Category Archives: Cinematography

Behind the Title: MTI Senior Colorist Trent Johnson

NAME: Trent Johnson

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MTI Film works in multiple post production disciplines, including TV and feature post, film restoration and software development.

AS A SENIOR COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In order to be excellent in this profession you have to be obsessive about the details, because it is in the composite of details that the whole mood and tempo of the show comes alive.

At this point in the post process, I may even become more passionate about certain aspects of the project than the clients. With years of experience under my belt, I have mastered many tricks of the trade that clients may or may not be aware of. I can see what needs to be corrected in lighting and color to make the director, cinematographer and producer’s vision for the piece become a reality.

It is my responsibility to make it right and I take this responsibility very seriously and down to the tiniest detail. For example, I can unify inconsistent shots, change the time of day, augment special effects that have to be married into practical photography, tint color to affect an emotional response from the audience and enhance the appearance of characters, to name a few. The addition of my creative input to the creative process – at the direction of the creative heads of a project – serves as the icing on the cake. It’s the final perfection of the product before it’s delivered and released.

WHAT SYSTEMS DO YOU WORK ON?
I am proficient on Nucoda, Resolve and Baselight.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? IF SO, CAN YOU DESCRIBE?
I take on light editorial tasks: compositing, speed changes, titling, etc. For a restoration project it could be sifting through various elements to choose the best quality.

The Emoji Movie

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have lots of favorites. First is working with very talented creative clients who know what they want and how to communicate a vision. Sitting in a theatre with these creative giants, over a period of several days, an atmosphere of camaraderie develops. This has resulted in many wonderful working relationships.

Second, I love being given a challenge on a film or TV project and then being able to meet or exceed expectations. I have always said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who give you reasons why they can’t do something and those who give you reasons why something that seems impossible can be done. I like to be the guy that figures out how to make it happen for a client, even though it may be out of the wheelhouse of most color correctors.

Third, once I meet a challenge and succeed in enhancing the creative vision of the client to an unexpected level, I like reviewing what I colored and how it’s made everything come together according to the vision. I thoroughly enjoy looking at what I colored yesterday and liking it, not to mention witnessing my client’s satisfaction with the final product.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rushing through the grade. I’m a perfectionist and like to refine a look until everyone in the room is pleased. I’m willing to put the time to get it right.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I edited as well as colored early in my career. I could have easily pursued editing, as I enjoy it quite a lot. I like focusing on performances and finding the magic moments in shots and scenes and piecing it all together to move the story forward. I bring these skills into the color bay every day and draw on them by using color to amplify and strengthen the storyline of the project I’m working on.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
As a child I binge-watched TV shows and movies, and developed a love of classic Hollywood. I can walk into a room and glance at a movie and usually know what the title is. My kids get a kick out of that. I have a bit of a photographic memory in that sense. This has come in handy because I not only remember the movie, but the color and lighting as well, and how it was used in that particular instance to create a mood.

As I grew into my teens, I decided to make that movie-watching time investment pay off. I bought a Super 8 camera in high school and began making movies with my friends. I’ve never looked back. I majored in film production at the collegiate level at USC and San Diego State University. I started my career at Complete Post in Hollywood, and the rest is history.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on Overboard for MGM, Proud Mary for Screen Gems and The Emoji Movie for Sony/Columbia.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’ve worked on all the Smurfs movies. I started on the animated TV series early in my career and was hired to color correct all three of the motion pictures. The most challenging aspect of these movies early on was the combination live action and animation.

I became known as the “Smurf Blue guy” for keeping the characteristic blue color of the characters consistent. I especially enjoyed working with the animation clients on these shows because they are extremely precise, and I respect that.

A close second favorite is the motion picture Burlesque. The cinematography on that film was executed brilliantly; it featured dramatic dance numbers enhanced with creative lighting, had an avant-garde cast and was a throw-back to old Hollywood.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I feel as connected to the old as to the new. Technology is always morphing, and the way movies are made constantly in flux. This is a source of fascination to me, and I’m inspired by the way all forms of art both reflect and influence culture. I study how camerawork and lighting techniques come and go, and how they were and are effectively used artistically in movies past and present. How to communicate different facets of life is the fundamental inspiration for art. What I do is a technical art form, so it draws deeply on these principles.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
XM Radio, television, my iPhone and my coffeemaker.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I thoroughly enjoy reading blogs, and especially listening to podcasts of cinematographers and other colorists to stay current of innovation trends. Anything to do with the industry on Facebook, YouTube, etc. is always interesting to me.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Sinatra, classic radio shows and pastry. Actually, it’s my sense of humor that keeps me going. Also, coming home to my loving family and being highly involved in my children’s lives is my lifeblood.

ASC names Eric Rodli executive director

Eric Rodli has been named executive director of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Rodli, an ASC associate member since 2001, has served six years as co-chair of the ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council’s Cinema Display Committee. He co-authored the committee’s 2016 white paper “Cinema Display Evaluation Plan and Test Protocol,” which explores the key image quality parameters of dynamic range, color space and overall luminance, as well as suggesting testing parameters.

He has also been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Task Force on Content Preservation, and has participated in numerous industry panels ranging on topics from digital media distribution to projection.

Rodli served as president at Iwerks Entertainment, Bexel and Kodak’s motion picture film division, and most recently as CFO of BeBop Technologies. He has worked on many creative and technical initiatives across multiple industry sectors, dating back to pioneering the use of the first generation of HD cameras, as well as 3D projection, digital streaming technology and laser projection systems. His strategic and hands-on experience in the imaging chain has fueled his belief that technology should serve the artist.

Focused on education, the ASC hosts many programs, including the ASC Master Classes, Student Heritage Awards, Coffee and Conversation Q&As with cinematographers and panel discussions by the Education and Outreach Committee. The efforts of the ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council (MITC) since 2003 have shaped the standards and practices of cinematography for digital workflows, with the group and its committees working closely with the Academy’s Sci-Tech Council and SMPTE. The ASC Vision Committee also holds events to foster diversity and equality on camera crews.

Cinna 1.2

Sony to ship Venice camera this month, adds capabilities

Sony’s next-gen CineAlta motion picture camera Venice, which won a postPerspective Impact Award for IBC2017, will start shipping this month. As previously announced, V.1.0 features support for full-frame 24x36mm recording. In addition, and as a result of customer feedback, Sony has added several new capabilities, including a Dual Base ISO mode. With 15+ stops of exposure latitude, Venice will support an additional High Base ISO of 2500 using the sensor’s physical attributes. This takes advantage of Sony’s sensor for low-light performance with high dynamic range — from 6 stops over to 9 stops under 18% middle gray.

