Category Archives: Collaboration

Behind the Title: Encore (and Ryan Murphy) Colorist Kevin Kirwan

NAME: Kevin Kirwan

COMPANY: Encore Hollywood

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Encore specializes in television post production. I’ve been at Encore forever — they have nice people and it’s a nice working environment.

JOB TITLE: Colorist

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Not a lot of surprises here. As a final colorist for television you have to balance the wishes of the producers against those of the director of photography and various post supervisors.

Feud

I think in features you have a great deal more input from directors — that really doesn’t exist in my world. The people skills that are required to keep everyone feeling like their voices are being heard and their concerns addressed, might be one of the overlooked nuances of the job.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
I’m currently working on the DaVinci Resolve. I started coloring just about 30 years ago, so I cut my teeth on the old analog Amigo and Dubner color correction systems. I’ve spent the bulk of my career on DaVinci systems since.

That has to be one of the more interesting aspects of having been at this as long as I have, the changes in technology are stunning. I used to master to 1-inch tape for god’s sake. When I came up, the old quads were just being phased out. Those things were massive. Everything that I did back in the day was mastered from film. Tape to tape came along much later and then, of course, digital.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Not really. I do get invited to the set occasionally to offer advice on situations that might become an issue later on in the process, but that’s become increasingly rare. I just do my thing in the color correction suite and schmooze with the clients.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Interacting with the creatives. I’m a people person. I have a creative personality, and that’s a nice mix when you’re dealing with like-minded producers and DPs. I have had great client relationships over the past 15 years or so; it’s always enjoyable to have that familiarity and the loyalty that comes along with having worked on multiple projects with a client.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
As much as I enjoy collaboration there is a downside to that as well. When you get too many voices in the room, and this is even more pronounced when they’re not in the room together, then occasionally you see a project suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen, too many disparate visions fighting one another. That can end badly, and the overall look of the show can take a hit.

It’s difficult to say no to a client, but once in a while I am faced with pointing out the negative effects that a producer, or a DP, may be imposing on a show by insisting on something that might not be serving the best interests of the project.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’m also a professional helicopter pilot. I’ve been flying for as long as I’ve been coloring. I owned and operated a helicopter tour and charter business here in LA for years, and sold it this past July. I’m incredibly passionate about aviation, so for sure if I ever stop coloring, I’ll be up flying something the next day.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I stumbled into it. I came to LA to be a rock star — this is me rolling my eyes at my youthful naiveté — but it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t much of a musician to be honest, but I was enthusiastic!

I did however land a job driving and working in the mailroom at a tiny little film lab… this was when I was in my early 20s. They had one color correction bay and two guys operating the video department. I befriended them and they took me under their collective wing. I took that opportunity and made the most of it.

YOU’RE A LONGTIME COLLABORATOR OF RYAN MURPHY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT HISTORY?
I used to do all of Mike Robin’s stuff, Popular, Nip/Tuck, The Closer, etc. Ryan worked with Mike on a few things, and I started out with him on Popular, and then Nip/Tuck while he and Mike were still in business together. I became very close with Alexis Martin-Woodall, who was at that time just cutting her teeth as a post producer. She’s now exec producing all of the shows along with Ryan. She is by far one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet, and easily the best client that I’ve had in my career. Alexis is a total rock star. She and I are creatively simpatico, she trusts me, and I know what she and Ryan are looking for. It’s a nice marriage.

HOW HAS THE VISUAL STYLE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS AS YOU AND RYAN HAVE WORKED TOGETHER?
It’s a show-by-show thing. Shows like Glee, or something like the new series that we just started, 911, are pretty straightforward, nothing stylized, good contrast, nice poppy colors, don’t go too dark, feature the performance, make sure you can see into the actors’ expressions… that sort of thing.

American Horror Story is a different creature each season. These anthology series are fun because even though it’s technically the same show each time, the seasons all have their own theme. The look is much more tailored to fit the individual story. Season 2, which was called Asylum, was my favorite in terms of look. Very desaturated, dark and moody. It was a grungy, forbidding vibe that I really had fun with.

We just finished the second season of American Crime. This one was The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It’s very warm and colorful, especially when we were in Miami, but as we descended into Andrew Cunanan’s world it got a bit dirty, and we got to play a bit.

The first season of American Crime, The People Vs. OJ Simpson, was pretty gritty. It had a really tight look and a nice period feel.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT AND UPCOMING PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The Ryan Murphy camp keeps me busy. I mentioned 911 earlier. That’s a brand-new series. We get to watch the shows, of course, and it’s nice when you enjoy what you work on. I like 911.

American Horror Story

I’m looking forward to the next series of Feud, another anthology. Season 1 was the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford story with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. I believe the next season is the Charles and Diana saga. That should be pretty opulent to look at.

At some point in the near future we’ll start a series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Sarah Paulson. Looking forward to that one.

