Category Archives: Cinematography

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.

 

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.

Cinna 4.13

Company 3 colorist Tim Masick supplies dark DI for First Reformed

Tim Masick of Company 3 in New York worked on the DI for writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed. This film stars Ethan Hawke as a pastor of a small church in upstate New York who is tormented by the death of his son in the Iraq War. Amanda Seyfried also stars.

Masick had worked previously with Schrader on the director’s 2016 film, Dog Eat Dog, which was also shot by DP Alexander Dynan.

Discussions about films that influenced First Reformed — Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest — were primarily filtered through Dynan, but Masick was aware of the influences of those as well as the inspiration of the recent Polish film, Ida.

According to Masick, Schrader “set the table in terms of the look, from costumes to production design and the minimal camera movement and constricted scenes. It’s not set in a pleasant place.”

Schrader, also wanted it dark and cold. “It was shot in January in upstate New York, so everything was on the cool side and everything was intentionally kept devoid of a lot of color,” explains Masick, who used Blackmagic Resolve. “Night interiors might have a bit of warmth from a practical, but everything in the grade was kept dark, even in an exterior if a patch of sunlight hit something we still held it down into what you’d call gray.”

On the specific cold tones, Masick says, “It’s set in an old empty church on its last legs, and it’s the middle of winter. We didn’t go super blue. It’s a mixture of colors of tones. I’ve read reviews that used the term ‘bruising’ in relation to the film, and that’s very interesting because that’s actually something we talked about in terms of his character — bruised. And so there are yellow and purple undertones —similar to the colors of an actual bruise.”

Tim Masick

Masick has been using Resolve for much of his career, and rreally like the way the nodes are set up. “I’m known to use a lot of nodes and quite a few layer nodes specifically,” he explains. “I think it gives me a lot of control. There are a lot of ways to do things in Resolve, but when I was mixing colors like the yellow and purple, I’d use a node for each of those colors and adjust their strength to affect how each one affects the image as a whole. I like to build up layers that I can fine tune individually. It’s the way I’ve always worked.”

Masick started coloring on the show Beavis and Butthead, which he says required using a lot of keys to isolate portions of the frame and nodes to have the control to fine tune shots. You might think, ‘That was animated. Why did you need to do so much refining to the look?’ But the animation wasn’t always consistent, they didn’t always factor in the number of animation cels being used in a shot, and how that affects the overall look. So there was always plenty to do to isolate a character’s face or his shorts or shirt or the background. So I had to get good at keying and layering and I’ve always been able to work the way I like to work in Resolve.”

First Reformed is in theaters now.


Panavision Millennium DXL2’s ecosystem grows with color science, lenses, more

Panavision’s Millennium DXL2 8K camera was on display at Cine Gear last week featuring  a new post-centric firmware upgrade, along with four new large-format lens sets, a DXL-inspired accessories kit for Red DSMC2 cameras and a preview of custom advancements in filter technology.

DXL2 incorporates technology advancements based on input from cinematographers, camera assistants and post production groups. The camera offers 16 stops of dynamic range with improved shadow detail, a native ISO setting of 1600 and 12-bit ProRes XQ up to 120fps. New to the DXL2 is version 1.0 of a directly editable (D2E) workflow. D2E gives DITs wireless LUT and CDL look control and records all color metadata into camera-generated proxy files for instant and render-free dailies.

DXL2, which is available to rent worldwide, also incorporates an updated color profile: Light Iron Color 2 (LiColor2). This latest color science provides cinematographers and DITs with a film-inspired tonal look that makes the DXL2 feel more cinematic and less digital.

Panavision also showcased their large-format spherical and anamorphic lenses. Four new large-format lens sets were on display:
• Primo X is a cinema lens designed for use on drones and gimbals. It’s fully sealed, weatherproof and counterbalanced to be aerodynamic and it’s able to easily maintain a proper center of gravity. Primo X lenses come in two primes – 14mm (T3.1) and 24mm (T1.6) – and one 24-70mm zoom (T2.8) and will be available in 2019.

• H Series is a traditionally designed spherical lens set with a rounded, soft roll-off, giving what the company calls a “pleasing tonal quality to the skin.” Created with vintage glass and coating, these lenses offer slightly elevated blacks for softer contrast. High speeds separate subject and background with a smooth edge transition, allowing the subject to appear naturally placed within the depth of the image. These lenses are available now.
• Ultra Vista is a series of large-format anamorphic optics. Using a custom 1.6x squeeze, Ultra Vista covers the full height of the 8K sensor in the DXL and presents an ultra-widescreen 2.76:1 aspect ratio along with a classic elliptical bokeh and Panavision horizontal flare. Ultra Vista lenses will be available in 2019.
• PanaSpeed is a large-format update of the classic Primo look. At T1.4, PanaSpeed is a fast large-format lens. It will be available in Q3 of 2018.

Panavision also showed an adjustable liquid crystal neutral density (LCND) filter. LCND adjusts up to six individual stops with a single click or ramp — a departure from traditional approaches to front-of-lens filters, which require carrying a set and manually swapping individual NDs based on changing light. LCND starts at 0.3 and goes through 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, 1.5, to 1.8. It will be available in 2019.

