Category Archives: Collaboration

Behind the Title: Prism director Nick Spooner

NAME: Nick Spooner

COMPANY: Brooklyn-based Prism

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Prism is a production company and creative studio, with the ability to tell brand-building stories across the full spectrum of disciplines. From traditional commercial and branded content to emerging technologies, interactive live experiences and installations.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I basically make product-driven stories to help cheer up sad consumers. Whatever the ratio, format or platform.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That the Director’s Guild doesn’t supply us with personalized monocles and jodhpurs!

It’s far less glamorous than you might think. There’s a ton of work – on spec – that’s required to just win a job in the first place. If you do get the gig, every project then requires an intense focus and attention to detail, with an increasingly short amount of time for production. And a large part of that time is spent accommodating many different opinions, personalities and expectations, all in the interest of making an effective, funny commercial.

Directors are not alone in the process of making content of any kind, and I think that’s where some encounter difficulties, when they aren’t comfortable with the necessary, collaborative side of the business. You might be a great director, but if you can’t handle the “people” aspect of making commercials, you won’t last very long. But that’s just my take on it. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
My favorite part of the job is when a take cracks up the crew. That’s when you know you’ve got something good.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
About 15 minutes after wrap, when the afterglow begins to subside.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d probably be a P.A. trying to figure out how to get this job.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I acted in local commercials as a kid, and everyone on the set seemed to be having a good time. I pretty much knew then that I wanted in.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
The personalized monocles and jodhpurs. Imagine my disappointment when neither were forthcoming.

Nick Spooner directed the sci-fi/thriller short, The Call of Charlie.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
Every job presents a new creative and production puzzle, and I love solving them. For me, being on the set – especially when working with actors — provides a performance-based adrenaline rush that’s like playing onstage in a hardcore band, or acting in a live theatrical performance (both of which I’ve done). It’s addictive.

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
That is actually both the best and worst part of the business. If you’ve been doing it a while, you accumulate a roster of great talent — actors, DPs, production designers, casting directors, grips, gaffers, stylists and so on — who you value as professionals and like as people.

The downside is you can’t hire everyone on every job, which can lead to a lot of people having The Sadz. It’s a bummer. And then there are always new folks you want to work with. But if it’s any consolation, the same exact thing happens to directors with agencies.

Every project starts with getting the right DP on board, and his or her go-to keys. Depending upon what city or country we’re in, I then have my favorite crewmembers and production people I like to work with — having shared production experience with crew always saves time and energy on the set. I always work with the same few line producers — they know what I like and don’t like, and I think the ones I work with are the best in the business. As for actors, I prefer to work with new people on every shoot to keep things fresh — recurring ensemble casts for every project only works if you’re Christopher Guest.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I did a fun campaign for CarGurus that’s been airing like crazy, and a recent North Carolina Lottery spot, which is a parody of Home Shopping Network programs — that one was especially fun because it’s presented in a distinctly “non-commercial” form, as if we accidentally switched channels. It’s very odd. Both projects had great casts, which always makes for a fun shoot.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Usually, I say the one that just wrapped but in general I take a lot of pride in making funny commercials that successfully do what they’re supposed to do: sell a product or promote a brand.

I did a Tide commercial (Princess Dress) that was supposed to run for one cycle more than five years ago, and it’s still airing all over the place. It just won’t go away. And there is the CarGurus campaign I did that helped the company launch Boston’s first tech IPO of 2017 – I don’t understand what any of that means, but I’ve been told it’s a big deal.

Non-commercially, I did a dark comedy based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, which has played in 84 festivals around the world and won more than 40 awards. That’s been pleasantly humblebraggy. Last year I directed my first short film called The Call of Charlie.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Netflix, my laptop, and my robot spouse.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Wait…I’m allowed to do that?

Richard Linklater on directing the film Last Flag Flying

By Iain Blair

Director Richard Linklater first made a name for himself back in 1991 with the acclaimed and influential independent release Slacker, an experimental narrative revolving around 24 hours in the lives of 100 characters. Since then he’s made the beloved Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise; Before Sunset, (he got an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay) and Boyhood (which received multiple BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards, and an Oscar for actress Patricia Arquette).

He’s also directed such diverse films as the Western/gangster picture The Newton Boys, the animated feature Waking Life, the real-time drama Tape, the comedy School of Rock and Everybody Wants Some!!

L-R: Iain Blair and Richard Linklater

His new film is the timely Last Flag Flying, which deals with war, patriotism and friendship. Set in 2003, it tells the story of three soldiers — former Navy Corps medic Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) and former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) — who reunite 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.

Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with author Darryl Ponicsan, who wrote his novel Last Flag Flying as a sequel to his book The Last Detail, which was made into the acclaimed 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson.

I spoke with Linklater —whose other film credits include Suburbia, Bad News Bears (the 2005 version), A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation, Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, Me and Orson Welles, Bernie and Before Midnight — about making the film, which is getting awards buzz, and why his image as a loose, improv-heavy director is so inaccurate.

Is it fair to say this is not a war movie, but it’s about war?
Yes, I think that’s right. It’s my kind of war movie. It’s not a battlefield movie but about the effects of war — that sub-category about what happens when the war comes home and how the combat survivors deal with it.

My dad was in the navy in WW11 but he never talked about the war and his experiences.
Exactly. My dad was the same. Very stoic. They just held it all in. Now it’s even worse, I feel. The suicide rate among returning vets is so high today, and the big problem is the way the service breaks you down and trains you, but then they don’t really put you back together. When you’re done, the killing machine goes home, and you’re taught to be stoic and be a man, and you’re left with nothing. To me that’s so tragic. We should talk about it. And all these issues, along with all of the wars since Vietnam, are the subtext to this whole story. War is such a political minefield today.

Is it true you started to make a film of this a decade ago?
Yes, I tried to adapt the book, but I’m glad it didn’t happen back then. It wasn’t meant to be, and no one was really ready to deal with the war in Iraq. It takes a while to want to analyze a war and get a perspective. A little distance is very helpful.

You’ve got three great leads. What did they bring to it?
Everything — all of their intelligence, humor, experience and work ethic. They really dug in, and we spent a couple of weeks rehearsing and really talking about all the issues. Each character is very different, and the guys really found them and jumped in. The biggest contrast is probably between Sal and Doc. Sal is the life of the party type, clearly self-medicating, always talking, eating, drinking, while Doc’s very low-key and quiet. Then Mueller’s somewhere in the middle.

