Author Archives: Randi Altman

Showtime’s Homeland: Producer/director Lesli Linka Glatter

By Iain Blair

Since it first premiered back in 2011, the provocative, edgy and timely spy thriller Homeland has been a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It has also racked up dozens of awards, including Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes.

The show, which features an impressive cast — namely Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin — is Showtime’s number one drama series is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios and was developed for American television by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. Homeland is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War from Gideon Raff.

Lesli Linka Glatter

Producer Lesli Linka Glatter is an award-winning director of film and episodic dramas. Her TV work includes The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, Justified, Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, Nashville, True Blood, Mad Men, The Good Wife, House, The West Wing, NYPD Blue, ER and Freaks and Geeks, just to name a few. Most recently, she directed the first two episodes of Dick Wolf’s limited series Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders for NBC.

Glatter was nominated for a fifth Emmy for directing the Homeland episode “America First,” and in 2015 and 2016 she was also among the producers acknowledged when Homeland received back-to-back Emmy nominations for Best Drama. 

Glatter began her directing career through American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, and her short film Tales of the Meeting and Parting was nominated for an Academy Award. Her first series was Amazing Stories, followed by Twin Peaks, for which she received her first Directors Guild Award nomination. She made her feature film directorial debut with Now and Then, followed by The Proposition. For HBO she directed State of Emergency, Into the Homeland and The Promise.

To say her career has been prolific is an understatement. I recently spoke with Glatter about making Homeland, the Emmys, her love of post and mentoring other women.

Have you started Season 8?
Not yet. We’re not even prepping yet since we just finished Season 7. The first thing that happens is the writers, myself, Claire, Mandy and the DP go to DC to meet with the intelligence community, and what we find out from talking to these people then becomes the next season.

Is it definitely the final one?
I think that’s unclear yet. It might go on.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I love it. As a producing director I love being involved with the whole novel, the whole big picture of the season, as well as the individual chapters. There’s an overall look and feel and tone to each season, and I also get to direct four of the 12 episodes. We have other amazing directors who come in, and that creates energy and brings in a different point of view, yet it fits into the whole, overall storyline and feel of the season. We have this wonderful working environment on the show where the best idea wins, so it’s very creative. Then every year we reinvent the wheel, with a new look and feel for the show.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
A complex show like this is filled with all sorts of challenges and joys, in equal parts. Obviously, everything starts with the material and the script, then I have my partners in crime — Claire and Mandy — who’re so creative and collaborative. The big challenge is that we try to make each season new and fresh. People might look at one of Season 7’s shows and think we have it all dialed in with the same sets, the same crew in place and so on, but we’re always going to a new place with a new crew and new sets, and we shoot for 11 days, but nine of those are usually on location, so we have very few on stage. In terms of logistics, that is really challenging. Every episode’s different, but that’s generally how it works. Then we’re exploring very relevant and timely issues. We just dealt with “a nation divided” and Russian meddling, and these are things that everyone’s talking about right now.

As mentioned, you direct a lot of shows. Do you prefer doing that?
It’s more that I see myself as a director first and foremost, although I love showrunning and producing as well. I want to be the producer that every director would love to have, since I try to give them whatever they need to tell their best stories. I have a great line producer/partner named Michael Klick. He’s the magic man who makes it all happen. The key in TV is to have great partners, and our core creative team — DPs David Klein and Giorgio Scali, our editors, production designers, costume designers — are all so talented. You want the smartest team you can get, and then let the best idea win, and we always aim for a very cinematic look.

Where do you post?
We did all the editing on the Fox lot and all the sound mixing at Universal. Encore does the VFX.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s where it all comes together, and you get to look at everything you’ve done and re-shape it and make it the best it can be. Along with everyone else, I have my idea of what each episode will be, and then we have our editing team and they bring all their ideas to it, so it’s very exciting to watch it evolve.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have three editors — Jordan Goldman, Harvey Rosenstock and Philip Carr Neel — because of the tight schedule, and they each handle different episodes and focus solely on those… unless we run into a problem.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
Telling the best possible story and staying true to the theme and subtext and intent of that story. The show really lives in shades of gray with a lot of ambiguity. A classic Homeland scene will feature two characters on completely opposing sides of an issue, and they’re both right and both wrong. So maybe that makes you think more about that issue and question your beliefs, and I love that about the show.

This show has a great score by Sean Callery, as well as great sound design. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music.
Sean’s an amazing storyteller and brilliant at what he does, as the show has a huge amount of anxiety in it, and he captures that and helps amplify it — but without making it obvious. He’s been on the show since the start, and we’ve also worked with the same sound team for a long time, and sound design’s such a key element in our show. We spend a lot of time on all the little details that you may not notice in a scene.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
You can’t ever think about awards while you’re working. You just focus on trying to tell the best possible story, but in this golden age of TV it’s great to be recognized by your peers. It’s huge!

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
Things are changing and improving. I’ve been involved with mentoring women directors for many, many years, and I hope we soon get to a point where gender is no longer an issue. If you’d asked me back when I began directing over 20 years ago if we’d still be discussing all this today, I’d have said, “Absolutely not!” But here we still are. The truth is, showrunning and directing are hard and challenging jobs, but women should have the same opportunities as men. Simple as that.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Luke Scott to run newly created Ridley Scott Creative Group

Filmmaker Ridley Scott has brought together all of his RSA Films-affiliated companies together in a multi-business restructure to form the Ridley Scott Creative Group. The Ridley Scott Creative Group aims to strengthen the network across the related companies to take advantage of emerging opportunities across all entertainment genres as well as their existing work in film, television, branded entertainment, commercials, VR, short films, documentaries, music video, design and animation, and photography.