Following up on the DXL1 and DXL2, Panavision launched the latest in its cinema line-up with the newly created DXL-M accessory kit. Designed to work with Red DSMC2 cameras, DXL-M marries the quality and performance of DXL with the smaller size and weight of the DSMC2. DXL-M brings popular features of DXL to Red Monstro, Gemini and Helium sensors, such as the DXL menu system (via an app for the iPhone), LiColor2, motorized lenses, wireless timecode (ACN) and the Primo HDR viewfinder. It will be available in Q4 of 2018.


The Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

Kids in jeopardy! The Demogorgon! The Hawkins Lab! The Upside Down! Thrills and chills! Since they first pitched their idea for Stranger Things, a love letter to 1980’s genre films set in 1983 Indiana, twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer have quickly established themselves as masters of suspense in the science-fiction and horror genres.

The series was picked up by Netflix, premiered in the summer of 2016, and went on to become a global phenomenon, with the brothers at the helm as writers, directors and executive producers.

The Duffer Brothers

The atmospheric drama, about a group of nerdy misfits and strange events in an outwardly average small town, nailed its early ’80s vibe and overt homages to that decade’s master pop storytellers: Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. It quickly made stars out of its young ensemble cast — Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink and Finn Wolfhard.

It also quickly attracted a huge, dedicated fan base, critical plaudits and has won a ton of awards, including Emmys, a SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series and two Critics Choice Awards for Best Drama Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. The show has also been nominated for a number of Golden Globes.

I recently talked with the Duffers, who are already hard at work on the highly anticipated third season (which will premiere on Netflix in 2019) about making the ambitious hit series, their love of post and editing, and VFX.

How’s the new season going?
Matt Duffer: We’re two weeks into shooting, and it’s going great. We’re very excited about it as there are some new tones and it’s good to be back on the ground with everyone. We know all the actors better and better, the kids are getting older and are becoming these amazing performers — and they were great before. So we’re having a lot of fun.

Are you shooting in Atlanta again?
Ross Duffer: We are, and we love it there. It’s really our home base now, and we love all these pockets of neighborhoods that have not changed at all since the ‘80s, and there is an incredible variety of locations. We’re also spreading out a lot more this season and not spending so much time on stages. We have more locations to play with.

Will all the episodes be released together next year, like last time? That would make binge-watchers very happy.
Matt: Yes, but we like to think of it more as like a big movie release. To release one episode per week feels so antiquated now.

The show has a very cinematic look and feel, so how do you balance that with the demands of TV?
Ross: It’s interesting, because we started out wanting to make movies and we love genre, but with a horror film they want big scares every few minutes. That leaves less room for character development. But with TV, it’s always more about character, as you just can’t sustain hours and hours of a show if you don’t care about the people. So ‘Stranger Things’ was a world where we could tell a genre story, complete with the monster, but also explore character in far more depth than we could in a movie.

Matt: Movies and TV are almost opposites in that way. In movies, it’s all plot and no character, and in TV it’s about character and you have to fight for plot. We wanted this to have pace and feel more like a movie, but still have all the character arcs. So it’s a constant balancing act, and we always try and favor character.

Where do you post the show?
Matt: All in Hollywood, and the editors start working while we’re shooting. After we shoot in Atlanta, we come back to our offices and do all the post and VFX work right there. We do all the sound mix and all the color timing at Technicolor down the road. We love post. You never have enough time on the set, and there’s all this pressure if you want to redo a shot or scene, but in post if a scene isn’t working we can take time to figure it out.

Tell us about the editing. I assume you’re very involved?
Ross: Very. We have two editors this season. We brought back one of our original editors, Dean Zimmerman, from season one. We are also using Nat Fuller, who was on season two. He was Dean’s assistant originally and then moved up, so they’ve been with us since the start. Editing’s our favorite part of the whole process, and we’re right there with them because we love editing. We’re very hands on and don’t just give notes and walk away. We’re there the whole time.

Aren’t you self-taught in terms of editing?
Matt: (Laughs) I suppose. We were taught the fundamentals of Avid at film school, but you’re right. We basically taught ourselves to edit as kids, and we started off just editing in-camera, stopping and starting, and playing the music from a tape recorder. They weren’t very good, but we got better.

When iMovie came out we learned how to put scenes together, so in college the transition to Avid wasn’t that hard. We fell in love with editing and just how much you can elevate your material in post. It’s magical what you can do with the pace, performances, music and sound design, and then you add all the visual effects and see it all come together in post. We love seeing the power of post as you work to make your story better and better.

How early on do you integrate post and VFX with the production?
Ross: On day one now. The biggest change from season one to two was that we integrated post far earlier in the second season — even in the writing stage. We had concept artists and the VFX guys with us the whole time on set, and they were all super-involved. So now it all kind of happens together.

All the VFX are a much bigger deal. For last season we had a lot more VFX than the first year — about 1,400 shots, which is a huge amount, like a big movie. The first season it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very old-school approach, with mainly practical effects, and then in the middle we realized we were being a bit naïve, so we brought in Paul Graff as our VFX supervisor on season two, and he’s very experienced. He’s worked on big movies like The Wolf of Wall Street as well as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, and he’s doing this season too. He’s in Atlanta with us on the shoot.

We have two main VFX houses on the show — Atomic Fiction and Rodeo — they’re both incredible, and I think all the VFX are really cinematic now.

