Tag Archives: HBO

Emmy Awards: HBO’s The Night Of

Nominee Nicholas Renbeck, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer

By Jennifer Walden

The HBO drama series The Night Of tells the tale of Nasir “Naz” Khan, a young Pakistani-American male accused of brutally murdering a young woman in her uptown Manhattan home. The series takes the audience on a tour of New York City’s penal system, from the precinct to the morgue, into the court room and out to Riker’s Island. It also explores different neighborhoods, from uptown Manhattan across the East River into Queens. Each location has a rich tapestry of sound, a vibrant background upon which the drama plays out.

Supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Nicholas Renbeck from c5 Sound in New York, has been nominated for two Emmys for his work on the show: one for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Limited Series for Ep. 2 “Subtle Beast,” and one for Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Limited Series for Ep.1 “The Beach.” He’s already won a 2017 Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing on The Night Of.

Here he shares insight on building the expressive backgrounds and mixing the effects to create a rich world around the actors.

Nicholas Renbeck

How did you get involved with the show?
They were looking to do the sound in New York and c5 Sound was one of the places they were considering. I interviewed for the job and ended up getting it.

I flew out to Los Angeles while they were wrapping up locking the picture cut. Just prior to going they had sent me screening links to watch the series, all but the last episode. So I viewed the first seven episodes pretty much straight in a row, and in less than 24 hours I got on the plane and flew out to LA to spot the entire show with Steve Zaillian (series creator/ director/writer), still not knowing what happens in the last episode. While on the plane I had all these possible sound ideas swirling around in my head, mixed with this deep desire to know what happens in the final episode.

Then upon arriving I sat and did a spotting session with Steve and Nick Houy, the picture editor. We watched all eight episodes over a two-day period and talked about the sound concerns and possibilities.

This was your first time working with show runners Richard Price and Steven Zaillian. Did they have specific plans for how they wanted to use sound in the show?
Steve had a definite vision for where he wanted to go with the show. He had very specific ideas on what it would sound like in the prison, or what the city should sound like depending on the neighborhood. When I sat down with them, they already had a lot of sounds in their Avid Media Composer that they were working with. Actually, much more than any show I’ve worked on before.

Warren Shaw (a fellow supervising sound editor/sound designer who was New York-based but went out to Los Angeles a little while ago) had been brought onto the show early on while they were still cutting. Warren did some great initial sound design for them on a few of the later episodes. I got to hear what his ideas were and we brought his work, along with everything they had in the Avid, into our working sound sessions. Then Ruy Garcia, Wyatt Sprague (sound design/effects editors) and I kept going further, adding more elements and refining ideas.

I find there’s always a transitional step when moving from a mono or stereo Avid track into a 5.1 surround environment. Everybody up to this point is used to listening to things in a certain way. Now we’ve added four more speakers, and there’s a re-adjustment processes that happens. So, I spent a good amount of time working to present all the material in a way that would play to the strengths of a 5.1 sound environment.

What came about was a wonderful combination of all our ideas up to that point. I would make a full 5.1 sound effect premix in one of c5 sound design suites for an entire episode, then bring Steve in and get his reaction, and then afterward build from that. What we learned from working with Steve on Episode 102 we would then take and apply to Episode 103, building as we went.

How did they want the prison to sound? What descriptions did they give?
You hear this low rumbling tone, this presence of heaviness. That really spoke to Steve’s idea of what he wanted the prison atmosphere to encompass. We found sounds and tones to mold that mood, working to create what that feeling is like when the prison is busy and full of activity. We also created the flip side of what that oppressive sound is when the lights are out and we are alone with Naz [Riz Ahmed] in this very scary place that’s now quiet. We kept working to give the cell block a heaviness so that it feels like it’s pulling you down as you go through these scenes with Naz and see what his life has become at this point.

Marissa Littlefield, our ADR supervisor, Steve and I had conversations about what we needed in terms of added voices and how we would handle that. We did a lot of interesting casting for loop group, with a focus on being specific to the locations around the city. We definitely put our loop group coordinators Dann Fink and Bruce Winant (of Loopers Unlimited) through the paces of casting. It was nice to be able to combine those added voices from the loop group with the substantial production recording that was done on set, along with a number of sounds we had in our personal sound libraries. I think we were pretty successful at creating those different locations based on both voices and sound atmospheres.

What about the reverb work for the prison and the precinct? You have dry loop group recordings, so what reverbs did you use to help fit those into the environments?
I jump back and forth using Avid’s ReVibe II, Space and Audio Ease’s Altiverb. In doing some of his design work I know Ruy liked to use Soundtoy’s Echoboy delay for some fun stuff, and I believe Michael Berry (re-recording mixer on music/dialog/ADR/Foley) used ReVibe II and Altiverb for most of the show. So there was a variety of different reverbs and effects that we would use.

In some cases, we would apply reverb directly to the sound file, and in other cases we would wait until we got to the mix. In terms of the loop group voices, Michael Berry spent time figuring out where he wanted those to sit — how far back in the environment they would play and how they would play against the effects tracks that we created. We found a nice balance there.

Where did you mix “The Beach” episode? What console did you use?
Michael Berry was in charge of all the dialog, ADR, music and Foley premixing, which he did at PostWorks/Technicolor in New York, on the Avid S5. I did the sound effects premixing at c5 Sound, in a 5.1 design/mix room on an Avid D-Command. The final mix then happened at PostWorks/Technicolor. All of the sound editorial was done at c5.

What were some challenges you had while mixing “The Beach” and how did you handle them?
The trickiest scene for us was the one under the George Washington Bridge. The production tracks were challenging due to the noise of the river and the George Washington Bridge overhead. However, the performances were so good we really wanted to save them at all costs. Sara Stern (dialogue editor) worked for a good while to clean up the initial dialogue, and then Michael [Berry] really worked at those tracks to find a way to save and salvage the on-camera performances. iZotope RX5 (RX6 wasn’t out yet) was our friend in a big way.

