Tag Archives: Mr. Robot

Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography 2017

By Amy Leland

After EditFest NY moved to London, Manhattan Edit Workshop picked up the reins with its Sight, Sound & Story (SS&S) conferences. The first post production event premiered in June of 2013. The format was similar — top-of-their-craft editors and post specialists participating in panels focusing on specific areas of the industry. Over the years there have been great panels on TV editing, sound effects and audio editing, VFX and virtual reality. I have attended these events since they began. They are a great chance to get inspired, learn more about my industry and meet great people.

In September of 2015, SS&S created a new event that focused on the part of the process before we post folks get involved: the shoot. I recently I attended the latest Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography. Even though cinematography is not my department, I was as entertained and educated. Here is a recap of some of the best moments of the panels.

The Art of Cinematography in Documentary Filmmaking
As a first-time documentary filmmaker myself, this panel was of particular interest to me. Moderator Hugo Perez (Neither Memory Nor Magic, Lights Camera Uganda) spoke with panelists Joan Churchill, ASC,(Shut Up & Sing, Kurt & Courtney, Last Days in Vietnam) and Buddy Squires, ASC, (The Vietnam War, The Statue of Liberty, The Central Park Five) about their view of documentary filmmaking from behind the lens.

The most common theme throughout the panel was the emphasis both panelists put on listening. Cinematography is a visual art, but the panelists repeated the importance of listening carefully throughout the process in order to get the right shots. Squires included it as part of an overall sense of observation. He described his job as, “capturing the unexpected.” He said in order to do this, you have to carefully observe everything that is going on around you. When you sense something is going a particular way, you have to follow it. “It’s a calculated gamble that things will move a particular way.”

L-R: Joan Churchill, Buddy Squires and moderator Hugo Perez.

A particularly poignant moment was when he showed a clip from the documentary, The Last Dalai Lama? In it, he is filming a line of people getting a momentary audience with the Dalai Lama. Even though he didn’t understand what was being said in these moments, something compelled him to follow two particular people as they walked away from the Dalai Lama, clearly very moved by their experience. He ultimately found out that these two young women were homeless and with no resources to speak of. After hearing their story, the Dalai Lama instructed one of his helpers to make sure these young women were taken care of and given a place to live. All of that was clear once translations and subtitles were in place, but it was a moment of instinct that caused Squires to follow them and capture that magical moment. It was an incredible example of what he was describing.

Churchill also stated emphatically that, “Documentaries are nothing without good sound.” She talked about how you can cut around bad picture, but you can’t cut around bad sound. She makes sure she is constantly hearing, through her earpiece, whatever is being recorded by the sound person. This lets her know if sound isn’t being captured, but it also means that she may hear something, from her vantage point, she couldn’t see. That lets her know to move and capture what is happening.

Related to this, she talked about how sometimes you simply have to sacrifice picture to get the moment. Even if all you can get is a badly framed shot, or a shot with a low-quality camera; as long as you have the sound to go with it, you may have the moment you need. To illustrate this, Churchill showed a clip from the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Their interviews with Aileen Wuornos took place in small visiting rooms at the prison where she was on death row. In one of those interviews, when Wuornos saw that the interview was over and equipment was being put away, she started speaking more frankly about her crimes, and whether she had committed them in self defense. As a cinematographer, Churchill could have taken her camera back out, and tried to frame a perfect shot of Wuornos talking. But by listening to what was happening, she knew that her camera would become a distraction to the emotional moment that was happening, and might even cause Wuornos to stop talking. Rather than finding that shot and stopping the moment, she stayed crouched by her camera bag, and got a side shot of Nick Broomfield, her co-director, talking to Wuornos. Wuornos isn’t even in the shot. She made a choice as a cinematographer to sacrifice image to make sure the moment was protected.

Of course as cinematographers, and especially with Squires being a long-time collaborator with Ken Burns, both are incredibly skilled at capturing beautiful images, but what most struck me about this panel was how much each was more focused on story and truth, rather than image, in order to serve the needs of their projects.

The New Age of TV: Bringing the Look of Cinema to the Small Screen
For this offering, moderator David Leitner spoke with panelists Martin Ahlgren (Daredevil, House of Cards, Blindspot) and Igor Martinović (House of Cards, The Night Of) about the changing art of cinematography in television. Much of the conversation focused on how their work was being affected by the increasingly film look or cinema style of television.

L-R: Martin Ahlgren and Igor Martinović.

One thing they addressed was the popular idea that film is a director’s medium and TV is a producer’s or writer’s medium. Martinović pointed out that with a lot of these new media shows, from companies like Netflix and Hulu, they had not just a head writer/showrunner, but also a director auteur driving the creative process. For example, they brought up David Fincher and his House of Cards and Mindhunter. Though he didn’t direct the entire series in either case, he did establish the visual world and rules for the shows. And there are certainly other examples, such as Reed Morano and The Handmaid’s Tale or Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, which airs on FX. Both panelists spoke about how there is a trend toward creating a specific look that they, as cinematographers, are working within.

