Category Archives: on-set

The A-List: LBJ director Rob Reiner

By Iain Blair

Director/producer/actor Rob Reiner has long been one of Hollywood’s most reliable, successful and versatile talents. Over the past three decades he’s created a beloved body of work in a diverse mixture of styles and genres that includes comedy (When Harry Met Sally, The American President), fantasy-adventure (The Princess Bride), satire (This Is Spinal Tap), suspense (Misery) and drama (Stand By Me, A Few Good Men).

Writer Iain Blair and director Rob Reiner.

Now the co-founder of Castle Rock Entertainment, who first found fame as one of the stars of the long-running hit series All in the Family, has taken on the timely subjects of political in-fighting and civil rights in LBJ. After powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of vice president. That all changes on November 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency.

As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to an all-star cast that also includes Bill Pullman, Reiner assembled the below-the-line team of DP Barry Markowitz, editor Bob Joyce and composer Marc Shaiman.

I spoke with Reiner about making the film, which is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz — particularly for Harrelson’s performance — and his love of working quickly.

You don’t seem like someone who would jump at the chance to direct a film about LBJ. So what was the appeal of making this?
You’re right. I didn’t initially think I’d ever make a film about Johnson because I was draft age during Vietnam, and I hated LBJ. He was my enemy and could send me to my death. But I’m older now, and I’ve spent a lot of time in politics and crafting policy, and it’s given me a far greater understanding of what he was able to accomplish — domestically, at least, because his domestic policies and accomplishments are only second to FDR’s. You can’t ignore Vietnam of course, but had it not been for the war, he’d have gone down as one of the greatest presidents of all time.

So I thought, let’s take a look at him and really examine the man. I always thought of him as this bully, and a bull in a china shop, boorish and holding meetings while he’s using the toilet, and so on, but I did a lot of research, read a lot of books and got a much fuller picture of this complicated man. And two things struck me; he had a recurring nightmare where he was paralyzed, which I thought was very strange, and there was his relationship

with his mother, who withheld her love to him. It was very conditional, and he often felt unloved by her, which is also very interesting. So I wanted to use this narrow sliver of time, when he was facing his most challenging moments, to examine the man and his true nature.

Casting the right actor as LBJ is obviously crucial, but what made you choose Woody — who’s brilliant and a revelation — as Johnson?
No one thought it made sense when I told them Woody was starring. It was like, ‘Really?’ But first of all, he’s a Texan, and he’s a great actor, so I knew he could deliver the whole range needed, as he also has this very sensitive side. He also has this humanity and great sense of humor — so it was this all-in-one package.

Were you surprised by just how timely it’s become?
Completely, especially since we shot this way before Trump became president. It’s now become a different film, which is bizarre. I’ve never had a situation before like this, where I finished it, it was the film I set out to make, and then a few months later I’m looking at a totally different film — and I haven’t changed a frame. It’s so weird.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
We did most of it in New Orleans, some in DC, and some in Dallas, which was the biggest challenge logistically. They only gave us six hours to shoot the motorcade assassination scenes in Dealey Plaza, so I planned it out very carefully and we used four cameras and 12 different angles. Period pieces are always tough, getting rid of modern stuff especially, so going in we knew all the problem areas with our locations and we had all the CGI stuff and post integrated into the budget and schedule from the start.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love shooting, but pulling together all the material with your editor and doing all the post is where you really make your movie.

Where did you post?
We did it in a couple of different places. Bob Joyce and I did the cutting at our Castle Rock offices, and then we did some other stuff and the DI at Local Hero, and I’m very involved in the DI. We spent a lot of time going through every shot. And I love working digital, as you can manipulate every frame if you want. (Local Hero’s Leandro Marini used Assimilate Scratch on a Silverdraft Demon workstation for the DI.)

Joyce cut your last feature film, Being Charlie. Tell us about that relationship, and the editing challenges.
He wasn’t on the set. We sent him dailies back here in LA, and he knows what I want. I don’t even talk to him. He did a rough assembly and then we start cutting when I got back. I don’t even look at dailies because I know exactly what I’m shooting. I start editing in my head as I go, but Bob might suggest getting an extra shot, and I’ll do that. I shoot very quickly, and we did this in just 27 days.

That’s amazingly fast for a film of this size and scope. Is it true you also edit quickly?
You won’t believe this, but we actually edited this in just one week. There’s a lot of interlocking pieces, but I’m a puzzle guy. I love crossword puzzles, all that stuff, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So we had our first cut in a week, then you show it and make changes. But they were all minor. We didn’t do any reshoots. Sometimes we’d add CGI and some archival footage. There was a whole section with civil rights protests on TV, and we also added a scene at a lunch counter, to add some flavor.

Period films always have a lot of VFX. Can you talk about them?
We built a certain amount, like the whole White House interior set, and then one of my favorite VFX shots is the whole motorcade coming out of the White House at the end. We shot that on a parking lot in New Orleans, and Pixel Magic composited in all the background, the White House, the gates and so on. Then the opening shot of Air Force One was a composite — we had nothing there. Same with the big scene at the Lockheed plant. Most of the planes there were VFX, and they also extended the hangar where we shot.There’s a lot of clean-up, changing store fronts, and we added crowd people to the extras in various scenes.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
I’ve done nearly every film with composer Marc Shaiman, who’s brilliant and so versatile. He wrote a great score, and then (supervising sound editor) Lon Bender has worked with me for a very long time. They’d build more tracks than I need, and then I would start weeding stuff out because I don’t want it too busy. My big thing is get the birds out of there. Too many birds!

What’s next?
I’ve got this idea for a 12-part streaming historical drama series, but it’s still a secret.


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.

Director Todd Haynes on making Wonderstruck

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Todd Haynes is a supreme visual stylist with a deep affection for period pieces and a masterly touch when it comes to dealing with such adult themes as desire, repression and regret. Now Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — brings those gifts and his sense of wonder and imagination to his new film Wonderstruck, which is based on an illustrated children’s novel by Brian Selznick. Selznick also wrote and drew “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret,” which became Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Set in the 1920s and the 1970s, Wonderstruck tells the story of Ben and Rose, two deaf children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerizing symmetry.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its young stars’ performances — opposite co-stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams — and for Haynes, whose credits include Carol, the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine, Safe and Mildred Pierce.

I spoke with Haynes about making the film.

What was the appeal of making this movie?
I wanted to make something adults hadn’t seen before and that I didn’t think kids had ever seen before. I wanted them to feel like someone believed in their ability to have their minds blown, and to look back to the past — all these things we think kids don’t do anymore, like turning off their phones and watching a black and white film with little dialogue, and dealing with a weird structure to the movie. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think kids are capable of all kinds of things and maybe we forget that.