Then we had to figure out where the atmospheres wanted to be because the performances are so strong that you don’t want to put the effects or the music over what the actors are doing. You don’t want to overpower that or take away from what is happening on-screen. There’s a lot of subtlety in our decisions. A little went a long way.

Did you have a favorite scene in terms of mixing sound effects on your side of the board?
I really liked the opening section of the Queens neighborhood during the day and going into the night with the drive into Manhattan. The whole driving sequence into the city in the cab has some real nice moments…the juxtaposing of the interiors of the house and cab with city’s night exteriors.

Of all the episodes you could’ve picked from Season 1, why did you choose the mix on “The Beach” for Emmy consideration?
It’s the first episode and it really grabs you. I was just sitting there on the edge of my seat watching it for the first time. The performances were so powerful and our challenge was to add to that. How can you help build on that?

Steve, Michael and I felt this was the right episode to go with. It has interesting atmospheric sounds, the music is strong and the performances are strong. Across the board, the music, the effects and the dialogue were all there nicely represented.

Let’s talk about the sound editing on “Subtle Beast,” which is up for Emmy consideration. What were some opportunities you had for creative sound on this episode?
What was nice about “Subtle Beast” is that we had so many different and interesting locations to address and figure out. There is the morgue, which is the hallway and the waiting area, the parking lot outside and the morgue itself. All of those were fantastic spots where we could design the backgrounds and sound effects to create the mood. This episode showcased most of the locations from the first episode again. And we see Naz being brought from the police precinct in the van across town to the holding cell under the courthouse, which is a great sequence. Then finally Naz goes into the transport to Riker’s Island. You have this array of locations in which to create this rich tapestry of sound.

Nothing is huge. There are no large gun battles or things of that nature. There are just many different locations for which we can create some interesting moods.

You did a fantastic job on the backgrounds. They are so expressive. I particularly like when the transport van is backing up to the precinct to pick up the prisoners. You hear the music playing from inside the van and it’s bouncing around the street outside.
There is some fantastic music editing by Dan Evans Farkas and Grant Conway that is happening there as well. It was nice to figure out, from an editorial sense, how to get in all your editing food groups — your sound effects, your music, your production, your loop group, ADR and Foley. There were a lot of good moments in that episode. In looking at the episodes we could have chosen, I felt that “Subtle Beast” was the strongest for us.

In terms of sound editing on “Subtle Beast,” what was the most challenging scene?
I’m not sure about most challenging, but the most engaging sequence for me was the trip from the police precinct in the van to the night holding cell. Once that van pulls in and Naz is being marched down the hall it’s a ride of sound, music and tension. And, possibly, fear.

There’s so much to work with, from the point at which the van is backing up, we’ve got the odd metal double doors on the van, then the juxtaposition of the van, to Detective Box’s (Bill Camp) car drive, to John Stone (John Turturro) going home to his brownstone. All these actions are intercutting with each other. When the van pulls up at Baxter Street, we lose the music and are left with these echoing footsteps and police radio surrounded by the dripping water of the location. Then finally down into night holding cells and with the yelling distant voices. Naz doesn’t know what’s coming but it doesn’t sound good. So that was one of the more intense and fun spots for me personally.

In building these backgrounds, what were some of your sources? Being in New York, were you able to go out and capture local ambiences? Or was it completely crafted in post?
We did some recordings around town to pick up what we needed. Since c5 is based in New York, we have a really great library of New York sounds to pull from. Also, the production location recordists did a great job of capturing stuff as well so we were able to use a number of those sounds in our sound bed. I would say 85 percent of the ambiences were created in post, and the other 15 percent was what was recorded on set.

Strangely enough I personally have lived in two of the main locations of the series: the Upper West Side of Manhattan — on the exact street of Andrea’s brownstone — and Jackson Heights, Queens, where Naz’s family lives. So I was well aware of what these neighborhoods sounded like at all hours of the day and night and would use my own internal “appropriate location audio filter” when working on those locations. At the end of the day that’s sort of a silly side note, but I like to think it helps us stay true to the sounds of those neighborhoods.

Beyond the background sounds but in keeping with what we crafted in post, once we get to Riker’s I think it’s worth noting that the entire cellblock set had a floor of painted plywood. So it really fell to our Foley department to make sure all our foot falls on concrete were covered and ready to take center stage if called upon. The whole Foley team led by Marko Costanzo (artist), George Lara (recordist) and Steve Visscher (supervising Foley editor) did a wonderful job.

Anything else you’d like to share about The Night Of?
It was a show that involved a lot of really good collaboration in terms of sound and music. I personally feel very fortunate to have had such a good sound crew comprising so many talented people, and very lucky for the opportunity to get to mix next to Michael Berry and see the care and skill he brings to the process. I am also very appreciative of the support we got along the way from everybody at HBO, our wonderful post supervisor Lori Slomka, as well as our picture editor Nick Houy and his crew.

Lastly, I think through our conversations and discussions with Steve Zaillian we were successful in figuring out how best to shape and mold the tracks into something that is very compelling to watch and listen to and I hope people really enjoy it.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

Game of Thrones: VFX associate producer Adam Chazen

With excitement starting to build for the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, what better time to take a quick look back at last season’s VFX workflow. HBO associate VFX producer Adam Chazen was kind enough to spend some time answering questions after just wrapping Season 7.

Tell us about your background as a VFX associate producer and what led you to Game of Thrones.
I got my first job as a PA at VFX studio Pixomondo. I was there for a few years, working under my current boss Steve Kullback (visual effects producer on Game of Thrones). He took me with him when he moved to work on Yogi Bear, and then on Game of Thrones.

I’ve been with the show since 2011, so this is my sixth year on board. It’s become a real family at this point; lots of people have been on since the pilot.

From shooting to post, what is your role working on Game of Thrones?
As the VFX associate producer, in pre-production mode I assist with organizing our previs and concept work. I help run and manage our VFX database and I schedule reviews with producers, directors and heads of departments.

During production I make sure everyone has what they need on set in order to shoot for the various VFX requirements. Also during production, we start to post the show — I’m in charge of running review sessions with our VFX supervisor Joe Bauer. I make sure that all of his notes get across to the vendors and that the vendors have everything they need to put the shots together.

