I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.
Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.
LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.
After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.
While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.
Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.
The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.
As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.
What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.
In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.
On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.
The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.
The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.
While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.
I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.
I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.
Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.
The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.
In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.
Josh and Paul Butterworth
The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.
We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.
With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile? Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.
What about the edit? Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.
At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.
How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film? Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.
Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.
The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.
What about the audio? Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.
The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.
Can you comment on the score? Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.
Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations? Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.
Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.
Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.
What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile? Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.
I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.
Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.
Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.
Any surprises pop up? Any challenges? Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.
Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.
Any tips for those looking to do something similar? Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.
Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).
Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique editing company that specializes in commercials, digital content, music videos and films. We have studios in Los Angeles and London.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As an editor I work with directors, creatives and producers on various projects to help stories reach their maximum impact for viewers.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Everyone has an idea of how something should look or feel, and usually there are many ways to get there with editing. Sometimes I have to work pretty hard to convince people that one idea or a group of ideas are better than another. So at time, I’m a mediator of creative ideas or a politician of opinions.
Britz edited this documentary for Expedia.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love the collaborative process and seeing how many ideas can coalesce to create something that is unexpected and stronger that any one of its parts.
WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rendering, exporting, transcoding, crashing computers. Basically, anything that hinders the creative flow.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the mornings the best because I feel I am most productive at that time of day.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Getting bossed around by my daughter a lot more often.
HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I chose this profession because I love creating things and telling stories. I started making skateboard videos with friends at an early age and always preferred to make movies in school instead of writing papers.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked with Intel on a spot about a scientist in Tasmania who placed tiny tracking devices on the backs of honeybees to try and determine why their colony numbers are declining.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked on a short documentary about a father coming to terms with his daughter’s sexuality for Expedia directed by Elliot Rausch.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My laptop and my phone are probably the most important. I think I could probably get by without anything else.
WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram and Facebook
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I listen to a lot of music at work — some by choice some by necessity.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Play with my kids and spend time with my wife. We like to travel when we can.
Editor Doobie White straddles two worlds. As co-founder of West Los Angeles-based Therapy Studios, he regularly works on commercials and music videos, but he also gets to step out of that role to edit movies. In fact, his most recent, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter for director Paul WS Anderson, is his ninth feature film.
Recently, we reached out to White to ask him about his workflow on this film, his editing techniques, his background and why regularly cutting more than one type of project makes him a better editor. Ok, let’s dig in.
What was it like coming onto a film that was an established franchise, and the last film in that franchise? Did that add any pressure?
The pressure was definitely on. The Final Chapter needed to be bigger, scarier and more exciting than the previous films. It’s also when the story comes full circle. We find out who Alice really is and what she has been fighting against throughout the franchise. There was a considerable amount of time and effort put into the edit to make it the best possible film it could be. That is what we aim for.
How early did you come on board? Were you on set? Near set? Keeping up with camera?
I was brought on a month or so before principal photography began. The film was shot in South Africa. I was there for four months cutting away like a madman. I was keeping up with camera so they could pick up any extra shots that would help tell the story. This was a life saver in the end. Scenes got better and we solved problems early on in the process. By the time we left South Africa we had a full rough cut. No re-shoots were necessary because they got it all before we left.
This is an action film with a lot of VFX. How did that affect your edit? Did they do pre and postvis on this one? Does that help you?
There was previs for some of the more complicated VFX in the movie, but that was mainly for production, to get a better understanding of what Paul was looking for and to make sure they captured every shot that was needed. I do think it really helps to get everyone on the same page. The scene usually evolves, but it’s a great way to start. I basically do the same thing but with the real footage when there is a lot of VFX involved.
When I’m working on a heavy VFX sequence, I really put everything into the scene that I possibly can to make sure it is working. There is a scene with a big flying creature at the beginning of the film that we called Dragon vs. Hummer. It’s basically exactly what it sounds like. I took still cut-outs of a temp creature and placed them into the shots, making the creature chase Alice around a destroyed Washington, DC. My goal was to make the edit look and sound like the finished film — albeit, with a silly cut-out of a scary monster. If I can create excitement with a still, I know the finished scene is going to be great.
Did the director shoot a lot of footage?
Paul does shoot a lot. He covers everything really well. I’m hardly ever painted into a corner. He always gives me a way out. Having tons of footage does make it more difficult when putting scenes together, but I love having the options to play.
What direction were you given from him in terms of the cut, if any?
We kinda had a motto for the film. Probably not a motto, but it’s something that Paul would say after showing him a cut, and I would always keep in mind. “There is a lot of great stuff in there… all you need to do now is move it all closer together.” Paul really wanted this film to be non-stop — for the story to always be propelled forward. I took that as a mission statement: to always make the audience feel like Alice, caught in this crazy post-apocalyptic world — with violence, chaos and monsters!
