Tag Archives: Arri Alexa

Mozart in the Jungle

The colorful dimensions of Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle

By Randi Altman

How do you describe Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle? Well, in its most basic form it’s a comedy about the changing of the guard — or maestro — at the New York Philharmonic, and the musicians that make up that orchestra. When you dig deeper you get a behind-the-scenes look at the back-biting and crazy that goes on in the lives and heads of these gifted artists.

Timothy Vincent

Timothy Vincent

Based on the novel Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music by oboist Blair Tindall, the series — which won the Golden Globe last year and was nominated this year — has shot in a number of locations over its three seasons, including Mexico and Italy.

Since its inception, Mozart in the Jungle has been finishing in 4K and streaming in both SDR and HDR. We recently reached out to Technicolor’s senior color timer, Timothy Vincent, who has been on the show since the pilot to find out more about the show’s color workflow.

Did Technicolor have to gear up infrastructure-wise for the show’s HDR workflow?
We were doing UHD 4K already and were just getting our HDR workflows worked out.

What is the workflow from offline to online to color?
The dailies are done in New York based on the Alexa K1S1 709 LUT. (Technicolor On-Location Services handled dailies out of Italy, and Technicolor PostWorks in New York.) After the offline and online, I get the offline reference made with the dailies so I can look at if I have a question about what was intended.

If someone was unsure about watching in HDR versus SDR, what would you tell them?
The emotional feel of both the SDR and the HDR is the same. That is always the goal in the HDR pass for Mozart. One of the experiences that is enhanced in the HDR is the depth of field and the three-dimensional quality you gain in the image. This really plays nicely with the feel in the landscapes of Italy, the stage performances where you feel more like you are in the audience, and the long streets of New York just to name a few.

Mozart in the JungleWhen I’m grading the HDR version, I’m able to retain more highlight detail than I was in the SDR pass. For someone who has not yet been able to experience HDR, I would actually recommend that they watch an episode of the show in SDR first and then in HDR so they can see the difference between them. At that point they can choose what kind of viewing experience they want. I think that Mozart looks fantastic in both versions.

What about the “look” of the show. What kind of direction where you given?
We established the look of the show based on conversations and collaboration in my bay. It has always been a filmic look with soft blacks and yellow warm tones as the main palette for the show. Then we added in a fearlessness to take the story in and out of strong shadows. We shape the look of the show to guide the viewers to exactly the story that is being told and the emotions that we want them to feel. Color has always been used as one of the storytelling tools on the show. There is a realistic beauty to the show.

What was your creative partnership like with the show’s cinematographer, Tobias Datum?
I look forward to each episode and discovering what Tobias has given me as palette and mood for each scene. For Season 3 we picked up where we left off at the end of Season 2. We had established the look and feel of the show and only had to account for a large portion of Season 3 being shot in Italy. Making sure to feel the different quality of light and feel of the warmth and beauty of Italy. We did this by playing with natural warm skin tones and the contrast of light and shadow he was creating for the different moods and locations. The same can be said for the two episodes in Mexico in Season 2. I know now what Tobias likes and can make decisions I’m confident that he will like.

Mozart in the JungleFrom a director and cinematographer’s point of view, what kind of choices does HDR open up creatively?
It depends on if they want to maintain the same feel of the SDR or if they want to create a new feel. If they choose to go in a different direction, they can accentuate the contrast and color more with HDR. You can keep more low-light detail while being dark, and you can really create a separate feel to different parts of the show… like a dream sequence or something like that.

Any workflow tricks/tips/trouble spots within the workflow or is it a well-oiled machine at this point?
I have actually changed the way I grade my shows based on the evolution of this show. My end results are the same, but I learned how to build grades that translate to HDR much easier and consistently.

Do you have a color assistant?
I have a couple of assistants that I work with who help me with prepping the show, getting proxies generated, color tracing and some color support.

What tools do you use — monitor, software, computer, scope, etc.?
I am working on Autodesk Lustre 2017 on an HP Z840, while monitoring on both a Panasonic CZ950 and a Sony X300. I work on Omnitek scopes off the downconverter to 2K. The show is shot on both Alexa XT and Alexa Mini, framing for 16×9. All finishing is done in 4K UHD for both SDR and HDR.

Anything you would like to add?
I would only say that everyone should be open to experiencing both SDR and HDR and giving themselves that opportunity to choose which they want to watch and when.

