Tag Archives: on-set

Directing: My Top 10 career-ending mistakes

By Trevor McMahan

Okay, so this is probably a really bad idea… but I’m about to list the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a director. It’s ironic, because when I told my super-rep Susanne I was going to write a tips piece for postPerspective, she was all like, “Yeah, this will be a great opportunity for people to see what smart/insightful/great/awesome director you are!” So much for that plan.

The silver lining is that none of the following career-ending mistakes has actually ended my career, and even though it may sound like it here, I’m not ALWAYS making career-ending mistakes – just sometimes. And I’m lucky to be busy enough to provide myself ample opportunities to make them, which means I must be doing something right. Right?

Anyhow, here goes. I hope you enjoy these mistakes more than I did!

1. Thinking a mistake could be career ending
Boom. I could end the list here and I’d feel like it was worth it because this mistake is the greatest mistake of all. To be clear, there are, of course, massive mistakes one could make to actually bring your career to a halt, but most of us simply aren’t making those.

Once I freed myself of the fear of making mistakes, I was able to produce more creative work, to explore ideas and shots and scenes in more unexpected ways and generally push toward stronger storytelling. And when you inevitably do make a mistake, use that experience as a reminder that there’s always a better way to do something — it’s an incredible way to grow and learn and push forward. And if my words don’t ring true here, take it from the really cheesy motivational poster of mossy boulders dotting through a pond that declares, “Mistakes are the stepping stones to success.” Sage advice from the fantastic folks over at Successories.

2. Thinking one not-great project spells T-h-e  E-n-d
One “miss” used to feel like it was a death knell, so I avoided “missing” at all costs, and missed a handful of solid opportunities in the meantime. But I quickly realized just how much growth and learning can come from even the least expected places. I’ve swung to the opposite end of the spectrum – eager to shoot and learn and improve as much as I can. Some of the best work I’ve done has come as a result of those opportunities and relationships, and while not every project is going to be a grand slam, you’ve got to swing.

3. Aiming for perfection
There’s nothing worse than pressure associated with targeting perfection, and it has led to moments where a scene just doesn’t feel believable or a project falls flat and predictable. I’ve since learned to embrace the process of discovery and it has made for an incredibly expansive process. I even like to work with creatives and crew to embed a sense of imperfection and idiosyncrasy into our filmmaking — from little imperfect reflections of light and little flaws in the production design to wardrobe that feels unplanned and actors’ performances that feel unrehearsed. It’s when things start to feel like they’ve not been designed that I start to believe them.

4. Thinking an agency’s storyboards are what they want the commercial to look like
There are so many reasons agency boards look the way they do, but what they aren’t is a blueprint of the only predetermined way to tell a story or film sequence. But that didn’t stop me from leaning too heavily on them, and ending up in an excruciatingly awkward series of conversations about why I made those choices. Them wondering why I’d locked into their boarded angles, and me not really having a reason behind the choices. The aim, I’ve found, is to see the idea through the client-friendly illustrations — to “read between the boards” and gauge where a campaign wants to go. Once you have that core, translating it into shots becomes something you can stand behind.

5. Telling an agency what they want to hear
Tell the agency exactly what you think they want to hear to land a job? Wrong. Regurgitating an agency call in a treatment, or pitching them a film they’d already pitched me, just doesn’t win the job. I take great pride, now, in not going into a pitch aiming to win it, but aiming to make the film the best it can be (with the belief, of course, that they’ll agree). The most “creative” creatives I’ve met and worked with over the years have proved quite keen to be challenged and to be shown where and how the work can improve. It’s important to work with collaborators who are aiming for great, not just good enough. Architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I couldn’t have said it better.

6. Pushing way too far
Yep, guilty of that, too. And believe me, it’s not pretty. If you do push to far, those treatments end up in the bottom drawer.

7. Not listening
With all that said… it can be tempting to go whole hog in a particular direction, and I have! But if that’s not the direction they’re headed, there’s only pain and anguish. So, really listening and hearing out an agency and client is invaluable to unearthing the reason they’re spending all this money, and how to best direct those resources.

8. Thinking I needed to do other people’s jobs
In my mind, there used to be an expectation that the director should know (and often do) all. But to be honest, I found that I’d get stretched thin dealing with budget issues, wrinkles in the calendar or the how the on-set effects team was working out a rig… and to a degree that the storytelling would suffer. I still am involved with all of those things (and always will be), but I do find relief realizing I’m working with an incredible crew of filmmakers and craftsmen, who kick ass at their jobs and whose art I respect. Simply letting them do their jobs, then, frees me up to do mine — part of which is to bug them about their work. So, I probably didn’t lay off long, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

9. Waiting around for boards
Waiting around for boards won’t help more boards to come in, and I’ve never felt so close to the guillotine than when I was just waiting. As soon as I stopped waiting and started producing — shorts, music videos, even video tests and experiments, all of a sudden I was busier than ever. Work certainly begets work, and the more you do the more will come.

10. Writing an article about all the worst mistakes I ever made
Then there was that one. Let’s hope it’s not the last.


Trevor McMahan is a director at Rocket Film. This commercial and film production house has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

Atomos brings 4K HDR monitors/recorders on set

Atomos, makers on the Shogun and Ninja on-set systems, has introduced new products targeting 4K HDR and offering brightness and detail simultaneously — field monitor/recorders Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame.

The Atomos Flame Series features a calibrated 7-inch field monitor, which displays 10 stops of the luminance detail of LOG with 10-bit HDR post production color accuracy. While the AtomHDR engine resolves HDR brightness detail (dynamic range) with 10-bit color accuracy, it also resolves 64 times more color information than traditional 8-bit panels. For Rec709 standard dynamic range scenes, the 1500nits brightness aids with outdoor shooting as does the upgraded continuous power management system that allows users to shoot shooting longer in the field. The Flame series, which offers a cost effective solution to the growing demands for HDR image capture and on set viewing, also features pro 4K/HD Apple ProRes/DNxHR recording, playback and editing.

