Tag Archives: Efilm

The A-List: La La Land‘s Oscar-winning DP Linus Sandgren

By Iain Blair

Even though it didn’t actually win the Best Picture Oscar, La La Land was honored with five Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Cinematography for Linus Sandgren. This Swedish director of photography, known for his kinetic work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy, collaborated closely with La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle.

Shooting with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film on Panavision Millennium XL2s (with one 16mm sequence) — and capturing his first musical — Sandgren rose to the challenge set by Chazelle (“make it look magical rather than realistic”) by continually pushing the film’s technical and creative boundaries.

That approach is showcased in the bravura opening traffic jam sequence where the camera feels like one of the dancers and part of the choreography. Designed to look like one unbroken shot, it’s actually three, carefully rehearsed, then shot on the freeway ramp over a weekend and stitched together invisibly and seamlessly. For another tour-de-force sequence where stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone literally fly up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory planetarium, the team used wires and bluescreen on a set, as filming wasn’t allowed in the real location.

I recently talked to Sandgren about shooting the film, working with Chazelle (see our interview with the director), the digital workflow and the importance of post to him as a DP.

Is it fair to say that the camera functions almost like another character in this film?
Yes, our whole approach was to let the camera act as both a curious character, with very active movement, as well as a musical instrument, so we had to move the camera to the rhythm of the music. We also designed many scenes in three- to six-minute-long single takes that often included a Steadicam that had to step on or off a crane, and sometimes we needed to shoot the scene in a very limited timeframe of about 20 minutes.

Was the framing also quite demanding?
Damien wanted the film to be very anamorphic and do it in 35mm with the old scope format — before the standard became 2.40:1 — so we did it in 2.55:1 like the old CinemaScope. Then I talked to Panavision and they built some new ground glasses for us, which added to the magic we were trying to capture in the look.

Damien told me that you and colorist Natasha Leonnet actually set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot?
Yes, we began with the tests. To me, it’s really important to try and establish the look in camera as much as possible, so that it’s as natural as possible in post and you don’t have to tweak too much later. So in the test, in order to get that “Technicolor look,” we explored introducing blues and cyans into the blacks, and we tested anything from push process (over-developing) and under-exposing, and pull process (under-develop) and over-exposing the film. The push process gave us more contrast and grain, while the pull process gave us a softer look and finer grain, which we thought was more pleasing.

How did you deal with the dailies?
We decided we were going to use Efilm’s Cinemascan dailies, which meant we scanned all the negative with an Arri scanner instead of the telecine version, and then in post we re-scanned the negative in 6K and downconverted it to 4K. All the tests were done with Natasha, but for the shoot itself, I used my dailies colorist, Matt Wallach from EC3 Lab, which is the location operation run by Efilm and Company 3 together. It’s the same workflow I used on Joy and also on the upcoming Battle of the Sexes. Each day of the shoot the film was sent to Fotokem, who under-developed it one stop, and then it was scanned at EC3.

Linus Sandgren with is Oscar at the Lionsgate Oscar party.

Where did you do the DI?
With Natasha at Efilm. She got all the settings from the EDL and we generally tried to stay with the dailies look, which we were all pretty happy with. We used some windows and worked on the blacks, and me and Damien had about three to four weeks working on the DI, but not every day. We’d go back and forth, and Natasha also did some work by herself. I’m really involved with the whole DI process, and I even ended up doing a last remote session with Natasha from Company 3’s place in London when I was there at the end of the DI.

Obviously, the shoot’s the main focus for any DP, but just how important is the whole post process for you?
It’s incredibly important, and I love the DI and post process. The most important thing for me is that the film’s look is already established before we start shooting, and therefore it’s very important to involve post production creatives in preproduction. I could never shoot a project where people say, “Don’t worry, we’ll fix the look in post.” I want to go into the DI knowing that we already have the look, and then we can work on fine-tuning it.

Quick Chat: Efilm’s new managing director Al Cleland

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

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


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

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

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

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

Behind the Title: Efilm senior colorist Tim Stipan

NAME: Tim Stipan (@timstipan)

COMPANYEfilm (@EFILMDigitalLab)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE EFILM?
Efilm, a Deluxe company, is a feature film finishing house. We are a sister facility to Company 3, and that allows me access to a great wealth of knowledge. When I recently did something in UHD for the first time, I was able to call up CO3 senior colorist Stephen Nakamura, who is one of the few in the world who has experience in UHD, and ask him how he set everything up.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Colorist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The technical component involves working at a color correction console in a theater with the filmmakers. I make adjustments to the overall color palette. We do it to refine the look and give the movie a certain feeling with color. I take shots that were captured at different times, under different conditions — sometimes with different cameras — and match them with color and contrast.