Season 7 has actually been the longest we’ve stayed on set before going back to LA for post. When in Belfast, it’s all about managing the pre-production and production process, making sure everything gets done correctly to make the later VFX adjustments as streamlined as possible. We’ll have vendors all over the world working on that next step — from Australia to Spain, Vancouver, Montreal, LA, Dublin and beyond. We like to say that the sun never sets on Game of Thrones.

What’s the process for bringing new vendors onto the show?
They could be vendors that we’ve worked with in the past. Other times, we employ vendors that come recommended by other people. We check out industry reels and have studios do testing for us. For example, when we have dragon work we ask around for vendors willing to run dragon animation tests for us. A lot of it is word of mouth. In VFX, you work with the people that you know will do great work.

What’s your biggest challenge in creating Game of Thrones?
We’re doing such complex work that we need to use multiple vendors. This can be a big hurdle. In general, whether it be film or TV, when you have multiple vendors working on the same shot, it becomes a potential issue.

Linking in with cineSync helps. We can have a vendor in Australia and a vendor in Los Angeles both working on the same shot, at exactly the same time. I first started using cineSync while at Pixomondo and found it makes the revision process a lot quicker. We send notes out to vendors, but most of the time it’s easier to get on cineSync, see the same image and draw on it.

Even the simple move of hovering a cursor over the frame can answer a million questions. We have several vendors who don’t use English as their first language, such as those in Spain. In these cases, communication is a lot easier via cineSync. By pointing to a single portion of a single frame, we completely bypass the language barrier. It definitely helps to see an image on screen versus just explaining it.

What is your favorite part of the cineSync toolkit?
We’ve seen a lot of cool updates to cineSync. Specifically, I like the notes section, where you can export a PDF to include whichever frame that note is attributed to.

Honestly, just seeing a cursor move on-screen from someone else’s computer is huge. It makes things so much easier to just point and click. If we’re talking to someone on the phone, trying to tell them about an issue in the upper left hand corner, it’s going to be hard to get our meaning across. cineSync takes away all of the guesswork.

Besides post, we also heavily use cineSync for shoot needs. We shoot the show in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Spain and Calgary. With cineSync, we are able to review storyboards, previs, techvis and concepts with the producers, directors, HODs and others, wherever they are in the world. It’s crucial that everyone is on the same page. Being able to look at the same material together helps everyone get what they want from a day on set.

Is there a specific shot, effect or episode you’re particularly proud of?
The Battle of the Bastards — it was a huge episode. Particularly, the first half of the episode when Daenerys came in with her dragons at the battle of Meereen, showing those slavers who is boss. Meereen City itself was a large CG creation, which was unusual for Game of Thrones. We usually try to stay away from fully CG environments and like to get as much in-camera as possible.

For example, when the dragon breathes fire we used an actual flamethrower we shot. Back in Season 5, we started to pre-animate the dragon, translate it to a motion control rig, and attach a flamethrower to it. It moves exactly how the dragon would move, giving us a practical element to use in the shot. CG fire can be done but it’s really tricky. Real is real, so you can’t question it.

With multiple vendors working on the sequence, we had Rodeo FX do the environment while Rhythm & Hues did the dragons. We used cineSync a lot, reviewing shots between both vendors in order to point out areas of concern. Then in the second half of the episode, which was the actual Battle of the Bastards, the work was brilliantly done by Australian VFX studio Iloura.

Qwire’s tool for managing scoring, music licensing upped to v.2.0

Qwire, a maker of cloud-based tools for managing scoring and licensing music to picture, has launched QwireMusic 2.0, which expands the collaboration, licensing and cue sheet capabilities of QwireMusic. The tool also features a new and intuitive user interface as well as support for the Windows OS. User feedback played a role in many of the new updates, including marker import of scenes from Avid for post, Excel export functions for all forms and reports and expanded file sharing options.

QwireMusic is a suite of integrated modules that consolidates and streamlines a wide range of tasks and interactions for pros involved with music and picture across all stages of post, as well as music clearance and administration. QwireMusic was created to help facilitate collaboration among picture editors and post producers, music supervisors and clearance, composers, music editors and production studios.

Here are some highlights of the new version:
Presentations — Presentations allow music cues and songs to be shared between music providers (supervisors and composers) and their clients (picture editors, studio music departments, directors and producers. With Presentations, selected music is synced to video, where viewers can independently adjust the balance between music and dialogue, adding comments on each track. The time-saving efficiency of this tool centralizes the music sharing and review process, eliminating the need for the confusing array of QuickTimes, Web links, emails and unsecured FTP sites that sometimes accompany post production.

Real-time licensing status — QwireMusic 2.0 allows music supervisors to easily audition music, generate request letters, and share potential songs with anyone who needs to review them. When the music supervisor receives a quote approval, the picture editor and music editor are notified, and the studio music budget is updated instantly and seamlessly. In addition, problem songs can be instantly flagged. As with the original version of QwireMusic, request letters can be generated and emailed in one step with project-specific letterhead and signatures.

Electronic Cue Sheets — QwireMusic’s “visual cue sheet,” allows users to review all of the information in a cue sheet displayed alongside the final picture lock.  The cue sheet is automatically populated from data already entered in qwireMusic by the composer, music supervisor and music editor. Any errors or missing information are flagged. When the review is complete, a single button submits the cue sheet electronically to ASCAP and BMI.

QwireMusic has been used by music supervisors, composers, picture editors and music editors on over 40 productions in 2016, including Animals (HBO); Casual (Hulu); Fargo (FX); Guilt (Freeform); Harley and the Davidsons (Discovery); How to Get Away With Murder (ABC); Pitch (Fox); Shameless (Showtime); Teen Wolf (MTV); This Is Us (NBC); and Z: The Beginning of Everything (Amazon).

“Having everyone in the know on every cue ever put in a show saves a huge amount of time,” says Patrick Ward, a post producer for the shows Parenthood, The West Wing and Pure Genius. “With QwireMusic I spend about a tenth of the time that I used to disseminating cue information to different places and entities.”

