Tag Archives: Netflix

Barry Sonnenfeld on Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

By Iain Blair

Director/producer/showrunner Barry Sonnenfeld has a gift for combining killer visuals with off-kilter, broad and often dark comedy, as showcased in such monster hits as the Men in Black and The Addams Family franchises.

He did learn from the modern masters of black comedy, the Coen brothers, beginning his prolific career as their DP on their first feature film, Blood Simple and then shooting such classics as Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. He continued his comedy training as the DP on such films as Penny Marshall’s Big, Danny Devito’s Throw Momma from the Train and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally.

So maybe it was just a matter of time before Sonnenfeld — whose directing credits include Get Shorty, Wild Wild West, RV and Nine Lives — gravitated toward helming the acclaimed new Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the beloved and best-selling “Lemony Snicket” children’s series by Daniel Handler. After all, with the series’ rat-a-tat dialogue, bizarre humor and dark comedy, it’s a perfect fit for the director’s own strengths and sensibilities.

I spoke with Sonnenfeld, who won a 2007 Primetime Emmy and a DGA Award for his directorial achievement on Pushing Daisies, about making the series, the new golden age of TV, his love of post — and the real story behind why he never directed the film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Weren’t you originally set to direct the 2004 film, and you even hired Handler to write the screenplay?
That’s true. I was working with producer Scott Rudin, who had done the Addams Family films with me, and Paramount decided they needed more money, so they brought in another studio, DreamWorks. But the DreamWorks producer — who had done the Men in Black films with me — and I don’t really get along. So when they came on board, Daniel and I were let go. I’d been very involved with it for a long time. I’d already hired a crew, sets were all designed, and it was very disappointing as I loved the books.

But there’s a happy ending. You are doing Netflix TV series, which seems much closer to the original books than the movie version. How important was finding the right tone?
The single most important job of a director is both finding and maintaining the right tone. Luckily, the tone of the books is exactly in my wheelhouse — creating worlds that are real, but also with some artifice in them, like the Men in Black and Addams Family movies, and Pushing Daisies. I tend to like things that are a bit dark, slightly quirky.

What did you think of the film version?
I thought it was slightly too big and loud, and I wanted to do something more like a children’s book, for adults.

The film version had to stuff Handler’s first three novels into a single movie, but the TV format, with its added length, must work far better for the books?
Far better, and the other great thing is that once Netflix hired me — and it was a long auditioning process — they totally committed. They take a long time finding the right material and pairing it with the right filmmaker but once they do, they really trust their judgment.

I really wanted to shoot it all on stages, so I could control everything. I didn’t want sun or rain. I wanted gloomy overhead. So we shot it all in Vancouver, and Netflix totally bought into that vision. I have an amazing team — the great production designer Bo Welch, who did Men in Black and other films with me, and DP Bernard Couture.

Patrick Warburton’s deadpan delivery as Lemony Snicket, the books’ unreliable narrator, is a great move compared with having just the film’s voiceover. How early on did you make that change?
When I first met with Netflix, I told them that Lemony should be an on-screen character. That was my goal. Patrick’s just perfect for the role. He’s the sort of Rod Serling/Twilight Zone presence — only more so, as he’s involved in the actual visual style of the show.

How early on do you deal with post and CG for each episode?
Even before we’re shooting. You don’t want to wait until you lock picture to start all that work, or you’ll never finish in time. I’m directing most of it — half the first season and over a third of the second. Bo’s doing some episodes, and we bring in the directors at least a month before the shoot, which is long for TV, to do a shot list. These shows, both creatively and in terms of budget, are made in prep. There should be very few decisions being made in the shoot or surprises in post because basically every two episodes equal one book, and they’re like feature films but on one-tenth of the budget and a quarter of the schedule.

We only have 24 days to do two hours worth of feature film. Our goal is to make it look as good as any feature, and I think we’ve done that. So once we have sequences we’re happy with, we show them to Netflix and start post, as we have a lot of greenscreen. We do some CGI, but not as much as we expected.

Do you also post in Vancouver?
No. We began doing post there for the first season, but we discovered that with our TV budget and my feature film demands and standards, it wasn’t working out. So now we work with several post vendors in LA and San Francisco. All the editorial is in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I’ve always loved it. As Truffaut said, the day you finish filming is the worst it’ll ever be, and then in post you get to make it great again, separating the wheat from the chaff, adding all the VFX and sound. I love prep and post — especially post as it’s the least stress and you have the most time to just think. Production is really tough. Things go wrong constantly.

You used two editors?
Yes, Stuart Bass and Skip MacDonald, and each edits two episodes/one book as we go. I’m very involved, but in TV the director gets a very short time to do their cut, and I like to give notes and then leave. My problem is I’m a micro-manager, so it’s best if I leave because I drive everyone crazy! Then the showrunner — which is also me — takes over. I’m very comfortable in post, with all the editing and VFX, and I represent the whole team and end up making all the post decisions.