This new capability increases exposure indexes at higher ISOs for night exteriors, dark interiors, working with slower lenses or where content needs to be graded in HDR, while maintaining the maximum shadow details. An added benefit within Venice is its built-in 8-step optical ND filter servo mechanism. This can emulate different ISO operating points when in High Base ISO 2500 and also maintains the extremely low levels of noise characteristics of the Venice sensor.

Venice also features new color science designed to offer a soft tonal film look, with shadows and mid-tones having a natural response and the highlights preserving the dynamic range.

Sony has also developed the Venice camera menu simulator. This tool is designed to give camera operators an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the camera’s operational workflow before using Venice in production.

Features and capabilities planned to be available later this year as free firmware upgrades in Version 2 include:
• 25p in 6K full-frame mode will be added in Version 2
• False Color (moved from Version 3 to Version 2)

Venice has an established workflow with support from Sony’s RAW Viewer 3, and third-party vendors including Filmlight Baselight 5, Davinci Resolve 14.3, and Assimilate Scratch 8.6 among others. Sony continues to work closely with all relevant third parties on workflows including editing, grading, color management and dailies.

Another often requested feature is support for high frame rates, which Sony is working to implement and make available at a later date.

Venice features include:
• True 36x24mm full frame imaging based on the photography standard that goes back 100 years
• Built-in 8-step optical ND filter servo mechanism
• Dual Base ISO mode, with High Base ISO 2500
• New color science for appealing skin tones and graceful highlights – out of the box
• Aspect ratio freedom: Full frame 3:2 (1.5:1), 4K 4:3 full height anamorphic, spherical 17:9, 16:9.
• Lens mount with 18mm flange depth opens up tremendous lens options (PL lens mount included)
• 15+ stops of exposure latitude
• User-interchangeable sensor that requires removal of just six screws
• 6K resolution (6048 x 4032) in full frame mode


The A-List: The Big Sick director Michael Showalter

By Iain Blair

If life is stranger than fiction, then the acclaimed Oscar-nominated film The Big Sick is Exhibit A. Based on the unlikely real-life courtship between Pakistani comedian/writer Kumail Nanjiani and writer/producer Emily V. Gordon, it tells the story of Kumail (playing a version of himself), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents.

Michael Showalter on set.

When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, and then placed in a medically induced coma, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), whom he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.

The Big Sick is a crowd-pleasing rom-com, written by Gordon and Nanjiani, and produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, This is 40) and Barry Mendel (Trainwreck, The Royal Tenenbaums). But it also deals with drama, racism and the clash of cultures. It was directed by Michael Showalter, who co-wrote and directed the SXSW Audience Award-winning film Hello, My Name is Doris, starring Sally Field. He’s a founding member of the comedy groups The State and Stella, his other film credits include The Baxter, Wet Hot American Summer and They Came Together. He has also co-created numerous television projects, including Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) and Search Party (TBS).

We recently spoke with Showalter about making the film, which has been generating awards buzz (it won AFI’s Movie of the Year award), including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Is it true you actually gave Nanjiani his first big TV job, and what did you think when you first read this?
Yes. I’ve known Kumail a long time. I met him in New York in the comedy scene when he first arrived. I love his comedy and sensibility, and I also love him personally. He’s a great guy and we’ve worked together a lot over the years.

We hired him as a staff writer and actor for a Comedy Central series, Michael and Michael Have Issues. I did, and then I cast him in a supporting role in My Name is Doris. Then he sent me this script without saying much about it. I didn’t know it was based on their lives and that all this had happened — I just loved it and everything about it.

Kumail Nanjiani as “Kumail” and Zoe Kazan as “Emily” in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Sarah Shatz.

It’s definitely not your usual rom-com.
I kind of knew what sort of film they wanted it to be — more than just the genre, but the feel of it. I knew the tone they were going for, and that I could do that. So I begged them to hire me, and then I met with Judd and Barry and we spent eight months rewriting it — Kumail, Emily, Judd, Barry and me, and then I got hired and off we went.

The structure is very different from a normal rom-com. How challenging was that, and what sort of film did you set out to make?
You’re right, as usually the second act is where the characters fall in love, then they break up and then they get back together in the third act, but in this all of that happens right in the first act. Then the love interest isn’t even there for the entire second act — which is pretty challenging — and the film gets a lot darker in the second half. So we had to figure out how to keep it moving forward, and I wanted to make a film that’s very funny, first and foremost — a comedy.

But it’s a comedy that walks the line between comedy and drama, even tragedy, and I wanted to give full weight to both elements and not let it get too sentimental. I love theater and some of my favorite plays — like Angels in America — start off as laugh-out-loud comedies and then get really serious, and I love the way they allow those opposites to co-exist.

How involved was Judd Apatow in developing the film?
Judd was very involved in all aspects — tightening up the screenplay, casting and then editing. He’s so experienced, and a great collaborator.

How was the shoot?
We shot on digital, in New York, it was just 25 days, so pretty tight, but it went great thanks to a great line producer and crew. The biggest issue was that it’s set in cold weather and we shot in a heat wave.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s so creative and, of course, it’s where you actually make the movie.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Nassau, who cut My Name is Doris for you and Wanderlust for Judd Apatow. What were the main editing challenges?
As a TV showrunner and film director, my preferred way of working in post is to empower editors, and I rely on them the same way I do with a production designer or DP. I’m not big on micro managing, so I like to give the footage to my editor and then see what they do with it. And I go into production with a very clear game-plan. There’s not a lot of figuring it all out on the day. Then I’m very interested in the editor’s interpretation of the footage, and if it’s working, I give notes and we go along like that. I’m not the sort of director who’s in the room all the time, looking over the editor’s shoulder. I’m much more laissez-faire.

Where did you edit and post this?
Rob has his own editing suite at home in New York, so he did the assembly and director’s cut there while I was in LA. Then he came out to LA for the producer’s cut, and on any given day either me or Kumail, Judd and Barry — or all of us — would be there too, going over specific scenes and beats. But Judd had final cut, and once I’d done my cut, all the post became much more of a group endeavor.

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both crucial elements and we did it all in LA, working with Judd’s sound team, which does most of his projects. We wanted the sound to be very intimate and very clean, so you feel like you’re with the characters all the time and you hear everything they’re saying in these small, intimate places, as opposed to having a rougher, grittier sound design. Then composer Mike Andrews, who’s scored a lot of projects for Judd, like Bridesmaids, came on board and did a score that really mirrored the emotions of the characters, without over-scoring it.

Who was the colorist and where did you do the DI?
We did the digital intermediate and dailies at Technicolor Postworks NY, and Alex Bickel was the colorist. I’m very involved in all that. The color is very important, and we wanted a very warm, authentic look, as opposed to going more muted and drained-out. We experimented a bit and Alex did a great job.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things I’m working on but I can’t talk about them yet!


