Category Archives: Color Grading

ChromaColor: A small post house embraces ACES

By Sarah Priestnall

Over the last few years, the ACES standard has been used on a variety of successful and big-budget films. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a prime example. But it’s not just for film studios, big post facilities and blockbuster movies. It’s also being used all over the world by small post houses.

Portland, Oregon-based ChromaColor is one of those smaller houses. Jordan Snider, a supervising colorist, opened ChromaColor in 2015, bringing with him years of experience working with stills and motion photography in Hollywood. Despite being a young company, ChromaColor draws upon the years of experience from Snider, as well as from CEO Alex Panton, a 25-year-plus industry veteran with a vast network of contacts worldwide. He recently relocated to Portland from England, where he ran 4K London, an agency for Digital Imaging Technicians (DITs).

ChromaColor offers end-to-end support of film and TV projects, managing the recording, archiving, color grading and mastering of moving pictures as an integrated service. Panton and Snider to offer high-end services to more limited-budget productions. “Without compromising essential quality, we have emulated, but streamlined, the expensive studio model, making a simple workflow available to the much wider independent film market,” explains Panton, adding “we recently opened a facility in Echo Park in Los Angeles, providing a portal to our Portland facility.”

Jordan Snider at work.

Snider has parlayed his expertise and experience in still photography into the world of moving images. “I fell in love with the craft of photography through my involvement in action sports as a semi-pro BMX rider,” he explains. “At the beginning of the digital photographic revolution I took an apprenticeship with a prominent and traditional analog photographer. Learning to assist and run the darkroom taught me the fundamentals of color science. From there I found my way onto sets in camera and lighting departments. I fell into working in a DaVinci Resolve suite and never looked back. I always regarded color as the perfect intersection of my work in stills and motion. When I was younger I wanted to be the DP, but I found myself doing well helping other artists craft their images. It’s been a good fit!”

Using ACES
For those who might not be familiar with ACES, here is The Academy’s official definition: ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) is a standard for managing color throughout the life cycle of a motion picture or television production. From image capture through editing, VFX, mastering, public presentation, archiving and future remastering.

Incorporating ACES on ChromaColor’s projects seemed like a natural choice, and it didn’t mean any drastic changes to the workflow that Snider had already set up and tested on many commercials. “ACES is brilliant because it’s a total rethink of how to treat the data in the visual pipeline, all without reinventing the wheel” he explains.

With ACES, balancing different cameras is easy. “As a colorist, I have more control over the manipulation of the color information,” explains Snider. “This helps me maximize the time I can spend on creating the best possible composition for my clients. On the back end, it makes mastering and exporting to multiple formats and/or color spaces much more streamlined, and with HDR on the horizon everyone will be mastering to both Rec. 709 and HDR 10. For our clients, it saves time and money in addition to future-proofing their assets, making it much easier to create an HDR version or even a version for some future display that doesn’t exist yet. What’s not to like?”

ChromaColor recently used ACES to great effect on a documentary about the Symbiosis Eclipse Festival (see our main image), an Oregon-based music and arts festival that coincided with August’s solar eclipse. At first South African-based production company NV Studios was just looking for a local Portland-based DIT with a RAID and hired ChromaColor for those tasks, but Snider quickly realized that the multitude of cameras being used (from Red Helium to Sony A7 and many more) and the sheer amount of footage being shot meant that ACES would be a great benefit. By designing a smart ACES-based workflow, ChromaColor was able to provide an on-location digital lab to fit the limited budget. And, of course, it was far easier for the editor back in Johannesburg to successfully cut between all the different formats and for the digital intermediate finishing to go smoothly.

Like others before him, Snider also appreciates the openness and availability of ACES. “The best part about ACES is that it doesn’t matter if you are a student or a senior colorist in Hollywood, it’s available for everyone and integrated into the software packages we use every day. In our case it was Resolve, but it’s found in other software, such as FilmLight Baselight. It’s really a gift for independent motion pictures that can take advantage of the contributions of Hollywood’s leading color scientists on this open platform.”

Other ChromaColor clients include Nike, Adidas, Google, AirBnB, Harry & David, Beats By Dre and AT&T.


Sarah Priestnall has worked in entertainment technology and post for more than 25 years, working for both manufacturers and post production facilities. While at Cinesite, she was a member of the team who pioneered the use of DI technology on the groundbreaking O Brother Where Art Thou. She most recently served as VP market development at Codex. 