This is your first film with kids in the leads. Was it something you always wanted to do?
Yes. I’ve worked with kids in a lot of my films, and I made a short, Dottie Gets Spanked, back in ’93 with kids as the main characters, but I’d never done anything like this… with two deaf kids as the leads.

The theme of deafness must have opened up a lot of possibilities, as the whole B&W section plays like a silent film.
Exactly, and the B&W bit was just the beginning. The deafness was there in Brian’s book and screenplay but to a degree I just didn’t appreciate when I first read his script, and then even after I’d shot it; I didn’t initially realize just how silent the movie is, and how little dialogue there is. There’s whole stretches without any talking, and then a character says something and it hits you. But I feel that if you’re into the movie, you don’t miss the talking in those sections.

The film was shot by your usual DP, Ed Lachman. What look were you going for?
It was a lot of fun bouncing between the different eras, and getting the B&W look and then New York City, which was a very different, look — but it’s kind of fun afterwards (laughs). That’s what challenges are. They’re not so much fun when you’re in the throes of dealing with them, but it was creatively tantalizing finding the textures and contrasts between the different eras, and we did a lot of planning and preproduction, focusing on all the detail.

Why do you love doing period pieces so much?
I think they make you ask, “Why are we watching this movie? Why is the director doing this or that?” So you set up a frame that makes you think about what the movie’s telling you about, so you have choices being made all the time. And looking at the past through a frame means you’re invariably also looking at where you stand now, and then you think about the relevance of the past and what it means today. It’s never about making today disappear. It’s about a conscious role in comparing the past and present.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it, because after all the craziness and time and money pressures of the shoot. You’re back in a small dark room, and you’re also down to a far lower overhead and the fewest number of people around, so it feels very cozy and intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in downtown New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI.

Todd Haynes and writer Iain Blair

The film was edited by Affonso Goncaves, who worked with you on Carol and Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship and the editing challenges.
So much of post was about editorial, and he was key to it all: the editorial language and how the film would ultimately work and connect with people. I really relish working closely with my editor, and he’s a great partner and very smart and knowledgeable. Our big challenge was figuring out how to deal with the two different stories and the time spent on each. Brian’s script marked all the intercutting very specifically, and it was all infused with a very cinematic quality that was very infectious. But I also knew it was something you have to wait and see how it actually works. And, ultimately, we learned that we had to spend more time with one story before cutting to the next.

You have to develop enough attachment to one character and to what they’re doing before you cut to the other. Then you have to pace it so you want to come back again. It was continually about finding the right balance. Then we actually screened a lot of cuts of the movie for kids, and that helped us so much and completely informed what we did. They reacted encouragingly — and maybe they misled us (laughs) — but they were remarkably specific with their comments.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Can you talk about that, and working with VFX supervisor Louis Morin?
Louis worked a lot with Denis Villeneuve and did Arrival and Sicario for him, and his credits include The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain, so he’s very experienced. I worked with him before on I’m Not There, and he’s a real artist and very sensitive. The best VFX shots in period pieces are the ones where you don’t fully rely on them; we did as much as possible in camera and practically, and then finished them with digital work by Alchemy 24 and Framestore. It’s a very close relationship between your production designer and VFX supervisor, and there’s always a lot of removal of contemporary stuff and cosmetic work and clean-up.

Given this is partly a silent film, can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important, it’s hard to overstate. My sound designer Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since Far From Heaven. This is the fourth collaboration with Carter Burwell, and like the sound designer and my sound recorder Drew Kunin he was involved from preproduction on.

So we’d all discuss sound and we recorded everything — all the dialogue for the B&W bits, all the ambiance, so we had it, even if it was just an indication of what we’d eventually do. We didn’t know how much marking with rhythm and percussion we’d use for the dialogue, and how effective it’d be — and I found that it wasn’t effective, and that every time we marked dialogue it just didn’t work. But we marked for gesture and that worked.

What’s next?
I’ve got a bunch of projects, including a documentary about The Velvet Underground. I’ve never done a documentary before and I’m excited about all the period research.


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 1.2

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.


Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

We reached out to Big Block’s Paul and VFX supervisor John Cherniack to find out more…

How early did Big Block get involved in this F-150 campaign?
We worked with Detroit agency GTB starting in May 2017.

How much creative input did you have on the campaign? In terms of both original concept and execution?
Trillo: What was so original about this pitch was that they gave us a blank canvas and VO script to work with, and that’s it. I was building off a campaign that had been running for nearly 10 years and I knew what the creatives were looking for in terms of some sort of kinetic, constantly transitioning energy. However, it was essentially up to me to design each moment of the spot and how we get from A to B to C.

Typically, car commercials can be pretty prescriptive and sensitive to how the car is depicted. This campaign functions a lot differently than your typical car commercial. There was a laundry list of techniques, concepts, tricks and toys I’ve wanted to implement, so we seized the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at this. Then, by breaking down the script and pairing it with the different tricks I wanted to try out, I sort of formed the piece. It was through the development of the scripts, boards and animatics that certain ideas fell to the wayside and the best rose to the top.

Cherniack: Paul had some great ideas from the very beginning, and the whole team got to help contribute to the brainstorming. We took the best ideas and started to put them all together in a previz to see which ones would stitch together seamlessly.

Paul, Justin Trask (production designer) and I all spent a very long together going through each board and shot, determining which elements we could build, and what we would make in CG. As much as we wanted to build a giant gantry to raise the bar, some elements were cost-prohibitive. This is where we were able to get creative on what we would be able to achieve between practical and CG elements.

How much creative input did you have on set?
Trillo: The only creative decisions we were let to make on set were coming up with creative solutions for logistical challenges. We’d done all the pre-production work, mapping out the camera moves and transitions down to the frame, so the heavy lifting was finished. Of course, you always look to make it better on set and find the right energy in the moment, but that’s all icing.

Cherniack: By the time we started shooting, we had gone through a good amount of planning, and I had a good feeling about everything that Paul was trying to achieve. One area that we both worked together on set was to get the most creative shot, while also maintaining our plans for combining the shots in post.

What challenges did you face?
Trillo: I think I have a sort of addictive personality when it comes to logistical and creative challenges. Before this thing was fully locked in, before we had any storyboards or a single location, I knew what I had written out was going to be super challenging if not impossible. Especially because I wanted to shot as much as we could practically. However, what you write down on a piece of paper and what you animate in a 3D environment doesn’t always align with the physics of the real world. Each shot provided its own unique challenge, whether it’s an art department build or deciding which type of camera rig to use to move the camera in an unusual way. Fortunately, I had a top-notch crew both in camera (DP Dan Mindel) and production design (Justin Trask) that there were always a couple ways to solve each problem.

