Tag Archives: TV Series

The Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

Kids in jeopardy! The Demogorgon! The Hawkins Lab! The Upside Down! Thrills and chills! Since they first pitched their idea for Stranger Things, a love letter to 1980’s genre films set in 1983 Indiana, twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer have quickly established themselves as masters of suspense in the science-fiction and horror genres.

The series was picked up by Netflix, premiered in the summer of 2016, and went on to become a global phenomenon, with the brothers at the helm as writers, directors and executive producers.

The Duffer Brothers

The atmospheric drama, about a group of nerdy misfits and strange events in an outwardly average small town, nailed its early ’80s vibe and overt homages to that decade’s master pop storytellers: Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. It quickly made stars out of its young ensemble cast — Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink and Finn Wolfhard.

It also quickly attracted a huge, dedicated fan base, critical plaudits and has won a ton of awards, including Emmys, a SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series and two Critics Choice Awards for Best Drama Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. The show has also been nominated for a number of Golden Globes.

I recently talked with the Duffers, who are already hard at work on the highly anticipated third season (which will premiere on Netflix in 2019) about making the ambitious hit series, their love of post and editing, and VFX.

How’s the new season going?
Matt Duffer: We’re two weeks into shooting, and it’s going great. We’re very excited about it as there are some new tones and it’s good to be back on the ground with everyone. We know all the actors better and better, the kids are getting older and are becoming these amazing performers — and they were great before. So we’re having a lot of fun.

Are you shooting in Atlanta again?
Ross Duffer: We are, and we love it there. It’s really our home base now, and we love all these pockets of neighborhoods that have not changed at all since the ‘80s, and there is an incredible variety of locations. We’re also spreading out a lot more this season and not spending so much time on stages. We have more locations to play with.

Will all the episodes be released together next year, like last time? That would make binge-watchers very happy.
Matt: Yes, but we like to think of it more as like a big movie release. To release one episode per week feels so antiquated now.

The show has a very cinematic look and feel, so how do you balance that with the demands of TV?
Ross: It’s interesting, because we started out wanting to make movies and we love genre, but with a horror film they want big scares every few minutes. That leaves less room for character development. But with TV, it’s always more about character, as you just can’t sustain hours and hours of a show if you don’t care about the people. So ‘Stranger Things’ was a world where we could tell a genre story, complete with the monster, but also explore character in far more depth than we could in a movie.

Matt: Movies and TV are almost opposites in that way. In movies, it’s all plot and no character, and in TV it’s about character and you have to fight for plot. We wanted this to have pace and feel more like a movie, but still have all the character arcs. So it’s a constant balancing act, and we always try and favor character.

Where do you post the show?
Matt: All in Hollywood, and the editors start working while we’re shooting. After we shoot in Atlanta, we come back to our offices and do all the post and VFX work right there. We do all the sound mix and all the color timing at Technicolor down the road. We love post. You never have enough time on the set, and there’s all this pressure if you want to redo a shot or scene, but in post if a scene isn’t working we can take time to figure it out.

Tell us about the editing. I assume you’re very involved?
Ross: Very. We have two editors this season. We brought back one of our original editors, Dean Zimmerman, from season one. We are also using Nat Fuller, who was on season two. He was Dean’s assistant originally and then moved up, so they’ve been with us since the start. Editing’s our favorite part of the whole process, and we’re right there with them because we love editing. We’re very hands on and don’t just give notes and walk away. We’re there the whole time.

Aren’t you self-taught in terms of editing?
Matt: (Laughs) I suppose. We were taught the fundamentals of Avid at film school, but you’re right. We basically taught ourselves to edit as kids, and we started off just editing in-camera, stopping and starting, and playing the music from a tape recorder. They weren’t very good, but we got better.

When iMovie came out we learned how to put scenes together, so in college the transition to Avid wasn’t that hard. We fell in love with editing and just how much you can elevate your material in post. It’s magical what you can do with the pace, performances, music and sound design, and then you add all the visual effects and see it all come together in post. We love seeing the power of post as you work to make your story better and better.

How early on do you integrate post and VFX with the production?
Ross: On day one now. The biggest change from season one to two was that we integrated post far earlier in the second season — even in the writing stage. We had concept artists and the VFX guys with us the whole time on set, and they were all super-involved. So now it all kind of happens together.

All the VFX are a much bigger deal. For last season we had a lot more VFX than the first year — about 1,400 shots, which is a huge amount, like a big movie. The first season it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very old-school approach, with mainly practical effects, and then in the middle we realized we were being a bit naïve, so we brought in Paul Graff as our VFX supervisor on season two, and he’s very experienced. He’s worked on big movies like The Wolf of Wall Street as well as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, and he’s doing this season too. He’s in Atlanta with us on the shoot.

