Tag Archives: editing

Review: Apple’s new MacBook Pro

By Brady Betzel

What do you need to know about the latest pro laptop from Apple? Well, the MacBook Pro is fast and light; the new Touch Bar is handy and sharp but not fully realized; the updated keys on the keyboard are surprisingly great; and working with ProRes QuickTime files in resolutions higher than 1920×1080 inside of FCP X, or any NLE for that matter, is blazing fast.

When I was tasked with reviewing the new MacBook Pro, I came into it with an open mind. After all, I did read a few other reviews that weren’t exactly glowing, but I love speed and innovation among professional workstation computers, so I was eager to test it myself.

I am pretty open-minded when it comes to operating systems and hardware. I love Apple products and I love Windows-based PCs. I think both have their place in our industry, and to be quite honest it’s really a bonus for me that I don’t rely heavily on one OS or get too tricked by the Command Key vs. Windows/Alt Key.

Let’s start with the call I had with the Apple folks as they gave me the lowdown on the new MacBook Pro. The Apple reps were nice, energetic, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While I love Apple products, including this laptop, it’s not the be-all-end-all.

The Touch Bar is nice, but not a revolution. It feels like the first step in an evolution, a version 1 of an innovation that I am excited to see more of in later iterations. When I talked with the Apple folks they briefed me on what Tim Cook showed off in the reveal: emoji buttons, wide gamut display, new speakers and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.

NLEs
They had an FCPX expert on the call, which was nice considering I planned on reviewing the MacBook Pro with a focus on the use of nonlinear editing apps, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic’s Resolve. Don’t get me wrong, FCPX is growing on me — it’s snappy jumping around the timeline with ProRes 5K footage; assigning roles are something I wish every other app would pick up on; and the timeline is more of a breeze to use with the latest update.

The other side to this is that in my 13 years of working in television post I have never worked on a show that primarily used FCP or FCPX to edit or finish on. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the NLE, it simply means I haven’t relied on it in a professional working environment. Like I said, I really like the road it’s heading down, and if they work their way into mainstream broadcast or streaming platforms a little more I am sure I will see it more frequently.

Furthermore, with the ever-growing reduction in reliance on groups of editors and finishing artists apps like FCPX are poised to shine with their innovation. After all that blabbering, in this review I will touch on FCPX, but I really wanted to see how the MacBook Pro performed with the pro NLEs I encounter the most.

Specs
Let’s jump into the specs. I was sent a top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which costs $3,499 if configured online. It comes with a quad/-core Intel Core i7 2.9GHz (up to 3.8 GHz using Turbo Boost) processor, 16GB of 2133MHz memory, 1TB PCI-e SSD hard drive and Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory. It’s loaded. I think the only thing that can actually be upgraded beyond this configuration would be to include a 2TB hard drive, which would add another $800 to the price tag.

Physically, the MacBook Pro is awesome — very sturdy, very thin and very light. It feels great when holding it and carrying it around. Apple even sent along a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which costs an extra $29 and a USB-C to Lightning Cable that costs an extra $29.

So yes, it feels great. Apple has made a great new MacBook Pro. Is it worth upgrading if you have a new-ish MacBook Pro at home already? Probably not, unless the Touch Bar really gets you going. The speed is not too far off from the previous version. However, if you have a lot of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-connected peripherals, or plan on moving to them, then it is a good upgrade.

Testing
I ran some processor/graphics card intensive tests while I had the new MacBook Pro and came to the conclusion that FCPX is not that much faster than Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 when working with non-ProRes-based media. Yes, FCPX tears through ProRes QuickTimes if you already have your media in that format. What about if you shoot on a camera like the Red and don’t want to transcode to a more edit-friendly codec? Well, that is another story. To test out my NLEs, I grabbed a sample Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps clip from the Red sample footage page, strung out a 10-minute-long sequence in all the NLEs and exported both a color-graded version and a non-color-graded version as ProRes HQ QuickTimes files matching the source file’s specs.

In order to work with Red media in some of the NLEs, you must download a few patches: for FCPX you must install the Red Apple workflow installer and for Media Composer you must install the Red AMA plug-in. Premiere doesn’t need anything extra.

Test 1: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute sequence (no color grade or FX) exported as ProRes HQ matching the source file’s specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = 1 hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = 1 hour, 57 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 42 minutes (Good news, Media Composer’s interface and fonts display correctly on the new display).

You’ll notice that Resolve is missing from this list and that is because I installed Resolve 12.5.4 Studio but then realized my USB dongle won’t fit into the USB-C port — and I am not buying an adapter for a laptop I do not get to keep. So, unfortunately, I didn’t test a true 6K ProRes HQ export from Resolve but in the last test you will see some Resolve results.

Overall, there was not much difference in speeds. In fact, I felt that Premiere Pro CC 2017 played the Red file a little smoother and at a higher frames-per-second count. FCPX struggled a little. Granted a 6K Red file is one of the harder files for a CPU to process with no debayer settings enabled, but Apple touts this as a MacPro semi-replacement for the time being and I am holding them to their word.

Test 2: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence exported as ProRes HQ matching the source files specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 58 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 34 minutes.

It’s important to note that the GPU definitely helped out in both Adobe Premiere and FCPX. Little to no extra time was added on the ProRes HQ export. I was really excited to see this as sometimes without a good GPU — resizing, GPU-accelerated effects like color correction and other effects will slow your system to a snail’s pace if it doesn’t fully crash. Media Composer surprisingly speed up its export when I added the color grade as a new color layer in the timeline. By adding the color correction layer to another layer Avid might have forced the Radeon to kick in and help push the file out. Not really sure what that is about to be honest.

Test 3: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence resized to 1920×1080 on export as ProRes HQ. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 16 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 14 minutes. Media Composer = one hour, 48 minutes. Resolve = one hour, 16 minutes

So after these tests, it seems that exporting and transcoding are all about the same. It doesn’t really come as too big of a surprise that all the NLEs, except for Media Composer, processed the Red file in the same amount of time. Regardless of the NLE, you would need to knock the debayering down to a half or more to start playing these clips at realtime in a timeline. If you have the time to transcode to ProRes you will get much better playback and rendering speed results. Obviously, transcoding all of your files to a codec, like ProRes or Avid DNX, takes way more time up front but could be worth it if you crunched for time on the back end.