Where did you mix the sound?
We did all the mixing on the Sony lot with the great Paul Ottosson who won Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. We go way back, as he did Men in Black 3 and other shows for me, and what’s so great about him is that he both designs the sound and then also mixes.

The show uses a lot of VFX. Who did them?
We used three main houses — Shade and Digital Sandbox in LA and Tippett in San Francisco. We also used EDI, an Italian company, who came in late to do some wire removal and clean up.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
We did it all at Encore LA, and the colorist on the first season was Laura Jans Fazio, who was fantastic. It’s the equivalent to a movie DI, where you do all the final color timing, and getting the right look was crucial. The DP created very good LUTs, and our rough cut was very close to where we wanted it, and then the DP and myself piggy-backed sessions with the colorist. It’s a painful experience for me as it’s so slow, and like editing, I micro-manage. So I set looks for scenes and then leave.

Barry Sonnefeld directs Joan Cusack.

Is it a golden age for TV?
Very much so. The writing’s a very high standard, and now everyone has wide-screen TVs there’s no more protecting the 3:4 image, which is almost square. When I began doing TV, there was no such thing as a wide shot. Executives would look at my cut, and the first thing they’d always say was, “Do you have a close-up of so and so?” Now it’s all changed. But TV is so different from movies. I look back fondly at movie schedules!

How important are the Emmys and other awards?
They’re very important for Netflix and all the new platforms. If you have critical success, then they get more subscribers, more money and then they develop more projects. And it’s great to be acknowledged by your peers.

What’s next?
I’ll finish season two and we’re hopeful about season three, which would keep us busy through fall 2018. And Vancouver’s a perfect place to be as long as you’re shooting on stage and don’t have to deal with the weather.

Will there be a fourth Men in Black?
If there is, I don’t think Will or I will be involved. I suspect there won’t be one, as it might be just too expensive to make now, with all the back-end deals for Spielberg and Amblin and so on. But I hope there’s one.

Images: Joe Lederer/Netflix


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Harbor’s Bobby Johanson discusses ADR for TV and film

By Jennifer Walden

A lot of work comes in and out of the ADR department at New York City’s Harbor Picture Company. A lot.

Over the past year alone, ADR mixer Bobby Johanson has been cranking out ADR and loop group for films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Light Between Oceans, Patriots Day, The Girl on the Train, Triple 9, Hail, Caesar! and more.

His expertise goes beyond film though. Johanson also does ADR for series, for shows like Amazon’s Red Oaks and their upcoming series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Netflix’s Master of None, which we will touch on lightly in a bit. First, let’s talk the art of ADR.

According to Johanson, “Last week, I did full days on three different films. Some weeks we record full days, nights and weekends, depending on the season, film festivals, what’s in post, actor availability and everything else that goes on with scheduling. Some sessions will book for two hours out of a day, while another client will want eight hours because of actor availability.”

With so many projects passing through his studio, efficiency is essential, but not at the cost of a job well done. “You have an actor on the stage and the director in the room, and you have to make things efficient,” says Johanson. “You have to play lines back as they are going to be in the show. You want to play the line and hear, ‘Was that ADR?’ Instantly, it’s a whole new world. People have been burned by not so good ADR in the past, and I feel like that compromises the performance. It’s very important for the talent to feel like they’re in good hands, so they forget about the technical side and just focus on their acting.”

Johanson got his start in ADR at New York’s Sound One facility, first as a messenger running reels around, and then moving up to the machine room when there was an opening for Sound One’s new ADR stage. “We didn’t really have anyone teaching us. The job was shown to us once; then we just had to figure out how to thread the dubbers and the projector. Once we got those hung, we would sit in the ADR studio and watch. I picked up a lot of my skills old-school. I’ve learned to incorporate those techniques into current technology and that works well for us.”

Tools
Gear-wise, one staple of his ADR career has been the Soundmaster ADR control system. Johanson calls it an “old-school tool,” probably 25 years old at this point, but he hasn’t found anything faster for recording ADR. “I used it at Sound One, and I used it at Digital Cinema, and now I use it here at Harbor. Until someone can invent another ADR synchronizer, this is the best for me.”

Johanson integrates the Soundmaster system with Avid Pro Tools 12 and works as a two-man team with ADR recordist Mike Rivera. “You can’t beat the efficiency and the attention to detail that you can get with the two-man team.”

Rivera tags the takes and makes minor edits while Johanson focuses on the director and the talent. “Because we are working on a synchronizer, the ADR recordist can do things that you couldn’t do if you were just shooting straight to Pro Tools,” explains Johanson. “We can actually edit on the fly and instantly playback the line in sync. I have the time to get the reverb on it and sweeten it. I can mix the line in because I’m not cutting it or pulling it into the track. That is being done while the system is moving on the pre-roll for a playback.”

For reverb, Johanson chooses an outboard Lexicon PCM80. This puts the controls easily within reach, and he can quickly add or change the reverb on the fly, helping the clean ADR line to sync into the scene. “The reverb unit is pretty old, but it is single-handedly the easiest reverb unit that you can use. There are four room sizes, and then you can adjust the delay of the reverb four times. I have been using this reverb for so many years now that I can match any reverb from any movie or TV show because I know this unit so well.”