Ridley Scott

Luke Scott will assume the role of global CEO, working with founder Ridley Scott and partners Jake and Jordan Scott to oversee the future strategic direction of the newly formed group.

“We are in a new golden age of entertainment,” says Ridley Scott. “The world’s greatest brands, platforms, agencies, new entertainment players and studios are investing hugely in entertainment. We have brought together our talent, capabilities and creative resources under the Ridley Scott Creative Group, and I look forward to maximizing the creative opportunities we now see unfolding with our executive team.”

The companies that make up the RSCG will continue to operate autonomously but will now offer clients synergy under the group offering.

The group includes commercial production company RSA Films, which produced such ads such as Apple’s 1984, Budweiser’s Super Bowl favorite Lost Dog and more recently, Adidas Originals’ Original is Never Finished campaign, as well as branded content for Johnnie Walker, HBO, Jaguar, Ford, Nike and the BMW Films series; the music video production company founded by Jake Scott, Black Dog Films (Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Björk and Radiohead); the entertainment marketing company 3AM; commercial production company Hey Wonderful founded by Michael Di Girolamo; newly founded UK commercial production company Darling Films; and film and television production company Scott Free (Gladiator, Taboo, The Martian, The Good Wife), which continues to be led by David W. Zucker, president, US television; Kevin J. Walsh, president, US film; and Ed Rubin-Managing, director, UK television/film.

“Our Scott Free Films and Television divisions have an unprecedented number of movies and shows in production,” reports Luke Scott. “We are also seeing a huge appetite for branded entertainment from our brand and agency partners to run alongside high-quality commercials. Our entertainment marketing division 3AM is extending its capabilities to all our partners, while Black Dog is moving into short films and breaking new, world-class talent. It is a very exciting time to be working in entertainment.”

 

 

 

 

 

MPC directs, provides VFX, color for Fiji Water spot

To launch the new Fiji Sports Cap bottle, Wonderful Agency came up with the concept of a drop of rain from the clouds high above Fiji making its way down through the pristine environment to showcase the source of their water. The story then transitions to the Fiji Water Sports Cap bottle being used by athletes during a tough workout.

To bring that idea to life, Wonderful Agency turned to MPC with creative director Michael Gregory, who made making his MPC directorial debut, helming both spots while also leading his VFX team. These spots will air on primetime television.

Gregory’s skills in visual effects made him the perfect fit as director of the spots, since it was essential to seamlessly depict the raindrop’s fast-paced journey through the different environments. MPC was tasked with building the CG water droplet that falls from the sky, while reflecting and magnifying the beauty of the scenes shot in Fiji.

“It was key to film in low light, cloudy conditions in Fiji,” explains Gregory. “We shot over five days with a drone in the most remote parts of the main island, taking the drone above the clouds and shooting many different angles on the descent, so we had all the textures and plates we needed.”

For the Fiji section, Gregory and team used the Zenmuse X7 camera that sits on a DJI Inspire 2 drone. “We chose this because logistically it was easier to get it to Fiji by plane. It’s a much smaller drone and isn’t as battery-hungry. You can only travel with a certain amount of batteries on a plane, and the larger drones that carry the Reds and Alexas would need the batteries shipped by sea. Being smaller meant it had much longer flying times. That meant we could have it in the air at height for much longer periods. The footage was edited in Adobe Premiere.”

MPC’s VFX team then got to work. According to lead compositor Oliver Caiden, “The raindrop itself was simulated CG geometry that then had all of the different textures refracted through the UV map. This process was also applied to the droplet reflections, mapping high dynamic range skies onto the outside, so we could achieve a more immersive and richer effect.”

This process enabled the compositors to animate the raindrops and have full control over motion blur, depth of focus, refraction and reflections, making them as realistic and multifaceted as possible. The shots were a mixture of multiple plates, matte painting, 2D and CG clouds, which ultimately created a sequence that felt seamless with reality. The spot was graded by MPC’s colorist Ricky Gausis.

The tools used by MPC were Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Adobe Photoshop as well as Foundry Nuke for the VFX and FilmLight Baselight for color.

The latest Fiji campaign marks a continued partnership between MPC and Wonderful Agency — they previously handled VFX for Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Halos spots — but this latest campaign sees MPC managing the production from start to finish.

Therapy Studios provided the final audio mix.

 

Creating the 3D stereo version of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story

At Stereo D, a company that converts 2D theatrical content into stereoscopic 3D imagery, creating 3D editions of blockbuster movies takes hundreds of people working under the leadership of a dedicated stereo producer and stereographer team. For Solo: A Star Wars Story, the studio’s Tim Broderick and Yo Aoki talked to us about their collaboration and how they supported Ron Howard’s 3D vision for the film.

Yo Aoki

Can you talk about how your partnership works to produce a 3D version of every frame in a feature film?
Tim Broderick: Think of it this way — Yo is the artistic lead and I’m the one trying to give him as much of a runway as possible. My job entails a lot more of the phone calls to the client, setting up schedules and our pipelines and managing the material as it comes over to us. Yo’s focus is mainly in the theater and working with the stereo supervisors about his approach to each show. He homes in on what the style will be, analyzes each scene and builds a stereo plan for each.