The A-List: Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie

By Iain Blair

Over the course of nine films, acclaimed Scottish director David Mackenzie has managed to pull off quite a trick — appearing to embrace genre filmmaking while simultaneously subverting the whole concept. His last film, Starred Up, was both a brutal prison drama and a story about anger therapy. Young Adam was both an erotic thriller and a tragic love story. Perfect Sense was a sci-fi romance.

His latest genre mash-up, Hell or High Water, might look like a standard-issue, nail-biting bank-heist thriller, but it’s also a lyrical western, a road movie and a timely commentary on current political and economic issues in America. Written by Taylor Sheridan (who wrote Sicario), it stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as Toby and Tanner, two brothers who embark on a crime spree in order to save their family ranch from being foreclosed on by the local bank. Following their trail is a world-weary Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his put-upon partner (Gil Birmingham).

David Mackenzie

The behind-the-scenes team includes DP Giles Nuttgens and Mackenzie’s longtime editor Jake Roberts, and the film features an original score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Far From Men). The film, which is now rolling out in theaters nationwide, is already attracting Oscar talk.

I spoke with Mackenzie about making Hell or High Water and his unique editing process.

This is being hailed as one of the best and “most American” films of the year. How does a Scot from Glasgow end up making a Texas crime drama that’s definitely more than just a crime drama, that takes on a lot of current American issues, and feels so authentic?
I guess I got lucky. It was a great script, and I already had a connection with West Texas as I’d been there a few years ago to visit a Scottish friend who lives there — I loved the landscape — so I had a feeling for the place and the lifestyle there. When I read the script I thought, “This is a great opportunity,” so I just ran with it. I’m always drawn to stories that are not black and white in terms of their moral shades, and I was interested in the idea of “redemptive criminality” where good people do bad things for good reasons. That was a big part of the appeal for me in doing this.

What did each of the three leads bring to the table?
It’s so hard to put into words as it’s this intangible thing really. They all brought their skill, talent, hard work and experience to their characters, and it’s this alchemy that happens, this magic, when you get the right actors in the roles. I knew we were doing good work at the time; it felt great, and there was such a good rapport between everyone on set.

It has a very ‘70s western feel. Were directors like Peckinpah and Don Siegel an influence?
Definitely, along with people like Hal Ashby, and what I call ‘the humanistic cinema’ of the ‘70s. I think Don Siegel was a master of his craft and hugely underrated.

It plays like a laid-back thriller, but with a lot of other things going on.
Right. I never really thought of it as a thriller. For me it had to be a balance between the genre bank robbery elements and the deeper exploration of land and space and people lost in the erosion of change. They aren’t really verbal and articulate; they communicate as much in their silences as their sentences, and the “porch moments” feel to me absolutely essential to the film and we all felt instinctively drawn to them whenever the opportunity arrived. I love the contrast between the huge, empty horizons and the sanctuary of the porch.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
We decided to use both digital (Arri Alexa XTs) and classic Cinemascope to create a look that’s very contemporary but also timeless. Finding all the right locations was key as well.

The film’s set in Archer City, where the classic The Last Picture Show was shot, one of Jeff Bridges’ early films, and interestingly my editor saw Peter Bogdanovich (see my postPerspective interview with him last year) in the audience at a recent screening of our film, and they had a nice chat. Archer City’s not changed at all since he shot there, but we ended up shooting in New Mexico, because of tax credits. Obviously, most banks didn’t want us shooting heist scenes, so we renovated various banks that had shut down, but we also got to shoot in a real, working bank; there’s nothing like using real locations.

Where did you do all the post?
It was a mixture of starting the edit in New Mexico, then Glasgow for three months, and then all the finishing in LA. We did some ADR at Margarita Mix, PostWorks and the final mix at Wildfire with Chris David.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. For me, the shoot’s the most exciting part, but post is where you actually make the film and shape all the material. We spent about six, eight months on it. The great thing about all the portable technology now is that you can just set up a post suite wherever you are, so in Glasgow we had a hotel room and did a lot of the editing there.

Talk about editing with editor Jake Roberts. Was he on the set?
He was either on the set or very close by, and the editing is very immediate. After six films together with Jake I developed a way of working that’s really fast and pared down. For me, filmmaking is about getting as close to the spirit of the material as possible and liberating myself from some of the less necessary conventions of the normal filmmaking process. So I don’t use clapper boards and I don’t have an on-set script supervisor.