But isn’t it a big challenge in terms of a TV show’s schedule?
Ross: You’re right, and it’s always a big time crunch. Last year we had to meet that Halloween worldwide release date and we were cutting it so close trying to finish all the shots in time.

Matt: Everyone expects movie-quality VFX — just in a quarter of the time, or less. So it’s all accelerated.

The show has a very distinct, eerie, synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Grammy nominated duo. How important is the music and sound, which won several Emmys last year?
Ross: It’s huge. We use it so much for transitions, and we have great sound designers — including Brad North and Craig Henighan — and great mixers, and we pay a lot of attention to all of it. I think TV has always put less emphasis on great sound compared to film, and again, you’re always up against the scheduling, so it’s always this balancing act.

You can’t mix it for a movie theater as very few people have that set up at home, so you have to design it for most people who’re watching on iPhones, iPads and so on, and optimize it for that, so we mostly mix in stereo. We want the big movie sound, but it’s a compromise.

The DI must be vital?
Matt: Yes, and we work very closely with colorist Skip Kimball (who recently joined Efilm), who’s been with us since the start. He was very influential in terms of how the show ended up looking. We’d discussed the kind of aesthetic we wanted, and things we wanted to reference and then he played around with the look and palette. We’ve developed a look we’re all really happy with. We have three different LUTs on set designed by Skip and the DP Tim Ives will choose the best one for each location.

Everyone’s calling this the golden age of TV. Do you like being showrunners?
Ross: We do, and I feel we’re very lucky to have the chance to do this show — it feels like a big family. Yes, we originally wanted to be movie directors, but we didn’t come into this industry at the right time, and Netflix has been so great and given us so much creative freedom. I think we’ll do a few more seasons of this, and then maybe wrap it up. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.


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.


Il Postino director Michael Radford on his latest film, The Music of Silence

By Iain Blair

British director and writer Michael Radford is probably best known for Il Postino, a huge international hit that earned five Oscar noms, two BAFTA awards (for Best Director and Best Foreign Film) and a raft of other honors.

Radford, who began as a director of documentaries, has returned to Italy with his newest film, The Music of Silence. Loosely based on Andrea Bocelli’s 1999 memoir of the same title, it tells the story of a blind boy who against all odds becomes one of the most successful entertainers and opera singers in the world. It stars Game of Thrones actor Toby Sebastian as the singer’s alter ego, Amos Bardi.

We spoke with Radford, whose credits include 1984, White Mischief, Dancing at the Blue Iguana and The Merchant of Venice, about making the film, his love of post, and his upcoming projects.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making this film?
I always look for a good story and something different. When I was offered this, I came in and rewrote it with Anna Pavignano, who worked with me on the screenplay for Il Postino. I didn’t want to just make the usual biopic, and I actually turned it down several times before they finally persuaded me to do it.

Just as well. It was a huge hit in Italy.
I know, and I’m thrilled.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to make a fully Italian film that didn’t betray the culture. I certainly didn’t want to do a hagiography of Andrea Bocelli, so I set out to make a very simple Italian movie, all in Italian. That was my goal, but the producers wanted me to shoot it in English, but using Italian actors. I kind of liked the idea, although it was a bit of a compromise. I loved working with the actors, and at least they appeared to be real Italians, not actors pretending to be Italians.

You got a fantastic cast, including Antonio Banderas and Game of Thrones star Toby Sebastian, who actually looks like a young Andrea Bocelli.
You’re right, he does, and that helps a lot — especially when the real person’s still very much alive. Luckily, everyone in Italy loved him in the role. He was really great. Such a good young actor, and he was my rock.

You shot it all in Italy. How was the shoot?
It was tough, as we had a tight budget and schedule, just over five weeks — much smaller than a similar film in the US or the UK, and everyone works far shorter hours than in England or the States. So I had a lot of battles over the budget, and we ended up having to cut quite a few scenes from the script. On top of that, we shot it mainly in the wintertime, which was hard for everyone despite how it looks on screen. But you can do so much in post now with digital effects that you’d never guess.

I hear you’re fluent in Italian. That must be a huge help when you have to yell at the crew?
Yes, although that can be counter-productive. Everyone in Italy yells at each other all the time. The crews are great there, really hard-working and professional, and I can discuss stuff in fairly colloquial terms, which helps. It’s always a great pleasure working there, as I’m well-known there and people give me great seats in restaurants (laughs).

Do you like the post process?
I do, very much. When I was starting out, I’d turn up for every single minute of it — I’d never leave the editing room or sound mix. That comes from being in film school, where you want to do it all. But now I tend to stand back far more. I’ll talk to the editor for a week or so, then leave him alone, then come back and see what he’s done. It’s a much more relaxed process — and also a much more useful one, as that way you can take a step back and have a clear vision of what you’ve done and what you want to achieve.

Where did you post?
All in Rome.

Talk about working with editor Roberto Missiroli.
He came to visit the set now and then, but he wasn’t cutting on the set. He began cutting while we were shooting and did a very rough first cut and assembly, so when I walked into the editing room we could start right away. He was fantastic to work with. A real discovery, and he had great ideas, which is what you want in an editor.