We have two main VFX houses on the show — Atomic Fiction and Rodeo — they’re both incredible, and I think all the VFX are really cinematic now.

But isn’t it a big challenge in terms of a TV show’s schedule?
Ross: You’re right, and it’s always a big time crunch. Last year we had to meet that Halloween worldwide release date and we were cutting it so close trying to finish all the shots in time.

Matt: Everyone expects movie-quality VFX — just in a quarter of the time, or less. So it’s all accelerated.

The show has a very distinct, eerie, synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Grammy nominated duo. How important is the music and sound, which won several Emmys last year?
Ross: It’s huge. We use it so much for transitions, and we have great sound designers — including Brad North and Craig Henighan — and great mixers, and we pay a lot of attention to all of it. I think TV has always put less emphasis on great sound compared to film, and again, you’re always up against the scheduling, so it’s always this balancing act.

You can’t mix it for a movie theater as very few people have that set up at home, so you have to design it for most people who’re watching on iPhones, iPads and so on, and optimize it for that, so we mostly mix in stereo. We want the big movie sound, but it’s a compromise.

The DI must be vital?
Matt: Yes, and we work very closely with colorist Skip Kimball (who recently joined Efilm), who’s been with us since the start. He was very influential in terms of how the show ended up looking. We’d discussed the kind of aesthetic we wanted, and things we wanted to reference and then he played around with the look and palette. We’ve developed a look we’re all really happy with. We have three different LUTs on set designed by Skip and the DP Tim Ives will choose the best one for each location.

Everyone’s calling this the golden age of TV. Do you like being showrunners?
Ross: We do, and I feel we’re very lucky to have the chance to do this show — it feels like a big family. Yes, we originally wanted to be movie directors, but we didn’t come into this industry at the right time, and Netflix has been so great and given us so much creative freedom. I think we’ll do a few more seasons of this, and then maybe wrap it up. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.

Apache colorists: Cullen Kelly added, Quinn Alvarez promoted

Santa Monica color and post studio Apache has added colorist Cullen Kelly. In addition to Kelly’s hire, the studio also promoted colorist Quinn Alvarez from an assistant’s role.

Kelly joins from Labrador Post, a color grading studio he founded in Austin, Texas. He has relocated to Southern California. Alvarez has been with Apache since 2015, joining from the production company Prettybird, where he handled all post duties and worked closely with its directors and producers.

“We’re currently working on several scripted and documentary shows for Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, in addition to our commercial work for agencies,” says Apache managing partner LaRue Anderson. “We needed additional artists that come with a unique perspective to color grading to handle these assignments, not just helping hands.”

Kelly worked with Apache earlier this year as a freelancer, doing finishing for the debut season of Netflix’s American Vandal series. Kelly, who studied film at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before launching his career, worked in several post jobs before focusing on color grading. In addition to his work on the Netflix series, his reel includes short films and promos for The History Channel, FX Networks and SXSW.

When asked what drew him to color grading, Kelly said, “I’m a very visual person, and I love the amount of detail and energy that goes into color work. And it’s so collaborative; you’re working with people and helping bring their vision to life.”

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Alvarez says that while working at Prettybird he learned the craft of color grading from a director’s point of view, stressing the importance of story and substance. “I like the pace of color work, too,” he adds. “There’s always a new challenge, and new clients to work with. It keeps me fresh. And color is typically one of the final stages in a project — you’re putting the polish on things, so to speak, so people always leave happy.”

His reel includes work for such brands as Nike, Absolut, Jack Daniels, Tumi, Toyota, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, as well as music videos shot by such directors as Paul Hunter, Eric Wareheim and Andy Hines.

Both Kelly and Alvarez use Blackmagic Resolve.

Apache’s branching out from just color to handling finishing is also driving its need to add more creative talent, reports Anderson: “Keeping the color and finish under the same roof, particularly for long-form projects, allows us to swiftly complete a show. That adds valuable time to our clients’ often-constrained post schedules, without compromising the look and feel of the film. And we’re finding that cinematographers and directors are moving to original series work, because it can offer more creative freedom. With the addition of Cullen and the promotion of Quinn, we now have five colorists to help transform their digital visions into reality.”

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.”

Behind the Title: Harbor Picture’s head of dailies Jamie Payne

COMPANY: Harbor Picture Company (@HarborPicture)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
A NYC-based post house offering a mix of artists and technical specialists collaborating to a common goal.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of Dailies

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In the dailies department there are many bases that need to be covered, and each is of equal importance. Guaranteeing the integrity of the acquired digital material, while maintaining the vision of the cinematographer is key. An in-depth knowledge of color and workflow helps to understand the technical and artistic language that occurs between the lab, the cinematographer and the production as a whole.