The sounds of Brooklyn play lead role in HBO’s High Maintenance

By Jennifer Walden

New Yorkers are jaded, and one of the many reasons is that just about anything they want can be delivered right to their door: Chinese food, prescriptions, craft beer, dry cleaning and weed. Yes, weed. This particular item is delivered by “The Guy,” the protagonist of HBO’s new series, High Maintenance.

The Guy (played by series co-creator Ben Sinclair) bikes around Brooklyn delivering pot to a cast of quintessentially quirky New York characters. Series creators Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld string together vignettes — using The Guy as the common thread — to paint a realistic picture of Brooklynites.

andrew-guastella

Nutmeg’s Andrew Guastella. Photo credit: Carl Vasile

“The Guy delivers weed to people, often going into their homes and becoming part of their lives,” explains sound editor/re-recording mixer Andrew Guastella at Nutmeg, a creative marketing and post studio based in New York. “I think that what a lot of viewers like about the show is how quickly you come to know complete strangers in a sort of intimate way.”

Blichfeld and Sinclair find inspiration for their stories from their own experiences, says Guastella, who follows suit in terms of sound. “We focus on the realism of the sound, and that’s what makes this show unique.” The sound of New York City is ever-present, just as it is in real life. “Audio post was essential for texturizing our universe,” says Sinclair. “There’s a loud and vibrant city outside of those apartment walls. It was important to us to feel the presence of a city where people live on top of each other.”

Big City Sounds
That edict for realism drives all sound-related decisions on High Maintenance. On a typical series, Guastella would strive to clean up every noise on the production dialogue, but for High Maintenance, the sound of sirens, horns, traffic, even car alarms are left in the tracks, as long as they’re not drowning out the dialogue. “It’s okay to leave sounds in that aren’t obtrusive and that sell the fact that they are in New York City,” he says.

For example, a car alarm went off during a take. It wasn’t in the way of the dialogue but it did drop out on a cut, making it stand out. “Instead of trying to remove the alarm from the dialogue, I decided to let it roll and I added a chirp from a car alarm, as if the owner turned off the alarm [or locked the car], to help incorporate it into the track. A car alarm is a sound you hear all the time in New York.”

Exterior scenes are acceptably lively, and if an interior scene is feeling too quiet, Guastella can raise a neighborly ruckus. “In New York, there’s always that noisy neighbor. Some show creators might be a little hesitant to use that because it could be distracting, but for this show, as long as it’s real, Ben and Katja are cool with it,” he says. During a particularly quiet interior scene, he tried adding the sounds of cars pulling away and other light traffic to fill up the space, but it wasn’t enough, so Guastella asked the creators, “’How do you feel about the neighbors next door arguing?’ And they said, ‘That’s real. That’s New York. Let’s try it out.’”

Guastella crafted a commotion based on his own experience of living in an apartment in Queens. Every night he and his wife would hear the downstairs neighbors fighting. “One night they were yelling and then all we heard was this loud, enormous slam. Hopefully, it was a door,” jokes Guastella. “Ben and Katja are always pulling from their own experiences, so I tried to do that myself with the soundtrack.”

Despite the skill of production sound mixer Dimitri Kouri, and a high tolerance for the ever-present sound of New York City, Guastella still finds himself cleaning dialogue tracks using iZotope’s RX 5 Advanced. One of his favorite features is RX Connect. With this plug-in feature, he can select a region of dialogue in his Avid Pro Tools session and send that region directly to iZotope’s standalone RX application where he can edit, clean and process the dialogue. Once he’s satisfied, he can return that cleaned up dialogue right back in sync on the timeline of his Pro Tools session where he originally sent it from.

“I no longer have to deal with exporting and importing audio files, which was not an efficient way to work,” he says. “And for me, it’s important that I work within the standalone application. There are plug-in versions of some RX tools, but for me, the standalone version offers more flexibility and the opportunity to use the highly detailed visual feedback of its audio-spectrum analyzer. The spectrogram makes using tools like Spectral Repair and De-click that much more effective and efficient. There are more ways to use and combine the tools in general.”

Guastella has been with the series since 2012, during its webisode days on Vimeo. Back then, it was a passion-project, something he’d work on at home on his own time. From the beginning, he’s handled everything audio: the dialogue cleaning and editing, the ambience builds and Foley and the final mix. “Andrew [Guastella] brought his professional ear and was always such a pleasure to work with. He always delivered and was always on time,” says Blichfeld.

The only aspect that Guastella doesn’t handle is the music. “That’s a combination of licensed music (secured by music supervisor Liz Fulton) and original composition by Chris Bear. The music is well-established by the time the episode gets to me,” he says.

On the Vimeo webisodes, Guastella would work an episode’s soundtrack into shape, and then send it to Blichfeld and Sinclair for notes. “They would email me or we would talk over the phone. The collaborative process wasn’t immediate,” he says. Now that HBO has picked up the series and renewed it for Season 2, Guastella is able to work on High Maintenance in his studio at Nutmeg, where he has access to all the amenities of a full-service post facility, such as sound effects libraries, an ADR booth, a 5.1 surround system and room to accommodate the series creators who like to hang around and work on the sound with Guastella. “They are very particular about sound and very specific. It’s great to have instant access to them. They were here more than I would’ve expected them to be and it was great spending all that time with them personally and professionally.”

In addition to being a series co-creator, co-writer and co-director with Blichfeld, Sinclair is also one of show’s two editors. This meant they were being pulled in several directions, which eventually prevented them from spending so much time in the studio with Guastella. “By the last three episodes of this season, I had absorbed all of their creative intentions. I was able to get an episode to the point of a full mix and they would come in just for a few hours to review and make tweaks.”

With a bigger budget from HBO, Guastella is also able to record ADR when necessary, record loop group and perform Foley for the show at Nutmeg. “Now that we have a budget and the space to record actual Foley, we’re faced with the question of how much Foley do we want to do? When you Foley sound for every movement and footstep, it doesn’t always sound realistic, and the creators are very aware of that,” says Guastella.

