Category Archives: Cinematography

DP Chat: No Activity cinematographer Judd Overton

By Randi Altman

Judd Overton, who grew up in the Australian Outback, knew he wanted to be a DP before he even knew exactly what that was, spending a lot of his time watching and re-watching movies on VHS tapes. When he was young, a documentary film crew came to his town. “I watched as the camera operator was hanging off the side of my motorbike filming as we charged over sand dunes. I thought that was a pretty cool job!”

No Activity

The rest, as they say, is history. Overton’s recent work includes the Netflix comedy series The Letdown and No Activity, which is a remake of the Australian comedy series of the same name. It stars Patrick Brammall and Tim Meadows and is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Funny or Die, Jungle and Gary Sanchez Productions. It streams on CBS All Access.

We recently reached out to Overton, who also just completed the documentary Lessons from Joan, about one of the first female British theater directors, Joan Littlewood.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
What I love about what I do is being able to see things, and show the world to audiences in a way people haven’t seen before. I always keep abreast of technology, but for me the technology really needs to service the story. I choose particular equipment in order to capture the emotion of the piece.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years?
The greatest change in my world is the high-quality, high-ISO cameras now on the market. This has meant being able to shoot in a much less obtrusive way, shooting and lighting to create footage that is far closer to reality.

The use of great-quality LED lighting is something I’m really enjoying. The ability to create and capture any color and control it from your iPhone opens the floodgates for some really creative lighting.

 

Judd Overton

Can you describe your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
Every director is different, it’s a role and relationship I fill as required. Some directors like to operate the camera themselves. In that case, I oversee the lighting. Some directors just want to work with the actors, so my job then involves more responsibilities for coverage, camera movement and selecting locations.

I try to be open to each new experience and make creative guidelines for a project in collaboration with the director and producers, trying to preempt obstacles before they strike.

Tell us about the CBS All Access show No Activity. Can you describe the overall look of the show and what you and the director/producers wanted to achieve?
I shot the pilot for the original No Activity five years ago. Trent O’Donnell (writer/director, co-creator) wanted to make a series out of simple two hander (two actor) scenes.

We decided to use the police procedural drama genre because we knew the audience would fill in gaps with their own knowledge. In a show where very little happens, the mood and style become far more important.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’ve been involved since the show was conceptualized. We shot the pilot in a parking lot in one of Sydney’s seedier areas. We fought off a lot of rats.

No Activity

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
I had to shoot three cameras, as the show is heavily improvised. Other than my main cameras with zoom lenses, I chose the best cameras for each sequence. We used Blackmagic cameras Ursa Pro and Micro for a lot of our rigged positions. I also used Panasonic cameras for our available light work, and even an Arri 65 for some projection plates.

Were there any scenes that you are particularly proud of?
The scene I had the most fun with was the siege, which plays over the last two episodes of Season 2. We dusted off and fired up two 1930s Arc lights. Carbon Arc lights are what all the old Hollywood films used before HMIs. They are a true 5600 Kelvin, daylight source.

My gaffer’s father actually made these units, and they were refurbished for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We used them as searchlights for our nighttime siege, and the bright beams and plumes of smoke rising really gave the scene an epic scale.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
Communication is everything, and the latest toy in my toy box is HME headsets. They allow me to have constant communications with my camera operators, grips and electrics, essential when you’re running five cameras across multiple units.

Director Barry Jenkins on latest, If Beale Street Could Talk

By Iain Blair

If they handed out Oscars for shots of curling cigarette smoke, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight would win hands down. If Beale Street Could Talk looks certain to be an awards show darling, already picking up three Golden Globe nods — Best Drama Motion Picture, Best Screenplay for Jenkins and Best Supporting Actress for Regina King.

Based on the 1974 novel by writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin, it tells the story of a young black couple — Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) — who grow up together in Harlem and get engaged. But their romantic dreams soon begin to dissolve under the harsh glare of white authority and racism when Fonny is falsely accused of rape and thrown in jail, just as Tish realizes she is pregnant with their child.

While the couple is the focus of the film, the family drama also features a large ensemble cast that includes King as Tish’s mother and Colman Domingo as her father, along with Michael Beach, Brian Tyree Henry, Diego Luna, Pedro Pascal and Dave Franco.

Behind the camera, Jenkins reteamed with Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton, editors Nat Sanders and Joi McMillion, and composer Nick Britell.

I spoke with Jenkins about making the film and workflow.

Our writer Iain Blair with Barry Jenkins

It’s always a challenge to adapt an acclaimed novel for the screen. How tough was this one?
It was extremely tough, especially since I love James Baldwin so much. Every step of the way you’re deciding at which point you have to be completely faithful to the material and then where it’s OK to break away from the text and make it your own for the movie version.