Tim Broderick

Yo Aoki: Then we come together with the clients and all talk through the work… what they’re going for and how we can add to it using the 3D. We both have our strengths in the room with the clients and we play off each other very well and comfortably, which is why we’ve been doing this together for so long.

Did your collaboration begin at Stereo D?
Aoki: Yes. My first major project at Stereo D was James Cameron’s Titanic, but my history with Tim began with Godzilla and Jurassic Park 3D, where Tim was our production supervisor. Then we worked together with Tim serving as stereo producer on Jurassic World, followed by The BFG, Rogue One, The Mummy, Ready Player One and Solo.

So, you’re not the team that leads the 3D on the Star Wars episodes?
Broderick: Lucasfilm thought it made more sense to assign a dedicated team to the stories and another to the episodes as a practical matter since the schedules were overlapping.

How do you describe the aesthetic that applies to the 3D of Solo: A Star Wars Story compared to Rogue One?
Aoki: For Rogue One, Gareth Edwards and John Knoll preferred realism, while in Solo, Ron Howard and Rob Bredow preferred to make the 3D fun and comfortable. Different approaches and both worked for the experience each film offered.

Can you explain the difference between 3D realism and 3D fun and comfortable?
Broderick: Sure, for “realism” we take more of an analytical approach, making sure objects are correct in their spatial relationships. Is that rock the correct size in perspective to K2? No. It needs to be pushed positive so it’s larger. Whereas in “fun and comfortable,” we certainly keep things realistic, but the analytical approach is more Yo putting himself in the audience’s shoes and looking at each shot and asking 1) What can we do with this shot to make it just a little more of a fun ride for the audience? And 2) Is it comfortable? What do we need to sacrifice in terms of realism to help that?

What kind of guidance did director Ron Howard provide to inform your approach to the 3D?
Aoki: Take the Kessel Run sequence, which is a wild flight through fog and debris crashing into the ship as the team runs from TIE fighters and a giant monster. There was discussion early on about playing the sequence very shallow to avoid miniaturization of the Falcon and keep it to actual scale, but by doing that you lose the fun of the 3D tunnel effect of the environment they’re in, so Ron said to cheat the reality and make it more fun. There are also rocks and debris flying past the window, which Ron wanted to pull closer to the ship for more drama. The scale is unconventional, but it’s a lot more fun playing it this way. It adds to the impact of the scene.

You’ve worked with some pretty amazing directors — Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, James Cameron — what’s the best part of the job?
Aoki: It’s been great. After each show we walk away with more ideas to offer the next filmmaker to use in their 3D storytelling.

Broderick: Definitely one of the most fun parts of what we do is spending time with filmmakers learning what they’re going for, presenting how we can aid that story in terms of 3D and having the creative flexibility to see it through.

Netflix’s Lost in Space: New sounds for a classic series

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s Lost in Space series, a remake of the 1965 television show, is a playground for sound. In the first two episodes alone, the series introduces at least five unique environments, including an alien planet, a whole world of new tech — from wristband communication systems to medical analysis devices — new modes of transportation, an organic-based robot lifeform and its correlating technologies, a massive explosion in space and so much more.

It was a mission not easily undertaken, but if anyone could manage it, it was four-time Emmy Award-winning supervising sound editor Benjamin Cook of 424 Post in Culver City. He’s led the sound teams on series like Starz’s Black Sails, Counterpart and Magic City, as well as HBO’s The Pacific, Rome and Deadwood, to name a few.

Benjamin Cook

Lost in Space was a reunion of sorts for members of the Black Sails post sound team. Making the jump from pirate ships to spaceships were sound effects editors Jeffrey Pitts, Shaughnessy Hare, Charles Maynes, Hector Gika and Trevor Metz; Foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit; Foley mixer Brett Voss; and re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters.

“I really enjoyed the crew on Lost in Space. I had great editors and mixers — really super-creative, top-notch people,” says Cook, who also had help from co-supervising sound editor Branden Spencer. “Sound effects-wise there was an enormous amount of elements to create and record. Everyone involved contributed. You’re establishing a lot of sounds in those first two episodes that are carried on throughout the rest of the season.”

Soundscapes
So where does one begin on such a sound-intensive show? The initial focus was on the soundscapes, such as the sound of the alien planet’s different biomes, and the sound of different areas on the ships. “Before I saw any visuals, the showrunners wanted me to send them some ‘alien planet sounds,’ but there is a huge difference between Mars and Dagobah,” explains Cook. “After talking with them for a bit, we narrowed down some areas to focus on, like the glacier, the badlands and the forest area.”

For the forest area, Cook began by finding interesting snippets of animal, bird and insect recordings, like a single chirp or little song phrase that he could treat with pitching or other processing to create something new. Then he took those new sounds and positioned them in the sound field to build up beds of creatures to populate the alien forest. In that initial creation phase, Cook designed several tracks, which he could use for the rest of the season. “The show itself was shot in Canada, so that was one of the things they were fighting against — the showrunners were pretty conscious of not making the crash planet sound too Earthly. They really wanted it to sound alien.”

