Tag Archives: color grading

Industry vets open NYC post boutique Twelve

Colorist Lez Rudge and veteran production and post executives Marcelo Gandola, Axel Ericson and Ed Rilli have joined forces to launch New York City-based Twelve, a high-end post boutique for the advertising, film and television industries. Twelve has already been working on campaigns for Jagermeister, Comcast, Maybelline and the NY Rangers.

Twelve’s 4,500-square-foot space in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood features three Blackmagic Resolve color rooms, two Autodesk Flame suites and a 4K DI theater with a 7.1 Dolby surround sound system and 25-person seating capacity. Here, clients also have access to a suite of film and production services — editorial, mastering, finishing and audio mixing — as part of a strategic alliance with Ericson and his team at Digital Arts. Ericson, who brings 25 years of experience in film and television, also serves as managing partner of Twelve.

From Twelve’s recent Avion tequila campaign.

Managing director Rilli will handle client relations, strategy, budgets and deadlines, among other deliverables for the business. He was previously head of production at Nice Shoes for 17 years. His long list of agency clients includes Hill Holiday, Publicis, Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi and projects for Dunkin Donuts, NFL, Maybelline and Ford.

Gandola was most recently chief operations officer at Harbor Picture Company. Other positions include EVP at Hogarth, SVP of creative services at Deluxe, VP of operations at Company 3 and principal of Burst @ Creative Bubble, a digital audio and sound design company.

On the creative side, Rudge was formerly a colorist and partner at Nice Shoes. Since 2015, Rudge has also been focusing on his directorial career. His most recent campaign for the NY Rangers and Madison Square Garden — a concept-to-completion project via Twelve — garnered more than 300,000 Facebook hits on its first day.

While Twelve is currently working on short-form content, such as commercials and marketing campaigns, the company is making a concerted effort to extend its reach into film and television. Meanwhile, the partners also have a significant roster expansion in the works.

“After all of these years on both the vendor and client side, we’ve learned how best to get things done,” concludes Gandola. “In a way, technology has become secondary, and artistry is where we keep the emphasis. That’s the essence of what we want to provide clients, and that’s ultimately what pushed us to open our own place.”

Main Image (L-R): Ed Rilli, Axel Ericson, Lez Rudge & Marcelo Gandola

Behind the Title: Carbon’s head of color grading, Maria Carretero

NAME: Maria Carretero

COMPANY: Carbon (@carbonvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Carbon, which has locations in New York, Chicago and LA, is a boutique design and visual effects company that focuses on art, ideas, and talent. I am based in Chicago.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of color grading

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work with clients to find color palettes and looks that best tell their story.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still surprised with how much creativity is involved in the grading process. I especially love coming to solutions through mixing art and technique.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Sometimes I’m involved in projects from very early on, which usually entails creating tone and color palettes to be used during filming. I’ve also contributed reference images that help the creative team settle on an overall look or color, and have been present at camera tests to check light and exposure. I love being able to use my artistic background in painting and the fine arts to give projects their maximum creative potential.

Jeep “Two Words”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There are moments when I’m grading a piece and I have a strange connection with it as if I’m seeing it clearly for the first time. It’s like I suddenly know it’s going to be a wonderful grade. Moments like that are magical.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Sunset, when all the lights in the city start turning on.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Painting.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
Color grading chose me. Before I had officially started grading, I spent a lot of my time focusing on my painting, and while grading was something I could technically excel at, my art was the priority at the time. Then digital grading started gaining momentum in Spain and I gradually realized that color grading opportunities were more and more important to me. I feel extremely lucky. I’m self-taught and relied on my incredible network of supporters to give me chances to go further and further.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked on the last five Jeep commercials with a talented group of people from DDB Chicago and the great director Tobias Granström. Some other projects included a huge campaign for Panama Tourism out of VML, the hilarious Liquid Plumbr spot from FBC Chicago and the newest Machine Gun Kelly music video, directed by Steven Caple Jr., which has more than four million views on YouTube.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of a lot of my recent work, but Recalculating for Jeep was an incredibly challenging and fulfilling project. We did a lot of research around the idea of sunsets, focusing on the sophistication of light and keeping it as natural feeling as possible.