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.


The A-List: Roman J. Israel, Esq. director Dan Gilroy

By Iain Blair

Writing and movies have always been in director/writer Dan Gilroy’s DNA. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Frank Gilroy, he has two brothers who’re also in the business — director/writer Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne franchise) and editor John Gilroy.

After making a name for himself as a successful screenwriter on such projects as The Bourne Legacy, Real Steel and Two for the Money, he made his feature directorial debut with Nightcrawler in 2014. He also wrote the film, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Nightcrawler earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington on set.

His film, Roman J. Israel, Esq., which earned its star Denzel Washington an Academy Award nomination and recognition from the Golden Globe and SAG, is another intense character study. Set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system, it stars Denzel Washington as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended after his boss and mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When Roman is recruited to join a law firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students — the ambitious George Pierce (Colin Farrell) — and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a series of events ensues that put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.

Collaborating with Gilroy behind the scenes was director of photography Robert Elswit, editor John Gilroy, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.

I recently talked with Gilroy about making the film and collaborating with Washington.

Is it true you wrote the film on spec specifically for Denzel?
I did. After Nightcrawler I took myself off the market for a year, researched this and wrote it on spec. I could only ever see Denzel playing Israel.

Would you have still done it without him?
No, I would have just put it away. He was crucial to the film. You have to take a pill with every movie and buy into the premise, and on this you had to believe that for 40 years he’s toiled away in the shadows and never compromised his beliefs. And Denzel utterly transformed himself physically for the role, but he’s also a man of faith who believes in something bigger than himself.

What did he bring to the role?
Apart from being this incredibly gifted actor, he brought a deep conviction to the part.

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
My biggest struggle is with my conscience. Am I doing enough? And this was a chance to examine activism, which can take a big emotional toll, but then you also know that you’re helping make the world a better place. That’s one of the key themes of the film — the importance of belief. It’s an homage to activism and to anyone who dedicates some of their time to a cause other than themselves. That sort of belief can be both a blessing and a burden, as it can get you up in the morning to fight for something, but it can also sap you.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
We wanted that great film look, even though it’s very expensive to shoot that way now. Denzel and I actually shared the added cost.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
You’re right, it does, as you have to find a lab that can still handle film as everyone’s so used to digital now, and you have a slight delay in dailies — 24 hours. But apart from that, there’s not much interruption to the flow. One big thing it does is cut way down on the footage you have to deal with in editing and post. When you shoot digitally, you don’t think twice about doing 10 or 15 takes in a row. You don’t do that with film. You’re far more careful and specific about what you shoot.

Dan Gilroy opted to shoot on 35mm.

You shot all on location downtown. How tough was that? 
Very tough. We had over 60 locations, and unlike Nightcrawler it was nearly all daytime, and the traffic is just brutal and makes it very hard just moving around. I always wanted to put the character in real-world situations, so sometimes we’d hide cameras down alleyways and behind cars and shoot stuff as if it was surveillance footage. Denzel would be walking around and people would bump into him and not give him a second glance — and those weren’t extras.

Where did you post?
On the Sony lot. We did all the sound at Formosa.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it. You have all the pieces in front of you, and they haven’t hardened yet. They’re malleable, and you can do anything you want and rewrite the whole movie in post if you want. You can pre-lap dialogue, you can intercut and do so many things that have a profound impact on the flow of the story. You can speed up stuff and slow it down by the way you cut and use transitions, and give scenes a whole new energy. Post is amazing.

You edited again with your brother John, who cut Nightcrawler. How did that work?
He read the script before we began shooting, and then he was on the set and then we worked side-by-side on the assembly. He’s like my right arm. (See our interview with John.)

What were the main challenges of editing this film?
The time! We were running long and had to keep cutting. We went to the Toronto Film Festival with it and screened it at 2 hours 14 minutes, but that was still too long, so we had to go back and cut another 13 minutes… that was very tough to do.

I heard Denzel was also involved in the edit.
It’s true, he was. Isn’t that crazy? Normally I couldn’t have even conceived of having an actor come into the cutting room and doing that, because most actors are just not objective. But Denzel is such an asset, and he truly is objective and has an incredible eye. Of course, he’s directed films himself, so it made perfect sense to keep collaborating in the edit.

How many visual effects shots were there and who did them?
Zero VFX did them, and there were quite a few. The biggest VFX shot — which originally was going to be done practically — was when we dropped down 400 feet at night into this alley. We planned to do it with a drone, so we sent it up with an Alexa on it, but it was wet and windy that night and it just didn’t work, so we had to redo it all in post. The apartment building they’re constructing next to Israel’s building was all a big VFX shot, and we had a lot of smaller shots and clean-up and so on.

It has a great soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important to me, and they’re a huge percentage of the final film. Music can instantly transport you to other levels and places and change the whole emotional fabric of a scene. Denzel was very involved in that too. He has over 20,000 songs on his iPod and he came up with specific songs that would be the soundtrack to Roman’s life — songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s — and picked a lot of the cues. James Newton Howard, who did Nightcrawler, did the film score.

How about the DI?
We did it at Company 3 in LA with Stefan Sonnenfeld who has worked a lot with Tony. I’m very involved in about 85% of it, and then I leave the last 15% to the DP and my brother John. I love the DI as you can go in and highlight small details and play around with the look and color so much. It’s so creative.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It’s beyond what I imagined when I was writing it, and I think Denzel’s performance is truly amazing.

What’s next?
I’m in pre-production on a film for Netflix, a drama set in LA’s contemporary art world. It’s starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Renee Russo, and it’ll be out in October.


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.


Dee Rees talks about directing Netflix’s Mudbound

By Iain Blair

Change is good, and while there are only a handful of young, successful, black female directors shooting features these days, the tide is starting to turn. Case in point: Dee Rees, who is helping lead the charge with her powerful new feature Mudbound, which was nominated for two Golden Globes.

Set in the rural American South during World War II, it’s an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Writer Iain Blair and director Dee Rees.

On one side is the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture.

On the other side are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations and who also struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

The film was co-written by Rees, who made her feature film debut with Pariah, which won a ton of awards. She went on to direct the Emmy-Award-winning HBO film Bessie.

I talked recently with Rees about making the film and the push for more diversity in the industry.

What was your vision for this film?
A good old-fashioned sprawling Hollywood epic that they don’t make anymore, with tons of characters and drama and emotion.