In addition to Red 6K files, I also tested ProRes HQ 4K files inside of Premiere and FCPX, and both played them extremely smoothly without hiccups, which is pretty amazing. Just a few years ago I was having trouble playing down 10:1 compressed files in Media Composer and now I can playback superb-quality 4K files without a problem, a tremendous tip of the hat to technology and, specifically, Apple for putting so much power in a thin and light package.

While I was in the mood to test speeds, I hooked up a Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID (OWC Thunderbay 4 mini) configured in RAID-0 to see what kind of read/write bandwidth I would get running through the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I used both AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The AJA test reported a write speed of 929MB/sec. and read speed of 1120MB/sec. The Blackmagic test reported a write speed of 683.1MB/sec. and 704.7MB/sec. from different tests and a read speed of 1023.3MB/sec. I set the test file for both at 4GB. These speeds are faster than what I have previously found when testing this same Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID on other systems.

For comparison, the AJA test reported a write speed of 1921MB/sec. and read speed of 2134MB/sec. when running on the system drive. The Blackmagic test doesn’t allow for testing on the system drive.

What Else You Need to Know
So what about the other upgrades and improvements? When exporting these R3D files I noticed the fan kicked on when resizing or adding color grading to the files. Seems like the GPU kicked on and heated up which is to be expected. The fan is not the loudest, but it is noticeable.

The battery life on the new MacBook Pro is great when just playing music, surfing the web or writing product reviews. I found that the battery lasted about two days without having to plug in the power adapter. However, when exporting QuickTimes from either Premiere or FCPX the battery life dropped — a lot. I was getting a battery life of one hour and six minutes, which is not good when your export will take two hours. Obviously, you need to plug in when doing heavy work; you don’t really have an option.

This leads me to the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports — and, yes, you still have a headphone jack (thank goodness they didn’t talk with the iPhone developers). First off, I thought the MagSafe power adapter should have won a Nobel Peace Prize. I love it. It must be responsible for saving millions of dollars in equipment when people trip over a power cord — gracefully disconnecting without breaking or pulling your laptop off the table. However, I am disappointed Apple didn’t create a new type of MagSafe cable with the USB-C port. I will miss it a lot. The good news is you can now plug in your power adapter to either side of the MacBook Pro.

Adapters and dongles will have to be purchased if you pick up a new MacBook Pro. Each time I used an external peripheral or memory card like an SD card, Tangent Ripple Color Correction panel or external hard drive, I was disappointed that I couldn’t plug them in. Nonetheless, a good Thunderbolt 3 dock is a necessity in my opinion. You could survive with dongles but my OCD starts flaring up when I have to dig around my backpack for adapters. I’m just not a fan. I love how Apple dedicated themselves to a fast I/O like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but I really wish they gave it another year. Just one old-school USB port would have been nice. I might have even gotten over no SD card reader.

The Touch Bar
I like it. I would even say that I love it — in the apps that are compatible. Right now there aren’t many. Adobe released an update to Adobe Photoshop that added compatibility with the Touch Bar, and it is really handy especially when you don’t have your Wacom tablet available (or a USB dongle to attach it). I love how it gives access to so many levels of functionality to your tools within your immediate reach.

It has super-fast feedback. When I adjusted the contrast on the Touch Bar I found that the MacBook Pro was responding immediately. This becomes even more evident in FCPX and the latest Resolve 12.5.4 update. It’s clear Apple did their homework and made their apps like Mail and Messages work with the Touch Bar (hence emojis on the Touch Bar). FCPX has a sweet ability to scrub the timeline, zoom in to the timeline, adjust text and more from just the Touch Bar — it’s very handy, and after a while I began missing it when using other computers.
In Blackmagic’s latest DaVinci Resolve release, 12.5.4, they have added Touch Bar compatibility. If you can’t plug in your color correction panels, the Touch Bar does a nice job of easing the pain. You can do anything from contrast work to saturation, even adjust the midtones and printer lights, all from the Touch Bar. If you use external input devices a lot, like Wacom tablets or color correction panels, the Touch Bar will be right up your alley.

One thing I found missing was a simple application launcher on the Touch Bar. If you do pick up the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you might want to download Touch Switcher, a free app I found via 9to5mac.com that allows you to have an app launcher on your Touch Bar. You can hide the dock, allowing you more screen real estate and the efficient use of the Touch Bar to launch apps. I am kind of surprised Apple didn’t make something like this standard.

The Display
From a purely superficial and non-scientific point of view, the newly updated P3-compatible wide-gamut display looks great… really great, actually. The colors are rich and vibrant. I did a little digging under the hood and noticed that it is an 8-bit display (data that you can find by locating the pixel depth in the System Information > Graphics/Display), which might limit the color gradations when working in a color space like P3 as opposed to a 10-bit display displaying in a P3 color space. Simply, you have a wider array of colors in P3 but a small amount of color shades to fill it up.

The MacBook Pro display is labeled as 32-bit color meaning the RGB and Alpha channels each have 8 bits, giving a total of 32 bits. Eight-bit color gives 256 shades per color channel while 10-bit gives 1,024 shades per channel, allowing for much smoother transitions between colors and luminance values (imagine a sky at dusk going smoothly from an orange to light blue to dark blue — the more colors per channel allows for a smoother gradient between lights and darks). A 10-bit display would have 30-bit color with each channel having 10 bits.

I tried to hook up a 10-bit display, but the supplied Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 dongle Apple sent me did not work with the mini display port. I did a little digging and it seems people are generally not happy that Apple doesn’t allow this to work, especially since Thunderbolt 2 and mini DisplayPort are the same connection. Some people have been able to get around this by hooking up their display through daisy chaining something like a Thunderbolt 2 RAID.

While I couldn’t directly test an external display when I had the MacBook Pro, I’ve read that people have been able to push 10-bit color out of the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to an external monitor. So as long as you are at a desk with a monitor you can most likely have 10-bit color output from this system.

I reached out to Apple on the types of adapters they recommend for an external display and they suggest a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter made by Aukey. It retails for $9.99. They also recommend the USB-C to DisplayPort cable from StarTech, which retails for $39.99. Make sure you read the reviews on Amazon because the experience people have with this varies wildly. I was not able to test either of these so I cannot give my personal opinion.

Summing Up
In the end, the new MacBook Pro is awesome. If you own a recent release of the MacBook Pro and don’t have $3,500 to spare, I don’t know if this is the update you will be looking for. If you are trying to find your way around going to a Windows-based PC because of the lack of Mac Pro updates, this may ease the pain slightly. Without more than 16GB of memory and an Intel Xeon or two, however, it might actually slow you down.