5.1 Surround Mix
In addition to a minimalist approach, another way he keeps the Foley sounding real is by recording it in the real world. In Episode 3, the story is told from a dog’s POV. Using a TASCAM DR 680 digital recorder and a Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic, Guastella recorded an “enormous amount of Foley at home with my Beagle, Bailey, and my father-in-law’s Yorkie and Doberman. I did a lot of Foley recording at the dog park, too, to capture Foley for the dog outside.”

Another difference between the Vimeo episodes and the HBO series is the final mix format. “HBO requires a surround sound 5.1 mix and that’s something that demands the infrastructure of a professional studio, not my living room,” says Guastella. He takes advantage of the surround field by working with ambiences, creating a richer environment during exterior shots which he can then contrast with a closer, confined sound for the interior shots.

“This is a very dialogue-driven show so I’m not putting too much information in the surrounds. But there is so much sound in New York City, and you are really able to play with perspective of the interior and exterior sounds,” he explains. For example, the opening of Episode 3, “Grandpa,” follows Gatsby the dog as he enters the front of his house and eventually exits out of the back. Guastella says he was “able to bring the exterior surrounds in with the characters, then gradually pan them from surround to a heavier LCR once he began approaching the back door and the backyard was in front of him.”

The series may have made the jump from Vimeo to HBO but the soul of the show has changed very little, and that’s by design. “Ben, Katja, and Russell Gregory [the third executive producer] are just so loyal to the people who helped get this series off the ground with them. On top of that, they wanted to keep the show feeling how it did on the web, even though it’s now on HBO. They didn’t want to disappoint any fans that were wondering if the series was going to turn into something else… something that it wasn’t. It was really important to the show creators that the series stayed the same, for their fans and for them. Part of that was keeping on a lot of the people who helped make it what it was,” concludes Guastella.

Check out High Maintenance on HBO, Fridays at 11pm.


Jennifer Walden is a NJ-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her at @audiojeney.

Rockin’ music supervision for HBO’s ‘Vinyl’

By Jennifer Walden

Otis Redding, The Velvet Underground, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Temptations, Janis Joplin, The Doors… the list of music featured on the HBO series Vinyl would make any music supervisor drool, and that’s just a small sample of the artists whose music has been featured so far. There are still four more episodes to go this season.

As you can imagine, big-name artists come with a big price tag. “When you have this many songs from the golden era of rock ‘n’ roll, you’re going to spend some real money. It’s such a music-driven enterprise that you have to go into it with your eyes open,” says music supervisor Randall Poster. He and co-music supervisor Meghan Currier, at NYC’s Search Party Music, had the job of curating and creating Vinyl’s epic soundtrack.

Randall Poster

Randall Poster

Poster has over 100 feature film credits, including Carol, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Wolf of Wall Street, Insurgent and Divergent, Boyhood, I’m Not There (a Bob Dylan biopic) and Velvet Goldmine to name just a few. He’s also done a bit of series work too, including HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, where he worked with series creator Terence Winter and executive producer Martin Scorsese — two of the masterminds behind Vinyl. Having already collaborated with Winter and Scorsese on two soundtrack driven series, there’s a lot of trust in their relationship.

“It’s a collaborative medium,” notes Poster. “We all throw in ideas and we all have certain passions. Marty is the master of using songs in movies. I think we’ve developed a pretty strong working relationship and process.”

In 2012, Poster won a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media for Boardwalk Empire. It wouldn’t be surprising if Vinyl’s soundtrack earns the same recognition.

Vinyl tells the story of Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), owner of the faltering music label American Century, which is struggling to find its footing on the shifting tectonic plates of musical genres in the early ‘70s. One new genre to rise out of the rubble of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest era is proto-punk, which Finestra feels can re-energize the rock scene. “You are on the verge of punk rock, on the verge of disco, the elements of hip-hop are just beginning to formulate,” explains Poster. “This whole season you are on the verge of these musical revolutions. Also, part of the show’s music is borne out of Richie Finestra’s musical foundations, which he is trying to somehow reconnect with.”

There is a wealth of opportunity for music — interstitials, bands on-screen, diegetic music coming from cassette players, turntables and radios. There’s also music that underscores the drama or helps to reinforce story points. It’s no wonder that there are 20–30 tracks in every episode. According to Poster, the pilot alone had around 60 tracks. “One thing that is really unique about Vinyl is the volume of music, the amount of it.”

Licensing
Some tracks from the aforementioned top-shelf artists were licensed with help from Warner Bros. Records and Atlantic Records, with both labels offering up their catalogs to Poster and Currier. “They were happy to make their artists and most of their catalog available to us,” says Poster.

But those two major labels were by no means the extent of Poster’s and Currier’s reach. Ultimately, if there was a track they wanted to use in the show, regardless of the label, they went for it. “Everyone wanted to do this soundtrack and they really were passionate about it. People saw the ambition of the enterprise and responded to it.”

The hardest part about licensing all the big-name songs — like the hit songs for the lipsync interstitials including Janis Joplin (played by Catherine Stephen) performing “Cry Baby” in Episode 4 — was just tracking down who owned the rights to them. “For the lipsync sequences, we talked to the series writers and we’d land on a song. Then we’d go and work out all the licensing details,” explains Poster.

On-Screen Performers
The real challenge for music on the show lies in Vinyl’s substantial use of on-camera music. Several primary characters are musicians performing original songs, like the fictional punk band the Nasty Bits, led by Kip Stevens (played by Mick Jagger’s son, James Jagger), and the funk-rock band led by Hannibal (played by Daniel J. Watts). Then there are faux versions of popular bands playing re-recorded versions of their hits, such as “Somethin’ Else” performed on-screen by a faux Led Zeppelin in Episode 3, or “Personality Crisis” performed on-screen by a mocked-up New York Dolls at the end of Episode 1. “In terms of the workflow and getting involved in the pre-production process, those were the things that you had to deal with first — landing on repertoire, and casting and rehearsing actors. That was the initial focus,” reports Poster.