WHAT IS THE SHOW THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s probably American Horror Story. As I said earlier the changes in theme for each season make it new and different each time, and I really enjoy the show and am very proud of the work that we do on it.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Music. I’m a huge music fan; anything from John Denver to Jay-Z. Love the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Snoop and Slim Shady. I grew up listening to vinyl and got back into that recently.

My daughter Bella inspires me with her art, she’s amazing, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with some day. Hold it, I take that back, she already is a force to be reckoned with. My house is pretty much baby girl’s own personal art studio at this point.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone. I’m an old man, there were no cell phones for the first half of my life pretty much, and I still remember when pagers were a big deal. It’s insane how dependent we’ve become on our phones, but I can’t live without mine.

My computer, of course.

GPS is huge for me when I fly. Again, I’m dating myself but I learned to fly when you kept a paper chart on your lap and kept dialing up nearby VORs (you older pilots will know what I’m talking about), in order to navigate. GPS was an absolute game changer.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Don’t do social media. Don’t understand the need to share every detail of one’s life like that. Not my thing. (I’m a crotchety old man at this point. Hey, you kids get off my lawn!)

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Fly airplanes and helicopters and hang out with my daughter. We go to live theater and concerts quite a bit. My dogs de-stress me. I take them everywhere.

The A-List: The Big Sick director Michael Showalter

By Iain Blair

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

Michael Showalter on set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Cinna 4.13

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington on set.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Gilroy opted to shoot on 35mm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14 for editing

By Brady Betzel

Resolve 14 has really stepped up Blackmagic’s NLE game with many great new updates over the past few months. While I typically refer to Resolve as a high-end color correction and finishing tools, this review will focus on the Editing tab.

Over the last two years, Resolve has grown from a high-end color correction and finishing app to include a fully-capable nonlinear editor, media organizer and audio editing tool. Fairlight is not currently at the same level as Avid Pro Tools, but it is still capable, and with a price of free or at most $299 you can’t lose. For this review, I am using the $299 version, which has a few perks — higher than UHD resolutions; higher than 60 frames per second timelines; the all-important spatial and/or temporal noise reduction; many plugins like the new face tracker; multi-user collaboration; and much more. The free version will work with resolutions up to UHD at up to 60fps and still gives you access to all of the powerful base tools like Fairlight and the mighty color correction tool set.

Disclaimer: While I really will try and focus on the Editing tab, I can’t make any promises I won’t wander.

Digging In
My favorite updates to Resolve 14’s Editing tab revolve around collaboration and conforming functions, but I even appreciate some smaller updates like responsiveness while trimming and video scopes on the edit page. And don’t forget the audio waveforms being visible on the source monitor!

With these new additions, among others, I really do think that Resolve is also becoming a workable nonlinear editor much like industry standards such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro X. You can work from ingest to output all within one app. When connected to a collaborative project there is now bin-locking, sharing bins and even a chat window.

Multicam works as expected with up to 16 cameras in one split view. I couldn’t figure out how to watch all of the angles in the source monitor while playing down the sequence in the record monitor, so I did a live switch (something I love to do in Media Composer). I also couldn’t figure out how to adjust the multi-cam after it had been created, because say, for instance, audio was one frame out of sync or I needed to add another angle later on. But the multicam worked and did its job by allowing me to sync by in point, out point, timecode, sound or marker. In addition, you can make the multicam a different frame rate than your timeline, which is handy.

[Editor’s Note: Blackmagic says: “There are a few ways to do that. You can right click on the multicam clip and select ‘open in timeline.’ Or you can pause over any segment of a multicam clip, click on a different angle and swap out the shots. Most importantly, you get into multicam edit mode by clicking on the drop down menu on the lower left hand corner of the source viewer and selecting Multicam mode.”]

Another addition is the Position Lock located in the middle right, above the timeline. The Position Lock keeps all of your clips locked in time in your timeline. What is really interesting about this is that it still allows you to trim and apply other effects to clips while locking the position of your clips in place. This is extremely handy when doing conforms and online passes of effects when you don’t want timing and position of clips to change. It’s a great safety net. There are some more fancy additions like re-time curves directly editable in the timeline. But what I would really love is a comprehensive overhaul of the Title Tool that would allow for direct manipulation of the text on top of the video. It would be nice to have a shortcut to use the title as a matte for other footage for some quick and fancy titling effects, but maybe that is what Fusion is for? The title tool works fine and will now give you nice crisp text even when blown up. The bezier curves really come in handy here to make animations ease in and out nicely.

If you start and finish within Resolve 14, your experience will most likely be pretty smooth. For anyone coming from another NLE — like Media Composer or Premiere — there are a few things you will have to get used to, but overall it feels like the interface designers of Resolve 14 kept the interface familiar for those “older” editors, yet also packed it with interesting features to keep the “YouTube” editors’ interest piqued. As someone who’s partial to Media Composer, I really like that you can choose between frame view in the timeline and clips-only view, leaving out thumbnails and waveform views in the timeline.