Technology has changed a lot since you started, with the whole digital revolution, but you still like to shoot on film? Was that the case with this one?
We shot Boyhood all on film, but we did this digitally. It was just more practical, and I think now you can get any look you want with digital. It’s pretty impossible to tell the difference between film and digital now. But I don’t think film’s dead, although economically it’s changed, obviously, but I don’t think it’s going away. I hope we always have it as a choice. Digital’s just one more tool.

Where did you do the post?
We posted in my offices in Austin, as usual, and we began cutting while I shot.

Do you like post?
I love post and all the stuff you can do to shape your film, but I actually feel the most creative in rehearsal and then shooting. That’s when I feel like I’m really making the film. I don’t feel like I’ve ever “found” the film in the edit and post, like some directors do. There’s a certain schematic at work that I’m trying to follow. I know certain kinds of films have to be deconstructed and then reconstructed in post, but mine aren’t like that. It sounds boring but I do all that in advance. I’m a big preparer.

So you’re not the big improv, loose guy people like to think you are?
(Laughs) No, no. I prepare everything. And with experience you just know what you’re going to shoot and actually use.

The film was edited by your longtime collaborator Sandra Adair. Tell us about that relationship and how it works.
She doesn’t need to be on set and we just send dailies and then we talk a bit. I don’t usually shoot more than necessary, as I tend to have pretty limited budgets and schedules. I usually have a fairly good cut done about a month into post. I used to cut my own stuff when I began, like all filmmakers, and then she cut Dazed and Confused for me 24 years ago and we’ve been a team ever since.

Linklater on set.

I think we share the same brain at this point, a certain shorthand; we have great chemistry, and she’s just really good. She can just look at the footage and know what I’m thinking. I don’t have to explain it. The big challenge on this was finding the right balance between all the heavy drama and then the moments of comedy, and keeping that tonal balance all the way down the line. So in the edit you go, “This is a bit dialogue-heavy, let’s cut to the joke,” and “this is redundant,” and so on. The re-writing never stops.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
A few hundred, all done by Savage VFX who’re in LA and (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania, where we shot — mainly greenscreen, train stuff, compositing, clean-up and so on. Hopefully, you don’t notice them at all.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
It’s always been huge to me, and a couple of the songs — “Not Dark Yet” by Bob Dylan, and “Wide River to Cross” by Levon Helm — are so important. Big choices, with the Levon Helm song at the graveside, and Dylan at the very end. Again, it’s a tonal thing. There aren’t that many songs, but they’re all crucial, like the Eminem song “Without Me” and its humor.

Graham Reynolds, who’s done the score for a lot of my films, composed a beautiful score and I probably used it in places I usually wouldn’t because I felt the story needed it emotionally, and I wanted to give more clues in that area, and carry things through more.

The film has a very bleak look. Talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Light Iron with colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz (using Quantel Rio), and that bleak, rainy look was baked into the whole thing and started at the conceptual level — “We’re never going to see sunlight.” We’re going to have a lot of rain, grungy locations and a sort of texture and tone that’s fundamental to telling this story. Corinne did a great job, especially in the scenes where nature didn’t give us what we wanted. (From Corinne: “The movie was shot beautifully by Shane Kelly, who conveyed in the DI that the visuals needed to emphasize cool and dark tones.  At the same time, we worked to maintain a naturalistic feel throughout.”)

What’s next?

I’m in the middle of post on my next film, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, a comedy-drama starring Cate Blanchett, out next year. And I have a big TV project that began as a film, a huge, sprawling historical thing. TV is now this really viable medium for filmmakers.


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.

Dell 6.15

Kevin Tent, ACE, on directorial debut Crash Pad and editing Downsizing

By Randi Altman

To say that Kevin Tent, ACE, is a prolific editor is in no way hyperbole. He has cut some of the most celebrated films of the last few years as a frequent collaborator of director Alexander Payne. They worked together on seven films, including Paramount’s upcoming Downsizing, as well as About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska (for which Tent earned an Oscar nom). Other editing credits include Blow, Girl Interrupted and The Golden Compass.

Not long ago, Tent left his dark editing room to step behind the camera for his directorial debut — the indie comedy Crash Pad, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Hayden Church, Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrev. Not too shabby a cast. Oh, and it’s funny. Even when not laughing, I found myself smiling.

Kevin Tent (left) on set.

While Tent isn’t going to shut down his Avid Media Composer anytime soon, he did enjoy the challenge and experience of taking the helm of a film. Crash Pad had a run of about a half dozen film festivals, was in theaters for a limited release and is available for digital rental. It comes out on DVD December 5, just in time to be a stocking stuffer.

Ok, let’s dig in with Tent, first about Crash Pad and then about editing Alexander Payne’s latest, Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig and Christoph Waltz, among othersOh, and when you are done with this piece, check out our interview with Tent about cutting Nebraska.

Is directing something you always wanted to do, and how did you decide on this film to direct?
It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a few years, but I’ve been so busy editing that I put it on the back burner. Finally, I just decided if I was going to try to do it, I should do it sooner than later, because I’m not getting any younger (laughs). I looked around for a comedy script, and I found Jeremy Catalino’s Crash Pad, which was really funny and kind of a backwards-romantic comedy. It took us a few years, but we finally got it made.

Why that long?
I’d be editing a film and that would take nine months or so, and then I’d have a month off, and think, “Oh, now I’ll try to get this movie made,” but it doesn’t work that way. It takes a long, concerted effort. When Downsizing got pushed for a year to wait for Matt Damon’s availability I thought… this was my chance. I was fortunate enough to get Bill Horberg on as a producer, and once that happened he got the ball rolling.

You have a pretty fantastic cast, including Thomas Hayden Church, who was in Sideways, which you edited. How did all of that come about?
The first character we wanted to cast was Stensland, and we were so lucky because we really wanted Domhnall Gleeson. He hadn’t done very many comedies but I had seen him in About Time and thought he’d be great. Lucky for us he said yes. Once he joined us, then we had to get the character of Grady. Because I knew Thomas from Sideways, he did us a favor and joined the team. He and Domhnall got along great; their chemistry worked both on screen and off-screen.