How did you work with Anderson? How often were you showing him cuts?
Paul is great to work with. We had an absolute blast cutting this film together. In the early stages I was just trying to tame the beast, so we would get together a couple of times a week to review. By the end, Paul was in everyday pushing me to take the edit into new territory. What’s incredible about Paul is that he never runs out of ideas. Anytime there was a problem he would always have a creative solution. It truly is a joy to work on a film like this with a director that isn’t afraid to push visual storytelling.
What system did you edit on?
Avid 8.3.1. It was the most stable at the time. Avid is still the best at having multiple people working on the same material at the same time. I might consider other software if they could match the sharing functionality that Avid has been doing for years. I also frequently use Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.
Do you have any special shortcuts/tricks you use often?
This really isn’t a shortcut or a trick, but it relates. If I find a performance that I like but there is something wrong with the image, I will usually figure out a way to fix it. I tend to do this on every job to some degree. For instance, if an actors eyes are shut when they are delivering a line, I will replace their eyes from a different take. Sometimes I’m replacing heads to have characters looking in the right direction. I will comp two different takes together. I use every tool I’ve got to get the best performance possible.
How do you organize your projects? Any special bins/folders of commonly used stuff like speed ramps, transitions, etc.?
I have a lot of bins that migrate from job to job. I place just as much importance on sound as I do on picture. Everything I do involves sound in a very specific way. So I have around 120 sound effects bins that I move over to every job that I do. Everything from footsteps to gunshots. I’m adding to this all the time, but it saves multiple days of work to keep a master set of sounds and then add specific sounds for each job.
On this one, we recorded a bunch of people in our office for zombie sounds, pitching their voices and adding effects to make them sound truly disturbing. I also have 60 bins or so of music that I keep on hand. I’m adding to this all the time as well.
What do you expect from an assistant editor, and how much knowledge should they already have? Are they essentially technical editors or do you mentor them?
I expect a lot from my assistants. They need to be technically savvy, but they also need to know how to edit. I do so many VFX and do a full sound design pass on every scene. My assistants have to be able to contribute on all fronts. One day they will be organizing. The next they will be adding sounds and lasers (temp VFX) to a scene. I have worked with the same assistant for a bunch of years. Her name is Amy K. Bostrom, and she is amazing. She does all the technical side, but she is a great editor in her own right. I have no doubt that she will have a great career.
How did you approach this project and was it any different than commercials/music videos?
It’s definitely different, but I start in a very similar way. I like to get a scene/commercial/music video cut together as fast as possible. I don’t watch a lot of the footage on the first pass. When I have a rough cut I go back to the dailies and watch everything. At that point I know what I’m looking for and my selects have a purpose.
If you could edit any genre and project what would you do?
That’s a tough question. I don’t think I really have a preference. I want the challenge and to be pushed creatively. Every project that I work on I’m really just trying to make myself feel something. I search for footage and sound that evokes emotion, and I cut it in a way that produces some sort of feeling in myself. Whether that be happiness, pain, excitement, fear, pleasure — if I can feel something when I’m working, then others will as well. I want to work on projects that connect with people in some way. The genre is secondary.
Are you ever satisfied with an edit, or does the edit just stop because of deadlines? Could you tinker forever or do know when something is at the right spot?
I think it is a little bit of both. You work really hard to get a project into a good place. Fix all the problems, fine-tune everything, but eventually you run out of time. A movie could be worked on forever. So it is like George Lucas said, “Movies are abandoned.” I believe a film can always be better. I go for that until I can’t.
Do you have any life/work balance tips or processes you do?
Unfortunately, no. I wish I did. I just have a lot of passion for what I do. I can’t really focus on anything else when I’m on a project. I try to disconnect from it, but I’m always thinking about it in some way. How can it be better? What is this scene/movie/commercial really about? How can I fix something that is not working? I’m half present when I’m on a project and I’m not in the cutting room. It takes over my life. It’s probably not the healthiest way to go, but it’s the only way I know. Honestly, I love it. I’m fine with getting a little obsessive. I’m going to work on meditating!
It must be fun to run an editorial house, but also step into the world of features films from time to time. Keeps things fresh for you?
Yes, it is nice to be able to jump from different types of projects. I love commercials and I love movies, but they are quite different and use different muscles. By the time I’m done with a movie I am so ready to cut commercials for a while, and vice versa. Films are extremely rewarding, but it’s an endurance race. Commercials are instant gratification. You cut for a week or two, and its on air the following week. It’s great! After a few months of commercials I’m ready for a new challenge.
Where/when did you get the first itch to work in video/film?
