Tag Archives: Oscars

The A-List: Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan

By Iain Blair

It’s been 16 years since filmmaker and playwright Kenneth Lonergan made his prize-winning debut at Sundance with You Can Count on Me, which he wrote and directed. The film won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay.

Lonergan’s most recent film is also garnering award attention. Directed by one of the most distinctive writing talents on the American indie scene today, Manchester by the Sea, fulfills that earlier promise and extends Lonergan’s artistic vision.

Kenneth Lonergan

Both an ensemble piece and an intense character study, Manchester by the Sea tells the story of how the life of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a grieving and solitary Boston janitor, is transformed when he reluctantly returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after the sudden death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). It’s also the story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, and a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.

Co-produced by Matt Damon, the film from Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios — which received four SAG nominations, a crucial Oscars barometer — has a stellar behind-the-scenes list of collaborators, including DP Jody Lee Lipes (Trainwreck, Martha Marcy May Marlene), editor Jennifer Lame (Mistress America, Paper Towns), composer Lesley Barber (You Can Count on Me) and production designer Ruth De Jong (The Master, The Tree of Life).

I recently spoke with Lonergan about making the film and his workflow.

I heard Matt Damon was very involved in the genesis of this. How did this project come about?
Matt, his producer Chris Moore and John Krasinski were talking on the set of this film they were shooting about ideas for Matt’s directing debut. Matt and John brought me the basic idea and asked me to write it. So, I took some of their suggestions and went off and spent a couple of years working on it and expanding it. I don’t really start off with themes when I write. I always start with characters and stories that seem compelling, and then let the themes emerge as I go, and with this it became about people dealing with terrible loss, with the story of this man who’s carrying a weight that’s just too much to bear. It’s about loss, family and how people cope.

Is it true that Damon was going to star in it originally?
Yes, but what actually happened was that John was going to star and Matt was going to direct it, but then John’s schedule got too busy and then Matt was going to star and direct it, and then he also got too busy, so then I came onboard to also direct.

You ended up with a terrific cast. What did Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges bring to their roles?
Casey’s a truly wonderful actor who brings tremendous emotional depth even without saying much in a scene. He’s very hard working, never has a false moment and really has the ability to navigate through the complicated relationships and in the way he deals with people.

Michelle has a tremendous sense of character and is just brilliant, I think. She brings a beautiful characterization to the film and has to go through some pretty intense emotions. They’re both very generous actors, as there are a lot of people they have to interact with. They’re not show-boaters who just want to get up there and emote. And Lucas is this real find, a very talented young actor just starting out who really captured this character.

You shot this on location all over Cape Ann. How tough was it?
It was a bit grueling, as we shot from March until April and it was pretty cold a lot of the time, especially during prep and scouting in February. We had some schedule and budget pressures, but nothing out of the ordinary. I loved shooting around Cape Ann — the locals were great, and the place really seeped into the film in a way that I’m very happy about.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because of the quiet and the chance to really concentrate on making the film. I also like the lack of administrative duties and the sudden drop in the large number of people I’m responsible for on a set. It’s just you, the editor and editorial staff. Some of the technical finishing procedures can be a bit tiring after you’ve seen the film so many times, but overall post is very enjoyable for me.

I loved my editor, and doing all the sound mixing; it was so much fun putting it all together and seeing the story work, all without the stress of the shoot. You still have pressures, but not on the same scale. We did all the post in New York at Technicolor Postworks, and we worked from May through September so it was a pretty relaxed schedule. We had our basic template done by October, and then we did a bunch of little fixes from that point on so it would be ready for Sundance. Then we did a bit more work on it, but didn’t change much — we added four minutes.

Talk about working with editor Jennifer Lame. Was she on the set?
No, we sent her dailies in New York and we never actually met face-to-face until after the shoot. I had to interview her on the phone when she was in LA working on another job, and we got along right away. She’s a wonderful editor. We began cutting on Avid Media Composer at Technicolor Postworks and then did some over the summer at my rental house in Long Island, where she’d come over and set up. Then we finished up back in New York.

How challenging were all the flashbacks to cut, as they’re quite abrupt?
All the flashbacks were very interesting to put together, but they didn’t really present more of a challenge than anything else because they’re such an intrinsic part of the whole story. We didn’t want to telegraph them and warn the audience by doing them differently. We discussed them a lot. Should they be color-timed differently? Should they be shot differently? Look and sound different?

In the end, we decided they should be indistinguishable from the rest, and it’s mainly only because of the content and behavior that you know they’re flashbacks. They were fun to weave into the story, and the more seamless they were the better we liked it. Jennifer actually pointed out that it was almost like telling two stories, not just one, because that’s how Lee experiences the world. He’s always dealing with memories which pop up when they’re least wanted, and when he returns home to Manchester he’s flooded by memories — for him the past and present are almost the same.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter scenes, so you must have needed some visual effects?
Some, but not that much. Hectic Electric in Amsterdam did them all. We had some snow enhancement, we added some smoke, clean-up and did some adjustments for light and weather, but scenes like the house fire were all real.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s hard to overstate. For me, music has the biggest influence on the feeling of a scene after the acting — even more than the cinematography in how it can instantly change the tone and feeling. You can make it cheerful or sad or ominous or peaceful just with the right music, and it adds all these new layers to the story and goes right to your emotions. So I love working with my composer and finding the right music.