Then fortunately the beautiful and talented Nina Dobrev, who was looking to do something comedic, joined us. The last person to join was Christina Applegate. We were incredibly lucky to get this great cast on a very small movie, and for a first-time director.

What did you shoot on?
We used an Arri Alexa with old Panavision anamorphic “B” and “D” series lenses. Seamus Tierney our DP was so excited about our camera package. He promised the film would look great and beautiful, and he was right. I think the Alexa worked really well with our 23-day schedule, and how fast we had to move.

As you were directing, were you able to take off your editor’s cap, or were you editing in your head during the shoot?
I did know I needed to get coverage, and I was always thinking, “If this scene is terrible or doesn’t work, I can cut out there, or come in here.” Editors are good at figuring a way out of something if you’re in a jam. There was comfort in knowing if this scene doesn’t work at all, we’ll figure out some way around it.

Franco Ponte was my editor, and he was editing scenes and the movie while we were shooting. He was phenomenal.

L-R: Kevin Tent and Crash Pad editor Franco Ponte.

Did you learn how to direct by editing?
It didn’t really work that way. Directing requires a bunch of different skill sets — I was amazed at how different and difficult it was, how much I didn’t know and how much I learned. If I ever get a chance to do it again, I think I would be much better at it.

The film set is all pretty hectic. A cutting room is nice and quiet. You’ve got your footage, and you watch a take a number of times and then make your decisions. On the set, there’s a sort of controlled mayhem. You do a take, and then 20 people turn around and ask, “Well, what do you think? Good?” And you’re like, “I have no idea. I’m not quite sure, let’s go again.” It’s all-pretty crazy.

It must have been a little intimidating for your editor, Franco Ponte. How did you choose him, and how did that relationship work?
He was my assistant editor more than 10 years ago on a film I did up in Canada, and he has since become an editor. He’s very smart, articulate and was always very supportive. We approached the film in a traditional way. He did an assembly and then we started recutting scenes and the whole movie. I did a little cutting on my own; we would trade scenes back and forth till we were both happy with them.

He did some of my favorite cuts in the movie — things that I would have never thought of. I was very lucky to have him.

How did you work together to enhance the comedy with the edit?
It was always my intent — and I told the actors, too — to think of it as a kind of 1940’s screwball comedy. Comedies back then were not only smart and well written but also seemed loose and free. Never taking themselves too seriously. We cut it that way, too. The pace is pretty quick. There’s not a lot of air between jokes; we didn’t wait for laughs. We just kept cutting to the next line or joke.

What about the DI? How involved were you in that part of the process?
I was involved. It was done up at Encore in Vancouver. Our colorist was Thor Roos who did a terrific job. Seamus got to chime in and make adjustments from down here in LA. He’s always so busy shooting, but we were able to get him for an afternoon.

What kind of directive did you give to Seamus, initially, and to those working on the DI in terms of the look?
We wanted it to look rich, colorful and poppy. That was something we had talked about in pre-production since a lot of it takes place in a dingy apartment. So whenever given the chance — when we were outside or in a club or someplace — we tried to give it some visual dynamics with color and that kind of thing. I think it looks pretty good, especially considering our short shooting schedule.

It almost felt like it was taking place in a different time.
I’ve heard that before. I actually think the reason for that, possibly, is because ofthe lenses we used. Those are old and very cool lenses, so maybe they added more to the quality of it feeling dated. That wasn’t our intent, but it didn’t seem to hurt!

What was your favorite part of directing?
Watching a scene with an audience and hearing them laugh. That’s when you know it all worked. It was also a lot of fun to be on the set with the actors and the crew. Thomas and Domhnall had the crew laughing all the time. It was really hard, but it was really great to work closely with these people who came in and kicked ass for a couple of weeks on this movie.

You have such a great relationship with Alexander Payne, did you ask him for any directing tips?
He’s the best. He was so supportive, and it wasn’t so much the technical stuff, like, “Don’t forget to do this or that.” He never really said too much about that, but he always wanted to see how the days were going. It was great to know that some of the things he goes through I was going through as well, and that I wasn’t alone. That was really comforting. He was always there for me, and, of course, he was there looking at cuts and stuff like that.

Will you try it again?
I would try it again if I could find the right project, because it is a huge commitment. It’s going to take a couple of years of your life, and you’ve got to make sure that’s something you really want to do. I’m starting to think about it now that Crash Pad is running its course and coming out.

CUTTING DOWNSIZING
Let’s switch gears and talk about editing Downsizing for Alexander Payne.

This is your seventh film with Alexander. How does that relationship work, and do you typically keep up with camera?
Yes, I was cutting as they were shooting. I also had an overlap while finishing Crash Pad, so Joe Bini helped with assembling some of the movie. But our typical process now is that when Alexander comes back from shooting we basically start from scratch on the movie. We watch dailies together and do a first-pass director’s cut. Then, we’ll go back and look at things from my first assembly and compare the cuts.

That’s basically how we have been working since the end of About Schmidt, where he didn’t really want to watch an editor’s assembly. He wanted to just start cutting.

What are the benefits of that? Just a clean slate kind of thing?
Yes, it’s a clean slate, and it’s also a long enough period of time where he has some perspective on the footage and he remembers what they shot on the set. He remembers what he liked then, but he likes to look at it all again fresh. Our first pass together is almost like an editor’s assembly, but it’s a really good one.

Also, we get right in that stage where we start dropping lines, we start talking about maybe we should move this here, or we should come into the scene at this point. We start talking about what we’ll do on future passes of the movie as well.

This process takes a little more time, but Alexander is established enough where he can get a few extra weeks on his director’s cut if he needs it. We take it from there, and then we get into the real nitty-gritty of editing. It’s slightly unorthodox compared to how other people cut, but that’s how we’ve been doing it for the last few years.

Well, it seems to have worked.
Yeah, I think our first cuts are pretty good. Even if the first cut’s not great, we already know what we’re going to do on subsequent passes.

I’m assuming you worked with Media Composer on this one as well?
We did. Don’t leave home without it is what I always say.

Do any scenes stand out as your favorite?
There is a big sequence where the downsizing happens, and that is one of my favorites. It’s choreographed beautifully. The acting is great. The photography is great. The production design is great. It cuts like butter. We originally cut it to Bolero, which was in the movie until the very end, and it worked great. The long, long build-up climaxed at the reveal of the downsized patients. Composer Rolfe Kent’s greatest challenge was to beat Bolero, and he did. He totally nailed it.

