trigger for entering the field. In my case, I worked my way up by starting with small films and gradually progressing to larger projects. I never was a Coordinator; instead, I would figure out what needed to be done based on the specific project. That puts you in the position of having to figure out all the different aspects of Post that you need to get familiar with. A lot of it was teaching myself based on what I thought made the most sense. And sometimes you’ll find out you’re wrong.
Lori Waters: Interestingly, back then, the role of Post Supervisors didn’t really exist in that job. There were only a few people, but it wasn’t really considered a formal job at the time. Before I joined the DGC in 1991, I actually went back into Assistant Editing because there were no available positions. During that time, I taught myself how to use Avid and LightWorks, which introduced me to the digital nonlinear side as it was a new concept. After that, I returned to the world of Post Production in 1993, and I haven’t left since.
Andre Coutu: When I started working on small films, I took on multiple roles, but the key job was being an Editor. I worked on several Lifetime movie-of-the-week type projects in Ottawa. They were good opportunities but not my ultimate goal. I always wanted to work on bigger projects in a city like Toronto, projects that my family would be excited to watch. I’m still striving to work on films that I can personally enjoy.
Lori Waters: It took a long time for me to get there, like with Women Talking!
Andre Coutu: Congratulations, by the way. Fantastic movie, and an Oscar is exciting. I actually wanted to talk about how you approach taking on projects. Obviously, we all want to work on Oscar-nominated films, but we don’t get to choose that in advance. When you’re considering projects, what factors intrigue you the most? Are schedules and budgets significant considerations for you?
Lori Waters: It depends on whether I’m Post Supervising or Post Producing. Lately, I’ve been focused on feature films. I’ve worked on six films with David Cronenberg, three films with Paul W.S. Anderson. I’ve collaborated with the same people repeatedly, like Sarah Polley, who I worked with on Women Talking and Alias Grace. The people involved often drive my decision, even if I may not always connect with the project’s subject matter. I’m not into blood and gore sometimes, for example. But I have a relationship with certain Directors and Producers, and it’s nice to keep that relationship going and know that they want you back. That really informs what I’m going to work on.
Andre Coutu: I completely agree because when you read a script, you can get a sense of its potential and how good it could be. Assessing the cast and talent involved also plays a role. If you’ve worked with people on previous projects and had a positive experience, you think, “This could be great.” If you find people you have good synergy with from past collaborations, it’s natural to lean towards working with them again. I’ve taken on projects solely based on the idea that I love working with a particular person, and I trust that the overall working environment will be conducive because it involves the right people. It’s challenging to predict if a film will be the ideal project for your career, as it’s always a gamble. We can’t rely on that alone. So, yes, I agree with that sentiment. As Post Supervisors, we need to nurture relationships with everyone – Editors, Assistant Editors, Directors, Producers, Sound teams, Composers, and VFX. It’s important to build long-term relationships with vendors so that you understand their point of view, and they understand how you like to work, and it makes the process as smooth as possible.
So here’s a question. Let’s talk about what it’s like being on a different side. We’re on the production side, and I haven’t had the opportunity to work on the vendor side or the film finance side, where you look at a project from a completely different perspective. I’m especially passionate about working on the production side because it feels like we’re collaborating with the filmmakers to create the best possible project we can. We have to manage various aspects, budget-wise and schedule-wise, or different demands from the studios, for example. Did you find anything different on the other side, or when working with film finances, did you approach things differently?
Lori Waters: I mostly worked with budgeting and schedules and providing advice or helping Producers in creating better budgets. One thing that was quite glaringly obvious, which I’m sure you’ve come across, is that when it came to budgeting for Post, there seemed to be a lack of attention to detail. I would see the production budgets, which were quite detailed, but then when it came to Post Production, it seemed like something they slapped together from who knows where. It was often a case of “Here’s the Post budget” without much explanation.
Andre Coutu: From a Post Production perspective, I would never say, “Just slap together $100,000 for this.” That’s not how we work. We carefully plan and budget, taking into account variables like shooting duration and other factors. It’s not a generic number. We’ve thought it through. One of the challenges I always face when getting involved with a project is building a relationship with a new Producer or Line Producer and getting them to involve me in the process. I want to understand their bottom line for Post Production. Let’s turn that into something concrete with realistic expectations and numbers so that we can talk about it properly. It’s frustrating when I’m brought in late and given a number, and they don’t know what that number technically means. There are still companies and studios that try to hire a Post Supervisor in Post after production has already shot, and it’s frustrating because the workflow is wrong, and they didn’t prepare properly.
