Tag Archives: Sundance Film Festival

Rise Above

Sundance 2017: VR for Good’s Rise Above 

By Elise Ballard

On January 22, during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, the Oculus House had an event for their VR for Good initiative, described as “helping non-profits and rising filmmakers bring a variety of social missions to life.” Oculus awarded 10 non-profits a $40,000 grant and matched them with VR filmmakers to make a short film related to their community and cause.

One of the films, Rise Above, highlights a young girl’s recovery from sexual abuse and the support and therapy she received from New York City’s non-profit Womankind (formerly New York Asian Women’s Center).

Rise AboveRise Above is a gorgeous film — shot on the Nokia Ozo camera — and really well done, especially in as far as guiding your eye to the storytelling going on in a VR360 environment. I had the opportunity to interview the filmmakers, Ben Ross and Brittany Neff, about their experience. I was curious why they feel VR is one of the best mediums to create empathy and action for social impact. Check out their website.

Referencing the post process, Ross said he wore headsets the entire time as he worked with the editor in order to make sure it worked as a VR experience. All post production for VR for Good films was done at Reel FX. In terms of tools, for stitching the footage they used a combination of the Ozo Creator software from Nokia, Autopano Video from Kolor and the Cara plug-in for Nuke. Reel FX finished all the shots in Nuke (again making major use of Care) and Autodesk’s Flame for seam fixing and rig removal. TD Ryan Hartsell did the graphics work in After Effects using the mettle plug-in to help him place the graphics in 360 space and in 3D.

For more on the project and Reel FX’s involvement visit here.

The Oculus’ VR for Good initiative will be exhibiting will be at other major film festivals throughout the year and will be distributed by Facebook after the festival circuit.

Visit VR for Good here for more information, news and updates, and to stay connected (and apply!) to this inspiring and cutting-edge project.

Elise Ballard is a Los Angeles-based writer and author of Epiphany, True Stories of Sudden Insight, and the director of development at Cognition and Arc/k Project, a non-profit dedicated to preserving cultural heritage via virtual reality and digital media.

Whitehouse editor Lisa Gunning moves from London to LA

Whitehouse Post editor Lisa Gunning has relocated from the company’s London headquarters to its Los Angeles office. The move allows her to cut more long-form projects in addition to her spot work.

Gunning’s arrival at Whitehouse LA coincided with her editing the feature film Newness for commercial and narrative director Drake Doremus. The film was completed in only three months and premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Well known for her commercial work, Gunning wrapped Adidas’ Basketball Without Creativity starring James Harden for frequent director collaborator Stacy Wall in late 2016. In recent years, she has also teamed up with Wieden+Kennedy, 72 and Sunny, Y&R and BBH to work on brands including Nike, Corona, Landrover and Johnnie Walker.

Regarding her decision to relocate, Gunning explains that LA offers an opportunity to expand her commercial portfolio and cater to her long-form interests. “I feel like I’m in the epicenter of where my work is based now.”

Along with her spot work, Gunning has lent her editing talent to films including Nowhere Boy, Seven Psychopaths and Fifty Shades of Grey.

In addition to editing, Gunning has grown her directing skills with several projects, including three short films in collaboration with Nowness and Mini and multiple music videos. “Directing is great for editing, and what I learn on commercials is great for working in long-form,” she explains. “The varied experiences make me a better director and editor because I’m able to empathize with all of the processes and think of them as a whole, as opposed to just one side of it.”

The future is in Park City: highlights from Sundance’s New Frontier

By Kristine Pregot

The future is here, and I caught a glimpse of it while wearing VR glasses at the New Frontier. This is Sundance’s hottest place on the mountain. The Frontier is a who’s who of VR tech, design and storytelling.

These VR products aren’t exactly ready for household consumption yet, but the New Frontier has become a spot for developers to show off their latest and greatest in this ever-growing arena.

On the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Frontier’s dark hallway, you’ll find Oculus Rifts and HTC Vive stations lining the studio walls along with masked viewers sitting on comfy couches reaching for nothing, sitting side by side, but in their own dimension of (virtual) reality.