Cherniack: In order to have all of the measurements, HDRI, set surveys and reference photography, I had to always be on the move, while being close enough should any VFX questions come up. Doing this in 110+ degree heat, in the quarry, during three of the hottest days of the summer was quite a challenge. We also had very little control of lake currents, and had to modify the way we shot the boat scene in Brainiac on the fly. We had a great crew who was able to change directions quickly.

What was your favorite part of working on this campaign? What aspect are you most proud of?
Trillo: It was pretty spectacular to see each of these pieces evolve from chicken scratch into a fully-realized image. There was little creative compromise in that entire process. But I have to say I think I’m proudest of dropping 400lbs of french fries out of a shipping container.

Any major differences between automotive campaigns and ads for other industries?
The main difference is there aren’t any rules here. The only thing you need to keep in mind when doing this campaign is stay true to the F-150’s brand and ethos. As long as you remain true to the spirit, there are no other guidelines to follow in terms of how a car commercial needs to function. What appeals to me about this campaign is it combines a few of my interests of design, technical camera work and a dash of humor.

What tools did you use?
Cherniack: We used the software Maya, 3ds Max, Nuke, Flame, PFTrack for post-production.


Mother! director Darren Aronofsky

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/producer Darren Aronofsky made a big splash when his debut feature Pi won the prestigious Director’s Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He then quickly followed that up with 2000’s acclaimed drama Requiem for a Dream.

But his hot streak and momentum came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Brad Pitt dropped out of his expensive and ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain just weeks before shooting was due to start. Aronofsky scrambled to completely rewrite and retool The Fountain, this time starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Since then, Aronofsky has regained his momentum and continued to make visually audacious films as 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan (he got a directing Oscar nom, and star Natalie Portman took home the gold) and 2014’s Noah.

His latest film, Mother!, is another hard-to-categorize film — part horror story, part comedy, part fable, part psychological thriller — that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple whose relationship is severely tested when uninvited guests suddenly arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence and ultimately turning it into a literal war zone.

I recently talked to Aronofsky about making the film, and why he ditched the score.

This isn’t just a horror film. What sort of film did you set out to make?
After Black Swan I wanted to return to the horror genre, and I felt the home invasion genre hadn’t been used well in a while — and we can all relate to having house guests that overstay their welcome. So I felt that was a great starting point, and I also wanted to deal with larger issues — the planet we all live on, as guests in a sense. But I’m not really a genre filmmaker. For me, Pi was a thriller at its core, but I added lots of stuff and it became something else. I think I always do that. When I pitched Black Swan they felt it wasn’t enough of a ballet movie or horror film. It didn’t fit into any one genre. I just do what I think is cool and interesting, and then I start adding stuff.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning comedy and the increasingly dark, serious nature of the film?
It was tricky, but I think I was just truthful to what I’d written, and the intent of the characters does not change. They’re all very bad guests, and the level of the badness is what shifts, and the pitch changes. It’s like speeding up an old vinyl record — it just gets crazier and crazier, and more and more intense.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Technically, it was one of the hardest things me and my team have ever tried to do, because the last 25 minutes — the fever dream — were so demanding to choreograph and to maintain that nightmare fever-pitch for that long and have it build and build needed every department to work together in perfect sync.

The house is like another character. How did you deal with that?
It was vital to me that the film felt realistic and grounded for the first half, at least. I don’t think we could have pulled that off just shooting it on a stage, and we couldn’t find a real house that worked, so we went to great expense and effort to actually build the house up in Montreal where we shot. We actually built the house twice — the first time with just the first floor out in this beautiful field, which allowed us to do all the daylight sequences in natural light, and we shot those all in order. Then we built the full three-story house in a soundstage in Montreal for all the interior and night sequences, and as the house is like another character that morphs and changes, it really had to be a real house with all the plumbing and wiring, so that when it starts coming apart, it feels very real.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, and we did it all in New York at Sixteen 19. This post was very difficult and it ended up being 53 weeks – by far the longest I’ve ever done.

You cut this film with editor Andrew Weisblum, who collaborated with you on Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. How did that relationship work?
Editing was very tricky, because I wanted to pull the audience into Jen’s experience and not give them a chance to breathe, so we shot the film exclusively from her point of view, with hardly any wide shots, which usually allow you to get out of any sticky situations. Basically, the film is either shot over her shoulder, on her face or at what she’s looking at. This gives you incredibly limited coverage to work with in the edit, and Andy was forced to work with that. He began in preproduction, and we did three months of rehearsal which DP Matty Libatique, who’s shot most of my films, shot as a test. We then cut it together so we were able to look at a 100-minute rough version and get a sense of the camera movements and placement and how it would all look and learn from it. That was very helpful.

One of the biggest shocks of the film is that there’s no music. Can you talk about that decision and the importance of the sound design in the film?
It was a shock to me too! I’d hired composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s done films like Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and he wrote a wonderful score, and we worked on it for five months, but it was really weird — every time we played it to picture, it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then he said to me, “The score’s actually taking away from Jen’s performance, and pushing the film in another direction.” He was right. So we decided that the best score for the film was no score at all, which was pretty tough after all that work — and it scared the hell out of me, since I’ve always relied on music to be a major part of my films.

So I then turned to my longtime sound designer Craig Henighan and told him to just go for it, and that then became a huge part of the film. We actually kept some music cues all the way up to the mix stage, which we did at Warners, but ultimately realized we didn’t even need that because they suddenly stuck out.

Can you talk about the VFX, and working again with VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker.
Dan and I were roommates at college, and he’s done all my films. We had a huge number of shots — over 1,200, more than we had in Noah, although not so complex. We had a lot of different houses working on them, including ILM, Hybride, Raynault, and it was a mad rush at the end because the studio changed our release date, so we had to do two months of VFX work in just one month.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan who’s done all my films, and we worked very hard on the look to get this great, warm, lightly burnt butter look, so the DI was crucial.

Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
It’s always a constant evolution, and the colors a film takes on constantly shift and change, depending on the cast and production design and so on, but I’m very happy with it.

All Photos: Niko Tavernise


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.


Director Philippe Falardeau takes on boxing with Chuck

By Iain Blair

On the surface, French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau — whose drama Monsieur Lazhar was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards — might appear to be an unusual choice to helm a boxing film. But in his inspired hands, Chuck, the true story of Chuck Wepner, the first man to knock Muhammad Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title, lands a lot of impressive punches. Wepner was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning Rocky franchise.