Lori Waters: Exactly. Did they even read the script?
Andre Coutu: Guys, there are 14 music cues listed here. Where’s the budget for that?
Lori Waters: That’s often why we’re hired. We have the experience and expertise as Post Supervisors, and that’s what we bring to the table. Sometimes we’re like the clean-up crew, or we’re trying to steer the ship back on track and make the film or show work with the resources we have. You want someone who knows how to do it efficiently, schedule it, and maximize the budget. Avoiding waste is crucial, and if you don’t know the steps to take, problems arise. If you don’t have Post professionals involved, you’ll encounter difficulties. You can’t rely solely on vendors to handle everything.
Andre Coutu: Absolutely. It’s also valuable when a Producer or studio executive recognizes their limitations and says, “I don’t know everything. I’ll ask you the questions; give me the answers. Let’s work through this together and have a dialogue.” It’s about explaining that certain decisions will add two weeks to the schedule. The joke about Post Supervisors is that we make schedules we never actually distro because they constantly change. Obviously, the first schedule you make is never right, but that’s part of the process. Our role is to help navigate that process and find collaborators who enable us to do so and understand the challenges and limitations.
We’ve both been doing this for a long time. I haven’t had much experience working in Europe or other international locations. I’ve mostly worked in North America, including the United States and Canada. I’m curious about what differences you’ve noticed in the industry in Toronto, which, as you mentioned, is a small community. How is it working with crews in different international locations with different structures? How do you approach those differences?
Lori Waters: For the longest time, I did co-productions. Sometimes the term was called “Euro pudding.” When I worked with Robert Lantos, we shot a lot in Budapest. Sometimes we would edit in another country like Germany and then do sound in yet another country. Things became much easier when we transitioned to digital. As an example, one of the bigger projects was Sunshine. It was three hours long and shot on film, and we used to have to fly the film to Toronto to mix because the interface between PAL and NTSC and Pro Tools couldn’t handle all the technology, so the only way to ensure it was in synch was by working in 24. Overall, it’s just a different way of working when you’re overseas. Eventually, we learned how different crews work, and they learned how we worked. There were technical challenges, but it’s part of the job.
Andre Coutu: It’s funny because there are cultural differences in the way people work. Union regulations vary in different places. Having worked extensively in Toronto, we’re familiar with our own way of doing things, which I quite like. When you work with an international crew, it’s not always easy. The key is to understand why and how they do things and find a way to communicate with them on their level. There may be some approaches that are considered “better,” but ultimately, it depends on the specific project. Some films heavily rely on sound effects and require a grand scale, while others focus more on intimate dialogue. Each crew is unique. The challenge we’ve both probably faced is bringing international crews to Toronto and working with them here. There was a significant period earlier in my career when outside Producers and crews had the impression that the Toronto crews were not up to par. It’s something we’ve been fighting against for a long time. The landscape has changed now, and Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal are all involved in major productions. The crews have built stronger resumes, and we can now demonstrate to our American counterparts that these are legitimate credits. It’s become less of an issue. But for a long time, we had to break through the barrier and make them understand that we have top-tier talent here and can deliver. Some of the resumes may have a distinctly Canadian look, but unless you know what those projects are, you may not realize their importance. We now have top-tier professionals coming to Toronto to work.
Lori Waters: Even when I worked internationally, I often found that it was Canadians who were sent to places like Germany. It’s interesting. For example, with Cronenberg films, our team would travel to Shepparton or France for mixing. We brought our own equipment, and the setup was slightly different. We didn’t rely on the local resources as much.
Lori Waters: If they shot in Canada, we would post in France. If they shot in England, we would post in Toronto, except for cases where we had simultaneous Post in two countries. That was one of the times when we used Assistant Editors from Germany, and it worked well. I understand what you’re saying about the challenge of getting people to understand that we have top-tier talent here. I recently faced that frustration when suggesting names.
Andre Coutu: We have highly capable crews. It’s just a matter of trying to overcome the perception that we’re primarily a tax credit location. Even now, when we’re producing work of exceptionally high quality, we still face challenges in securing stage time for shooting. We’re incredibly busy, and you would think that such conversations should cease.
How many projects do you work on that are exclusively for Post Production in Toronto? In other words, the production was shot elsewhere, and they come to us solely for post-production, VFX, or sound only.