Another key piece of gear in his set-up is an outboard Eventide H3000 SE sampler, which Johanson uses to sample the dialogue line they need to replace and play it back over and over for the actor to re-perform. “We offer a variety of ways to do ADR, like using beeps and having the actor perform to picture, but many actors prefer an older method that goes back to ‘looping.’ Back in the day, you would just run a line over and over again and the actor would emulate it. Then we put the select take of that line to picture. It’s a method that 60 percent of our actors who come in here love to do, and I can do that using the sampler.”

He also uses the sampler for playback. By sampling background noise from the scene, he can play that under the ADR line during playback and it helps the ADR to sit in the scene. “I keep the sampler and reverb as outboard gear because I can control them quickly. I’m doing things freestyle and we don’t have to stop the session. We don’t have to stop the system and wait for a playback or wait to do a record pass. Because we are a two-man operation, I can focus on these pieces of gear while Mike is tagging the takes with their cue numbers and managing them in the Pro Tools session for delivery. I can’t find an easier or quicker way to do what I do.”

While Johanson’s set-up may lack the luster of newly minted audio tools, it’s hard to argue with results. It’s not a case of “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it,” but rather a case of “don’t mess with perfection.”

Master of None
The set-up served them well while recording ADR and loop group for Netflix’s Emmy-winning comedy series Master of None. “Kudos to production sound mixer Michael Barosky because there wasn’t too much dialogue that we needed to replace with ADR for Season 2,” says Johanson. “But we did do a lot of loop group — sweetening backgrounds and walla, and things like that.”

For the Italian episodes, they brought in bilingual actors to record Italian language loop group. One scene that stood out for Johanson was the wedding scene in Italy, where the guests start jumping into the swimming pool. “We have a nice-sized ADR stage and so that frees us up to do a lot of movement. We were directing the actors to jump in front of the mic and run by the mic, to give us the effect of people jumping into the pool. That worked quite nicely in the track.”

Netflix’s The Last Kingdom puts Foley to good use

By Jennifer Walden

What is it about long-haired dudes strapped with leather, wielding swords and riding horses alongside equally fierce female warriors charging into bloody battles? There is a magic to this bygone era that has transfixed TV audiences, as evident by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Vikings series and one of my favorites, The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix.

The Last Kingdom, based on a series of historical fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, is set in late 9th century England. It tells the tale of Saxon-born Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is captured as a child by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own. Uhtred gets tangled up in King Alfred of Wessex’s vision to unite the three separate kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia) into one country called England. He helps King Alfred battle the invading Danish, but Uhtred’s real desire is to reclaim his rightful home of Bebbanburg from his duplicitous uncle.

Mahoney Audio Post
The sound of the series is gritty and rich with leather, iron and wood elements. The soundtrack’s tactile quality is the result of extensive Foley work by Mahoney Audio Post, who has been with the series since the first season. “That’s great for us because we were able to establish all the sound for each character, village, environment and more, right from the first episode,” says Foley recordist/editor/sound designer Arran Mahoney.

Mahoney Audio Post is a family-operated audio facility in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, UK. Arran Mahoney explains the studio’s family ties. “Clare Mahoney (mum) and Jason Swanscott (cousin) are our Foley artists, with over 30 years of experience working on high-end TV shows and feature films. My brother Billy Mahoney and I are the Foley recordists and editors/sound designers. Billy Mahoney, Sr. (dad) is the founder of the company and has been a dubbing mixer for over 40 years.”

Their facility, built in 2012, houses a mixing suite and two separate audio editing suites, each with Avid Pro Tools HD Native systems, Avid Artist mixing consoles and Genelec monitors. The facility also has a purpose-built soundproof Foley stage featuring 20 different surfaces including grass, gravel, marble, concrete, sand, pebbles and multiple variations of wood.

Foley artists Clare Mahoney and Jason Swanscott.

Their mic collection includes a Røde NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone and a Røde NTG3 supercardioid shotgun microphone, which they use individually for close-micing or in combination to create more distant perspectives when necessary. They also have two other studio staples: a Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condenser mic and a Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotgun mic.

Going Medieval
Over the years, the Mahoney Foley team has collected thousands of props. For The Last Kingdom specifically, they visited a medieval weapons maker and bought a whole armory of items: swords, shields, axes, daggers, spears, helmets, chainmail, armor, bridles and more. And it’s all put to good use on the series. Mahoney notes, “We cover every single thing that you see on-screen as well as everything you hear off of it.” That includes all the feet (human and horses), cloth, and practical effects like grabs, pick-ups/put downs, and touches. They also cover the battle sequences.

Mahoney says they use 20 to 30 tracks of Foley just to create the layers of detail that the battle scenes need. Starting with the cloth pass, they cover the Saxon chainmail and the Vikings leather and fur armor. Then they do basic cloth and leather movements to cover non-warrior characters and villagers. They record a general weapons track, played at low volume, to provide a base layer of sound.