Jeep “Recalculating”

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Art, life, reading and my previous experiences.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My cell, my Dolby monitor and Spotify.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I have Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Movidiam and Instagram, where I recently started @carretero.color to feature my color work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I always listen to music when I work. Music is great support — it can make you happy in a second! I listen to a lot of different bands, but Band of Horses, Tame Impala, Neil Young, Flaming Lips, Eels, Devendra, The Kills and Spanish music, like Niña Vintage, are some of my favorites!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I never let stress control me. Sometimes the challenges of the job are huge, but that’s our work and our industry — we know how to get it done. Challenges are wonderful because they point directly at our creativity. Being uncomfortable sometimes is a good thing. It makes you break down your limitations. Working with a great group of people helps a lot, too, so you can always have fun, even on the hardest days.

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

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

L-R: Jack Lewars and Keith Jenson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can binge it now on Amazon Video.

MTI Film updates Cortex for V.4, includes Dolby Vision HDR metadata editing

MTI Film is updating its family of Cortex applications and tools, highlighted by Cortex V.4. In addition to legacy features such as a dailies toolset, IMF and AS-02 packaging and up-res algorithms, Cortex V.4 adds DCP packaging (with integrated ACES color support), an extended edit tool and officially certified Dolby Vision metadata editing capabilities.

“We allow users to manipulate Dolby Vision HDR metadata in the same way that they edit segments of video,” says Randy Reck, MTI Film’s director of development. “In the edit tool, they can graphically trim, cut and paste, add metadata to video, analyze new segments that need metadata and adjust parameters within the Dolby Vision metadata on a shot-by-shot basis.”

With the integration of the Dolby Vision ecosystem, Cortex V.4 provides a method for simultaneously QC-ing HDR and SDR versions of a shot with Dolby Vision metadata. For delivery, the inclusion of the Dolby Vision “IMF-like” output format allows for the rendering and delivery of edited Dolby Vision metadata alongside HDR media in one convenient package.

Cortex V.4’s Edit Tool has been updated to include industry-standard trimming and repositioning of edited segments within the timeline through a drag-and-drop function. The entire look of the Edit Tool (available in the Dailies and Enterprise editions of Cortex) has also been updated to accommodate a new dual-monitor layout, making it easier for users to scrub through media in the source monitor while keeping the composition in context in the record monitor.

MTI Film is also offering a new subscription-based DIT+ edition of Cortex. “It doesn’t make sense for productions to purchase a full software package if their schedule includes a hiatus when it won’t be used,” explains Reck.

DIT+ contains all aspects of the free DIT version of Cortex with the added ability to render HD ProRes, DNx and H.264 files for delivery. A DIT+ subscription starts at $95 per month, and MTI Film is offering a special NAB price of $595 for the first year.

FilmLight shows new versions of color tools at NAB

FilmLight was at NAB demo-ing Version 5.0 of its color tools. The upgraded toolkit maintains a consistent user experience across the Baselight color grading and finishing system, Baselight Editions, Daylight and FilmLight’s new on-set application, Prelight.

“We are delivering 5.0 everywhere, bringing a new level of color control and creative possibilities from the very start of a production right to the final deliverables,” says Wolfgang Lempp, CEO of FilmLight. “And, importantly, color and artistic intent are accompanying all deliverables precisely and with minimum effort, be it for HDR and SDR or even 360 VR grading.”

Version 5.0 introduces Base Grade, which mimics the way the eye sees color to yield a more natural feel. Version 5.0 also includes some new VFX features, such as paint, perspective tracking, warping, depth keying and relighting.

FilmLight’s new Prelight On-Set, a Mac OS app for preview and grading, brings color control and the FilmLight BLG (Baselight Linked Grade) metadata system to shoots.

With Version 5.0, Baselight Editions, the plug-ins for Avid and Nuke 5.0, now include Base Grade functionality as well as color tools, such as midtone contrast and filters for denoise and deflicker. In addition, Baselight for Nuke includes boosted functionality in the Version 5.0 BLG that enables the tool to act as a multi-input node in Nuke. In this manner, BLG files can refer to multiple input images and OpenEXR channels.

Review: Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite: Looks 4 and Colorist IV

By Brady Betzel

Color grading is an art unto itself. A dedicated colorist can make your footage look so good, your response upon seeing it will likely be, “I had no idea it could look like this.”