This is a period piece, but there are a lot of the issues you deal with — racism, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues. These are all particularly timely now.
Yes, and I think it’s become more timely because our consciousness has changed. I think it would have been timely five or 10 years ago, but audiences might not have recognized it as such, and attitudes have changed and are still changing about all these issues — and others. Look at all the sex scandal stuff coming to light in Hollywood and other places.

Is it true you absolutely wanted to shoot this in the South, but then found it wasn’t so easy in terms of finding the right locations?
Yes, I’m from the South — Nashville, Tennessee — and I hate seeing Southerners and the South not depicted correctly and accurately, and the locations were vital as they function like another character in the story. So we scouted all over the South — Mississippi, where it’s actually set, and Georgia and Louisiana — and we ended up shooting on a working sugar plantation near New Orleans. The landscape and farmland was perfect. It really gave you the sense of unrelenting nature, and the way the furrows went in the field was a big artistic choice… deciding how the lines were going to go.

It’s interesting that Louisiana has preserved a lot of their slave history. You can see the original sharecroppers’ cabins, and I think it’s right to preserve stuff like that so you can see it actually happened. In Mississippi, a lot of that’s gone. So we used real sharecroppers’ cabins, and convinced the owners to let us move these historical buildings deeper into the fields, as we wanted to have these 360-degree shots where you feel that the characters are all dwarfed by the landscape. All that has an accumulative effect in creating this world. We didn’t use any soundstages at all because I wanted it to look and feel authentic. You just can’t fake all the mud and dust and that landscape.

I imagine the shoot wasn’t easy?
It was pretty intense. We were supposed to have 28 days there, but we got rained out two days and had to make that up. Then we shot for two days in Budapest for the wartime scenes, including a big tank battle. We did that in the morning and then the liberation scenes the next day, and then later, during the edit, we shot the B52 plane scenes at a war museum on Long Island, and that was a big dance between special effects and VFX. So we ended up with 29 days for a big story that you’d normally need 60 days to do justice considering the sheer scope and scale involved.

You had a women DP (Rachel Morrison), who shot Fruitvale Station, and a woman editor (Mako Kamitsuna), who cut Pariah for you and who’s now cutting Johnny Depp’s LAbyrinth as well as a woman composer (Tamar-Kali). Was that deliberate?
Absolutely, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just tokenism. Too often hiring women can get conflated with tokenism, and they are women who are incredibly at what they do.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it reminds me of writing, which is solitary, contemplative and internal. Production is a frenzied rush, external and exhausting, and then you get to post which is where you recoup in a way, and was just me and Mako making the film. We did most of the editing in an artist’s loft in upstate New York, which was really cheap to rent. I like being away from all the noise and bustle of New York and just isolating for a bit and really focusing. Then Tama, our composer, came in, and then our sound team, and we had the space and time to really build it all up and elevate the raw material.

What were the main editing challenges?
The biggest one was figuring out when to move from one family story to the other. I was worried about staying with the McAllan’s too long, and then suddenly the Jacksons come out of nowhere, maybe too soon, and then having to explain some of the back story out of sequence. So do you break the chronology or trust that when you hand off to the Jacksons it’ll work for the audience? We kept starting with the burial, and then going into all the tensions between the families, with all the questions, like why do they hate each other so much?

In one version we went off with the Jacksons, but it didn’t quite work, and ultimately we started with Henry. He took us to the farm, which takes us to the war, and the war takes us to Ronsel and Jamie, and then it all flowed. But we had to make sure each family had its own trajectory, and one exercise we did was to edit just one family story as if it was its own film. Then we did the other family to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and where the natural intersections fell in their stories. That was so helpful.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in Mudbound?
It’s so important to me, and I always want the score to work seamlessly with the sound design so it feels like it comes out of the sound design. Like with the editing, I feel the music shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch, so once we had picture locked Tamar came in and then reacted to it with her score, and I didn’t have to say much to her.

She was inspired and wrote this beautiful orchestral score, which was perfect because I didn’t want to have the obvious 1940s thing with banjo, blues and harmonica. I wanted strings, and my sound team did a fantastic job. We did a Atmos mix at Harbor in New York, thanks to a Dolby grant, and it was so cool and exciting to do that.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there must have been a fair amount of visual effects?
Mr. X Gotham did them all, and we had quite a lot for the plane scenes, including the B52 formation and the tank battle scenes. They also added some explosions, and there was cleanup work, but all the farm stuff — the mud and water — was all real and in-camera. We used a lot of special effects — squibs and gore packs — for the war scenes.

What about the DI?
We did it at Harbor Post in New York, and the colorist was Joe Gawler (who worked on Blackmagic Resolve). He did a really great job.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did and I’m really happy with it.

Mudbound is making a lot of Oscar and other awards noise right now — deservedly so. What does that mean to you?
It’s very exciting for all the crafts people involved. I feel we made a great film, but without a huge budget, so the more attention the better.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in Hollywood. Are things improving?
Very slowly, but a lot of the problem is the pipeline. We need more creatives able to get in the door. The Academy is just a receptacle at the end of the pipeline. We can change its make up, but the bigger thing is changing what’s getting made.


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.


Peter Doyle on coloring Churchill’s England for Darkest Hour

By Daniel Restuccio

Technicolor supervising digital colorist Peter Doyle is pretty close to being a legend in the movie industry. He’s color graded 12 of the 100 top box office movies, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, six Harry Potter films, Aleksander Sokurov’s Venice Golden Lion-winning Faust, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and most recently the Golden Globe-nominated Darkest Hour.

Grading Focus Features’ Darkest Hour — which focuses on Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII — represents a reunion for Doyle. He previously worked with director Joe Wright (Pan) and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis). (Darkest Hour picked up a variety of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography for Delbonnel.)

Peter Doyle

The vibe on Darkest Hour, according to Doyle, was very collaborative and inspiring. “Joe is an intensely visual director and has an extraordinary aesthetic… visually, he’s very considerate and very aware. It was just great to throw out ideas, share them and work to find what would be visually appropriate with Bruno in terms of his design of light, and what this world should look like.”

All the time, says Doyle, they worked to creatively honor Joe’s overall vision of where the film should be from both the narrative and the visual viewpoint.

The creative team, he continues, was focused on what they hoped to achieve in terms of “the emotional experience with the visuals,” what did they want this movie to look like and, technically, how could they get the feeling of that imagery onto the screen?

Research and Style Guide
They set about to build a philosophy of what the on-screen vision of the film would be. That turned into a “style guide” manifesto of actually how to get that on screen. They knew it was the 1940s during World War II, so logically they examined newsreels and the cameras and lenses that were used at the time. One of the things that came out of the discussions with Joe and Bruno was the choice of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. “It’s quite an ensemble cast and the 2.35:1 would let you spread the cast across the screen, but wide 1.85:1 felt most appropriate for that.”