Next they cover the horses from head to hoof, with bridles and saddles, and Foley for the horses’ feet. When asked what’s the best way to Foley horse hooves, Mahoney asserts that it is indeed with coconuts. “We’ve also purchased horseshoes to add to the stable atmospheres and spot FX when required,” he explains. “We record any abnormal horse movements, i.e. crossing a drawbridge or moving across multiple surfaces, and sound designers take care of the rest. Whenever muck or gravel is needed, we buy fresh material from the local DIY stores and work it into our grids/pits on the Foley stage.”

The battle scenes also require Foley for all the grabs, hits and bodyfalls. For the blood and gore, they use a variety of fruit and animal flesh.

Then there’s a multitude of feet to cover the storm of warriors rushing at each other. All the boots they used were wrapped in leather to create an authentic sound that’s true to the time. Mahoney notes that they didn’t want to capture “too much heel in the footsteps, while also trying to get a close match to the sync sound in the event of ADR.”

Surfaces include stone and marble for the Saxon castles of King Alfred and the other noble lords. For the wooden palisades and fort walls, Mahoney says they used a large wooden base accompanied by wooden crates, plinths, boxes and an added layer of controlled creaks to give an aged effect to everything. On each series, they used 20 rolls of fresh grass, lots of hay for the stables, leaves for the forest, and water for all the sea and river scenes. “There were many nights cleaning the studio after battle sequences,” he says.

In addition to the aforementioned props of medieval weapons, grass, mud, bridles and leather, Mahoney says they used an unexpected prop: “The Viking cloth tracks were actually done with samurai suits. They gave us the weight needed to distinguish the larger size of a Danish man compared to a Saxon.”

Their favorite scenes to Foley, and by far the most challenging, were the battle scenes. “Those need so much detail and attention. It gives us a chance to shine on the soundtrack. The way that they are shot/edited can be very fast paced, which lends itself well to micro details. It’s all action, very precise and in your face,” he says. But if they had to pick one favorite scene, Mahoney says it would be “Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold.”

Another challenging-yet-rewarding opportunity for Foley was during the slave ship scenes. Uhtred and his friend are sold into slavery as rowers on a Viking ship, which holds a crew of nearly 30 men. The Mahoney team brought the slave ship to life by building up layers of detail. “There were small wood creaks with small variations of wood and big creaks with larger variations of wood. For the big creaks, we used leather and a broomstick to work into the wood, creating a deep creak sound by twisting the three elements against each other. Then we would pitch shift or EQ to create size and weight. When you put the two together it gives detail and depth. Throw in a few tracks of rigging and pulleys for good measure and you’re halfway there,” says Mahoney.

For the sails, they used a two-mic setup to record huge canvas sheets to create a stereo wrap-around feel. For the rowing effects, they used sticks, brooms and wood rubbing, bouncing, or knocking against large wooden floors and solid boxes. They also covered all the characters’ shackles and chains.

Foley is a very effective way to draw the audience in close to a character or to help the audience feel closer to the action on-screen. For example, near the end of Season 2’s finale, a loyal subject of King Alfred has fallen out of favor. He’s eventually imprisoned and prepares to take his own life. The sound of his fingers running down the blade and the handling of his knife make the gravity of his decision palpable.

Mahoney shares another example of using Foley to draw the audience in — during the scene when Sven is eaten by Thyra’s wolves (following Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold). “We used oranges and melons for Sven’s flesh being eaten and for the blood squirts. Then we created some tracks of cloth and leather being ripped. Specially manufactured claw props were used for the frantic, ravenous wolf feet,” he says. “All the action was off-screen so it was important for the audience to hear in detail what was going on, to give them a sense of what it would be like without actually seeing it. Also, Thyra’s reaction needed to reflect what was going on. Hopefully, we achieved that.”

David Michôd on directing Brad Pitt’s latest, War Machine

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director David Michôd first burst onto the scene with his 2010 feature film debut Animal Kingdom, a gritty crime drama that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and 10 Australian Film Institute awards. The film was also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver).

David Michôd

Michôd followed that up with his second feature film, The Rover, a dystopian drama set in near future Australia following a global economic collapse. It starred Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.

His new film, War Machine, was inspired by the book “The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” by the late journalist Michael Hastings. It stars Brad Pitt as Glen McMahon, a successful, charismatic four-star general who leaps in like a rock star to command coalition forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by the quagmire of war, his own hubris and a journalist’s no-holds-barred expose.

Joining Pitt in this cautionary tale of the rise and fall of a larger-than-life military hero is a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly.

Michôd also assembled an accomplished team behind the camera, including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, production designer Jo Ford, editor Peter Sciberras and sound designer Sam Petty. War Machine has premiered globally on Netflix and opened in select theaters on May 26.

I recently talked to Michôd, who began his career making short films, about making the film, working with Pitt and his love of post.