Then I asked [supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer] Jacob Ribicoff to record sounds up in Cape Ann at all our locations — the particular sound of the marina, the woods, the bars — so it was all grounded in reality. The whole idea of post sound, which we did at Technicolor Postworks with Jacob, was to support that verisimilitude. He used Avid Pro Tools. There’s no stylization, and it was also about the ocean and that feeling of never being far from water. So the sound design was all about placing you in this specific environment.

Where did you do the DI?
We did the color correction with Jack Lewars, also at Technicolor Postworks. He did the final grade on Autodesk Flame. We shot digitally but I think the film looks very filmic. They did a great job.

Did it turn out the way you first envisioned it?
Pretty much, but it always changes from the script to the screen, and once you bring in your team and all their contributions and the locations and so on, it just expands in every direction. That’s the magic of movies.


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.

DP Vittorio Storaro on color and Woody Allen’s ‘Café Society’

Legendary Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro has had a storied career that includes three Oscar wins for his work on Apocalypse Now (1979), Reds (1981) and The Last Emperor (1987). To call his career prodigious would be an understatement.

One of his most recent projects was for writer/director Woody Allen’s Café Society, which follows a young man from Brooklyn to Hollywood and back to New York City in the 1930s. Two filmmaking legends teaming up on one film? How could we not check in with Storaro to talk about his work on Café Society, which represented Allen’s first taste of digital shooting?

You’ve done 58 movies on film. What was your first experience with DI?
A long time ago, someone at Kodak asked me what I thought about digital intermediate versus film. Because I had already started doing transfer from film to telecine, I had some experience with the process. But the quality was not there yet — digital cameras and color correctors were still in their infancy back then.

My first experience in digital finishing was on a movie called Muhammad: The Messenger of God. In 2011 and 2012, we were doing the pre-production and production of the film, which we shot in Iran. I shot on film because, in my opinion, no digital camera could handle such drastic changing weather conditions. One segment, though, was transferred digitally, mostly for VFX purposes.

For the post of the film in 2013, we sent all the negative material to Arri as both Kodak and Technicolor Italy had closed. Arri scanned the negatives in 4K 16-bit. After that we decided to do the entire DI at ScreenCraft where I could review the film in a 4K 16-bit color screening, which is very important. It was an almost 100 percent switch from film to digital. They also had a FilmLight Baselight system in their screening room that we moved into their beautiful 4K theatre so we could work in the optimal environment.

The colorist at ScreenCraft was not used to doing films, as he had mainly worked on video and TV, so I had to influence him step-by-step, feeling the story. My advice to him was to work on color in realtime, listen to the dialogue, understand the dynamic and not just concentrate on the technical aspect of the fixed images.

In cinematography, the first image doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be the starting point, and it is moving in time until you reach the end. So when you see an image through Baselight, you have to think about what you really want to achieve. This is somehow a visual journey, which follows the path of the world where the characters interact, or the music plays.

It is fantastic to have color correction in realtime. Baselight through the 4K 16-bit video projector gave me my first taste of this great opportunity.

How did you come to shoot and finish Café Society digitally?
When Woody Allen asked me to do Café Society, he had never done a digital capture before. At that time, I knew it was a chance to step up to this new digital world. I chose the Sony F65 camera so that the image we had on set was as close to the final image as possible. I had experienced the first CineAlta digital video cameras from Sony in the past and valued the quality of the Sony equipment. I know that what I see on set is 90 percent of exactly what I will see in finishing. Plus, I wanted to work with a camera that gave me a ratio close to the 2:1 aspect ratio that was suggested to me by Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, along with 4K resolutions.

We also had a 4K 16-bit video projector because that was my previous experience and my preference. And for the post production of the movie at Technicolor PostWorks NY, I asked specifically for the color grading to be done on Baselight. It was good news, as they already had the system!

This is when colorist Anthony Raffaele joined your color journey?
Anthony Raffaele was originally only supposed to be the colorist for the DI, but with Technicolor we decided to have him on board from start to finish. In Italy, we are used to having a technician next to us from the beginning to the end of a project. To me, if the color process moves from one person to another from dailies to post to DI, you risk wasting all the history, the knowledge and the experience that has been built, and in my opinion it’s the best experience that I’ve had.

What is the look of the Café Society and its journey?
In my mind, the movie is in four different parts: it starts in the Bronx in 1935, then moves to Hollywood, then the main character comes back to New York and then to LA. In essence, it is four different looks, while keeping an overall style. I wanted to see the subtle differences in the dailies. I’d get the dailies on Blu-ray copies for me to watch on a calibrated Sony monitor, so it was very, very close to what I had on set. That was the process with Woody Allen too.

Anthony often came to Los Angeles during shooting, and when I was in New York we’d watch the dailies together. Looks were saved to SD cards as LUTs with notes. Every day Anthony was going through all the shots and applying the LUT that he already had, then he would make adjustments according to my notes. We practically grew up together through the entire film. And when we arrived to do the DI we had the right experience to continue.

For finishing, we graded using ACES with Baselight converting to XYZ. We got the EDL from editorial, pulled all the RAW media files from the LTO and conformed in Baselight. I told Anthony to always compare source material with the edited version. Check meticulously for any difference and get the feeling of our original intent. It is very easy to get lost in DI.