Doyle also did some research at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s very large photographic collection and dug into his own collection of photographic prints made with alternate color processes. Sepia and black and white got ruled out. They investigated the color films of the time and settled in on the color work of Edward Steichen.

Delbonnel chose Arri Alexa SXT cameras and Cooke S4s and Angenieux zoom lenses. They mastered in ArriRaw 3.2K. Technicolor has technology that allowed Doyle to build a “broad stroke” color-model-based emulation of what the color processes were like in the ’40s and apply that to the Alexa. “The idea,” explains Doyle, “was to take the image from the Alexa camera and mold it into an approximation of what the color film stocks would have looked like at the time. Then, having got into that world, tweak it slightly, because that’s quite a strong look,” and they still needed it to be “sensitive to the skin tones of the actors.”

Color Palette and Fabrics
There was an “overall arc” to this moment in history, says Doyle. The film’s setting was London during WWII, and outside it was hot and sunny. Inside, all lights were dimmed filaments, and that created a scenario where visually they would have extremely high-contrast images. All the colors were natural-based dyes, he explains, and the fabrics were various kind of wools and silks. “The walls and the actual environment that everyone would have been in would be a little run down. There would have been quite a patina and texture on the walls, so a lot of dirt and dust. These were kind of the key points that they gave me in order to work something out.”

Doyle’s A-ha Moment
“I took some hero shots of Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill) and Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), along with a few of the other actors, from Bruno’s rushes,” explains Doyle, adding that those shots became his reference.

From those images he devised different LUTs (Look Up Tables) that reflected different kinds of color manipulation processes of the time. It also meant that during principal photography they could keep referencing how the skin tones were working. There are a lot of close-ups and medium close-ups in Darkest Hour that gave easy access to the performance, but it also required them to be very aware of the impact of lighting on prosthetics and makeup.

Doyle photographed test charts on both 120mm reversal film of Ektachrome he had sitting in his freezer from the late ’70s and the Alexa. “The ‘a-ha moment’ was when we ran a test image through both. It was just staggering how different the imagery really looked. It gave us a good visual reference of the differences between film and digital, but more accurately the difference between reversal film and digital. It allowed us to zero in on the reactions of the two imaging methods and build the show LUTs and emulation of the Steichen look.”

One Word
When Doyle worked on Llewelyn Davis, Delbonnel and the Coen brothers defined the look of the film with one word: “sad.” For Darkest Hour, the one word used was “contrast,” but as a multi-level definition not just in the context of lights and darks in the image. “It just seemed to be echoed across all the various facets of this film,” says Doyle. “Certainly, Darkest Hour is a story of contrasting opinions. In terms of story and moments, there are soldiers at war in trenches, whilst there are politicians drinking champagne — certainly contrast there. Contrast in terms of the environment with the extreme intense hot summer outside and the darkness and general dullness on the inside.”

A good example, he says, is “the Parliament House speech that’s being delivered with amazing shafts of light that lit up the environment.”

The DP’s Signature
Doyle feels that digital cinematography tends to “remove the signature” of the director of photography, and that it’s his job to put it back. “In those halcyon days of film negative, there were quite a lot of processes that a DP would use in the lab that would become part of the image. A classic example, he says, is Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which was shot mostly during sunrise and sunset by Nestor Almendros, and “the extraordinary lightness of the image. Or Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which was shot by John Alcott with scenes lit entirely by candles “that have a real softness.” The looks of those movies are a combination of the cinematographer’s lighting and work with the lab.

“A digital camera is an amazing recording device. It will faithfully reproduce what it records on set,” says Doyle. “What I’ve done with Bruno in the testing stage is bring back the various processes that you would possibly do in the lab, or at least the concept of what you would do in the laboratory. We’re really bending and twisting the image. Everyone sees the film the way that the DP intends, and then everyone’s relationship with that film is via this grade.”

This is why it’s so important to Doyle to have input from day one rushes through to the end. He’s making sure the DP’s “signature” is consistent to final grade. On Darkest Hour they tested, built and agreed on a look for the film for rushes. Colorist Mel Kangleon worked with Delbonnel on a daily basis to make sure all the exposures were correct from a technical viewpoint. Also, aesthetically to make sure the grade and look were not being lost.

“The grades that we were doing were what was intended by Bruno, and we made sure the actual imagery on the screen was how he wanted it to be,” explains Doyle. “We were making sure that the signature was being carried through.”

Darkest Hour and HDR
On Darkest Hour, Doyle built the DCI grade for the Xenon projector, 14 foot-lambert, as the master color corrected deliverable. “Then we took what was pretty much the LAD gray-card value of that DCI grade. So a very classic 18% gray that was translated across to the 48-, the 108-, the 1,000- and the 4,000-nit grade. We essentially parked the LAD gray (18% gray) at what we just felt was an appropriate brightness. There is not necessarily a lot of color science to that, other than saying, ‘this feels about right.’ That’s (also) very dependent on the ambient light levels.”

The DCI projector, notes Doyle, doesn’t really have “completely solid blacks; they’re just a little gray.” Doyle wished that the Xenon could’ve been brighter, but that is what the theatrical distribution chain is at the moment, he says.

When they did the HDR (High Dynamic Range) version, which Doyle has calls as a “new language” of color correction, they took the opportunity to add extra contrast and dial down the blacks to true black. “I was able to get some more detail in the lower shadows, but then have absolutely solid blacks —  likewise on the top end. We opened up the highlights to be even more visceral in their brightness. Joe Wright says he fell in love with the Dolby Vision.”

If you’re sitting in a Dolby Vision Cinema, says Doyle, you’re sitting in a black box. “Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to have the image as bright as a Rec 709 grade or LAD gray, which is typically for a lounge room where there are some lights on. There is a definite ratio between the presumed ambient light level of a room and where they park that LAD,” explains Doyle.

Knowing where they want the overall brightness of the film to be, they translate the tone curve to maintain exactly what they did in the DCI grade. Then perceptually it appears the same in the various mediums. Next they custom enhance each grade for the different display formats. “I don’t really necessarily call it a trim pass; it’s really adding a flare pass,” elaborates Doyle. “A DCI projector has quite a lot of flare, which means it’s quite organic and reactive to the image. If you project something on a laser, it doesn’t necessarily have anywhere near that amount of flair, and that can be a bit of a shock. Suddenly, your highlights are looking incredibly harsh. We went through and really just made sure that the smoothness of the image was maintained and emulated on the other various mediums.”

Doyle also notes that Darkest Hour benefited from the results of his efforts working with Technicolor color scientists Josh Pines and Chris Kutchka, working on new color modeling tools and being able “to build 3D LUTs that you can edit and that are cleaner. That can work in a little more containable way.”