I first read the novel around 2010, and in 2013 I went to Europe to get away and write the screenplay. I also wrote one for Moonlight, which then ended up happening first. This was a harder project to get made. Moonlight was smaller and more controllable. And this is told from a female’s perspective, so there were a lot of challenges.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to take the energy of the novel and its lush romantic sensuality, and then pair it with the more biting, bitter social commentary of Baldwin’s non-fiction work. I see film as a very malleable art form, and I felt I could build it. So at times it could be extremely lush and beautiful — even distractingly so — but then it could turn very dark and angry, and contain all of that.

The film was shot by your go-to cinematographer James Laxton. Talk about the look you wanted and how you got it.
There are a lot of cinema references in Moonlight, but we couldn’t find many for this period set in this sort of neighborhood. There are nods to great directors and stylists, like Douglas Sirk and Hou Hsiao-hsien, but we ended up paying more attention to stills. We studied the work of the great photographers Roy DeCarava and Gordon Parks. I wanted it to look lush and beautiful.

You shot on location, and it’s a period piece. How hard was that?
It was pretty challenging because I’m the kind of guy — and James is too — where we like to have the freedom to point the camera anywhere and just shoot. But when you’re making a period film in New York, which is changing so fast every damn day, you just don’t have that freedom. So it was very constricting, and our production designer Mark Friedberg had to be very inventive and diligent about all the design.

Where did you post?
We split it between New York and partly in LA. We cut the whole film here in LA at this little place in Silverlake called Fancy Post, and did all the sound mix at Formosa. Then we moved to New York since the composer lives there, and we did the DI at Technicolor PostWorks in New York with colorist Alex Bickel, who did Moonlight. We spent a lot of time getting the look just right — all the soft colors. We chose to shoot on the Alexa 65, which is unusual for a small drama, but we loved the intimacy it gave us.

You reteamed with your go-to editors Nat Sanders, who’s cut all three of your films, and Joi McMillion, who cut Moonlight with Nat. Tell us how it worked this time.
Fancy Post is essentially a house, so they each had their own bedroom, and I’d come in each day and check on their progress. Both of them were at film school with me, and we all work really well together, and I love the editing process.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
Sound has always been so important to me, ever since film school. One of my professors there was Richard Portman, who really developed the overlapping, multi-track technique with Robert Altman.  I’ll always remember one of the first things he said to us about the importance of sound: a movie is 50 percent image and 50 percent sound, not ninety-five percent image and five percent sound. So that’s how I approach it.

We had a fantastic sound team: supervising sound editor Onnalee Blank and re-recording mixer Matt Waters. They usually do these huge projects with dragons and so on, like Game of Thrones, but they also do small dramas like this. They came on very late, but did incredible, really detailed work with all the dialogue. And there’s a lot of dialogue and conversation, most of it in interiors, and then there’s the whole soundscape that they built up layer by layer, which takes us back in time to the 1970s. They mixed all the dialogue so it comes from the front of the room, but we also created what we called “the voice of God” for all of Tish’s voiceovers.

 

In this story she really functions as the voice of James Baldwin, and while the voiceovers are in her head, we surround the audience with them. That was the approach. Just as with Moonlight, I feel that a film’s soundscape is beholden to the mental states and consciousness of the main characters, and not necessarily to a genre or story form. So in this, composer Nick Britell and I both felt that the sound of the film is paced by how Tish and Fonny are feeling. That opened it up in so many ways. Initially, we thought we’d have a pure jazz score, since it suited the era and location, but as we watched the actors working it evolved into this jazz chamber orchestra kind of thing.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX must have played a role in the final look. What was involved?
Crafty Apes in LA and Phosphene and Significant Others in New York did it all, and we had some period stuff, clean up and some augmentation, but we didn’t use any greenscreens on set. The big thing was that New York in the ‘70s was much grittier and dirtier, so all the graffiti on the subway cars was VFX. I hadn’t really worked much with visual effects before, but I loved it

There’s been so much talk in Hollywood about the lack of diversity — in front of and behind the camera. Do you see much improvement since we last spoke?
Well, look at all the diverse films out last year and now this year — Green Book, The Hate U Give, Black Panther, Widows, BlacKkKlansman — with black directors and casts. So there has been change, and I think Moonlight was part of a wave, increasing visibility around this issue. There’s more accountability now, and we’re in the middle of a cycle that is continuing. Change is a direction, not a destination.

Barry Jenkins on set.