I also cut as I shoot, so we keep the edit of the film totally up to speed with the shoot, except for the last scene of the day, and I’m able to see cut scenes the day they are shot — which in turn feeds back into what we are doing in a very positive and encouraging way. Every week we can see a cut of the film so far — and it’s not an assembly. I really love this method of working. Obviously, it continues after the shoot, but it allows you to be way ahead of the game in terms of the edit.

Is it true you did testing for the very first time?
Yes, and I thought it was very helpful, putting it out in front of an audience and seeing how they feel and react. We did three tests and that helped shape and finesse the material more each time. But I didn’t like the focus group stuff at all. It didn’t seem helpful to me.

I loved the different rhythms used for the brothers, and then the more relaxed scenes with the Rangers.
I’m glad you noticed. That was the idea, but it also partly came about because of the actors’ schedules. We shot Chris and Ben separately from Jeff and Gil, and very fast, with a rag-tag feeling. Jeff and Gil was slower and more leisurely, and we had more time, so it was two very different flavors.

I thought the fight scene was unusual — no fast cuts, just one long take.
We felt it was far more effective that way, not relying on cuts to do the work of the scene.

What about the VFX – what was involved?
The biggest was the brush fire. Vitality VFX did that and it took quite a long time to get right. I want to give a special shout-out to Jeremy Cox, who also did a lot of very subtle VFX work — condensing shots, adding signage and so on. It’s the first time I’ve had so many VFX like that, and it was a revelation to me.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at Light Iron with Corinne Bogdanowicz, and I’m always very involved with the DP in getting the look right. We went a little bit too far at one point in getting the right look and had to pull some color and contrast, but I’m very pleased with the final look.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. The film came together very quickly, but the shaping took a long time in the end.

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.

This DIT talks synchronization and action scenes

By Peter Welch

As a digital imaging technician on feature films, I work closely with the director of photography, camera crew, editorial and visual effects teams to make sure the right data is collected for post production to transform raw digital footage into a polished movie as efficiently as possible.

A big part of this role is to anticipate how things could go wrong during a shoot, so I can line up the optimal combination of technical kit to minimize the impact should the worst happen. With all the inherent unpredictability that comes with high-speed chases and pyrotechnics, feature film action sequences can offer up some particularly tough challenges. These pivotal scenes are incredibly costly to get wrong, so every technological requirement is amplified. This includes the need to generate robust and reliable timecode.

I take timecode very seriously, seeing it as an essential part of the camera rather than a nice-to-have add-on. Although it doesn’t really affect us on set, further down the line, a break in timecode can cause other areas a whole world of problems. In the case of last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, creating the spectacular scenes and VFX we’ve come to expect from Marvel involved developing solid workflows for some very large multi-camera set-ups. For some shots, as many as 12 cameras were rolling with a total camera package of 27 cameras, including Arri Alexa XTs, Canon C500s with Codex recorders, Red Epics and Blackmagic cameras. The huge amounts of data generated made embedding accurate, perfectly synced timecode into every piece of footage an important technical requirement.

Avengers : Age of Ultron ; Year : 2015 USA ; Director : Joss Whedon ; Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth. Image shot 2015. Exact date unknown.One of the largest action sequences for Age of Ultron was filmed in Korea with eight cameras rigged to capture footage — four Arri Alexas and four Canon C500s — and huge volumes of RAW output going to Codex recorders. With this shoot, there was a chance that cameras could be taken out while filming, putting footage at risk of being lost. As a result, while the Alexas were strategically rigged a safe distance from the main action, the less costly C500s were placed in and around the explosion, putting them at an increased risk of being caught in the line of fire.

As an added complication, once the set was built, and definitely once it was hot with explosives, we couldn’t go back in to adjust camera settings. So while I was able to manually jam-sync the Alexas, the C500s had to be set to record with timecode running at the point of rigging. There wasn’t an opportunity to go back later and re-jam midway through the day — they had to stay in sync throughout, whatever twists and turns the filming process took.

With the C500 cameras placed in strategic positions to maximize the action, the Codex recorders, Preston MDRs and power were built into recording and camera control boxes (or ‘safe boxes’) and positioned at a distance from the cameras and then connected via a bespoke set of cables. Within each C500’s “safe box,” I also placed a Timecode Systems Minitrx+ set in receive mode. This was synced over RF to a master unit back outside of the “hot” zone.