Advice and Awards
In the bright new world of color correction, what questions would Doyle suggest asking directors? “What is their intent emotionally with the film? How do they want to reinforce that with color? Is it to be approached in a very literal way, or should we think about coming up with some kind of color arc that might be maybe counter intuitive? This will give you a feel for the world that the director has been thinking of, and then see if there’s a space to come at it from a slightly unexpected way.”

I asked Doyle if we have reached the point where awards committees should start thinking about an Academy Award category for color grading.

Knowing what an intensely collaborative process color grading is, Doyle responded that it would be quite challenging. “The pragmatist in me says it could be tricky to break it down in terms of the responsibilities. It depends on the relationship between the colorist, the DP and the director. It really does change with the personalities and the crew. That relationship could make the breakdown a little tricky just to work out whose idea was it to actually make it, for example, blue.”

Because this interview was conducted in December, I asked Doyle, what he would ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. His response? “I really think the new frontier is gamut mapping and gamut editing — that world of fitting one color space into another. I think being able to edit those color spaces with various color models that are visually more appropriate is pretty much the new frontier.”


Daniel Restuccio is a producer and teacher based in Southern California.


ASC celebrates cinematographers with annual award noms

The nominees for the 32nd Annual ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement were revealed in all categories at a special event staged at the ASC Clubhouse.

In an announcement that drew cheers, Mudbound cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in the feature category. Joining her in the Theatrical Release category were Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049, Bruno Delbonnel for Darkest Hour, Hoyte Van Hoytema for Dunkirk and Dan Laustsen for The Shape of Water.

Laustsen was the other first-time nominee for his work on Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water. Deakins, a previous winner of the ASC’s Lifetime Achievement Award, celebrated his 15th nomination in the category. Delbonnel scored his fourth nomination, while Van Hoytema’s work was recognized for the second time.

In the television categories, HBO’s Game of Thrones and Syfy’s 12 Monkeys both received two nominations.

Here’s the complete list of this year’s nominees:

Dunkirk

Theatrical Release

  • Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC for Blade Runner 2049
  • Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC for Darkest Hour
  • Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC, FSF, NSC for Dunkirk
  • Dan Laustsen, ASC, DFF for The Shape of Water
  • Rachel Morrison, ASC for Mudbound

Spotlight Award
(Recognizing outstanding cinematography in feature-length projects that are screened at festivals, internationally or in limited theatrical release.)

  • Máté Herbai, HSC for On Body and Soul
  • Mikhail Krichman, RGC for Loveless
  • Mart Taniel for November

    The Crown

     

Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television

  • Gonzalo Amat for The Man in the High Castle (“Land O’ Smiles”) on Amazon
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC for The Crown (“Smoke and Mirrors”) on Netflix
  • Robert McLachlan, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“The Spoils of War”) on HBO
  • Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC for Game of Thrones (“Dragonstone”) on HBO
  • Alasdair Walker for Outlander (“The Battle Joined”) on Starz

 Episode of a Series for Commercial Television

  • Dana Gonzales, ASC for Legion (“Chapter 1”) on FX
  • David Greene, ASC, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Mother”) on Syfy
  • Kurt Jones for The Originals (“Bag of Cobras”) on The CW
  • Boris Mojsovski, CSC for 12 Monkeys (“Thief”) on Syfy
  • Crescenzo Notarile, ASC for Gotham (“The Executioner”) on Fox

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television

  • Pepe Avila del Pino for The Deuce pilot on HBO
  • Serge Desrosiers, CSC for Sometimes the Good Kill on Lifetime
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for Genius (“Chapter 1”) on National Geographic
  • Shelly Johnson, ASC for the Training Day pilot (“Apocalypse Now”) on CBS
  • Christopher Probst, ASC for the Mindhunter pilot on Netflix

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on February 17 in Hollywood, emceed this year by Ben Mankiewicz, a longtime host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Main Photo: The Shape of Water


Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography 2017

By Amy Leland

After EditFest NY moved to London, Manhattan Edit Workshop picked up the reins with its Sight, Sound & Story (SS&S) conferences. The first post production event premiered in June of 2013. The format was similar — top-of-their-craft editors and post specialists participating in panels focusing on specific areas of the industry. Over the years there have been great panels on TV editing, sound effects and audio editing, VFX and virtual reality. I have attended these events since they began. They are a great chance to get inspired, learn more about my industry and meet great people.

In September of 2015, SS&S created a new event that focused on the part of the process before we post folks get involved: the shoot. I recently I attended the latest Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography. Even though cinematography is not my department, I was as entertained and educated. Here is a recap of some of the best moments of the panels.

The Art of Cinematography in Documentary Filmmaking
As a first-time documentary filmmaker myself, this panel was of particular interest to me. Moderator Hugo Perez (Neither Memory Nor Magic, Lights Camera Uganda) spoke with panelists Joan Churchill, ASC,(Shut Up & Sing, Kurt & Courtney, Last Days in Vietnam) and Buddy Squires, ASC, (The Vietnam War, The Statue of Liberty, The Central Park Five) about their view of documentary filmmaking from behind the lens.

The most common theme throughout the panel was the emphasis both panelists put on listening. Cinematography is a visual art, but the panelists repeated the importance of listening carefully throughout the process in order to get the right shots. Squires included it as part of an overall sense of observation. He described his job as, “capturing the unexpected.” He said in order to do this, you have to carefully observe everything that is going on around you. When you sense something is going a particular way, you have to follow it. “It’s a calculated gamble that things will move a particular way.”

L-R: Joan Churchill, Buddy Squires and moderator Hugo Perez.

A particularly poignant moment was when he showed a clip from the documentary, The Last Dalai Lama? In it, he is filming a line of people getting a momentary audience with the Dalai Lama. Even though he didn’t understand what was being said in these moments, something compelled him to follow two particular people as they walked away from the Dalai Lama, clearly very moved by their experience. He ultimately found out that these two young women were homeless and with no resources to speak of. After hearing their story, the Dalai Lama instructed one of his helpers to make sure these young women were taken care of and given a place to live. All of that was clear once translations and subtitles were in place, but it was a moment of instinct that caused Squires to follow them and capture that magical moment. It was an incredible example of what he was describing.

Churchill also stated emphatically that, “Documentaries are nothing without good sound.” She talked about how you can cut around bad picture, but you can’t cut around bad sound. She makes sure she is constantly hearing, through her earpiece, whatever is being recorded by the sound person. This lets her know if sound isn’t being captured, but it also means that she may hear something, from her vantage point, she couldn’t see. That lets her know to move and capture what is happening.

