Category Archives: Collaboration

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.

“Our references were films such as No Country for Old Men and Revolutionary Road (both lensed by Roger Deakins, BSC, ASC), which have richness and denseness to them, 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.”

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.

Cinna 4.13

B&H expands its NAB footprint to target multiple workflows

By Randi Altman

In a short time, many in our industry will be making the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for NAB. They will come (if they are smart) with their comfy shoes, Chapstick and the NAB Show app and plot a course for the most efficient way to see all they need to see.

NAB is a big show that spans a large footprint, and typically companies showing their wares need to pick a hall — Central, South Lower, South Upper or North. This year, however, The Studio-B&H made some pros’ lives a bit easier by adding a booth in South Lower in addition to their usual presence in Central Hall.

B&H’s business and services have grown, so it made perfect sense to Michel Suissa, managing director at The Studio-B&H, to grow their NAB presence to include many of the digital workflows the company has been servicing.

We reached out to Suissa to find out more.

This year B&H and its Studio division are in the South Lower. Why was it important for you guys to have a presence in both the Central and South Halls this year?
The Central Hall has been our home for a long time and it remains our home with our largest footprint, but we felt we needed to have a presence in South Hall as well.

Production and post workflows merge and converge constantly and we need to be knowledgeable in both. The simple fact is that we serve all segments of our industry, not just image acquisition and camera equipment. Our presence in image and data centric workflows has grown leaps and bounds.

This world is a familiar one for you personally.
That’s true. The post and VFX worlds are very dear to me. I was an editor, Flame artist and colorist for 25 years. This background certainly plays a role in expanding our reach and services to these communities. The Studio-B&H team is part of a company-wide effort to grow our presence in these markets. From a business standpoint, the South Hall attendees are also our customers, and we needed to show we are here to assist and support them.

What kind of workflows should people expect to see at both your NAB locations?
At the South Hall, we will show a whole range of solutions to show the breadth and diversity of what we have to offer. That includes VR post workflow, color grading, animation and VFX, editing and high-performance Flash storage.

In addition to the new booth in South Hall, we have two in Central. One is for B&H’s main product offerings, including our camera shootout, which is a pillar of our NAB presence.

This Studio-B&H booth features a digital cinema and broadcast acquisition technology showcase, including hybrid SDI/IP switching, 4K studio cameras, a gyro-stabilized camera car, the most recent full-frame cinema cameras, and our lightweight cable cam, the DynamiCam.

Our other Central Hall location is where our corporate team can discuss all business opportunities with new and existing B2B customers

How has The Studio-B&H changed along with the industry over the past year or two?
We have changed quite a bit. With our services and tools, we have re-invented our image from equipment providers to solution providers.

Our services now range from system design to installation and deployment. One of the more notable recent examples is our recent collaboration with HBO Sports on World Championship Boxing. The Studio-B&H team was instrumental in deploying our DynamiCam system to cover several live fights in different venues and integrating with NEP’s mobile production team. This is part of an entirely new type of service —  something the company had never offered its customers before. It is a true game-changer for our presence in the media and entertainment industry.

What do you expect the “big thing” to be at NAB this year?
That’s hard to say. Markets are in transition with a number of new technology advancements: machine learning and AI, cloud-based environments, momentum for the IP transition, AR/VR, etc.

On the acquisition side, full frame/large sensor cameras have captured a lot of attention. And, of course, HDR will be everywhere. It’s almost not a novelty anymore. If you’re not taking advantage of HDR, you are living in the past.


Frame.io to preview its next-gen collaboration tool at NAB

Frame.io will be at NAB this year previewing its re-engineered workflow management tool, which will have a full release early this summer. This next generation of the company’s media review and collaboration software, the new Frame.io was redesigned with speed in mind.

“When we first launched Frame.io, it was greenfield territory,” explains CEO Emery Wells. “We were able to launch a ton of features very quickly. Last year we assessed that our core infrastructure needed to be rebuilt if we wanted to execute on our very aggressive roadmap. Over the past year, we have been feverishly rebuilding almost the entire application from the ground up. I’d say it’s analogous to replacing railroad tracks right from underneath a speeding train without any the passengers feeling a thing. That work has been going on for about a year, and now Frame.io is sitting on a brand new, very solid and very secure infrastructure. Now with the right foundation, we’ve been able to work much more quickly and get back to the fast and furious shipping cadence of the first two years. The all new Frame.io is just a sneak peek of much much more to come.”

The new offering will be up 100x faster with a new media browser that enables users to search through thousands of assets quickly. New sorting and search options make it easier for users to find exactly what they need in less time. The new uploader can support speeds above 1GB and retains full nested folder structures during upload.