The battery life is great when doing light work, one of the longest batteries I’ve used on a laptop. But when doing the heavy work, you need to be near an outlet. When plugged into that outlet be careful no one yanks out your USB-C power adapter as it might throw your MacBook Pro to the ground or break off inside.

I really do love Apple products. They typically just work. I didn’t even touch on the new Touch ID Sensor that can immediately switch you to a different profile or log you in after waking up the MacBook Pro from sleep. I love that you can turn the new MacBook Pro on and it simply works, and works fast.

The latest iteration of FCPX is awesome as well, and just because I don’t see it being used a lot professionally doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It’s a well-built NLE that should be given a fairer shake than it has been given. If you are itching for an update to an old MacBook Pro, don’t mind having a dock or carrying around a bunch of dongles, then the 2016 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is for you.

The new MacBook Pro chews through ProRes-based media from 1920×1080 to 4K, 6K and higher will play but might slow down. If you are a Red footage user this new MacBook Pro works great, but you still might have to knock the debayering down a couple notches.


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: Mettle VR plug-ins for Adobe Premiere

By Barry Goch

I was very frustrated. I took a VR production class, I bought a LG 360 camera, but I felt like I was missing something. Then it dawned on me — I wanted to have more control. I started editing 360 videos using the VR video viewing tools in Adobe Premiere Pro, but I still was lacking the control I desired. I wanted my audience to have a guided, immersive experience without having to be in a swivel chair to get the most out of my work. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it came to me — I needed to rotate the 360 video sphere. I needed to be able to reorient it to accomplish my vision, but how would I do that?

Rotate Sphere plug-in showing keyframing.

Mettle’s Skybox 360/VR Tools are exactly what I was looking for. The Rotate Sphere plug-in alone is worth the price of the entire plug-in package. With this one plug-in, you’re able to re-orient your 360 video without worrying about any technical issues — it gives you complete creative control to re-frame your 360 video — and it’s completely keyframable too! For example, I mounted my 360 camera on my ski helmet this winter and went down a ski run at Heavenly in Lake Tahoe. There are amazing views of the lake from this run, but I also needed to follow the skiers ahead of me. Plus, the angle of the slope changed and the angle to the subjects I was following changed as well. Since the camera was fixed, how could I guide the viewer? By using the Rotate Sphere plug-in from Mettle and keyframing the orientation of the shot as the slope/subject relationship changed relative to my position.

My second favorite plug-in is Project 2D. Without the Project 2D plug-in, when you add titles to your 360 videos they become warped and you have very little control over their appearance. In Project 2D, you create your title using the built-in titler in Premiere Pro, add it to the timeline, then apply the Project 2D Mettle Skybox plug-in. Now you have complete control over the scale, rotation of the titling element and the placement of the title within the 360 video sphere. You can also use the Project 2D plug-in to composite graphics or video into your 360 video environment.

Mobius Zoom transition in action.

Rounding out the Skybox plug-in set are 360 video-aware plug-ins that every content creator needs. What do I mean but 360 video-aware? For example, when you apply a blur that is not 360 video-content-aware, it crosses the seam where the equi-rectangular video’s edges join together and makes the seam unseemly. With the Skybox Blur, Denoise, Glow and Sharpen plug-ins, you don’t have this problem. Just as the Rotate Sphere plug-in does the crazy math to rotate your 360 video without distortion or introducing artifacts, these plug-ins do the same.

Transitioning between cuts in 360 video is an evolving art form. There is really no right or wrong way. Longer cuts, shorter cuts, dissolves and dips to black are some of the basic options. Now, Mettle is adding to our creative toolkit by applying their crazy math skills on transitions in 360 videos. Mettle started with their first pack of four transitions: Mobius Zoom, Random Blocks, Gradient Wipe and Iris Wipe. I used the Mobius Zoom to transition from the header card to the video and then the Iris Wipe with a soft edge to transition from one shot to the next in the linked video.

Check out this video, which uses Rotate Sphere, Project 2D, Mobius Zoom and Iris wipe effects.

New Plug-Ins
I’m pleased to be among the first to show you their second set of plug-ins specifically designed for 360 / VR video! Chroma Leaks, Light Leaks, Spherical Blurs and everyone’s favorite, Light Rays!

Mettle plug-ins work on both Mac and Windows platforms — on qualified systems — and in realtime. The Mettle plug-ins are also both mono- and stereo-aware.

The Skybox plug-in set for Adobe Premiere Pro is truly the answer I’ve been looking for since I started exploring 360 video. It’s changed the way I work and opened up a world of control that I had been wishing for. Try it for yourself by downloading a demo at www.mettle.com.


Barry Goch is currently a digital intermediate editor for Deluxe in Culver City, working on Autodesk Flame. He started his career as a camera tech for Panavision Hollywood. He then transitioned to an offline Avid/FCP editor. His resume includes Passengers, Money Monster, Eye in the Sky and Game of Thrones. His latest endeavor is VR video.

Editor Joe Walker on establishing a rhythm for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

By Mel Lambert

For seasoned picture editor Joe Walker, ACE, his work with directors Denis Villeneuve and Steve McQueen might best be described as “three times a charm.” His trio of successes with Villeneuve include the drug enforcement drama Sicario, the alien visitor film Arrival and the much-anticipated, upcoming sci-fi drama Blade Runner 2049, which is currently in post. His three films with McQueen include Hunger, Shame and the 2014 Oscar-winner for Best Picture 12 Years a Slave, which earned Walker a nomination for his editing work.

In addition, he has worked on a broad array of films, ranging from director Michael Mann’s cyber thriller Blackhat to writer/director Rupert Wyatt’s The Escapist to director Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown to writer/director Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock, which is a reworking of the Graham Greene classic.

Arrival - Paramount

We are currently in midst of awards season, and recently Paramount’s Arrival received no less than nine BAFTA Award nominations, including Best Picture Editing, Best Director and Best Film. It has also been nominated for an American Cinema Editors Eddie in the Best Edited Feature Film — Dramatic category.

“My approach to all the films I have edited is to find the basic ‘rhythm’ of a scene,” Walker concedes. His background as a sound designer and composer enhance those sensibilities, in terms of internal pacing, beat and dramatic pulse.

