Tag Archives: Ed Lachman

Director Todd Haynes on making Wonderstruck

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

I spoke with Haynes about making the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd Haynes and writer Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

 

 

Colorist John Dowdell talks about the look of ‘Carol’

By Randi Altman

Todd Haynes’ Carol, about two women who fall in love in New York City in the 1950s, received six Oscar noms this year, including one for Best Cinematography. Despite its setting, this beautifully captured film was actually shot in Cincinnati because of its architectural resemblance to 1950’s Manhattan.

But the post was done in New York. One of the movie’s producers, Goldcrest Films, has a post house there, so Carol’s edit team called that location home for about seven months. It was there that editor Affonso Gonçalves and his assistant Perri Pivovar enjoyed a close relationship with Goldcrest’s in-house, veteran colorist John Dowdell, who was also working on the film.

The editors would often call Dowdell into the edit suite to find out what he could accomplish in his color suite. For example, one challenge the edit team had was the film — which takes place during Christmas — went over a little. So some of it was shot at the end of the winter and into the spring. There were some pesky green leaves and grass that needed browning and Dowdell obliged.

John Dowdell

John Dowdell

“With the Quantel Revolver tool I selected a range of green pixels and changed the hue and the saturation towards a winter brownish color,” he explains. “The Revolver output is a LUT offset, which adds no noise and creates a very natural appearance, which is far superior then an HSL key.”

The film features over 100 visual effects shots — VFX supervisor Chris Haney brought on his own company and other New York-based effects houses — including totally convincing CG snow and CG buildings.

Dowdell was able to achieve other simple effects, such as removing signage and things that were distracting. “Quantel Rio 4K has a Paintbox in it, and I removed a lot of that stuff by painting it out,” he says.

Let’s dig in a bit further with Dowdell.

Carol was shot on film. Can you talk about that?
Carol was shot by cinematographer Edward Lachman. It was shot on Kodak Super 16 with an Arriflex 416 camera that is pin-registered, which was needed for all this effects work. I’m so glad they shot it on 16mm film because they were trying to duplicate the way 35mm film looked 60 years ago — and even as good as digital cameras are, it would’ve been very hard to reproduce that classic film look. The randomness of the grain is very beautiful.

That was their choice, and I think it was a brilliant one. Also, film gave us beautiful radiant flesh tones, deep textured blacks, and plenty of detail in even the brightest highlights.

What was the workflow like?
Every day the film would be shipped from Cincinnati to Technicolor in New York for processing — at that time, Technicolor and Deluxe shared the lab at the Deluxe building. The film would get processed to a negative and then picked up by Goldcrest.

The film was scanned at Goldcrest by Boon Shin Ng and Michelle Ambruz on an Arri Scanner. The Arri has a dailies mode where it will scan pin-registered quite fast at 15fps with a single flash. The Arri flashes red, green and blue LEDs onto the monochrome 3K CMOS chip, which is the same chip that’s in the Alexa camera, but without a Bayer filter, so it’s a B&W chip.

CAROL

When the edit is complete, the Arri scans the selects with handles also at 3K. This time the RGB is flashed twice. The second flash is 10 times brighter and merges the two together in an HDR algorithm capturing everything in the negative with great signal-to-noise ratio. In addition, the film gets an infrared flash. The infrared spectrum is not absorbed by the cyan, magenta and yellow dyes of the film. Dirt particulates, however, will block the Infrared creating a dirt map for the Kodak Digital Ice to do its magic. Scanning is about 3fps in this mode.

Who did the dailies?
Boon Shin prepped with Colorfront Express Dailies. MXF files were synced and metadata of scene take numbers were entered during the day, then the Colorfront was handed over to colorist Scott Olive for scene-to-scene color grading in the evening. DP Ed Lachman would call Scott each night and discuss the footage he would be working on and would go over Scott’s work from the day before.

Scott would then send the color corrected H.264 files over the Goldcrest FTP server to Ed. The Avid MXF Files were ready for Affonso and Perri in the morning in their edit room here at Goldcrest. When the film edit was locked, Boon Shin conformed the film in the Quantel Rio 4K with the 2K DPX scans.

What direction were you given from Todd and Ed? Were you given any sort of examples of what they wanted the look to be?
Todd had a thing called a Look Book. It’s a thick scrapbook filled with images he liked. He worked with production designer Judy Becker and with Ed Lachman on it, so this book set the looks. He found images he liked from the ’50s, mostly from print. There were ads and work from photographers like Ruth Hawkin.

I had a color reference light for Todd so he could view the tear sheets. We would look at the shots and Todd would explain the look, the saturation and the muted values — images that referenced the 1950’s era.

Both Todd and Ed liked when colors were muted, a little more green with maybe some warmth — the combination of cold and warm in the same frame — so mixed color temperatures.