What were the main editing challenges?
We had to recuperate the scenes that we’d lost because we didn’t have time to shoot them in the end. So we almost had to try and reconstruct the film as we were going along, and then we had to keep that sense of drama and momentum.

How involved was Andrea Bocelli, given that he’s blind?
Because of his condition, it was a limited contribution. He had to try and understand what we were doing, even though he couldn’t see it — and amazingly he could. But he kept out of the picture for the most part, as did the family, until the time came to show them a rough cut. Then the family was always in the background — not in the editing room, but around — and you’d go, “Did this happen like it’s portrayed in the scene?” They’d say, “No, it wasn’t like that at all!” And you’d have to say, “Well, this is a movie, not a documentary,” and have to explain it to them. So there was a bit of a tussle, but then they understood what we were trying to do, and they were very supportive.

Obviously, sound was crucial for this. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker?
They’re incredibly important to me, especially on a film where the sound was always going to be a challenge because of all the different voices. We did all the sounds effects at New Digital Film Sound in Rome. Music is always so important to me, because of what you can convey emotionally with it in a scene, and of course there’s a lot of music already recorded that I wanted to use, and not just of Andrea.

It also helped that the editor was really fantastic with music. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right composer, and I talked to a lot of well-known musicians in Italy who didn’t quite fit the bill. We started off using a lot of temp pieces, and then I found this amazing composer, Gabriele Roberto, who lives in Japan and scores Japanese films, and he was perfect.

You must have used some VFX?
We did, especially for the big concert scene that has over 100,000 people in the audience and a huge orchestra. That was actually shot in a small blue box on a stage at Cinecitta in Rome, and I loved the way that turned out. Then when we shot all the scenes at the seaside, it was a dead calm day, so in post they created this really rough water that no one could go into, and that was quite hard to do. Then we used a lot of VFX to enhance scenes and for cleanup and so on.

How important is the DI to you?
Very important, and I’m always very involved. I love working with light, and if I can get the look naturally, I’ll do it.  I also love the way you can do so much in the DI and really fine-tune the look.

Did the film turn out the way you first envisioned it?
No, not at all. I had a much grander vision for it, but then it got smaller and smaller (laughs). I think I’d have gone for something less sentimental, but there’s a lot about it I really like.

What’s next?
I’m developing a couple of really interesting projects. One is an American movie about the treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who found a galleon full of gold from the 1600s. It’s a great story. The Italians have asked me to do a film about the famous car manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini, with Antonio Banderas playing him and Alec Baldwin as Ferrari.


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.


Creating the look for Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World

By Adrian Pennington

Content in 8K UHD won’t be transmitting or streaming its way to a screen anytime soon, but the ultra-high-resolution format is already making its mark in production and post. Remarkably, it is high-end TV drama, rather than feature films, that is leading the way. The End of The F***ing World is the latest series to pioneer a workflow that gives its filmmakers a creative edge.

Adapted from the award-winning graphic novels of Charles Forsman, the dark comedy is an eight-part co-production between Netflix and UK broadcaster Channel 4. The series invites viewers into the confused lives of teen outsiders James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), as they decide to escape from their families and embark on a road trip to find Alyssa’s estranged father.

Executive producer and director Jonathan Entwistle and cinematographer Justin Brown were looking for something special stylistically to bring the chilling yet humorous tale to life. With Netflix specifying a 4K deliverable, the first critical choice was to use 8K as the dominant format. Brown selected the Red Weapon 8K S35 with the Helium sensor.

In parallel, the filmmakers turned to colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of East London grading and finishing boutique studio Cheat, to devise a look and a workflow that would maximize the rich, detailed color, as well as the light information from the Red rushes.

“I’ve worked with Justin for about 10 years, since film school,” explains Tomkins. “Four years ago he shot the pilot for The End of The F***ing World with Jon, which is how I first became involved with the show. Because we’d worked together for so long, I kind of already knew what type of thing they were looking for. Justin shot tests on the Red Weapon, and our first job was to create a 3D LUT for the on-set team to refer to throughout shooting.”

Expert at grading commercials, and with feature-length narrative Sixteen (also shot by Justin Brown) under his belt, this was Tomkins’ first responsibility for an episodic TV drama, and he relished the challenge. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to work completely RAW at 7K/8K the whole way through and final output at 4K,” he explains. “We conformed to the R3D rushes, which were stored on our SSD NAS. This delivered 10Gbps bandwidth to the suite.”

With just 10 days to grade all the episodes, Tomkins needed to develop a rich “Americana” look that would not only complement the dark narrative but would also work across a range of locations and timescales.

“We wanted the show to have richness and a denseness to it, with skin tones almost a leathery red, adding some warmth to the characters,” he says. “Despite being shot at British locations — with British weather — we wanted to emulate something filmic and American in style. To do this we wanted quite a dense film print look, using skin tones you would find on celluloid film and a shadow and highlight roll-off that you would find in films, as opposed to British TV.”

Cheat used its proprietary film emulation to create the look. With virtually the whole series shot in 8K, the Cheat team invested in a Quad GPU Linux Resolve workstation, with dual Xeon processors, to handle the additional processing requirements once in the DaVinci Resolve finishing suite.

“The creative benefits of working in 8K from the Red RAW images are huge,” says Tomkins. “The workstation gave us the ability to use post-shoot exposure and color temperature settings to photorealistically adjust and match shots and, consequently, more freedom to focus on the finer details of the grade.