Another huge aspect of the series’ sound is the communication systems. The characters talk to each other through the headsets in their spacesuit helmets, and through wristband communications. Each family has their own personal ship, called a Jupiter, which can contact other Jupiter ships through shortwave radios. They use the same radios to communicate with their all-terrain vehicles called rovers. Cook notes these ham radios had an intentional retro feel. The Jupiters can send/receive long-distance transmissions from the planet’s surface to the main ship, called Resolute, in space. The families can also communicate with their Jupiters ship’s systems.

Each mode of communication sounds different and was handled differently in post. Some processing was handled by the re-recording mixers, and some was created by the sound editorial team. For example, in Episode 1 Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is frozen underwater in a glacial lake. Whenever the shot cuts to Judy’s face inside her helmet, the sound is very close and claustrophobic.

Judy’s voice bounces off the helmet’s face-shield. She hears her sister through the headset and it’s a small, slightly futzed speaker sound. The processing on both Judy’s voice and her sister’s voice sounds very distinct, yet natural. “That was all Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters,” says Cook. “They mixed this show, and they both bring so much to the table creatively. They’ll do additional futzing and treatments, like on the helmets. That was something that Onna wanted to do, to make it really sound like an ‘inside a helmet’ sound. It has that special quality to it.”

On the flipside, the ship’s voice was a process that Cook created. Co-supervisor Spencer recorded the voice actor’s lines in ADR and then Cook added vocoding, EQ futz and reverb to sell the idea that the voice was coming through the ship’s speakers. “Sometimes we worldized the lines by playing them through a speaker and recording them. I really tried to avoid too much reverb or heavy futzing knowing that on the stage the mixers may do additional processing,” he says.

In Episode 1, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) finds himself alone in the forest. He tries to call his father, John Robinson (Toby Stephens — a Black Sails alumni as well) via his wristband comm system but the transmission is interrupted by a strange, undulating, vocal-like sound. It’s interference from an alien ship that had crashed nearby. Cook notes that the interference sound required thorough experimentation. “That was a difficult one. The showrunners wanted something organic and very eerie, but it also needed to be jarring. We did quite a few versions of that.”

For the main element in that sound, Cook chose whale sounds for their innate pitchy quality. He manipulated and processed the whale recordings using Symbolic Sound’s Kyma sound design workstation.

The Robot
Another challenging set of sounds were those created for Will Robinson’s Robot (Brian Steele). The Robot makes dying sounds, movement sounds and face-light sounds when it’s processing information. It can transform its body to look more human. It can use its hands to fire energy blasts or as a tool to create heat. It says, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and “Danger, Dr. Smith.” The Robot is sometimes a good guy and sometimes a bad guy, and the sound needed to cover all of that. “The Robot was a job in itself,” says Cook. “One thing we had to do was to sell emotion, especially for his dying sounds and his interactions with Will and the family.”

One of Cook’s trickiest feats was to create the proper sense of weight and movement for the Robot, and to portray the idea that the Robot was alive and organic but still metallic. “It couldn’t be earthly technology. Traditionally for robot movement you will hear people use servo sounds, but I didn’t want to use any kind of servos. So, we had to create a sound with a similar aesthetic to a servo,” says Cook. He turned to the Robot’s Foley sounds, and devised a processing chain to heavily treat those movement tracks. “That generated the basic body movement for the Robot and then we sweetened its feet with heavier sound effects, like heavy metal clanking and deeper impact booms. We had a lot of textures for the different surfaces like rock and foliage that we used for its feet.”

The Robot’s face lights change color to let everyone know if it’s in good-mode or bad-mode. But there isn’t any overt sound to emphasize the lights as they move and change. If the camera is extremely close-up on the lights, then there’s a faint chiming or tinkling sound that accentuates their movement. Overall though, there is a “presence” sound for the Robot, an undulating tone that’s reminiscent of purring when it’s in good-mode. “The showrunners wanted a kind of purring sound, so I used my cat purring as one of the building block elements for that,” says Cook. When the Robot is in bad-mode, the sound is anxious, like a pulsing heartbeat, to set the audience on edge.

It wouldn’t be Lost in Space without the Robot’s iconic line, “Danger, Will Robinson.” Initially, the showrunners wanted that line to sound as close to the original 1960’s delivery as possible. “But then they wanted it to sound unique too,” says Cook. “One comment was that they wanted it to sound like the Robot had metallic vocal cords. So we had to figure out ways to incorporate that into the treatment.” The vocal processing chain used several tools, from EQ, pitching and filtering to modulation plug-ins like Waves Morphoder and Dehumaniser by Krotos. “It was an extensive chain. It wasn’t just one particular tool; there were several of them,” he notes.

There are other sound elements that tie into the original 1960’s series. For example, when Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) and husband John are exploring the wreckage of the alien ship they discover a virtual map room that lets them see into the solar system where they’ve crashed and into the galaxy beyond. The sound design during that sequence features sound material from the original show. “We treated and processed those original elements until they’re virtually unrecognizable, but they’re in there. We tried to pay tribute to the original when we could, when it was possible,” says Cook.

Other sound highlights include the Resolute exploding in space, which caused massive sections of the ship to break apart and collide. For that, Cook says contact microphones were used to capture the sound of tin cans being ripped apart. “There were so many fun things in the show for sound. From the first episode with the ship crash and it sinking into the glacier to the black hole sequence and the Robot fight in the season finale. The show had a lot of different challenges and a lot of opportunities for sound.”