A very impressive exhibit was Holo-Cinema, a new technology being developed by Walt Disney Co.’s Lucasfilm to expand the Star Wars universe to your very own home. Users, wearing augmented glasses, journey through the Jakku desert and walk around a 3D C3PO while he paces and complains around you, like a hologram. If you were to walk into the room without the glasses, you would see an unfocused projection against the wall and under your feet.

Music meets storytelling was a big trend in the lab as well, with the Kendrick Lamar-scored installation Double Conscience from artist Kahlil Joseph featuring scenes from the inner city of LA rhythmically projected onto two walls and set to Kendrick’s new album.

Another fun and interactive piece that blended music with new technology was 3 Dreams of Black, a film by Chris Milk, with music from the album “Rome” by Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi, and featuring Norah Jones. Check it out here.

While Sundance is one of the top festivals for filmmakers, I’m impressed with the breadth of new storytelling tools and technology that were on display. I look forward to seeing how the programmers further integrate this type of experience in the years to come.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


Sundance 2016: My festival to-do list

By Kristine Pregot

As a first time Sundancer, I don’t have much expectations to be managed. I am simply thrilled at the opportunity to watch some great films and spend time with friends out west, but I do have a few things that are certainly high on my agenda for the week.

Lovesong

LoveSong, directed by So Yong Kim.

1. Promote our film in the festival — LoveSong
I am very excited for the premiere of LoveSong (competing in the dramatic competition) It was a pleasure to work with the film’s director So Yong Kim. Nice Shoes’ Sal Malfitano graded the film in Baselight, working very closely with So and the film’s two DPs to create a natural and wonderful tone for the film through color. The movie was also edited by So, and she established a a beautiful rhythm in the cut. The acting is just so natural — the characters and performances truly stay with you. I can’t wait to hear the reactions from festival goers.

2.  Check Out Sundance’s Brand’s Digital Storytelling Conference
This year, advertising agencies will have a chance to shine and compete in the festival! I am proud to admit that I am an “ad nerd.”  I have a fascination with advertising and how brands reach their audience. In our digital age — commercials are clearly not what they used to be and have expanded with the potential of new technologies.

Sundance has grown into one of the most important gatherings of independent storytelling, and the festival attracts creative thought leaders from around the world. Increasingly, brands and agencies are partnering with storytellers and journalists to create engaging content. So the opportunity to screen and network with the most talented storytellers sounds like a lot of fun. I really admire what brands are doing with short form storytelling and thrilled to see this competition at the festival.

3. Experience the New Frontier (in the Wild West)
The New Frontier exhibit at Sundance is now in it’s 10th year!!  I have heard from festival-goers in the past that this is where cutting-edge technology is experienced and tested by creative/thought leaders. The New Frontier showcases cinematic works and virtual reality installations, which include an extensive line-up of documentary and narrative mobile VR experiences.

I can’t wait to explore the future of our industry and have a sneak peek at what is being developed by these media research labs.

4.  Keeping My Options Open
I am the type of festival-goer who keeps my options open. Yes, there are films I want to see and old friends I will connect with, but there is a magic that happens at festivals when you catch wind of a hot buzz and discover something unexpected.

Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.


‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’: director/editor Kyle Patrick Alvarez

By Randi Altman

College students in a 1971 social experiment at Stanford University tried something new, with horrifying results. For writer/director/editor Kyle Patrick Alvarez, changing roles has been a much more positive experience. His third and most recent film as director is The Stanford Prison Experiment, released nationwide in mid-July but screened at Sundance in January.

The movie, based on the book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by the professor who ran the experiment, shows how power can corrupt. This is the third film that Alvarez has helmed (2013’s C.O.G. and 2009’s Easier With Practice), but the first he didn’t write. The screenplay by Tim Talbott, says the director, was one of those well-regarded but un-produced scripts that was known around town.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT Billy Crudup & Cast Photo by Jas Shelton

“I had known of the experiment, but not to the great detail and exacting qualities featured in the script,” explains Alvarez (@kylealvarez). “I thought it was fascinating, this challenge of being able to make a film that stayed true to the real events and still worked and functioned as a piece of cinema.”
Alvarez, who also edited The Stanford Prison Experiment, spoke to us about directing and cutting the film.