They needed to find real musicians to play in the bands on-screen, so Currier took the lead in casting the on-screen musicians that weren’t main characters and didn’t have speaking lines. “She was really chasing people down on the subway, asking them if they played music. We needed to cast people that had that period look, or resembled artists in a particular band. There were so many on-screen acts that we needed to cover. For example, Hannibal’s band in Episode 4 has 12 people in it. We had to find them and then rehearse them, to make sure it all worked correctly,” says Poster.

The re-recorded hits and original tunes involved collaborations with music industry heavy-hitters, like Trey Songz, Dan Auerbach, Elvis Costello, David Johansen (New York Dolls) and Charli XCX. “When we wanted to have Trey Songz, an Atlantic artist, voice one of the characters on the show, and we wanted The Arcs, which is a Dan Auerbach’s (The Black Keys) side project, Atlantic Records helped us in terms of accessing these artists,” explains Poster. “Kevin Weaver, who is the point person there at Atlantic Records, was just a business dynamo. He really helped us cut through a lot of red tape.”

Poster tapped Lee Ranaldo, co-founder of Sonic Youth, to produce the Nasty Bits punk tracks. According to Pitchfork, their tune list includes songs salvaged from the nearly forgotten ‘70s punk band Jack Ruby, lending to the era-authentic punk vibe in Vinyl.

To create the band’s backing tracks for James Jagger’s vocals, Ranaldo chose Yo La Tengo’s bassist James McNew, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, avant-garde guitarist Alan Licht and guitarist Don Fleming of the ‘80s art-punk band Velvet Monkeys. “We really had a great collection of artists who worked with us, and we relied on them for insight and precision,” says Poster. “I was really excited to do new music with John Doe (from the late 1970s punk band called X). Elvis Costello — one of my rock ‘n’ roll gods, who we worked with on Boardwalk Empire a few times, came in and sang for us. Lenny Kaye, from Patti Smith Group, is someone we have worked with before. He’s a good resource. It’s great to channel the musical energies of some of our rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Musicians are often the best people to talk to about things that they were responding to from an era.”

If you love all the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, funk, disco and ‘70s pop featured in the series, you can purchase the soundtrack “Vinyl: Music From the HBO Original Series — Volume 1” released by Atlantic Records, as a physical CD, digital download or (appropriately) as a vinyl LP. Each week there is also a new five-song digital soundtrack featuring music from that Sunday’s upcoming episode. And as the season wraps up, a “Volume 2” soundtrack will also be available. When the Vinyl digital soundtracks become available, you can download them via iTunes and Google Play, with streaming available on Spotify.

Jennifer Walden is a writer and audio engineer based in New Jersey.

Digging Deeper: Endcrawl co-founder John ‘Pliny’ Eremic

By Randi Altman

Many of you might know John “Pliny” Eremic, a fixture in New York post. When I first met Pliny he was CTO and director of post production at Offhollywood. His post division was later spun off and sold to Light Iron, which was in turn acquired by Panavision.

After Offhollywood, Pliny moved to HBO as a workflow specialist, but he is also the co-founder— with long-time collaborator Alan Grow — of Endcrawl.com, a cloud-based tool for creating end titles for film and television.

Endcrawl has grown significantly over the last year and counts both modest indies and some pretty high-end titles as customers. I figured it was a good time to dig a bit deeper.

How did Endcrawl come about?
End titles were always a huge thorn in my side when I was running the post boutique. The endless, manual revision process is so time intensive that a number of major post houses flat-out refuse to offer this service any more. So, I started hacking on Endcrawl to scratch my own itch.

Both you and your co-founder Alan are working media professionals. Can you talk about how this affected the tool and its evolution?
Most filmmakers aren’t hackers; most coders never made a movie. As a result, many of this industry’s tools are built by folks who are incredibly smart but may lack first-hand post and filmmaking experience. I’ve felt that pain a lot.

Endcrawl is built by filmmakers for filmmakers. We have deep, first-hand experience with file-based specs and formats (DCI, IMF, AS-02), so our renders are targeted at these industry-standard delivery specifications. Occasionally we’re even able to steer customers away from a bad workflow decision.

How is this different than other end credit tools in the world?
For starters we offer unlimited renders.

Why unlimited renders?
This was a mantra from day one. There’s always “one last fix.” A typical indie feature with Endcrawl will keep making revisions six to 12 months after calling it final. That’s where a flat rate with unlimited do-overs comes in very handy. I’ve seen productions start with a $2-3k quote from a designer, and end up with a $6-10k bill. That’s just for the end credits. We’re not interested in dinging you for overages. It’s a flat rate, so render away.

What else differentiates Endcrawl?
Endcrawl is a cloud tool that’s designed to manage the end titles process only — that is its reason for being. So speed, affordability and removing workflow hassles is our goal.

How do people do traditionally do end titles?
Typically there are three options. One is using a title designer. This option costs a lot and they might want to charge you overages after your 89th revision.

There are also do-it-yourself options using products from Adobe or Autodesk, and while these are great tools, the process is extremely time consuming for this use — I’d estimate 40-plus hours of human labor.

Finally, there are affordable plug-ins, but they deliver, in my opinion, cheap-looking results.

Do you need to be a designer to use Endcrawl?
No. We’ve made it so our typography is good-looking right out of the box. After hundreds of projects, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what does and does not work typographically.

Do you have tips for these non-deisgners regarding typography?
I could write a book. In fact, we are about to publish a series of articles on this topic, but I’ll give you a few:

• Don’t rely on “classic” typefaces like Helvetica and Futura. Nice on large posters, but lousy on screen in small point sizes.

• Lean toward typefaces with an upright stress — meaning more condensed fonts — which will allow you to make better use of horizontal space. This in turn preserves vertical space, resulting in a smoother scroll.

• Avoid “light” and “ultralight” fonts, or typefaces with a high stroke contrast. Those tend to shimmer quite a bit when in motion. Pick a typeface that has a large variety of designed weights and stick to medium, semibold and bold.

• Make sure your font has strong glyph support for those grips named Bjørn Sæther Løvås and Hansína Þórðardóttir.

Do people have to download the product?
Endcrawl runs right in your web browser. There is nothing to download or install.