Lori Waters: My current show Freaky Tales involves sound and VFX. We’re editing in both Los Angeles and New York because the two Directors are bi-coastal. It presents its challenges. Sarah’s film was one of the few in a long time that was entirely done here, but it’s not considered a Canadian production because it was funded by Orion and MGM.
Andre Coutu: I’ve encountered that too. You don’t want disgruntled creatives. You’re like, “Okay, I get it. I’m not asking you to move here. Just come here for what you need to finish.” You have to build that relationship with those people, even if they don’t want to be there.
Lori Waters: That certainly ties into how the whole technological process is changing. I’ve worked on three films from my office at home because of COVID. Prior to that, I worked out of facilities. But for one film, I was in Ireland while it was shooting, and for another, it was in LA and New York. When you’re not able to actually see people in the same room, and it’s all through virtual platforms, you’re not part of the conversations. As they say in Hamilton, “You’re not in the room where it happens.” Yes, we can connect people. I’ve even connected mixed playback sessions in LA, New York, and Toronto simultaneously on four different stages. But I think it’s important to have some human interaction rather than just digital interaction.
Andre Coutu: It’s all about building trust among the team, especially when you’re working with a team for the first time. Zoom or Teams calls don’t do it. Just being in the room, even if you don’t have anything to contribute to the conversation, allows you to understand personalities and other issues that are unrelated to you. You’re not going to get that on Zoom because it’s a start-and-stop situation. I’ve been in the office since September 2020. I went back as soon as I could, and I basically worked out of the office every day. I’m in New York right now because I need to be in the room. I need my team to know I’m here, and I need to be able to go and just knock on someone’s door to ask a simple question instead of spending 30 seconds thinking, “How should I write this email?” or “Is this the right time to send this email?” What I find is that newer people coming up don’t know how those questions should be asked. But if you’re asking the question, I know you’re doing your job. I try to help people I work with understand that building relationships show that you care. On a Zoom call, the person with their camera off will never be someone in the room. It’ll always be a person with their camera off.
Lori Waters: There’s nothing more frustrating than being on a call with a bunch of emojis. Working on a feature is different, but I wouldn’t want to have done a series from a home office situation.
Andre Coutu: So we both work on series and features and, in the case of Into the Badlands, the same series. Personally, I prefer features, but obviously, Toronto is a series town now. You and I will probably do a lot more features that were shot somewhere else and Posted in Toronto than features shot in Toronto because they’re just not doing them in the way they used to do them. But do you find series are structurally different? How does that affect your job?
Lori Waters: The way series are crewed has changed. I support the American model, where each Editor has an Assistant. In Post Production, it’s no longer just one person. We used to have fewer people working on a series, but now there’s a whole team, including a Post Producer, Supervisor, Coordinator, and PA. We need this team because we’re involved in every stage of the production process. We handle it all and have to oversee everything. There are also different versions of the show to consider, like international versions. I’m glad to see the American model coming to Canada. It’s important for attracting new talent to the industry because they need to learn on the job. Having a Post PA and Coordinator helps with that. We won’t be around forever, so it’s an interesting transition.
Andre Coutu: In features, coordinators mainly handle ADR bookings and travel, but that alone doesn’t fill up the whole process. Ten weeks on one project isn’t enough for Coordinators to sustain themselves. TV series, on the other hand, provide more job opportunities and a chance to build a structured team. Everyone has their tasks, and we work together, gaining a full understanding of the entire process. Features often limit coordinators to specific tasks, so they don’t grasp the full scope. TV allows for more comprehensive involvement. Getting more than just a post supervisor in features has always been challenging due to budget constraints.
Lori Waters: I’ve been lucky. I’ve said, “Well, I see your crewing has other people on,” and I push for it. But I think our fellow post people have to push for it also. Because if you do a show with one person, then the expectation is that you can do it all.
Andre Coutu: I find I don’t have to pitch the numbers as aggressively low anymore. I finally get to allocate budgets properly and have Coordinators and Post PAs work for the entire duration of a show. Hopefully, this can start nurturing a younger generation of people coming into the industry.
Something I’ve been bumping into, which I didn’t notice until last year when I was interviewing people, is the romanticism of working on feature films that I personally have is fading among the younger generation. I went to film school, I love watching movies. The younger people coming up now are more drawn to TV shows. They don’t care about movies in the same way that I would, so I’m actually having a difficult time bringing them into features. I’m not seeing the same level of interest in features from the people coming up today. Have you noticed this too?