Director Philippe Falardeau

Set in the early ‘70s, Chuck tells the unlikely story of Wepner, who was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey and also sold liquor on the mean streets when he got his big shot to fight Ali. Ultimately, he didn’t win the fight, but he found instant fame as the underdog who lasted 15 rounds in the ring with Ali. That was nothing compared to when Rocky came out. Wepner quickly attained hero status as the real-life inspiration for Stallone’s script and was quickly anointed King of the Jersey shore.

However, just when Wepner thought he was invincible, life set him up for the ultimate K.O. The aftermath of that fight triggered a series of events and numerous legal struggles that led to Wepner grasping to stay in the limelight. These obstacles led to sobriety and redemption after serving five years in prison for cocaine possession.

Liev Schreiber stars as the flawed but charismatic boxer opposite Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan. The IFC Films release is also on Blu-ray presented in 1080p HD with English 5.1 DTS HD master audio, and on DVD and digital HD from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

I recently talked to Falardeau — whose films include The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge, which won Best Canadian First Feature at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival; the Warner Bros. release The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon; and My Internship in Canada — about making the film.

Were you always a big boxing fan?
I was neither a fan or not, but I remember watching boxing at the 1984 LA Olympics and thinking there was something noble to it, and in sports I like duels between two people, like tennis. I don’t know a lot about boxing, and the script first caught my eye because I felt it’s not a typical boxing film at all. The big fight is in the middle of the film, and then there’s no big redemption fight at the end as usual.

Is it true you initially turned this down?
Well, I questioned if I was the right person for it. But as I read it the first time, I realized there was all this stuff I didn’t know about it, and it was a real page turner. It was more about the mythology of boxing and a cautionary tale about fame, which seemed very relevant in our era of social media when everyone wants to be famous.

There have been so many films about boxers, so what sort of film did you set out to make?
I was fascinated watching the actual fight on YouTube, and then I looked at a lot of archival footage since the script allowed for us to use some of that alongside what we had shot. All that really excited me, but the actual fighting sort of scared me. The thing is, the boxing you see in movies isn’t like reality, where it’s slow and messy, and nothing happens and then boom! Something happens.

So I wanted to make a film that showed the reality of boxing, not the movie version. After the whole fun ride of the first act, I think the story gets even more interesting when Chuck gets caught up in his whole new image and all the attention. Chuck really enjoys life. He’s a fun, playful, optimistic guy, sure of himself — really the opposite of Rocky Balboa. So the film had to be very playful — a drama that also didn’t take itself too seriously. So I tried to craft a movie where the rhythms, the editing, the archival footage and the tone all contributed to that feeling.

You got an amazing cast, with Liev Schreiber as Chuck, and Naomi Watts and Elisabeth Moss as his wives. What did Liev bring to the role, considering he looks nothing like the real man?
He brought so much, and he really agreed with my approach — let’s make it messy, not spectacular and just real. He spars a lot and really likes the sport, and he trained hard, so he was a great collaborator on this and he was very into it. And, of course, he’s a great actor, so we were able to explore a lot of levels.

Do you feel more of a responsibility when a film is about real people?
I do. I come from a documentary background, and I left documentary filmmaking because of the difficulty with that moral contract you have with the people you film. You want to make the best film possible, and that might mean making it more dramatic in the edit. That’s why I migrated to fiction.

With this, I met Chuck and his second wife, who are still together, and we all became friends. Chuck still calls me at home and keeps in touch. So it’s tough sitting next to him in a theater watching this, because at the same time you need to tell the truth of his story and shoot him in his underwear, snorting cocaine. But he knows he was no angel and we had to show that side.

Did you talk to Stallone at all about Chuck being the real-life inspiration for Rocky?
No, but the production needed his approval, and we got a few notes from him. We did get his direct help with the statue of Rocky at the end. It’s in his personal memorabilia collection, which he keeps at his LA office.

You shot this on location in New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria. Why Sofia?
That’s exactly what I asked when the producers told me, but in hindsight it was the right decision considering our budget. I ended up having double the time to shoot the Ali fight, three cameras, four times the extras for the crowd scene at the fight and a very competent technical team over there. So in all fairness, when producer Avi Lerner said we’d shoot in Bulgaria, he made the right call. I had to find solutions for the particular constraints, but half our job is always to find a way around new constraints. And, as it’s a period piece, that was a major challenge. For instance, finding old typewriters for some scenes.

Where did you post and do you like the post process?
We did all the post in Montreal at Technicolor, including the color correction. The sound was done partly in Sofia and partly in Montreal. The VFX was done in LA. I love post and always have. I also think people don’t have a clue just how much the success of a film depends on good post production, how much of a story you can build during the editing, and how much you can enhance your film in mixing and color timing.

The color and sound is vital in conveying a sense of intimacy, humanity and emotions. To get it right you need to work with artists in post. That’s why I love it so much. For me, the worst part of post is that first assembly. I always hate it! You can really measure the gap between your vision and your talent. I get really depressed and start looking for a new job outside film.

Can you talk about working with editor Richard Comeau, who’s cut over 60 films. Was he on the set?
No, he doesn’t care about your best takes, and he’s right because that’s completely irrelevant. So he’d start cutting as I shot, and we’d start the assembly. But an editor is not in your head, and to get the right POV and tone on a film you have to get in the room yourself. An editor can really help with restructuring and moving scenes around, but to get that specific tone you have in mind, you have to work on it with the editor.

Can you talk about using all the archival footage and making it seamless.
It wasn’t too tricky because I knew I’d be using archival stuff, and we also used a real 35mm grain in both the color and B&W bits, which also helped. The colorist, Nico Illies at Technicolor, did a great job on the DI. He used Filmlight’s Baselight.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, it’s a period piece, so you must have needed some VFX?
Quite a few, like the bear he fights, and then we had crowd enhancement at the fight. But all the hits we see on Liev’s face are real. They’re not enhanced.

What’s next?
I’ve got a couple of projects. One is a gold rush film, and the other is My Salinger Year, which I hope to start shooting early next year.


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.


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.

 


Veteran director Michael Apted on his latest film, Unlocked

By Iain Blair

Acclaimed British director Michael Apted is that rarity in today’s cinema — an extraordinarily versatile filmmaker who is comfortable in any genre and equally at home making big-budget tent poles or micro-budget documentaries.

His movies range from Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning dramas (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist) to films dealing with medical ethics (Extreme Measures), corporate whistleblowers (Class Action) and matters of faith (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). He has also directed political thrillers (Gorky Park), spy thrillers (Enigma), comedies (Continental Divide), music documentaries (Sting’s Bring on the Night) and a blockbuster Bond movie (The World Is Not Enough).

(L-R) Writer Iain Blair and Michael Apted.

Apted even made a feature film and a documentary about the same event (Thunderheart and Incident at Oglala). He has also directed many TV projects, including Ray Donovan, Rome and Masters of Sex. That is one diverse resume.