We’re heading into awards season. How important are they for a film like this?
Super important. Look, Moonlight would not have had the commercial success it had if it hadn’t been for all the awards attention and talk.

Where do you keep your Oscar?
I used to keep it on the floor behind my couch, but I got so much shit about keeping it hidden that now it sits up high on a speaker. I’m very proud of it.

What’s next?
I’m getting into TV. I’m doing a limited series for Amazon called The Underground Railroad, and we’re in pre-production. I’ve got a movie thing on the horizon, but my focus is on this right now.


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.

DigitalGlue 12.3

Review: GoPro Hero 7 Black action camera

By Brady Betzel

Every year GoPro offers a new iteration of its camera. One of the biggest past upgrades was from the Hero 4 to the Hero 5, with an updated body style, waterproofing without needing external housing and minimal stabilization. That was one of the biggest… until now.

The Hero 7 Black is by far the best upgrade GoPro users have seen, especially if you are sitting on a Hero 5 or earlier. I’ll tell you up front that the built-in stabilization (called Hypersmooth) alone is worth the Hero 7 Black’s $399 price tag, but there are a ton of other features that have been upgraded and improved.

There are three versions of the Hero 7: Black for $399, Silver for $299 and White for $199. The White is the lowest priced Hero 7 and includes features like 1080p @ 60fps video recording, a built-in battery, waterproofing to 33 feet-deep without extra housing, standard video stabilization, 2x slow-mo (1440p/1080p @ 60fps), video recording up to 40Mb/s (1440p), two-mic audio recording, 10MP Photos, and 15/1 burst photos. After reading that you can surmise that the Hero 7 White is as basic as it gets, GoPro even skipped 24fps video recording, ProTune and a front LCD display. But that doesn’t mean the Hero 7 White is a throwaway; what I love about the latest update to the Hero line is the simplicity in operating the menus. In previous generations, the GoPro Hero menus were difficult to use and would often cause me to fumble shots. The Hero 7 menu has been streamlined for a much more simple mode selection process, making the Hero 7 White a basic and relatively affordable waterproof GoPro.

The Hero 7 Silver can be purchased for $299 and has everything the Hero 7 White has, plus some extras, including 4K video recording at 30fps up to 60MB/s, 10MP photos with wide dynamic range to bring out details in the highlights and shadows and a GPS location to show you where your videos and photos were taken. .

The Hero 7 Black
The Hero 7 Black is the big gun in the GoPro Hero 7 lineup. For anyone who wants to shoot multiple frame rates; harness a flat picture profile using ProTune to have extended range when color correcting; record ultra-smooth video without an external gimbal and no post processing; or shoot RAW photos, the Hero 7 Black is for you.

The Hero 7 Black has all of the features of the White and Silver plus a bunch more, including the front-facing LCD display. One of the biggest still-photo upgrades is the ability to shoot 12MP photos with SuperPhoto. SuperPhoto is essentially a “make my image look like the GoPro photos on Instagram” look. It’s an auto-image processor that will turn good photos into awesome photos. Essentially it’s an HDR mode that gives as much latitude in the shadows and highlights as well as noise reduction.
Beyond the SuperPhoto, the Hero 7 has burst rates from 3/1 up to 30/1, a timelapse photo function with intervals ranging from .5 seconds to 60 seconds; the ability to shoot RAW photos in GPR format alongside JPG; the ability to shoot video in 4K at 60fps, 30fps and 24fps in wide mode, as well as 30 and 24fps in SuperView mode (essentially ultra-wide angle); 2.7K wide video up to 120fps and down to 24fps in linear view (no wide-angle warping) all the way down to 720p in wide at 240fps. s.

The Hero 7 records in both MP4 H.264/AVC and H.265/HEVC formats at up to 78MB/s (4K). The Hero 7 Black has a bunch of additional modes including Night Photo; Looping; Timelapse Photo; Timelapse Video; Night Lapse Photo; 8x Slow Mo and Hypersmooth stabilization. It has Wake on Voice commands, as well as live streaming to Facebook Live, Twitch, Vimeo and YouTube. It also features Timewarp video (I will talk more about later); a GP1 processor created by GoPro; advanced metadata that the GoPro app uses to create videos of just the good parts (like smiling photos); ProTune; Karma compatibility; dive-housing compatibility; three-mic stereo audio; RAW audio captured in WAV format; the ability to plug in an external mic with the optional 3.5mm audio mic in cable; and HDMI video output with a micro HDMI cable.

I really love the GoPro Hero 7 and consider it a must-buy if you are on the edge about upgrading an older GoPro camera.