What about compatibility?
Our render engine outputs uncompressed DPX, all the standard QuickTime formats, H.264 and PDFs. By far the most common final deliverable is 10-bit DPX, which we typically turn around inside of one hour. The preview renders come in minutes. And the render engine is on-demand, 24/7.

 

How has the product evolved since you first came to market?
Our “lean startup” was a script attached to a Google Doc. We did our first 20 to 30 projects that way. We saw a lot of validation, especially around the speed and ease of the service.

Year one, we had a customer with four films at Sundance. He completed all of his end titles in three days, with many revisions and renders in between. He’s finished over 20 projects with us now.

Since then, Alan has architected a highly optimized cloud render engine. Endcrawl still integrates with Google Docs for collaboration, but that is now connected to a powerful Web UI controlling layout and realtime preview.

How do people pay for Endcrawl?
On the free tier, we provide free and unlimited 1K preview renders in H.264. For $499, a project can upgrade to unlimited, uncompressed DPX renders. We are currently targeting feature films, but we will be deploying more pricing tiers for other types of projects — think episodic and shorts — in 2016.

What films have used the tool?
Some recent titles include Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq and Oliver Stone’s Snowden. Our customers run the gamut from $50K Kickstarter movies to $100 million studio franchises. (I can’t name most of those studio features because several title houses run all of their end credits through us as a white-label service.)

Some 2016 Sundance movies this year include Spa Night, Swiss Army Man, Tallulah and The Bad Kids. Some of my personal favorites are Beasts of No Nation, A Most Violent Year, The Family Fang, Meadowland, The Adderall Diaries and Video Game High School.

What haven’t I asked that is important?
We’re about to roll out 4K. We’ve “unofficially” supported 4K on a few pilot projects like Beasts of No Nation and War Room, but it’s about to be available to everyone.

Also, we have a pretty cool Twitter account @Endcrawl, which you should definitely follow.

Sam Daley on color grading HBO’s ‘Show Me a Hero’

By Ellen Wixted

David Simon’s newest and much-anticipated six-part series Show Me a Hero premiered on HBO in the US in mid-August. Like The Wire, which Simon created, Show Me a Hero explores race and community — this time through the lens of housing desegregation in late-‘80s Yonkers, New York. Co-written by Simon and journalist William F. Zorzi, the show was directed by Paul Haggis with Andrij Parekh as cinematographer, and produced by Simon, Haggis, Zorzi, Gail Mutrux and Simon’s long-time collaborator, Nina Noble. Technicolor PostWorks‘ Sam Daley served as the colorist. I caught up with him recently to talk about the show.

A self-described “film guy,” New York-based Daley has worked as colorist on films ranging from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to Lena Dunham’s Girls with commercial projects rounding out his portfolio. When I asked Daley what stood out about his experience on Show Me a Hero, his answer was quick: “The work I did on the dailies paid off hugely when we got to finishing.” Originally brought into the project as dailies colorist, Daley’s scope quickly expanded to include finishing — and his unusual workflow set the stage for high-impact results.

Sam Daly

Sam Daly

Daley’s background positioned him perfectly for his role. After graduating from film school and working briefly in production, Daley worked in a film lab before moving into post production. Daley’s deep knowledge of photochemical processing, cameras and filters turned him into a resource for colorists he worked alongside and piqued his interest in the craft. He spent years paying his dues before eventually becoming known for his work as a colorist. “People tend to get pigeonholed, and I was known for my work on dailies,” Daley notes. “But ultimately the cinematographers I worked with insisted that I do both dailies and finishing, as Ed Lachman (cinematographer) did when we worked together on Mildred Pierce.”

The Look
Daley and Show me a Hero’s cinematographer, Andrij Parekh, had collaborated on previous projects, and Parekh’s clear vision from the project’s earliest stages set the stage for success. “Andreij came up with this beautiful color treatment, and created a look book that included references to Giorgio de Chirico’s painted architecture, art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka’s highly stylized faces, and films from the 1970s, including The Conformist, The Insider, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and The Yards. Sometimes look books are aspirational, but Andrij’s footage delivered the look he wanted‚ and that gave me permission to be aggressive with the grade,” says Daley. “Because we’ve worked together before, I came in with an understanding of where he likes his images to be.”

bar before

Parekh shot the series using the Arri Alexa and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Since the show is set in the late ‘80s, a key goal for the production was to ground the look of the show firmly in that era. A key visual element was to have different visual treatments for the series’ two worlds to underscore how separate they are: the cool, stark political realm, and the warmer, brighter world of the housing projects. The team’s relatively simple test process validated the approach, and introduced Daley to the Colorfront On-Set Dailies system, which proved to be a valuable addition to his pipeline.

“Colorfront is really robust for dailies, but primitive for finishing — it offers simple color controls that can be translated by other systems later. Using it for the first time reminded me of when I was training to be a colorist — when everything tactile was very new to me — and it dawned on me that to create a period look you don’t have to add a nostalgic tint or grain. With Colorfront I was able to create the kind of look that would have been around in the ’80s with simple primary grades, contrast, and saturation adjustments.”

meeting before

“This is the crazy thing: by limiting my toolset I was able to get super creative and deliver a look that doesn’t feel at all modern. In a sense, the system handcuffed me — but Andrij wasn’t looking for a lot of razzle-dazzle. Using Colorfront enabled me to create the spine of an appropriate period style that makes the show look like it was created in the ‘80s. Everyone loved the way the dailies looked, and they were watching them for months. By the time we got to finishing, we had something that was 90% of the way there.”

Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 11 was used for finishing, a process that was unusually straightforward because of the up-front work done on the dailies. “Because all shots were already matched, final grading was done scene by scene. We changed the tone of some scenes, but the biggest decision we made was to desaturate everything by an additional 7% to make the flesh tones less buzzy and to set the look more firmly in the period.”

Belushi beforeBelushi after

Daley was enthusiastic about the production overall, and HBO’s role in setting a terrific stage for moving the art of TV forward. “HBO was awesome — and they always seem to provide the extra breathing space needed to do great work. This show in particular felt like a symphony, where everyone had the same goal.”