Related to this, she talked about how sometimes you simply have to sacrifice picture to get the moment. Even if all you can get is a badly framed shot, or a shot with a low-quality camera; as long as you have the sound to go with it, you may have the moment you need. To illustrate this, Churchill showed a clip from the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Their interviews with Aileen Wuornos took place in small visiting rooms at the prison where she was on death row. In one of those interviews, when Wuornos saw that the interview was over and equipment was being put away, she started speaking more frankly about her crimes, and whether she had committed them in self defense. As a cinematographer, Churchill could have taken her camera back out, and tried to frame a perfect shot of Wuornos talking. But by listening to what was happening, she knew that her camera would become a distraction to the emotional moment that was happening, and might even cause Wuornos to stop talking. Rather than finding that shot and stopping the moment, she stayed crouched by her camera bag, and got a side shot of Nick Broomfield, her co-director, talking to Wuornos. Wuornos isn’t even in the shot. She made a choice as a cinematographer to sacrifice image to make sure the moment was protected.

Of course as cinematographers, and especially with Squires being a long-time collaborator with Ken Burns, both are incredibly skilled at capturing beautiful images, but what most struck me about this panel was how much each was more focused on story and truth, rather than image, in order to serve the needs of their projects.

The New Age of TV: Bringing the Look of Cinema to the Small Screen
For this offering, moderator David Leitner spoke with panelists Martin Ahlgren (Daredevil, House of Cards, Blindspot) and Igor Martinović (House of Cards, The Night Of) about the changing art of cinematography in television. Much of the conversation focused on how their work was being affected by the increasingly film look or cinema style of television.

L-R: Martin Ahlgren and Igor Martinović.

One thing they addressed was the popular idea that film is a director’s medium and TV is a producer’s or writer’s medium. Martinović pointed out that with a lot of these new media shows, from companies like Netflix and Hulu, they had not just a head writer/showrunner, but also a director auteur driving the creative process. For example, they brought up David Fincher and his House of Cards and Mindhunter. Though he didn’t direct the entire series in either case, he did establish the visual world and rules for the shows. And there are certainly other examples, such as Reed Morano and The Handmaid’s Tale or Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, which airs on FX. Both panelists spoke about how there is a trend toward creating a specific look that they, as cinematographers, are working within.

They also both talked about how this cinematic aesthetic is changing what they are allowed to do as television cinematographers. For a long time, television was “radio with pictures.” TV shows were meant to be watched without needing to pay close visual attention. The focus was hearing dialogue, but now there is more freedom to tell visual stories. Martinović showed a series of clips from The Night Of and pointed out that there is almost no dialogue in the scenes he showed. He was able to tell story and advance character through specific visual images, a freedom television cinematographers didn’t always have.

Both also spoke about low light being a more acceptable look in television now than it used to be. Ahlgren showed a clip from House of Cards that he lit almost entirely with candlelight. He spoke of this difference in lighting aesthetic as being partly about changing standards in television, but also made possible by digital cinematography. While many cinematographers talk about the advantages of film, one thing most will say is that digital cameras can shoot more effectively at much lower light levels. They both talked about the expanded range of creative choices this gives them.

Martinović concluded by showing us some incredible images from a look book he put together for a new show he is going to be shooting. This is a technique used often for film, but not as often for television, which really speaks to the shift in how television is being created. For his look book, he compiled an incredible collection of images to show ideas of framing, tone, and even light and color. This book gave him a better “language” for showing the director what he thought they could do in telling their stories.

Listening to incredibly talented television cinematographers talk about their craft provided a lot of insight into why television seems so much more exciting these days. It was also a great reminder to all of us to pay better attention to the visual language of the shows we love, just as we do with films.

Behind the Lens: A Conversation With Cinematographer Julio Macat, ASC
The final panel of the evening was a special conversation with Julio Macat, ASC, the cinematographer of a wide range of great films, including Home Alone, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Crazy in Alabama and The Wedding Crashers. As often happens in conversations with people who have had such a big impact on their field, what struck me most was how unbelievably humble Macat was about the work he has done. He spoke about his rise to success as filled with luck, when the breadth and quality of his work make it obvious that there is clearly a lot of talent involved as well.

He discussed the numerous opportunities he has had to work with first-time directors. One common theme is that first-time directors come to him with extensive shot lists for every scene. His advice to them is to think about why the writer wrote the scene and what the point of the scene is. He asks the director, “If I have to place the camera in one spot to tell that entire scene, where would it go?” That guides them into knowing what is most important. It is especially vital when they find themselves running out of time, and they need to make sure they have what they need. He said that shot often becomes the master shot for the scene.

Julio Macat

In talking about Home Alone, one aspect of his work that I just loved was that he did a lot of his prep on his knees. He planned a lot of shots from this vantage point with a wide-angle lens to capture the viewpoint of a child. Compared to how an adult sees the world — everything is bigger to kids, and the lights are brighter. His approach, of making sure his camera saw the world the way the lead character would, was such an important aspect of the look of that film. It seems that ideas like this, the ability to see the world through different perspectives, is what separates the really talented cinematographers from all of the people who are just good with cameras. I loved seeing that insight into his approach.

Macat described his prep work for Home Alone, his first feature film, which he has carried forward to today. Rather than thinking of each scene on its own, he creates a summary version of the script. That summary —which may be as short as three pages — includes one-line descriptions of each scene and color coding to indicate things like location, interior/exterior, etc. Seeing the structure of the film laid out that way helps him to see how the work he is doing will eventually be edited together. He includes the editor in that prep work so they can truly collaborate on the vision of the final film. His description of this process made me wish it were far more common for cinematographers and editors to directly collaborate.

He also spoke about the importance of working musically. He started working on music videos and concerts, so he always thought of music and rhythm while operating cameras. He says now he can tell immediately if a camera operator is really good with a camera technically but doesn’t have that sense of musicality in the work. Every scene, every story has a rhythm. Finding that rhythm in the work before the scenes are edited together, and a score underneath, is one of the most important skills in his toolset.

Having shot so many comedies, he had an interesting insight into capturing those moments. First he said that working in comedy was how he learned to shoot multicamera, so that it looks natural. With so much overlapping dialogue and gags based entirely on timing, it is vital to capture every moment as it happens, rather than individual takes of each angle. He also encourages directors to do blocking rehearsals with the actors that he can film rather than off-camera rehearsals, after so many experiences of watching a rehearsal with great energy and timing that just wasn’t there anymore once the cameras were rolling.

My favorite element of his comedy technique was what he called “second-team theater.” When the lighting setups are being done, and the second team stand-ins are in place, he asks the director to have that second team do the lines. If the cast is watching, it’s a great moment that allows them to relax a bit before the scene. But he also said some great actors have come out of those “second-team theater” moments because the director gets a chance to see them act. I’m sure it also leads to a more relaxed and fun atmosphere on set for everyone.