With an internal Li-Polymer battery powering it for up to 12 hours, the Mintrx+ units in the C500 “safe boxes” could be left running throughout a long shooting day with complete confidence and no requirement for manual jamming or resetting. This set-up ensured all footage captured by the C500s in the “hot” zone was stamped with the same frame-accurate timecode as the Alexas. The timecode could also be monitored via the return video signals’ embedded SDI feed.

But it’s not just the pyrotechnics that inject unpredictability into shooting this kind of scene — the sheer scale of the locations can be as much of a challenge. The ability to synchronize timecode over RF definitely helps, but even with long-range RF it’s good to have a backup. For example, for one scene in 2015’s Spectre, 007 piloted a motorboat down a sizeable stretch of the Thames in London. For this scene, I rigged one camera with a Minirtx+ on a boat in Putney, powered it up and left it onboard filming James Bond. I then got in my car and raced down the Embankment to Westminster to set up the main technical base with the camera crews, with a Timecode Systems unit set to the same timecode as that on the boat.

Even though the boat started its journey out of range of its paired unit, the crystal inside the Minitrx+ continued to feed timecode to that camera accurately. As soon as the boat drifted into range, it synced back to the master unit again with zero drift. There was no need to reset or re-jam.

Action sequences are certainly getting increasingly ambitious, with footage being captured from an increasing number and variety of camera sources. Although it’s possible to fix sync problems in post, it’s time consuming and expensive. Getting it right at the point of shooting offers considerable efficiencies to the production process, something that every production demands — even those working with superhero budgets.

Peter Welch is a London-based digital imaging technician (DIT) with Camera Facilities.

The A-List: ‘Miles Ahead’ director/lead actor Don Cheadle

By Iain Blair

The multi-faceted Don Cheadle has starred in some 80 movies, both big (Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Ocean’s and Iron Man franchises) and small (Hotel Rwanda), and produced various TV shows and films.

Now he can add director to his resume, thanks to his passion project and labor of love, Miles Ahead, a wild — and wildly entertaining — free form biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis. Cheadle not only co-wrote, produced and directed the film, he also stars as the raspy-voiced pioneering musician whose improvisational approach and ambitious forays into rock-jazz fusion helped define modern jazz.

Set in the late ‘70s over the course of a five-year period, Miles Ahead paints a no-holds portrait of the mercurial Davis battling drug addiction and ghosts from the past as he embarks on an adventure with a music reporter (played by Ewan McGregor) to recover a stolen tape of his latest compositions.

Don Cheadle and Iain Blair

I recently met with Cheadle to talk about making the film, which was shot on a combination of film and digital formats.

You certainly jumped in the deep end for your first film as director — a period piece, about jazz, starring a black trumpeter. Financing must have been so easy (smiles).
So easy! No problem! We were very fortunate at the beginning… In 2006, we set it up at HBO — it was also going to get a theatrical release — but then the recession hit in 2008 and it was a disaster. That deal fell apart, the writers went away and we were back to square one with me playing Miles. That was it. But then I met (co-writer) Steve Baigelman, who co-wrote the James Brown biopic Get On Up, who understood what I wanted to do, and we got the script in shape. It was still years of stopping and starting, and deals falling apart, before it finally happened.

What did you envision for the film when you set out on this journey?
I wanted to make a film that really captures Miles’ raw energy and forward movement. I didn’t want to make the conventional biopic that tries to cover a whole life. The period we chose was this time when he was going through various personal and creative crises, and basically disappeared from view. That seemed like a great place to start and explore this very complicated man. I never met him, but I saw him perform and talked to everyone who worked with him. He was constantly looking for the next thing to say through his art, and that’s what drove him.

How did you prepare to direct your first feature?
I had directed TV and commercials, and I told myself this would just be a bigger stage. No need to freak out. And I’ve never been the dude who goes back to the trailer. I always liked to hang out on sets, watch people work, talk to DPs about lighting and the sound mixer and so on. I was trying to learn as much as I could. I talked to all my director friends, like Warren Beatty and Carl Franklin, and they basically said the same thing: “It’s the same, just bigger.” And I’d ask, “Really?” And they would say, “No. It’s much more than that. It’s like dealing with an army. Shooting is so stressful and you never sleep — and on top of that, you’re playing the lead and are in nearly every scene. Good luck with that!”