I noticed a little bit of a lag when editing with the thumbnail frames turned on. I also saw recently that Dave Dugdale on YouTube found an interesting solution to the possible bug. Essentially, one of the thumbnail views of the timeline was a little slower at re-drawing when zooming into a close view in a sequence Regardless, I like to work without thumbnails, and that view seemed to work fluidly for me.

After working for about 12 minutes I realized I hadn’t saved my work and Resolve didn’t auto-saved. This is when I remembered hearing about the new feature “Live Save.” It’s a little tricky to find, but the Live Save feature lives under the DaVinci Resolve Menu > User > Auto Save and is off by default — I really think this should be changed. Turn this fuction on and your Resolve project will continually save, which in turn saves you from unnecessary conniptions when your project crashes and you try to find the spot that was last saved.

Coming from another NLE, the hardest thing for me to get used to in a new app was the keyboard layouts and shortcuts. Typically, trimming works similar to other apps and overwriting; ripple edits, dissolves and other edit functions don’t change, but the placement of their shortcuts does. In Resolve 14, you can access the keyboard shortcut commands in the same spot as the Live Save, but under the Keyboard Mapping menu under User. From here you can get grounded quickly by choosing a preset that is similar to your NLE of choice — Premiere, FCP X, Media Composer — or Resolve’s default keyboard layout, which isn’t terrible. If this could be updated to how apps like Premiere and/or Avid have their keyboard layouts designed, it would be a lot easier to navigate. Meaning there is usually a physical representation of a keyboard that allows you to drag your shortcuts to and from it realtime.

Right now, Resolve’s keyboard mapper is text-based and a little cumbersome. Overall, Resolve’s keyboard shortcuts (when in the editing tab) are pretty standard, but it would do you well to read and go through basic moves like trimming, trimming the heads and tails of clips or even just trimming by plus or minus and the total frames you want to trim.

Something else I discovered when trimming was when you go into actual “trim mode,” it isn’t like other NLEs where you can immediately start trimming. I had to click on the trim point with my mouse or pen, then I could use keyboard shortcuts to trim. This is possibly a bug, but what I would really love to happen is when you enter “trim mode,” you would see trimming icons at the A and B sides of the nearest clips on the selected tracks. This would allow you to immediately trim using keyboard shortcuts without any mouse clicks. In my mind, the more mouse clicks I have to use to accomplish a task means time wasted. This leads to having less time to spend on “important” stuff like story, audio, color, etc. When time equals money, every mouse click means money out of my pocket. [Note from Blackmagic: “In our trim tools you can also enter trim mode by hitting T on the keyboard. We did not put in specific trim tool icons on purpose because we have an all-in-one content sensitive trim tool that changes based on where you place the cursor. And if you prefer trimming with realtime playback, hit W for dynamic trim mode, and then click on the cut you want to trim with before hitting JKL to play the trim.”]

I have always treated Resolve as another app in my post workflow — I wasn’t able to use it all the way from start to finish. So in homage to the old way of working, a.k.a. “a round trip workflow,” I wanted to send a Media Composer sequence to Resolve by way of a linked AAF, then conform the media clips and work from there. I had a few objectives, but the main one was to make sure my clips and titles came over. Next was to see if any third-party effects would translate into Resolve from Media Composer and, finally, I wanted to conform an “updated” AAF to the original sequence using Resolve’s new “Compare with Current Timeline” command.

This was a standard 1080p, 23.98 sequence (transcoded to one mezzanine DNx175x codec with 12 frame handles) with plenty of slates, titles, clips, speed ramps, Boris Continuum Complete and Sapphire Effect. Right off the bat all of the clip-based media came over fine and in its correct time and place in the timeline. Unfortunately, the titles did not come over and were offline — none of them were recognized as titles so they couldn’t be edited. Dissolves came over correctly, however none of the third-party BCC or Sapphire effects came across. I didn’t really expect the third-party effects to come over, but at some point, in order to be a proper conforming application, Resolve will need to figure out a way to translate those when sending sequences from an NLE to Resolve. This is more of a grand wish, but in order to be a force in the all-in-one app for the post finishing circle, this is a puzzle that will need to be solved.

Otherwise, for those who want to use alternative nonlinear editing systems, they will have to continue using their NLE as the editor, Resolve as a color-only solution, and the NLE as their finisher. And from what I can tell Blackmagic wants Resolve to be your last stop in the post pipeline. Obviously, if you start your edit in Resolve and use third-party OpenFX (OFX) like BCC or Sapphire, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Last on my list was to test the new Compare with Current Timeline command. In order for this option to pop up when you right click, you must be in the Media tab with the sequence you want to compare to the one loaded. You then need to find the sequence you want to compare from, right click on it and click Compare with Current Timeline. Once you click the sequences you want to compare, a new window will pop up with the option to view the Diff Index. The Diff Index is a text-based list of each new edit next to the timeline that visually compares your edits between the two sequences. This visual representation of the edits between the sequences is where you will apply those changes. There are marks identifying what has changed, and if you want to apply those changes you must right click and hit Apply Changes. My suggestion is to duplicate your sequence before you apply changes (actually you should be constantly duplicating your sequence as a backup as a general rule). The Compare with Current Timeline function is pretty incredible. I tested it using an AAF I had created in Media Composer and compared it against an AAF made from the same sequence but with some “creative” changes and trimmed clips — essentially a locked sequence that suddenly became unlocked while in Online/Color and needed to reflect the latest changes from the offline edit.