It was a great start, but even during the DI color timing Todd would look through his book, turn the reference light on, look at his picture then look at the screen. He would say, “Give that a little tweak, add two points of red, or let’s go a little dark by four points.” Film lab timers have always worked in RGB Film Printer Lights. There are six points to an F-Stop change.

Both Todd and Ed had timed films in the past. In the DI world the points work identically to photochemical printing. It really is a great way of communicating color. Ed could ask me to add two points of green, then Todd might ask to see three points. Technically, it’s the proper way to time in DI.

You worked with Todd and Ed at the same time?
They were always together. We did a lot of experimenting with color, and Todd and Ed sometimes had different opinions of where they wanted to go with it. You have to show the one look, save the metadata of that, do another look and go back and forth. That’s how color correction works. It’s very interactive.

Can you talk about a particular scene from the film?
In the opening scenes of the department store the palette is a muted green. It’s an uncomfortable time for Rooney’s character. Ed works with filters and mixed light sources to produce the desired looks in-camera, but leaves plenty of range for DI visualization.

When things are getting better in their relationship, the colors become gentler and more beautiful with more warmth. Ed would reference the Kodak Film Ektachrome for its bluish greenish values compared to the rich warm saturated colors of Kodachome.

My RIT education in Photographic Arts and Sciences has served me well my entire career. My favorite Ansel Adams quote is, “The negative is the score and the print is the performance.” Ed made a beautiful score and we collectively produced a great performance in my DI suite.

ROONEY MARA stars in CAROL. Did anything surprise you about the color?
A lot of shots are much darker than most directors and DPs ask for. Often they say, “I want to see more, open it up. I want to see brighter, what else can I see in this shot?” It was kind of the reverse on this. They both liked it rather dark. I used the S-curve function for almost every shot in Carol. With it, I can place my black and white points and then pivot all the mid-tone transitions. I can make very dark images without crushing any of the blacks. A great number of the shots have a subtle vignette applied — light fell off at the edges with camera lenses of that era.

Can you give an example?
The scene where Cate Blanchet’s character is in the child custody hearing and makes her heart wrenching speech — I added more S-curve , brought the lift down and increased gamma. Todd said no, no, even darker. Once we got down there, it was like, “Wow, this works.” It’s very effective. It’s more realistic, and adds more drama into a powerful scene.

They used a lot of natural Window light. Kate’s flesh tone and brightness changed a bit. My job was to make sure it was all totally even.

Were there any scenes in particular that stood out as more challenging or something that you’re most proud of?
I love the DI process because it’s so interactive, and I like problem solving. There’s one shot where Cate is touching the telephone hang-up button with her Index finger. She’s listening to Rooney but not responding.

Todd was concerned because the hand was too sharp from one finger to the other, and he wanted less depth of field — Super 16 has a large depth of field. So I put a diagonal window through her Index finger, the one that’s touching the hang-up button. Then I feathered off a Gaussian transfer curve into the background, used a  Gaussian de-focus on the Quantel and put a little defocus on, blending it as the fingers rolled off further back and forward, so that the emphasis was on the index finger. He loved it. That solved the problem.

Anything else stick out in your mind?
The last scene, the beautiful encounter at the Oak Room, I’m really proud of that. That has a great look. It started with gorgeous photography, but I had an idea that Todd and Ed really liked. In the scene, Cate is having dinner with friends surrounded by diners and waiters.

What I did was track a little bit of a window on Kate and feathered it off, and then outside that window desaturated everyone a little bit. I also brought a little bit more highlight detail onto Kate, so the image popped. Just think about how eye contact works — you’re not interested at all in your surroundings or who’s sitting at the back table. It’s just them.

CAROLNow Kate pops out a bit and everything just kind of feathers off a little, and she’s just radiant. I did the same thing to Rooney. It’s very subtle, but it helps tell that story. No dialogue was needed; it was all said in their eyes.

Why is the Pablo Rio the right tool for you?
Ten years ago, we built the DI suite at Goldcrest around the Pablo, which at the time was a brand-new product from Quantel. Quantel’s iQ was a conforming machine, an editing machine, an effects machine, titler and Paintbox — all in one. The only thing it really didn’t do was color… until they came out with the Pablo iQ. They invented an interface box to deal with color!

It was also the only machine at that time that could do different canvas sizes, different speeds and different resolutions, all on the same timeline. With every other system you would have to commit to one resolution. It was important to have everything in its native resolution.

Most recently we replaced those Pablos with the Quantel Rio 4K, which has a much faster processor. I can now play 4K with multi-levels of color correction in realtime without rendering.

What’s next for you?
I recently completed something I’m really proud of. It’s called The New Yorker Presents, and it’s 10 half-hour films from Amazon Studios and Jigsaw Productions. It’s basically a film version of The New Yorker magazine. Each episode is a collection of short docs, interstitials and there celebrated cartoons being crated by the artist at hyper speed.

There are two features coming into Goldcrest now, but I can’t talk about those yet.