Lost in Space was mixed in the Anthony Quinn Theater at Sony Pictures in 7.1 surround. Interestingly, the show was delivered in Dolby’s Home Atmos format. Cook explains, “When they booked the stage, the producer’s weren’t sure if we were going to do the show in Atmos or not. That was something they decided to do later so we had to figure out a way to do it.”

They mixed the show in Atmos while referencing the 7.1 mix and then played those mixes back in a Dolby Home Atmos room to check them, making any necessary adjustments and creating the Atmos deliverables. “Between updates for visual effects and music as well as the Atmos mixes, we spent roughly 80 days on the dub stage for the 10 episodes,” concludes Cook.

Milk provides VFX for Adrift, adds new head of production Kat Mann

As it celebrates its fifth anniversary, Oscar-, Emmy- and BAFTA-winning VFX studio Milk has taken an additional floor at its London location on Clipstone Street. This visual effects house has worked on projects such as Annihilation, Altered Carbon and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Milk’s expansion increases its artist capacity to 250, and includes two 4K FilmLight Baselight screening rooms and a dedicated client area. The studio has upgraded its pipeline, with all its rendering requirements (along with additional storage and workstation capacity) now entirely in the cloud, allowing full scalability for its roster of film and TV projects.

Annihilation

Milk has just completed production as the main vendor on STXfilms’ new feature film Adrift, the Baltasar Kormákur-directed true story of survival at sea, starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. The Milk team created all the major water and storm sequences for the feature, which were rendered entirely in the cloud.

Milk has just begun work on new projects, including Four Kids And It — Dan Films/Kindle Entertainment’s upcoming feature film — based on Jacqueline Wilson’s modern-day variation on the 1902 E Nesbit classic novel Five Children And It for which the Milk team will create the protagonist CG sand fairy character. Milk is also in production as sole VFX vendor on Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s six-part TV adaptation of Good Omens for Amazon/BBC.

In other news, Milk has brought on VFX producer Kat Mann as head of production. She will oversee all aspects of the studio’s production at its premises in London and at their Cardiff location. Mann has held senior production roles at ILM and Weta Digital with credits, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Thor: The Dark World and Avatar. Milk’s former head of production Clare Norman has been promoted to business development director.

Milk was founded by a small team of VFX supervisors and producers in June 2013,

How being a special needs dad helps me be a better editor at Conan

By Robert James Ashe

I have been working in late night television for Conan O’Brien for nearly 10 years, currently as the lead editor for Conan on the TBS network. Late night television has an extraordinarily demanding pace. An old colleague of mine used to refer to it as the “speed chess” of editing. It demands that your first instincts when editing are the best ones. The pace also puts extraordinary pressure on your writers and producers. I like to think of editors as the pilots hired to bring the plane in for a landing that may have already lost an engine, so it’s important that you maintain balance and focus.

I am the father to three amazing kiddos with special needs. My first daughter was born with the amyoplasia form of arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She is also nonverbal. My youngest daughter was born with amniotic banding syndrome. For her, it means she only has a few fully developed fingers and a prosthesis on one of her legs. We’ve addressed her physical challenges through surgery and she has lots of fun sprinting around with her “robot leg,” which is what we call her prosthesis. We are in the middle of adopting our son and hope to bring him home in the fall. He has similar orthopedic challenges to our second daughter.

I take my jobs as editor and as a father very seriously, but it is also important to note that I am happy. Here are some things that I have learned over the years. I have made mistakes in every one of these rules, but I try every day to be better.

1. You will reach a new normal
I like to think of an editor’s job as a client’s spirit guide of sorts. A guardian of the story you are helping to tell. Once you get all of the footage, and you have a good idea of what you are dealing with, your job is to advocate for the story your client is trying to tell while handling various tech issues so you can remain creative. It took me a long time to make this adjustment. Now I try every day to make it my new normal.

Once we got through the first few weeks of my first daughter’s life and received a diagnosis, we decided to not live our lives with a cloud over our heads and to instead look for the sunshine. We refused to consider our lives to be a tragedy. My job is to advocate for my children while making sure they can remain kids throughout the doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I want them to feel happy about their lives.

2. Know Your Role
It’s important to know that the story you are being hired to tell for your client is not yours. I am very trusted at my job to work on pieces with little supervision. I have earned this trust because the writers (my client) know that I will put together segments based on their sensibilities. I am there to help tell their story and to solve any tech problems that may arise in doing so. I am not reinterpreting the story to fit my own sensibilities (plus, I’m not very funny so it works out).

I am a player in my children’s life story. I deal with insurance. My wife takes them to appointments on workdays. But, we are not the ones receiving the therapy or medical services, so our story is different than our children’s. You must know how to separate the two. I am there to guide them. I am there to protect them but it is their story.

Rob (center) with his co-editors Chris Heller and Matt Shaw.

3. Attitude monitors everything
I have to be mindful of my attitude. I am a large, intimidating looking man. The slightest expression of negativity is read to be much larger because of my size. Your attitude can affect an entire workspace. People will recommend a decent editor who is nice over a grumpy “professional” any day of the week. I’ve made this mistake many times. I would start on a new project so passionate and personally invested in the story that I was hired to tell I would be arrogantly offended if I felt that anyone I was working with didn’t give their absolute best. The truth of it is most people try to do their best with the circumstances they have been given, and the more I’d complain the more I’d become the real problem. Give people more credit. You don’t know the kinds of things they have had to deal with.