It is also very important to me to watch the film with sound, even if it’s temporary sound. The dialogue between two characters can give you some kind of feeling, which impacts the light, for instance. Or the time they have spent talking, everything is always moving. Or the music. If you don’t take notice of the words and sound you cannot adjust the color accordingly. Having said that, Woody also asked to watch the corrected copy without sound.

How much time did you spend on the DI overall?
It depends on the movie, of course, but I usually personally get involved in the DI of the movie over a week. Some movies require more time. It also depends on the relationship you have with the colorist. I don’t know how much time Anthony spent in the dark room polishing the movie without me. He is a perfectionist and because I was always pushing our creative intent, he probably spent time seeing what features within Baselight could do more. I’ve always encouraged him to perfect his art and technical knowledge. I’d say, “Can we try this? Can I look at that? What if we try it? Tell me, show me.”

You talked about the evolution from film to digital to DI. How would you say the role of a cinematographer has changed in this time?
The main change is that before digital, nobody was able to tell how the film would ultimately look. Only the cinematographer — through perception, knowledge, culture, intelligence, technology and experience — would eventually predict how the image would end up looking. Today, with digital capture and high-end technology, the standards are higher and reachable, and pretty much everyone can tell if it’s good or ugly, too contrasted, too bright and so on. Digital video cameras have mostly made everything automatic, you don’t even have to think anymore. But knowing the technology is not enough.

You need to know the meaning of the visual elements as well. Know ALL the arts that are part of cinematography. Cinema is a common art, not a single one. A good cinematographer will bring feeling and composition from the storyline, adding the emotion, the feeling and his own perception to the film — to know how one color connects to another color and the kind of emotional reaction you can have in relation to them.

What about the colorist’s role nowadays?
Firstly, I would say that a colorist has to know everything about production on set so that he or she can cover the journey of the project. Anthony told me, “I learned so much working with you, Vittorio, because I’m not used to being asked the things you ask me, and no one explained the why to me.” I was always referencing paintings, always showing him pictures and explaining why the artist had chosen this particular content or softness for instance.

Secondly, to reach that level where you can transfer a completely abstract idea into images and materialize concepts, the colorist has to know and control the grading system he is using as well as the tools sitting in his color suite.

Finally, the more you go to museums, read books and look at photography, the more you know about art and its evolution. I had such an experience when I was at Technicolor in Rome. A color supervisor I was working with, Ernesto Novelli, had an incredible sensitivity to images. If I asked him to do something, he might suggest adding four red, which I thought was crazy, but he would do so and the image was there, it was superb. He was able to use the technology to achieve the look of the image I wanted. Without such talent the technology doesn’t mean much.

On Café Society we worked effectively because Anthony knew Baselight very well. If I could give any advice to colorists, I would say they have to really know their console to reach the true potential capabilities of the machine. Learn, keep learning and never stop.

———————–
Vittorio Storaro is currently in pre-production on the following films: 33 díasStory of Jesus, The Hunchback and Bach.

Colorist John Dowdell talks about the look of ‘Carol’

By Randi Altman

Todd Haynes’ Carol, about two women who fall in love in New York City in the 1950s, received six Oscar noms this year, including one for Best Cinematography. Despite its setting, this beautifully captured film was actually shot in Cincinnati because of its architectural resemblance to 1950’s Manhattan.

But the post was done in New York. One of the movie’s producers, Goldcrest Films, has a post house there, so Carol’s edit team called that location home for about seven months. It was there that editor Affonso Gonçalves and his assistant Perri Pivovar enjoyed a close relationship with Goldcrest’s in-house, veteran colorist John Dowdell, who was also working on the film.

The editors would often call Dowdell into the edit suite to find out what he could accomplish in his color suite. For example, one challenge the edit team had was the film — which takes place during Christmas — went over a little. So some of it was shot at the end of the winter and into the spring. There were some pesky green leaves and grass that needed browning and Dowdell obliged.

John Dowdell

John Dowdell

“With the Quantel Revolver tool I selected a range of green pixels and changed the hue and the saturation towards a winter brownish color,” he explains. “The Revolver output is a LUT offset, which adds no noise and creates a very natural appearance, which is far superior then an HSL key.”

The film features over 100 visual effects shots — VFX supervisor Chris Haney brought on his own company and other New York-based effects houses — including totally convincing CG snow and CG buildings.

Dowdell was able to achieve other simple effects, such as removing signage and things that were distracting. “Quantel Rio 4K has a Paintbox in it, and I removed a lot of that stuff by painting it out,” he says.

Let’s dig in a bit further with Dowdell.

Carol was shot on film. Can you talk about that?
Carol was shot by cinematographer Edward Lachman. It was shot on Kodak Super 16 with an Arriflex 416 camera that is pin-registered, which was needed for all this effects work. I’m so glad they shot it on 16mm film because they were trying to duplicate the way 35mm film looked 60 years ago — and even as good as digital cameras are, it would’ve been very hard to reproduce that classic film look. The randomness of the grain is very beautiful.

That was their choice, and I think it was a brilliant one. Also, film gave us beautiful radiant flesh tones, deep textured blacks, and plenty of detail in even the brightest highlights.

What was the workflow like?
Every day the film would be shipped from Cincinnati to Technicolor in New York for processing — at that time, Technicolor and Deluxe shared the lab at the Deluxe building. The film would get processed to a negative and then picked up by Goldcrest.