Unfortunately, as an editor you don’t have the opportunity to spend 10 hours a day honing the craft of color correction. You don’t sit in front of high-end color correction panels while surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of equipment whose reason for being is taking everyday footage and pulling peoples’ minds inside out.

Even with Blackmagic’s free version of DaVinci Resolve out in the wild, color correction is a skill that takes a lot of time to hone. Don’t fool yourself, one, two or three years doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the dedication you need to dive into the dark art of color correction, and most color correction artists are more than willing to tell you that. Hopefully, that doesn’t discourage you on your journey to becoming a color master, because it is an awesome career in my opinion. I mean how many people get to play with what are essentially digital crayons all day and get paid to do it?

For those who don’t have hundreds of hours to learn the magic of apps like Resolve, Pablo Rio and Baselight, or even color correction inside of an NLE like Avid Symphony or Adobe Premiere for that matter — you still have the ability to create stunning footage with plug-ins like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite.

The Magic Bullet Suite is a set of color correction and video finishing plug-ins that work in multiple multimedia apps like Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects, and some even work inside of Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Resolve and Avid Media Composer/Symphony.

If you’ve been around editing for a while, you’ve probably heard of Magic Bullet Looks; it’s one of the most common color correction plug-ins that people use to quickly and easily color correct and grade their footage. The full contents in Magic Bullet Suite 13 include Magic Bullet Looks, Magic Bullet Colorista IV, Magic Bullet Film, Magic Bullet Cosmo II, Magic Bullet Denoiser III, Magic Bullet Mojo II and Magic Bullet Denoiser. While all of these Magic Bullet plug-ins can be purchased separately, they are available as a suite for $899 as well as at an academic price of $449. There is also an upgrade price of $299 if you are a previous version user.

Magic Bullet Suite 13 has been overhauled, with one of the biggest additions being OpenGL and OpenCL support, allowing incredible speed gains. In this review, I am going to provide a plug-in-by-plug-in review, so you can see if $899 is an investment you should make. Up first is the heavy hitter of the suite: Magic Bullet Looks.

Magic Bullet Looks
At $399, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is just one piece of the Magic Bullet Suite 13 set, but it’s probably the most well known. Looks is a color correction plug-in that works with most major nonlinear editing apps, including Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC, Final Cut Pro X 10.2.3 and up, Apple Motion 5.2.3 and up, Magix Vegas Pro 14, Avid Media Composer 8.5-8.7, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5, Edius 8.2 and Hit Film Pro 2017.

Essentially, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is a color correction plug-in that you would typically start with a preset correction or grade that Looks has built in. Think of it like a set of over 200 color grading LUTs (Look-Up Tables) that can be finessed, changed and layered — from there you can add vignetting, video noise or even one of my favorites: chromatic aberration.

There are a few new updates in Looks 4 that make this version the one to purchase. Version 3 had GPU acceleration, but Version 4 includes OpenCL- and OpenGL-compatibility for better realtime playback with color graded footage; the Renoiser Tool which can help to add video noise or film grain back into denoised footage; and my favorite technical feature that I hope other apps include — the ability to resize the color scopes and even zoom into the Hue/Saturation scope.

While using Magic Bullet Looks, I discovered just how easy Red Giant made it to add a “look” to footage, add some grain and a vignette and then export. While the Lumetri Color tools in Premiere Pro CC were a great addition, they left some things to be desired, and in my opinion, Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks picks up where Premiere’s Lumetri Color tools left off. To apply Magic Bullet Looks 4, you can find it in the Effects drop-down under Video Effects > Magic Bullet > Looks, scrub over to the Effect Controls window and click on “Edit Look.” From there you will be launched into the Magic Bullet Looks plugin GUI. Before you get started it might be handy to open up the Magic Bullet Looks user guide, especially the keyboard shortcuts.

To try out Magic Bullet Looks, I had some Sony a6300 footage lying around waiting to be color corrected. Once inside of the Magic Bullet Looks’ GUI I saw another new feature called the Source tool, which quickly allows you to specify if you are working with Log, flat or video footage — basically, a quick LUT to get you to a starting point — nothing ground breaking, but definitely handy. From there you can open the “Looks” slideout and choose from the hundreds of preset looks. I immediately found “Color Play” and chose “Skydance,” a trippy, ultra-saturated preset with a couple of color gradients, a preset color grade using Colorista (which I will cover later in this space) and some curve adjustments.

If you want to check the values against a scope you can click on the “Scopes” slideout. If you are on a small monitor you may have to close the “Looks” slideout to see the scopes. From here you can check out your footage on a scalable RGB Parade, Slice Graph (displays color values from one line in your image), zoomable Hue/Saturation, Hue/Lightness, Memory Colors (really interesting and deserves a read), and Skin Tone Overlay, which adds lines over your image where it believes the true skin tone colors are coming through.

To apply and begin customizing a look, you can add a preset by double clicking it. It will then apply itself to your clip or adjustment layer. At the same time, it will layout any specific tools used into what Red Giant calls the “Tool Chain,” or the row of tools along the bottom of the GUI. This Tool Chain is important because it is the order of operations. If you put a tool on the right side of the Tool Chain it will impact the preceding tools on the left. For example, if you double click the Print Bleach Bypass tool (which is also awesome and gives a shiny silvery-like polish) it will place the effect naturally at the end of the Tool Chain. This impacts all previous effects, basically creating an end to the order of operations. If you want to get tricky, Magic Bullet Looks allows you to disrupt the order of operations in the Tool Chain by Alt+dragging the tool to a different spot in the Tool Chain. This can be a great method for building a unique look, essentially disrupting the normal order of operations to get a new perspective (on a Mac it is Option+drag).

Once I completed my quick look build, I clicked the check mark on the bottom of the window and was back in Premiere Pro CC 2017 playing my Sony a6300 footage in realtime with the Magic Bullet Look applied at 100 percent strength with no slowdowns. To be clear, I am not running a super-fast machine. In fact, it’s essentially a powerful tablet with an Intel i7 3.10Ghz processor, 8GB of RAM and an Intel Iris GPU, so playing down this look in realtime is pretty amazing.

For a test I trimmed my clip down to one minute in length and added Magic Bullet Look’s Color Play preset “Skydance” — which I mentioned earlier adds chromatic aberration inside of the plugin. I then exported it as a 1080p H.264 QuickTime at around 10 to12 Mb/s, which is basically a highly compressed QuickTime for YouTube, Instagram or Twitter. It took about four minutes and eighteen seconds with the look applied, and one minute without the look applied. So it took quite a bit longer to export with the look, but that can expected with a heavy color grading process. Obviously, with a fast system with a GPU like an Nvidia GTX 1080, you will be chewing through this type of export.

In the end, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is a great paint-by-numbers way of color correcting and grading, but with the ability to highly modify what is being used to create that look. I really love it. As someone who color corrects most of his footage the “old” way with wheels and such, it’s a breath of fresh air to jump into a plug-in that will give you a pretty great output with the same ability to dial in your look that a colorist may be used to but in half the time.

One thing you will notice as I review the rest of the plug-ins in the rest of the Magic Bullet Suite 13 is that the plugins Colorista, Renoiser, and Mojo II are also included with Magic Bullet Looks 4 but only when used inside of the plug-in. When you purchase the entire Magic Bullet Suite 13 you get those as standalone plugins, a feature that I actually like a lot better than working inside of the Looks plug-in. It’s something to consider if you can’t shell out the full $899.

Colorista IV
Colorista IV is a color correction and grading plug-in that is similar in function to Adobe’s Lumetri color tools, but surpasses it. It is compatible with Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC, Final Cut Pro X 10.2.3 and up, and Motion 5.2.3 and up. Inside of Premiere, Colorista IV offers a much more intuitive workflow for color correction and color grading than Lumetri. But I really think Colorista shines in apps like After Effects where you don’t have as robust color correction options.

Colorista IV consists of a three-way color corrector with the standard Shadows, Midtones and Highlight adjustments, new Temperature and Tint controls to help adjust white balance issues, an exposure compensation, Highlight Recovery, Pop, Hue-Saturation-Lightness wheels and many more adjustments. Right off the bat you can now specify whether your footage is video (basically Rec.709) or Log. When you specify Log, Colorista will actually work a little differently and a little better for your footage than if you tried to use the video color mode. While that is not an uncommon feature/workflow in color correction apps, it is an important update to the Colorista toolset.

Another update is the Guided Color correction, which walks you through color balancing an image in seven steps. I have to say it’s not too bad. After about five different guided color balances using the Guided Color Correction I came to the same conclusion: it looks a little too contrasty but it’s not a bad starting point. Think of it like a guided auto correct. It even shows before and afters of your image while making adjustments in the Guided section. In fact, if you are learning to color correct this is a great way to simply understand a basic initial step when correcting.

After you run through the guided correction, you can fine-tune anything you did in that process, including using Colorista’s Key Mode. The Key Mode of Colorista is a simplified version of secondary keying in color correcting apps. If you want to isolate a skin tone or a specific color that is possibly too saturated, you can enable the Key Mode, select the color you want to adjust by using the color selectors or even using the HSL Cube, and adjust your selection From here Colorista gives you a few options: “Apply” the key, “Cutout” the key, or “Show Key” which will turn the image into a black and white matte for some more advanced adjustments that reach beyond the scope of this review but can be fun and extremely helpful.. You can also select the “Show Skin Overlay” checkbox that will overlay a checkerboard-like pattern on the parts of your image when they have “proper” skin tone colors; it’s pretty useful when doing beauty work and keys in Colorista.

The last two categories in Colorista IV are the Structure & Lighting and Tone Curve & LUT. Structure allows for quick adjustments to the shadows, highlights, pop (basically sharpness) and adding a vignette. The Tone Curve is a multipoint curve, much like curves in every other color correcting app, and at the bottom is where you can load your own LUT or choose a specific technical LUT, such as Sony’s Slog 2 or 3.

Summing Up
In the end, Magic Bullet Looks and Colorist IV are plug-ins that can be super simple or very meticulous depending on your mood or skill level. While almost everything in these plug-ins can be achieved without a plug-in, Colorista IV and Looks gives a simple and straightforward interface for accomplishing great color balance, a correction and grade.

One of my favorite features inside the updated Colorista IV is the new panel, which can be opened by clicking on the menu bar: Window > Extensions > Magic Bullet Colorista IV. You can keep this panel open and instantly begin color correcting a clip without having to drag the effect onto every clip you want to correct; it will automatically apply it to whichever layer is selected. If you are interested in color correction and want to ease into the complexity, Magic Bullet Looks 4 and Colorist IV are a great way to learn.

In the next Magic Bullet review I will be covering the rest of the plugins that comprise the Suite 13 plug-in set, including Magic Bullet Denoiser III which has been revamped and rivals Neat Video (an industry standard noise reduction plug-in), Cosmo II, Renoiser and Film. To buy all of these together check this out, where you can occasionally find everything at a discount.


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

Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel

By Brady Betzel

If you’ve never used a color correction panel like the Tangent Element, Tangent Ripple, Avid Artist Color, or been fortunate enough to touch the super high-end FilmLight Blackboard 2, Blackmagic Advanced Panel or the Nucoda Precision Control Panel, then you don’t know what you are missing.

If you can, reach out to someone at a post house and sit at a real color correction console; it might change your career path. I’ve talked about it before, but the first time I sat in a “real” (a.k.a. expensive) color correction/editing bay I knew that I was on the right career path.

Color correction can be done without using color correction panels, but think of it like typing with one hand (maybe even one finger) — sure it can be done, but you are definitely missing out on the creative benefit of fluidity and efficiency.

In terms of affordable external color correction panels, Tangent makes the Ripple, Wave and Element panel sets that range from $350 to over $3,300, but work with pretty much every color correction app I can think of (even Avid if you use the Baselight plug-in). Avid offers the Artist Color panel, which also works with many apps, including Avid Media Composer, and costs about $1,300. Beyond those two, you have the super high-end panels that I mentioned earlier; they range from $12,000 to $29,999.

Blackmagic recently added two new offerings to their pool of color correction panel hardware: the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel and DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel. The Micro is similar in size and functionality to the Avid Artist panel, and the Mini is similar to the center part of most high-end color correction panels.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that you can only use these panels with Blackmagic’s Resolve, and Resolve must be updated to at least version 12.5.5 to function. They connect to your computer via USB 3 Type C or Ethernet.

I received the Resolve Mini Panel to try out for a couple of weeks, and immediately loved it. If you’ve been lucky enough to use a high-end color correction panel like Blackmagic’s Advanced Panel, then you will understand just how great it feels to control Resolve with hardware. In my opinion, using hardware panels eliminates almost 90 percent of the stumbling when using color correction software as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse. The Resolve Mini Panel is as close as you are going to get to professional-level color correction hardware panel without spending $30,000.

Digging In
Out of the box, the panel feels hefty but not too heavy. It’s solid enough to sit on a desk and not have to worry about it walking around while you are using it. Of course, because I am basically a kid, I had to press all the buttons and turn all the dials before I plugged it in. They feel great… the best-feeling wheels and trackballs on a $3,000 panel I’ve used. The knobs and buttons feel fine. I’m not hating on them, but I think I like the way the Tangent buttons depress better. Either way, that is definitely subjective. The metal rings and hefty trackballs are definitely on the level of the high-end color correction panels you can see in pro color bays.

Without regurgitating Blackmagic’s press release in full, I want to go over what I think really shines on this panel. I love the two five-inch LCD panels just above the main rings and trackballs. Below the LCDs and above the row of 12 knobs are eight more knobs that interact with the LCDs. Above the LCDs are eight soft buttons and a bunch of buttons that help you navigate around the node tree and jump into different modes, like qualifiers and tracking.

Something I really loved when working with the Mini Panel was adding points on a curve and adjusting those individual points. This is one of the best features of the Mini Panel, in my opinion. Little shortcuts like adding a node + circle window in one key press are great features. Directly above the trackballs and rings are RGB, All and Level buttons that can reset their respective parameters for each of the Lift Gamma and Gain changes you’ve made. Above those are buttons like Log, Offset and Viewer — a quick way to jump into Log mode, Offset mode and full-screen Viewer mode.

When reading about the user buttons and FX buttons in the Resolve manual it states that they will be enabled in future releases, which gets me excited about what else could be coming down the pike. NAB maybe?

Of course, there can be improvements. I mean, it is a Version 1 product, but everything considered Blackmagic really hit it out of the park. To see what some pros think needs to be changed and/or altered troll over to the holy grail of color correction forums: Lift Gamma Gain. You’ll even notice some Blackmagic folks sniffing around answering questions and hinting at what is coming in some updates. In addition, Blackmagic has their own forum where an interesting post popped up titled DaVinci Mini Panel Suggestion Box. This is another great post to hang around.

Wishlist/Suggestions
When using the panels, when I would exit Resolve the LCDs didn’t dim or go into screen-saver mode like some other panels I’ve used. Furthermore, there isn’t a dimmer for the brightness of the LCD screens and backlit buttons. In the future, I would love the ability to dim or completely shut off the panels when I am in other apps or presenting to a client and don’t want the panel glowing. The backlit keys aren’t terribly bright though, so it’s not a huge deal.

While in the forums, I did notice posts about the panel’s inability to do the NLE-style of transport control: double tapping fast forward to go faster. Furthermore, a wheel might be a nice transport addition for scrubbing. In the node shortcut buttons, I couldn’t find an easy way to delete a node or add an outside node directly from the panel. On other panels, I love moving shapes/windows around using the trackballs but, unfortunately, you can only move/adjust the windows around with knobs, which isn’t terrible but is definitely less natural than using the trackballs. Lastly, I kind of miss the ability to set and load memories from a panel, with the Mini Panel we don’t have that option….yet. Maybe it will come in an update since there are buttons with numbers on them, but who knows.

Mini and Micro Panel
Technically, the Mini Panel is the Micro Panel but with the addition of the top LCDs and buttons. It also has the ability to connect the panel not just by USB-C but also via Ethernet. If connecting via Ethernet, there has been some talk of power over Ethernet (PoE) compatibility, which powers your panel without the need for a power cable. Some folks have had less success with standard PoE, but have had success using PoE+ appliances — something to keep in mind.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels have the standard three trackballs and rings, 12 control knobs and 18 keys hard coded for specific tasks and transport controls. In addition, the Mini Panel has two 5-inch screens, eight additional soft buttons, eight additional soft knobs and 30 additional hard-coded buttons that focus on node navigation and general mode navigation.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels are powered via USB-C, but the Mini Panel also adds PoE connection as mentioned earlier, as well as a 4-pin XLR DC power connection. Something to note: I thought that when I received the Mini Panel I might have been missing a power cable from the box because I had a test unit, but upon more forum reading I found that you do not get a power cable with the Mini Panel. While Blackmagic does ship a USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter cable with the Mini and Micro Panels, they do not ship a power cable, which is unfortunate and an odd oversight, but since the panels are affordable I guess it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, if you are a post nerd like me, you probably have a few 5-15 to C13 power cables lying around the house.

I can’t shake the feeling that Blackmagic is going to be adding some additional external panels to piece together something like the Advanced Panel set-up (much like how the Tangent Element panel set can be purchased). Things like an external memory bank or an X-Keys type set-up seem not too far off for Blackmagic. I would even love to be able to turn the LCD screens into scopes if possible, and even hook up an Ultrascope via the panel so I don’t have to purchase additional hardware. Either way, the Mini Panel gets me real excited about the path Blackmagic is carving for their Resolve users.

Summing Up
In the end, if you are a professional colorist looking for a semi-portable panel and haven’t committed to the Tangent Element ecosphere yet, the Resolve Mini Panel is for you … and your credit card. The Mini Panel is as close to a high-end color correction panel that I have seen, and has a wallet-friendly retail price of $2,995. It is very solid and doesn’t feel like a substitute for a full-sized panel — it can hold its own.

One thing I was worried about when I began writing this review was questioning whether or not tying myself down to one piece of software was a good idea. When you invest in the Mini Panel, you are wholeheartedly dedicating yourself to DaVinci Resolve, and I think that is a safe bet.


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

Creating the color of Hacksaw Ridge

Australian colorist Trish Cahill first got involved in the DI on Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge when cinematographer Simon Duggan enquired about her interest and availability for the film. She didn’t have to consider the idea long before saying yes.

Hacksaw Ridge, which earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Film Editing (won), Sound Editing and Sound Mixing (won), is about a real-life World War II conscientious observer, Desmond Doss, who refused to pick up a gun but instead used his bravery to save lives on the battlefield.

Trish Cahill

Let’s find out more about Cahill’s work and workflow on Hacksaw Ridge

What was the collaboration like between you and director Mel Gibson and cinematographer Simon Duggan?
I first met Mel and the editor John Gilbert when I visited them in the cutting room halfway through the edit. We looked through the various scenes and — in particular, the different battle sequences — and discussed the different tone that was needed for each.

Simon had already talked through the Kodachrome idea with a gradual and subtle desaturation as the film progressed and it was very helpful to be spinning through the actual images and listening to Mel and John talk through their thoughts. We then chose a collection of shots that were representative of the different looks and turning points in the film to use in a look development session.

Simon was overseas at the time, but we had a few phone conversations and he sent though some reference stills prior to the session. The look development session not only gave us our look template for the film but it also gave us a better idea of how smoke continuity was shaping up and what could be done in the grade to help.

During the DI, Mel, John and producer Bill Mechanic came in see my work every couple of days for a few hours to review spools down. Once the film was in good shape, Simon flew in with a nice fresh eye to help tighten it further.

What was the workflow for this project?
Being a war film, there are quite a few bullet hits, blood splatter, smoke elements and various other VFX to be completed across a large number of shots. One of the main concerns was the consistency of smoke levels, so it was important that the VFX team had a balanced set of shots put into sequence reflecting how they would appear in the film.

While the edit was still evolving, the film was conformed and assistant colorist Justin Tran started a balance grade of the war sequences on FilmLight Baselight at Definition Films. This provided VFX supervisor Chris Godfrey and the rest of the team with a better idea of how each shot should be treated in relation to the shots around them and if additional treatment was required for shots not ear-marked for VFX. The balance grading work was carried across to the DI grade in the form of BLGs and were applied to the final edit with the use of Baselight’s multi-paste, so I had full control and nothing was baked in.

Was there a particular inspiration or reference that you used for the look of this film?
Simon sent through a collection of vintage photograph references from the era to get me started. There were shots of old ox blood red barns, mechanics and machinery, train yards and soldiers in uniform — a visual board of everyday pictures of real scenes from the 1930s and 1940s, which was an excellent starting point to spring from. Key words were desaturated, Kodachrome and, the phrase “twist the primaries a touch” was used a bit!

The film starts when our hero, Desmond Doss, is a boy in the 1930s. These scenes have a slight chocolaty sepia tone, which lessens when Doss becomes a young man and enters the military training camp. Colors become more desaturated again when he arrives in Okinawa and then climbs the ridge. We wanted the ridge to be a world unto itself — the desolate battlefield. Each battle from there occurs at different times of day in different environmental conditions, so each has been given its own color variation.

What were the main challenges in grading such a film?
Hacksaw Ridge is a war film. A big percentage of screen time is action-packed and fast-paced with a high-cut ratio. So there are many more shots to grade, there are varied cameras to balance between and fluctuating smoke levels to figure out. It’s more challenging to keep consistency in this type of film than the average drama.

The initial attack on top of the ridge happens just after an aerial bombing raid, and it was important to the story for the grade to help the smoke enhance a sense of vulnerability and danger. We needed to keep visibility as low as possible, but at the same time we wanted it still to be interesting and foreboding. It needed analysis at an individual shot level: what can be done on this particular image to keep it interesting and tonal but still have the audience feel a sense of “I can’t see anything.”

Then on a global level — after making each shot as tonal and interesting as possible — do we still have the murkiness we need to sell the vulnerability and danger? If not, where is the balance to still provide enough visual interest and definition to keep the audience in the moment?

What part of the grading process do you spend most of your time on?
I would say I spend more time on the balancing and initial grade. I like to keep my look in a layer at the end of the stack that stays constant for every shot in the scene. If you have done a good job matching up, you have the opportunity of being able to continue to craft the look as well as add secondaries and global improvements with confidence that you’re not upsetting the apple cart. It gives you better flexibility to change your mind or keep improving as the film evolves and as your instincts sharpen on where the color mood needs to sit. I believe tightening the match and improving each shot on the primary level is time very well spent.

What was the film shot on, and did this bring any challenges or opportunities to you during the grade?
The majority of Hacksaw Ridge was shot with an Arri Alexa. Red Dragon and Blackmagic pocket cameras were also used in the battle sequences. Whenever possible I worked with the original camera raw. I worked in LogC and used Baselight’s generalized color space to normalize the Red and Blackmagic cameras to match this.

Matching the flames between Blackmagic and Alexa footage was a little tricky. The color hues and dynamic range captured by each camera are quite different, so I used the hue shift controls often to twist the reds and yellows of each closer together. Also, on some shots I had several highlight keys in place to create as much dynamic range as possible.

Could you say more about how you dealt with delivering for multiple formats?
The main deliverables required for Hacksaw Ridge were an XYZ and a Rec709 version. Baselight’s generalized color space was used to do the conversions from P3 to XYZ and Rec709. I then made minimal tweaks for the Rec709 version.

Was there a specific scene or sequence you found particularly enjoyable or challenging?
I enjoyed working with the opening scene of the film, enhancing the golden warmth as the boys are walking through the forest in Virginia. The scenes within the Doss house were also a favorite. The art direction and lighting had a beautiful warmth to it and I really enjoyed bringing out the chocolaty, 1930’s and 1940’s tones.

On the flip side of that I also loved working with the cooler crisper dawn tones that we achieved in the second battle sequence. I find when you minimize the color palette and let the contrast and light do the tonal work it can take you to a unique and emotionally amplified place.

One of the greater challenges of grading the film was eliminating any hint of green plant life throughout the Okinawa scenes. With lush, green plants happily existing in the background, we were in danger of losing the audience’s belief that this was a bleak place. Unfortunately, the WW II US military uniforms were the same shade of green found in many parts of the surrounding landscape of the location, making it impossible to get a clean key. There is one scene in particular where a convoy of military trucks rolls through a column of soldiers adding clouds of dust to an already challenging situation.

Review: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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

25 Million Reasons to Smile: When a short film is more than a short

By Randi Altman

For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.

The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.

In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.

Josh and Paul Butterworth

The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.

We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.

With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.

What about the edit?
Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.

At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.

How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film?
Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.

Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.

The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.

What about the audio?
Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.

The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.

Can you comment on the score?
Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.

Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations?
Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.

Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.

Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.

What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.

I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.

Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.

Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.

Any surprises pop up? Any challenges?
Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.

Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.

Any tips for those looking to do something similar?
Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.

Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).

Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”