I had no plans of working in the film industry. I loved movies, music videos, and commercials, but I was so far removed from that world that I never saw a path. I was a ski bum studying art in Lake Tahoe, and one of the classes offered was digital media. This is the first time I realized you could edit clips together on a computer. It changed everything I was focused on. I started making silly short films and cutting them together. It wasn’t a film school and no one else was doing this so I had to do everything. From the writing, shooting and the music.
What I enjoyed the most was editing these little masterpieces. I decided I was going to figure out how to get someone to pay me to be an editor. I moved to LA and pretty much got laughed at. I couldn’t find a job, I was sleeping on couches. It was a bit desperate. The only opportunity that I eventually landed was an internship at a post house. After many coffee runs and taking out the trash, an editor asked me to work on a music video over the weekend. I jumped at the opportunity and didn’t go home until he came back on Monday. After he saw the cut I was hired the next day. This post house is where I met three of my best friends who would eventually become my partners at Therapy Studios.
Was your family supportive of you going into a creative job like editing?
To a degree, yes. It took a long time to find a path as an editor, and I think it was a bit confusing for them when I started working as an intern, especially being that I had zero cash and they were in no place to help. What I think is hard for a lot of people to understand that are not in the industry is that its very difficult to get a job in the film business. No matter what career you want to do, there are a thousand other kids that are trying to do the same thing. Perseverance is key. If you can outlast others you will probably find a way… ha!
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
Director, writer and producer John Lee Hancock has carved out a successful career with his ability to tell unlikely but true stories and bring them to life on screen. In 2013, he directed Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, about the prickly relationship between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers and the former’s quest to adapt Travers’ Mary Poppins into a film.
John Lee Hancock on set
In 2009 he made The Blind Side, based on another true story, which he both wrote and directed. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and garnered Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar.
Now Hancock has tackled another true story, albeit one with a far darker protagonist. The Founder is about the birth of McDonald’s and its rise to an international multi-billion-dollar fast food brand. The film tells the true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential, and the film details how Kroc maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.
The film also stars Laura Dern as Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel, John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald, Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s second wife, Joan Smith, and B.J. Novak as Harry Sonneborn, the financial whiz whose franchising innovations led to Kroc being able to wrest control of McDonald’s from the founding brothers.
Based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), the film’s behind-the-camera team includes longtime Hancock collaborators led by Oscar-nominated DP John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, Saving Mr. Banks), production designer Michael Corenblith (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side) and editor Robert Frazen (Enough Said, Synecdoche, New York).
I talked to Hancock about making the film and his workflow.
What do you look for in a project?
I like unusual stories, and this seemed unlikely to me when I first came across it, but Rob Siegel’s a very good writer. I was very intrigued by the character of Ray Kroc and the fact that I was pulling for him for the first half of the script. Then I began to feel confused by his behavior and then actively resenting some of his actions. That’s a tricky thing to pull off in a film, but I felt it was worthwhile doing.
His motivations and character are a lot darker than the protagonists in your last films. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s interesting because it’s the story of McDonald’s first, but it starts out with Kroc and it’s told largely from his end. It’s really the flip side of Banks, in that Travers starts out as someone you’re not sure you like, and is even kind of offensive, but then as you get to know her, you realize the source of her actions and why she is who she is. It’s bittersweet at the end, but it has closure. This ends without that sort of closure and is far more ambiguous. Some people will say Kroc did what he had to do, while others will say he’s a monster.
Either way, Kroc’s another juicy role for Keaton. What did he bring to the ethically challenged Kroc?
He was the first actor I thought of for the role because Michael’s a natural born salesman himself. When he’s excited about an idea, it’s electric and infectious. He has this boyish enthusiasm, and I felt that they both shared that. He’s also a Midwesterner and values hard work, and he’s so good at going to the dark places when needed. We talked a lot about the journey the character takes, in terms of everything from dialogue and behavior to the wardrobe. Michael got it all.
The shoot must have been challenging as you didn’t have a big budget, but it required a ton of locations.
Yes, we shot mainly in Atlanta, with a day in Albuquerque, and we had to build two different McDonald’s locations — the original octagonal one in San Bernardino, California, and a Golden Arches one, and they had to not just serve as different sets but as kitchens, as we were actually cooking in them. That was a lot to deal with for production designer Michael Corenblith, but he figured it all out.
Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I’ve been blessed to work with really good editors and post crews on all my films.
Tell us about working with editor Robert Frazen.
We edited at Pivotal Post in Burbank. On every film I’m always asked, “Do you want your editor on set with you?” I always say no, because I value their opinion and objectivity, and I think sometimes you’re influenced if you’re on a location watching how the sausage is made. If it’s a really tough shot to get, there’s that sense of maybe I should keep it, even if it doesn’t work or push the story forward.