Review: Boxx’s Apexx 4 7404 workstation

By Brady Betzel

The professional workstation market has been blown open recently with companies like HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others building systems containing i3/i5/i7/i9 and Xeon processors, and  AMD’s recent re-inauguration into the professional workstation market with their Ryzen line of processors.

There are more options than ever, and that’s a great thing for working pros, but for this review, I’m going to take a look at Boxx Technologies Apexx 4 7404, which the company sent me to run through its paces over a few months, and it blew me away.

The tech specs of the Apexx 4 7404 are:
– Processor: Intel i7-6950X CPU (10 cores/20 threads)
– One core is overclocked to 4.3GHz while the remaining nine cores can run at 4.1GHz
– Memory: 64GB DDR4 2400MHz
– GPUs: Nvidia Quadro P5000 (2560 CUDA cores, 16GB GDDR5X)
– Storage drive: NVMe Samsung SSD 960 (960GB)
– Operating system drive: NVMe Intel SSDPEDMW400 (375GB)
– Motherboard: ASUS X99-E WS/USB3.1

On the front of the workstation, you get two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, audio out/mic in, and on the rear of the 7404 there are eight USB 3.0, two USB 3.1, two Gigabit Ethernet, audio out/mic in, line in, one S/PDIF out and two eSATA. Depending on the video card(s) you choose, you will have some more fun options.

This system came with a DVD-RW drive, which is a little funny these days but I suppose still necessary for some people. If you need more parts or drives there is plenty of room for all that you could ever want, both inside and out. While these are just a few of the specs, they really are the most important, in my opinion. If you purchase from Boxx all of these can be customized. Check out all of the different Boxx Apexx 4 flavors here.

Specs
Right off the bat you will notice the Intel i7-6950X CPU, which is a monster of a processor and retails for around $1,500, just by itself. With its hefty price tag, this Intel i7 lends itself to niche use cases like multimedia processing. Luckily for me (and you), that is exactly what I do. One of the key differences between a system like the Boxx workstation and ones from companies like HP is that Boxx takes advantage of the X or K series Intel processors and overclocks them, getting the most from your processors all while still being backed by Boxx’s three-year warranty. The 7404 has one core overclocked to 4.3GHz which can sometimes provide a speed increase for apps that don’t use multiple cores. While this isn’t a lot of cases it doesn’t hurt to have that extra boost.

The Apexx 4 case is slender (at 6.85-inches wide) and quiet. Boxx embraces liquid cooling systems to keep your enterprise-class components made by companies like Samsung, Intel, etc. running smoothly. Boxx systems are built and fabricated in Texas from aircraft grade aluminum parts and steel strengthening components.

When building your own system you might pick a case because the price is right or it is all that is available for your components (or that is what pcpartpicker.com tells you that is what fits). This can mean giving up build quality and potentially bad airflow. Boxx knows this and has gone beyond just purchasing other companies cases — they forge their own workstation case masterpieces.

Boxx’s support is based in Austin – no outsourcing — and their staff knows the apps we use such as Autodesk, Adobe and others.

Through Its Paces
I tested the Apexx 4 7404 using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder since they are really the Swiss Army knives of the multimedia content creation world. I edited together a 10-minute UHD (3840×2160) sequence using an XAVC MP4 I shot using a Sony a6300. I did a little color correction with the Lumetri Color tools, scaled the image up to 110% and exported the file through Media Encoder. I exported it as a 10-bit DNxHQX, UHD, QuickTime MOV.

It took seven minutes and 40 seconds to export to the OS drive (Intel) and about six minutes and 50 seconds to go to the internal storage drive (Samsung). Once I hit export I finally got the engines to rev up inside of the Boxx, the GPU fans seemed to kick on a little; they weren’t loud but you could hear a light breeze start up. On my way out of Premiere I exported an XML to give me a headstart in Resolve for my next test.

My next test was to import my Premiere XML into Blackmagic’s Resolve 14 Studio and export with essentially the same edits, reproduce the color correction, and apply the same scaling. It took a few minutes to get Resolve 14 up and running, but after doing a few uninstalls, installing Resolve 12.5.6 and updating my Nvidia drivers, Resolve 14 was up and running. While this isn’t a Boxx problem, I did encounter this during my testing so I figured someone might run into the same issue, so I wanted to mention it.