I also love the scene with Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. We called it “The Tiny House” scene while in the cutting room. Those two are terrific in it.

Anything else about Downsizing that you would like to add?
I think it’s a pretty wild and crazy movie, funny, unexpected and original. Alexander really pushed himself to make something different, unique and unusual. but, it still has the same themes and sentiment that a lot of his other movies have. I think it asks us – what are we doing here on this planet? What does it mean to be human? What is this human experience all about? And it does all this through humor and pathos. It really is an Alexander Payne movie in the end.

I hope that people see Downsizing and they like it. I hope that people see Crash Pad and they like it. I think … it’s all I could hope for.


Color plays big role in director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project

Director Sean Baker is drawing wide praise for his realistic portrait of life on the fringe in America in his new film The Florida Project. Baker applies a light touch to the story of a precocious six-year-old girl living in the shadow of Disney World, giving it the feel of a slice-of-life documentary. That quality is carried through in the film’s natural look. Where Baker shot his previous film, Tangerine, entirely with an iPhone, The Florida Project was recorded almost wholly on anamorphic 35mm film by cinematographer Alexis Zabe.

Sam Daley

Post finishing for the film was completed at Technicolor PostWorks New York, which called on a traditional digital intermediate workflow to accommodate Baker’s vision. The work began with scanning the 35mm negative to 2K digital files for dailies and editorial. It ended months later with rescanning at 4K and 6K resolution, editorial conforming and color grading in the facility’s 4K DI theater. Senior colorist Sam Daley applied the final grade via Blackmagic Resolve v.12.5.

Shooting on film was a perfect choice, according to Daley, as it allowed Baker and Zabe to capture the stark contrasts of life in Central Florida. “I lived in Florida for six years, so I’m familiar with the intensity of light and how it affects color,” says Daley. “Pastels are prominent in the Florida color palette because of the way the sun bleaches paint.”

He adds that Zabe used Kodak Vision3 50D and 250D stock for daylight scenes shot in the hot Florida sun, noting, “The slower stock provided a rich color canvas, so much so, that at times we de-emphasized the greenery so it didn’t feel hyper real.”

The film’s principal location is a rundown motel, ironically named the Magic Castle. It does not share the sun-bleached look of other businesses and housing complexes in the area as it has been freshly painted a garish shade of purple.

Baker asked Daley to highlight such contrasts in the grade, but to do so subtly. “There are many colorful locations in the movie,” Daley says. “The tourist traps you see along the highway in Kissimmee are brightly colored. Blue skies and beautiful sunsets appear throughout the film. But it was imperative not to allow the bright colors in the background to distract from the characters in the foreground. The very first instruction that I got from Sean was to make it look real, then dial it up a notch.”

Mixing Film and Digital for Night Shots
To make use of available light, nighttime scenes were not shot on film, but rather were captured digitally on an Arri Alexa. Working in concert with color scientists from Technicolor PostWorks New York and Technicolor Hollywood, Daley helmed a novel workflow to make the digital material blend with scenes that were film-original. He first “pre-graded” the digital shots and then sent them to Technicolor Hollywood where they were recorded out to film. After processing at FotoKem, the film outs were returned to Technicolor Hollywood and scanned to 4K digital files. Those files were rushed back to New York via Technicolor’s Production Network where Daley then dropped them into his timeline for final color grading. The result of the complex process was to give the digitally acquired material a natural film color and grain structure.

“It would have been simpler to fly the digitally captured scenes into my timeline and put on a film LUT and grain FX,” explains Daley, “but Sean wanted everything to have a film element. So, we had to rethink the workflow and come up with a different way to make digital material integrate with beautifully shot film. The process involved several steps, but it allowed us to meet Sean’s desire for a complete film DI.”

Calling on iPhone for One Scene
A scene near the end of the film was, for narrative reasons, captured with an iPhone. Daley explains that, although intended to stand out from the rest of the film, the sequence couldn’t appear so different that it shocked the audience. “The switch from 4K scanned film material to iPhone footage happens via a hard cut,” he explains. “But it needed to feel like it was part of the same movie. That was a challenge because the characteristics of Kodak motion picture stock are quite different from an iPhone.”

The iPhone material was put through the same process as the Alexa footage; it was pre-graded, recorded out to film and scanned back to digital. “The grain helps tie it to the rest of the movie,” reports Daley. “And the grain that you see is real; it’s from the negative that the scene was recorded out to. There are no artificial looks and nothing gimmicky about any of the looks in this film.”

The apparent lack of artifice is, in fact, one of the film’s great strengths. Daley notes that even a rainbow that appears in a key moment was captured naturally. “It’s a beautiful movie,” says Daley. “It’s wonderfully directed, photographed and edited. I was very fortunate to be able to add my touch to the imagery that Sean and Alexis captured so beautifully.”


Detroit editors William Goldenberg, ACE, and Harry Yoon

By Chris Visser

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is not an easy film to watch. It deals with some very ugly moments in our nation’s history — specifically, Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot — and the challenge of adapting that history into a narrative feature film was no easy task. What do you show? What perspective do you give space to, and which ones do you avoid?

I sat down to talk to William “Billy” Goldenberg, ACE, and Harry Yoon, the editors of the film Detroit, to tackle these and other questions related to the film and their careers.

Billy Goldenberg

First, here are some details about the edit: Detroit was cut on Avid Media Composer 8.5.3 using an ISIS 5000 shared storage solution. The film was shot on Alexa Mini in ArriRaw. Dailies were delivered at DNX36 and then swapped for identical DNX115 media at the end of each production week.

In addition to Goldenberg and Yoon, other members of the Detroit editorial team were additional editor Brett Reed, VFX editor Justin Yates, first assistant editor Peter Dudgeon and apprentice editor Jun Kim. The film will be available digitally on November 28 and on DVD/Blu-Ray December 12.

Ok, let’s dig in…

How did this project come about?
Billy: Kathryn called to meet several months before the project started shooting. She sent me the script, but it soon became clear that I wouldn’t be able to start the film because I was still finishing Ben Affleck’s Live by Night. Kathryn said, “Look, let’s bring another editor on until you’re available, and then both of you can finish together.”