Dealing with the medical industry can be daunting. It’s easy to feel frustrated on calls with insurance or scheduling appointments. I try to have empathy for the other person I am dealing with as they have to deal with frustrated and frightened people all day. You don’t know the kinds of things they have to deal with. I also have to be very mindful of my attitude around my kids. My wife figured out quickly that if our lives were going to revolve around going to the Children’s Hospital that we were going to make it fun. Our kids actually love going. They have a playground and so many things for the kids to enjoy. If we acted depressed around our children, it would affect them. Before my youngest daughter’s prosthesis, we would talk about all the things she would be able to do and all the fun she’d be able to have once she got her robot leg.

4. The world isn’t fair
Not everyone is going to recognize what you contribute, even when you are at your absolute best. You must try to not take it personally. I try to remind myself that often we are working for people who have their own issues to worry about and don’t always understand the technical challenges of what we do. I have seen hundreds of all sorts of people passed over for promotions they deserve or recognition that they have earned. As someone who has been in charge of other editors, I have also received credit for work that is their own. That is why I insist at the end of every project sending a private post mortem to my clients so people can understand everyone’s contribution.

I get way more credit than I deserve for being a father of my children, and it’s not fair. One time my wife and I brought the kids to a party. My oldest daughter doesn’t have the muscle strength to feed herself, so I spent time feeding her while my wife talked with her friends. After leaving the party, my wife remarked how impressed they were that I fed my child. My wife is an amazing mom. I married Mary Poppins. Our family does deal with a fair amount of challenges, but I have met many single mothers over the years that are worthy of so much more admiration for what they take on than anything we’ve ever accomplished.

5. Take care of yourself
You will never be the best editor you can be unless you take care of yourself. Eating correctly, sleeping enough and moderating drinking or drug use is just the tip of the iceberg. The most high-profile jobs will demand that you be at your best 100% of the time.

My oldest daughter cannot walk without the use of braces, so we need to remain strong enough to lift her upstairs or into the shower. I am getting older, so I’m really starting to make a concentrated effort to eat better, exercise and drink less. The most challenging times we have faced have demanded that we be at our absolute best mentally and physically as long nights during surgeries can be draining.

6. A job is a job; family is everything
I like to park my car on the far side of the studio that I work at. It gives me a 20-minute walk to my trailer that allows me to look at all the other shoots happening that day and reflect on how I used to dream as a kid to one day work in Hollywood. It also gives me a chance to get some exercise.

Hollywood has been very kind to me, but my job doesn’t define my happiness. It’s not who I am. One of the best things that has ever happened to me in Hollywood was to figure out that once you take all the glitz and glamor away, it is a job like any other. A job I enjoy that allows me to provide for my family.

When I’m gone from this world, my most meaningful accomplishments will have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my family and friends. The greatest thing I have done with my life is adopting my (soon to be) two children. My job demands long hours, so I have to miss some things, but I take comfort in knowing that it is to provide for their future.

7. You are capable of much more than you know
When I became an editor, I really didn’t know what my career would have in store. I just found it fun and decided that I could make money doing it. When I started in late night television almost 10 years ago, delivering a 42-minute show in 90 minutes used to make my hands shake. Now, it is one of the easiest points of my day. I went from freelancing on side projects for little money to helping plan international media transfers and deliveries for network primetime specials supported by an amazing and capable team. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

When my first child was born. I didn’t know what life was going to have in store. We just decided to go all in and be the best we could be at it, and now we are parents to (soon to be) three wonderful kiddos with an amazing orthopedic medical team. Our children are part of case studies that will advance medical science. They’ve been filmed and photographed for others to learn how to properly treat joint contractures and prosthesis adaptations. Their presence is going to help future kids get the treatment they need. When something like this happens in your life, you find out what you are really made of.

8. Finally, please remember to have fun. It’s fun.
I wish you nothing but the best.


Robert James Ashe is the four-time Emmy-nominated lead editor of Conan on TBS. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertjamesashe and read more pieces from him on The Mighty.

Sim and the ASC partner on educational events, more

During Cine Gear recently, Sim announced a 30-year sponsorship with the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Sim offers end-to-end solutions for creatives in film and television, and the ASC is a nonprofit focusing on the art of cinematography. As part of the relationship, the ASC Clubhouse courtyard will now be renamed Sim Plaza.

Sim and the ASC have worked together frequently on events that educate industry professionals on current technology and its application to their evolving craft. As part of this sponsorship, Sim will expand its involvement with the ASC Master Classes, SimLabs, and conferences and seminars in Hollywood and beyond.

During an official ceremony, a commemorative plaque was unveiled and embedded into the walkway of what is now Sim Plaza in Hollywood. Sim will also host a celebration of the ASC’s 100th anniversary in 2019 at Sim’s Hollywood location.

What else does this partnership entail?
• The two organizations will work together closely over the next 30 years on educational events for the cinematography community. Sim’s sponsorship will help fund society programs and events to educate industry professionals (both practicing and aspiring) on current technology and its application to the evolving craft.
• The ASC Master Class program, SimLabs and other conferences and seminars will continue on over these 30 years with Sim increasing its involvement. Sim is not telling the ASC what kind of initiatives they should be doing, but is rather lending a helping hand to drive visual storytelling forward. For example, they have already hosted ASC Master Class sessions in Toronto and Hollywood, sponsored the annual ASC BBQ for the last couple of years, and founder Rob Sim himself is an ASC associate member.