They also both talked about how this cinematic aesthetic is changing what they are allowed to do as television cinematographers. For a long time, television was “radio with pictures.” TV shows were meant to be watched without needing to pay close visual attention. The focus was hearing dialogue, but now there is more freedom to tell visual stories. Martinović showed a series of clips from The Night Of and pointed out that there is almost no dialogue in the scenes he showed. He was able to tell story and advance character through specific visual images, a freedom television cinematographers didn’t always have.

Both also spoke about low light being a more acceptable look in television now than it used to be. Ahlgren showed a clip from House of Cards that he lit almost entirely with candlelight. He spoke of this difference in lighting aesthetic as being partly about changing standards in television, but also made possible by digital cinematography. While many cinematographers talk about the advantages of film, one thing most will say is that digital cameras can shoot more effectively at much lower light levels. They both talked about the expanded range of creative choices this gives them.

Martinović concluded by showing us some incredible images from a look book he put together for a new show he is going to be shooting. This is a technique used often for film, but not as often for television, which really speaks to the shift in how television is being created. For his look book, he compiled an incredible collection of images to show ideas of framing, tone, and even light and color. This book gave him a better “language” for showing the director what he thought they could do in telling their stories.

Listening to incredibly talented television cinematographers talk about their craft provided a lot of insight into why television seems so much more exciting these days. It was also a great reminder to all of us to pay better attention to the visual language of the shows we love, just as we do with films.

Behind the Lens: A Conversation With Cinematographer Julio Macat, ASC
The final panel of the evening was a special conversation with Julio Macat, ASC, the cinematographer of a wide range of great films, including Home Alone, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Crazy in Alabama and The Wedding Crashers. As often happens in conversations with people who have had such a big impact on their field, what struck me most was how unbelievably humble Macat was about the work he has done. He spoke about his rise to success as filled with luck, when the breadth and quality of his work make it obvious that there is clearly a lot of talent involved as well.

He discussed the numerous opportunities he has had to work with first-time directors. One common theme is that first-time directors come to him with extensive shot lists for every scene. His advice to them is to think about why the writer wrote the scene and what the point of the scene is. He asks the director, “If I have to place the camera in one spot to tell that entire scene, where would it go?” That guides them into knowing what is most important. It is especially vital when they find themselves running out of time, and they need to make sure they have what they need. He said that shot often becomes the master shot for the scene.

Julio Macat

In talking about Home Alone, one aspect of his work that I just loved was that he did a lot of his prep on his knees. He planned a lot of shots from this vantage point with a wide-angle lens to capture the viewpoint of a child. Compared to how an adult sees the world — everything is bigger to kids, and the lights are brighter. His approach, of making sure his camera saw the world the way the lead character would, was such an important aspect of the look of that film. It seems that ideas like this, the ability to see the world through different perspectives, is what separates the really talented cinematographers from all of the people who are just good with cameras. I loved seeing that insight into his approach.

Macat described his prep work for Home Alone, his first feature film, which he has carried forward to today. Rather than thinking of each scene on its own, he creates a summary version of the script. That summary —which may be as short as three pages — includes one-line descriptions of each scene and color coding to indicate things like location, interior/exterior, etc. Seeing the structure of the film laid out that way helps him to see how the work he is doing will eventually be edited together. He includes the editor in that prep work so they can truly collaborate on the vision of the final film. His description of this process made me wish it were far more common for cinematographers and editors to directly collaborate.

He also spoke about the importance of working musically. He started working on music videos and concerts, so he always thought of music and rhythm while operating cameras. He says now he can tell immediately if a camera operator is really good with a camera technically but doesn’t have that sense of musicality in the work. Every scene, every story has a rhythm. Finding that rhythm in the work before the scenes are edited together, and a score underneath, is one of the most important skills in his toolset.

Having shot so many comedies, he had an interesting insight into capturing those moments. First he said that working in comedy was how he learned to shoot multicamera, so that it looks natural. With so much overlapping dialogue and gags based entirely on timing, it is vital to capture every moment as it happens, rather than individual takes of each angle. He also encourages directors to do blocking rehearsals with the actors that he can film rather than off-camera rehearsals, after so many experiences of watching a rehearsal with great energy and timing that just wasn’t there anymore once the cameras were rolling.

My favorite element of his comedy technique was what he called “second-team theater.” When the lighting setups are being done, and the second team stand-ins are in place, he asks the director to have that second team do the lines. If the cast is watching, it’s a great moment that allows them to relax a bit before the scene. But he also said some great actors have come out of those “second-team theater” moments because the director gets a chance to see them act. I’m sure it also leads to a more relaxed and fun atmosphere on set for everyone.