I wasn’t able to test Resolve 14 in a shared-project environment, so I couldn’t test a simultaneous update coming from another editor. But this can come in really handy for anyone who has to describe any changes made to a particular sequence or for that pesky online editor that needs to conform a new edit while not losing all their work.

I can’t wait to see the potential of this update, especially if we can get Resolve to recognize third-party effects from other NLEs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not oblivious to the fact that asking Resolve engineers to figure out how to recognize third-party effects in an AAF workflow is a pie-in-the-sky scenario. If it was easy it probably would have already been done. But it is a vital feature if Blackmagic wants Resolve to be looked at like a Flame or Media Composer but with a high-end coloring solution and audio finishing solution. While I’m at it, I can’t help but think that Resolve may eventually include Fusion as another tab maybe as a paid add-on, which would help to close that circle to being an all-in-one post production solution.

Summing Up
In the end, Resolve 14 has all the makings of becoming someone’s choice as a sole post workflow solution. Blackmagic has really stepped up to the plate and made a workable and fully functional NLE. And, oh yeah not to mention it is one of the top color correction tools being used in the world.

I did this review of the editing tab using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 14.2. Find the latest version here. And check out our other Resolve review — this one from a color and finishing perspective.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Tatiana Riegel on editing the dark comedy I, Tonya

By Randi Altman

I, Tonya is sad and funny and almost unbelievable in the sense that this — or a version of this — actually did happen. It’s also a fantastic movie.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan “Why?!” incident took place. I think we all knew at the time that what was playing out was more like a soap opera and less like figure skating. Thanks to the Craig Gillespie-directed I, Tonya, everyone gets a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what led up to that assault, and it’s not pretty. What the public didn’t know back in 1993 was the abuse that Tonya Harding was enduring via her mother, her husband Jeff Gillooly and even the figure skating community, who viewed her as too working class to represent them.

Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE

I, Tonya’s editor, Tatiana S. Riegel, ACE, is a long-time collaborator of Gillespie’s, having worked with him now on five features (Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours, Fright Night and Million Dollar Arm) and the pilot for the TV series United States of Tara for Showtime. She says the shorthand they’ve developed over 10 years “is thrilling and makes life very, very easy.”

We spoke to newly minted Oscar-nominee Riegel about working with Gillespie and her workflow on the film, which was nominated for a number of Golden Globes and has earned Riegel her own ACE Eddie and Independent Spirit award nods as well.

When were you brought on I, Tonya?
Craig told me about it the fall of 2016, and I officially began when they started shooting in January 2017.

Were you on set, near set? How did that work?
I was far from set. I was in Los Angeles, and they were shooting in Atlanta. It was very nice for me to be able to stay home. That is one of those advantages that I can have with Craig because we do have such a shorthand. And while I have traveled with him on location many times, this time, from a budget standpoint, it was prohibitive. Plus, we were going to be in New York for the six months of post, and I didn’t want to go away for nine months. This was our compromise.

You worked out of Harbor Picture Company in New York, where the post was being done?
Yes. It was lovely. They’re so nice. I really — I have to say — I miss it and I hope I get to go back to New York and work there again. I felt like I was at home, even though I wasn’t.

Can you talk about how you and Craig work together? Does he shoot a lot of coverage?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is he is very prepared and very disciplined. The schedule on this was quite short. It was 31 days, and I think there were 260 or 265 scenes. So it was compact, but he was so wonderfully prepared. For certain scenes, he didn’t shoot as much coverage, but for other scenes, much more. But always with lots of options, which makes editors very happy.

What did he shoot on?
Craig shot most of it on film, which was lovely. It gave it a great look. He shot 2- and 3-perf, 35mm film, but then he did do some stuff digitally. The interviews were shot digitally, just because of the amount of coverage. It was three hours, per person, for the interviews. And then, obviously, some of the extreme slow-motion stuff was shot with a Phantom camera.

Did Harbor do the dailies?
They did not. We did the DI at Company 3. That’s where we finished, and the dailies were processed at Crawford in Georgia.

Who is your assistant, and how do you work together? Are they covering the technical stuff? Are they another eye?
They’re both. This was probably our sixth or seventh film together. Dan Boccoli is fantastic. For this film he was on with me during dailies, because when we went to New York I had to hire a local. His name was Steve Jacks, who was also superb.

