Category Archives: documentary

BestFriend adds director Thomas Hefferon

BestFriend, an LA and NY-based production studio headed up by executive producer Zak Thornborough, has brought on director Thomas Hefferon.

Dublin-born Hefferon has a long history making in short-form emotional narratives. His first short film “The Confession” screened at over 40 festivals around the world (including Tribeca, Palms Springs, and Sundance) and had a national cinema release in Ireland. It aired on dozens of TV stations across the world, and it garnered over one million hits on YouTube.

Since then he’s made three more shorts (The Pool, Switch and The Heist), all of which received funding by the Irish Film Board.

Hefferon also works on spots and branding projects. He was nominated in the Best New Director category at the 2009 Kinsale Shark Awards. This led to him working with Jaguar and Land Rover, and a move to London. There he worked with a range of brands, including Panasonic, Infinity, Jameson, Armstrong International and Johnson & Johnson.

Hefferon’s first project out of BestFriend is a two-spot campaign for Massachusetts Financial Services via FCB Chicago. These spots showcase Hefferon’s ability to show the human side of a company. Mirroring mutual investments with the work that musicians do, Hefferon somehow makes financial services empathetic, entertaining, and cool.

Centralized around a collaborative approach, BestFriend provides clients access to world-class talent at any stage of production, from writing and creative development through execution and delivery. BestFriend lives at the intersection of advertising, art, film, fashion, music, and technology, and thrives on its proximity to the fringe of possibility.

My Passion Project: We Call Her Yolanda

By Anthony Bari Jr.

For the past couple years, I’ve been producing a documentary called We Call Her Yolanda. After volunteering on disaster relief in the Philippines in the aftermath of 2013’s super typhoon, I was taken with the people’s positivity and resiliency even though they had lost everything, including loved ones and livelihoods. I was inspired to go back and start filming a documentary, the shooting for which just wrapped.

While the rest of the world knew the devastating storm as Typhoon Haiyan, Filipinos had their own name for it — Super Typhoon Yolanda. As such, We Call Her Yolanda was an apt title for the film.

Production
For We Call Her Yolanda, we completed four shoots over two years on a mix of cameras and formats. We used two GoPro Hero4 Black cameras (one was mounted on a drone and the other was first-person view), two Canon C300s, a Sony FS7 and a Canon 5D Mark II. We always travelled with at least two laptops for transcoding and media management. We also carried G-Technology hard drives in our backpacks. I relied heavily on software presets for this project, setting up a bunch of them before we left for the Philippines so we could bag and tag all files during the trip.

Just one of Bari’s shooting setups.

For those who are still dragging and dropping hundreds of gigabytes of media from card to drive, beware. That method is wide open to error. ShotPut Pro, Imagine Products’ offloading app, is my go-to tool for safely offloading media. Computers and technology aren’t perfect, so offloading camera cards and making multiple backups is incredibly important. Version 6 has a new interface that looks just like the Finder window on my Mac.

The software’s checksumming capability verifies the integrity of every data transfer and raises a flag if things don’t add up. This feature is not only important for ensuring complete backups, but it also helps pinpoint problems with hardware or systems — and gives me the visual tools to explain the problems to clients.

Rather than just sticking a camera in people’s faces and asking them for their stories during the Yolanda shoots, we spent a lot of time getting to know people and making them comfortable with our team and the technology. Meanwhile, we shot lots of B-roll. Between the relationship building, the filming, the travel and other rigors of the shoot, it was a busy project that kept our whole team going nonstop — which meant I couldn’t always take care of media management myself like I would prefer.

Another critical tool in my data-wrangling workflow also happens to be from Imagine Products — ProxyMill transcoding software, which they recently revamped into PrimeTranscoder. I use this software’s presets a lot. By digging into the tools on the preset menu, flipping switches, or checking/unchecking boxes in the interface, I can program all sorts of functionality and even map certain functions to specific scenarios. For example, I can merge multiple interviews into a single low-res file and program the tool to apply timecode and/or a LUT file to it before sending to a producer or client for review. The fact that I can kick out a low-resolution, color corrected clip that has everything on it and send it off immediately is a big deal. I just dial it in, save it, and it’s ready to go.

Street view of San Joaquin.

The best part about this is that I don’t have to man the station the whole time. I’m ultimately responsible for the data, and I get very nervous when I don’t have control over it, but this workflow lets me delegate the media management duties when needed and trust that it will be done right, even by people with no post experience.

I like to work with native formats whenever possible, but sometimes you have to rely on proxies, especially when some of the footage is shot in data-heavy 4K. With this project, I used Imagine Products’ HD-VU2. This quality-check tool allowed me to preview footage in its native format after a shoot and decide which footage to pull. Then we’d apply ProxyMill to color correct it or add timecode as needed, and then transcode it into one massive ProRes clip using the clip-stitch feature. This capability came in handy when merging all interviews into one file for the translator and when selecting and stabilizing “best-of” drone footage to get it ready for editing later in Adobe Premiere.