Listening to him talk about the way he feels about actors was really moving. He spoke of the importance of building trust with actors. His job means putting cameras into their personal space as they do their work. He advocates for letting the actors know what he has in mind and what he is planning to do. “Actors are really smart people. They get it,” Macat said. By seeing the actors as his collaborators, rather than just the people on the other side of the camera, he is better able to achieve his vision.

One of the recurring themes of these Sight, Sound & Story events has been rare opportunities to sit in rooms with truly impressive artists at the top of their field, and being so touched by how kind and generous they are with their time and ideas.

Manhattan Edit Workshop streamed these panels, as they often do, via Facebook Live on their Sight Sound & Story page. If you would like a chance to see the panels for yourself, and hear all of the other amazing insights of these wonderful panelists, you can find it here.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Quick Chat: New president/GM Deluxe TV post services Dom Rom

Domenic Rom, a fixture in the New York post community for 30 years, has been promoted to president and GM of Deluxe TV Post Production Services. Rom was most recently managing director of Deluxe’s New York studio, which incorporates Encore/Company 3/Method. He will now be leading Deluxe’s global services for television, specifically, the Encore and Level 3 branded companies. He will be making the move to Los Angeles.

Rom’s resume is long. He joined DuArt Film Labs in 1984 as a colorist, working his way up to EVP of the company, running both its digital and film lab divisions. In 2000, he joined stock footage/production company Sekani (acquired by Corbis), helping to build the first fully digital content distribution network. In 2002, he founded The Lab at Moving Images, the first motion picture lab to open in in New York in 25 years. It was acquired by PostWorks, which named Rom COO overseeing its Avid rentals, remote set-ups, audio mixing, color correction and editorial businesses. In 2010, Rom joined Technicolor NY as SVP post production. When PostWorks NY acquired Technicolor NY, Rom again became COO of the now-larger company. He joined Deluxe in 2013 as GM of its New York operations.

“I love what I’m seeing today in the industry,” he says. “It has been said many times, but we’re truly in a golden age of television. The best entertainment in the world is coming from the networks and a whole new generation of original content creators. It’s exciting to be in a position to service that work. There are few, if any, companies that have invested in the research, technology and talent to the degree Deluxe has, to help clients take advantage of the latest advancements — whether it’s HDR, 4K, or whatever comes next, to create amazing new experiences for viewers.”

postPerspective reached out to Rom, as he was making his transition to the West Coast, to find out more about his new role and his move.

What does this position mean to you?
This position is the biggest honor and challenge of my career. I have always considered Encore and Level 3 to be the premier television facilities in the world, and to be responsible for them is amazing and daunting all at the same time. I am so looking forward to working with the facilities in Vancouver, Toronto, New York and London.

What do you expect/hope to accomplish in this new role?
To bring our worldwide teams even closer and grow the client relationships even stronger than they already are, because at the end of the day this is a total relationship business and probably my favorite part of the job.

How have you seen post and television change over the years?
I was talking about this with the staff out here the other day. I have seen the business go from film to 2-inch tape to 1-inch to D2 to D5 to HDCAM (more formats than I can remember) to nonlinear editing and digital acquisition — I could go on and on. Right now the quality and sheer amount of content coming from the studios, networks, cablenets and many, many new creators is both exciting and challenging. The fact that this business is constantly changing helps to keep me young.

How is today’s production and post technology helping make TV an even better experience for audiences?
In New York we just completed the first Dolby Vision project for an entire episodic television season (which I can’t name yet), and it looks beautiful. HDR opens up a whole new visual world to the artists and the audience.

Are you looking forward to living in Los Angeles?
I have always danced with the idea of living in LA throughout my career, and to do so this far in is interesting timing. My family and, most importantly, my brand new grandson are all on the east coast so I will maintain my roots there while spreading them out west as well.

Encore colorist Laura Jans Fazio goes dark with ‘Mr. Robot’

By Randi Altman

After watching Mr. Robot when it premiered on USA Network last year, I changed all of my computer passwords and added a degree of difficulty that I’m proud of. I’m also not 100 percent convinced that my laptop’s camera isn’t on even when there’s no green light. That’s right, I completely and gleefully bought into the paranoia, and I wasn’t alone. Mr. Robot won Best Television Series Drama at this year’s Golden Globes, and one of the show’s supporting actors, Christian Slater, took home a statue.

The show, about a genius New York-based computer hacker (Rami Maleck) who believes corporations control, well, everything, has been getting its color grade by Laura Jans Fazio, lead colorist at Deluxe’s Encore, since its second episode.

Laura Jans Fazio

If you watch any TV at all, you’ve very likely seen some of Jans Fazio’s work. Her resume lists House of Cards, Hawaii 5-0, Proof, Empire and The Lottery, and she’s currently gearing up to work on the updated Gilmore Girls and Lady Dynamite.