Dan and all of my assistants are a wonderful combination of creative and technical. They are preparing everything, communicating with all of the different departments, making sure I have everything I need, and they keep me out of those loops that I don’t want to get involved in.

I show them scenes and get their feedback, which is wonderful for me — this allows me to show somebody before I show the director or anybody else. Just to make sure everything’s being comprehended properly, and I’m getting the reaction that I want. It’s also a teaching process for them; they get to understand the whole process, and learn for their own future.

Was Craig looking at scenes you were editing?
With all directors, I like to stay up to camera as much as possible. I want to start that conversation sooner rather than later to make sure we’re all on the same page tonally, performance-wise and story-wise. Then there are the practical things like, is all the coverage there? I try to put the scenes together quickly, the best that I can, and send them off on a daily basis, sometimes a couple times a week, sometimes once a week. It depends on what’s being shot.

Another advantage is that when shooting is finished and they come in for the first time to watch the assembly, they’re not surprised by anything. It’s not anywhere close to being done, but they are clear about what they have and how we’re doing tonally and performance-wise.

How were you physically getting scenes to Craig?
A variety of ways, but usually it was a system like Pix or DAX because of piracy issues. It’s very secure, and he was able to watch it online.

Were there any instances where you thought coverage was missing?
Yes, there was one situation. Shawn, the bodyguard, doesn’t really show up in the movie until the second half — there are only some interviews early on. I actually asked for a couple more instances to be added so we would have an introduction to him. This way it wasn’t a new character popping up and the audience thinking, “Oh, I think I saw him once.” I called Craig and he agreed, and the writer Steven Rogers agreed.

Can you talk about editing the skating scenes? I know that VFX was used for some of that and there was a double, but how did that work?
There are four or five larger skating sequences, and Craig and the DP talked very early on about each having their own personality. For example, the first one, the ZZ Top one, is earlier in Tonya’s career, and she’s got an attitude and gruffness and a strength that wants to be portrayed in that sequence. Especially after coming off of the Vivaldi Four Seasons, and emphasizing how Tonya Harding was not the typical ice skater. She didn’t fit the mold, and she really did skate to ZZ Top.

Craig and the DP Nicolas Karakatsanis watched the original skating sequences for the choreography and tried to get as close as possible. They had to do some pretty serious planning for these seamless transitions between Margot and the double. Margot had trained for about five months, so she did a fair amount of spectacular stuff where you have to be an Olympian type moves. She did do some of the dancing and getting on and off the ice, and the beginning and ends of routines.

Then it was a question of following this choreography map they had set up, but also spicing it up and giving each of the scenes their own personality and energy. The ZZ Top scene is very energetic and a bit show-off-y. The one at the end of the film, at Lillehammer, is all done in one shot, or it plays as one shot. We go in and out of Margot and the double, and that’s purposely done to build the tension, the anxiety and the stress she’s going through at that moment with her shoelace having broken.

The soundtrack is fun. Can you talk about that?
There was nothing about music in the script. This is all something that Craig brought to it. He had gotten a lot of music from the music supervisor, prior to shooting, and we began listening to stuff. But after I had the whole thing together, we sat down, about a week into it, and started throwing music against it and figuring out what worked for energy, for pacing, for fun and for emotion. We just kept trying things, moving them around. Sometimes we cut in or out of songs very quickly, for momentum, and that became a lot of what we did in the post process. Experimenting.

There was a scene where Gillooly is on the floor of his house, and then the camera sort of backs away and takes you down a street. Was that one shot?
It plays as one, but it was actually shot as four different parts. He starts on the bed, which I just love. He’s distraught and hunched over, but looking right at the camera. Then the camera pulls away from him and goes into the hallway, and then we find him again in the kitchen, where he’s obviously trying to talk to her but get mad, so he throws the phone. Then it pulls out of the kitchen and into the living room, and he’s sitting alone on the floor. Then it pulls out of the living room onto the front yard and down the whole block. It was all these different shots that were stitched together quite beautifully.

While there was obvious violence and abuse, there was also humor, so it was a fine line you needed to walk. How did you tackle that as an editor?
Craig spoke with Margot and everybody about it very early on, because it was really important to not sugarcoat that stuff. This is what made her who she is and made her react how she did. This is the reality of her life. There’s a documentary about her when she’s 15 years old, and she’s very matter-of-factly talking about her mother hitting her. She says it in a very detached, unemotional way that really struck a chord in Craig. That’s when he came up with this idea of breaking the fourth wall and having the characters talk directly to the camera. It allowed the characters to separate emotionally from that moment in a way that felt very lifelike to us. Although it’s not a lifelike moment, talking to the camera, it gives it detachment. It also shows survival. It’s the 45-year-old Tonya talking back about that moment having survived.