The editor’s path toward Villeneuve began at a 2010 screening of Incendies in his native London. ”I was blown away and set my heart on working with this director. That same heart was beating out of my chest a few years later watching 2014’s Prisoners. While finishing Michael Mann’s Blackhat in 2015, my agent got me into the room with Denis for Sicario, which had a very solid script. That evolution felt like it was going in the right direction for me. Cinematographer Roger Deakins produced stunning work — he’s also cinematographer on Blade Runner 2049.” (Deakins was nominated for both Oscar and BAFTA Awards for Sicario.)

The Edit
For Arrival, Walker’s biggest challenge was reconciling the two parallel worlds that existed within the evolving dramatic arcs. While several alien spacecraft land around the world, a linguistics expert (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to determine whether they come in peace. “On the one hand we have the natural setting of the mother/daughter relationship, with beautiful, intimate material shot by a lakeside near Montreal, and the narrative content on a far lower gas,” explains Walker. “That’s pitted against the high-tech world of space ships as we learn more about the alien visitors and the psychological task faced as the lead character tries to decode their complex written language. Without CGI visuals of the Heptapods — the multi-limb visitors — I had to make early decisions about what space to leave in a scene for their eventual movements. From what was shot on set, all we had were puppeteers holding tennis balls on a stick.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesWalker saw every Arrival daily and started his cut early. “We had to turn over the Heptapod sequences to Montreal VFX house Hybride almost as soon as the director’s cut began,” he says. “And because, for me, sound always drives a lot of what I do, I brought on creature sound designer Dave Whitehead ahead of the game. I’d been impressed by Dave’s work on [Neill Blomkamp’s] District 9. I needed to know what type of sounds would be used for the aliens, and cut accordingly. He developed a coherent language with an inbuilt syntax and really nailed the ‘character’ of the Heptapods. I laid up his sounds onto tracks in my Avid Media Composer and they stayed pretty much unchanged all the way through post.”

In terms of pace and narrative arcs, Walker states that director Villeneuve “chose to starve the audience of information and just offer intriguing nuggets, teasing out the suspense and keeping them waiting for the pay off. For example, on one scene we hold on Amy Adams’ face watching the breaking news on the TV rather than the TV show itself,” which was reporting the mysterious spacecraft touching down in 12 cities. “Forest Whitaker [US Army Colonel Weber] plays our first audio of the Heptapods on a Dictaphone and it stimulates such curiosity about how they may look or behave. We avoided any pressure of cutting for the sake of cutting. Instead, we stayed on a shot, let it play and did not do all the thinking for the audience. While editing 12 Years a Slave, we stay on the hanging scene and don’t cut away. There’s no relief, it allows the audience to be truly troubled by the horrible inertia of the scene.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesAgain, the word “rhythm” figures prominently within Walker’s creative vocabulary. “I always try to find the rhythm of a scene — one that works with the sounds and music elements. For Sicario, I developed peaks and troughs in the dramatic flow that supported different points of view” as the audience slowly begins to understand the complexity of the drug enforcement campaign. “Bad sound disturbs me, including distorted or widely variable dialogue levels. I always work hard to get the best out of the production tracks, perhaps more than I really have time for.

“With both Steve McQueen and Denis Villeneuve, I’ve always tried to avoid using music temp tracks, so that we do not become too influenced during the editing process,” he continues. “By holding off until we’re late into a final cut, we can stay critical in our judgments about the story and characters. When brought in later, music becomes a huge bonus since you’ve already been ruthless with the story. You use music only where it’s absolutely necessary, allowing silence or sound effects to have their day. I think composers want the freedom of a blank canvas. Otherwise, as the English composer Matthew Herbert once said, ‘Music is in an abusive relationship with film.’”

Changing Direction During Edit
While cutting Arrival, Walker recalls that one key scene took a dramatic left turn. “As scripted and shot,” he explains, “the nightmare sequence started out as a normal scene in which Amy Adams’ character, Louise, is visited in her quarters by colleague Ian [Jeremy Renner] and her boss, Colonel Webber, who decides to bench her. This was the beginning of a long piece of story tubing, which felt redundant. We’d tried to discard it, but the scene had an essential piece of information that we couldn’t live without: the notion that exposure to a language can rewire your mind.

ARRIVAL by Paramount Pictures“We thought about conveying that information elsewhere as voiceover or ADR, but instead, as an experiment, we strung together very crudely only the pieces we needed, thereby creating at one point a jarring join between one line of Ian’s dialogue and another. I always try to be ballsy with material, to stay on it with confidence or maul it, to tell the story a better way.”

In that pivotal scene in Arrival, during a close-up, Adams’ character is looking off-camera toward Whitaker. “But we never cut to him because it would take us down the path we wanted to avoid,” explains Walker. “As it happened, that same day in the cutting room, we saw the first test shots from Hybride’s VFX team of an alien crawling forward, looking like an elephant shrouded in mist. That first look inspired our decision to hold onto Adams’ off-camera look for as long as we could, and then — instead of going to a matching reverse revealing Forest Whitaker — we cut to this huge alien crouching in the corner of her bedroom.

“The scene was rounded off by a shot of Amy’s character waking up and looking utterly thrown. We kept the jarring cut [from Ian and then back to him], and added the incongruous sound of a canary, since it signaled early on that all is not as it seems. A nightmare was a great way to get inside Louise’s head. Ian’s presence in her dream also platforms their romance, which enters so late in the story. Normally, returning material to a cut can feel like putting wet swimming trunks back on, but here it set our minds alight.”

Adams’ performance throughout Arrival was thrilling to cut, says Walker. “She is very real in every take and always true to character, keeping her performance at just the right temperature for each scene. Every nuance counts, particularly in a film that has to hold up to scrutiny on a second or third viewing when more is understood about the true nature of things. To hold the audience’s attention in a scene, an editor’s craft involves a balance between time and tension.”

ARRIVAL by Paramount PicturesWalker says, “Time is our superpower since we can slow a moment down, speed it up or jump from one shard of a timeline to another. In Arrival we had two parallel worlds: the real-life world of the army camp with all the news on TVs and heavy technology. In opposition is the child’s world of caterpillars and nature. I could cut those together at will and flip quickly from one to the other.”

Walker says that after the 10-week shoot for Arrival, he spent a week finalizing his editor’s cut and then 10 to 14 weeks on the director’s cut with basic CGI. “We then went through test screenings as the final photorealistic CGI elements slowly took shape,” he recalls. “We refined the film’s overall pace and rhythm and made sure that each tiny fragment of this fantastic puzzle was told as well as we could. I consider the result to be really one of the most successful edits I have been involved with.”


LA-based Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.


Main Image: Joe Walker and Denis Villeneuve. Photo Credit Javier Marcheselli. 