I thought of Harry because he had done some great work on The Newsroom, he knew Kathryn, and I knew he was a smart and talented guy. I ran it by Kathryn and she thought it was a great idea. So Harry was able to start the film.

At the beginning, half of the time I was at an editing room for Live by Night down the hall from the editing room for Detroit. I would sort of run back and forth throughout the day cutting and doing the stuff for both films. We did that for two months, and then I came onto Detroit full time. We did the rest of it together up until the end of the director’s cut. I finished the film from there.

Harry Yoon

How did you guys approach tackling the project together?
Harry: We had our key assistant Peter Dudgeon — who had worked in Billy’s cutting room on Live by Night and on a couple of other projects — there to prep dailies for Billy. It was fortunate because the way Billy likes to organize his bins and media is very, very akin to what I like as well.

In the mornings we would get dailies, and Billy and I would talk about who would take different scenes. Sometimes Billy wanted to really work on a particular sequence. Sometimes, I did. We would split scenes in the morning, and then go off and do our work. In the evening we’d come back together. This was my favorite part of the day because we would watch each other’s scenes. I would learn so much by seeing what he’d done and how he would approach the material. Getting critique and feedback from someone like Billy was like a master class for me.

I was also impressed that as Billy was working, he would ask the opinion of not just me, but the assistant as well. To have somebody be so transparent in his process was not only incredibly instructive personally, but really helped us to have a consistent style and approach to the material as we were working day by day. That consistent approach is apparent, especially during the entire Algiers Motel sequence in the film. It was one of the most visceral and emotionally draining things I’ve ever seen.

When I saw the film for a second time, I timed that sequence at 42 minutes. Seeing it the first time, I remember thinking that the sequence felt realtime. It felt like you were living through 42 minutes of these people’s lives. How did you approach something of that magnitude?
Billy: They shot that in sequence order, for the most part, for about three weeks. But they did shoot sections at a time that ultimately had to be mixed together. We got everything cut individually and then sat down together and decided how to work all the simultaneous action. We used the benefit of having two heads as opposed to one and talked about where things should be. What we would see and what we wouldn’t see. How to make this all feel simultaneous, but at a certain point, it’s just a feel thing.

Harry: One of the interesting challenges of this segment was that because Kathryn was shooting in realtime, and because the annex building was an actual building — it wasn’t a stage — camera people would be positioned in areas of overlapping action because Kathryn really wanted to make sure that the actors were in the moment every step of the way.

We would often finish a scene but then get new material for that scene that we could mine for better moments. Or, it might make sense to use the new coverage instead of the coverage from the day before to better show which character was where at what time. It was like having a puzzle and you would keep getting new pieces for the puzzle every day. It was definitely difficult, especially as the scene started to take shape. It was impossible not to feel a kind of resonance with everyday events that we were seeing on the news or on YouTube. I think it was tough to grapple with, but at the same time incredibly motivating for both Billy and Kathy and I — really everybody involved with the project — to say, “We have to get this right.” But, also, you’re adapting history. This is historical fiction; it’s not a documentary.

At the end of the film it says, “No one knows fully what happened. This has been pieced together through testimonials and interviews.”
Billy: I don’t know that I’m objective about what happened, obviously, but I did feel like I was just trying to portray the events as they occurred. And, Kathryn and Mark [Boal, Detroit’s screenwriter] did extensive research. They had police reports and ballistic reports, and this is what happened to the best of anybody’s recollection.

I tried to tell it as it happened and not bring my own feelings to it. We wanted people to experience that hallway sequence and the film, as a whole, in a way so they could draw their own conclusions. Let the audience experience it and understand this is why attention needs to be paid to this kind of violence.

Harry: Our conversations with Kathryn were critical throughout that process. She and Mark did extensive interviews with eyewitnesses. So, I think she was relying upon them for some of the factual elements, or at least what they remembered. But, I think any time where there was some ambiguity we tried to be true to that to a certain extent. We checked in with her about what to show and what not to show through that process.
As Billy said, what we didn’t want was to try to be manipulative for cinematic effect. The nature of events were so tragic and so brutal that it was still a very difficult thing to go through. Even though we tried to be as measured as possible while we were putting it together, it was a tough balancing act.

What kind of prep work was involved in this for you?
Billy: A lot of movies in my career are based on true events and true stories. With the first couple, I did a tremendous amount of research, and it seemed to get me into a little bit of trouble. I would start to think, “Well, it really happened like this, or it really went like that. How come we’re not using this part of the book or that part of the book?” It took my mind away from the story we were telling. So, I’ve learned over the years to do just enough research to where I feel like I have an understanding of the subject at that time in history.

But with the specific events of the Algiers, because they’re disputed somewhat, I tried to learn as much as I could about that time in history in 1967. What was happening in the country, and how we got there. In terms of the specific events, I tried not to learn too much. I relied on Kathryn and Mark’s research to have gotten it as close as they could get it. It’s not a documentary, I was still trying to tell the story. It’s a little bit of a balancing act in these types of movies.

Harry: I agree with Billy, it’s best to not focus on research for the particular story at hand, but to understand the context. One thing that impacted our editorial process was we received several reels of stock footage from the Michigan Film Archive. It was a lot of news footage from that time — aerials of fires, street-level shots of the National Guard stopping people, store fronts and things like that. That was really inspiring to see because it just felt so real in the feel of things and felt very of the moment. This led us into an additional hunt for material that took us through YouTube and a lot of period films, including documentaries that were done either during or right after the rebellion that focused on questions of, “How did this happen?”

It was a really wonderful way to sort of deep dive into that moment. We actually ended up using some footage from those documentaries throughout the film. Not just adding original film from the archives, but using it as source material as well. It was a great way for us to sort of hear the voices and see the footage of the time versus through the distance of history.

Let’s pivot away from the film a little bit. Let’s talk about mentorship. What does it mean to you? How has both being a mentor and a mentee been beneficial for your careers?
Billy: I assisted Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg’s editor, for four years. To say that he was my mentor is sort of short-changing it. He was like my graduate professor. Being his first assistant, taught me almost everything that I needed to know about editing and how to be an editor. Obviously, he couldn’t give me talent, but he made me realize I had talent. At least he thought I did. He taught me how to handle myself politically, how to take criticism and how to approach scenes. If it wasn’t for his mentorship, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am right now.