There will also be a revamped core video playback and media experiences for video, audio, images, multi-page PDFs and animated GIFs. The rebuilt core video playback engine means faster/smoother playback with less buffering, at up to 4K resolution.

Range-based comments will unlock a whole new level of communication. Users can drag the comment handle over the timeline to create a range and better reference the underlying content. Users can also see who’s currently watching (live) and who’s already watched with clip history. Clip statistics show you play count, historical views, and even let you set up a notification when a specific person or group of people start viewing.

All in all, Frame.io is adding over 150 additional features and improvements:
• All new apps and integrations for enhanced workflows
• Improved playback performance with HLS and DASH streaming
• Visual watermarking
• Media lifecycle management
• Dozens of security features in support of a commitment to offer the most secure platform available for video review

Last month, Frame.io shipped a completely redesigned player experience that laid the foundation for the new Frame.io and many more features to come. The new player page supports 360-degree VR content with spatial annotations so users can highlight a specific target within the frame. With a design and improved performance on mobile browsers, the player page allows users to an easily add descriptions to files, clearly see what date and version they are working on and collaborate even more quickly with their teams and clients.


Color plays key role in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time

Color itself plays a significant role in the fantasy feature A Wrinkle in Time. To help get the look she wanted, director Ava DuVernay chose Mitch Paulson of Hollywood’s Efilm to handle final color grading — the two worked together on the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Wrinkle, which was shot by Tobias Schliessler, captures the magical feel of lead character Meg’s (Storm Reid) journey through time and space.

The film has several different looks. The rather gloomy appearance of the Meg’s difficult life on earth is contrasted by the incredibly vibrant appearance of the far-off planets she’s taken to by a trio of magical women — played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling.

Paulson recalls DuVernay’s thinking. “Ava talked a bit about The Wizard of Oz, where the early scenes are in black and white and then it goes into color. She didn’t want to take things that far but that informed the overall approach. The parts on Earth at the beginning are somewhat desaturated and depressed looking. Meg lives with her mom because her dad has mysteriously disappeared. She has issues at school and is constantly bullied.”

To fine-tune this idea, Paulson built curves inside of Autodesk Lustre 2017. These were designed to desaturate many colors, particularly blues and greens, without significantly altering skin tones. Then he went through shot-by-shot to refine this even further using Lustre’s Diamond Keyer function to isolate certain colors (such as the blue in a row of school lockers) and further pull out some saturation. “I keyed almost everything,” he says, “grass, skies, water. I’d have at least three to four keys per shot.”

Then, as Meg and friends travel to the other planets, Paulson says, “We did the opposite and used curves and keying to make things brighter and more saturated. As soon as they jump to the first planet, you feel the difference.” He also points out that the time travelers find themselves in a large grassy field — a scene for which he isolated the real green of the New Zealand location and brought the saturation beyond anything we’d be used to seeing in real life.

“By manipulating the chrominance softness and tolerance diamonds of the keyer, you can quickly and easily isolate the color for a key. I find it more effective than an HSL tracker,” he explains. The colorist also finds system’s shapes tool to be very effective. “I use it all the time to isolate a portion of an actor’s face or hair to create a subtle idea of light there that sometimes really help as a final step to making a VFX shot blend perfectly with the background.”

Not all the planets the characters travel to are happy places, and Paulson worked with the filmmakers to create some variations on the color themes. The planet, Camazotz is an evil place, he says. “That’s not obvious at first but we sort of queue it right away by making it look just a bit off. For example, we took almost all the green out of the plants.”

Besides the standard d-cinema version, Paulson also did trim passes for Dolby Cinema 2D, Dolby Cinema 3D (14 foot-lamberts) and standard 3D (3.5 foot-lamberts), each of which requires additional refinement. “Tobias likes the really deep blacks you can get in the Dolby Cinema version, but we didn’t want to push things too far. It’s already so colorful and saturated that when we’d open the files in PQ (Dolby’s Perceptual Quantizer) we pulled a lot of it back so that it has an extra pop, but it still is very similar to the way the P3 version looks.”

Dailies were colored at Efilm by Adrian DeLude on Colorfront OSD. Files were conformed in Autodesk Flame. Deluxe’s Portal service was the tool used by VFX vendors to locate and download camera-original material and upload iterations of shots, which were then integrated onto Paulson’s Lustre timeline as the final grade proceeded.


Video: Red Sparrow colorist David Hussey talks workflow

After film school, and working as an assistant editor, David Hussey found himself drawn to color grading. He then became an assistant to a colorist and his path was set.

In a recent video interview with the now senior colorist at LA’s Company 3, Hussey talks about the differences of coloring a short-form project versus a long-form film and walks us through his workflow on Red Sparrow, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy.