I then imported my XML, applied a little color correction, and double checked that my 110% scaling came over in the XML (which it did), and exported using the same DNxHQX settings that I used in Premiere. Exporting from Resolve 14 to the OS drive took about six minutes and 15 seconds, running at about 41 frames per second. When exporting to the internal storage drive it took about six minutes and 11 seconds, running between 40-42 frames per second. For those keeping track of testing details, I did not cache any of the QuickTimes and turned Performance Mode off for these tests (in case Blackmagic had any sneaky things going on in that setting).

After this, I went a little further and exported the same sequence with some Spatial Noise Reduction set across the entire 10-minute timeline using these settings: Mode: Better; Radius: Medium; Spatial Threshold: 15 on both Luma and Chroma; and Blend: 0. It ran at about nine frames per second and took about 25 minutes and 25 seconds to export.

Testing
Finally, I ran a few tests to get some geeky nerd specs that you can compare to other users’ experiences to see where this Boxx Apexx 4 7404 stands. Up first was the AJA System Test, which tests read and write speeds to designated disks. In addition, you can specify different codecs and file sizes to base this test off of. I told the AJA System Test to run its test using the 10-bit Avid DNxHQX codec, 16GB file size and UHD frame size (3860×2140). I ran it a few times, but the average was around 2100/2680 MB/sec write and read to the OS drive and 1000/1890 MB/sec write and read to the storage drive.

To get a sense of how this system would hold up to a 3D modeling test, I ran the classic Cinebench R15 app. OpenGL was 215.34 frames per second with 99.6% ref. match, CPU scored 2121cb and CPU (single core) cored 181cb with MP Ratio of 11.73x. What the test really showed me when I Googled Cinebench scores to compare mine to was that the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 was in the top of the heap for all categories. Specifically, within the top 20 for overall render speed being beaten only by systems with more cores and placed in the top 15 for single core speed — the OpenGL fps is pretty incredible at over 215fps.

Summing Up
In the end, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 custom-built workstation is an incredible powerhouse for any multimedia workflow. From rendering to exporting to transcoding, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 with dual Nvidia Quadro P5000s will chew through anything you throw at it.

But with this power comes a big price: the 7404 series starts at $7,246! The price of the one I tested lands much higher north though, more like just under $14,000 — those pesky Quadros bump the price up quite a bit. But if rendering, color correcting, editing and/or transcoding is your business, Boxx will make sure you are up and running and chewing through every gigabyte of video and 3D modeling you can run through it.

If you have any problems and are not up and running, their support will get you going as fast as possible. If you need parts replaced they will get that to you fast. Boxx’s three-year warranty, which is included with your purchase, includes getting next day on-site repair for the first year but this is a paid upgrade if you want it to continue for years two and three of your warranty. But don’t worry. If you don’t upgrade your warranty you still have two years of great support.

In my opinion, you should really plan for the extended on-site repair upgrade for all three years of your warranty — you will save time, which will make you more money. If you can afford a custom-built Boxx system, you will get a powerhouse workstation that makes working in apps like Premiere and Resolve 14 snappy and fluid.


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.

Dell 6.15

Fancy Film brings on Michael Smollin to head color division

Michael Smollin has joined Fancy Film, a post facility based in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake area, as senior colorist for theatrical and television projects. Smollin has credits that span features, episodics, reality series and documentaries.

“Mike is someone who can lead our color division in both technical and artistic capacities,” says Fancy Film CEO Bill Macomber. “He brings a significant ability to grow our business through his many diehard fans. He has especially deep experience as a colorist for mid-budget features and television series, projects that are a perfect match for Fancy and the facilities we have here. As these projects gear up for HDR, Mike’s leadership will be key.”

Smollin has worked at Fancy on an occasional freelance basis for over five years. His credits include Undefeated, the 2012 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, as well as The Case Against 8 for HBO and Underwater Universe for Discovery.

Smollin’s career in post spans more than 20 years, the past four at Roundabout Entertainment in Burbank. His background also includes posts with Walden Media, Mega Playground, Technicolor and Encore Video. He got his start with Complete Post.

His many credits include the television series American Dreams, CSI: Miami, Once and Again and Grounded for Life, the documentary Sound City, and the features Chasing Mavericks, Parental Guidance and the Disney live-action feature The Jungle Book.