The film was scanned at Goldcrest by Boon Shin Ng and Michelle Ambruz on an Arri Scanner. The Arri has a dailies mode where it will scan pin-registered quite fast at 15fps with a single flash. The Arri flashes red, green and blue LEDs onto the monochrome 3K CMOS chip, which is the same chip that’s in the Alexa camera, but without a Bayer filter, so it’s a B&W chip.

CAROL

When the edit is complete, the Arri scans the selects with handles also at 3K. This time the RGB is flashed twice. The second flash is 10 times brighter and merges the two together in an HDR algorithm capturing everything in the negative with great signal-to-noise ratio. In addition, the film gets an infrared flash. The infrared spectrum is not absorbed by the cyan, magenta and yellow dyes of the film. Dirt particulates, however, will block the Infrared creating a dirt map for the Kodak Digital Ice to do its magic. Scanning is about 3fps in this mode.

Who did the dailies?
Boon Shin prepped with Colorfront Express Dailies. MXF files were synced and metadata of scene take numbers were entered during the day, then the Colorfront was handed over to colorist Scott Olive for scene-to-scene color grading in the evening. DP Ed Lachman would call Scott each night and discuss the footage he would be working on and would go over Scott’s work from the day before.

Scott would then send the color corrected H.264 files over the Goldcrest FTP server to Ed. The Avid MXF Files were ready for Affonso and Perri in the morning in their edit room here at Goldcrest. When the film edit was locked, Boon Shin conformed the film in the Quantel Rio 4K with the 2K DPX scans.

What direction were you given from Todd and Ed? Were you given any sort of examples of what they wanted the look to be?
Todd had a thing called a Look Book. It’s a thick scrapbook filled with images he liked. He worked with production designer Judy Becker and with Ed Lachman on it, so this book set the looks. He found images he liked from the ’50s, mostly from print. There were ads and work from photographers like Ruth Hawkin.

I had a color reference light for Todd so he could view the tear sheets. We would look at the shots and Todd would explain the look, the saturation and the muted values — images that referenced the 1950’s era.

Both Todd and Ed liked when colors were muted, a little more green with maybe some warmth — the combination of cold and warm in the same frame — so mixed color temperatures.

It was a great start, but even during the DI color timing Todd would look through his book, turn the reference light on, look at his picture then look at the screen. He would say, “Give that a little tweak, add two points of red, or let’s go a little dark by four points.” Film lab timers have always worked in RGB Film Printer Lights. There are six points to an F-Stop change.

Both Todd and Ed had timed films in the past. In the DI world the points work identically to photochemical printing. It really is a great way of communicating color. Ed could ask me to add two points of green, then Todd might ask to see three points. Technically, it’s the proper way to time in DI.

You worked with Todd and Ed at the same time?
They were always together. We did a lot of experimenting with color, and Todd and Ed sometimes had different opinions of where they wanted to go with it. You have to show the one look, save the metadata of that, do another look and go back and forth. That’s how color correction works. It’s very interactive.

Can you talk about a particular scene from the film?
In the opening scenes of the department store the palette is a muted green. It’s an uncomfortable time for Rooney’s character. Ed works with filters and mixed light sources to produce the desired looks in-camera, but leaves plenty of range for DI visualization.

When things are getting better in their relationship, the colors become gentler and more beautiful with more warmth. Ed would reference the Kodak Film Ektachrome for its bluish greenish values compared to the rich warm saturated colors of Kodachome.

My RIT education in Photographic Arts and Sciences has served me well my entire career. My favorite Ansel Adams quote is, “The negative is the score and the print is the performance.” Ed made a beautiful score and we collectively produced a great performance in my DI suite.

ROONEY MARA stars in CAROL. Did anything surprise you about the color?
A lot of shots are much darker than most directors and DPs ask for. Often they say, “I want to see more, open it up. I want to see brighter, what else can I see in this shot?” It was kind of the reverse on this. They both liked it rather dark. I used the S-curve function for almost every shot in Carol. With it, I can place my black and white points and then pivot all the mid-tone transitions. I can make very dark images without crushing any of the blacks. A great number of the shots have a subtle vignette applied — light fell off at the edges with camera lenses of that era.

Can you give an example?
The scene where Cate Blanchet’s character is in the child custody hearing and makes her heart wrenching speech — I added more S-curve , brought the lift down and increased gamma. Todd said no, no, even darker. Once we got down there, it was like, “Wow, this works.” It’s very effective. It’s more realistic, and adds more drama into a powerful scene.

They used a lot of natural Window light. Kate’s flesh tone and brightness changed a bit. My job was to make sure it was all totally even.

Were there any scenes in particular that stood out as more challenging or something that you’re most proud of?
I love the DI process because it’s so interactive, and I like problem solving. There’s one shot where Cate is touching the telephone hang-up button with her Index finger. She’s listening to Rooney but not responding.

Todd was concerned because the hand was too sharp from one finger to the other, and he wanted less depth of field — Super 16 has a large depth of field. So I put a diagonal window through her Index finger, the one that’s touching the hang-up button. Then I feathered off a Gaussian transfer curve into the background, used a  Gaussian de-focus on the Quantel and put a little defocus on, blending it as the fingers rolled off further back and forward, so that the emphasis was on the index finger. He loved it. That solved the problem.

Anything else stick out in your mind?
The last scene, the beautiful encounter at the Oak Room, I’m really proud of that. That has a great look. It started with gorgeous photography, but I had an idea that Todd and Ed really liked. In the scene, Cate is having dinner with friends surrounded by diners and waiters.