Out of the Box
When I opened the GoPro Hero7 Black I was immediately relieved that it was the same dimensions as the Hero 5 and 6, since I have access to the GoPro Karma drone, Karma gimbal and various accessories. (As a side note, the Hero 7 White and Silver are not compatible with the Karma Drone or Gimbal.) I quickly plugged in the Hero 7 Black to charge it, which only took half an hour. When fully drained the Hero 7 takes a little under two hours to charge.

I was excited to try the new built-in stabilization feature Hypersmooth, as well as the new stabilized in-camera timelapse creator, TimeWarp. I received the Hero 7 Black around Halloween so I took it to an event called “Nights of the Jack” at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, California, near Malibu. It took place after dark and featured lit-up jack-o-lanterns, so I figured I could test out the TimeWarp, Hypersmooth and low-light capabilities in one fell swoop.

It was really incredible. I used a clamp mount to hold it onto the kids’ wagon and just hit record. When I stopped recording, the GoPro finished processing the TimeWarp video and I was ready to view it or share it. Overall, the quality of video and the low-light recording were pretty good — not great but good. You can check out the video on YouTube.

The stabilization was mind blowing, especially considering it is electronic image stabilization (EIS), which is software-based, not optical, which is hardware-based. Hardware-based stabilization is typically preferred to software-based stabilization, but GoPro’s EIS is incredible. For most shooting scenarios, the built-in stabilization will be amazing — everyone who watches your clips will think that you are using a hardware gimbal. It’s that good.

The Hero 7 Black has a few options for TimeWarp mode to keep the video length down — you can choose different speeds: 2x, 5x, 10x, 15x, and 30x. For example, 2x will take one minute of footage and turn it into 30 seconds, and 30x will take five minutes of footage and turn it into 10 seconds. Think of TimeWarp as a stabilized timelapse. In terms of resolution, you can choose from 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratio; 4K, 1440p or 1080p. I always default to 1080 if posting on Instagram or Twitter, since you can’t really see what the 4K difference, and it saves all my data bits and bytes for better image fidelity.

If you’re wondering why you would use TimeWarp over Timelapse, there are a couple of differences. Timewarp will create a smooth video when walking, riding a bike or generally moving around because of the Hypersmooth stabilization. Timelapse will act more like a camera taking pictures at a certain interval to show a passage of time (say from day to night) and will playback a little more choppy. Check out a sample day-to-night timelapse I filmed using the Hero 7 Black set to Timelapse on YouTube.

So beyond the TimeWarp what else is different? Well, just plain shooting 4K at 60fps — you now have the ability to enable the EIS stabilization where you couldn’t on the GoPro Hero 6 Black. It’s a giant benefit for anyone shooting 4K in the palm of their hands and wanting to even slow their 4K down by 50% and retain smooth motion with stabilization already done in-camera. This is a huge perk in my mind. The image processing is very close to what the Hero 6 produces and quite a bit better than the what the Hero 5 produces.

When taking still images, the low-light ability is pretty incredible. With the new Superphoto setting you can get that signature high saturation and contrast with noise reduction. It’s a great setting, although I noticed the subject in focus cannot be moving too fast or you will get some purple fringing. When used under the correct circumstances, the Superphoto is the next iteration of HDR.

I was surprised how much I used the GoPro Hero 7 Black’s auto-rotating menu feature when the camera was held vertically. The Hero 6 could shoot vertically but with the addition of the auto-rotation of the menu, the Hero 7 Black encourages more vertically photos and videos. I found myself taking more vertical photos, especially outdoors — getting a lot more sky in the shots, which adds an interesting perspective.

Summing Up
In the end, the GoPro Hero 7 Black is a must-buy if you are looking for the latest and greatest action-cam or are on the fence about upgrading from the Hero 5 or 6. The Hypersmooth video stabilization is incredible. If you want to take it a step further, combining it with a Karma gimbal will give you a silky smooth shot.

I really fell in love with the TimeWarp function, whether you are a prosumer filming your family at Disneyland or shooting a show in the forest, a quick TimeWarp is a great way to film some dynamic b-roll without any post processing.

Don’t forget the Hero 7 Black has voice control for hands-free operation. On the outside,the Hero 7 Black is actually black in color unlike the Hero 6 (which is a gray) and also has the number “7” labeled on it for easy finding in your case.

I would really love for GoPro to make these cameras charge wirelessly on a mat like my Galaxy phone. It seems like the GoPro action-cameras would be great to just throw on a wireless charger and also use the charger as a file-transfer station. It gets cumbersome to remove a bunch of tiny memory cards or use a bunch of cables to connect your cameras, so why not make it wireless?! I’m sure they are thinking of things like that, because focusing on stabilization was the right move in my opinion.