What was the type of film you were trying to make with War Machine?
Something that was bat-shit crazy! That’s kind of glib, but it’s true. I’d been looking for a way into a war film for a while, and given my natural sensibilities I thought it would be a dark and menacing rumination on the horrors of war. Then when Plan B gave me Hastings’ book and I just couldn’t put it down. I began to see the film as a much larger thing, although I never lost sight of that kernel of an idea I initially had for a war film.

Suddenly the world around that idea got bigger and wilder and more interesting. I began to see a movie about the entire war machine, a multi-layered story that spanned the sort of hubristic buffoonery at the top levels, and the real impact and grave consequences that had on the troops on the ground. There was this huge chasm between them. So, I wanted to make a film about that absurd delusion at the top, but also the real horrors of war.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning black comedy and the increasingly serious nature of the film?
It was very challenging, but the way to deal with it was to stay true to the tones we’d chosen to use, and to use them to show the huge disconnection between the upper and lower levels of the machine. So, I amplified those two tones — the black comedy and the seriousness of the situation. Where the movie starts to shift tonally is with the intimate scenes around Brad’s character, and that begins with the scenes with his wife, played by Meg Tilly. You start to see something underneath all the braggadocio for the first time. You see the ambitious little boy inside this man through her eyes, and around then the edifice starts to crumble.

What did Brad Pitt bring to his role?
He really got the character and the arc, from this vain, ambitious, comically-heightened general to a tragic figure. Today, these top generals often seem to be more academic, but this guy is more old school — the kind of guy who still thinks he’s like some great WWII general, like a MacArthur or a Patton. Brad loved that concept and really ran with it.

Any surprises working with him?
Not really. When I began writing this, it was under the assumption I’d be writing it for Brad, although it wasn’t guaranteed he’d play it. But that was the plan, and I was excited to write it in this comedic vein for him, as I think he’s been under-used in comedy roles. Usually, they’re just supporting roles here and there, like Burn After Reading and Inglourious Basterds, but this was a chance for him to use that skill set in a much larger way, as I wanted McMahon to be amplified and absurd, yet also sympathetic. I felt we should just swing for the fences and go big and go delusional. I knew he would do a great job with the character, and he did.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The big one was finding the right desert locations to stand in for Afghanistan, as we obviously couldn’t shoot there, and it’s not easy to recreate all its different terrains. We had to find somewhere in that part of the world to shoot, but so much of it now is very volatile. All the old go-to places like Jordan and Morocco are becoming tricky if you’re there for a long time with a high-profile cast. We also needed somewhere with access to all this military gear, and we knew we wouldn’t get any co-operation from the US military.

In the end, we used the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which stands in for Afghanistan, and then we did most of the interiors on London soundstages. We also shot stuff in Paris, Berlin and LA. The great thing about the UAE was that we had access to all the military hardware we needed, and the moment we started shooting there you could just feel the scope of the movie opening up. You’re looking at all the tanks and the Black Hawk helicopters and the hardware, and you start to feel the frighteningly attractive pull of it all, its raw power. I could really understand how if you were in charge of all this machinery, how it could start to make you feel very powerful. It’s a bit like a drug. If any one of these elements had collapsed, we probably couldn’t have made the movie, but it all fell into place.

How tough was the shoot?
We shot over 55 days, and it was tough because you had the heat and dust and so on, but no tougher than usual. Despite its size, it honestly didn’t feel any harder than making any of my shorts. When you’re on set and the clock is ticking, it’s the same anxiety, adrenaline and sense of joy of creating something out of nothing.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, the editing and doing the sound — the whole thing. Like the shoot, we were all over the place doing post. We began cutting in Sydney for four months and then moved up the coast for a while so we could work alongside my sound designer, Sam Petty. Then we moved everything to Goldcrest in London for another four months. The plan was to finish post there, but this movie’s so complex, with so many colors and layers, that we decided to keep working on it and then moved to LA for another four months, and kept cutting there and then went back to London to finish off the music and VFX and other stuff. It ended up being about a year on post.

You cut this film with editor Peter Sciberras. How did that relationship work?
He wasn’t on set, as he feels redundant and in everyone’s way, but he followed us around while we shot so we could talk and I could have a look every day. But I don’t like to pore over my dailies while I’m shooting. We shot Sony CineAlta 4K digital with three cameras often, so there was more footage than he knew what to do with. The big challenge in editing was dealing with that complex, strange triangle between politics, information and tone. The essence of the movie didn’t really change over that year — just the way in which we were framing it. We spent a lot of time getting that framing right.

Can you talk about the importance of the film’s music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the sound design by Sam Petty?
Because we were making a movie about the insanity of war, I wanted it to have that schizophrenic tone, and that fed into how we dealt with all the sound design and music. Sam did an amazing job, and I just love the music that Nick and Warren did, as it really embodies the tone I wanted. Their music drifts in and out of tones and tunes and time with all these layers. Really, it makes no sense, yet it all hangs together. We did the mix at Goldcrest.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a role. Who did them?
BlueBolt in London, and we had a lot, mainly recreating the look of Afghanistan, set extensions, augmentations, clean-up and so on.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
Also at Goldcrest, and it’s so vital now, especially with this brave new world of streaming. The danger is you spend so long on your theatrical grade, yet this is a movie that’s largely going to be streamed. That applied to my last two movies; I spent two weeks doing a beautiful theatrical grade when they were mainly being seen on cable TV. The challenge is for me to pay as much attention in the DI to all the different platforms and formats out there now. It’s a bit mind-boggling.