How did you transition from editing to directing?
When I first moved to LA, I was picking up editing jobs, but during that time I was also trying to get my first film off the ground. So there wasn’t necessarily a time period where I stopped being an editor.

When you’re directing, are you also wearing your editor hat? Does it influence the way you direct?
Yes, one hundred percent. I’m usually shooting 10 to 15 pages a day. I love getting coverage and love to have more options in the editing room — but many times that luxury doesn’t exist. In a lot of cases it’s thinking ahead and knowing I need certain pieces.

Really what it comes down to is being conservative and mindful of how much time we have to shoot. There was a particular day on this film where I turned to the script supervisor and said, “I’m working as an editor today more than a director because we just need to get these scenes in the can, and we have very little time to do it.”

Even if I don’t cut my films in the future, which is a likely possibility, I think there’s some part of me that’s always going to be thinking that way.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT Michael Angarano & Tye Sheridan & Johnny Simmons & Ezra Miller & Chris Sheffield Photo by Jas Shelton (2)

So it’s essentially muscle memory?
Yes, I also think of writing when I’m a directing, because I wrote my first two films. Sometimes you have to say, “What part of this scene isn’t working? Is it the directing? Is it the editing? Is it the writing?” Then I try to gather what piece needs a little bit of work and figure out where that is.

It works the other way as well. I try to think about editing while I’m writing because I’m thinking, do I need that, do I need this piece, how are these scenes going to really fit together? I feel like that’s a large part of what I do.

What camera did you use?
The movie takes place in the ’70s, and we explored the possibility of using film, but it was not a financial option for us. I then chose the Red Dragon, for many reasons. Part of it is the post process, part of it is being able to cut on set and work with the raw footage. For a movie like this, where I knew we were going to have really tight timelines for shooting, I liked knowing that I would have a massive amount of data.

I wanted to shoot in 5.5K — I’ve always been happy with the latitude and how it works and the color correction. It’s something I’m really comfortable with. So after that decision was made it was just a question of lenses. We shot on some vintage Leitz lenses, and that ended up playing a big hand in the look of the film, maybe even more so than the camera.

What was the look you wanted from the film?
We didn’t want to re-create what a movie from the ’70s looked like. We didn’t want that weird Grindhouse thing where you’re breaking down the image for no reason or putting in colors that shouldn’t be there or doing camera moves that are unmotivated. For me, it was more about the feeling of it. It’s like looking at Alan J. Pakula’s films. We associate that with the ’70s a lot. All the President’s Men and The Parallax View, to me that’s the kind of feeling I wanted.

We ended up with a combination… a movie that felt like it was from the ’70s but using techniques that were a bit more contemporary. It was a balance — looking at each scene and seeing what felt the most right.

Talk to me about being on set. What was the workflow like?
We had a DIT, and we had a guy who I’m close with running dailies. He was ingesting stuff through an Atomos Ninja, and I would go and watch playback there really quickly. The DIT was really working a little more closely with the cinematographer Jas Shelton.

There was also an assistant editor logging the footage. I was able to look at stuff and try some brief assemblies on lunch breaks to see what was working and what wasn’t. We were on the same location for two weeks of the shoot, so there was time to go back. Not a lot of time, but enough that I felt like if there was an insert needed to help bridge moments together we could get it. For me the goal is to overlap the post-production mentality with the production mentality and the pre-production mentality. I find the best stuff comes from when you’re able to get those things to collide as much as possible.