 

ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo

Team Player: Rules Don’t Apply editor Brian Scofield

By Randi Altman

In the scheme of things, we work in a very small industry where relationships, work ethic and talent matter. Brian Scofield is living proof of that. He is one of a team of editors who worked on Warren Beatty’s recent Rules Don’t Apply.

That team included lead editor Billy Weber, Leslie Jones and Robin Gonsalves. It was the veteran editor Weber (Beatty’s Bulworth 1998) who brought Scofield on board as a second editor.

Weber was Scofield’s mentor while he was in the MFA program at USC. “Not long after I completed graduate school, Billy helped me reconnect with the Malick camp, who I met while working in the camera crew on Tree of Life,” he explains. “I then became an apprentice on To the Wonder, and then an editor on Knight of Cups. When Billy came in as an advisor at the end of Knight of Cups, we reconnected in LA. He had just begun working on Rules Don’t Apply with Warren, and when I finished my work on Knight of Cups, he brought me aboard.”

Scofield recognizes that relationships open doors, but says you have to walk through them and prove you belong in the room all by yourself. “I think people often make the mistake of thinking that networking trumps talent and work ethic, or the other way around, and that just isn’t true.  All three are required to have a career as a film editor — the ability to form lasting relationships, the diligence to work really hard, and having natural instincts that you’re always striving to improve upon.”

Scofield says he will always be grateful to Weber and the example he’s set. “I’m only one of over a dozen people whose careers Billy has helped launch over the years. It’s in large part his generosity and mentorship that inspires me to pay it forward any chance I get.”

Let’s find out more from Scofield about his editing process, what he’s learned over the years, and the importance of collaboration.

You have worked with two Hollywood icons in Terrence Malick and Warren Beatty. I’m assuming you’re not easily intimidated.
It’s been a transformative experience in every way. These two guys, who have been making films for over 40 years, are constantly challenging themselves to try new things… to experiment, to learn. They’re always re-evaluating pretty much everything from the story to the style, and yet these are two guys with such distinct voices that really shine through their work. You know a Malick or Beatty film when you see it. The Inexhaustibility of the cinematic art form, I guess, is what I really took away from both of them.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.They are both very different kinds of filmmakers.
You would never think that working on a Terrence Malick film would prepare you to work on a Warren Beatty film. Knight of Cups is a stream-of-consciousness, meditative tome about the meaning of life. Warren’s film is a romantic comedy with a historical drama slant. Aesthetically, they’re very different films, but the process of constantly finding ways to break open the movie all over again, and the mindset that requires, is very similar.

Both Terry and Warren are uncompromising and passionate about making movies the way they want and not bending to conventions, yet at the same time looking for ways to reach people on a very deep level. In this case, both films were also deeply personal for the director. When you work on something like that, it adds another layer of pressure because you want to honor how much of themselves they’re willing to put into their work. But that’s also where I believe the most exciting films come from. That pressure just becomes inspiration.

How early did you get involved on Rules Don’t Apply?
Right after production wrapped. I was finishing up with Terry on the mix stage for Knight of Cups when Billy called. They had an assembly of the film when I joined — everything was in there — and that version was probably about four hours long. Interestingly, some things have changed dramatically since that version and some are remarkably similar.

I was on Rules Don’t Apply for just over a year, but I’ve been back several times since officially finishing. I took a good amount of time off and went back, and since then I’ve popped in and out whenever Warren has needed me. Robin became a true caretaker of the film, staying with Warren through that additional time leading up to the release.

Is that typically how you’ve worked? Coming in after there’s an assembly?
I’ve come in as an additional set eyes on some, and I’ve been on films during production, sending cuts to the director while they’re in the middle of shooting. This includes giving feedback on pick-ups they need to grab or things to be wary of performance-wise, those types of things.

Both are thrilling experiences. It’s fun to come in when there has been one specific approach and they’re open to new ideas. You kind of get to shake people out of the one way they’ve been going about the film. When I’m the editor that’s been working on the film since the beginning, that initial discovery period when you see the film take shape for the first time is always thrilling. The relationship you form with both the film and the director is hard to beat. But then, I’m always excited for someone to come in and shake things up, to help me think differently. That’s why you do feedback screenings. That’s why you bring other editors into the room to take a look and to make you think about things from a different angle.

How was it on Rules Don’t Apply?
When I came on, so much of it was working really well from the first assembly, but I did want to strengthen the love story between Frank and Marla and make their attraction more evident early in the film so that it paid off later. I started by going through all of the scenes and looking for little moments where we could build up glances between them or find little raindrops before the storm of that budding relationship.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.There were a few storylines going on at the same time as well?
The story takes place over a long period of time — you’ve got Warren Beatty playing Howard Hughes, you’re dealing with a young love story, you’re dealing with an incredible supporting cast, all of whom could be bigger characters or smaller characters. When you come in a little bit later, it’s often your job to help figure out which storylines or themes are going to become the main thrust of the movie.

So there are different definitions of co-editor?
Well, it varies every day. Some days Warren would want to work on a couple of different scenes, so one editor would take one and I would take the other. Sometimes you would have worked on a scene for a long time and somebody else would say, “Let me have a stab at that. I’ve got a different idea.” Sometimes we were all together in one room with one of us driving the Avid and the others offering a different set of eyes — eyes that aren’t staring at the timeline — and they’re looking at it side-by-side with the director, almost as a viewer instead of within the nitty-gritty of making the cut. We would take turns doing that.

You’ve got to check your ego at the door, I suppose? Everybody’s on the same team these days.
There’s no pecking order, and I think Billy Weber is really the one who sets that tone because he’s such a generous and experienced editor and man. There are people out in the industry that might be protective of their work versus letting anybody else touch it, but there’s none of that in any of the editing rooms that I’ve been fortunate enough to work in. Everybody’s respectful of each other.

On this film we had Billy, myself, Leslie Jones and Robin all working at the same time. You’ve got almost three generations of editors in that room, and to be treated as an equal really opens up your mind and your creativity. You feel the freedom to really present big ideas.