He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I’ve in turn tried to help others. Brett Reed has been with me for 17 years. He started out as my PA and has been my first assistant for about 11 years. He just got his first job as a film editor, so I’m losing him. I hope that I’ve done for him what Michael did for me.

At the end of my assistant career with Michael, he called up Phil Gersh of the Gersh Agency and said, “You know, you should sign this guy. He’s going to be a really talented editor.” He signed me when I was still an assistant. I was able to do the same thing for Brett at ICM. They signed him without him ever having cut a film. It makes me so happy that I was able to do something for somebody that worked so hard and deserved it. Brett made my editing better. He’s smart and he was able to be a bit more objective sometimes since he wasn’t the one working with the footage all day long.

The people I have working for me are really good at running the room and prepping the dailies, But I also picked them because they have a lot of creative talent and they help me. Harry touched on it earlier about me having the generosity of having other people in the room. Well, it’s a little generosity, but it’s also a lot that I value their opinions and it makes my editing better to hear other smart, talented people’s opinions. It really is a give-and-take relationship I don’t think that there’s ever been a more important relationship in my professional life than the editor/assistant mentorship one.

Harry: After a couple of years working here in LA, I was lucky enough to be part of a mentorship program called, “Project Involve” at Film Independent. I was paired up with Stephen Mirrione. To be able to speak to someone of his level and with his dedication to the craft — and his understanding of not just the hard skills of editing but also the people skills — was an amazing introduction. It gave me a very vivid picture of the kind of things that I needed to learn in order to get to that place. And consistently through my career, I’ve been given timely, incredible advice from people that I’ve sought out to be my mentors, including Troy Takaki and Lisa Lassek and, most recently, Billy. We worked as colleagues, but he modeled every day.

So much of what you don’t know is the soft skills. You can be a good editor in front of your Avid, or whatever system, but so much of what determines success is how you are in a room… your people skills, your work ethic.  Understanding when to speak and when not to. When is it appropriate for you to give a note? How to read the dynamic going on in a particular room. These are things that are probably as critical or more critical than whether or not you can make a good cut.

I could listen to you guys talk all day, but I want to be respectful of your time. Anything you want to leave our audience with?
Billy: I know this sounds cheesy, but I think it’s how lucky I feel getting to work with someone like Kathryn on Detroit. Or to work with some of the directors I’ve gotten to work with, and I put Katherine at the top of that list.  I can’t believe how fortunate I have been to have the career that I have.

Harry: What that speaks to in relation to Detroit is what I’ve seen consistently in the people that I’ve been mentored by, and whose careers I’ve most admired — how important it is to continue to love the craft. I find it inspiring and endlessly fascinating. What I see in people is they’re motivated by this sense that there’s always more to learn. The sequence could always be better. The scene can always be better. That’s something that I definitely saw in Billy through this process.


Chris Visser is a Wisconsin kid who works and lives in LA. He’s currently an assistant editor in scripted TV, as well as the VP of BCPCWest, the Los Angeles-based chapter of the Blue Collar Post Collective. You can find him on Twitter (@chrisvisser)


Frame.io and Pond5 partner to make choosing stock easier

Frame.io, which makes workflow management platforms for video teams, and Pond5, a marketplace for royalty-free HD, 4K video and rich media assets, have teamed up to deliver a deep integration between the Frame.io platform and the Pond5 marketplace. As a result of this partnership, video pros can access the Pond5 marketplace directly within Frame.io and send video clips directly from Pond5, fast-tracking the selection, approval and distribution process.

“Getting agreement on the right asset can feel like finding ‘The One,’ requiring significant collaboration and input from many stakeholders,” says Emery Wells, co-founder/CEO of Frame.io. “This partnership makes that process easier.”

With Frame.io as the command center for all video projects, video pros can import any creative asset from their Pond5 collections in just two clicks. Team members can provide feedback in one central hub, leaving timestamped comments and annotations directly on assets, and helping to quickly narrow choices while keeping the whole team in the loop. The bilateral integration means creatives can export any clip into Frame.io for consideration when browsing Pond5, with no trail of links to follow or retrace.

Once the team has decided on an asset from Pond5’s collection, the high-res purchased file can be sent directly to Frame.io, keeping everything centrally organized and accessible. Editors on the project have instant access to the asset in Adobe Premiere Pro CC for a seamless handoff.


Fear the Walking Dead: Encore colorist teams with DPs for parched look

The action of AMC’s zombie-infused Fear the Walking Dead this season is set in a brittle, drought-plagued environment, which becomes progressively more parched as the story unfolds. So when production was about to commence, the show’s principals were concerned that the normally-arid shoot locations in Mexico had undergone record rainfall and were suffused with verdant vegetation as far as the eye could see.

Pankaj Bajpai of Encore, who has color graded the series from the start, and the two new cinematographers hired for this season — Christopher LaVasseur and Scott Peck — conferred early on about how best to handle this surprising development.

It wouldn’t have been practical to move locations or try to “dress” the scenes to look as described on the page, nor would the budget allow for addressing the issue through VFX. Bajpai, who, in addition to his colorist work also oversees new workflows for Encore, realized that although he could produce the desired effect in his FilmLight Baselight toolset through multiple keys and windows, that too would be less than practical.

Instead, he proposed using a technique that’s far from standard operating procedure for a series. “We got ‘under the hood’ of the Baselight,” he says, “and set up color suppression matrices,” which essentially use mathematical equations to define the degree to which each of the primary colors — red, green and blue — can be represented in an image. The technique, he explains, “allows you to be much more specific about suppressing certain hues without affecting everything else as much as you would by keying a color or manipulating saturation.”

Once designed, these restrictions on the green within the imagery could be dialed up or down, primarily affecting just the colors in the foliage that the filmmakers wanted to re-define, without collateral damage to skin tones and other elements that they didn’t want effects. “I knew that the cinematographers could shoot in the location and we could alter the environment as necessary in the grade,” Bajpai says. He showed the DPs how effective the technique was, and they quickly got on board. Peck, who was able to sit in on the grading for the first episode, recalls, “One of the things I was concerned with was this whole question about the green [foliage] because I knew in the story as the season progresses, water becomes less available. So this idea of changing the greens had to be a gradual process up to around episode nine. There was still a lot of discussion about how we are going to do this. But I knew just working with Pankaj at Encore for a day, that we could do it in the color grade.”