Let’s dig into the post. When did you start editing and on what system?
I started right away, and I used Adobe’s Premiere Pro on an iMac. We wrapped in October and had to show the film to the Sundance programming committee, so that gave us about a three-week turnaround. It premiered at Sundance in January. There are 25 characters in the film and it was a challenging edit. Because I’m the director as well as the editor, usually the first cut is pretty close to the first edit, but I panicked because this came in at three hours. I had to lose an hour of movie. It was a totally different feeling.

Kyle Alvarez at Sundance picking up the Sloan Feature Film Prize. Photo: Calvin Knight.

Kyle Alvarez at Sundance this year picking up the Sloan Feature Film Prize for ‘Experiment.’ Photo: Calvin Knight.

What else was challenging about the cut?
Almost every scene had at least 12 people in it, and everyone had mics on them. We had an extraordinary amount of audio tracks. My assistant editor, Susan Kim, would manage those as I started rough edits of scenes. If you saw the timeline, it was absurd: every track had massive, massive amounts of audio. Obviously we didn’t want to hear all those in the final edit, so it was just about going through and narrowing down those lines. That played a big part in prepping the movie for post delivery too, which also moved incredibly quickly.

Why did you choose Premiere Pro for the edit?
I learned Final Cut in college and I cut my first film with it, but I hated the transcoding process you had to go through at that time. I was shooting digital, but had to wait to cut stuff! When preparing for my second film a couple of years later, I found Adobe Premiere. They were the first ones to offer native R3D editing. I tested it on my laptop, a standard consumer level laptop, and it worked. It was sort of a revelatory moment for me.

Can you talk about the creative process of editing?
We had scenes with a lot of people, so it was about narrowing in the story or narrowing the scenes into the fundamentals of what they were about… and who they were about. You try to chip away at what’s there and see what’s working. Because we had to cut fast, I used line breakdowns where it gets delivered to me in a timeline that has every line of dialogue from every take put next to each other.

For me you start with the best performance of each line. You put that together and sometimes it’s, “that line doesn’t work with that line, because even though those two are the best individual ones, they don’t work together in the right way.” Then you go through and start swapping some out and you get the pieces, the selections of the dialogue, right. Then you go through and start to shape it and put those pieces together and figure out when you’re going to cut other people — when they’re not talking — and at a certain point it boils down to instincts. It has to feel right.

THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT Billy Crudup Photo by Jas Shelton

Can you point to an example?
There is a moment at the end of the film where a character walks ahead of the camera and goes totally out of focus for a good three or four seconds. As soon as I saw it I thought that really fits that moment. If you’re following some of the rules, that would have ended up in the trash bin, but for some reason as I was cutting, it captured something real. You don’t want to just follow those line breakdowns because you might miss that. It’s making sure no diamonds get lost in the rough of it all.

Any other moments like that?
Not exactly like that, but with this film — thanks specifically to the speed and power of the Adobe system — I did a lot more cropping and zooming in the edit. It wasn’t because we didn’t get what we wanted but because it takes 10 minutes to swap a prime lens out for a zoom. We didn’t have 10 minutes on this movie. If we had primes and I wanted zoom, I knew I was going to have to build it in post.

Thanks to shooting in 5.5K I was able to turn two shots into singles and insert moments when I needed to. I was able to extend zooms so there’s a couple of times where it’s pushing in on or zooming in on a character and the character’s emotions still went on a little bit longer. I was able to just keep that zoom going all the way through. I was doing a lot of that with no render times, and that was massive to me on this movie.

What about the color grade? Who did it and where?
We colored at Light Iron in Hollywood with Ian Vertovec using Quantel Pablo. We never transcoded — we cut straight from our R3Ds and those went straight to Light Iron and they colored straight from that.

What about the audio post?
We used Formosa Group’s Martyn Zub and Paul Carden, both of whom worked with me when I was doing C.O.G. and when they were at Wildfire. They really did an amazing amount of work in a very short period of time. My previous films were these very naturalistic dramadies. This is a movie where the sound was changing, and there’s this crowd and scenes with a lot of people creating chatter. It was a much heavier creative sound endeavor than I was used to. It was definitely an undertaking, but one they tackled head on.

Photos by Jas Shelton