George Clooney, who has also directed himself, had great advice: “Do your pushups.” Meaning, you trust your script, you’ve got a good team around you — but you have to stay healthy to get through it all. It was tough. We actually shot most of it in Cincinnati, where Todd Haynes had just shot Carol, so they were very welcoming.

Was post a steep learning curve?
I have been around post a bit and in the editing room, but when it’s your own project and all the decisions are now yours, it’s very daunting. When I saw the first rough assembly I was so shocked that I left. I told the editor, “I’m out. I can’t even watch this. All I can see is everything I wasn’t able to accomplish, all of the mistakes, my performance is terrible — I don’t ever want to see this again!” He said, “That’s a very normal reaction, it’s okay.” It was a couple of weeks before I could come back and get into the process again.

Do you like the post process?
By the end, once I got over myself and into it all, I loved it. I had to focus on what was there, not the missing stuff, and then the magic of post happened — where it’s your third chance to write your movie. It was really rewarding, especially when you can magically create a moment in post that wasn’t there on the day.

Where did you post?
We did post in two sections. We did it at Tribeca West, for two months, and also some back east at Warner Bros. Sound in New York on West 55th. That’s where we did our sound mix. We also shot the last concert scene in New York and finished it up there. We did have a few visual effects, like when Miles is shot in the hip, and VFX to just sweeten stuff and paint out lights, but nothing major. Lit Post in Burbank did the VFX.

John Axelrad (Crazy Heart, The Immigrant) edited the film with Kayla Emter. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
Kayla was his assistant, and as I was so focused on playing Miles I told them, “Take the reins, and don’t wait for me to dictate how to cut scenes.” It was like when Herbie Hancock first played with Miles — he was terrified and said to Miles, “I don’t know what to play.” And Miles just said, “Piano, motherf***er.” (Laughs hard) That’s exactly how I felt with them. I didn’t need them to explain it all, just show it to me. Kayla really took that on and she cut a couple of great sequences that were all hers. So when John told us he wanted to make her his co-editor and that she deserved it, I agreed immediately.

They didn’t come to the set. They got the dailies in LA and then New York, and cut as we shot. We didn’t waste any footage. Our first assembly was 104 minutes, and the final movie is 100! We only cut one scene in the whole thing.

Obviously, music and sound were crucial. Can you talk about the importance of it in the film, and working with sound designer/editor Skip Lievsay?
It was an interesting mix, especially the music, because we wanted to use source and Miles wherever we could, and not try to do “sounds-like.” So I’d play to playback of Miles and all his solos, but when we had to bridge or figure out ways to make the magic happen, we did different things. There’s a scene where Miles is upstairs and the band is playing in the basement, and I walk downstairs and you hear the music break apart. I tell them to start another song in another tempo, and the shot goes over and around all the musicians as I start playing.  They had to play over all that to picture and match every breath and bit of phrasing. That was very tricky to do, but it’s seamless.

Where did you mix the sound?
At Warners in New York, and Skip did a brilliant job.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important, and I did it with the DP at Company 3 with colorist Stephen Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). I wanted a look that echoed his music — brash, tender, moody, happy, the whole thing. It all turned out the way I pictured it in my head. [Says Nakamura, “Roberto and I based the look in the grade on the 16mm portions of the film by adding some grain to the digital images, just a subtle amount. And then we also wanted to give some scenes a bit of a ‘vintage’ feel. A lot of that comes from the costumes and hair styles and the older lenses he used but we also infused those images with a look inspired by photographs in magazines from the ’50s and ’60s that had more contrast than the pictures we’re used to seeing today.”]

Do you want to direct again?
After I go into a coffin for a while and recover. But it’s so hard directing and starring. Next time I don’t need to be in it. It’s too much.

What’s next?
More of my Showtime series House of Lies, then a big rest before I commit to anything.

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.

 

 

MPC Creative provides film, VR project for Faraday at CES 2016

VR was everywhere at CES earlier this month, and LA’s MPC played a role. Their content production arm, MPC Creative, produced a film and VR experience for CES 2016, highlighting Faraday Future’s technology platform and providing glimpses of the innovations consumers can expect from their product. The specific innovation shown in the CES VR film was a concept car — the FFZERO1 high-performance electric dream car — and the inspiration around Faraday Future’s consumer-based cars.