We threw a few questions at Atomos president Matt Cohen (who many of you know from Tekserve) regarding the new gear…

What’s the most important thing people should know about Atomos Flame Series?
Atomos Flame Series products empower realtime visualization of HDR on set and in post using LOG from the camera and our 10-bit AtomHDR processing. We explain it here

Are we really looking at 10 different stops? That’s a ton of bandwidth. How can you accomplish that?
It’s magic! Well, not really… it’s math. LOG is the trick; it basically takes the range and squishes it. That’s why when looking at a LOG signal it looks all washed out — it has transformed the brightest part into something representable using current technology same with the darkest areas. So, basically, it is making the changes much more subtle in the image that can then be interpreted into the true levels they represent. We do that in realtime with AtomHDR.

The Series works with all cameras, as long as they have a live video tap?
Our products have always been compatible with cameras that have a clean output, meaning there is no menu data overlaid or degradation to the output. We get the pristine image from the sensor before any of the compression or degradation that occurs recording internally to the camera.

In how many different ways can this be used on set? Focus, Composition, Color, etc?
All the Atomos Monitor tools are still available. We have very accurate scopes and focus tools. You can use this on set for all aspects you describe. There is calibrated monitoring focus and exposure tools, including waveform vectorscope and RGB Parade, We have Graticule support and even support to de-squeeze anamorphic. We also feel confident the Flame tools will be very valuable in post production, enabling most systems to work with HDR and UWG (Ultra Wide Gamut) content.

Here are some key features of the Flame Series:
– AtomHDR monitors, which offer a dynamic range to match that of a 10-bit camera LOG footage, provide the detail in highlights and shadows usually clipped on traditional monitors.

– Is an advanced field monitor even in non-HDR scenarios with 1500nits brightness for outdoor shooting, native full HD resolution and optional calibration to ensure natural LCD color drift can be corrected over time.

– Users can  record directly from the sensor in 4K UHD (up to 30p) or record high frame rate HD (up to 120p).

– Along with recording the high pixel density of 4K, the Ninja and Shogun Flame also record higher resolution 10-bit color information and more precise yet efficient 4:2:2 color encoding.

– Recording to Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHR visually lossless edit-ready codecs allow users to capture full individual frames like film, allowing for more flexibility and creativity in post.

– The Series features an armor protection, dual battery hot-swappable continuous power system and included accessories, such as a new fast charger and snap-fast sun hood.

– Atomos’ hot-swappable dual battery system for continuous power is backed up with the included power accessories (2 x 4-cell batteries, D-Tap adaptor and fast battery charger).

– There are focus and exposure tools, 3D custom Looks, waveforms (LUMA and RGB) and vectorscopes.

– XLR audio via breakout cables are available for Shogun Flame or 3.5mm line level input with audio delay, level adjustment and dedicated audio meters with channel selection for Ninja Flame.

– The Flame Series supports affordable, readily available SSDs.

Shogun Flame and Ninja Flame are available for sale on March 28.

Post vet Brian Gaffney joins Codex as VP of biz dev

Codex has hired long-time post industry veteran Brian Gaffney at its VP of business development. He is based at Codex’s LA office and heads up Codex’s business development efforts across the Americas, Australia and New Zealand.

Gaffney comes to Codex from Technicolor, where he was product manager for Technicolor’s Advanced Production Technology Group in development of cloud-based workflows. He joined Technicolor in 2006 when his company Creative Bridge, a provider of on-set digital lab services, was acquired. Gaffney was then named VP of Technicolor’s On Location Services. With Technicolor/Creative Bridge, he worked on over 100 projects using the DP Lights on-set color correction system, including Iron Man 3, where he worked alongside cinematographer John Toll, ASC. Earlier in his career Gaffney worked at Turbo Squid, MTI Film and Autodesk, where he was responsible for sales of the Discreet product line in the Americas.

“Brian has deep roots in both VFX and on-location services. This combination, along with his recent experience in cloud-based services, makes him ideal for this new position at Codex, which we’ve created to support the continued expansion of our product line,” explains Marc Dando, managing director of Codex.

Meet Light Iron co-founder/VP of operations Katie Fellion

NAME: Katie Fellion

COMPANY: LA- and NYC-based Light Iron (@light_iron)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Light Iron asks creatives what is important for them to tell their stories, and then pairs those answers with specific technologies to create the best pictures possible.

Sometimes we create a new tool or process to accomplish those goals. Sometimes we repurpose how a current technology is being used. But we package all that innovation and experimentation under the auspices of post-production services for on-set mobile dailies and picture finishing so we can continue to develop our creative and technological curiosity as well as pay our bills.

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NAB: MTI Film at NAB with new Cortex CarryOn, portable dailies solution

Las Vegas — At NAB, MTI Film is introducing Cortex CarryOn, its new, portable, all-in-one, on-set dailies solution. Capable of processing dailies at resolutions up to 4K from all of the most popular digital cinema cameras (including Arri, Sony, Canon and Red), Cortex CarryOn comes with MTI Film’s Cortex Dailies Enterprise Edition software on an optimized platform. It features a liquid-cooled Intel i7 processor for ultra-quiet operation, a 12TB SSD RAID, GPU-accelerated rendering and both Thunderbolt 2 and USB3.0 technology for fast transfers. It’s compact, lightweight and rugged, and features a price tag of $35,000.

Cortex CarryOn is backed by MTI Film’s worldwide service and support. “We designed Cortex CarryOn for producers and rental houses seeking a plug-and-play dailies appliance Continue reading