“At 8K the noise was so fine in size that we could push the image further. It also let us get cleaner keys due to the over-sample, better tracking, and access to high-frequency detail that we could choose to change or adapt as necessary for texture.”

Cheat had to conform more than 50 days of rushes and 100TBs of 7K and 8K RAW material spread across 40 drives, a process that was completed by Cheat junior colorist Caroline Morin in Resolve.

“After the first episode, the series becomes a road movie, so almost each new scene is a new location and lighting setup,” Tomkins explains. “I tried to approach each episode as though it was its own short film and to establish a range of material and emotion for each scene and character, while also trying to maintain a consistent look that flowed throughout the series.”

Tomkins primarily adjusted the RAW settings of the material in Resolve and used lift, gamma and gain to adjust the look depending on the lighting ratios and mood of the scenes. “It’s very easy to talk about workflow, tools and approach, but the real magic comes from creative discussions and experimentation with the director and cinematographer. This process was especially wonderful on this show because we had all worked together several times before and had developed a short hand for our creative discussion.

“The boundaries are changing,” he adds. “The creative looks that you get to work and play with are so much stronger on television now than they ever used to be.”


NAB 2018: A closer look at Firefly Cinema’s suite of products

By Molly Hill

Firefly Cinema, a French company that produces a full set of post production tools, premiered Version 7 of its products at NAB 2018. I visited with co-founder Philippe Reinaudo and head of business development Morgan Angove at the Flanders Scientific booth. They were knowledgeable and friendly, and they helped me to better understand their software.

Firefly’s suite includes FirePlay, FireDay, FirePost and the brand-new FireVision. All the products share the same database and Éclair color management, making for a smooth and complete workflow. However, Reinaudo says their programs were designed with specific UI/UXs to better support each product’s purpose.

Here is how they break down:
FirePlay: This is an on-set media player that supports most any format or file. The player is free to use, but there’s a paid option to include live color grading.

FireDay: Firefly Cinema’s dailies software includes a render tree for multiple versions and supports parallel processing.

FirePost: This is Firefly Cinema’s proprietary color grading software. One of its features was a set of “digital filters,” which were effects with adjustable parameters (not just pre-set LUTs). I was also excited to see the inclusion of curve controls similar to Adobe Lightroom’s Vibrance setting, which increases the saturation of just the more muted colors.

FireVision: This new product is a cloud-based review platform, with smooth integration into FirePost. Not only do tags and comments automatically move between FirePost and FireVision, but if you make a grading change in the former and hit render, the version in FireVision automatically updates. While other products such as Frame.io have this feature, Firefly Cinema offers all of these in the same package. The process was simple and impressive.

One of the downsides of their software package is its lack of support for HDR, but Raynaud says that’s a work in progress. I believe this will likely begin with ÉclairColor HDR, as Reinaudo and his co-founder Luc Geunard are both former Éclair employees. It’s also interesting that they have products for every step after shooting except audio and editing, but perhaps given the popularity of Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere and Avid Pro Tools, those are less of a priority for a young company.

Overall, their set of products was professional, comprehensive and smooth to operate, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for Firefly Cinema.


Molly Hill is a motion picture scientist and color nerd, soon-to-be based out of San Francisco. You can follow her on Twitter @mollymh4.


Director HaZ Dulull on his sci-fi offering The Beyond

By Randi Altman

Director Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is no stranger to making movies. Before jumping into writing and directing short sci-fi films, he was a visual effects supervisor and producer. His short film resume includes Project Kronos, I.R.I.S. and Sync. Recently, his first feature film, The Beyond, was released by Gravitas Ventures.

When I first met HaZ a few years back, we were both at an Adobe event — on a canal boat in Amsterdam during IBC. We started talking about visual effects, the industry and his drive to make movies.

This Brit is friendly, intelligent and incredibly hands-on in all aspects of what he does. His latest is The Beyond, which he describes as “a cerebral science-fiction feature film that blends the realism of documentary with the fantastical, ‘big idea’ nature of the science-fiction films of today.” The Beyond tells the story of a ground-breaking mission that sent astronauts — modified with advanced robotics — through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first-of-its-kind interstellar space journey.

HaZ on set

HaZ was so hands-on that he provided some of the film’s visual effects and edited the film. Here is the trailer. If you like what you see, the film is available for purchase or rent on most digital platforms.

When I reached out to HaZ to talk about The Beyond, he was in Vancouver working on an eight-part TV series for Disney called Fast Layne. “I directed episodes 1 and 2, and am currently directing episodes 7 and 8,” he says. “The beauty of starting and ending the series is it allowed me to set the show’s style and tone.”

It seems he can’t sit still! Let’s find out more about how he works and The Beyond

Can you talk about prepro? How much of that included visual effects prepro?
Most people who know me will say I’m obsessed with prep. I had about six months of hardcore prep on this, from doing little storyboards, known as HaZ-Grams, right through to previs of the key sequences.

But even during the script-writing stage (six months before actual prep), I was coming up with visuals to support the ideas I was writing in the script. Sometimes I would knock up a test VFX scene just to see how complex it would be to create this idea I was writing in the script. Prep worked hand in hand with the script development and the budgeting of the film. The film was self-financed and later additional financing came in (during post production of the film), so I wanted to ensure everything was mapped out technically, as there was no “fix it in post” scenarios in this film — I wouldn’t allow it.