In fact, the only constant in an eclectic career that stretches back to the 1960s is the “Up Series,” which he first worked on as a researcher back in 1964, and which he returns to every seven years like clockwork (56 Up came out in 2012).

His latest film, Unlocked, is a pulpy, fast-moving spy thriller which, like many of Apted’s films, stars a woman in the lead role — Noomi Rapace plays a CIA agent undercover in London and on a mission to save the city from biological terrorism. She’s joined by an all-star cast, including Michael Douglas as her handler, Orlando Bloom as her unlikely helper, John Malkovich as the CIA spy chief at Langley and Toni Collette as his MI5 counterpart.

I recently met with Apted to talk about his process on this film along with his long career and what’s next for him.

You’ve made a lot of thrillers. What’s the secret to a good one?
On a trivial level, you always need a good pace. Then you look for lots of twists and turns and a script that isn’t quite what it appears to be. This allows you to keep the audience unsettled and never comfortable. The element of surprise is key.

You’ve made a lot of films with women in the leads. What did Noomi bring to the role?
She was already on board before me, so the idea was to have a woman organically at the heart of it; we met and I thought she was perfect for this. I’ve made a lot of dramas with women, as I find their lives are fundamentally more dramatic than most men’s. They have to make major life choices — having kids, marriage, jobs and so on — and men don’t have the same pressures, at least not in thrillers.

Look at a remarkable woman like Gorillas’ Dian Fossey, who pretty much sacrificed her personal life and any chance of romance and children to do what she did. I find those situations very dramatic, while men tend to follow a more routine life. There’s always far more emotion with the women playing the lead in dramas and thrillers. While women can seem more vulnerable, they often overcome that and so there’s more at stake. That’s another key element to a good thriller or drama.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Pretty early, though this only has about 200 VFX shots, compared to the Bond film, where the VFX are the main piece of the pie, and Narnia that had close to 1,400 VFX shots. My early films, like Coal Miner’s Daughter, had no VFX at all, but now almost every movie has some.

Is it true you shot most of it in Prague? How did you make that work?
Yes, we could only shoot six days in London due to the budget, so the rest was Prague. The key to doing it was the Czech production designer, a very clever guy who told me, “When you choose your key locations in London, don’t use the familiar classic sights as I won’t be able to match them. But if you go more modern, I can probably match it far better.” So that’s what I did. I avoided all the well-known locations, and it worked out great.

Do you like the post process?
I do, a lot. It allows you to fix things. It’s the last draft of a film, and as long as you know what you’re doing while you shoot and what scenes you may be vulnerable in — so you have the necessary coverage — you can then play around with it in post. The more films you do, the more experience you have about what scenes are truly important and which ones are not as you shoot. You have to give each one a value, and the crucial ones are where you want to spend the most time and money, so you can then shape them in the edit.

Where did you post?
I worked with editor Andrew MacRitchie. We cut as we shot and then did the first cut and most of the post in London, including all the VFX at Lipsync. But we had a problem with the ending. From the very start of the edit we knew we’d have to reshoot the end, but we ran into more budget problems.

Ultimately, we reshot the end in Munich and did the final post at Arri Post there for about three weeks. It was a bit hair-raising since we had to ship all the final post elements we’d already done in London, like the music and mix, but they did a great job. Arri also did any needed adjustments to the VFX because of the changes. The big VFX sequence was the big football game at the end, which we shot in Prague, and then made it more like Wembley stadium in London.

Talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker.
It’s beyond important — it’s crucial. The composer, Stephen Barton, was very savvy about combining a real orchestra with computers and synths, so we could keep chopping and changing it and do rough scores as we felt our way through it all. All the sound design was done in London with some extra work at Arri Sound in Munich.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did most of it at Lipsync in London, and then went to Arri Post to re-grade and finish it off after the reshoot. The DI was key in getting the film’s overall look, a palette of cool grays and blues.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s got some nice twists and great characters, and once we figured out the right end, it came together really well I feel.

Michael Apted on set with Noomi Rapace.

What’s next?
I’m working on a film that we’re casting now. It’s a very emotional story about a father and son, set in Naples, about the son finding his long-lost father. I’ll be doing 63 Up at the end of next year, which will come out in spring 2019.

Do you think of yourself ultimately as a documentary filmmaker?
Yes, I think that’s true because I approach material and all my films in a documentary way. I remember when we did Coal Miner’s Daughter, I insisted on shooting it in the real locations with the local people in it. There’s only three professional actors in the whole film, so that was my documentary voice speaking.


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.


Millennium Digital XL camera: development to delivery

By Lance Holte and Daniel Restuccio

Panavision’s Millennium DXL 8K may be one of today’s best digital cinema cameras, but it might also be one of the most misunderstood. Conceived and crafted to the exacting tradition of the company whose cameras captured such films as Lawrence of Arabia and Inception, the Millennium DXL challenges expectations. We recently sat down with Panavision to examine the history, workflow, some new features and how that all fits into a 2017 moviemaking ecosystem.

Announced at Cine Gear 2016, and released for rent through Panavision in January 2017, the Millennium DXL stepped into the digital large format field as, at first impression, a competitor to the Arri Alexa 65. The DXL was the collaborative result of a partnership of three companies: Panavision developed the optics, accessories and some of the electronics; Red Digital Cinema designed the 8K VV (VistaVision) sensor; and Light Iron provided the features, color science and general workflow for the camera system.

The collaboration for the camera first began when Light Iron was acquired by Panavision in 2015. According to Michael Cioni, Light Iron president/Millennium DXL product manager, the increase in 4K and HDR television and theatrical formats like Dolby Vision and Barco Escape created the perfect environment for the three-company partnership. “When Panavision bought Light Iron, our idea was to create a way for Panavision to integrate a production ecosystem into the post world. The DXL rests atop Red’s best tenets, Panavision’s best tenets and Light Iron’s best tenets. We’re partners in this — information can flow freely between post, workflow, color, electronics and data management into cameras, color science, ergonomics, accessories and lenses.”

HDR OLED viewfinder

Now, one year after the first announcement, with projects like the Lionsgate feature adventure Robin Hood, the Fox Searchlight drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the CBS crime drama S.W.A.T. and a Samsung campaign shot by Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren under the DXL’s belt, the camera sports an array of new upgrades, features and advanced tools. They include an HDR OLED viewfinder (which they say is the first), wireless control software for iOS, and a new series of lenses. According to Panavision, the new DXL offers “unprecedented development in full production-to-post workflow.”