“We wanted it to feel elemental. Faraday Future is a sophisticated brand that aims for a seamless connection between technology and transportation,” explains MPC Creative CD Dan Marsh, who also directed the film. “We tried to make the film personal, but natural in the landscape. The car is engineered for the racetrack, but beautiful, in the environmental showcase.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000725      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000442

To make the film, MPC Creative shot a stand-in vehicle to achieve realistic performance driving and camera work. “We filmed in Malibu and a performance racetrack over two days, then married those locations together with some matte painting and CG to create a unique place that feels like an aspirational Nürburgring of sorts. We match-moved/tracked the real car that was filmed and replaced it with our CG replica of the Faraday Future racecar to get realistic performance driving. Interior shots were filmed on stage. We chose to bridge those stage shots with a slightly stylized appearance so that we could tie it all back together with a full CG demo sequence at the end of the film.”

MPC Creative also produced a Faraday Future VR experience that features the FFZERO1 driving through a series of abstract environments. The experience feels architectural and sculptural, and ultimately offers a spiritual versus visceral journey. Using Samsung’s Gear VR, CES attendees sat in a position similar to the angled seating of the car for their 360-degree CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001174tour.

MPC Creative shot the pursuit vehicle with an Arri Alexa and  used a Red Dragon for drone and VFX support. “We also mounted a Red, with a 4.5mm lens pointed upwards on a follow vehicle that allowed us to capture a mobile spherical environment, which we used to map moving reflections of the environment back onto the CG car,” explains MPC Creative executive producer Mike Wigart.

How did working on the film versus the VR product differ? “The VR project was very different from the film in the sense that it was CG rendered,” says Wigart. “We initially considered the idea of a doing a live-action VR piece, but we started to see several in-car live-action VR projects out in the world, so we decided to do something we hadn’t seen before — an aesthetically driven VR piece with design-based environments. We wanted a VR experience that was visually rich while speaking to the aspirational nature of Faraday Future.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001235      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000988

Adds Marsh, “Faraday Future wanted to put viewers in the driver’s seat but, more than that, they wanted to create a compelling experience that points to some of the new ideas they are focusing on. We’ve seen and made a lot of car driving experiences, but without a compelling narrative the piece can be in danger of being VR for the sake of it. We made something for Faraday Future that you couldn’t see otherwise. We conceived an architectural framework for the experience. Participants travel through a racetrack of sorts, but each stage takes you through a unique space. But we’re also traveling fast, so, like the film, we’re teasing the possibilities.”

Tools used by MPC Creative included Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, V-Ray by Chaos Group, The Foundry’s Nuke and Nuke Studio and Tweak’s RV.

Sean Strong joins Arri Rental New York as coordinator

Industry vet Sean Strong has joined the camera rental company Arri Rental New York. They provide camera, grip and lighting equipment for feature film, television, advertising and broadcast needs.

As camera rental coordinator he will be responsible for coordinating equipment orders between the rental office and operations department while maintaining client relationships.

Strong, who has more than 25 years in the industry, was most recently at Panavision New York where he managed the camera rental department as prep service manager for the last 11 years. Strong started his career in 1991 as a prep tech at Camera Service Center in New York (now Arri Rental) before he became a freelance Camera Assistant. After nine years in the field he re-joined Camera Service Center as quality control/technical support manager in 2002.

Sam Daley on color grading HBO’s ‘Show Me a Hero’

By Ellen Wixted

David Simon’s newest and much-anticipated six-part series Show Me a Hero premiered on HBO in the US in mid-August. Like The Wire, which Simon created, Show Me a Hero explores race and community — this time through the lens of housing desegregation in late-‘80s Yonkers, New York. Co-written by Simon and journalist William F. Zorzi, the show was directed by Paul Haggis with Andrij Parekh as cinematographer, and produced by Simon, Haggis, Zorzi, Gail Mutrux and Simon’s long-time collaborator, Nina Noble. Technicolor PostWorks‘ Sam Daley served as the colorist. I caught up with him recently to talk about the show.