If GoPro can continue to make focused and powerful updates to their cameras, they will be here for a long time — and the Hero 7 is the right way to start.

Check out GoPro’s website for more info, including accessories like the Travel Kit, which features a little mini tripod/handle (called “Shorty”), a rubberized cover with a lanyard and a case for $59.99.

If you need the ultimate protection for your GoPro Hero 7 Black, look into GoPro Plus, which, for $4.99 a month, gives you VIP support; automatic cloud backup, access for editing on your phone from anywhere and camera replacement for up to two cameras per year of the same model, no questions asked, when something goes wrong. Compare all the new GoPro Hero 7 Models on their website website.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Green Book

By Iain Blair

Director, producer and writer Peter Farrelly is best known for the classic comedies he made with his brother Bob: Dumb and Dumber; There’s Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; Me, Myself & Irene; The Three Stooges; and Fever Pitch. But for all their over-the-top, raunchy and boundary-pushing comedy, those movies were always sweet-natured at heart.

Peter Farrelly

Now Farrelly has taken his gift for heartfelt comedy and put his stamp on a very different kind of film, Green Book, a racially charged feel-good drama inspired by a true friendship that transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon line.

Starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it tells the fact-based story of the ultimate odd couple: Tony Lip, a bouncer from The Bronx and Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist. Lip is hired to drive and protect the worldly and sophisticated Shirley during a 1962 concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, where they must rely on the titular “Green Book” — a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for African-Americans during the segregation era.

Set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the valor and volatility of the civil rights movement, the two men are confronted with racism and danger as they challenge long-held assumptions, push past their seemingly insurmountable differences and embrace their shared humanity.

The film also features Linda Cardellini as Tony Vallelonga’s wife, Dolores, along with Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton as two-thirds of The Don Shirley Trio. The film was co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie and reunites Farrelly with editor Patrick J. Don Vito, with whom he worked on the Movie 43 segment “The Pitch.” Farrelly also collaborated for the first-time with cinematographer Sean Porter (read our interview with him), production designer Tim Galvin and composer Kris Bowers.

I spoke with Farrelly about making the film, his workflow and the upcoming awards season. After its Toronto People’s Choice win and Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali), Green Book looks like a very strong Oscar contender.

You told me years ago that you’d love to do a more dramatic film at some point. Was this a big stretch for you?
Not so much, to be honest. People have said to me, “It must have been hard,” but the hardest film I ever made was The Three Stooges… for a bunch of reasons. True, this was a bit of a departure for me in terms of tone, and I definitely didn’t want it to get too jokey — I tend to get jokey so it could easily have gone like that.  But right from the start we were very clear that the comedy would come naturally from the characters and how they interacted and spoke and moved, and so on, not from jokes.

So a lot of the comedy is quite nuanced, and in the scene where Tony starts talking about “the orphans” and Don explains that it’s actually about the opera Orpheus, Viggo has this great reaction and look that wasn’t in the script, and it’s much funnier than any joke we could have made there.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A drama about race and race relations set in a time when it was very fraught, with light moments and a hopeful, uplifting ending.

It has some very timely themes. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. I knew that it would resonate today, although I wish it didn’t. What really hooked me was their common ground. They really are this odd couple who couldn’t be more different — an uneducated, somewhat racist Italian bouncer, and this refined, highly educated, highly cultured doctor and classically trained pianist. They end up spending all this time together in a car on tour, and teach each other so much along the way. And at the end, you know they’ll be friends for life.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Viggo and Mahershala bring to the roles?
Well, for a start they’re two of the greatest actors in the world, and when we were shooting this I felt like an observer. Usually, I can see a lot of the actor in the role, but they both disappeared totally into these characters — but not in some method-y way where they were staying in character all the time, on and off the set. They just became these people, and Viggo couldn’t be less like Tony Lip in real life, and the same with Mahershala and Don. They both worked so hard behind the scenes, and I got a call from Steven Spielberg when he first saw it, and he told me, “This is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and he’s right.

It’s a road picture, but didn’t you end up shooting it all in and around New Orleans?
Yes, we did everything there apart from one day in northern New Jersey to get the fall foliage, and a day of exteriors in New York City with Viggo for all the street scenes. Louisiana has everything, from rolling hills to flats. We also found all the venues and clubs they play in, along with mansions and different looks that could double for places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as Carolinas and the Deep South.

We shot for just 35 days, and Louisiana has great and very experienced crews, so we were able to work pretty fast. Then for scenes like Carnegie Hall, we used CGI in post, done by Pixel Magic, and we were also amazingly lucky when it came to the snow scenes set in Maryland at the end. We were all ready to use fake snow when it actually started snowing and sticking. We got a good three, four inches, which they told us hadn’t happened in a decade or two down there.