Preproduction Considerations
With so many high-resolution cameras on the market, why pick the DXL? According to Cioni, cinematographers and their camera crew are no longer the only people that directly interact with cameras. Panavision examined the impact a camera had on each production department — camera assistants, operators, data managers, DITs, editors, and visual effects supervisors. In response to this feedback, they designed DXL to offer custom toolsets for every department. In addition, Panavision wanted to leverage the benefits of their heritage lenses and enable the same glass that photographed ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to be available for a wider range of today’s filmmakers on DXL.

When Arri first debuted the Alexa 65 in 2014, there were questions about whether such a high-resolution, data-heavy image was necessary or beneficial. But cinematographers jumped on it and have leaned on large format sensors and glass-to-lens pictures — ranging from Doctor Strange to Rogue One — to deliver greater immersiveness, detail and range. It seems that the large format trend is only accelerating, particularly among filmmakers who are interested in the optical magnification, depth of field and field-of-view characteristics that only large format photography offers.

Kramer Morgenthau

“I think large format is the future of cinematography for the big screen,” says cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, who shot with the DXL in 2016. “[Large format cinematography] gives more of a feeling of the way human vision is. And so, it’s more cinematic. Same thing with anamorphic glass — anamorphic does a similar thing, and that’s one of the reasons why people love it. The most important thing is the glass, and then the support, and then the user-friendliness of the camera to move quickly. But these are all important.”

The DXL comes to market offering a myriad of creative choice for filmmakers. Among the large format cameras, the Millennium DXL aims to be the crème de la crème — it’s built around an 46mm 8192×4320 Red VV sensor, custom Panavision large format spherical and anamorphic lenses, wrapped in camera department-friendly electronics, using proprietary color science — all of which complements a mixed camera environment.

“The beauty of digital, and this camera in particular, is that DXL actually stands for ‘digital extra light.’ With a core body weight of only 10 pounds, and with its small form factor, I’ve seen DXL used in the back seat of a car as well as to capture the most incredible helicopter scenes,” Cioni notes.

With the help of Light Iron, Panavision developed a tool to match DXL footage to Panavised Red Weapon cameras. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 used Red Weapon 8K VV Cameras with Panavision Primo 70 lenses. “There are shows like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why [Season Two] that combined this special matching of the DXL and the Red Helium sensor based on the workflow of the show,” Cioni notes. “They’re shooting [the second season] with two DXLs as their primary camera, and they have two 8K Red cameras with Helium sensors, and they match each other.”

If you are thinking the Millennium DXL will bust your budget, think again. Like many Panavision cameras, the DXL is exclusively leasable through Panavision, but Cioni says they’re happy to help filmmakers to build the right package and workflow. “A lot of budgetary expense can be avoided with a more efficient workflow. Once customers learn how DXL streamlines the entire imaging chain, a DXL package might not be out of reach. We always work with customers to build the right package at a competitive price,” he says.

Using the DXL in Production
The DXL could be perceived as a classic dolly Panavision camera, especially with the large format moniker. “Not true,” says Morgenthau, who shot test footage with the camera slung over his shoulder in the back seat of a car.

He continues, “I sat in the back of a car and handheld it — in the back of a convertible. It’s very ergonomic and user-friendly. I think what’s exciting about the Millennium: its size and integration with technology, and the choice of lenses that you get with the Panavision lens family.”

Panavision’s fleet of large format lenses, many of which date back to the 1950s, made the company uniquely equipped to begin development on the new series of large format optics. To be available by the end of 2017, the Primo Artiste lenses are a full series of T/1.8 Primes — the fastest optics available for large format cinematography — with a completely internalized motor and included metadata capture. Additionally, the Primo Artiste lenses can be outfitted with an anamorphic glass attachment that retains the spherical nature of the base lens, yet induces anamorphic artifacts like directional flares and distorted bokeh.

Another new addition to the DXL is the earlier mentioned Panavision’s HDR OLED Primo viewfinder. Offering 600-nit brightness, image smoothing and optics to limit eye fatigue, the viewfinder also boasts a theoretical contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. Like other elements on the camera, the Primo viewfinder was the result of extensive polling and camera operator feedback. “Spearheaded by Panavision’s Haluki Sadahiro and Dominick Aiello, we went to operators and asked them everything we could about what makes a good viewfinder,” notes Cioni. “Guiding an industry game-changing product meant we went through multiple iterations. We showed the first Primo HDR prototype version in November 2016, and after six months of field testing, the final version is both better and simpler, and it’s all thanks to user feedback.”

Michael Cioni

In response to the growing popularity of HDR delivery, Light Iron also provides a powerful on-set HDR viewing solution. The HDR Village cart is built with a 4K HDR Sony monitor with numerous video inputs. The system can simultaneously display A and B camera feeds in high dynamic range and standard dynamic range on four different split quadrants. This enables cinematographers to evaluate their images and better prepare for multi-format color grading in post, given that most HDR projects are also required to deliver in SDR.

Post Production
The camera captures R3D files, the same as any other Red camera, but does have metadata that is unique to the DXL, ranging from color science to lens information. It also uses Light Iron’s set of color matrices designed specifically for the DXL: Light Iron Color.

Designed by Light Iron supervising colorist Ian Vertovec, Light Iron Color deviates from traditional digital color matrices by following in the footsteps of film stock philosophy instead of direct replication of how colors look in nature. Cioni likens Light Iron Color to Kodak’s approach to film. “Kodak tried to make different film stocks for different intentions. Since one film stock cannot satisfy every creative intention, DXL is designed to allow look transforms that users can choose, export and integrate into the post process. They come in the form of cube lookup tables and are all non-destructive.”

Light Iron Color can be adjusted and tweaked by the user or by Light Iron, which Cioni says has been done on many shows. The ability to adjust Light Iron Color to fit a particular project is also useful on shows that shoot with multiple camera types. Though Light Iron Color was designed specifically for the Millennium DXL, Light Iron has used it on other cameras — including the Sony A7, and Reds with Helium and Dragon sensors — to ensure that all the footage matches as closely as possible.

While it’s possible to cut with high-resolution media online with a blazing fast workstation and storage solution, it’s a lot trickier to edit online with 8K media in a post production environment that often requires multiple editors, assistants, VFX editors, post PAs and more. The good news is that the DXL records onboard low-bitrate proxy media (ProRes or DNx) for offline editorial while simultaneously recording R3Ds without requiring the use of an external recorder.

Cioni’s optimal camera recording setup for editorial is 5:1 compression for the R3Ds alongside 2K ProRes LT files. He explains, “My rule of thumb is to record super high and super low. And if I have high-res and low-res and I need to make something else, I can generate that somewhere in the middle from the R3Ds. But as long as I have the bottom and the top, I’m good.”