Our day-to-day tasks include initial acquisition, color timing, archival, asset management and tracking, and old-fashioned human interaction. “Guardian of the image” may be an esoteric title, but one I feel that encompasses what we aim for and deliver.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A skilled team of operators now have ownership of an awfully large amount of digital material. Digital acquisition has always been about flexibility, speed and convenience (not to mention ongoing technological advancement). And not necessarily artistic vision and longevity, which we aim to help provide.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The responsibility for the camera original material, a camera card or hard drive is treated with the same respect as an unexposed reel of film. I enjoy the demands of being answerable to all the various departments within production and post production.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Installing yet another daily Adobe Acrobat Reader update.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Either looking at the material for the first time or Saturday mornings.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I studied photography in college and would have almost certainly continued on that path if I hadn’t watched A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

I worked as a photographer’s assistant for still life/food photography working on medium 5×4 and 10×8 formats, which paid for my entry into reportage photography. How many people can say that they have shot 10×8-inch polaroids for exposure tests?!

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
See above. A Matter of Life and Death (starring David Niven) watched on a heavily used VHS opened my eyes to things that were possible. It was quite startling.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I started as most people do in our industry, as an intern (or a runner in the UK) making tea, etc. As soon as I stepped into a telecine suite I knew immediately I had to color time. That was almost 18 years ago. I was simply in the right place at the right time when asked to create a dailies department many years ago in London. It was a fortuitous meeting that let to a position that has continued to this day.

Billions

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The last five projects that I have worked on The Wizard of Lies, Beat-Up Little Seagull, Billions, Limitless and Paterson. It’s a nice balance of episodics and features, with some great performances and spectacular photography.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT (OR PROJECTS) THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Most projects I have worked on have featured a little surprise that made me smile, whether technically or aesthetically. I once had an Oscar-winning DP express gratitude after they flew 2,000 miles round trip to check the dailies due to an issue I raised and caught.

I once used a trick an assistant editor taught me that mightily impressed a senior editor.

Each moment in its own way is very rewarding, but I must say that color timing the IMAX negative for The Dark Knight Rises was pretty special.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The internal combustion engine, modern plumbing and the Internet.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
A smidgen of Instagram.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Not anymore now I’m immersed in dailies. When I color-timed for finishing, clients and I always listened to music.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I honestly don’t think that work is stressful. It’s stressful if the technology or client expectation is misunderstood or misinterpreted, which isn’t an option in a digital lab. I become stressed when I’m not busy, and that’s the truth.

In my spare time I hike and appreciate immensely this wonderfully beautiful country.

 

Former ‘South Park’ lead editor Tom Vogt joins Spot Welders NY

Spot Welders’ New York studio has added editor Tom Vogt to its staff.  A specialist in comedy work, Vogt worked closely with Trey Parker and Matt Stone as lead editor on their South Park series. His work also includes commercials, feature films, television series and documentaries.

He has a deep background in editing long and short form comedy for broadcast and cinema. In addition to his South Park work he also provided editing for Team America: World Police and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

Vogt also spent two years working closely with the director Morgan Spurlock, for whom he edited POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock’s take on sponsorship and branding. Formerly on staff at Bluerock and MacKenzie Cutler, he has since freelanced for a range of agencies and post houses.

Vogt says the ability to move back and forth between spots and entertainment is a big part of what attracted him to Spot Welders.  “I see this as growing into a symbiotic relationship,” he explains, noting that other Spot Welders editors work outside of the advertising arena. “I see us as birds of a feather, kind of like kindred spirits.”

His commercial work includes spots for FedEx, Axe, Oberto Beef Jerky, eBay, ESPNU and AT&T (starring Will Arnett), to name a few. His deft timing on Bud Light’s famous Dude spot helped launch the campaign that became an early internet sensation.

MTI Film adds post staff for television series work

 

HOLLYWOOD — MTI Film (www.mtifilm.com) has added veteran producers Antoinette Perez and Lawrence Epstein to its post production services division focusing on television work.

Perez joins from Pixomondo where she produced visual effects for such films as Oblivion and Red Tails. Epstein’s appointment is a promotion. He served for the past three years as MTI Film’s night operations manager.

Epstein will oversee post work for several television productions, including Major Crimes, Hell on Wheels, The Walking Dead and Bates Motel. Perez’s responsibilities will include the shows Sirens, Dallas, Key and Peele, A Country Christmas Story and Through the Wormhole.

Epstein-cropped

Lawrence Epstein

Epstein joined MTI Film in 2010 after three years at Encore Hollywood where he held a similar operations role. His expertise encompasses editorial, color correction, graphics and visual effects.

Perez has worked in post production since 1994. She began her career at Encore Hollywood and later joined Cinesite, Europe, where her credits included Tomb Raider and the first two Harry Potter movies. She also held served as a producer at Prime Focus and as a CG production manager Rhythm & Hues.