“What inspires me to be a colorist is the day-to-day creativity and collaborative artistic communication between the creative artists of the post industry,” says Smollin. “I also enjoy helping people see their images come to life on television and the big screen.”

Launched by Macomber in 2003, Fancy Film offers a seamless workflow from dailies processing through picture lock and has developed a strong reputation for providing high quality post services in a boutique, creative environment. The facility features a DCI-certified, Blackmagic Da Vinci Resolve color grading theater and three broadcast color correction suites, plus editorial conforming, quality control and related resources.

In addition, it has 20,000 square feet of offline editorial space that it leases to film and television productions on long- and short-term bases. Recent projects that have undergone post finishing at the facility include Beatriz at Dinner, Miguel Arteta’s film, starring Salma Hayek and John Lithgow. Its series work includes Sing It! for YouTube Red and Party Over Here for Lonely Island and Fox.


Ten Questions: SpeedMedia’s Kenny Francis

SpeedMedia is a bicoastal post studio whose headquarters are in Venice Beach, California. They offer editorial, color grading, finishing, mastering, closed captions/subtitles, encoding and distribution. This independently-owned facility, which has 15 full-time employees, turns 10 this month.

We recently asked a few questions of Kenny Francis, president of the company in an effort to find out how he has not only survived in a tough business but thrived over the years.

WHAT DOES MAKING IT 10 YEARS IN THIS INDUSTRY MEAN?
This industry has a high turnover rate. We have been able to maintain a solid brand and studio relationships, building our own brand equity in the process. At the time we started the company high-def television content was new to the marketplace; there were only a handful of vendors that had updated to that technology and could cater to this larger file size. Most existing vendors were using antiquated machines and methodology to distribute HD, causing major bottlenecks at the station level. We built the company in anticipation of this new trend, which allowed us to properly manage our clients post production and distribution needs.

HOW HAS THE POST PIPELINE CHANGED IN A DECADE?
Now everything is needed “immediately.” Lightning fast is now the new norm. Ten years ago there was a decent amount of time in production schedules for editing, spot tagging, trafficking, clearance, every part of the post process… these days everything is expected to happen now. There’s been a huge sense of time compression because the exception has now become the rule.

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN THE FUTURE?
Staying relevant as a company and trying to evolve with the times and our clients’ needs. What worked 10 years ago creatively or productively doesn’t hold the same weight today. We’re living in an age of online and guerrilla marketing campaigns where advertising has already become wildly diversified, so staying relevant is key. To be successful, we’ve had to anticipate these trends and stay nimble enough to reconfigure our equipment to cater to them. We were early adopters of 3D content, and now we are gearing up for UHD finishing and distribution.

WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR COMPANY AND THE INDUSTRY?
We’re constantly accruing new business, so we’re looking forward to building onto our list of accounts. As a new technology launches, emerging companies compete, one acquires them all and becomes a monopoly, and then the cycle repeats itself. We have been through a few of these cycles, but plan to see many more in the years ahead.

HOW DID YOU ESTABLISH THAT FOUNDATION?
Well, aside from just building a business, it’s been about building a home for our team — giving them a platform to grow. Our employees are family. My uncle used to tell me, “If you concentrate on building a business and not the person, you will not achieve, but if you concentrate on building the person, you achieve both.” SpeedMedia has been focused on building that kind of team — we pride ourselves on supporting one another.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE SPACE AT SPEEDMEDIA STUDIO?
As comfy as possible. We’ve been in the same place for 10 years — a block away from those iconic Venice letters. It’s a great place to be, and why we’ve never left. It’s a home away from home for our employees, so we’ve got big couches, a kitchen, televisions and even our own bar for the monthly company mixers.

Stop by and you’ll see a little bit of Matrix code scrolling down some of the walls, as this historic building was actually Joel Silver’s production office back in the day. If these walls could talk…

HOW HAS VENICE CHANGED SINCE YOU OPENED?
Venice is a living and breathing city, now more than ever. Despite Silicon Beach moving into the area and putting a serious premium on real estate, we’re staying put. It would have been cheaper to move inland, but then that’s all it would have been — an office, not a second home. We’d lose some of our identity for sure.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR CLIENTS?
It all started with Burger King. I have a long-standing relationship with the company since my days back at Amoeba, a Santa Monica-based advertising agency. I held a number of positions there and learned the business inside and out. The experience and relationships cultivated there helped me bring Burger King in as an anchor account to help launch SpeedMedia back in 2007. We now work with a wide variety of brands, from Adidas to Old Navy to Expedia to Jaguar Land Rover.