What I did was track a little bit of a window on Kate and feathered it off, and then outside that window desaturated everyone a little bit. I also brought a little bit more highlight detail onto Kate, so the image popped. Just think about how eye contact works — you’re not interested at all in your surroundings or who’s sitting at the back table. It’s just them.

CAROLNow Kate pops out a bit and everything just kind of feathers off a little, and she’s just radiant. I did the same thing to Rooney. It’s very subtle, but it helps tell that story. No dialogue was needed; it was all said in their eyes.

Why is the Pablo Rio the right tool for you?
Ten years ago, we built the DI suite at Goldcrest around the Pablo, which at the time was a brand-new product from Quantel. Quantel’s iQ was a conforming machine, an editing machine, an effects machine, titler and Paintbox — all in one. The only thing it really didn’t do was color… until they came out with the Pablo iQ. They invented an interface box to deal with color!

It was also the only machine at that time that could do different canvas sizes, different speeds and different resolutions, all on the same timeline. With every other system you would have to commit to one resolution. It was important to have everything in its native resolution.

Most recently we replaced those Pablos with the Quantel Rio 4K, which has a much faster processor. I can now play 4K with multi-levels of color correction in realtime without rendering.

What’s next for you?
I recently completed something I’m really proud of. It’s called The New Yorker Presents, and it’s 10 half-hour films from Amazon Studios and Jigsaw Productions. It’s basically a film version of The New Yorker magazine. Each episode is a collection of short docs, interstitials and there celebrated cartoons being crated by the artist at hyper speed.

There are two features coming into Goldcrest now, but I can’t talk about those yet.

The A-List: Mike Hill on editing ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

By Randi Altman

Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick, is a classic tale of man versus whale. The famously long book — commonly used as a metaphor for fighting one’s demons — is known for its obsessed protagonist Captain Ahab and its famous first line, “Call me Ishmael.” What people might not know is the book was based on the true story of a whaling ship called, the Essex, which in 1820 was attacked by a giant whale, leaving the crew fighting the elements, starvation and this monster of the sea.

In the recent film by director Ron Howard, In the Heart of the Sea, viewers get to know the story that Moby-Dick was based on. To help tell the tale, Howard called on veteran editor and long-time collaborator Mike Hill, who has edited 23 films for the director and collaborated on about 30.

L-R: Ron Howard, Dan Hanley, basketball's Steve Nash and Mike Hill, who worked together on Iconoclasts.

L-R: Ron Howard, Dan Hanley, basketball’s Steve Nash and Mike Hill, who worked together on the “Iconoclasts” documentary series.

For Arri Alexa-shot In the Heart of the Sea, Hill once again worked with long-time editing partner Dan Hanley, with whom he shares multiple “Best Editing” Oscar noms and a win for Apollo 13. Hill was kind enough to talk to us about the process of editing and the challenges and joys of cutting Warner Bros.’ In the Heart of the Sea, as well as working with director Howard.

How early in the process did you get involved in this one?
Basically, from the first day of shooting, which was back in the fall of 2013 over in England.

So you were near set?
Yes, we were at Warner Bros. Studio, which is north of London in Leavesden. It’s an old Rolls Royce factory, and they built a big water tank and a replica of the ship, the Essex. Our editing rooms where close by in one of their production buildings.

You and editor Dan Handley have partnered on many of Ron Howard’s films. Was he in London as well?
Yes. He got there earlier and set everything up so we were ready to go.

What about your assistant editors?
Our first assistant was Simon Davis. He is a Brit who we have worked with on several projects. He’s excellent and a very important part of the process. We had some other British second assistants as well, including Jeremy Richardson and our apprentice was Rob Sealey. Back in the States, Simon continued as first assistant but Carolyn Calvert came on as second assistant and Alec Johnson was our apprentice.

Heart of the Sea

Simon pretty much runs the cutting room and the technical aspects of the edit. He’s in charge of all the assistants and oversees everything. He is a wizard at all of that… very knowledgeable, technically oriented and computer savvy. This is a big help, since I’m not much of a computer guy. It’s great to have people like that behind you who let you focus on the job at hand.

This was Ron Howard’s second digitally-shot film?
Yes. Rush, which was about Formula One racing, was the first one he shot with digital cameras. But in terms of editing, we’ve been working digitally since 1996. Ransom was our first film on the Avid Media Composer. Prior to that, we had cut on film, the old-fashioned way.

How does the film being shot digitally affect your edit?
There are a lot of big differences regarding workload and the approach. On film, I developed a discipline — you really had to think about every cut you made and plan things ahead. We tended to let things play a little longer because it’s easier to trim than to put back. That was always our philosophy.

When we started using the Avid, it allowed us to instantly make changes without worrying about cutting into the work print, so you really didn’t have to worry about that so much. We learned that you could be a lot more experimental and try a lot of things without any problems. So that was a big difference.

Mike HIll

You started your career cutting on film. Now that you are editing digitally, are you still instinctually working on that first cut, or does having the ability to try different things change the way you edit?
That’s a good question. The way I approach editing a scene, hasn’t really changed because the way I learned is so engrained in me. But you can try out new ideas and if it doesn’t work you can just get rid of it. I do try those things, but my initial instincts, for the most part, are what end up in the film. Sometimes what you try is crazy and silly and you’re hoping to find something almost by accident, but that doesn’t happen often.