Where did you post?
We did most of the editing at my home in Ojai, and the sound at Fotokem, where we also did the DI with colorist Walter Volpatto.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing. Writing is the hardest part, pulling the script together. And I always have fun on the shoot, but you’re always having to make sure you don’t screw up the script. So when you get to the edit and post, all the hard work is done in that sense, and you have the joy of watching the movie find its shape as you cut and add in the sound and music.

What were the big editing challenges, given there’s such a mix of comedy and drama?
Finding that balance was the key, but this film actually came together so easily in the edit compared with some of the movies I’ve done. I’ll never forget seeing the first assembly of There’s Something About Mary, which I thought was so bad it made me want to vomit! But this just flowed, and Patrick did a beautiful job.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It was a huge part of the film and we had a really amazing pianist and composer in Kris Bowers, who worked a lot with Mahershala to make his performance as a musician as authentic as possible. And it wasn’t just the piano playing — Mahershala told me right at the start, “I want to know just how a pianist sits at the piano, how he moves.” So he was totally committed to all the details of the role. Then there’s all the radio music, and I didn’t want to use all the obvious, usual stuff for the period, so we searched out other great, but lesser-known songs. We had great music supervisors, Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, and a great sound team.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
Very important. I love the buzz about it because that gets people out to see it. When we first tested it, we got 100%, and the studio didn’t quite believe it. So we tested again, with “a tougher” audience, and got 98%. But it’s a small film. Everyone took pay cuts to make it, as the budget was so low, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.


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 Chat: Green Book’s Sean Porter

Sean Porter has worked as a cinematographer on features, documentaries, short films and commercials. He was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography for his work on It Felt Like Love, and his credits include 20th Century Women, Green Room, Rough Night and Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

His most recent collaboration was with director Peter Farrelly on Green Book, which is currently in theaters. Set in 1962, the film follows Italian-American bouncer/bodyguard Tony Lip (Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen) and world-class black pianist Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award-winner Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. They must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism and danger — as well as unexpected humanity and humor — they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Green Book director Peter Farrelly (blue windbreaker) with DP Sean Porter (right, brown jacket).

Porter chose the Alexa Mini mounted with Leica Summilux-C lenses to devise the look for “Green Book.” End-to-end post services were provided by FotoKem, from dailies at their New Orleans site to final color and deliverables at Burbank.

We spoke to him recently about his rise to director of photography and his work on Green Book:

How did you become interested in cinematography?
My relationship with cinematography, and really filmmaking, developed over many years during my childhood. I didn’t study fine art or photography in school, but discovered it later as many others do. I went in through the front door when I was probably 12 or so, and it’s been a long road.

I’m the oldest of four — two brothers and a sister. We grew up in a small town about an hour outside of Seattle, we had a modest yard that butted up to the “back woods.” It was an event when the neighborhood kids got on bikes and road a half mile or so to the only small convenience store around. There wasn’t much to do there, so we naturally had to be pretty inventive in our play. We’d come home from school, put on the TV and at the time Movie Magic was airing on The Discovery Channel. I think that show honestly was a huge inspiration, not only to me but to my brothers as well, who are also visual artists. It was right before Jurassic Park changed the SFX landscape — it was a time when everything was still done photographically, by hand. There were episodes showing how these films achieved all sorts of amazing images using rather practical tools and old school artistry.

My dad was always keen on technology and he had various camcorders throughout the years, beginning with the VHS back when the recorder had to be carried separately. As the cameras became more compact and easier to use, my brothers and I would make all kinds of films, trying to emulate what we had seen on the show. We were experimenting with high-level concepts at a very young age, like forced perspective, matte paintings, miniatures (with our “giant” cat as the monster) and stop motion.

I picked up the technology bug and by the time I was in middle school I was using our family’s first PC to render chromakeys — well before I had access to NLEs. I was conning my teachers into letting me produce “video” essays instead of writing them. Later we moved closer to Seattle and I was able to take vocational programs in media production and went on to do film theory and experimental video at the University of Washington, where I think I started distilling my focus as a cinematographer.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t discover film via fine art or photography, so I didn’t have that foundation of image making and color theory. I learned it all just by doing and paying attention to what I responded to. I didn’t have famous artists to lean on. You could say it was much more grassroots. My family was a lover of popular films, especially American comedies and action adventure. We watched things like Spies like Us, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Princess Bride. It was all pure entertainment, of course. I wasn’t introduced to Bergman or Fellini until much, much later. As we got older, my film language expanded and I started watching films by Lynch and Fincher. I will say that those popular ‘90s films had a great combination of efficient storytelling and technical craft that I still resonate with to this day. It’s very much a sort of “blue-collar” film language.