You cut this film on Avid Media composer. What about it do you like, and did you use ScriptSync?
I find it to be just a fantastic tool for sharing media. I know how to use it very well, so I don’t have to think, which is terrific. I did use ScriptSync for the very first time on this film. I just haven’t felt the need for it before, but this time it was helpful because of the way the interviews were shot, which were, for the most part, very long takes. The interviews are spaced throughout the script, so the actors would read all the way through them, doing some retakes within a take, but then continue on. So, just from an organizational standpoint, ScriptSync was a lifesaver. It was just brilliant. I don’t know how I would have done it without it, to be perfectly honest. It would have been excruciatingly time consuming.

Is there any scene that you are most proud of, or that was most challenging?
The film as a whole was very challenging in terms of balancing the very serious with the very funny. There are moments that portray that, like the knife scene where she’s having dinner with her mother. The conversation grows into this terrible fight, and they are screaming at each other. Then the mother’s throwing stuff, and then she throws the knife, and it’s this amazingly shocking moment.

There is that fantastic pause. You don’t know how Tonya’s going to react or how LaVona is going to react. Then Tonya takes the knife out, but you still don’t know what she’s going to do. She walks over, slams it into the table, and we see LaVona’s reaction as Tonya walks off. I just loved that. It’s about holding that moment as long as possible, almost until it breaks, and then breaking it with this fantastic joke — where LaVona, in her interview says, all families have problems. When we screened it you could hear a pin could drop, and then it just breaks into this great relief of laughter. It’s just a really fun thing to put together.

What’s next for you?
I am going to Berlin to work on The Girl in the Spider’s Web for director Fede Alvarez. It’s part of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. This is something that’s very different, which I find very appealing. I like doing different types of films. I think editors often get pigeonholed very quickly — “They’re a comedy person, they’re a drama person, they’re an action person.” I like to shake it up a bit whenever possible, because I like working on different kinds of films just as I like going to see different kinds of films, and.


Peter Doyle on coloring Churchill’s England for Darkest Hour

By Daniel Restuccio

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

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

Peter Doyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Editor Sidney Wolinsky and Guillermo del Toro team on The Shape of Water

By Randi Altman

People love movies for their ability to transport us to another world, or another version of our world, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s magical The Shape of Water does. And speaking of love, the film has been getting some now that awards season is upon us. The Shape of Water was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won two: Best Director — Motion Picture for del Toro and Best Original Score for Alexandre Desplat. It also got plenty of Academy Awards love as it was nominated for 13 awards, including Best Director and Best Film Editing.

This film takes place during the Cold War, at a government run lab in Baltimore and focuses on a cleaning lady who follows her heart and does the right thing.

We recently checked in with the film’s editor Sidney Wolinsky, ACE. An industry veteran, he has cut such acclaimed TV shows as The Sopranos, House of Cards and Ray Donovan, among many others.

Wolinsky was recently recognized by his peers, earning an ACE Eddie nomination from the American Cinema Editors for his work on Fox Searchlight’s The Shape of Water. Let’s find out more about the film, this editor’s second collaboration with del Toro and his process.

You have worked with Guillermo del Toro before?
Yes. About three years ago, I cut the pilot for a series called The Strain, which Guillermo created. He also directed the pilot.

How did you get involved in the film, and when did he bring you on?
The film’s producer reached out to my agent before it was greenlighted. I’m based in LA, but the film was shooting and cutting up in Toronto, so my wife and I found a place to stay and went up there about a week before they started shooting. I started cutting the second day of production when I got my first day of dailies.

Well you were near set, but were you ever onset?
Not really. The sets and the cutting room were at Cinespace Studios in Toronto, but Guillermo knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need an editor there to talk to. Occasionally, I might have walked over to the set because I had a question to ask Guillermo or something to tell him, but primarily I was in the cutting room.

What kind of direction were you given in terms of the edit?
From day one, I had Guillermo in the room with me working on the material, and that continued throughout the production. He would come in before call, and on his lunch hour, and we’d work together. When they were shooting at local locations, my assistant and I would go out to the set on his lunch hour to show him cut footage on a MacBook and get notes. Guillermo and I worked together continuously throughout the production.

How did that relationship work?
Once I started getting film, I’d show him my cut of the scene and I’d modify it based on his notes. When we had two scenes that were contiguous we’d work on transitions. As the show grew we would watch whatever could be watched continuously and make changes. I’d get an idea and we’d try it, or he’d say, “Try this other thing.” It was very collaborative. I really felt like he was my partner throughout the whole cutting process. It wasn’t like in most shows where you finish your cut, you show it to the director and then you start working with him.

Does Guillermo shoot a lot of footage?
He does not. He’s very specific about what he wants, and he moves the camera all the time. That works against the possibility of shooting a lot of footage because you have to plan your setups based on where the camera starts and where the camera ends, and plan in conjunction with where you’re going to pick up the coverage next. So, often it’s interlocking coverage. He rarely shot multiple cameras.