Storage is also a major post consideration. An hour of 8192×4320 R3Ds at 23.976fps runs in the 1TB/hour range — that number may vary, depending on the R3D compression, but when compared to an hour of 6560×3100 Arriraw footage, which lands at 2.6TB an hour, the Millennium DXL’s lighter R3D workflow can be very attractive.

Conform and Delivery
One significant aspect of the Millennium DXL workflow is that even though the camera’s sensor, body, glass and other pipeline tools are all recently developed, R3D conform and delivery workflows remain tried and true. The onboard proxy media exactly matches the R3Ds by name and timecode, and since Light Iron Color is non-destructive, the conform and color-prep process is simple and adjustable, whether the conform is done with Adobe, Blackmagic, Avid or other software.

Additionally, since Red media can be imported into almost all major visual effects applications, it’s possible to work with the raw R3Ds as VFX plates. This retains the lens and camera metadata for better camera tracking and optical effects, as well as providing the flexibility of working with Light Iron Color turned on or off, and the 8K R3Ds are still lighter than working with 4K (as is the VFX trend) DPX or EXR plates. The resolution also affords enormous space for opticals and stabilization in a 4K master.

4K is the increasingly common delivery resolution among studios, networks and over-the-top content distributors, but in a world of constant remastering and an exponential increase in television and display resolutions, the benefit in future-proofing a picture is easily apparent. Baselight, Resolve, Rio and other grading and finishing applications can handle 8K resolutions, and even if the final project is only rendered at 4K now, conforming and grading in 8K ensures the picture will be future-proofed for some time. It’s a simple task to re-export a 6K or 8K master when those resolutions become the standard years down the line.

After having played with DXL footage provided by Light Iron, it was surprising how straightforward the workflow seems. For a very small production, the trickiest part is the requirement of a powerful workstation — or sets of workstations — to conform and play 8K Red media, with a mix of (likely) 4K VFX shots, graphics and overlays. Michael Cioni notes, “[Everyone] already knows a RedCode workflow. They don’t have to learn it, I could show the DXL to anyone who has a Red Raven and in 30 seconds they’ll confidently say, ‘I got this.’”

Baby Driver editors — Syncing cuts to music

By Mel Lambert

Writer/director Edgar Wright’s latest outing is a major departure from his normal offering of dark comedies. Unlike his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy — Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver has been best described as a romantic musical disguised as a car-chase thriller.

Wright’s regular pair of London-based picture editors, Paul Machliss, ACE, and Jonathan Amos, ACE, also brought a special brand of magic to the production. Machliss, who had worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim, The World’s End and his TV series Spaced for Channel 4, recalls that, “very early on, Edgar decided that I should come along on the shoot in Atlanta to ensure that we had the material he’d already storyboarded in a series of complex animatics for the film [using animator Steve Markowski and editor Evan Schiff]. Jon Amos joined us when we returned to London for sound and picture post production, primarily handling the action sequences, at which he excels.”

Developed by Wright over the past two decades, Baby Driver tells the story of an eponymous getaway driver (Ansel Elgort), who uses earphones to drown out the “hum-in-the-drum” of tinnitus — the result of a childhood car accident — and to orchestrate his life to carefully chosen music. But now indebted to a sinister kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby becomes part of a seriously focused gang of bank robbers, including Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Debora, Baby’s love interest (Lily James), dreams of heading west “in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have.” Imagine, in a sense, Jim McBride’s Breathless rubbing metaphorical shoulders with Tony Scott’s True Romance.

The film also is indebted to Wright’s 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s Blue Song, during which UK comedian/actor Noel Fielding danced in a stationery getaway car. In that same vein, Baby Driver comprises a sequence of linked songs that tightly choreograph the action and underpin the dramatic arcs being played out, often keying off the songs’ lyrics.

The film’s opener, for example, features Elgort partly lipsyncing to “Bellbottoms,” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as the villains commit their first robbery. In subsequent scenes, our hero’s movements follow the opening bass riffs of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” then later to Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” before Queen’s “Brighton Rock” adds complex guitar cacophony to a key encounter scene.

Even the film’s opening titles are accompanied by Baby performing a casual coffee run in a continuous three-minute take to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” — a scene that reportedly took 28 takes on the first day of practical photography in Atlanta. And the percussion and horns of “Tequila” provide syncopation for a protracted gunfight. Fold in “Egyptian Reggae,” “Unsquare Dance,” and “Easy,” followed by “Debora,” and it’s easy to appreciate that Wright is using music as a key and underpinning component of this film. The director also brought in music video choreographer Ryan Heffington to achieve the timing precision he needed.

The swift action is reflected in a fast style of editing, including whip pans and crash zooms, with cuts that are tightly synchronized to the music. “Whereas the majority of Edgar’s previous TV series and films have been parodies, for Baby Driver he had a very different idea,” explains Machliss. Wright had accumulated a playlist of over 30 songs that would inspire various scenes in his script. “It’s something that’s very much a part of my previous films,” says director Wright, “and I thought of this idea of how to take that a stage further by having a character who listens to music the entire time.”

“Edgar had organized a table read of his script in the spring of 2012 in Los Angeles, at which he recorded all of the dialog,” says Machliss. “Taking that recording, some sound effects and the music tracks, I put together a 100-minute ‘radio play’ that was effectively the whole film in audio-only form that Edgar could then use as a selling tool to convince the studios that he had a viable idea. Remember, Baby Driver was a very different format for him and not what he is traditionally known for.”

Australia-native Machliss was on set to ensure that the gunshots, lighting effects, actors and camera movements, plus car hits, all happened to the beat of the accompanying music. “We were working with music that we could not alter or speed up or slow down,” he says. “We were challenged to make sure that each sequence fit in the time frame of the song, as well as following the cadence of the music.”

Almost 95% of music included in the first draft of Wright’s script made it into the final movie according to Machliss. “I laid up the relevant animatic as a video layer in my Avid Media Composer and then confirmed how each take worked against the choreographed timeline. This way I always had a reference to it as we were filming. It was a very useful guide to see if we were staying on track.”

Editing On Location
During the Atlanta shoot, Machliss used Apple ProRes digital files captured by an In2Core QTake video assist that was recording taps from the production’s 35mm cameras. “I connected to my Mac via Ethernet so I could create a network to the video assist’s storage. I had access to his QuickTime files the instant he stopped recording. I could use Avid’s AMA function to place the clip in the timeline without the need for transcoding. This allowed almost instantaneous feedback to Edgar as the sequence was built up.”

Paul Machliss on set.

While on location, Machliss used a 15-inch MacBook Pro, Avid Mojo DX and a JVC video monitor “which could double as a second screen for the Media Composer or show full-screen video output via the Mojo DX.” He also had a Wacom tablet, an 8TB Thunderbolt drive, a LaCie 500GB rugged drive — “which would shuttle my media between set and editorial” — and an APU “so that I wouldn’t lose power if the supply was shut down by the sparks!”