How is it collaborating with Warren?
He is such a unique guy. His favorite thing to do is to have a fight — he doesn’t want people who are just going to accept what he says. He wants a fiery debate, which can make people uncomfortable, but I’m okay with it. I actually really enjoyed that, especially when you realize he’s not taking it personally and neither should I. This is about making a movie the best that it can be. He wants people that are going to challenge him and push back.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.So it’s part of his creative process?
Yes, it’s all about the discourse. If he has a strong point of view, he wants to argue it to make sure that he really believes it. And if you have a strong point of view, he wants you to be able to tell him why. I would say the fiercest fights led to him being most happy afterwards. At the end of the screaming, he would always say, “That was such a productive conversation. I’m so glad we did that!” He surrounds himself with people he knows he trusts. He knows that’s what he needs to make him as productive and as creative as he can be.

It’s been a long time since Warren directed a film, how did he react to the new technology?
He was thrilled with all of the new abilities of technology. This movie was shot on the Alexa, for the most part, and we did do a good amount of combining it will archival footage. This is a very modern movie in many ways, but it also has a distinctive throwback vibe. We had to try to marry those things without going overboard.

We resized frames, added a few push-ins, speed ramps, and so on. Ultimately, all of these tools just allowed him to explore the footage even more than he’s used to doing. He really loved taking advantage of new editorial opportunities that couldn’t have been done even 15 years ago, at least not as easily.

How do you organize things within the Avid Media Composer?
Any time I start a new job, I send a Google Doc to the assistant that specifies exactly how I want the project set up. It’s an evolution of things I’ve learned in different editing rooms over time.

For every scene, I have a bin with a frame view. If the bin is the size of my monitor, I should be able to see all clips in that one view without scrolling. Each set-up is separated from each other, so I can see very quickly, “Oh there are four takes of that shot, there are four takes of that shot, there are three takes of that one.” I have the assistant prepare three sequences: one that’s just a pure string-out of all of the clips, so I can, in one sequence, scrub through everything that’s there. I do a string-out “clean,” which is when you take out all the slates and you take out all the director’s talking, so I can be impartial and just look at the footage. Then I usually have one more sequence that’s just circle takes that the director chose on set. Then I go through and I make a select reel based off of everything that I watch. That’s the basic bin set-up.

For films that have multiple editors, organization is really important because somebody else has to be able to understand how your work is organized. You have to be able to find things that you did a year ago.

Any special tricks, like speed ramps, sound effects, transitions? I’m imagining that changes per project?
Yeah, it’s pretty unique to the project. There are a lot of editors who have specific effects that they go back to over and over again in their own bin. I’ve got a few of those, but I almost always end up tailoring them and sometimes just starting from scratch.  I go on the hunt for the right effect when I need it.

Photo Credit: Francois Duhamel.I’ve gotten pretty adept at tailoring the built-in effects to my needs as they come up, but people who use those effects all the time are working on more crazy action or stylized films because they’ve got a lot more demand for those than when you’re working on character-driven content.

Do you typically work with a template from a colorist, or do you do any temp color corrections yourself?
Most of the films have a look that the DP has already applied, and I do tweaking as needed. If we come up with a creative reason for color correction, I’ll do a sketch. I do a lot of work with sound, but with color, it just depends. If it needs to be changed in order to understand what the idea is or if we’re screening it for somebody that we don’t trust to be able to see what it is without color correction, then of course we’re going to go in and we’re going to tweak it. I’ve worked on a film where all the exteriors were really magenta, so we came up with our kind of default fix to be applied to all of those shots.

Can you elaborate on the sound part?
I cut as much for sound as I do for picture. I think people grossly underestimate the influence that sound has on how you watch a movie. I’m not a sound designer, but I try my best to provide a sketch for when we go into that next phase so the sound designer has a pretty clear idea of what we’re going for. Then, of course, they use their creativity to expand and do their own thing.

How do you work with your assistant editors? Do you encourage them to edit, or are they strictly technical?
It depends on the project and on the timeframe of the project. In the beginning, the priority is on getting everything set up. Then the priority is on helping me build a first sound pass after we’ve gotten an assembly. They help bring in effects and to smooth over things I’ve sketched out. Sometimes they’re just gathering effects for me and sometimes they’re cutting them themselves. Sometimes we’re kind of tossing them back and forth. I do a rough pass and I ask them to mix it, clean up the levels, add in a couple accents here and there. Once we’re through with that we kind of have at least a ground floor for sound to cut with.

When given the opportunity, I love to let my assistants get creative. I let them take a stab at scenes, or at least have them be present in the room to give feedback. When the director isn’t present, I rely a lot on my assistant just to check in and say, “Hey, is this crazy?” or try to engage them as much as I can in that creative process. It all just depends on the demands of the project and the experience level of the assistant.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Film is a collaborative art form, and in order to help a director do their best work, you need to be their friend, their antagonist, their therapist, their partner. Whatever it takes is what your job is. I was so fortunate to learn an enormous amount from Warren, but also from my fellow editors. I hope everybody has as much fun watching this crazy little movie as we did making it.

Finally, I’d just love to say that working with Warren will undoubtedly be one of the most cherished experiences of my life. Reputations be damned, he’s a kind, brilliant and uncompromising artist who it was endlessly inspiring to spend so much time with.  I’ll forever be grateful I had the opportunity to both work for him and to call him a friend.

Main Image: Robin Gonsalves, Warren Beatty and Brian Scofield.

TwoPoint0 adds editors Debbie McMurtrey and David Cornman

TwoPoint0 has added two veteran editors to its New York-based studio: David Cornman and Debbie McMurtrey.

Cornman is a commercial editor who has cut comedy, effects-driven, dramatic and documentary-style spots for clients such as AIG, GE, Accenture, Bank of America, Staples, Verizon and Computer Associates. He has won awards from the AICE, AICP, Clio and Addys, and he has an Emmy nom in the Best Commercial category.

Cornman’s recent projects include a package of Crayola spots for McGarry-Bowen and P&G work out of Havas, as well as a several digital projects for Facebook’s Creative Shop. A recent passion project included shooting and editing a piece for Atria Senior Living in Rye Brook, New York, which gave residents the chance to try rowing for the first time. Rowers ranged in age from 85-97. “That was fun to be part of,” he says.

McMurtrey started her career at Crew Cuts in 1999. In 2007, she was hired as the first editor at Nomad’s East Coast office. From there she worked at Cutting Room, Red Car and Alkemy X. In addition to spots and branded web content, she has also cut short films that have screened in over 30 festivals, a sitcom pilot for VH1, and parody commercials for Saturday Night Live. She recently collaborated with director/producer Greg Kohs on his feature documentary, The Great Alone, which chronicles the comeback journey of four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey. McMurtrey considers her specialty to be docu-style. She excels at taking raw footage and finding the narrative in order to shape the story. She also enjoys editing dialogue and comedy.