Lori Waters: I can’t say that I’ve run across anyone like that. But it’s interesting. We need an infrastructure in place that will train more Post Coordinators and Post Supervisors. If this industry is going to survive, we need to train new talent. You have to have a job to learn this job, and you have to work to learn it.
Andre Coutu: And it’s not just fresh faces, people right out of school, that are going to jump into this. It’s people who may have worked on the vendor side for a long time, who know the general ins and outs and might want to make the shift to this side. How do we get them caught up to speed quickly? Half of this job is communication. It’s not just the technical stuff. So, in that context, how do we nurture more of those people so that this job’s skill set can be encouraged? No one goes to school to be a Post Supervisor. When you talk to someone who’s a PA or in the GAP program, they really see themselves as either a Picture Editor or a Sound Editor.
Lori Waters: Exactly, no one knows yet.
Andre Coutu: No one’s like, “Yeah, I want to do this; it’s gonna be fun!” But sometimes, an aspiring Picture Editor sees our process and thinks, “Oh, now I get it. It’s this overall post thing. This is kind of cool. I could be involved in everything and not have to pick one.” And I know there’s the stigma that this job is not really creative. But obviously, it is. We’re enablers, and we enable people to do the best work that they can. If you can look at your job that way, you’ll see how you’re impacting the movie. “I really need to get these ADR lines done so that we can have a better test screening next week. Then we can lock this picture sooner, so we can move forward and make a better film.”
Lori Waters: It’s creative budgeting and creative scheduling. That’s what I always say. Ask yourself, “What are you doing creatively?”
Andre Coutu: Every schedule we do is very creative.
Lori Waters: Yeah, and speaking of previews, I just had one yesterday. And I arranged it all from Toronto.
Andre Coutu: Of all these new COVID-related processes, the thing that I find most intriguing is remote editing and giving filmmakers the ability to work from home. There’s one Director who lives in upstate New York and is working on a rather large movie. The Editor is in LA, but the Director can stay at home in upstate New York. He has his TV and his speakers; he’s using ClearView. He literally said to me, and I’ve worked with him on numerous projects, “This is how we’re doing it from now on, Andre. I don’t have to come into the city for two hours and be there for two days. This process works for me. I can give my notes, review stuff, and still spend time with my family.” That is a huge change in what we could potentially be allowed to do, especially from an Ontario perspective. The biggest hurdle was always the need for the Director to go to Toronto and work with the Editor. Nobody wanted to be here for six months.
Lori Waters: Exactly. On Altered Carbon, we had the showrunner in LA the whole time. The only downside is if it’s the east coast, that’s great. But if it’s the west coast, those hours can be a bit hard. Our showrunner in LA was set up with a colour suite. The only thing she couldn’t do was have a setup for a sound room, so we always had to connect for the mix. Now, that can also be problematic if you’re hoping to connect two mix theatres, but suddenly your schedules clash, and you’re scrambling to hook up mix time and move those schedules. If they don’t have a 5.1 setup, they have to listen to stereo. It’s better to use headphones. There were times when we had to send headphones around.
Andre Coutu: There have been instances where we ordered stuff from Amazon and had it delivered to the Director’s house, asking them to please use these headphones to listen. We found out that half the time, they didn’t even use them. And we were like, “Dude, come on, it’s not that hard. These headphones are perfect. Just use them. We have them!” Directors, in general, know technology, but sometimes they’re happy to just use an iPad for everything.
Lori Waters: If all these new processes and technical aspects are in place, they’re only as good as the driver. And if they encounter any issues when hooking up to ClearView, Soho Net, or Evercast, good God…
Andre Coutu: It’s that enabler idea. I’ve tried to explain this to my team. Sometimes it may seem like this person is being prickly, but the reality is they should be editing right now. So if they can’t edit due to technical reasons, our job is to remove that issue from their lives so they can focus on editing. They need to carry out this process as efficiently as possible, and we need to make sure they can do that.
Lori Waters: I also like to say we’re part therapists. It’s about reading people and reading the room. You always have to be listening. Just sitting there, you’ll hear something that will trigger something in your head, and you’ll think, “Oh, if they’re thinking that, it means they’re going in this direction. Let me get ahead of that right now.” But that comes from years of experience. Again, it’s something you have to be in the business to learn.