So I prefer to just talk to them a lot during the shoot, send dailies and they’ll send me cut scenes back. I don’t get too detailed in my notes either. That way, after the shoot, I can come in and watch a complete version of the film with fresh eyes, and then we start the real work. We start working on the pacing and rhythms, the order of the scenes and so on. I’d always admired Rob’s work with Nicole Holofcener, the way he digs deeper into the footage and finds little key bits of behavior, or some mistake he uses in a different way. He brought all that and more to this.
This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece but it is a period piece. How big a role did VFX play in the film?
A big role. Our VFX were done by a company called Moving Target. There’s always a lot of clean-up and removal of modern stuff. We did some of it with flashback photography, creating old photos and that feel, and there was a lot of background replacement for all the myriad restaurants, as we only had the budget to build one Golden Arches and then had to change parking, foliage, foreground and background for every different city.
We had this leaning telephone pole out front that blocked a lot of our shots, but it was going to cost $30,000 to move it and rewire it underground. Other films probably wouldn’t have blinked, but I decided to erase it in post out of the other shots and embrace it for the first location. I liked the idea that it wasn’t the best piece of property anyway, and Kroc would have to live with it the same way we were.
Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to a film, and I really love all the minutia of it. I know some directors who are not so involved in all that, but I love all the detail work. I feel that when you’re there for all the little tweaks, when you play it all back in the final mix, your brain isn’t looking for all the tiny details — you can just focus on the overall effect. We mixed at King Soundworks in Van Nuys and did the final mix at Ross 424 Inc.
Where did you do the DI?
At Company 3, with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who does all Schwartzi’s films. I’m pretty involved and John and I discussed the look at length before the shoot. Then, as he was off shooting another movie, we talked more as I did a pass, and then he’d look at it. We wanted it to have a very sunny look to start off, and then get a little darker as it went.
I have three different projects ready to go, so whichever one comes together first.
Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.
Wax, an editorial house based in NYC, has added film and commercial editor Eddie Ringer. Ringer comes to Wax from Wildchild + Bonch in New York. Prior to that, he spent over eight years at Sausalito-based agency Butler Shine Stern + Partners (BSSP), where he edited and directed advertising projects spanning broadcast commercials, viral campaigns and branded content.
Ringer says he calls on his agency background for his editing work. “Working on the agency side I saw firsthand the tremendous amount of thought and hard work that goes into creating a campaign. I take this into consideration on every project. It focuses me. The baton has been passed, and it’s my responsibility to make sure the collective vision is carried through to the end.”
In addition to his agency experience, Ringer enjoys the way sound design can dictate the flow of the edit and stresses the importance of balancing the creative part with the commerce side of things and understanding why it works. “At the end of the day,” he notes, “we’re trying to connect with an audience to sell a product and a brand.”
Ringer’s first job with Wax was a new spot for ITV London promoting the horse-racing channel. It features momentum edits, hard cuts, energy and, of course, lots of sound design.
His tool of choice is Adobe Premiere Pro. “I made the switch to Premiere about four years ago and never looked back. I find the functionality more intuitive than other NLEs I’ve used in the past,” he says.
Whitehouse Post editor Lisa Gunning has relocated from the company’s London headquarters to its Los Angeles office. The move allows her to cut more long-form projects in addition to her spot work.
Gunning’s arrival at Whitehouse LA coincided with her editing the feature film Newness for commercial and narrative director Drake Doremus. The film was completed in only three months and premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Well known for her commercial work, Gunning wrapped Adidas’ Basketball Without Creativity starring James Harden for frequent director collaborator Stacy Wall in late 2016. In recent years, she has also teamed up with Wieden+Kennedy, 72 and Sunny, Y&R and BBH to work on brands including Nike, Corona, Landrover and Johnnie Walker.
Regarding her decision to relocate, Gunning explains that LA offers an opportunity to expand her commercial portfolio and cater to her long-form interests. “I feel like I’m in the epicenter of where my work is based now.”
Along with her spot work, Gunning has lent her editing talent to films including Nowhere Boy, Seven Psychopaths and Fifty Shades of Grey.
In addition to editing, Gunning has grown her directing skills with several projects, including three short films in collaboration with Nowness and Mini and multiple music videos. “Directing is great for editing, and what I learn on commercials is great for working in long-form,” she explains. “The varied experiences make me a better director and editor because I’m able to empathize with all of the processes and think of them as a whole, as opposed to just one side of it.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
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.
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.
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.
We are currently in midst of awards season, and recently Paramount’s Arrival received eight Oscar noms, including Best Director and a Best Editing nod for Walker. The film was also nominated for 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. (Read our interview with director Denis Villeneuve here.)
“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.)
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.”
Walker 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.”
Again, 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.
“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.”
Walker 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.”