McMurtrey has recently worked with director Zack Resnicoff of Impressionista Films on three campaigns for Fisher Price, including 20 individual spots.They have previously worked together on projects for Macy’s, Blue Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other recent projects completed by McMurtrey include the “We the Voters” campaign and a series of films for Stephens Bank, including a bio of Alexander Hamilton. She has also edited projects this fall for Facebook, Hewlett Packard and Nintendo.

To view Cornman’s and McMurtrey’s reels on the studio’s site.

The A-List: Collateral Beauty director David Frankel

By Iain Blair

Oscar-winner David Frankel is probably best known for his enormously successful films The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, but the writer/director has an eclectic slate of films under his belt, including The Big Year, Hope Springs and One Chance.

Frankel owns a “Best Short” Oscar for his film Dear Diary, an Emmy for his direction of the miniseries Band of Brothers, and an Emmy nom for the Entourage pilot. In addition, he directed several episodes of Sex and the City, and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

David Frankel

Frankel’s new film, Collateral Beauty, is a drama about a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.  Frankel assembled an all-star cast, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren..

The drama’s behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Maryse Alberti (Creed), editor Andrew Marcus (American Ultra) and composer Theodore Shapiro (Trumbo).

I spoke with Frankel about making the film.

There’s been a lot of mystery about this film and the plot?
Will plays this advertising guy who loses his six-year-old daughter to cancer and he spirals into a deep hole. He’s devastated, he’s divorced, he’s not functioning at work anymore, and everyone tries to help him reconnect, but nothing really works. Then they come up with this wacky scheme, which involves hiring some actors to help him answer the questions he’s asking of the universe. I saw it as this screwball drama — a little crazy — but also very grounded and emotional. There’s a lot of moving moments and tragedy, but I think it’s quite uplifting and hopeful.

useYou got an amazing cast. Any surprises with Will Smith?
He was everything I expected and more. He’s such a risk-taker and keeps challenging himself as an actor. He took on stuff here he’s never done before, and Jacob Latimore was very impressive, really able to hold his own with the others, and there was a very unlikely pairing of actors — Helen Mirren and Michael Peña — that was unexpected and which worked out so well.

You shot this on location all over New York. How tough was it?
People complain about it a lot, but I never do. We shot it in eight weeks. It was great and wherever you go, people would help decorate the streets with Christmas lights and the street vendors would come out, and neighbors would help keep the streets quiet while we shot, so there was all this enthusiasm and great support. And you can’t really fake New York, and I love the fact that wherever you point a camera, it looks amazing.

You shot digitally, but it has a very filmic look.
Right, and I really struggle to see the difference between film and digital now, because digital’s so good. Maryse did a great job. She shot Dear Diary for me 20 years ago, and we quickly picked up where we left off. The goal was to make some very beautiful images and focus on composition and the performances.

Do you enjoy the post process?
I love post because it’s the time of discovery. When you’re shooting, it’s a time of wonder — when you’re scratching your heads for weeks on end and trying to deal with the schedule and budget and all that. Once you’re in post, you finally sit down to start telling the story you want, and when you start solving the puzzles that are in front of you in the cutting room, it’s just so satisfying. We did all the post in New York, and all the cutting at The Post Factory in Tribeca, and then we did all the sound work at the Warner Bros. mixing stage. We also recorded the music and orchestra in New York, so it was very much a New York production.

Talk about working for the first time with editor Andrew Marcus. Was he on the set?
He was on set a lot, and he actually lived just down the street from one of the locations, so he’d stop by a lot and we’d discuss stuff every day. He was so enthusiastic right from the start, and I think he’s quite brilliant. The way I work with editors is to tell them at the wrap party, ‘Pretend I got hit by a bus on the way home and you have to now finish the movie. Don’t just do an assembly and string scenes together.’ The big challenge on this was getting the tone right, as it’s such a strange mix of humor and really heavy drama, and sometimes all in the same scene.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter, so you must have needed some VFX?
Right. We used VFX to add some Christmas decorations, lights, some snow, and we had to do clean-up. Mr. X in New York did all that.

You’ve collaborated with composer Theodore Shapiro a lot. How important is sound and music to you?
It’s huge. I’ve worked with just one composer my whole career, and Ted wrote this beautiful score that’s perfect, because it’s such an emotional movie but it also needed a very restrained score that doesn’t tell you how to feel, and I had the most fun being in the studio with him and trying stuff out. And all the sound design is so crucial to it too —capturing the sounds of New York, the subway trains.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did the DI at Company 3 in Chelsea, with Tim Stipan, who’s a genius. He just did Silence with Scorsese and he has this fantastic eye for storytelling through color. I’m always involved with the DI, but even more so this time as Maryse had to go off to shoot Chappaquiddick, so I did a lot of the sessions with Tim, and it probably ended up a little warmer with me in there.

This is releasing at the same time as this new little film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are you nervous?
No, not at all. It’s good counter-programming. The Devil Wears Prada opened against Superman and did great. I like to think people want choices.


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.

Review: NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 for editors

By Brady Betzel

Basic color correction is rapidly becoming a skill that is expected of an editor, or even an assistant editor. If you have had the luxury of using a colorist and/or an online editor, you have probably seen them use apps such as Blackmagic Resolve, Avid Symphony, FilmLight’s Baselight or other color grading tools. These systems have so many levels of intricacy that without years of experience in color correction, most editors’ knowledge starts at the beginning stage.

If you are an editor looking to do basic color correction, slight secondary correction and, maybe, even a creative grade, you probably want to stay inside of your NLE, whether it’s Adobe Premiere, Apple FCPX, Avid Media Composer, Magix Vegas, or even After Effects. This is where NewBlueFX’s latest color correction and grading plug-in comes into play.

Featuring over 60 different looks (sometimes referred to as creative LUTs or preset color grades), skin tone isolation and the ability to isolate regions of an image for the video scopes to analyze, New Blue ColorFast 2 is a modest color correction app without the overwhelming toolset of a full-fledged color correction application.

The Details
ColorFast 2 costs $99 and works in apps like Vegas Pro 10+, Resolve 11+, Premiere CS6/6.5/CC, After Effects 5+, FCPX, Media Composer/Symphony 6+ and Grass Valley Edius 7 and 8. If you are using apps like Resolve you probably would only use ColorFast 2 for its preset looks since you already have access to all of the color correction tools included in the plug-in — unless you like the region isolating feature for the video scopes, something I find really intriguing.