Jans Fazio was kind enough to take some time out from grading this upcoming season of House of Cards to chat about her work on Mr. Robot.

Were you on Mr. Robot from the very start?
Sam Esmail, the show’s creator, asked me to help out with one of the first scenes in the pilot — the one that took place in Ron’s Coffee Shop. We made some changes, Sam loved it and wanted me to hit the whole show, so I did!

What kind of direction were you given about the look of that scene?
For Ron’s Coffee Shop, the direction was, “just do your thing.” So I was fortunate enough to do my own thing on it, and make it what I felt it should be.

What about when you started the season?
That’s part of what coloring has been — at least in my career — trying to interpret what the client, or the creator, is saying to me, because everybody has a different way of describing things, whether they’re technically savvy or not. I have to take that description and interpret it, and apply that to the image through my tool set on the computer.

That’s the process for this show, like many others I’ve worked on… I’ve been lucky enough to be entrusted to just do what I think feels right, and then I wait for notes. And more often than not, my notes are pretty minimal.

So minimal notes on Mr. Robot?
It was either “go darker” or ” let’s change this room in its entirety — I want it to be colder, and I’m not feeling the emotion of the scene.” In other instances, I’ll take a scene that’s lit completely warm and I’ll go cool with it because I think it looks better. Then I’ll send it out and be happily pleased that it’s liked.

(Photo: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

Can you describe a scene and give me an example?
The All Safe office, where Elliot worked, actually stayed similar to the pilot. The only difference was I took a lot of magenta out of it. So it had the feeling of a cold, sterile, distant corporate environment with a “working for the man” kind of feel. It’s not dark. It’s airy and lofty, but not airy in a good way. It basically allows the talent to come through — to see the emotion of what the characters are going through, and what they’re talking about. The rest just seems to melt behind them.

How do you build on what the DP Tod Campbell captures on set?
This is the way I approach all images — I take what I’ve got to work with, play with different styles of contrast, densities and color tones and let the image take me where it wants to be. How it feels in the story and what’s it’s cut against, and where are it’s going.

Usually I’ll tap into it straight away, but it’s always that way on the first episode or two of a new show, because you don’t really know where it needs to be. It’s kind of like the first color of paint that you put on a canvas that has been prepped — that’s not always the color that’s going to come through. It’s going to start out one way, and evolve as you go.

Sometimes colorists talk about being given stills or told to emulate the look of a certain film. It’s pretty amazing that they’re just saying, “Go.”
But that’s not always the case. There are many times where people come in with a photography coffee table book, and say, “I want this, this or that.” Or they will reference a movie from 1972 or say, “Let’s make it look like this Japanese film shot in 1942,” and I reference those clips.

That’s a common practice. In this situation I was approached based on my work on House of Cards and entrusted with Mr. Robot.

Mr. Robot - Season 1     

How do you prefer to work? Or do you enjoy both?
I enjoy both. It’s always good to get feedback, and I need an idea of what it is. When I saw the pilot for MrRobot, I of knew automatically what I would do with it.

Is there anything that stuck out from the season that you are most proud of?
The fact that the show is super dark. Dark is good. People are hesitant to do dark because they need to see what’s going on, but I look at it this way: if you’re in a dark forest and see an opening of light, that’s when you want to see more. And going dark was well received, both by the audience and my peers. That was cool.

Your tool of choice is FilmLight Baselight. Why do you like this particular system?
It’s just makes sense, from the way it allows you to layer colors and grade inside/outside, therefore eliminating keystrokes. It allows me to be really fast, and it deals with different color spaces and gammas. Also, the development always seems to be on the cutting edge of the latest technology coming from the camera manufacturers. They are also great about keeping up with where our business is going, including paying attention to different color spaces and HDR and VR.

Mr. Robot - Pilot Where do you find your inspiration?
It’s everywhere. I notice everything. I notice what somebody is wearing, what the colors are, where the contrasts lie and how the light is hitting them. I notice the paint sheens in a room and where the light that is falling onto objects and creating depth. I get lost online viewing design and color palettes and architecture and photography and gardens. The list goes on.

Growing up in New York, I was walking all the time and was just immersed in visual stimulation — from people, buildings, objects, architecture, art and design. I look to all of the man-made things, but I also look to nature, landscapes and skies… the color contrasts of it all.

What’s next for you, and how many shows do you work on at the same time?
Sometimes I’m on multiple shows within a week, and that overlaps. Right now, I’m doing Hawaii 5-0, House of Cards and Lady Dynamite. House of Cards will end soon, but Hawaii 5-0 will still be going on. Gilmore Girls will start up. Lady Dynamite will still be going, and then Robot will start. Then who knows what else is going to come in between those times.

That’s a lot.
The more the merrier!