Upon returning from the Philippines after each shoot, I made a strict practice of cloning the data from the portable drives onto multiple 4TB G-Technology desktop drives that are more suitable for editing. (We aim never to edit from the portable drives!) During the shoot, there were a handful of moments when we were literally sitting under a coconut tree with a long cable connected to a generator. That made for very unconventional (and nerve-wracking) media management, so I always go for gear with a dedicated power source whenever possible.

Post
Back in Los Angeles working on post for Yolanda, I turned my home into a post production studio. I worked with a carefully chosen team of eight pro editors who operated in rotation at my house, often late into the night. I supplied the food and drinks (you’ve got to keep up morale!), and they showed up and got to work. Some editors brought their own laptops, while others used my two spare MacBook Pros. All computers were equipped with Adobe Premiere CC.

The G-Technology desktop drives each contained the same set of footage, so whenever someone picked up a project, they simply ripped away at the footage from one of those drives. There were also two smaller G-Technology drives floating around with a total of about 600GB of extra footage (such as 4K drone footage) that people could select as needed. I used Basecamp to track the project and assign the work, and CalDigit Thunderbolt stations helped with connectivity.


Anthony Bari is a director/engineer/editor/post consultant. In addition to his freelance and consulting roles, he has worked on major sporting events, TV shows, reality shows and documentaries. He earned an Emmy Award as part of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup on FS1 technical team.

 

Dell 6.15

The long, strange trip of Amir Bar-Lev’s new Dead doc

Deadheads take note — Long Strange Trip, director Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour documentary on rock’s original jam band, the Grateful Dead, is now available for viewing. While the film had a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on May 26, the doc was made available on Amazon Video as a six-episode series.

L-R: Jack Lewars and Keith Jenson.

Encompassing the band’s rise and decades-long career, the film, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, was itself 14 years in the making. That included three months of final post at Technicolor PostWorks New York, where colorist Jack Lewars and online editor Keith Jenson worked with Bar-Lev to finalize the film’s form and look.

The documentary features scores of interviews conducted by Bar-Lev with band members and their associates, as well as a mountain of concert footage and other archival media. All that made editorial conforming complex as Jenson (using Autodesk Flame) had to keep the diverse source material organized and make it fit properly into a single timeline. “We had conversions that were made from old analog tapes, archival band footage, DPX scans from film and everything in between,” he recalls. “There was a lot of cool stuff, which was great, but it required attention to detail to ensure it came out nice and smooth.”

The process was further complicated as creative editorial was ongoing throughout post. New material was arriving constantly. “We do a lot of documentary work here, so that’s something we’re used to,” Jenson says. “We have workflows and failsafes in place for all formats and know how to translate them for the Lustre platform Jack uses. Other than the sheer amount, nothing took us by surprise.”

Lewars faced a similar challenge during grading as he was tasked with bringing consistency to material produced over a long period of time by varying means. The overall visual style, he says, recalls the band’s origins in the psychedelic culture of the 1960s. “It’s a Grateful Dead movie, so there are a lot of references to their experiments with drugs,” he explains. “Some sections have a trippy feel where the visuals go in and out of different formats. It almost gives the viewer the sense of being on acid.”

The color palette, too, has a psychedelic feel, reflecting the free-spirited essence of the band and its co-founder. “Jerry Garcia’s life, his intention and his outlook, was to have fun,” Lewars observes. “And that’s the look we embraced. It’s very saturated, very colorful and very bright. We tried to make the movie as fun as possible.”

The narrative is frequently punctuated by animated sequences where still photographs, archival media and other elements are blended together in kaleidoscopic patterns. Finalizing those sequences required a few extra steps. “For the animation sequences, we had to cut in the plates and get them to Jack to grade,” explains Jenson. “We’d then send the color-corrected plates to the VFX and animation department for treatment. They’d come back as completed elements that we’d cut into the conform.”

The documentary climaxes with the death of Garcia and its aftermath. The guitarist suffered a heart attack in 1995 after years of struggling with diabetes and drug addiction. As those events unfold, the story undergoes a mood change that is mirrored in shifts in the color treatment. “There is a four-minute animated sequence in the last reel where Jerry has just passed and they are recapping the film,” Lewars says. “Images are overlaid on top of images. We colored those plates in hyper saturation, pushing it almost to the breaking point.

“It’s a very emotional moment,” he adds. “The earlier animated sequences introduced characters and were funny. But it’s tied together at the end in a way that’s sad. It’s a whiplash effect.”

Despite the length of the project and the complexity of its parts, it came together with few bumps. “Supervising producer Stuart Macphee and his team were amazing,” says Jenson. “They were very well organized, incredibly so. With so many formats and conversions coming from various sources, it could have snowballed quickly, but with this team it was a breeze.”

Lewars concurs. Long Strange Trip is an unusual documentary both in its narrative style and its looks, and that’s what makes it fascinating for Deadheads and non-fans alike. “It’s not a typical history doc,” Lewars notes. “A lot of documentaries go with a cold, bleach by-pass look and gritty feel. This was the opposite. We were bumping the saturation in parts where it felt unnatural, but, in the end, it was completely the right thing to do. It’s like candy.”

You can binge it now on Amazon Video.


Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

By Dayna McCallum

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.


ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo