Tag Archives: DI

The A-List: Veteran director Walter Hill

By Iain Blair

Over the course of a long and storied career, writer, director and producer Walter Hill has done it all. His career began in the early 1970s with screenplay credits for The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and The Drowning Pool, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. In 1975, he made his directorial debut with Hard Times, a Depression-era street fighting drama starring Charles Bronson and James Coburn.

Since then, his projects have ranged from classic sci-fi (Alien) to classic westerns (The Long Riders, Geronimo, Wild Bill) and from action-packed thrillers (Extreme Prejudice) to buddy comedies (48 Hours, Another 48 Hours).

With his unique visceral style, Hill also made a successful foray into television, receiving both the Emmy and DGA Awards in 2005 for the pilot of the neo-western Deadwood. He also directed AMC’s acclaimed Emmy Award-winning debut television movie, Broken Trail, and was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards — he won an Emmy for producing and a DGA award for directing. Hill was also executive producer of the Emmy-nominated series Tales from the Crypt.

He has also written two graphic novels, which have been published in France, the second of which served as the basis for his provocative new film, The Assignment. The neo-noir, pulpy thriller, which he co-wrote with Denis Hamill, stars Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and Anthony LaPaglia. It tells the story of hitman Frank Kitchen, who is given a lethal assignment, and after being double-crossed discovers he’s not the man he thought he was — he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman (Rodriguez). Seeking vengeance, Frank heads for a showdown with the surgeon (Weaver) who transformed him.

I talked with Hill, whose eclectic credits also include Brewster’s Millions and Bullet to the Head, about making the film.

Many movies take years to get made, but this must be some kind of record — it’s been nearly 40 years since you first read a script for it. Why the long wait?
Denis wrote it back in ’76, and I was very taken with it. I thought it was an amazing and very unusual revenge story with some great twists, but I was very busy with other projects, and time went by before I called Denis and optioned the material. I then co-wrote a script, which I didn’t like, and so I let it go. About 20 years went by, and some five years ago I came across Denis’ original script in my basement, read it, still loved it and called Denis to find out if the rights were available. So I re-optioned it and this time figured out how to do it.

Walter Hill, directing The Assignment.

You did this as a graphic novel first. How did that help in terms of realizing the film version?
I think having done Tales from the Crypt and my first graphic novel in the meantime, all that really helped with my visual approach this time around. I did a draft in just two weeks and it worked. So the script became the graphic novel and then the film.

What sort of film did you want to make?
A neo-noir thriller in the graphic novel vein, with the freedom of a low-budget project. My agent and I knew it wasn’t a studio film, and he suggested I meet with producer Said Ben Said, who’s worked with Polanski, Verhoeven on Elle and Cronenberg, so I met him in Paris and made the deal.

This is your first film with female leads. How early on did you decide to have the male lead, Frank Kitchen, played by Michelle?
It took about six months to figure it out, and one big problem about casting for me was that I felt that if we cast a male actor as Frank, the movie would then become too much about the make up and VFX — and you also have a big challenge for the actor, playing this low-class, underworld Darwinian survivor who’s very macho. I felt that casting a woman would be far more interesting, so I changed that to a woman and I also changed the doctor from a man to a woman. That’s when it all fell into place.

What did Michelle bring to the role?
We had lunch, and she told me, “You’ll never find anyone better for this role,” and she was right. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. It takes a brave actor to play the part, and Michelle’s very brave. I admire her performance a lot.

The whole outrageous, forced sex change angle has pushed a lot of buttons. Was that intentional?
No. Look, we live in an age of gender fluidity, which is a good thing. We also live in the age of the Internet, where opinions are instantaneous and everywhere. The movie’s not a comment on transgender issues and was never going to be about transgender issues. For the record, there’s nothing that disputes or ridicules the current transgender theory.

Frank Kitchen is not a villain, and he’s not a hero. He’s simply a protagonist, and he doesn’t become a transgender woman. He stays what he is inside his head, a macho and heterosexual male. Genital surgery and feminization aren’t the same thing as being transgender. Frank didn’t want the surgery.

But the film and story are obviously and intentionally lurid.
Yes, which is why I used the comic book panels every so often as devices to let the audience know it’s not your everyday reality in the storytelling. I wanted that freedom you have with the comic book or the graphic novel.

Where did you shoot and how tough was it?
We shot it on location in Vancouver, in just over 20 days, which is the shortest shoot I’ve ever had for a movie. Of course, that presents problems, and every director always needs more time and money. We just didn’t have it, so we were very inventive.

Where did you post?
We cut in LA, but did the rest of it — sound, color correction, VFX — all in Vancouver.

Do you like post, and why?
I’ve always loved post. After the madness of shooting, it gets you back to a civilized life. Some directors make their movies in prep, some during the shoot, and others during post. It’s probably a bit of all three for me, but with the emphasis on post. I follow the lead of greats like Sam Peckinpah and Kurosawa, and Sam always said, “Directing is 75 percent casting.” I think he’s right. You get that right and the shoot’s relatively straightforward and you just let the actors do their work.

There’s definitely a big misunderstanding about what a director does — that he’s basically an acting coach on the set. But that’s often the least of his skills. It’s finding the right tone and all the stuff you add in post that’s so important to the job.

Tell us about editing it with Phil Norden, who worked with you on Broken Trail.
He was up in Vancouver with us but rarely came to the set. That way he stuck close to me and cut almost as fast as I shot. As this was so low budget, there wasn’t much room for error. We had to get it right the first time (laughs). Happily, I love the editing part.

Talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker.
They’re both so important, and without either any footage, however wonderful, just looks flat. We did all the sound work at Sharpe and some ADR at Wildfire in LA.

What about the VFX?
Stargate did the VFX, and we had some greenscreen work, especially in the assassination scene, and some clean-up.

Where was the DI done?
At Encore Vancouver, with colorist Claudio Sepulveda (working on Blackmagic Resolve). He really captured a great look.

What’s next?
I’m co-writing a script, I co-wrote another graphic novel, a sci-fi story, and I hope to direct something this summer. So I’m very busy.


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.

The A-List: Their Finest director Lone Scherfig

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Lone Scherfig is that rarest of creatives — a respected and prolific female director whose films have been both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Even more amazingly, the Danish-born Scherfig has managed to do that after making the tricky transition from her native tongue to English.

Her 2009 coming-of-age drama An Education won the Audience Award at Sundance and was nominated for three Oscars and eight BAFTAs. Scherfig has since directed another three English-language films: One Day (2011), The Riot Club (2014) and her latest film, Their Finest, which recently screened at the London Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.

Lone Scherfig

Based on Lissa Evans’ novel, “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” Their Finest is a romantic comedy set in wartime London in 1940, when the British ministry turns to propaganda films to boost morale at home. Realizing their films could use “a woman’s touch,” the ministry hires Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) as a scriptwriter in charge of writing the female dialogue. Although her artist husband looks down on her job, Catrin’s natural flair quickly gets her noticed by cynical, witty lead scriptwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin). Catrin and Buckley set out to make an epic feature film based on the Dunkirk rescue starring the gloriously vain, former matinee idol Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and their colorful cast and crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation.

I talked with Scherfig, whose credits also include a range of TV series, such as Taxa (1997), Quiet Waters (1999), Better Times (2004) and, most recently, The Astronaut Wives Club (2015), about making the film, her love of post, and her advice to women wanting to become directors in what is still essentially an all-boys club.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to do a film where all the different layers and all the details and complexities are there, but they’re not obvious. It’s about a time when films were never more important. They really made a difference, and people making them felt a big responsibility. It’s also about how their finest hour really brought out the best in people during wartime. So finding the right tone was very important. It was a matter of life and death, but you also have humor side by side with the horror and tragedy of war, and I love that mixture and I almost always use humor as a way of getting into serious themes and vice versa.

It’s partly a love letter to wartime British cinema. Did it help to have an outsider’s POV?
I don’t know if it helped — but maybe because I don’t have the same nostalgia for the period as many people in England do, I could take a different approach. I do know that all the films of that era have aged really well and still stand up today, and I think that the realism of today’s films is rooted in those movies. The films were honest, always with a strong message, but also subtle in their dialogue and acting. And, of course, some of the best British directors, like David Lean and Carol Reed, started out then. So it was fascinating to me, and this film has a combination of real documentary, fiction from that era, mock-up documentary, real propaganda films and Technicolor within the film, so there are so many stylistic elements and linguistic elements to enjoy. The film had to look really good too.

You have an amazing cast. What did Gemma, Bill and Sam bring to their roles?
They were all so hard working and dedicated. Gemma and Sam were perfectly matched, I felt, and then Bill is this very unusual mix of being a very kind and modest person, but also a great comedian, which is quite rare, because comedy is hard. He’s very experienced and he has great taste and timing. Bill is totally different from Ambrose, the actor he plays, and the Uncle Frank Ambrose he plays in the film-within-the-film. He was a delight.

You shot this partly on location in Wales. How tough was it?
Not at all, and the landscapes are so amazing there. Of course, the sea and locations aren’t the same as the real Dunkirk, but we all felt it didn’t matter as it’s a recreation anyway for the film they’re making.

Where did you do your post, and do you like the post process?
I love post, the calm after the storm, and the whole process of actually making the film. We did the post in Soho in London, which is such a fantastic community. You can just run between editing suites and so on, whereas in Hollywood you have to drive so far between facilities. And as our film takes place in Soho, it was perfect.

Can you talk about working for the first time with editor Lucia Zucchetti, whose many credits include Stephen Frears’ The Queen. Was she on the set?
I don’t like to have any editor on the set. I was trained on film, I edited and was a script supervisor, and it’s far better for the editor to get the raw material without all the influences you get on a set.

Where did you edit? How did that work?
We had offices in Soho. We sent her dailies and I’d drop by as I was shooting, but as a director you can’t get too obsessed with what you’ve already shot. You have to live with it. But you have the security of the editor telling you if something’s wrong or that you need an extra shot and so on. That first assembly is the worst moment! All you see are the mistakes. Then it gradually gets better each day, and then at the end of the edit, it’s small fine-tunings and tiny changes, and then the torch passes to sound and other departments.

As it’s a period piece, you must have needed some VFX?
They were all done by Filmgate in Gothenberg, Sweden, and we did a lot of that work online. It’s the first time I’d worked with them, and they did a very good job. Obviously, the VFX all had to be invisible, and we had a lot of removal and clean up, adding backgrounds, buildings and so on.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s so important, especially in a film like this, with bombs going off and battle scenes and so on. I did a lot of radio drama when I was very young, so I always loved sound. I had the same sound crew — supervising sound editors Glenn Freemantle and Ben Barker at Sound 24 at Pinewood — who did my last four films. I’m really grateful that they fit me in between all the really huge productions they do there, and I love working with them. We recorded all the music in Berlin with composer Rachel Portman.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Pinewood with Adam Inglis, who’s excellent. He’s also very fast, so that gave us more time to experiment a bit with stuff and refine things. I think the Technicolor look of the film is wonderful. For instance, we had two sets of costumes, and for the girls in the pink dresses we were able to make them a much darker pink for one set through the DI in the film-within-a-film scenes.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. What’s your take on the situation? Is it improving or still the same?
We’ll see if all the debate changes things, but it’ll take time. Maybe it’ll be like smoking, where gradually people decided to change their behavior. But for me, it’s more about stories. There should be more stories about women.

What’s your advice to a young woman who wants to direct?
Find your own voice. What can you do that no one else can do? Keep your expenses down, and get as technically good as you can, learn film language and choose your battles!

What’s next?
I’m currently in pre-production on my own script, Secrets from the Russian Tea Room, a contemporary drama with some comedy. I hope to start shooting in New York soon.


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.

The A-List: The Founder director John Lee Hancock

By Iain Blair

Director, writer and producer John Lee Hancock has carved out a successful career with his ability to tell unlikely but true stories and bring them to life on screen. In 2013, he directed Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, about the prickly relationship between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers and the former’s quest to adapt Travers’ Mary Poppins into a film.

John Lee Hancock on set

In 2009 he made The Blind Side, based on another true story, which he both wrote and directed. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and garnered Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar.

Now Hancock has tackled another true story, albeit one with a far darker protagonist. The Founder is about the birth of McDonald’s and its rise to an international multi-billion-dollar fast food brand. The film tells the true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential, and the film details how Kroc maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.

The film also stars Laura Dern as Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel, John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald, Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s second wife, Joan Smith, and B.J. Novak as Harry Sonneborn, the financial whiz whose franchising innovations led to Kroc being able to wrest control of McDonald’s from the founding brothers.

Based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), the film’s behind-the-camera team includes longtime Hancock collaborators led by Oscar-nominated DP John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, Saving Mr. Banks), production designer Michael Corenblith (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side) and editor Robert Frazen (Enough Said, Synecdoche, New York).

I talked to Hancock about making the film and his workflow.

What do you look for in a project?
I like unusual stories, and this seemed unlikely to me when I first came across it, but Rob Siegel’s a very good writer. I was very intrigued by the character of Ray Kroc and the fact that I was pulling for him for the first half of the script. Then I began to feel confused by his behavior and then actively resenting some of his actions. That’s a tricky thing to pull off in a film, but I felt it was worthwhile doing.

His motivations and character are a lot darker than the protagonists in your last films. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s interesting because it’s the story of McDonald’s first, but it starts out with Kroc and it’s told largely from his end. It’s really the flip side of Banks, in that Travers starts out as someone you’re not sure you like, and is even kind of offensive, but then as you get to know her, you realize the source of her actions and why she is who she is. It’s bittersweet at the end, but it has closure. This ends without that sort of closure and is far more ambiguous. Some people will say Kroc did what he had to do, while others will say he’s a monster.

Either way, Kroc’s another juicy role for Keaton. What did he bring to the ethically challenged Kroc?
He was the first actor I thought of for the role because Michael’s a natural born salesman himself. When he’s excited about an idea, it’s electric and infectious. He has this boyish enthusiasm, and I felt that they both shared that. He’s also a Midwesterner and values hard work, and he’s so good at going to the dark places when needed. We talked a lot about the journey the character takes, in terms of everything from dialogue and behavior to the wardrobe. Michael got it all.

The shoot must have been challenging as you didn’t have a big budget, but it required a ton of locations.
Yes, we shot mainly in Atlanta, with a day in Albuquerque, and we had to build two different McDonald’s locations — the original octagonal one in San Bernardino, California, and a Golden Arches one, and they had to not just serve as different sets but as kitchens, as we were actually cooking in them. That was a lot to deal with for production designer Michael Corenblith, but he figured it all out.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I’ve been blessed to work with really good editors and post crews on all my films.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Frazen.
We edited at Pivotal Post in Burbank. On every film I’m always asked, “Do you want your editor on set with you?” I always say no, because I value their opinion and objectivity, and I think sometimes you’re influenced if you’re on a location watching how the sausage is made. If it’s a really tough shot to get, there’s that sense of maybe I should keep it, even if it doesn’t work or push the story forward.

So I prefer to just talk to them a lot during the shoot, send dailies and they’ll send me cut scenes back. I don’t get too detailed in my notes either. That way, after the shoot, I can come in and watch a complete version of the film with fresh eyes, and then we start the real work. We start working on the pacing and rhythms, the order of the scenes and so on. I’d always admired Rob’s work with Nicole Holofcener, the way he digs deeper into the footage and finds little key bits of behavior, or some mistake he uses in a different way. He brought all that and more to this.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece but it is a period piece. How big a role did VFX play in the film?
A big role. Our VFX were done by a company called Moving Target. There’s always a lot of clean-up and removal of modern stuff. We did some of it with flashback photography, creating old photos and that feel, and there was a lot of background replacement for all the myriad restaurants, as we only had the budget to build one Golden Arches and then had to change parking, foliage, foreground and background for every different city.

We had this leaning telephone pole out front that blocked a lot of our shots, but it was going to cost $30,000 to move it and rewire it underground. Other films probably wouldn’t have blinked, but I decided to erase it in post out of the other shots and embrace it for the first location. I liked the idea that it wasn’t the best piece of property anyway, and Kroc would have to live with it the same way we were.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to a film, and I really love all the minutia of it. I know some directors who are not so involved in all that, but I love all the detail work. I feel that when you’re there for all the little tweaks, when you play it all back in the final mix, your brain isn’t looking for all the tiny details — you can just focus on the overall effect. We mixed at King Soundworks in Van Nuys and did the final mix at Ross 424 Inc.

Where did you do the DI?
At Company 3, with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who does all Schwartzi’s films. I’m pretty involved and John and I discussed the look at length before the shoot. Then, as he was off shooting another movie, we talked more as I did a pass, and then he’d look at it. We wanted it to have a very sunny look to start off, and then get a little darker as it went.

What’s next?
I have three different projects ready to go, so whichever one comes together first.


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.

Quick Chat: Efilm’s new managing director Al Cleland

Al Cleland has been promoted to managing director of Deluxe’s Efilm, which is a digital color, finishing and location services company working on feature films, episodics and trailers. For the past eight years, Cleland has been VP of trailers at Efilm.

A 30-year veteran of the post business, Cleland started his career at Editel and joined CIS, which later became Efilm, as one of the company’s original employees. He served as senior V/GM at Technicolor Creative Services for 10 years, and at Postworks, Los Angeles, returning to Efilm as VP of trailers. We threw three questions at Cleland, let’s see what he had to say…


After working on trailers for the last eight years, you must be excited to be working in all aspects of what Efilm does.
Our trailer department started out dedicated to finishing one studio’s trailers and we’ve expanded into a dedicated hub for the marketing departments of all the studios. Our trailers department has had the advantage of connectivity and common practices with all of Deluxe’s facilities throughout the world. I’ve loved being part of that growth process and, in my new position, I’ll continue to oversee that vital part of the company.

What’s challenging about trailers that people even in the business might not think about?
The great team in that division have to pull together shots and visual effects while the film itself is being finished, which is a unique logistical challenge. And they’re doing all kinds of small changes and creating effects specific to the trailer and to the MPAA requirements for trailers. It’s a unique skill set.

What do you hope to accomplish for Efilm going forward?
Efilm is expanding in terms of the amount of work and the kind of work we’re doing, and I intend to push that expansion along at an even faster rate. We’ve always had an amazing team of colorists, producers and editors that are really the heart of Efilm. We have wonderful technical and support staff. And, of course, we have access to all of those elements at our partner companies and we continue to build on that.

It’s early to talk about specifics, but we all know the industry is changing rapidly. We’ve been among the very first to introduce new technologies and workflows and that’s something the team here is going to expand on.

Reid Burns named president of post at Cognition

Hollywood-based post studio Cognition has hired Reid Burns as president of post production. In his new role, Burns is tasked with building relationships with studios, independent producers and filmmakers. His initial focus will be on growing the company’s digital intermediate finishing and color grading business.

Launched last fall, Cognition is nearing completion of a multi-million-dollar expansion of its creative campus in Hollywood that will include the addition of two 4K digital cinema finishing theaters, a scalable visual effects pipeline, creative office space and an emerging technologies research facility.

Burns began his career as a color timer and has nearly 100 films to his credit. He later managed laboratory operations at Deluxe. That was followed by tenures as director of global sales and technology at Consolidated Film Industries, SVP at Fotokem and COO at Reliance MediaWorks. His work at Reliance included oversight of 3D work for such titles as Avatar, Prometheus and Men in Black 3. He also founded the VFX and title post house The Image Resolution and served as CEO of the VFX/DI and boutique post house Ollin Studio in Mexico City. He joined Mexico City’s Labodigital in 2012 as SVP. Burns is an associate member of the American Cinematographers Society.

Commenting on Cognition’s adoption of SGO’s Mistika platform, he says, “We are ready for EDR (Extended Dynamic Range), planning ahead for HDR and using the ACES workflow on our current feature. We are also thrilled with Mistika’s robust stereo tools and look forward to projects that are a good fit in that arena.”

Among Burns’ first tasks will be to add to the facility’s DI staff. New hires are expected to include a senior DI producer, DI colorist and a business development specialist.

Duck Grossberg joins Local Hero as CTO, will grow dailies, VR biz

Santa Monica-based Local Hero, a boutique post facility working on feature and independent films has hired Duck Grossberg as chief technology officer.

Grossberg, who was most recently at Modern Videofilm, will drive the overall technology vision for Local Hero, as well as expand the dailies part of the studio’s end-to-end workflow services. In addition, Grossberg’s significant virtual reality production and DI experience will also help fuel Local Hero’s rapidly growing VR business.

Grossberg has held a variety of technical roles over the past 15 years, working with facilities such as the The Creative Cartel, Deluxe Labs, The Post Group, Modern, Cameron/Pace, Tyler Perry Studios and 20th Century Fox.

As a DIT, digital lab supervisor and colorist (dailies and on-set), Grossberg’s credits include Real Steel, Life of P, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as TV shows such as Dig, Tyrant and Sleepy Hollow.

“Local Hero experienced exponential growth in our core dailies, DI, VFX and finishing business in 2015,” says Leandro Marini, founder/president of Local Hero. “We also saw rapid growth in our VR dailies and finishing business, delivering nearly 20 projects for clients such as Fox, Jaunt Studios and the NFL. The addition of Duck is a crucial component to our expansion at Local Hero. The combination of his technical prowess, creative skills and client experience make him uniquely positioned to help drive our aggressive growth.”

The A-List: ‘Carol’ director Todd Haynes

By Iain Blair

With his affection for period pieces and classic melodrama, along with his interest in gay sexuality, writer/director Todd Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — was probably the perfect choice to tackle the lesbian romance at the heart of his new film, Carol.

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” Carol tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds — Therese, a store clerk (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage — who meet and then find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its actors and for Haynes, whose credits also include the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, as well as Velvet Goldmine, Safe and the miniseries Mildred Pierce.

Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes

I spoke with Haynes about making the film, from production through post, and the Oscars.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making Carol?
It was all about the genre of the love story, which I felt I’d never tackled before. I saw it as this great opportunity to get into how love stories are these unique experiences — how much of it is about point of view and which party you’re with.

The film was shot by your regular DP Ed Lachman on Super 16mm. What look were you going for?
I looked at a lot of ’50s films, but they didn’t really give me a strong stylistic way into the material. They all felt a bit mannered and stylized for what this was about. So it was really the historical research we did that was so illuminating. The New York images we studied from the early ‘50s really told a different story from the high-gloss Eisenhower-era look, one about the country emerging from the war years and being in transition.

You could still feel that insecurity and shifting power dynamics of global politics, and the city looked dirty and tired. So the color palette of the photos was very beautiful and subdued, and the temperatures were hard to determine, almost a mixture really. Those all went into our look, along with shooting it all in Cincinnati because New York has changed so much since the 1950s.

Do you like the post process?
I love it because after the crazy, frantic Herculean task of production where you constantly feel the ticking clock, you’re back in a dark room, which is where I start as a writer. The shoot was quite stressful as we had a very tight schedule of just 35 days and a low budget for a period piece like this. But then in post, you’re down to the lowest overhead and the fewest number of people, so it feels very intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Goldcrest Post in New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI. They were partners in the film, so they were invested in the project and us being happy there. And we were. I ended up getting an apartment literally five doors down the street so I could be close to the editing room all the time. Post took about seven months, and I didn’t think we’d finish in time, but it went very smoothly.

The film was edited by Affonso Gonçaves (Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild), who you worked with on Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship.
He’s just a great partner and very sensitive, smart and knowledgeable. He was so attentive to temp tracks and finding really useful music to cut to. Music was always going to be a key element in Carol, and he has a great ear for that. I’m very hands-on in the edit, and I can’t really look at cuts I haven’t started making myself. Affonso did do a cut while I shot, but I only looked at it after we had tried my cut first — to see how they had failed (laughs). When I began my career, I cut on film and I loved to edit myself, and Mildred was really the first project I never laid hands on. The Avid is amazing, but cutting on film was an amazing education for me, and I’d never trade it in.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Talk about them and working with VFX supervisor Chris Haney.
Yes, there was a lot of removal of contemporary elements, stuff you often don’t even see until you’re in post, plus cosmetic work. We also had about six key shots that needed extensive VFX. We did as much as possible in-camera and practically, but there were plenty of spots where the deep space down a street was filled in to give us New York — in particular the scene where Carol sees Therese crossing the street near the end. That was extremely complicated, like the others, as they were usually moving shots filtered through windows, rain, dust, distortion and so on. So the CGI elements had to fit exactly inROONEY MARA stars in CAROL.to the vernacular itself, with the grain element and level of distress.

You didn’t make it easy for yourself.
No, but Chris did a magnificent job and was so attentive to the film’s tone. Also, Goldcrest, The Mill and Lola did various shots. I actually love working with VFX, as you can add so much with even a handful of frames, and Chris’ work was like a series of paintings.

The score by Carter Burwell is quite haunting. How important is the score and sound in your films?
They’re both so important, it’s hard to overstate. This is the third collaboration with Carter; he was involved before I even began casting, so he’s a key component.  My sound designer, Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since we did Far From Heaven.

The film has a very realistic look with quite a muted palette. Was that all done in post in the DI, or was it a combination of post and in-camera?
We did a lot of work in the DI with Goldcrest colorist John Dowdell (working on the Quantel Pablo Rio), who is another real artist, to get that very specific, slightly spoiled palette. It’s a very different look from Far From Heaven.

Todd Haynes directing Rooney Mara.

What’s next?
I’m hoping to do Wonderstruck next, based on Brian Selznick’s graphic novel, so another period film but one carried by younger characters, which’ll be new for me.

Your HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce won five Emmys and a Golden Globe. Will you be doing more TV?
Yes, I’m developing a dramatic project with HBO, The Source, about a ‘70s cult in LA.

We’re heading into awards season. You’ve been nominated before for an Oscar. How important are they to you?
They’re in some ways inseparable from the marketing of a film, and for me any opportunity to get people in to see the film on a big screen is important.

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

Silverdraft launches supercomputing lab, upgrades Devil, Demon

At NAB, Silverdraft announced the creation of a new supercomputing lab in Hollywood. The Silverdraft Center for Content Creation (SC3) will enable freelance artists and content creators for gaming, virtual reality (VR), and immersive cinema to post produce and render their projects using Micron memory and storage technology.

Located at Jim Henson Studios (the former Charlie Chaplin Studios), SC3 will offer a 4K screening theater and multiple creative bays running professional systems for post production and rendering workflows for 3D animation, VFX, digital intermediates (DI) and finishing, and VR content creation. The new lab will give content creators experience with high-end workflow tools, while enhancing the quality and production value of their projects and decreasing turnaround times.

Said Ted Schilowitz, president of Silverdraft, “Independent content creators love our products because they need a never-ending supply of faster performance, but their budgets are always very constrained. The SC3 puts our technology to use and creates a blueprint for how supercomputing can change the way we design workflows. Our deeper understanding of the way artists work will help us to develop even better products in the future. We believe the SC3 will inspire and empower many up-and-coming content creators as they help to deliver the next generation of great stories.”

“Moving data quickly and reliably is at the core of all complex computing, and it’s especially critical in advanced motion graphics rendering,” said Steve Pawlowski, VP of advanced computing solutions at Micron. “We’re thrilled to see Silverdraft using our technology to build systems and services that will make a dramatic difference in how content is created.”

The Devil supercomputer

The Devil supercomputer

At the same time, Silverdraft released updated versions of its Devil supercomputers and Demon (our main image) workstations with a performance increase of 20 percent and multiple purchasing options for facilities of all sizes. The Devil supercomputers now include more than 400 Intel E5 v3 CPU cores in 12 nodes, connected via the InfiniBand backbone and integrated with the Micron DDR4 RAM and storage.

The Demon workstations also include Intel E5 v3 processors and Micron DDR4 RAM and provide single and multi-processor configurations in both a standard desktop model as well as a compact form factor. In addition, the Demon line now includes Demon Gamer Extreme (DGx), a new gaming configuration that lets users control over-clocking without going into the BIOS.

New Scratch 8 supports native ProRes encoding on Windows, cloud workflows

Santa Clara, California — Assimilate has three bits of news for users today, but let’s start off with this: Scratch and Scratch Lab customers can encode Apple ProRes files on Microsoft Windows 7/8-based PCs.

So that means Windows users get native ProRes 442, HQ, LT, proxy and 4444 encoding; Continue reading

Light Iron Adds Marc Vanocur as COO

Hollywood — Bi-coastal post house Light Iron has hired Marc Vanocur for a newly created position of Chief Operating Officer.

“Bringing Marc to Light Iron is an investment in our executive leadership,” says CEO Michael Cioni. “Marc’s experience leading post companies through growth and technological change is going to be critical as the industry continues to move in new directions.” The company expanded its staff by 50 percent in 2013.

Vanocur previously held executive roles at Technicolor, Todd-Soundelux, and Weddington Productions, overseeing business operations and navigating technological change. “Light Iron has been at the forefront of the file-based evolution in picture,” remarks Vanocur. “Having led sound companies through the same transition, I look forward to advising the company on leveraging its tech acuity for continued growth.”

Light Iron (www.lightiron.com) first opened its doors in 2009 with just four employees. After developing a successful business in mobile dailies systems known as Outpost and producing the digital intermediates for landmark features such as David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Light Iron expanded from its Hollywood headquarters with a Manhattan facility in 2013.

“At a time when other post houses were contracting,” notes Vanocur, “Light Iron had significant expansion. The post industry is going to experience continued consolidation that will close more companies, but Light Iron is poised to take on new markets, opportunities, and challenges.”

Among Vanocur’s top priorities in 2014 is creating new strategic and financial partnerships for expanded service offerings.