Staying on top of the technology oscillates between an uncontrollable obsession and an unbearable chore. I’ve noticed over the years that I’m becoming less and less invigorated by the tech — many of the new tools are invaluable, but I love relying on my team to filter out the good from the hype so I can focus on how best to tell the story. Some developments you simply can’t ignore; I remember the day I saw footage in class from a Panasonic DVX100. It changed everything!

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
I feel like the digital cameras, while continuing to get better, have slowed down a bit. There was such a huge jump between the early 2000s and the late 2000s. There’s no question digital acquisition has changed the way we make images — and it’s up for debate if it’s been a wholly positive shift. But generally, it’s been very empowering for filmmakers, especially on smaller budgets. It’s given me and my peers the chance to create cinema-quality images on projects that couldn’t afford to shoot on 16mm or 35mm. And over the last five years, the gap between digital and film has diminished, even vanished for many of us.

But if I had to single out one development it’s probably been LEDs over the last two or three years. Literally, five years ago it was all HMI and Kino Flos, and now I don’t remember the last time I touched a Kino. Sometimes we go entire jobs without firing up an HMI. The LEDs have gotten much better recently, and the control we have on set is unprecedented. It makes you wonder how we did it before!

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Every time I start a new project, I say to myself, “This time I’m going to get my shit together.” I think I’m going to get organized, develop systems, databases, Filemaker apps, whatever, and streamline the process so I can be more efficient. I’ll have a method for combining scouting photos with storyboards and my script notes so everything is in one place and I can disseminate information to relevant departments. Then I show up at prep and realize the same thing I realize every movie: They are all so, so different.

It’s an effort in futility to think you can adopt a “one-size-fits-all” mentality to preproduction. It just doesn’t work. Some directors storyboard every shot. Some don’t even make shot lists. Some want to previs every scene during the scouting process using stand-ins, others won’t even consider blocking until the actors are there, on the day. So I’ve learned that the efficiency is found in adaptation. My job is to figure out how to get inside my director’s head, see things the way they are seeing them and help them get those ideas into actions and decisions. There’s no app for that, unfortunately! I suppose I try to really listen, and not just to the words my director uses to describe things, but to the subtext and what is between the lines. I try to understand what’s really important to them so I can protect those things and fight for them when the pressure to compromise starts mounting.

Linda Cardellini as Dolores Vallelonga and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga in “Green Book,” directed by Peter Farrelly.

On a more practical note, I read many years ago about a DP who would stand on the actor’s mark and look back toward the camera — just to be aware of what sort of environment they were putting the talent in. Addressing a stray glare or a distracting stand might make a big difference to the actor’s experience. I try to do that as often as I can.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It’s hard to reduce such an array of possible experiences down to an “ideal,” as an ideal situation for one film might not be ideal for another depending on the experience the director wants to create on set. I’ve had many different, even conflicting, “processes” with my directors because it suited that specific collaboration. Again, it’s about adapting, being a chameleon to their process. It’s not about coming in and saying, “This is the best way to do this.”

I remember with one director we basically locked ourselves in her apartment for three days and just watched films. We’d pause them now and then and discuss a shot or a scene, but a lot of the time it was just about being together experiencing this curated body of work and creating a visual foundation for us to work from. With another director, we didn’t really watch any films at all, but we did lots and lots of testing. Camera tests, lens tests, lighting tests, filter tests, makeup and SFX tests. And we’d go into a DI suite and look at everything and talk about what was working and what wasn’t. He was also a DP so I think that technical, hands-on approach made sense to him. I think I tested every commercially available fluorescent tube that was on the market to find the right color for that film. I’ll admit as convenient as it would be to have a core strategy to work from, I think I would tire of it. I love walking onto a film and saying, “Ok, how are we going do this?”

Tell us about Green Book. How would you describe the overarching look of the film that you and Peter Farrelly wanted to achieve?
I think, maybe more than I want to admit, that the look of my films is a culmination of the restraints that are imparted by either myself or by production. You’re only going to have a certain amount of time and money for each scene, so calculations and compromises must be made there. You have to work with the given location, time of day and how it’s going be art decorated, so that adds a critical layer. Peter wanted to work a certain way with his actors and have lots of flexibility, so you adapt your process to make that work. Then you give yourself certain creative constraints, and somewhere in between all those things pushing on each other, the look of the film emerges.