During location scouting, I would have my iPhone with me and shoot a bunch of footage and still imagery, so when I went back home I could write those locations into the script to make them work with the scenarios depicted in the film.

As part of prep we actually shot a test scene to really see if this mocku-mentary format would work to tell a grounded sci-fi story. This was also used to attract crew and other casting to the project, as well as get distributors primed early on.

Many shots from that test actually made it into the final movie —I wasn’t kidding about not wasting any budget or material on this production! So prep pretty much helped shape the script too, as I knew I wasn’t in the financial position to write stuff and then go and build it. I had to reverse engineer it in a way. In the film we have tons of locations, such as the Space Centre with actual real rockets. We also had a team in Iceland shooting alien landscapes, and we even shot some scenes in Malaysia to give the film a global feel — with each of those opportunities the script was tweaked to make full use of those location opportunities we had.

You shot with Blackmagic cameras. Was that your choice? The DP’s? Have you shot with these before?
From the start, I knew we were going to shoot on Blackmagic cameras. This was mainly down to the fact my DP Adam Batchelor — who had shot Sync with me and the proof of concept tests we did for this film — was a Blackmagic advocate and knew the cameras inside out, but more importantly he was able to get cinematic imagery using those cameras.

Blackmagic was very supportive of the film and have been of my career since my short films, so they came on as one of the executive producers on the film. No one had ever shot a full feature film using just the Blackmagic cameras. We also then used a Resolve pipeline to delivery. So The Beyond is the perfect case study for it.

Can you talk about that workflow? Any hiccups? 
I think the only hiccups were the fact we were using a beta version of Resolve 14, so there were the expected crashes, etc. That would usually be seen as risky on a feature film, but luckily we didn’t have a distributor in place with a release date, so the risk was minimal.

The good thing was I would generate an error log report from Resolve and send it over to Blackmagic, who would then instantly send out a new patch. So we were looked after rather than being left on our own to scream at the monitor.

We stuck with a Pro Res 4444 QuickTime workflow for all material from footage to VFX renders, and enabled proxy on the fly within Resolve. This was great as it meant I was working with the highest-resolution imagery within Resolve, and it was fairly fast too. Things started to slow down when I had multiple layers of VFX and composites/groups, which I then had to render out as a new clip and bring back in.

How did you and the DP develop the look you wanted? Any scenes stick out that you guys worked on?
I was very fortunate to get Max Horton, who had worked on films like Gravity, to come onboard to grade this film at the Dolby Vision lab in London’s Soho. We also did an HDR version of the film, which I think is the first indie film to have an HDR treatment done to it.

We had three to four days of grading with Max, and I was in the room with him the whole time. This was because I had already done a first-pass temp grade myself while editing the film in the beta version of Resolve 14. This made the workflow as simple as exporting my Resolve file and then the material hand-over to Max, who would load up the Resolve file, link up the material and work from there.

Max kept everything photographically like a documentary but with a slight cinematic flair to it. The big challenge was matching all the various sources of material from the various Blackmagic cameras (Ursa Mini Pro, the Production Camera and the Pocket Camera) to the DJI Osmo, drone footage and stock footage.

How many VFX shots were there? Who did them?
There were around 750 visual effects shots. I designed all the VFX scenes and handled a huge portion of the compositing myself, including invisible effects shots, all the space scenes, alien planet scenes, memory scenes and tons more — this would not have been possible without the support of my VFX team who worked on their assigned sequences and shots and also generated tons of CGI assets for me to use to create my shots in comp.

My VFX team members included my long-time collaborator John Sellings, who was the VFX supervisor for all the Human 2.0 sequences. Filmmore, in Amsterdam and Brussels, handled Human 2.0 scenes in the transcode bay with in-house VFX supervisor Hans Van Helden. London’s Squint VFX handled the Human 2.0 scenes in wake-up lab. Charles Wilcocks was the Human 2.0 CG supervisor who worked on the shape and look of the Human 2.0.

Hussin Khan looked after the Malaysian team, which provided rotoscoping support and basic comps. Dan Newlands was our on-set tracking supervisor. He ensured all data was captured correctly and supervised anything tracking related in the Human 2.0 scenes.

Another long-time collaborator was Andrea Tedeschi, who handled the CG and comps for the spacecraft carrier at the end of the film, as well as rendering out the CG astronaut passes. Rhys Griffith handled the rigging for the Human 2.0 characters in Maya, and also looked after the CG passes for the alpha Human 2.0 scenes using Blender. Aleksandr Uusmees provided all the particles and simulation rendered out of Houdini as CG passes/elements, which I then used to create the wormhole effects, alien spheres and other shots that needed those elements.

JM Blay designed and created the standalone motion graphics sequences to visualize the Human 2.0 medical procedure, as well as mission trajectory graphics. He also created several “kit-bash” graphics assets for me to use, including UI graphics, from his After Effects files.

Territory Studio created the awesome end titles and credits sequence, which you can read more about on their site.