Please watch…


Light Iron opens in Atlanta, targets local film community

In order to support the thriving Georgia production community, post studio Light Iron has opened a new facility in Atlanta. The expansion is the fourth since Panavision acquired Light Iron in 2015, bringing Light Iron’s US locations to six total, including Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Albuquerque and Chicago.

“Light Iron has been supporting Georgia productions for years through our mobile dailies services,” explains CFO Peter Cioni. “Now with a team on the ground, productions can take advantage of our facility-based dailies with talent that brings the finishing perspective into the process.”

Clark Cofer

The company’s Atlanta staff recently provided dailies services to season one of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, season three of Greenleaf and the features Uncle Drew and Superfly.

With a calibrated theater, the Light Iron Atlanta facility has hosted virtual DI sessions from its LA facility for cinematographers working in Atlanta. The theater is also available for projecting camera and lens tests, as well as private screenings for up to 45 guests.

The theater is outfitted with a TVIPS Nevion TBG480, which allows for a full bandwidth 2K signal from either their LA or NY facility for virtual DI sessions. For example, if a cinematographer is working another show in Atlanta, they can still connect with the colorist for the final look of their previous show.

The Light Iron Atlanta dailies team uses Colorfront Express Dailies, which is standard across their facility-based and mobile dailies services worldwide.

Cioni notes that the new location is led by director of business development Clark Cofer, a member of Atlanta’s production and post industry. “Clark brings years of local and state-wide relationships to Light Iron, and we are pleased to have him on our growing team.”

Cofer most recently represented Crawford Media Services, where he drove sales for their renowned content services to companies like Lionsgate, Fox and Marvel. He currently serves as co-president of the Georgia Production Partnership, and is on the board of directors for the DeKalb County Film and Entertainment Advisory Board.


Video: Fotokem DI colorist Walter Volpatto on The Last Jedi and color

 

Last month Blackmagic held its first Expo, and one of the keynote speakers was Fotokem colorist Walter Volpatto. He was born in Italy and grew up on a farm, quite a long way from his current life in Los Angeles.

Volpatto originally got into this industry as a broadcast engineer, but his path continued, and when computers became more a part of this world, he started learning about photography and how computers interact with images.

“I was in the right place at the right moment,” he says. “I was lucky enough to be working with color timers who helped train me and my eye to the color, the image, the feeling and the world they were trying to create. So I was technical first and artistic second and that creates a unique blend.”

And the power of color? Volpatto says, “It’s kind of like when in the 1800s impressionists took over the world of painting; it’s the same now with the colorists. They can create a look that was impossible in-camera, and colorists can now give life to what the camera captured and every shade in between. I’m more on the naturalistic side, but it’s difficult because you have to be able to create what the client wants, but do it in a way that doesn’t step on their photography.”

We were lucky enough to get some quality time with Volpatto — we asked him about his recent high-profile color work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, how he got started as a colorist and more…

 


Oscar-winner Jordan Peele on directing Get Out

By Iain Blair

Get Out, the feature film debut of comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele, is chock full of shocks and surprises. This multi-layered horror film also shocked a lot of people in the industry when it went on to gross over a quarter of a billion dollars — on a $4.5 million budget — making it one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history. But those shocks are nothing compared to the ones Peele and his movie generated when it scooped up four major Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (in a very strong Best Director year, Peele beat out the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Martin McDonagh). He won for Best Original Screenplay.

The writer/director honed his cinematic skills on the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele, which quickly became a television and Internet sensation, earning 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and over 900 million online hits. For his first film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, he assembled a stellar group of collaborators, including director of photography Toby Oliver (Insidious: Chapter 4), production designer Rusty Smith (Meet the Fockers), editor Gregory Plotkin (the Paranormal Activity series), costume designer Nadine Haders (Into the Badlands) and composer Michael Abels.

With the huge critical and commercial success of Get Out, Peele has now joined the big leagues. I recently caught up with Peele who talked about the Oscars, making the film, and his love of post.

This is your directorial movie debut, and it’s not only Oscar-nominated for Best Picture but also for Best Director. Are you still pinching yourself?
Oh yeah, 100 percent! It’s not something I feel I’ll ever get used to. It’s way beyond any expectations I had.

You were also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay, making you only the third person ever — after Warren Beatty and James L. Books — to score that and Best Director, Best Picture nods for your debut film. You realize it’s all downhill from here?
(Laughs) Yeah, I might as well quit making movies now while I’m still ahead, because I’m in big trouble. And that’s pretty ironic as the best award and reward for making my first movie is the fact that I get to make another.