What’s next?
Not sure. I always come out of a movie feeling like I never want to make another. I need a break to recharge.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Recreating history for Netflix’s The Crown

By Randi Altman

If you, like me, binge-watched Netflix’s The Crown, you are now considerably better educated on the English monarchy, have a very different view of Queen Elizabeth, and were impressed with the show’s access to Buckingham Palace.

Well, it turns out they didn’t actually have access to the Palace. This is where London-based visual effects house One of Us came in. While the number of shots provided for the 10-part series varied, the average was 43 per episode.

In addition to Buckingham Palace, One of Us worked on photoreal digital set extensions, crowd replications and environments, including Downing Street and London Airport. The series follows a young Elizabeth who inherits the crown after her father, King George VI, dies. We see her transition from a vulnerable young married lady to a more mature woman who takes her role as head monarch very seriously.

We reached out to One of Us VFX supervisor Ben Turner to find out more.

How early did you join the production?
One of Us was heavily involved during an eight-month pre-production process, until shooting commenced in July 2015.

Ben Turner

Did they have clear vision of what they needed VFX vs. practical?
As we were involved from the pre-production stage, we were able to engage in discussions about how best to approach shooting the scenes with the VFX work in mind. It was important to us and the production that actors interacted with real set pieces and the VFX work would be “thrown away” in the background, not drawing attention to itself.

Were you on set?
I visited all relevant locations, assisted on set by Jon Pugh who gathered all VFX data required. I would attend all recces at these locations, and then supervise on the shoot days.

Did you do previs? If so, what software did you use?
We didn’t do much previs in the traditional sense. We did some tech-vis to help us figure out how best to film some things, such as the arrivals at the gates of Buckingham Palace and the Coronation sequence. We also did some concept images to help inform the shoot and design of some scenes. This work was all done in Autodesk Maya, The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe Photoshop.

Were there any challenges in working in 4K? Did your workflow change at all, and how much of your work currently is in 4K?
Working in 4K didn’t really change our workflow too much. At One of Us, we are used to working on film projects that come in all different shapes and sizes (we recently completed work on Terrance Mallick’s Voyage of Time in IMAX 5K), but for The Crown we invested in the infrastructure that enabled us to take it in our stride — larger and faster disks to hold the huge amounts of data, as well as a new 4K monitor to review all the work.

     

What were some of your favorite, or most challenging, VFX for the show?
The most challenging work was the kind of shots that many people are already very familiar with. So the Queen’s Coronation, for example, was watched by 20 million people in 1953, and with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street being two of the most famous and recognizable addresses in the world, there wasn’t really anywhere for us to hide!

Some of my favorite shots are the ones where we were recreating real events for which there are amazing archive references, such as the tilt down on the scaffolding at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the Coronation, or the unveiling of the statue of King George VI.

     

Can you talk about the tools you used, and did you create any propriety tools during the workflow?
We used Enwaii and Maya for photogrammetry, Photoshop for digital matte painting and Nuke for compositing. For crowd replication we created our own in-house 2.5D tool in Nuke, which was a card generator that gave the artist a choice of crowd elements, letting them choose the costume, angle, resolution and actions required.

What are you working on now?
We are currently hard at work on Season 2 of The Crown, which is going to be even bigger and more ambitious, so watch this space! Recent work also includes King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (Warner Bros.) and Assassin’s Creed (New Regency).

Netflix's Stranger Things

AES LA Section & SMPTE Hollywood: Stranger Things sound

By Mel Lambert

The most recent joint AES/SMPTE meeting at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City showcased the talents of the post production crew that worked on the recent Netflix series Stranger Things at Technicolor’s facilities in Hollywood.

Over 160 attendees came to hear how supervising sound editor Brad North, sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby, music editor David Klotz and dialog/music re-recording mixer Joe Barnett worked their magic on last year’s eight-episode Season One (Sadly, effects re-recording mixer Adam Jenkins was unable to attend the gathering.) Stranger Things, from co-creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, is scheduled to return in mid-year for Season 2.

L-R: Jordan Wilby, Brad North, Craig Henighan, Joe Barnett, David Klotz and Mel Lambert. Photo Credit: Steve Harvey.

Attendees heard how the crew developed each show’s unique 5.1-channel soundtrack, from editorial through re-recording — including an ‘80s-style, synth-based music score, from Austin-based composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, that is key to the show’s look and feel — courtesy of a full-range surround sound playback system supplied by Dolby Labs.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from sci-fi films like Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan explained. The designer also revealed how he developed a characteristic sound for the monster that appears in key scenes. “The basic sound is that of a seal,” he said. “But it wasn’t as simple as just using a seal vocal, although it did provide a hook — an identifiable sound around which I could center the rest of the monster sounds. It’s fantastic to take what is normally known as a nice, light, fun-loving sound and use it in a terrifying way!” Tim Prebble, a New Zealand-based sound designer, and owner of sound effects company Hiss and A Roar, offers a range of libraries, including SD003 Seal Vocals|Hiss and A Roar.