The film’s two main characters don’t speak in the traditional way. Was that a challenge for your process?
It did not affect my editing per se, because regardless of having no speech, Sally Hawkins’ character Elisa has sign language. You had to let the person say their line, so to speak, even if Elisa was doing it with her hands and not her lips. The creature had gestures and expressions too, so you play a scene for what the scene is about. It’s the same way if people are talking or yelling at each other. You’re still playing that scene, and that’s the challenge of editing generally — just making the scenes work.

I never felt that I was slowing things down because of the sign language. For example, if you think of that scene where Sally tries to persuade Giles (Richard Jenkins’ character) to help her free the creature, it’s a giant dialog scene in which Giles speaks for both of them by repeating what Elisa says in sign language back to her. Elisa only talks in sign language, but you never miss a word.

That was an intense scene.
It was. The editing challenge was to coordinate his saying the line with her signing it, and make sure they were more or less in sync.

Is there a scene that is your favorite or most challenging?
The scene I just described with Sally and Richard is one of my favorite scenes in the movie. Those two actors are so good. That scene is so moving, and they both give such a good performance. They really nailed it.

The most challenging sequence is the heist, because it involves all of the characters. They start off in different locations and come toward each other leading up to the clash at the end. That’s really the most challenging part of the movie, in terms of pacing and making sure everything’s working and the people following it … it’s not too slow, and stuff like that.

You used Media Composer for the editing. What is it about that system that you like?
I’ve cut on Avid for years, so I know it really, really well. It has so many ways of doing the same thing that can be used for different situations. It’s an amazing tool.

The heist.

How do you work with your assistant editor?
It depends on the show and who it is. On this one I had a first assistant, Cam McLaughlin, and a second assistant, Mary Juric. I had worked with both of them on The Strain pilot, and was glad to work with them again. Mary was on the show through a couple of weeks beyond the end of shooting. Her primary job was setting up the dailies in ScriptSync, which is a fabulous tool within Media Composer. She also did a lot of the complicated temp effects. She also created most of the Russian and ASL subtitles.

My first assistant, Cam, primarily put together the dailies … although Mary helped with that as well. He also did the temp effects and chose and cut most of the temp music. My assistant editor is always an ally, somebody I show cuts to, ask for feedback from and bounce my ideas off. Cam’s a wonderful colleague in the cutting room. He’s very smart and talented. I believe he is cutting a feature right now.

Let’s change gears. You’ve cut a lot of television, a lot of really good television. Do you wear a different hat when you’re cutting one over the other?
The nice thing about features is the shooting schedules are longer. And what you’re doing is a unique piece; it’s one of a kind. You show it to audiences, you get feedback and you work on it. Usually, you work closely with the director until the project is completed.

In some ways this is very much like a television pilot — it’s never been done before and a lot is riding on its success. Depending on the project, the director of the pilot will follow it through to the end. This was true for The Strain, where I believe Guillermo had final cut. In series, you usually work with the director through the end of his cut, and then you begin working with the show runner and the studio, and finally the network to complete the project.

I always hope to be working with someone who has a clear vision of what the project should be and the stature to make the final decision. On features it is usually the director, in television if is the showrunner. However, as an editor I always must retain my own vision of the best way to edit scenes, solve story problems and be prepared to work with anyone who is shepherding the show to its completion.

The edit suite.

Do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer features because of the time that’s taken and the close relationship you have with the director. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done in television, and the most important thing to me is to be able to use my skills to help realize the projects I’m working on.

What’s next for you?
I just got back from a trip to Italy to visit my son and his family, who live there, so really just taking some time off. I’m hoping that this film will help me another film. In this industry, it’s easy to get buttonholed as a television editor, so hoping another film opportunity comes my way soon.

Based on the attention this film has been getting, and your recent ACE Eddie nom, I think you’ll have that opportunity. One last thing before I let you go. Do you have any advice for an editor just starting out?
Most editors who are starting out have already been assistants and are trying to make the transition to editing. You have to be careful to make sure people perceive you as an editor and not as an assistant, and that could be tough because it could mean turning assistant jobs down. Obviously, if you need the money you may not be able to, but the most important thing is to grab any cutting opportunity that comes along. Don’t be picky. If you want to become an editor you have to be cutting. Also you never know where something will lead, and you want the people you meet along the way to see you as an editor — and hopefully, the editor of their next production.

Main Image: (L-R) Golden Globe-winner Guillermo del Toro and editor Sidney Wolinksy.


A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but for Lady Bird, another editor was actually on during dailies, for various reasons. I came on after dailies, which is unusual, but it worked out. Plus, they were shooting in California and editorial was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. But what I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during the shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


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


Jay Nelson on editing Bryan Buckley’s The Pirates of Somalia

While Cut+Run editor Jay Nelson’s list of credits includes many high-profile commercial spots — such as the Emmy-nominated and AICP-winning The Chase for Grey Poupon, as well as those for Xbox, Skechers, Hyundai and Heinz — he is no stranger to feature film editing. In fact, he most recently collaborated once again with director Bryan Buckley on The Pirates of Somalia. Buckley, who has an Oscar nomination under his belt for the 2012 short Asad, has directed over 50 Super Bowl spots since 2002, many of which were edited by Nelson.