Did it happen at all while editing In the Heart of the Sea?
I don’t recall anything like that. Rush was a little more conducive to that because we had so many different images and angles to work with. We were trying to make it flashy. This film is a more old-fashioned; an old sea epic adventure which is more traditional. It didn’t lend itself to a lot of crazy, flashy editing.

How do you, Dan and Ron work together?
We are a well-oiled machine and have developed a real short hand that doesn’t require much dialogue in most cases. What’s great about working with Ron is he is the kind of director that doesn’t really need or want to be hovering over your shoulder when you’re working. He gives us a lot of freedom.

During the shoot, when he’s on the set, we don’t see him very often, but he might drop in on a break or at night or on the weekend. When he does, he’ll want to see some scenes that have been cut, but for the most part he leaves us alone. Ron gives us some very simple notes from the set sometimes about takes he might like or moments he likes; this is helpful because I use this to guide me along when I start a scene. That’s really all I need.

What about after the shoot?
When he’s done shooting, we try to keep up with the demand in terms of getting the scenes cut together. So by the time the shooting is done, we can show him the entire film within about a week or so. After that we will spend two to three weeks — or whatever it takes — with him and go through the entire film from beginning to end, scene by scene. We get all of his notes and reactions and then he’ll leave us alone again. We’ll dive into those notes and do those, then show it to him again. The process just continues like that — we’re whittling away, improving it, changing some takes, and this goes on for several months. After we start to screen it for audience for reactions, we get a whole other set of notes and adjustment requests.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA      IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

Considering how often you Howard’s films are there less notes over time?
(Laughs) No, I think it’s more now because he knows that we have the Avid. If there is a certain scene that might have some problems, Ron will give us an idea of what he wants and we’ll try different versions. This all increases the workload. I would say it’s a curse and a blessing all at the same time (laughs again).

When working with Dan, how do you guys decide who gets what scene or sequence?
It’s pretty random. The first scene that comes in, either he’ll take it or I’ll take it. Then the other one of us gets the second scene, and so on. The one thing we try to do throughout is identify the big scenes — the difficult ones and divided those equally between us, making sure that one guy isn’t doing all of the most difficult scenes.

Are you guys cutting in the same space logistically?
We’re in separate rooms, usually on opposite ends of the hallway with our assistants in the middle. What’s nice is every once in awhile if I’m stuck I call Dan in and have him look at something with a fresh eye and perspective. It’s a big help to have a guy you trust help you out like that.

For In the Heart of the Sea, was there a scene that was particularly difficult to cut?
For me there were two big ones. One was the scene where the whale attacks the ship and sinks it. That was shot sporadically throughout the entire schedule because some of it was shot in the tank in London and some was done in the Canary Islands, where they were for the final month and a half of the shoot.

They shot a lot of scenes pertaining to the attack, and I never got a complete set of dailies. I had to keep going back to the scene, adding in more material. It’s one of those scenes that had many different elementmains to it, plus the fact that the whale is all CG, and we really didn’t have temp shots, instead we would print out a storyboard still and use that as a representative cut. It’s one of those situations where you use your imagination to figure out the length of shots because there was really nothing to work with visually. Even though I enjoyed working on this bit, I’m not overly fond of these kinds of scenes because of the guesswork required. To me, the most interesting stuff to edit is the acting.

The other difficult scene was the second whale hunt, which leads up to that moment before Moby Dick attacks. The whales come in a huge pod and are frenzied and agitated. I didn’t have a lot to work with at first; the material would dribble in sporadically. Those are the two big ones that come to mind.

Anything else about the film that stands out?
It might surprise the viewer, but the most difficult sections was probably when they set sail and ran through a storm. Dan dealt with most of that, which I was thankful for. It was difficult because it was hard to set the tone. We needed to get the movie off to a good start, but for some reason it wasn’t quite working the way we wanted. We did solve it eventually; it’s just one of those things. You never know where your problems are going to come from sometimes.

Why was it so difficult?
There’s a lot of activity in those scenes. It was hard to get it all to work, and technically it all had to be correct. We had to have advisors come in and look at it because we didn’t know anything about sailing and there were the certain kind of sails that needed to be set.

IHOTS-TRL-439r     IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

Why do you like using the Avid?
The instant access to any of the takes is great and gives us the ability to experiment. It’s so much more civilized than running your film through sprockets and a Moviola, which is the way I learned. Even the KEM flatbeds seem primitive now compared to the Media Composer. It’s a nice, clean way to work.

Finally, what’s next for you project wise?
I won’t be in the edit suite anytime soon I’m afraid. I’m actually retired, and living in Omaha, my hometown.

Retired?! So that’s it?
Well, I won’t say absolutely not ever, I suppose after some time an irresistible script could suck me back in, but I’m not working on Ron’s current film Inferno, which is now in post. My spot was filled by Tom Elkins, a good friend who lives in Omaha as well. Tom has worked with us over the years as an assistant and then became an editor on some Wes Craven films.

Are you missing it at all?
I’m not missing it yet. Editing can be really rewarding, but at the same time incredibly tedious. I’m 66 now, and on Heart of the Sea I just started to feel like the time had come to ride off into the sunset and live life on my own schedule for a while.  So far it really feels good to slow down a bit and enjoy this new stage of life.