Of course, there was more to work out between Bajpai and the cinematographers, who’d been charged by the producers with taking the look in a somewhat new direction. “Wherever possible I wanted to plan as much with the cinematographers early on so that we’re all working toward a common goal,” he says.

Prior to this season’s start of production, Bajpai and the two DPs developed a shooting LUT to use in conjunction with the specific combination of lenses and the Arri sensors they would use to shoot the season. “Scott recommended using the Hawk T1 prime lenses,” says LaVasseur, “and I suggested going with a fairly low-contrast LUT.” Borrowing language from the photochemical days, he explains, “We wanted to start with a soft image and then ‘print’ really hard,” to yield the show’s edgy, contrasty type of look.

Bajpai calibrated the DPs’ laptops so that they’d be able to get the most out of sample-graded images that he would send them as he started coloring episodes. “We would provide notes when Pankaj had completed a pass,” says LaVasseur, but it was usually just a few very small tweaks I was asking for. We were all working toward the same goal so there weren’t surprises in the way he graded anything.”

“Pankaj had it done very quickly, especially the handling of the green,” Peck adds. “The show needed that look to build to a certain point and then stay there, but the actual locations weren’t cooperative. We were able to just shoot and we all knew what it needed to look like after Pankaj worked on it.”

“Communication is so important,” LaVasseur stresses. “You need to have the DPs, production designer and costume designer working together on the look. You need to know that your colorist is part of the discussion so they’re not taking the images in some other direction than intended. I come from the film days and we would always say, ‘Plan your shoot. Shoot your plan.’ That’s how we approached this season, and I think it paid off.”


Aubrey Woodiwiss joins Carbon LA as lead colorist

Full-service creative studio Carbon has added colorist Aubrey Woodiwiss as senior colorist/director of color grading to their LA roster. He comes to Carbon with a portfolio that includes spots for Dulux, NBA 2K17, Coors and Honda, and music videos for Beyonce’s Formation, Jay-Z’s On to the Next One and the Calvin Harris/Rihanna song This Is What You Came For.

“I’m always prepared to bend and shape myself around the requirements of the project at hand, but always with a point of view,” says Woodiwiss, who honed his craft at The Mill and Electric Theater Collective during his career.

“I am fortunate to have been able to collate various experiences within life and work, and have been able to reapply them back into the work I do. I vary my approach and style as required, and never bring a labored or autonomous look to anything. Communication is key, and a large part of what I do as well,” he adds.

Woodiwiss’ focus on creativity began during his adolescence, when he experimented with editing films on VHS and later directed and cut homemade music videos. Woodiwiss started his pro career in the early 2000s at Framestore, first as a runner and then as a digital lab operator, helping to pioneer film scanning and digital film tech on Harry Potter, Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary and Troy.

While he’s traversed creative mediums from film, commercials, music videos and on over 3,000 projects, he maintains a linear mindset when it comes to each project. “I approach them similarly in that I try to realize the vision set by the creators of the project,” says Woodiwiss, who co-creative directed the immersive mixed media art exhibition and initiative mentl, with Pulse Films director Ben Newman and producer Craig Newman (Radiohead, Nick Cave).

Carbon’s addition of the FilmLight Baselight color system and Woodiwiss as senior colorist to its established VFX/design services hammers home the studio’s move toward a complete post solution in Los Angeles. Plans are in the works to offer remote grading capabilities from any of the Carbon offices in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles.


Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios uses Unity 2017 on ADAM shorts

Academy Award-nominated director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) is directing the next installments in the ADAM franchise — ADAM: The Mirror and ADAM: The Prophet — using the latest version of the Unity, which launches today.

Created and produced by Blomkamp’s Oats Studios, these short films show the power of working within an integrated realtime environment — allowing the team to build, texture, animate, light and render all in Unity to deliver high-quality graphics at a fraction of the cost and time of a normal film production cycle.

ADAM: The Mirror will premiere during the live stream of the Unite Austin 2017 keynote, which begins at 4pm Pacific tonight, and will be available on the Oats YouTube channel shortly after. ADAM: The Prophet will follow before the end of 2017.

“Ever since I started making films I’ve dreamed of a virtual sandbox that would let me build, shoot and edit photorealistic worlds all in one place. Today that dream came true thanks to the power of Unity 2017,” said Neill Blomkamp, founder Oats Studios. “The fact that we could achieve near photorealistic visuals at half of average time of our production cycles is astounding. The future is here, and I can’t wait to see what our fans think.”

Neill Blomkamp

The original ADAM was released in 2016 as a short film to demonstrate technical innovations on Unity. It won a Webby Award and was screened at several film festivals, including the Annecy Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. ADAM: The Mirror picks up after the end of the events of ADAM where the cyborg hero discovers a clue about what and who he is. ADAM: The Prophet gives viewers their first glimpse of one of the villains in the ADAM universe.

Using the power of realtime rendering, Oats used Unity 2017 to help them create photorealistic graphics and lifelike digital humans. This was achieved through a combination of Unity’s advanced high-end graphics power, new materials using the Custom Render Texture feature, advanced photogrammetry techniques, Alembic-streamed animations for facial and cloth movement and Unity’s Timeline feature.

Innovations will be highlighted in the coming months via a series of behind-the-scenes videos and articles on the Unity website. Innovations in these short films include:
• Lifelike digital humans in realtime: Oats created the best-looking human ever in Unity using custom sub-surface scattering shaders for skin, eyes and hair.
• Alembic-based realtime facial performance capture: Oats has created a new facial performance capture technique that streams 30 scanned heads per second for lifelike animation, all without the use of morph targets or rigs.
• Virtual worlds via photogrammetry: Staying true to their live-action background, Oats shot more than 35,000 photos of environments and props and after the initial photogrammetry solve, imported these into Unity using the delighting tool. This allowed them to quickly create rich complex materials without the need to spend time to model high-resolution models.
• Rapid streamlined iteration in realtime: Working with realtime rendering lets artists and designers “shoot” the story as if on a set, with a live responsiveness that allows room to experiment and make creative decisions anywhere in the process.
• Unity’s timeline backbone for collaboration: Unity’s Timeline feature, a visual sequencing tool that allows artists to orchestrate scenes without additional programming, combined with Multi-Scene Authoring allowed a team of 20 artists to collaborate on the same shot simultaneously.