How will the partnership will increase programming and resources to support the film and television community for the long term?
• It has a large focus on three things: financial resources, programming assistance and facility support.
• It will provide access and training with world-class technology in film and television.
• It will offer training directly from industry leaders in Hollywood and beyond
• It will develop new programs for people who can’t attend ASC Master Class sessions, such as an online experience, which is something ASC and Sim are working on together.
• It will expand SimLabs beyond Hollywood —with the potential to bring it to Vancouver, Atlanta, New York and Toronto with the goal of creating new avenues for people who are associated with the ASC and who know they can call on Sim.
• It will bring volunteers. Sim has many volunteers on ASC committees, including the Motion Imaging Technology Council and its Lens committee.

Main Image: L-R: Sim President/CEO James Haggarty, Sim founder and ASC associate member Rob Sim,ASC events coordinator Patty Armacost and ASC president Kees van Oostrum.

Testing large format camera workflows

By Mike McCarthy

In the last few months, we have seen the release of the Red Monstro, Sony Venice, Arri Alexa LF and Canon C700 FF, all of which have larger or full-frame sensors. Full frame refers to the DSLR terminology, with full frame being equivalent to the entire 35mm film area — the way that it was used horizontally in still cameras. All SLRs used to be full frame with 35mm film, so there was no need for the term until manufacturers started saving money on digital image sensors by making them smaller than 35mm film exposures. Super35mm motion picture cameras on the other hand ran the film vertically, resulting in a smaller exposure area per frame, but this was still much larger than most video imagers until the last decade, with 2/3-inch chips being considered premium imagers. The options have grown a lot since then.

L-R: 1st AC Ben Brady, DP Michael Svitak and Mike McCarthy on the monitor.

Most of the top-end cinema cameras released over the last few years have advertised their Super35mm sensors as a huge selling point, as that allows use of any existing S35 lens on the camera. These S35 cameras include the Epic, Helium and Gemini from Red, Sony’s F5 and F55, Panasonic’s VaricamLT, Arri’s Alexa and Canon’s C100-500. On the top end, 65mm cameras like the Alexa65 have sensors twice as wide as Super35 cameras, but very limited lens options to cover a sensor that large. Full frame falls somewhere in between and allows, among other things, use of any 35mm still film lenses. In the world of film, this was referred to as Vista Vision, but the first widely used full-frame digital video camera was Canon’s 5D MkII, the first serious HDSLR. That format has suddenly surged in popularity recently, and thanks to this I recently had opportunity to be involved in a test shoot with a number of these new cameras.

Keslow Camera was generous enough to give DP Michael Svitak and myself access to pretty much all their full-frame cameras and lenses for the day in order to test the cameras, workflows and lens options for this new format. We also had the assistance of first AC Ben Brady to help us put all that gear to use, and Mike’s daughter Florendia as our model.

First off was the Red Monstro, which while technically not the full 24mm height of true full frame, uses the same size lenses due to the width of its 17×9 sensor. It offers the highest resolution of the group at 8K. It records compressed RAW to R3D files, as well as options for ProRes and DNxHR up to 4K, all saved to Red mags. Like the rest of the group, smaller portions of the sensor can be used at lower resolution to pair with smaller lenses. The Red Helium sensor has the same resolution but in a much smaller Super35 size, allowing a wider selection of lenses to be used. But larger pixels allow more light sensitivity, with individual pixels up to 5 microns wide on the Monstro and Dragon, compared to Helium’s 3.65-micron pixels.

Next up was Sony’s new Venice camera with a 6K full-frame sensor, allowing 4K S35 recording as well. It records XAVC to SxS cards or compressed RAW in the X-OCN format with the optional ASX-R7 external recorder, which we used. It is worth noting that both full-frame recording and integrated anamorphic support require additional special licenses from Sony, but Keslow provided us with a camera that had all of that functionality enabled. With a 36x24mm 6K sensor, the pixels are 5.9microns, and footage shot at 4K in the S35 mode should be similar to shooting with the F55.

We unexpectedly had the opportunity to shoot on Arri’s new AlexaLF (Large Format) camera. At 4.5K, this had the lowest resolution, but that also means the largest sensor pixels at 8.25microns, which can increase sensitivity. It records ArriRaw or ProRes to Codex XR capture drives with its integrated recorder.

Another other new option is the Canon C700 FF with a 5.9K full-frame sensor recording RAW, ProRes, or XAVC to CFast cards or Codex Drives. That gives it 6-micron pixels, similar to the Sony Venice. But we did not have the opportunity to test that camera this time around, maybe in the future.

One more factor in all of this is the rising popularity of anamorphic lenses. All of these cameras support modes that use the part of the sensor covered by anamorphic lenses and can desqueeze the image for live monitoring and preview. In the digital world, anamorphic essentially cuts your overall resolution in half, until the unlikely event that we start seeing anamorphic projectors or cameras with rectangular sensor pixels. But the prevailing attitude appears to be, “We have lots of extra resolution available so it doesn’t really matter if we lose some to anamorphic conversion.”