WHAT’S IT LIKE RUNNING A BICOASTAL BUSINESS?
In our business, it’s important to have a presence on both coasts. We have some great clients in NYC, and it’s nice to actually be local for them. Styles of business on the east coast are a bit different than in LA. It actually used to make more sense back in the tape-based workflow days for national logistics. We had a realtime exchange between coasts, creating physical handoffs.

Now we’re basically hard-lined together, operators in Soho working remotely with Venice Beach and vice-versa, sharing assets and equipment and collaborating 24-hours a day. This is all possible thanks to our proprietary order management software system, Matrix. This system allows SpeedMedia the ability to seamlessly integrate with every digital distribution network globally via API tap-ins with our various technology partners.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW IT WAS TIME TO START YOUR OWN BUSINESS?
Well, we were at the end of one of these cycles in the marketplace and many of our brand relationships did not want to go along with the monopoly that was forming. That’s when we created SpeedMedia. We listened to our clients and made sure they had a logical and reliable alternative in the marketplace for post, distribution and asset management. And here we are 10 years later.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Winners: IBC2017 Impact Awards

postPerspective has announced the winners of our postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC2017. All winning products reflect the latest version of the product, as shown at IBC.

The postPerspective Impact Award winners from IBC2017 are:

• Adobe for Creative Cloud
• Avid for Avid Nexis Pro
• Colorfront for Transkoder 2017
• Sony Electronics for Venice CineAlta camera

Seeking to recognize debut products and key upgrades with real-world applications, the postPerspective Impact Awards are determined by an anonymous judging body made up of industry pros. The awards honor innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work.

“All four of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that push the boundaries of technology to produce tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category. You’ll notice that our awards from IBC span the entire pro pipeline, from acquisition to on-set dailies to editing/compositing to storage.

“As IBC falls later in the year, we are able to see where companies are driving refinements to really elevate workflow and enhance production. So we’ve tapped real-world users to vote for the Impact Awards, and they have determined what could be most impactful to their day-to-day work. We’re very proud of that fact, and it makes our awards quite special.”

IBC2017 took place September 15-19 in Amsterdam. postPerspective Impact Awards are next scheduled to celebrate innovative product and technology launches at the 2018 NAB Show.


The A-List: Director Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


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.


Aubrey Woodiwiss joins Carbon LA as lead colorist

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

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

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

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

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

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


Digging Deeper: The Mill Chicago’s head of color Luke Morrison

A native Londoner, Morrison started his career at The Mill where worked on music videos and commercials. In 2013, he moved across to the Midwest to head up The Mill Chicago’s color department.

Since then, Morrison has worked on campaigns for Beats, Prada, Jeep, Miller, Porsche, State Farm, Wrigley’s Extra Gum and a VR film for Jack Daniel’s.

Let’s find out more about Morrison.

How early on did you know color would be your path?
I started off, like so many at The Mill, as a runner. I initially thought I wanted to get into 3D, and after a month of modeling a photoreal screwdriver I realized that wasn’t the path for me. Luckily, I poked my nose into the color suites and saw them working with neg and lacing up the Spirit telecine. I was immediately drawn to it. It resonated with me and with my love of photography.

You are also a photographer?
Yes, I actually take pictures all the time. I always carry some sort of camera with me. I’m fortunate to have a father who is a keen photographer and he had a darkroom in our house when I was young. I was always fascinated with what he was doing up there, in the “red room.”

Photography for me is all about looking at your surroundings and capturing or documenting life and sharing it with other people. I started a photography club at The Mill, S35, because I wanted to share that part of my passion with people. I find as a ‘creative’ you need to have other outlets to feed into other parts of you. S35 is about inspiring people — friends, colleagues, clients — to go back to the classic, irreplaceable practice of using 35mm film and start to consider photography in a different way than the current trends.