Academy names winners of Scientific and Technical awards

We in the industry know that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences don’t just give out gold statues, they also celebrate technology that has changed the way films are made. With that in mind, the Academy has announced that 10 scientific and technical achievements represented by 33 individual award recipients will be honored at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation on February 13, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. In addition, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) will receive a special award recognizing “a century of fundamental contributions to the advancement of motion picture standards and technology.”

“This year’s honorees represent a wide range of new tech, including a modular inflatable airwall system for composited visual effects, a ubiquitous 3D digital paint system and a 3D printing technique for animation,” said Richard Edlund, Academy Award-winning visual effects artist and chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. “With their outstanding, innovative work, these technologists, engineers and inventors have further expanded filmmakers’ creative opportunities on the big screen.”

Unlike other Academy Awards to be presented this year, achievements receiving Scientific and Technical Awards need not have been developed and introduced during 2015. Rather, the achievements must demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.

The Academy Awards for scientific and technical achievements are:

Technical Achievement Awards (Academy Certificates)
– Michael John Keesling for the design and development of Image Shaker, an optical system that convincingly creates the illusion of the camera shaking in a variable and repeatable manner. The Image Shaker was unique and superior to alternatives in use when it was invented two decades ago, and it continues to be used today.

– David McIntosh, Steve Marshall Smith, Mike Branham and Mike Kirilenko for the engineering and development of the Aircover Inflatables Airwall. This system of modular inflatable panels can be erected on location, at lengths reaching hundreds of feet, with exceptional speed and safety. When used to support blue or green screens, the Airwall permits composite shots of unprecedented scale.

– Trevor Davies, Thomas Wan, Jon Scott Miller, Jared Smith and Matthew Robinson for the development of the Dolby Laboratories PRM Series Reference Color Monitors. The PRM’s design allows the stable, accurate representation of images with the entire luminance range and color gamut used in contemporary theatrical feature presentation.

– Ronald Mallet and Christoph Bregler for the design and engineering of the Industrial Light & Magic Geometry Tracker, a novel, general-purpose tracker and solver. Geometry Tracker facilitates convincing interaction of digital and live-action elements within a scene. Its precise results and tight integration with other ILM animation technologies solve a wider range of match-animation challenges than was previously possible.

– Jim Hourihan, Alan Trombla and Seth Rosenthal for the design and development of the Tweak Software RV system, a highly extensible media player system. RV’s multi-platform toolset for review and playback, with comprehensive APIs, has allowed studios of all sizes to take advantage of a state-of-the-art workflow and has achieved widespread adoption in the motion picture industry.

– Richard Chuang and Rahul Thakkar for the groundbreaking design, and Andrew Pilgrim, Stewart Birnam and Mark Kirk for the review workflows and advanced playback features, of the DreamWorks Animation Media Review System. Over its nearly two decades of development, this pioneering system enabled desktop and digital theater review. It continues to provide artist-driven, integrated, consistent and highly scalable studio-wide playback and interactive reviews.

– Keith Goldfarb, Steve Linn, Brian Green and Raymond Chih for the development of the Rhythm & Hues Global DDR System. This consistent, integrated, production database-backed review system enables a recordable workflow and an efficient, collaborative content review process across multiple sites and time zones.

– J Robert Ray, Cottalango Leon and Sam Richards for the design, engineering and continuous development of Sony Pictures Imageworks Itview. With an extensive plug-in API and comprehensive facility integration including editorial functions, Itview provides an intuitive and flexible creative review environment that can be deployed globally for highly efficient collaboration.

Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques)
– Brian McLean and Martin Meunier for pioneering the use of rapid prototyping for character animation in stop-motion film production. Laika’s inventive use of rapid prototyping has enabled artistic leaps in character expressiveness, facial animation, motion blur and effects animation. Through highly specialized pipelines and techniques, 3D printing capabilities have been harnessed with color uniformity, mechanical repeatability, and the scale required to significantly enhance stop-motion animated feature films.

– Jack Greasley, Kiyoyuki Nakagaki, Duncan Hopkins and Carl Rand for the design and engineering of the Mari 3D texture painting system. Combining multilayer painting tools and a unique texture-management system, Mari simplifies working with large, high-resolution texture sets. It has achieved broad adoption in the visual effects industry, often supplanting long-term in-house systems.

The A-List: Director George Miller talks ‘Fury Road,’ Oscar season

By Iain Blair

The Oscar-winning writer/director/producer George Miller was instrumental in introducing the new wave of revved-up Aussie cinema to the world stage thanks to his seminal and highly influential apocalyptic road trilogy, Mad Max. But when the first in the series roared onto screens in the late seventies, it wasn’t just a fresh blast of non-stop action reeking of hot engines and even hotter desert winds from down under. Miller’s assured debut, a bleak vision of the future, essentially rewrote the book on how to make a successful low-budget indie action film (for 20 years it held the record as the highest profit-to-cost ratio of any film).

He then went on to create two more much-beloved franchises — Babe and Happy Feet — which did for talking animals what Mad Max did for young up-and-comer Mel Gibson.

Miller, whose diverse credits include directing The Witches of Eastwick, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Lorenzo’s Oil and producing Dead Calm, the thriller that jump-started Nicole Kidman’s career, was in LA recently to talk about Warner Bros. Mad Max: Fury Road. The $375 million-grossing smash is the fourth in the blockbuster series, which left off with Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, released exactly 30 years ago.