Gear used includes Avid Pro Tools DAWs — everybody works in the box — and Avid 64-fader, dual-operator S6 console at the Technicolor Seward Stage. The composers use Apple Logic Pro to record and edit their AAF-format music files.


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

 

Stranger Things

Upcoming AES LA meeting features Netflix’s Stranger Things sound team

On January 31, the AES LA Section monthly meeting will showcase the sound editorial and re-recording of the Netflix series Stranger Things. Attendees will hear first-hand how the sound team creates the 5.1-channel soundtrack, including the eerie music that is key to the show’s look and feel. A second season from the Duffer Brothers is scheduled to start later this year, with its haunting ’80s-style, synth-based musical score.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it’s set in Indiana in 1983 and focuses on a 12-year-old boy gone missing and the resulting search for him by the police chief and his friends.

The editorial team for Stranger Things is headed up by supervising sound editor Brad North, who works closely with sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby and music editor David Klotz. The re-recording crew, working at the Technicolor Seward stage, is Joe Barnett, who handles dialogue and music, and Adam Jenkins, who handles sound effects.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from such sci-fi films as Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan recalls. Part sci-fi, part horror and part family drama, Stranger Things is often considered an homage to 80’s movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.

The joint AES/SMPTE January meeting, which will be held at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City on Tuesday, January 31, is open to both AES and SMPTE members and non-members.

Panelists will include Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Joe Barnett, David Klotz, Brad North and Craig Henighan.

catherine orchard

Derby picks director Catherine Orchard for roster

New York-based production company Derby has added Catherine Orchard to its directorial roster. Formerly a graphic designer and art director, Orchard’s work in the creative departments of various brands and magazines has helped her to develop an eye for strong imagery in combination with humor and lyrical storytelling.

She has worked with a variety of brands and magazines, including Bobbi Brown, Alice + Olivia, Jane, Travel + Leisure and Vibe. Most recently, she has been directing for Loft and Teen Vogue.

We checked in with Brooklyn-based Orchard to find out how she works and what her process is like: “Whenever I start a project, I look at what the existing elements are and break them down to what’s key and what needs to be said or shown. Then I let my imagination wander and take inventory on the many ways to put those particulars into a story. I like having a starting point of knowing the character (so cliché, but how else?!) and then the tone and look follows.”

That goes for any project, she says, whether it be commercial, narrative or experimental. “I’m interested in trying out some of the technical things, like practical lighting tricks, VFX and camera movements if it makes sense for the story’s look and tone. I also do research to sort out what the story might actually look and feel like. Then I revise. That’s usually the way I start each and every one of my projects.”

When asked about a recent job, Orchard talked about working with the kids from Netflix’s Stranger Things for Teen Vogue. “We had less than one hour to film, so I thought playing a game of charades would be fun — they made up their own dreams and nightmares. I should mention that serving candy to kids at 9am is a very cheap trick, but it worked!”

While Orchard hasn’t yet helmed a job for Derby, future projects can be expected to come from her in early 2017.  Orchard joins Derby’s directorial roster, which includes Lucas Borrás, Nickolas Duarte, The Bozzwicks and John Poliquin. Since the company launched in the fall of 2015, Derby has produced campaigns with its agency and brand partners for Listerine, Lucky Charms, Johnson & Johnson, Sauza, Erno Laszlo and others.

The color and sound of Netflix’s The Get Down

The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s new series for Netflix, tells the story of the birth of hip-hop in the late 1970s in New York’s South Bronx. The show depicts a world filled with colorful characters pulsating to the rhythms of an emerging musical form.

Shot on the Red Dragon and Weapon in 6K, sound and picture finishing for the full series was completed over several months at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Re-recording mixers Martin Czembor and Eric Hirsch, working under Luhrmann’s direction and alongside supervising sound designer Ruy Garcia, put the show’s dense soundtrack into its final form.

The Get Down

Colorist John Crowley, meanwhile, collaborated with Luhrmann, cinematographer William Rexer and executive producer Catherine Martin in polishing its look. “Every episode is like a movie,” says Czembor. “And the expectations, on all levels, were set accordingly. It was complex, challenging, unique… and super fascinating.”

The Get Down’s soundtrack features original music from composer Elliott Wheeler, along with classic hip-hop tracks and flashes of disco, new wave, salsa and even opera. And the music isn’t just ambiance; it is intricately woven into the story. To illustrate the creative process, a character’s attempt to work out a song lyric might seamlessly transform into a full-blown finished song.

According to Garcia, the show’s music team began working on the project from the writing stage. “Baz uses songs as plot devices — they become part of the story. The music works together with the sound effects, which are also very musical. We tuned the trains, the phones and other sounds and synced them to the music. When a door closes, it closes on the beat.”