Andre Coutu: Exactly. Being in the room helps you do that. In a work-from-home situation, I don’t know if you’ll pick up on it in the same way.
Lori Waters: I do find there are a lot of things that are lost in translation through emails or text messages. I even had a situation last week with an issue we were having over miscommunicated text messages.
Andre Coutu: Getting to the core root of a request is one of the hardest parts of the job. Someone will tell you they didn’t want to do a screening in this location for a whole bunch of reasons, but then you realize maybe they just didn’t want to want to do it on Tuesday. Now I understand you’re not ready for Tuesday, you need Wednesday, but you couldn’t vocalize that. It’s allowing them to understand that you’re there to help them get to the best possible conclusion.
Lori Waters: And that can be anyone, from Directors to Producers.
Andre Coutu: I find that our biggest collaborators are Assistant Editors because they actually keep the train moving forward on everything. Sometimes you just have to guide them through a process so they understand why it’s done that way from now on.
Lori Waters: It’s also being able to help them understand what you need right now and what task to prioritize, and what they can put aside and move on from. I don’t know if you’ve come up against this, but I think somewhere along the line, understanding 35 and understanding reels actually has been lost. And someone not doing pre-lapse over reel changes is not really a good idea. It’s a problem down the road if international people are making the film, and they don’t know that you’ve done a dialogue pre-lap. They think of everything as a DCP. And yes, we work in reels, but it’s still in reels for a reason. And you can’t throw all the things that have been in place out the window because we’re now digital.
Andre Coutu: I think something that we have to work through is educating crews as time goes on. I do this with my team, figuring out how to explain the assumptions that both you and I make. We already know how things are supposed to be done, but sometimes I forget the reasons why. So going back and making sure the teams understand is important. It’s not 100% the same everywhere, and that’s why working internationally is always interesting to see how people do things differently. But in general, we’ve figured out the process.
Lori Waters: Definitely, every show is different, and every day is different. You wake up in the morning thinking, “Oh, this is what’s going to happen,” and then by noon, it’s like, “We want to do a friends and family screening next week, and we need this and this.” But you get it all done. We just pulled a preview together in two weeks, a three-day temp mix, and I think we knocked it out of the park. It tested well last night, so we did our jobs. But not everyone can do what you need to do efficiently and to save money. There are so many different ways. And you still stay in the industry. I haven’t done anything else. I think I’ll probably do this for a while.
Andre Coutu: Yeah, I’m gonna do this for a while. I think everybody has gone through self-reflection during COVID. The key thing now is managing your workload and lifestyle and how to balance it. I’m still struggling, but I’m more aware of it and trying to figure it out. It’s something that needs to be discussed with the crew. Those conversations are much more open now than they were before, which is a good thing.
Lori Waters: We do work long hours, but finding time for personal life is important. Work-life balance will hopefully come back now that we can leave the house and actually be in a facility. I haven’t been in a facility since February 2021, so last week was the first time. It was a ghost town, but it was nice to be back at Company Three after all these years.
Andre Coutu: You’re just there visiting?
Lori Waters: We’ll be set up there in July. We’re mixing.
Andre Coutu: You’re mixing after me. I gotta finish the PAW Patrol Movie first.
Lori Waters: Do you have a release date? That’s my niece and nephew’s favourite show.
Andre Coutu: September 29.
Lori Waters: We had a preview yesterday, but our schedule could be pushed a couple of weeks. You’ll know when I know.
Andre Coutu: I would seriously steal that time, so thank you. But this has been great. Lori, you’ve been a great source of information, and it’s always fun to see us volleying projects back and forth in some ways. There was a short period when we were both on the same film at the same time, back in the day. But the thing I find strange is that, of all the job positions in Post, Post Supers rarely get to work with each other. You don’t really get to know how other people do the work. You just go with
how you and the crew you work with do it, but you never really see other Post Supers in action or experience it from a different perspective. I think it’s valuable for all of us to communicate and have dialogues where we can learn from each other. We haven’t had as many social events as we used to, but hopefully, we will get back to that. All of us are learning from each other and we need to help support each other.
Lori Waters: Exactly. There are some weird curveballs that happen or some technical issues you have to face, and there’s always someone who says, “I had that problem too.”
Andre Coutu: Or someone’s mix dates need to push two weeks, which helps some other people. How sad is it that that’s the kind of stuff that gets us excited? “They can push for two weeks? Really?! Oh my god, that would save us so much time!”