You’re only the fifth African-American filmmaker to earn a Best Director nom and none have won. Is change coming fast enough?
I think change should have come a long time ago, but at least now we see some real progress, with such directors as Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Gary Gray, Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees. It’s this new class of amazing black directors, and people have worked very hard to get to this point, and it’s thanks to all the work of previous filmmakers. What’s blossoming in the industry now is very beautiful, so I’m very hopeful for the future.

When it comes to the Oscars, horror and comedy are two genres that don’t seem to get much respect. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because they’re genres that are typically focused on getting a monetary return, so they get put in that box and are seen as lightweight and movies that are not art — even though there are many examples of elevated horror and elevated comedy that are extremely artistic films. So there’s that stigma. And if people don’t like horror, they just don’t like it, so it’s not a genre that you can expect everyone to want to see, unlike comedy. Everyone pretty much loves comedy, but when people tell me they don’t like horror, I tell them to seek it out, that it won’t scare them that much, and that it might surprise them.

Did you write this thinking, “I want to direct it too?”No, I never planned to direct it, but then about half-way through writing it I realized I was the only person who could actually direct it. I feel that being both the writer and director is easier than not doing both, because they’re done at separate times, so you don’t have to overlap, and then later if you want to change something on set, you know that you’re not missing or mistaking what the writer intended.

What sort of film did you set out to make, because it’s not just a straightforward horror film, is it?
No. I wanted to make a film I’d never seen before. It’s been called many things, and I myself have called it both a horror film and a social thriller. I was aiming at the genre somewhere between Rosemary’s Baby and Scream, so it’s about a lot of things — the way America deals with race and the idea that racism itself is a monster, and that we can’t neglect abuses and just stand by while atrocities happen. So I tried to incorporate a lot of layers and make something people would want to see more than once.

How did you prepare for directing your first film? It’s got to be pretty daunting.
It’s actually terrifying since you don’t know what you don’t know. I talked to everyone I could — Edgar Wright, Ben Affleck, Leigh Whannell, Peter Atencio who did our show and Keanu, and any other director I could — to try and prepare as much as possible.

How was the shoot?
We shot in Mobile, Alabama, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything. It was so hard and so intense. I was very prepared, but then you also have to be open to adapting and making changes, and too much preparation can work against you if you’re not careful.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely loved it, and one big reason is because after so long just imagining what the film might look like, all of a sudden you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, and you’re finally making the film. Post teaches you so much about what the film is meant to be and what it wants to be.

Where did you edit and post this?
At Blumhouse in LA.

Tell us about working with editor Gregory Plotkin, who cut most of the Paranormal Activity franchise for Paramount and Blumhouse Productions.
He’s a very accomplished editor and a real horror fan like me, so we bonded immediately over that. He could break down the script and all my influences from Hitchcock and Kubrick to Spielberg and Jonathan Demme. He did his pass and then I came in and did my director’s pass, and then we went over it all with a fine-tooth comb, tightening scenes up and so on and focusing on pace and timing, which are crucial in horror and comedy.

Is it true you shot multiple endings for the film? How did you decide on the right one?
We actually shot two, and the first one was not a happy one. When we edited it all together we realized it wasn’t working for an audience. They thought it was a downer, and then I realized it needed a hero and a happy ending instead, so that after going through all the stress, the audience could come out happy. So we asked for more money and went off and did a reshoot of the ending, which added another layer and worked far better.

Sound and music are so important in horror. Can you talk about that?
I look at it as at least half the movie since you can scare audiences so much with just clever sound design. I paid a lot of attention to it during the writing process, and then once we got into post it all became a very meticulous process. We were careful not to overdo all the sound design. We did it all at Wildfire, and they are such pros and were up for trying anything. They really understood my vision.

Can you talk about the VFX?
Ingenuity Studios did them and the big one was creating “The Sunken Place,” and it was tricky to do it as we didn’t have a bearing on this world apart from what I’d originally imagined. There was no up or down. Should the camera be fixed or floating? In the end, we shot Daniel Kaluuya against a black background on cables, and then Gregory played around in the Avid a lot, resizing the image. Then we added some CG stuff to give it that sort of underwater feel. We had a bunch of other shots, like the car hitting the deer and the father being impaled on the deer horns, which was all CGI.

Who was the colorist, and where did you do the DI?
It was all at Blumhouse, with Aidan Stanford, and I was pretty involved. It was tricky, and you can quickly go overboard with color, but the DP, Toby, did such a great job on the shoot that we mainly just tried to match his original color and not push it too far.

I assume you can’t wait to direct again?
Oh yeah! There’s nothing more fun. It’s the biggest artistic collaboration I can imagine, with all these moving parts, and I loved every minute of it.

What’s next?
I’m working on another screenplay, which I’ll direct for Universal. I just love Hitchcockian thrillers, so I’m staying in the same genre and zone.


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.

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 on 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.