Ruy Garcia

The blending of story, music, dialogue and sound came together in the mix. Hirsch, who mixed Foley and effects, recalls an intensive trial-and-error process to arrive at a layering that felt right. “There was more music in this show than anything I’ve previously worked on,” he says. “It was a challenge to find enough sound effects to fill out the world without stepping on the music. We looked for places where they could breathe.”

In terms of tools, they used Avid Pro Tools 12 HD for sound and music, ADR manager for ADR cueing and Sound Miner for Sound FX library management. For sound design they called on Altiverb, Speakerphone and SoundToys EchoBoy to create spaces, and iZotope Iris for sampling. “We mixed using two Avid Pro Tools HDX2 systems and a double operator Avid S6 control surface,” explains Garcia. “The mix sessions were identical to the editorial sessions, including plug-ins, to allow seamless exchange of material and elaborate conformations.”

Music plays a crucial role in the series’ numerous montage sequences, acting as a bridge as the action shifts between various interconnecting storylines. “In Episode 2, Cadillac interrogates two gang members about a nightclub shooting, as Shaolin and Zeke are trying to work out the ‘get down’ — finding the break for a hip-hop beat,” recalls Czembor. “The way those two scenes are cut together with the music is great! It has an amazing intensity.”

Czembor, who mixed dialogue and music, describes the mix as a collaborative process. During the early phases, he and Hirsch worked closely with Wheeler, Garcia and other members of the sound and picture editing teams. “We spent several days pre-mixing the dialogue, effects and music to get it into a basic shape that we all liked,” he explains. “Then Baz would come in and offer ideas on what to push and where to take it next. It was a fun process. With Baz, bigger and bolder is always better.”

The team mostly called on Garcia’s personal sound library, “plus a lot of vintage New York E train and subway recordings from some very generous fellow sound editors,” he says. “Shaolin Fantastic’s kung-fu effects come from an old British DJ’s effects record. We also recorded and edited extensive Foley, which was edited against the music reference guide.”

The Color of Hip-Hop
Bigger and bolder also applied to the picture finishing. Crowley notes that cinematographer William Rexer employed a palette of rich reddish brown, avocado and other colors popular during the ‘70s, all elevated to levels slightly above simple realism. During grading sessions with Rexer, Martin and Luhrmann, Crowley spent time enhancing the look within the FilmLight Baselight, sharpening details and using color to complement the tone of the narrative. “Baz uses color to tell the story,” he observes. “Each scene has its own look and emotion. Sometimes, individual characters have their own presence.”

ohn-crowley

John Crowley

Crowley points to a scene where Mylene gives an electrifying performance in a church (photo above). “We made her look like a superstar,” he recalls. “We darkened the edges and did some vignetting to make her the focus of attention. We softened her image and added diffusion so that she’s poppy and glows.”

The series uses archival news clips, documentary material and stock footage as a means of framing the story in the context of contemporary events. Crowley helped blend this old material with the new through the use of digital effects. “In transitioning from stock to digital, we emulated the gritty 16mm look,” he explains. “We used grain, camera shake, diffusion and a color palette of warm tones. Then, once we got into a scene that was shot digitally, we would gradually ride the grain out, leaving just a hint.”

Crowley says it’s unusual for a television series to employ such complex, nuanced color treatments. “This was a unique project created by a passionate group of artists who had a strong vision and knew how to achieve it,” he says.

Atomic Cartoons helps bring Beatles music to kids for Netflix’s ‘Beat Bugs’

Vancouver’s Atomic Cartoons was recently called on by Netflix to help introduce kids to the music of The Beatles via its show Beat Bugs.

Set in an overgrown suburban backyard, Beat Bugs focuses on five friends as they band together to explore their environment. Iconic Beatles songs, including Magical Mystery Tour, Come Together, Penny Lane and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds are woven into the narrative of each episode, in versions recorded by such artists as Eddie Vedder, Sia and Pink.

Atomic Cartoons is creating the 3D animation for Beat Bugs in Autodesk Maya, with The Foundry’s Nuke being used to composite the render passes. The studio estimates that it has worked on over 10,000 shots for the series, comprising more than 100,000 individual frames — some taking only two hours to render.

To ensure that it made optimal use of resources during such intensive work, the studio relied on PipelineFX’s 400-node renderfarm Qube! to divide rendering for the show.

Rachit Singh, Atomic’s head of technology, says a big benefit of Qube! is the option to define custom job types — essential in a studio like Atomic, which uses its own proprietary asset-management system alongside off-the-shelf production tracking and playback tools like Shotgun and RV. The studio also uses Flash, Harmony and After Effects on its 2D animated productions, all of which require their own custom job types.

“Even the built-in job types are great out of the box,” says Singh. “But as these job types are constructed as open architecture scripts, they can be customized to fit the studio’s pipeline needs.”

Beat Bugs debuted on Netflix in early August. You can check out the show’s trailer here.