The Pirates of Somalia, starring Evan Peters, Barkhad Abdi, Melanie Griffiths and Al Pacino, follows a young journalist who travels to Somalia to write a book on the country’s pirates. Nelson used an Avid Media Composer to cut the film. Let’s find out more.

Jay Nelson

What were the biggest creative challenges in editing the film?
I’ve had a lot of experience editing with subtitles and foreign languages. Personally, I find it to be unpleasant because you can’t just freeform flow the edit and the dialogue; you have to be cognizant of the translations and the tone. On this film, Bryan wanted to approach these scenes in an original way and not make the viewer have to work through subtitles. The challenge was to integrate Barkhad’s on-camera translation into the dialogue without being clunky, to keep the dialogue flowing from Somali to English.

It’s essentially a dialogue between two people, but with a third person adding their own character into it. Two of the scenes took close to half the time I edited the film in order to get them just right. The scenes went from an initial 12 minutes apiece to about three or four minutes, and I think they work incredibly well. I learned a lot, and I think the approach contributes to the uniqueness of the movie.

Any technical hurdles, expected or otherwise?
Honestly, the hurdles in this film were pretty standard stuff, which is refreshing. The language and the clarity of dialogue throughout is something I spent a considerable amount of time dialing into shape. We didn’t have to “fix” anything. Bryan and his crew just laid it all out beautifully.

As someone who is known for largely comedic narratives, what did you learn on this feature about dramatic content?
I don’t draw too much distinction between editing comedy and editing drama. I just take it one minute at a time when making a feature. But Bryan is a very funny person, and naturally it’s easy for him to infuse humor into things, and it’s natural for me to want to accentuate that because he and I both like to laugh as much as we like making other people laugh. The challenge with this and all things I get to create with him is making sure the humor is deftly placed and balanced with the drama. We spent a lot of time determining the right balance. It is a film with a message, and it’s often gripping to watch. So we paid attention to our beats and reminded ourselves never to cloud the purpose.

How long have you been working with Bryan, and what are some of your favorite collaborations?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Bryan for five years now. The first project was an incredible spot for Grey Poupon called The Chase. I think I grasped his vision and we agreed on everything. In fact, rarely do we not see eye to eye. He makes my job easy. I can’t honestly pick a favorite collaboration. We’ve done all manner of media together (including the 2015 feature The Bronze). When I do get to work with him, it’s always purely about the love of doing what I do with someone who is a master at what they do. It’s about the friendship and the laughs for me. I’m lucky to get that on anything I do with him.

How has your process together evolved?
He’s a great communicator and is always available when it’s about the job. I wake up to his emails and get cracking. All great collaborations are about synergy and removing the guesswork. I can relate it to sports or music — the more you practice with someone, the easier it is to know what they’re thinking and what they intend. That’s the evolution, and it’s always been free of the BS and insincerity. I genuinely love the way he sees things. He’s taught me a lot about improving at my profession, and I’ve learned a lot about life from him as well.

Any advice for short-form editors looking to expand into features?
Take it one minute at a time, and don’t be overwhelmed. Any other advice than that might come across as jaded. Features stand the test of time when they’re good, and they actually mark periods of your life as all great works of art should when you suffer for them. There’s a lot of reward in that legacy. But not every editor is cut out for features. It’s a different discipline, the politics are different, and so is the discipline of objectivity. Choose your projects wisely. There’s nothing worse than being two weeks in on a feature and realizing that maybe it’s not your cup of tea, or you don’t connect with the execution. We sacrifice a lot when we vanish to make a film, so make sure it’s worth it and it’s really what you want to be doing.

From having projects at film festivals to editing ads for the Super Bowl, you’ve had an exciting career trajectory. What’s next?
When I started my pursuit of an editing career I vowed to approach it like I was training to be a surgeon. I wanted to understand all the jobs of the people I’d work with — producers, VFX artists, assistants, reps, directors. In some form or another I’ve embodied all of those roles along the way. Part of that vow was to embrace the notion that one is forever a student of the craft.

As I continue that pursuit this coming year I’ll be taking improv and acting classes because I’ve just never done it. I don’t have designs of being on-screen, but I know it will only round out my understanding of editing performance. Beyond that, my fundamental goal as an editor is to expand my knowledge of the language of film — I’m constantly searching to discover that treatment to add a technique to the dictionary of editing — to approach something in a whole new way. There’s an expanding universe of techniques out there, and I’ll keep doing this as long as I feel challenged and retain that desire to search. Inspiration from collaborating with the likes of Bryan Buckley will also keep the sails full. Long may it last.

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?