ColorFast2 RGB Scope and the Lumetri RGB scope.

Most people reading this review will probably want to know why they should buy ColorFast 2 when Premiere Pro has a lot of these features built into their Lumetri color correction tools. To be honest, there are only a few things that ColorFast 2 has that Premiere, or other apps for that matter, don’t have: region-controlled video scopes, skin color isolating and NewBlueFX’s color presets. You should really check out NewBlueFX’s product page for ColorFast 2 to see some more examples of the color presets and download a trial for yourself.

Right off the bat, I felt that stacking ColorFast 2 after the Lumetri color correction tools in the effects panel in Premiere is the proper order of operations. If you are familiar with LUTs and how the chain of command works, you probably have experimented with color correcting before and after the LUT is applied.

Typically, a LUT gives the colorist a good starting point to grade from, but these days you may see creative LUTs. If the creative LUT doesn’t quite look right you will want add color correction first in the chain of command and then the LUT. This is how I would work with ColorFast 2 and Lumetri color correction tools. You will be correcting the footage to work with your creative LUT instead of correcting the LUT, which most of the time will give you inadequate results. Long story short: stack your ColorFast 2 effect after Lumetri tools in the effects window and then fine-tune the Basic Correction settings with your ColorFast 2 preset to get a great color grade.

The ColorFast2 waveform with isolated scope region.

Video Scopes
I was excited to check out the video scopes inside of ColorFast 2, so I jumped to the bottom where the Region Scopes twirl-down menu is. Under that is the Video Scopes menu, which contains Vectorscope (Classic), Vectorscope (Color), Vectorscope (Sat, RGB Parade), Waveform and Histogram. The real beauty is that NewBlueFX gives you the ability to isolate a square region of your footage to be output through the video scope. This allows you to pinpoint your correction a little easier, and I really love this feature… but I also noticed that when you have both the Lumetri video scopes, as well as the ColorFast 2 scopes there is a discrepancy in values. I tended to like the Lumetri video scopes a little better. In fact, they go all the way up to 100, where the ColorFast 2 scopes only go up to 80 — this could very well be a bug in the compatibility between ColorFast 2 and the new Adobe Premiere CC 2015.4.

One issue I found with the ColorFast 2 scopes was that I couldn’t move the actual scope around or have more than one on at a time. While the region selection is an awesome feature, being able to see your full image is sometimes more important, so that is why I would probably stick to the NLEs built-in scopes.

Primary, Secondary, Output Correction Menus
Going back to the top of the ColorFast 2 Effect Editor menus, up first is the Primary Correction twirl-down menu. Here you can quickly white-balance your footage with an eyedropper, even keyframe it. In addition, you can adjust the White Strength, White Tweak (fine-tune control of the white color), Hue, Saturation, Exposure, Brightness and Film Gamma. A problem I encountered was that if you do a primary color correct on your image and then choose a color preset, all of your primary work gets reset, which is a real bummer if you want to correct and then grade your footage. So, if you want to work in ColorFast 2 in a more traditional way, where you color correct then color grade, you may want to do it in two separate effects. Moreover, you may want to primary color correct inside of the Lumetri tools then stack the ColorFast 2 on top.

Secondaries menu.

Next up is the Secondary Correction twirl-down menu, which gets you into the real meat and potatoes of the plug-in. There is a helpful “Show Mask” drop down that will allow you to isolate and view Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, Skin Color Mask and a Shape Mask. Inside each of these you can adjust Tint, Saturation, overall Level, and even enable and disable this secondary if you want. Further down in the secondary menu you can adjust the High, Mid and Shadow thresholds (basically transitions from high to mid or mid to shadow), and even the blending and spread.

While still in the secondary twirl-down menu you can jump into the Skin Mask, which will quickly help you identify skin color, soften imperfections and even help keep skin color fidelity while adjusting the rest of your image.

The last menu is the Output Correction twirl-down. Here you can do a widespread correction that lands after the fine-tuning. You can adjust overall Saturation, Exposure and Brightness.

Summing Up
In the end, I think ColorFast 2 is best suited for people who want a quick color grade by applying a preset look but who also want a little ability to fine-tune that look. ColorFast 2 has some pretty good-looking presets like Vintage, Fallout, Gotham and even some black and white presets like B&W Ink. It’s even more fun to go and purposely change your white balance to something crazy, like a deep purple, for interesting grades. You should definitely try NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 if you are looking for some additional creative grade looks while still being able to individually tweak the output.

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.

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens 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.

GenPop’s Bill Yukich directs, edits gritty open for Amazon’s Goliath 

Director/editor Bill Yukich helmed the film noir-ish opening title sequence for Amazon’s new legal drama, Goliath. Produced by LA-based content creation studio GenPop, the black and white intro starts with Goliath lead actor Billy Bob Thornton jumping into the ocean. While underwater, and smoking a cigarette and holding a briefcase, he casually strolls through rooms filled with smoke and fire. At the end of the open, he rises from the water as the Santa Monica Pier appears next to him and as the picture turns from B&W to color. The Silent Comedy’s “Bartholomew” track plays throughout.

The ominous backdrop, of a man underwater but not drgoliathowning, is a perfect visual description of Thornton’s role as disgraced lawyer Billy McBride. Yukich’s visuals, he says, are meant to strike a balance between dreamlike and menacing.

The approved concept called for a dry shoot, so Yukich came up with solutions to make it seem as though the sequence was actually filmed underwater. Shot on a Red Magnesium Weapon camera, Yukich used a variety of in-camera techniques to achieve the illusion of water, smoke and fire existing within the same world, including the ingenious use of smoke to mimic the movement of crashing waves.

After wrapping the live-action shoot with Thornton, Yukich edited and color corrected the sequence. The VFX work was mostly supplementary and used to enhance the practical effects which were captured on set, such as adding extra fireballs into the frame to make the pyrotechnics feel fuller. Editing was via Adobe Premiere and VFX and color was done in Autodesk Flame. In the end, 80 percent was live action and only 20 percent visual effects.

Once post production was done, Yukich projected the sequence onto a screen which was submerged underwater and reshot the projected footage. Though technically challenging, Yukich says, this Inception-style method of re-shooting the footage gave the film the organic quality that he was looking for.

Yukich recently worked as lead editor for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. Stepping behind the lens was a natural progression for Yukich, who began directing concerts for bands like Godsmack and The Hollywood Undead, as well as music videos for HIM, Vision of Disorder and The Foo Fighters.