The A-List: Victoria & Abdul director Stephen Frears

By Iain Blair

Much like the royal subjects of his new film Victoria & Abdul and his 2006 offering, The Queen (which won him his second Oscar nomination), British director Stephen Frears has long been considered a national treasure. Of course, the truth is that he’s an international treasure.

The director, now 76 years old, has had a long and prolific career that spans some five decades and that has embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules. He made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career.

Stephen Frears with writer Iain Blair.

In the mid-1980s, Frears turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, which starred Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career.

Since then, he’s made big Hollywood studio pictures, such as the Oscar-nominated Florence Foster Jenkins, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, as well as Mary Reilly and Hero. But he’s probably as well-known for smaller, grittier vehicles, such as the Oscar-nominated Philomena, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Cheri, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity, Prick Up Your Ears and Snapper, films that provided a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience.

His latest film, Victoria & Abdul, is a drama (spiced with a good dash of comedy) about the unlikely but real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Muslim Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

I recently spoke with Frears about making the film, which is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz, especially for Dench.

This seems to be a very timely film, with its race relations, and religious and class issues. Was that part of its appeal?
Absolutely. When I read it I immediately thought it was quite provocative and a very interesting story, and I always look for interesting stories, and the whole relationship was part of the fun. I thought it was a brilliant script, and it’s got so much going on – the personal story about them, all the politics and global stuff about the British Empire.

You’ve worked with Judi Dench before, but she had already portrayed Victoria in Mrs. Brown back in 1997. Did you have to twist her arm to revisit the character?
I said I’d only make this with her, as she’s a brilliant actress and she looks a bit like Victoria, but I think initially she passed. I’m actually not quite sure since I never had a conversation with her about it. What happened was, we organized a reading and she came to that and listened to it, and then she was on board.

What did she bring to the role?
Complete believability. You absolutely believe in her as Victoria. She can do all that, playing the most powerful woman in the world, and then she was also human, which is why she was so fond of Abdul. It’s the same as directing someone like Meryl Streep. She’s just so skillful and so intelligent, and their sense of their role and its direction is very, very strong, and they’re so skilled at telling the story.

This doesn’t look like your usual heavy, gloomy Victorian period piece. How did you approach this visually?
I have a wonderful production designer, Alan MacDonald, who has worked with me on many films, including Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Queen. And we shot this with DP Danny Cohen, who is so inventive. From the start we wanted it to feel period but do it in a more modern way in order to get away from that lugubrious feeling and the heavy Victoriana. When we got to Osborne House, which was her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, it’s anything but heavy and lugubrious. It’s this light and airy villa.

Fair to say the film starts dark and gets lighter in tone and color as it goes on — while the story starts lighter and more comical, and gets darker as it goes along?
Yes, because at the start she’s depressed, she’s dressed all in black, and then it’s like Cinderella, and she’s woken up… by Abdul’s kiss on her feet.

Did that really happen?
Yes, I think it did, and I think both servants kissed her feet — but it wasn’t under a table full of jellies (laughs).

You shot all over England, Scotland and India in many of the original locations. It must have been a challenge mixing all the locations with sets?
It was. The big coup was shooting in Osborne House, which no one has ever done before. That was a big thrill but also a relief. England is full of enormous country homes, so you just go down the list finding the best ones. I’ve done Balmoral twice now, so I know how you do it, and Windsor Castle, which is Gothic. But of course, they’re not decorated in the Victorian manner, so we had to dress all the rooms appropriately. Then you mix all the sets and locations, like putting a big puzzle together.

How was shooting in India?
We shot in Agra, by the Taj Mahal. The original statue of Victoria there was taken down after independence, but we were allowed to make a copy and put it back up.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was about five months, all in London, and we cut it at Goldcrest where I’ve done all the post work on my last few films. Philomena was not done there. It all depends on the budget.

Do you like the post process?
I love being on location and I enjoy shooting, but it’s always hard and full of problems. Post is so calm by comparison, and so different from all the money and time pressures and chaos of the shoot. It’s far more analytic and methodical, and it’s when you discover the good choices you made as well as your mistakes. It’s where you actually make your film with all the raw elements you’ve amassed along the way.

You worked with a new editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, who cut Les Mis and The Danish Girl for director Tom Hooper and Anna Karenina for director Joe Wright. How did that relationship work?
She wasn’t on set, but we talked every day about it, and she became the main conduit for it all, like all editors. She’s the person you’re talking to all the time, and we spent about three months editing. The main challenge was trying to find the right tone and the balance between all the comedy, jokes and the subtext — what was really going on. We went in knowing it would be very comedic at the start, and then it gets very serious and emotional by the end.

Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?
I always use the same team. Union VFX did them all, and Adam Gascoyne, who did Florence Foster Jenkins and Philomena with me, was the VFX supervisor. The big VFX shots were of all the ships crossing the ocean, and a brilliant one of Florence. And as it’s a period piece, there’s always a lot of adding stuff and clean up, and we probably had several hundred VFX shots or so in the end, but I never know just how many.

Iain Blair and Judi Dench

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both hugely important, even though I don’t really know much about music or sound mixing and just depend on my team, which includes supervising sound editor Becki Ponting. We mixed all the music by Thomas Newman at Abbey Road, and then we did the final mix at Twickenham Studios. The thing with composers like Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat who did The Queen and Florence is that they read me really well. When Alexandre was hired to score The Queen, they asked him to write a very romantic score, and he said, “No, no, I know Stephen’s films. They’re witty, so I’ll write you a witty score,” and it was perfect and won him an Oscar nomination. Same with this. Tom read it very, very well.

Did you do a DI?
Yes, at Goldcrest as usual, with Danny and colorist Adam Glasman. They’re very clever, and I’m not really involved. Danny does it. He gets me in and shows me stuff but I just don’t pretend to be technically clever enough about the DI as mine is a layman’s approach to it, so they do all the work and show me everything, and then I give any suggestions I might have. The trick with any of this is to surround yourself with the best technicians and the best actors, tell them what you want, and let them do their jobs.

Having made this film, what do you think about Victoria now?
I think she was far more humane than is usually shown. I never really studied her at school, but there was this enduring image of an old battleaxe, and I think she was far more complex than that image. She learned Urdu from Abdul. That tells you a lot.


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.