As a VFX pro yourself, do you find that you are harder to please because it’s your wheelhouse?
Oh boy. Ask any of the VFX guys on the team and they will say I am a beast to work with because I am hands-on, and also I know how long things take. But on the flip side that had its advantages, as they knew they were not going to get revision after revision, because with each brief I also presented a proposed methodology, and made sure we locked down on that first before proceeding with the shots.

Was this your biggest directing job to date? Can you talk about any surprises?
It wasn’t my biggest directing job to date, as during post production of The Beyond my second sci-fi film Origin Unknown (starring Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica, The Flash) was green-lit and that had its own set of challenges. We can talk more about that when the film is released theatrically and VOD later this year via Kew Media.

This was, however, my biggest producing job to date; there were so many logistics and resources to manage whilst directing too. The cool thing about the way we made this film was that most of the crew were on my short films, including some of the key cast too, so we embraced the guerrilla nature of the production and focused on maximizing our resources to the fullest within the time and budget constraints.

What did you learn on this film that will help on your next?
The other hat I was wearing was the producer hat, and one thing I had to embrace was the sheer amount of paperwork! I may have taken the same filmmaking approach as I did on my short films — guerrilla and thinking outside the box technically and creatively— but making a commercial feature film, I had to learn to deal with things like clearances, E&O (errors and omission) insurance, chain of title, script report and a whole bunch of paperwork required before a distributor will pick up your film.

Thankfully my co-producer Paula Crickard, who is currently wrapping post on Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, came in during the post stage of the film and helped.

The other thing I learned was the whole sales angle — getting a reputable distributor on board to sell the film in all worldwide territories and how to navigate that process with rights and IP and more contracts etc. The advise I got from other filmmakers is getting the right distributor is a big part in how your film will be released, and to me it was important the distributor was into the film and not just the trailer, but also what their marketing and sales strategy were. The Beyond was never designed to be a theatrical film and therefore I wanted someone that had a big reach in the VOD world through their brand, especially since The Beyond doesn’t have big-name actors in there.

What was the most challenging scene or scenes? Why and how did you overcome those challenges?
The Human 2.0 scenes were the most challenging because they had to look photoreal due to it being a documentary narrative. We did first try and do it all in-camera using a built suit, but it wasn’t achieving the look we wanted and the actors would feel uncomfortable with it, and also to do it properly with practical would cost a fortune. So we went with a full-digital solution for the Human 2.0 bodies, by having the actors wear a tight grey suit with tracking markers on and we restricted our camera moves for simplicity to enable object tracking to work as accurately as possible. We also shot multiple reference footage from all angles to help with match moving. Having an on set-tracking supervisor helped massively and allowed us to make this happen within the budget, while looking and feeling real.

Our biggest issue came when our actress made very tiny movements due to breathing in close-up shots. Because our Human 2.0 was human consciousness in a synthetic shell, breathing didn’t make sense and we began making up for it by freezing the image or doing some stabilization, which ended up being nearly impossible for the very close-up shots.

In the end, I had to think outside the box, so I wrote a few lines into the script that explained that the Human 2.0 was breathing to make it psychologically more acceptable to other humans. Those two lines saved us weeks and possibly months of time.

Being a VFX movie you would expect us to use a form of greenscreen or bluescreen, but we didn’t — in fact, the only stage used was for the “white room” astronaut scene, which was shot over at Asylum FX in London. There was an actor wearing an astronaut suit in a bright photography room, and we used brightly exposed lighting to give a surreal feeling. We used VFX to augment it.

As a writer and a director, how was it seeing your vision through from start to finish.
It didn’t really hit me until I watched the press screening of it at the Dolby Vision office in Soho. It had the fully mixed sound and the completed grade. I remember looking across at my DP and other team members thinking, “Whoa! It looks and feels like a feature film, and we did that in a year!”

You edited the film yourself?
Yes, I was the editor on the film! I shoot for the edit. I started off using Adobe Premiere CC for the early offline and then quickly moved over to Resolve 14, where I did the majority of the editing. It was great because I was doing a lot of online editorial tasks like stabilizing, basic VFX, pan and scans, as well as establishing temp looks while editing. So in a way there was no offline and online editorial, as it was all part of one workflow. We did all our deliverables out of Resolve 14, too.

Director Kay Cannon on her raunchy comedy Blockers

By Iain Blair

At a time when women are increasingly breaking down barriers in Hollywood, writer/director Kay Cannon is helping lead the charge. The director of Universal’s new film, Blockers, got her start at such comedic training grounds as The Second City, The iO West Theater and The ComedySportz Theatre.

Kay Cannon

While writing and performing around Chicago, she met Tina Fey, a fellow Second City alumna. When Fey began 30 Rock, Cannon joined the creative team and worked her way up from staff writer to supervising producer on the show. She’s a three-time Primetime Emmy-nominated writer, twice for Outstanding Comedy Series and once for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She has also won three Writers Guild of America Awards, as well as a Peabody, all for her work on 30 Rock.

Cannon, who also served as a co-executive producer on New Girl, a consulting producer on Cristela and co-produced the hit feature Baby Mama, received rave reviews for her debut screenplay for the film Pitch Perfect, and she wrote and co-produced the hit sequels. She served as the executive producer, creator and showrunner of the Netflix series Girlboss, based on Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography, which starred Britt Robertson.