Post Production
So what does this mean for post? In theory, sensor size has no direct effect on the recorded files (besides the content of them) but resolution does. But we also have a number of new formats to deal with as well, and then we have to deal with anamorphic images during finishing.

Ever since I got my hands on one of Dell’s new UP3218K monitors with an 8K screen, I have been collecting 8K assets to display on there. When I first started discussing this shoot with DP Michael Svitak, I was primarily interested in getting some more 8K footage to use to test out new 8K monitors, editing systems and software as it got released. I was anticipating getting Red footage, which I knew I could playback and process using my existing software and hardware.

The other cameras and lens options were added as the plan expanded, and by the time we got to Keslow Camera, they had filled a room with lenses and gear for us to test with. I also had a Dell 8K display connected to my ingest system, and the new 4K DreamColor monitor as well. This allowed me to view the recorded footage in the highest resolution possible.

Most editing programs, including Premiere Pro and Resolve, can handle anamorphic footage without issue, but new camera formats can be a bigger challenge. Any RAW file requires info about the sensor pattern in order to debayer it properly, and new compression formats are even more work. Sony’s new compressed RAW format for Venice, called X-OCN, is supported in the newest 12.1 release of Premiere Pro, so I didn’t expect that to be a problem. Its other recording option is XAVC, which should work as well. The Alexa on the other hand uses ArriRaw files, which have been supported in Premiere for years, but each new camera shoots a slightly different “flavor” of the file based on the unique properties of that sensor. Shooting ProRes instead would virtually guarantee compatibility but at the expense of the RAW properties. (Maybe someday ProResRAW will offer the best of both worlds.) The Alexa also has the challenge of recording to Codex drives that can only be offloaded in OS X or Linux.

Once I had all of the files on my system, after using a MacBook Pro to offload the media cards, I tried to bring them into Premiere. The Red files came in just fine but didn’t play back smoothly over 1/4 resolution. They played smoothly in RedCineX with my Red Rocket-X enabled, and they export respectably fast in AME, (a five-minute 8K anamorphic sequence to UHD H.265 in 10 minutes), but for some reason Premiere Pro isn’t able to get smooth playback when using the Red Rocket-X. Next I tried the X-OCN files from the Venice camera, which imported without issue. They played smoothly on my machine but looked like they were locked to half or quarter res, regardless of what settings I used, even in the exports. I am currently working with Adobe to get to the bottom of that because they are able to play back my files at full quality, while all my systems have the same issue. Lastly, I tried to import the Arri files from the AlexaLF, but Adobe doesn’t support that new variation of ArriRaw yet. I would anticipate that will happen soon, since it shouldn’t be too difficult to add that new version to the existing support.

I ended up converting the files I needed to DNxHR in DaVinci Resolve so I could edit them in Premiere, and I put together a short video showing off the various lenses we tested with. Eventually, I need to learn how to use Resolve more efficiently, but the type of work I usually do lends itself to the way Premiere is designed — inter-cutting and nesting sequences with many different resolutions and aspect ratios. Here is a short clip demonstrating some of the lenses we tested with:

This is a web video, so even at UHD it is not meant to be an analysis of the RAW image quality, but instead a demonstration of the field of view and overall feel with various lenses and camera settings. The combination of the larger sensors and the anamorphic lenses leads to an extremely wide field of view. The table was only about 10 feet from the camera, and we can usually see all the way around it. We also discovered that when recording anamorphic on the Alexa LF, we were recording a wider image than was displaying on the monitor output. You can see in the frame grab below that the live display visible on the right side of the image isn’t displaying the full content that got recorded, which is why we didn’t notice that we were recording with the wrong settings with so much vignetting from the lens.

We only discovered this after the fact, from this shot, so we didn’t get the opportunity to track down the issue to see if it was the result of a setting in the camera or in the monitor. This is why we test things before a shoot, but we didn’t “test” before our camera test, so these things happen.

We learned a lot from the process, and hopefully some of those lessons are conveyed here. A big thanks to Brad Wilson and the rest of the guys at Keslow Camera for their gear and support of this adventure and, hopefully, it will help people better prepare to shoot and post with this new generation of cameras.

Main Image: DP Michael Svitak


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

LACPUG hosting FCP and Premiere creator Randy Ubillos

The Los Angeles Creative Pro User Group (LACPUG) is celebrating its 18th anniversary on June 27 by presenting the official debut of Bradley Olsen’s Off the Tracks, a documentary about Final Cut Pro X. Also on the night’s agenda is a trip down memory lane with Randy Ubillos, the creator of Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Aperture, iMovie 08 and Final Cut Pro X.

The event will take place at the Gallery Theater in Hollywood. Start time is 6:45pm. Scheduled to be in the audience and perhaps on stage, depending on availability, will be members of the original FCP team: Michael Wohl, Tim Serda and Paul Saccone. Also on hand will be Ramy Katrib of DigitalFilm Tree and editor and digital consultant Dan Fort. “Many other invites to the ‘superstars’ of the digital revolution and FCP have been sent out,” says Michael Horton, founder and head of LACPUG.

The night will also include food and drinks, time for questions and the group’s “World Famous Raffle.”
Tickets are on sale now on the LACPUG website for $10 each, plus a ticket fee of $2.24.

The Los Angeles Creative Pro User Group, formerly the LA Final Cut Pro User Group, was established in June of 2000 and hosts a membership of over 6,000 worldwide.