A self-described “film guy,” New York-based Daley has worked as colorist on films ranging from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to Lena Dunham’s Girls with commercial projects rounding out his portfolio. When I asked Daley what stood out about his experience on Show Me a Hero, his answer was quick: “The work I did on the dailies paid off hugely when we got to finishing.” Originally brought into the project as dailies colorist, Daley’s scope quickly expanded to include finishing — and his unusual workflow set the stage for high-impact results.

Sam Daly

Sam Daly

Daley’s background positioned him perfectly for his role. After graduating from film school and working briefly in production, Daley worked in a film lab before moving into post production. Daley’s deep knowledge of photochemical processing, cameras and filters turned him into a resource for colorists he worked alongside and piqued his interest in the craft. He spent years paying his dues before eventually becoming known for his work as a colorist. “People tend to get pigeonholed, and I was known for my work on dailies,” Daley notes. “But ultimately the cinematographers I worked with insisted that I do both dailies and finishing, as Ed Lachman (cinematographer) did when we worked together on Mildred Pierce.”

The Look
Daley and Show me a Hero’s cinematographer, Andrij Parekh, had collaborated on previous projects, and Parekh’s clear vision from the project’s earliest stages set the stage for success. “Andreij came up with this beautiful color treatment, and created a look book that included references to Giorgio de Chirico’s painted architecture, art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka’s highly stylized faces, and films from the 1970s, including The Conformist, The Insider, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and The Yards. Sometimes look books are aspirational, but Andrij’s footage delivered the look he wanted‚ and that gave me permission to be aggressive with the grade,” says Daley. “Because we’ve worked together before, I came in with an understanding of where he likes his images to be.”

bar before

Parekh shot the series using the Arri Alexa and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Since the show is set in the late ‘80s, a key goal for the production was to ground the look of the show firmly in that era. A key visual element was to have different visual treatments for the series’ two worlds to underscore how separate they are: the cool, stark political realm, and the warmer, brighter world of the housing projects. The team’s relatively simple test process validated the approach, and introduced Daley to the Colorfront On-Set Dailies system, which proved to be a valuable addition to his pipeline.

“Colorfront is really robust for dailies, but primitive for finishing — it offers simple color controls that can be translated by other systems later. Using it for the first time reminded me of when I was training to be a colorist — when everything tactile was very new to me — and it dawned on me that to create a period look you don’t have to add a nostalgic tint or grain. With Colorfront I was able to create the kind of look that would have been around in the ’80s with simple primary grades, contrast, and saturation adjustments.”

meeting before

“This is the crazy thing: by limiting my toolset I was able to get super creative and deliver a look that doesn’t feel at all modern. In a sense, the system handcuffed me — but Andrij wasn’t looking for a lot of razzle-dazzle. Using Colorfront enabled me to create the spine of an appropriate period style that makes the show look like it was created in the ‘80s. Everyone loved the way the dailies looked, and they were watching them for months. By the time we got to finishing, we had something that was 90% of the way there.”

Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 11 was used for finishing, a process that was unusually straightforward because of the up-front work done on the dailies. “Because all shots were already matched, final grading was done scene by scene. We changed the tone of some scenes, but the biggest decision we made was to desaturate everything by an additional 7% to make the flesh tones less buzzy and to set the look more firmly in the period.”

Belushi beforeBelushi after

Daley was enthusiastic about the production overall, and HBO’s role in setting a terrific stage for moving the art of TV forward. “HBO was awesome — and they always seem to provide the extra breathing space needed to do great work. This show in particular felt like a symphony, where everyone had the same goal.”

I asked Daley about his perspective on collaboration, and his answer was surprising. “’The past is prologue.’ Everything you did in the past is preparation for what you’re doing now, and that includes relationships. Andrij and I had a high level of trust and confidence going into this project. I wasn’t nervous because I knew what he wanted, and he trusted that if I was pushing a look it was for a reason. We weren’t tentative, and as a result the project turned into a dream job that went smoothly from production through post.”  He assures this is true for every client — you always have to give 110 percent. “The project I’m working on today is the most important project I’ve ever worked on.”

Daley’s advice for aspiring colorists? “Embrace technology. I was a film guy who resisted digital for a long time, but working on Tiny Furniture threw all of my preconceptions about digital out the window. The feature was shot using a Canon 7D because the budget was micro and the producer already owned the camera. The success of that movie made me stop being an old school film snob — now I look at new tech and think ‘bring it on.’”

 

 

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