That’s the coloring aspect of the job, but that’s really only half of it. The other part is being able to read minds, in a sense. If a cinematographer or director says, “I’m not sure what I don’t like about this,” then I need to think about their taste and personality and what they’ve liked and disliked previously, try to come up with a solution and then perform it quickly as possible.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think some people might be surprised by how many hours we spend in the room. Color correction takes time. We will color the movie once, usually in about five days, and then spend another five days refining “the look.” On big VFX shows it can take twice that time.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?

I had worked on [Autodesk] Lustre for over 10 years. Now I working with the FilmLight Baselight and I’m also getting my feet wet with the Blackmagic Resolve. They all essentially do the same thing — they let you adjust the color, contrast and saturation and all of the things that affect the look of the image. Some are more flexible in terms of how they work with different file formats and resolutions than others, but knowing them all is a good way to stay on top of the technology.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
The role of the final colorist means you are usually involved in the project before principal photography begins. This includes working with the cinematographer on picking lenses, exposures, lighting units, filters, wardrobes, wall colors, makeup, look up tables and much more. It’s good to test as much as possible before principal photography so if you have to push the image in exposure or color you know how the elements will react.




WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?

I feel I’m helping to create something that might be around in 50 or 100 years, which is cool. My favorite part of the job though is working with such talented and creative people.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

My 100 percent least favorite thing is not working. It can be grueling putting in 18-hour days, but I would take that over not working any day of the week!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Lunch! That’s when I have the opportunity to get to know the people I am working with better. You get to digress, talk and just be human. The more I know my client the better I am at reading their mind, which makes the color correction process smoother and faster.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I wasn’t a colorist I would like to be a director. When I went to film school at Columbia College in Chicago, I thought I was going to be an actor, but I wanted to learn every role in the filmmaking process. Eventually I gravitated to the camera department and received a degree in cinematography.

However, the most exhilarating thing I ever did in film school was when I directed my thesis film. You’re dealing with script, locations, actors, cinematographer, grips everybody. If I wasn’t a colorist, that’s what I’d want to be doing today.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE COLOR GRADING?
During college I was working as a camera assistant and crane operator on a Stage. This led to getting hired a lot as a grip for commercials and short films. Working on set was fun, but I was thinking about having a family and freelancing scared the hell out of me. My adviser suggested I visit Filmworkers Club in Chicago. I went in, started learning about color grading and fell in love with it.



CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

I just finished Me Earl and the Dying Girl, which won best film at Sundance. I also completed a film called The Family Fang, directed by the actor Jason Bateman and shot by my friend Ken Seng, who I went to film school with. It was. It’s a great film and shot with multiple capture formats. Next is Creed, which will get everyone’s blood pumping!




WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I like to look at old photographic books. Not any photographer in particular. A lot of people you’ve never heard of. I’m also fascinated by old printing processes, like autochrome, or by the look of a Polaroid when someone ripped it apart too quickly. I love to watch movies, commercials and TV shows, too. A lot of TV today is as cinematic as movies are.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.

GPS. How did we get anywhere before? My color corrector and projector. I’m not married to any particular brand as long as they do what I need them to do. But the color corrector and projector have to be running perfectly or I can’t do my work. I’m very fortunate that Deluxe has an incredible technical and support staff, and state of the art equipment.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?

Facebook and Instagram, and occasionally Twitter. But I like Facebook the best. There are so many videos on there. I am friends with a lot of cinematographers, and they post great images and interesting articles. If you follow Chivo [Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC, AMC] on Instagram (@chivexp) — it’s jaw-dropping the things he’s producing. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with DPs who are working on location.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL? 
I ride a motorcycle daily, and it prepares me mentally and physically for my job. I am an avid runner, which helps combat sitting in a chair for long periods of time. Reading is a great way to zone off into another world and forget about any stress, but the best thing in life is spending time with my family!

Behind the Title: EFilm colorist Mitch Paulson

NAME: Mitch Paulson

COMPANY: Hollywood’s EFilm

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
EFilm is a Deluxe company that provides digital finishing for a lot of major feature releases. The company has been around for more than 20 years and was among the very first to do high-end, digital finishing for features.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Colorist.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I’m responsible for coloring the movie, which involves many different kinds of changes to the images. Some of the work involves “fixing” something that might have had a little issue with Continue reading