State Farm

In 2013, you moved from London to Chicago. Are the markets different and did anything change?
Yes and no. I personally haven’t changed my style to suit or accommodate the different market. I think it’s one of the things that appeals to my clients. Chicago, however, has quite a different market than in the UK. Here, post production is more agency led and directors aren’t always involved in the process. In that kind of environment, there is a bigger role for the colorist to play in carrying the director’s vision through or setting the tone of the “look.”

I still strive to keep that collaboration with the director and DP in the color session whether it’s a phone call to discuss ahead of the session, doing some grade tests or looping them in with a remote grade session. There is definitely a difference in the suite dynamics, too. I found very quickly I had to communicate and translate the client’s and my creative intent differently here.

What sort of content do you work on?
We work on commercials, music promos, episodics and features, but always have an eye on new ways to tell narratives. That’s where the pioneering work in the emerging technology field comes into play. We’re no longer limited and are constantly looking for creative ways to remain at the forefront of creation for VR, AR, MR and experiential installations. It’s really exciting to watch it develop and to be a part of it. When Jack Daniel’s and DFCB Chicago approached us to create a VR experience taking the viewer to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Kentucky, we leapt at the chance.

Do you like a variety of projects?
Who doesn’t? It’s always nice to be working on a variety, keeping things fresh and pushing yourself creatively. We’ve moved into grading more feature projects and episodic work recently, which has been an exciting way to be creatively and technically challenged. Most recently, I’ve had a lot of fun grading some comedy specials, one for Jerrod Carmichael and one for Hasan Minhaj. This job is ever-changing, be it thanks to evolving technology, new clients or challenging projects. That’s one of the many things I love about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs

You recently won two AICE awards for best color for your grade on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ spot Wise Man. Can you talk about that?
It was such a special project to collaborate on. I’ve been working with Ian Pons Jewell, who directed it, for many years now. We met way back in the day in London, when I was a color assistant. He would trade me deli meats and cheeses from his travels to do grades for him! That shared history made the AICE awards all the more special. It’s incredible to have continued to build that relationship and see how each of us have grown in our careers. Those kinds of partnerships are what I strive to do with every single client and job that comes through my suite.

When it comes to color grading commercials, what are the main principles?
For me, it’s always important to understand the idea, the creative intent and the tone of the spot. Once you understand that, it influences your decisions, dictates how you’ll approach the grade and what options you’ll offer the client. Then, it’s about crafting the grade appropriately and building on that.

You use FilmLight Baselight, what do your clients like most about what you can provide with that system?
Clients are always impressed with the speed at which I’m able to address their comments and react to things almost before they’ve said them. The tracker always gets a few “ooooooh’s” or “ahhhh’s.” It’s like they’re watching fireworks or something!

How do you keep current with emerging technologies?
That’s the amazing thing about working at The Mill: we’re makers and creators for all media. Our Emerging Technologies team is constantly looking for new ways to tell stories and collaborate with our clients, whether it’s branded content or passion projects, using all technologies at our disposal: anything is at our fingertips, even a Pop Llama.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Well, I’ve got to have my Contax T2, an alarm clock, otherwise I’d never be anywhere on time, and my bicycle.

Would you say you are a “technical” colorist or would you rather prioritize instincts?
It’s all about instincts! I’m into the technical side, but I’m mostly driven by my instincts. It’s all about feeling and that comes from creating the correct environment in the suite, having a good kick off chat with clients, banging on the tunes and spinning the balls.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration from just being outside. It might sound like a cliché but travel is massive for me, and that goes hand in hand with my photography. I think it’s important to change your surroundings, be it traveling to Japan or just taking a different route to the studio. The change keeps me engaged in my surroundings, asking questions and stimulating my imagination.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Riding my bike is my main thing. I usually do a 30-mile ride a few mornings a week and then 50 to 100 miles at the weekend. Riding keeps you constantly focused on that one thing, so it’s a great way to de-stress and clear your mind.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got some great projects coming up that I’m excited about. But outside of the suite, I’ll be riding in this year’s 10th Annual Fireflies West ride. For the past 10 years, Fireflies West participants have embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles in support of City of Hope. This year’s ride has the added challenge of an extra day tacked onto it making the ride 650 miles in total over seven days, so…I best get training! (See postPerspectives’ recent coverage on the ride.)

The A-List: Victoria & Abdul director Stephen Frears

By Iain Blair

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

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

Stephen Frears with writer Iain Blair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain Blair and Judi Dench

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

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

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


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