I asked Daley about his perspective on collaboration, and his answer was surprising. “’The past is prologue.’ Everything you did in the past is preparation for what you’re doing now, and that includes relationships. Andrij and I had a high level of trust and confidence going into this project. I wasn’t nervous because I knew what he wanted, and he trusted that if I was pushing a look it was for a reason. We weren’t tentative, and as a result the project turned into a dream job that went smoothly from production through post.”  He assures this is true for every client — you always have to give 110 percent. “The project I’m working on today is the most important project I’ve ever worked on.”

Daley’s advice for aspiring colorists? “Embrace technology. I was a film guy who resisted digital for a long time, but working on Tiny Furniture threw all of my preconceptions about digital out the window. The feature was shot using a Canon 7D because the budget was micro and the producer already owned the camera. The success of that movie made me stop being an old school film snob — now I look at new tech and think ‘bring it on.’”

 

 

‘Banshee’ VFX Part 2: Technicolor Flame artist Paul Hill

By Randi Altman

A couple of weeks ago we checked in with Banshee associate producer Gwyn Shovelski, who talked about the show’s visual effects workflow. That workflow includes Technicolor Flame artist Paul Hill, who has intimate knowledge of what the Banshee team wants — he worked with most of them during the run of HBO’s True Blood.

Cinemax’s Banshee takes place in a small, picturesque town in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Banshee is home to a variety of people who have some pretty ugly secrets to hide. It’s also home to a stockpile of guns that would make some drug cartels drool.

A big plot point on Banshee, which ended its third season in March, is showing some of the main Continue reading

SMPTE elects Officers, Governors for 2015-2016

SMPTE (The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) has elected new officers and governors for 2015-16. Robert Seidel, VP of engineering and advanced technology at CBS, will take office as the Society’s new president on Jan. 1, 2015.

Seidel, who previously held SMPTE board roles including executive VP and finance VP, will serve a two-year term as SMPTE president. He succeeds outgoing president Wendy Aylsworth, senior VP of technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations, who will now become the Society’s past president.

Robert Seidel

“Bob Seidel has been a tremendous asset to the Society in several key positions, and we are confident that he will continue and build on the good work done by Wendy during her successful tenure as president,” said SMPTE executive director Barbara Lange. “Bob and Wendy are among the many SMPTE members who have contributed a great deal to the Society’s growth. The officers and governors elected for 2015-16 — and those who continue on in their existing roles — bring extraordinary knowledge, experience, and energy to the Society and its advancement of the motion-imaging industry.”

Other incoming SMPTE officers elected for the two-year 2015-2016 term include Matthew S. Goldman, senior VP of TV compression technology at Ericsson, who will serve as executive VP; Patrick Griffis, executive director of the technology strategy in the office of the CTO at Dolby, will continue his service as education VP; and Peter Wharton, VP of technology and business development at BroadStream Solutions, who will continue to serve as secretary/treasurer. In January 2015, the board will elect an officer to fill the post vacated by Goldman.

Ten governors, eight of which are incumbents, were elected to serve in SMPTE posts around the world. The re-elected governors include Angelo D’Alessio, GM at the Center for Accessible Media, who will again serve as governor for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America. William T. Hayes, director of engineering and technology at Iowa Public Television, will again serve as governor for the central region and Sara J. Kudrle, product marketing manager of monitoring and control at Grass Valley will serve again as governor for the western region. KL Lam, past VP of broadcasting and engineering operations at Hong Kong Cable TV, will serve again as governor for the Asia-Australia region.

Pierre Marion, director of media engineering for French networks at CBC/Radio-Canada, will again serve as governor for the Canadian region. John McCoskey, executive VP/CTO at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), will serve again as governor for the Eastern US region. William C. Miller, president at Miltag Media Technology, will again serve as governor for the New York region. Clyde Smith, senior VP of new technology at Fox Networks Engineering and Operations, will again serve as a governor for the Hollywood region.

Newly elected are Steve Beres, VP of media and technology operations at HBO, who will serve as a governor for the Hollywood region, and Merrick Ackermans, engineering director of global technology and operations for US network operations at Turner, who will serve as a governor for the Southern US region.

The Society’s officers and governors elected for the 2015-2016 term will serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors along with other board officers, regional governors and directors of specific areas, including standards, education and membership.

Officers who were not up for re-election and who continue to serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors Executive Committee include SMPTE Standards VP Alan Lambshead, retired from Evertz, and SMPTE Membership VP Paul Stechly of Applied Electronics.

Governors who were not up for re-election and who continue on the SMPTE Board of Governors include Dan Burnett of Ericsson Television Inc. (Southern US region); Paul Chapman of FotoKem (Hollywood region); Randy Conrad of Imagine Communications (Canadian region); John Ferder of CBS (New York region); Karl Kuhn of Tektronix (Eastern U.S. region); John Maizels of Entropy Enterprises and Productions (Asia/Australia region); Mark Narveson of Patterson & Sheridan (Western US region); T.J. Scott Jr. of Grass Valley (Southern U.S. region); Leon Silverman of The Walt Disney Studios (Hollywood region); and Richard Welsh of Sundog Media Toolkit (Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America region).

SMPTE’s annual meeting takes place starting on October 20 in at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood.

 

‘The Leftovers’ composer Max Richter on scoring this new HBO series

HBO’s very dramatic series, The Leftovers, focuses on the residents of a small town three years after two percent of the world’s population disappeared without explanation. Viewers get to see how they, and the world in general, struggle to come to terms with what happened.

Created by Damon Lindelof (Lost) and novelist Tom Perrotta, and based on Perrotta’s novel of the same name, The Leftovers is the story of the people who weren’t “chosen.” Lindelof and Perrotta executive produce the series along with Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey.

The following is a Q&A, courtesy of HBO, with British-born, Berlin-based composer Max Richter, who in addition to scoring The Leftovers, feature films and documentaries, makes albums, writes ballets, plays concerts and more. For the show, he creates different themes based on Continue reading