George Miller and writer Iain Blair

George Miller and writer Iain Blair

Starring Tom Hardy in the iconic Gibson role and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, the film was shot by John Seale, the acclaimed Aussie cinematographer who won the Oscar for The English Patient and whose credits include Cold Mountain, The Perfect Storm, Rain Man, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Lorenzo’s Oil with Miller. It was the DP’s first digital film and first time shooting with Arri Alexas (See our coverage on Seale shooting Fury Road here).

Over a nice meal, I spoke with Miller about making the film, posting Fury Road and the Oscars.

We’re heading into awards season. You’ve been nominated for three Oscars and you’ve won once, for Happy Feet. How important are they to you?
It’s a mistake to give it too much thought. It’s enough to just make a film that resonates with audiences, and I used to feel awards just aren’t important, but I’ve come to realize that culturally successful people — whether they’re directors or artists or musicians and so on — have the ability to analyze and reinforce what works. It’s always easy to see why something doesn’t work, but it’s far harder to pin down exactly why it works.

Is it true that you spent three years building 3D rigs from scratch to shoot Fury Road, and then at the last moment decided that the film would be shot in 2D instead?
We started off shooting native 3D with them, but suddenly we began to doubt that they’d hold up in all the heat and dust where we were shooting —the Namibian desert — as we only had six. And by then, stereo conversion was getting really good, so we decided to go digital with the Alexas, which were also supplemented with a Canon EOS 5D Mark 11 and an Olympus P5 used as “crash” cameras in some action sequences.

ONE TWO

Seale told me that — amazingly, given the non-stop action — the film was predominantly a one-camera shoot.
Yeah. Roman Polanski said, “At any given moment, there’s only one perfect camera position,” and I agree. So when I went into animation with the Happy Feet movies, it became really obvious, as you can take exactly the same performance, same set and so on, and by shifting the camera, the perspective and cutting pattern, you can change a scene completely. So yes, I’m a one-camera filmmaker in that sense.

Do you like the post process?
Very much. It’s where you confront your mistakes and where you can work around them, provided you have a good editor. We posted in Sydney in my offices, in this deco theatre, The Metro, and it took over a year. Then we did some extra shooting and the bookends to the movie, back in Australia.

The film was edited by your wife, Margaret Sixel, who also cut Happy Feet. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
We shot for nine months and she was back in Sydney, getting massive amounts of footage. Initially she didn’t want to do it because she’d never cut an action film before. I told her that was a great reason to do it since she wouldn’t be following all the clichés and tropes and style of those movies.

Charlize Theron and George Miller on set

Charlize Theron and George Miller on set

I’d seen her work on documentaries, where she’d taken some very bland footage and shaped it into a very strong narrative. She has this great sense of structure and causality of one shot to the next, either spatially or thematically — there’s some connection.

It struck me that this is essentially a silent movie, but with great sound.
That’s exactly what I set out to make, and we did the sound mix, the DI and post-viz as part of editorial, and did a lot of early sound work in Sydney, but then we ended up on the lot at Warners here in LA, and did the final Atmos mix here, too, with a great team: re-recording mixers Chris Jenkins and Gregg Rudloff.

Obviously, a lot of the action effects were shot in-camera, but there’s also huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
There are over 2,800 shots in the movie — which is a lot — and I’d say over 2,000 have some VFX elements. Andrew Jackson, who did 300, was the VFX supervisor. A lot of that was done as post-viz — so the team did simple comps or simple animation, erasures and so on, and if they were good enough, we didn’t pass them on to the VFX houses… Method or Iloura in Sydney.

You also brought Eric Whipp, a DI colorist from Toronto who did the Happy Feet films, down to work on it full-time?
Yeah, and in the DI he was really pushing the Baselights to do stuff like sky replacements. The problem was, we shot for nearly 140 days but the story happens over three days, so you needed consistency in the skies, and he was able to do all that very quickly and cheaply in the DI. We did a preliminary DI on the set and were grading our dailies, and we also had our own Baselights in the editing suites in Sydney.

All that was so important — having postviz, editorial and Baselight all working together. And often Margaret or her assistants would comp performances in editorial, so there’s a lot of plasticity between the cuts now that we didn’t have in the past when it was all celluloid. (See our interview with colorist Eric Whipp here)

Digital, especially in post, must really suit your style of filmmaking.
Completely. I learned so much from doing animation in the Babe and Happy Feet movies, and now nearly every film involves animation and CGI to some extent. The biggest advantage of digital on this film was safety — you just erase harnesses, wires and so on. And also being able to erase tire marks from previous takes. That was huge for us!

FURY ROAD THREE

The film has a very gritty and over-saturated look. Was that all done in post or was it a combination?
It was a combination of design and post. We designed it to be pretty monochrome. In a way it’s all variations of reds, browns, yellows and very little color.

There are all these rumors you’re going to shoot Mad Max: Wasteland next. True?
(Laughs) All I can say is it’s not even the real title, but we are definitely talking about it.

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

George Miller photos credit: Jasin Boland

Catching up with some Oscar nominees

By Randi Altman

On the heels of the recent Oscar nominations, postPerspective decided to reach out to a few of those chosen and gather their reactions.

Ben Grossmann was nominated for his work (alongside Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, and Burt Dalton) on Star Trek Into Darkness.  He is already the owner of a VFX Oscar statue for his contribution to Hugo (2011). Now a partner in Magnopus, a visual solutions companybased in downtown LA, Grossmann was at Pixomondo while working Star Trek Into Continue reading