Listening to him talk about the way he feels about actors was really moving. He spoke of the importance of building trust with actors. His job means putting cameras into their personal space as they do their work. He advocates for letting the actors know what he has in mind and what he is planning to do. “Actors are really smart people. They get it,” Macat said. By seeing the actors as his collaborators, rather than just the people on the other side of the camera, he is better able to achieve his vision.

One of the recurring themes of these Sight, Sound & Story events has been rare opportunities to sit in rooms with truly impressive artists at the top of their field, and being so touched by how kind and generous they are with their time and ideas.

Manhattan Edit Workshop streamed these panels, as they often do, via Facebook Live on their Sight Sound & Story page. If you would like a chance to see the panels for yourself, and hear all of the other amazing insights of these wonderful panelists, you can find it here.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Craig Gillespie on directing I, Tonya

By Iain Blair

If you haven’t seen I, Tonya, the latest dark comedy from Aussie director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), get your skates on and rush over to the nearest cineplex for a real treat.

This festival fave, which is deservedly getting a lot of awards attention (it just earned three Golden Globe noms and a host of others), is based on the unbelievable but true events surrounding infamous American figure skater Tonya Harding and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever tarnished by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Craig Gillespie on set with Margot Robbie.

Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and a tour de force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, the film is a piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked –– and checkered –– glory.

Gillespie, who worked as an award-winning commercial director for 15 years before making his feature debut with 2007’s Mr. Woodcock, and whose credits include Million Dollar Arm and Fright Night, once again uses his irreverent, offbeat comedy sense to dramatize a cautionary tale about talent, ambition, celebrity, class, bad perms and domestic abuse — all stuffed with larger-than-life characters and wacky, unreliable narrators.

I recently talked with Gillespie about making the film and the surrounding awards buzz.

What was the appeal of this story for you? It seems like the perfect fit for your sensibility.
You’re right. The script by Steven Rogers, who did Stepmom, was just amazing. It felt like the most “me” project since Lars. In some ways it’s even more me, with so much dark humor in the script. And when I heard Margot was attached, I was really intrigued as she has the range to do all the comedy and drama. It was bizarre to read the script, because it was so tight and read like it was already edited, with all the scenes lined up.

Did it change much?
The main change was giving myself freedom editorially. The script had a very unconventional approach, and originally there was a lot more of the talking heads. I sat down with my DP (Nicolas Karakatsanis) and figured out how we could take every opportunity to shoot those scenes without the talking heads, so we could use voiceover and music instead to give it more energy. I designed specific camera moves so we could carry voiceover or music going into those scenes, or possibly leaving them.

There’s a lot of comedy, but also some very serious stuff, like the domestic abuse and battery. That must have also been a bit of a tightrope to walk?
It was. In terms of dealing with the tone, it was one of the biggest challenges, and I didn’t want to judge the characters or just make fun of them, which would have been too easy. There’s comedy, but you also see that, with the domestic violence, Tonya’s kind of immune to it. She’s desensitized to it, and I felt that that also gave more insight into her character. I also shot those scenes both ways too, so I had a choice in the editing. And then it changes to Jeff’s point-of-view, and he breaks the fourth wall about half-way through the movie, so there was a lot to work with in the edit.

I would have never thought of Margot Robbie as Tonya. What did she bring to the role?
Everything. It’s such a tightrope to walk in terms of the tone, and she ages from 15 to 46, so there are all the different ages and scenes that are absurdly dark and funny, and scenes that are incredibly emotional. It was the whole kitchen sink, but I knew that Margot could navigate that tricky dance between the humor and the drama, and also keep it grounded and not wink at the audience, and she’s brilliant in the role.

How much skating did she do?
A lot. She trained so hard for five months, four days a week, and it was hard as she’d never figure skated before. In the end, she did a lot of the skating and then for the really difficult moves we used VFX to enhance them. I actually had no idea the huge amount of prep she did, studying every bit of footage out there to get her speech patterns and mannerisms, down to the different ages and the way she sounded at those different ages, and doing scenes with no make-up and bad hair and so on. There was nothing she wasn’t up for. We both met Tonya in person, so that helped too.

Allison Janney is equally phenomenal.
Steve actually wrote the role for her. She’s so ferocious and fearless when you consider some of her dialogue is so vile. There were days when she’d say, “Do I have to say the ‘c’ word again?” And I’d say, “Yeah, you do.” But she delivered it all in a way where you still like her.

I heard it was a very fast shoot. How tough was it?
Very. We did it in just 31 days, and the original script had 265 scenes, and we then added a few. It’s probably the fastest, most intense schedule I’ve ever had, but I was so lucky in that my cast was so well-prepared.

Do you like post?
I really love it. It’s the most fun part of the whole filmmaking process for me, and I love the first few weeks where you’re editing and finding the film and then the pace and tone and rhythm and so on. It’s the most creative part for me.

Where did you do the post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in New York.

The film was edited by your long-time editor Tatiana Riegel. What were the biggest editing challenges?
We cut for five or six months, and finding the right tone was key. But we’re so in tune that there are scenes I never touched after her first assembly. The scene between Tonya and her mother in the diner? I never changed anything, as she has such an instinctive balance of tone. We have an amazing shorthand now. I actually thought it might be a quite complicated edit, as the story jumps around so much, but we’d planned it all out so much that I did my first cut in under a month after we wrapped.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
We had about 120, mainly for the skating sequences, and Eight VFX did them all. I’ve used them a lot on my commercials, and they always have my back, and we had a very tight budget. We got lucky as our Steadicam operator could skate, but then we had to add in crowds to all the great shots, and we had about 60 stage replacements where we shot on bluescreen, so we ended up doubling the amount of VFX shots we needed.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
They’re crucial, and this is the first time I’ve posted a movie with a lot of stuff already in mind. I usually figure it out as I go in post. The closest things I could find in terms of structure were To Die For and Goodfellas, which goes through a lot of scenes very quickly — especially in the first half — with just voiceover and music. I designed a lot of shots around the music, such as “Devil Woman” and Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4,” and it was a really fun way to work. We mixed at Harbor.

The film has a great look. Talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Company 3 in New York with colorist Tom Poole. We shot on film, and Tom and the DP worked on it for a while and then I came in, and I love the look.

What’s next?
I’m looking for the right project. There’s nothing lined up.

Do you plan to keep shooting commercials?
Definitely. It’s a nice luxury to have because it’s something you can just jump into it for a short project. And you get to work with some of the greatest DPs in the whole business and try out different gear and experiment, and then bring that to the next movie. So I’ll keep doing both.


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.