Now, with the new release Blockers, Cannon — one of only a handful of women ever to direct an R-rated comedy for a big studio — has stepped behind the camera and made an assured and polished directorial debut with this coming-of-age sex comedy that takes one of the most relatable rites of passage and upends a long-held double standard. When three parents discover their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

The film stars Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40), John Cena (Trainwreck, Sisters) and Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Suicide Squad). It is produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver, under their Point Grey Pictures banner (Neighbors, This is the End), alongside Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar) and Chris Fenton (47 Ronin).

Cannon leds an accomplished behind-the-scenes team, including director of photography Russ Alsobrook (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly (The Big Sick) and editor Stacey Schroeder (The Disaster Artist).

I recently talked to Cannon about making the bawdy film, which generated huge buzz at SXSW, and her advice for other aspiring women directors.

This is like a long-overdue female take on such raunchy-but-sweet male comedies as American Pie and Superbad. Was that the appeal of this story for you?
When I read the script, I really connected on two levels. I was a teenager who lost her virginity, and I’m also the mother of a daughter, and while she was only two at the time, it made me think about her and what might happen to her in the future. And that’s scary, and I saw how parents can lose their minds.

How did you first envision the film?
I grew up in a small town in the Chicago area and I was inspired by John Hughes and all his great teen comedies. I could really relate to them, and I felt he was speaking to me, that he really got that world and the way it looked. I wanted to do that too, and show how people really live, and I wanted it to feel real and grounded — but then I was also going to go to a very crazy place and got very silly. (Laughs) That was very important to me, because I wanted to make people laugh really hard, but also feel emotion.

Did you always want to direct?
It wasn’t always my dream. That’s shifted over the years. I started off wanting to be an actor on a sitcom, then writing one and then wanting to have my own show, which happened with Girlboss, so that was my focus for the past few years. To be honest, I’d kind of do movies when TV didn’t work out for me. A pilot didn’t happen, so I wrote Pitch Perfect, and then did Pitch 2 when another pilot didn’t go.

How did you prepare for directing your first film?
Being the showrunner on Girlboss was great training because I could shadow all the directors and watch them work, and I felt definitely ready to direct a film.

What was the biggest surprise of directing for the first time?
I pretty much knew what to expect — and that there will always be surprises on the day and stuff you could never have anticipated. You just have to work through it and keep going.

How tough was the shoot?
It was hard. We shot in Atlanta for nine weeks, and the last five were nights, and that’s very tough. I had a very long script to squeeze into the shoot. But Russ, my DP, was a huge help. We’d worked together before on New Girl, and he’s so experienced; he really guided me through it all.

Where did you do the post?
All in LA. We started at Sunset Gower, and then we took a break and did some reshoots in January, and then finished at Pivotal Post in Burbank.

Do you like post?
When I was at Girlboss I’d never experienced post before, so I was really afraid and uncomfortable with the whole process. It was so new and a bit daunting to me, especially as a writer. I loved writing and shooting, but it took me a while to get comfortable with post. But once I did, I loved it, and now it’s my favorite thing. I’d spend the night there if I could! As they say, it’s where you actually make the film and where the real magic happens.

Kay Cannon on set directing Leslie Mann and John Cena.

Your editor was Stacey Schroeder (pilot for The Last Man on Earth, for which she got an editing Emmy nom). How did that relationship work?
We’d worked together before on Girlboss, and we have a great partnership. She’s like my right-hand, and we’re automatically on the same page. We very rarely disagree, and what’s so great is that she’s extremely opinionated and has no poker face. I’m the same way. So it’s very refreshing to sit there and discuss material and any problems without taking anything personally. I really appreciate her honesty.

What were the biggest editing challenges?
Trying to balance the raucous comedy stuff with the serious emotions underneath, and dealing with some of the big set pieces. The whole puking scene was difficult as we shot three times the material you see, and there was a whole drug thing, and it was very long and it just wasn’t working. We previewed it a couple of times and it was seen as a poor man’s Bridesmaids. (Laughs) And then I saw Baby Driver and it hit us — what if we put the whole scene to music? And that was so much fun and it suddenly all worked.

Resistance VFX did the visual effects shots, and there seemed to be quite a few, considering it’s a comedy. What was involved?
You’re right. Usually comedies don’t have that many and we had a significant amount, including the puke scenes, and then all the computer stuff and the emojis. And then they did such a great job with all Amy Mann’s tears at the end. I really loved working with VFX, and the fact that they can create all this magic in post. I’d be constantly amazed. “Can you do that?” They’d sigh and go, “Yes Kay, we can do that, no problem.” It was a real education for me.

Where did you do the DI?
At Technicolor, and I was pretty involved along with Ross. I loved that whole process too. Again, it’s the magic of post. (Maxine Gervais was the supervising senior colorist. She used a FilmLight Baselight 5.)

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely.

Do you want to direct again?
Definitely, if I get another chance.

What’s next?
I’m writing a movie for Sony — another comedy — and I’ve got a bunch of projects percolating.

What advice would you give to any woman wanting to direct?
Do the work, and don’t quit when it gets hard. I think a lot of women quit before the magic happens, and there were times when I wanted to quit, but you can’t. You have to keep going.

Kay Cannon Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert (c) 2018 Universal. 


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.