LA’s Fotokem handled film processing, with negative scanning by Efilm. DNX files were sent to Company 3 in Atlanta for picture editorial, “where we would also review rushes in 2K sent down the line from Efilm,” says Machliss. “All DI on-lining and grading took place at Molinare in London.” Bill Pope, ASC, was the film’s director of photography.

Picture and Sound Editorial in London
Instead of hiring out editorial suites at a commercial facility in London, Wright and his post teams opted for a different approach. Like an increasing number of London-based productions, they elected to rent an entire floor in an office building.

They located a suitable location on Berners Street, north of the Soho-based film community. As Machliss recalls: “That allowed us to have the picture editorial team in the same space as the sound crew,” which was headed up by Wright’s long-time collaborator Julian Slater, who served as sound designer, supervising sound editor and re-recording engineer on Baby Driver. “Having ready access to Julian and his team meant that we could collaborate very closely — as we had on Edgar’s other films — and share ideas on a regular basis,” as the 10-week Director’s Cut progressed.

British-born Slater then moved across Soho to Goldcrest Films for sound effects pre-dubs, while his co-mixer, Tim Cavagin, worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham Studios. Print mastering of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack occurred in February 2017 at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “Following Edgar’s concept of threading together the highly choreographed songs with linking scenes, Jon and I began the cut in London against the pre-assembled material from Atlanta,” says Machliss.

To assist Machliss during his picture cut, the film’s sound designer had provided a series of audio stems for his Avid. “Julian [Slater] had been working on his sound effects and dialog elements since principal photography ended in Atlanta. He had prepared separate, color-coded left-center-right stems of the music, dialog and SFX elements he was working on. I laid these [high-quality tracks] into Media Composer so I could better appreciate the intricacies of Julian’s evolving soundtrack. It worked a lot better than a normal rough mix of production dialog, rough sound effects and guide music.”

“From its inception, this was a movie for which music and sound design worked together as a whole piece,” Slater recalls. “There is a large amount of syncopation of the diegetic sounds [implied by the film’s action] to the music track Baby is listening to. Sometimes it’s obvious because the action was filmed with that purpose in mind. For example, walking in tempo to the music track or guns being fired in tempo. But many times it’s more subtle, including police sirens or distant trains that have been pitched and timed to the music,” and hence blend into the overall musical journey. “We strived to always do this to support the story, and to never distract from it.”

Because of the lead character’s tinnitus, Slater worked with pitch changes to interweave elements of the film’s soundtrack. “Whenever Baby is not listening to music, his tinnitus is present to some degree. But it became apparent very soon in our design process that strident, high-pitched ‘whistle tones’ would not work for a sustained period of time. Working closely with composer Steven Price, we developed a varied set of methods to convey the tinnitus — it’s rarely the same sound twice. Much of the time, the tinnitus is pitched according to either the outgoing or incoming music track. This then enabled us to use more of it, yet at the same time be quite subtle.”

Meticulous Planning for Set Pieces and Car Chases
Picture editor Amos joined the project at the start of the Director’s Cut to handle the film’s set pieces. He says, “These set pieces were conceptually very different from the vast majority of action scenes in that they were literally built up around the music and then visualized. Meticulous development and planning went into these sequences before the shoot even began, which was decisive in making the action become musical. For example, the ‘Tequila’ gunfight started as a piece of music by Button Down Brass. It was then laced with gunfire and SFX pitched to the music, and in time with the drum hits — this was done at the script stage by Mark Nicholson (aka, Osymyso, a UK musician/DJ) who specializes in mashup/bastard pop and breakbeat.”

Storyboards then grew around this scripted sound collage, which became a precise shot list for the filmed sequences. “Guns were rigged to go off in time with the music; it was all a very deliberate thing,” adds Amos. “Clearly, there was a lot of editing still to be done, but this approach illustrates that there’s a huge difference between something that is shot and edited to music, and something that is built around the music.”

“All the car chases for Baby Driver were meticulously planned, and either prevised or storyboarded,” Amos explains. “This ensured that the action would always fit into the time slot permitted within the music. The first car chase [against the song ‘Bellbottoms’] is divided into 13 sections, to align to different progressions in the music. One of the challenges resulted from the decision to never edit the music, which meant that none of these could overrun. Stunts were tested and filmed by second unit director Darrin Prescott, and the footage passed back to editorial to test against the timing allowed in the animatic. If a stunt couldn’t be achieved in the time allowed, it was revised and tweaked until it worked. This detailed planning gave the perfect backbone to the sequences.”

Amos worked on the sequences sequentially, “using the animatic and Paul’s on-set assembly as reference,” and began to break down all the footage into rolls that aligned to specific passages of the music. “There was a vast amount of footage for all the set pieces, and things are not always shot in order. So generally I spent a lot of time breaking the material down very methodically. I then began to make selects and started to build the sequences from scratch, section by section. Once I completed a pass, I spent some time building up my sound layers. I find this helps evolve the cut, generating another level of picture ideas that further tighten the syncopation of sound and picture.”

Amos’ biggest challenge, despite all the planning, was finding ways to condense the material into its pre-determined time slot. “The real world never moves quite like animatics and boards. We had very specific points in every track where certain actions had to take place; we called these anchor points. When working on a section, we would often work backwards from the anchor point knowing, for instance, that we only had 20 seconds to tell a particular part of the story. Initially, it can seem quite restrictive, but the edits become so precise.

Jonathan Amos

“The time restriction led to a level of kineticism and syncopation that became a defining feature of the movie. While the music may be the driving force of the action scenes, editorial choices were always rooted in the story and the characters. If you lose sight of the characters, the audience will disengage with the sequence, and you’ll lose all the tension you’ve worked so hard to create. Every shot choice was therefore very considered, and we worked incredibly hard to ensure we never wasted a frame, telling the story in the most compelling, rhythmic and entertaining way we could.”

“Once we had our cut,” Machliss summarizes, “we could return the tracks to Julian for re-conforming,” to accommodate edit changes. “It was an excellent way of working, with full-sounding edit mixes.”

Summing up his experience in Baby Driver, Machliss considers the film to be “the hardest job I’ve ever done, but the most fun I’ve ever had. Ultimately, our task was to create a film that on one level could be purely enjoyed as an exciting/dramatic piece of cinema, but, on repeated viewing, would reveal all the little elements ‘under the surface’ that interlock together — which makes the film unique. It’s a testament to Edgar’s singular vision and, in that regard, he is a tremendously exciting director to work with.”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.