That sounds a little arbitrary and Pete and I had some discussions about how it should look, but they were broad conversations. Honesty and authenticity were very important to Pete. He didn’t want things to ever look or feel disingenuous. My very first conversation with him after I was hired was about the car work. He was getting pressure to shoot it all on stage with LED screens. I was honest with him. I told him he’d probably get more time with his actors, and more predictable results on stage, but he’d get more realism from the look and from the performances dragging the entire company out onto the open road and battling the elements.

So we shot all the car work practically, save for a few specific night scenes. I took his words to heart and tried to shape the look out of what was authentic to the time. My gaffer and I researched what lighting fixtures were used then — it wasn’t like it is now with hundreds of different light sources. Back then it was basically tungsten, fluorescent, neon mercury and sodium. We limited our palette to those colors and tuned all our fixtures accordingly. I also avoided stylistic choices that would have made the film feel dated or “affected” — the production design, wardrobe and MCU departments did all of that. Pete and I wanted the story to feel just as relevant now as it did then, so I kept the images clean and largely unadulterated.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I came on about five weeks before shooting. I prepped for one week and then we were all sent home! Some negotiations had stalled production and for several weeks I didn’t know if we would start up again. I’m very grateful everyone made it work so we could make the film.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Green Book?
While 35mm would have been a great choice aesthetically for the film, there were some real production advantages to shooting digitally. As we were shooting all the car work practically, it was my prerogative to get as much of the coverage inside the car accomplished at a go. Changing lighting conditions, road conditions and tight schedules prohibited me from shooting an angle, then pulling over and re-rigging the camera. We had up to three Alexa Mini cameras inside the car at once, and many times that was all the coverage planned for the scene, save for a couple cutaways. This allowed us to get multi-page scenes done very efficiently while maintaining light continuity, keeping the realism of the landscapes and capturing those happy (and sometimes sad) accidents.

I chose some very clean, very fast, and very portable lenses: the Leica Summilux-Cs. I used to shoot stills with various Leica film cameras and developed an affinity for the way the lenses rendered. They are always sharp, but there’s some character to the fall off and the micro-contrast that always make faces look great. I had shot many of my previous films with vintage lenses with lots of character and could have easily gone that route, but as I mentioned, I was more interested in removing abstractions — finding something more modern yet still classic and utilitarian.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Not so much a particular scene, but a spanning visual idea. Many times, when you start a film, you’ll have some cool visual arc you want to try to employ, and along the way various time, location or schedule constraints eventually break it all down. Then you’re left with a few disparate elements that don’t connect the way you wanted them to. Knowing I would face those same challenges but having a bit more resources than some of my other films, I aimed low but held my ground: I wanted the color of the streetlights to work on a spectrum, shifting between safety and danger deepening on the scene or where things were heading in the story.

I broke the film down by location and worked with my gaffer to decide where the environment would be majority sodium (safe/familiar/hopeful) and where it would be mercury (danger/fear/despair). It sounds very rudimentary but when you try to actually pull it off with so many different locations, it can get out of hand pretty quickly. And, of course, many scenes had varying ratios of those colors. I was pleased that I was able to hold onto the idea and not have it totally disintegrate during the shoot.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
Go-to tools change from job to job, but the one I rely on more than any is my crew. Their ideas, support and positive energy keep me going in the darkest of hours! As for the nuts and bolts — lately I rarely do a job without SkyPanels and LiteMats. For my process on set, I’ve managed to get rid of just about everything except my light meter and my digital still camera. The still camera is a very fast way to line up shots, and I can send images to my iPad and immediately communicate framing ideas to all departments. It saves a lot of time and guess work!

Main Image: Sean Porter (checkered shirt) on set of Green Book, pictured with director Peter Farrelly.


Steve McQueen on directing Widows

By Iain Blair

British director/writer/producer Steve McQueen burst onto the international scene in 2013 when his harrowing 12 Years a Slave dominated awards season, winning as Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and a host of others. His directing was also recognized with many nominations and awards.

Now McQueen, who also helmed the 2011 feature Shame (Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan) is back with the film Widows.

A taut thriller, 20th Century Fox’s Widows is set in contemporary Chicago in a time of political and societal turmoil. When four armed robbers are killed in a botched heist, their widows — with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities — take fate into their own hands to forge a future on their own terms.

With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen himself — and based on the old UK television miniseries of the same name — the film stars, among others, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

The production team includes Academy Award-nominated editor Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave), Academy Award-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and director of photography Sean Bobbit (12 Years a Slave).

I spoke with McQueen, whose credits also include 2008’s Hunger, about making the film and his love of post.

This isn’t just a simple heist movie, is it?
No, it isn’t. I wanted to make an all-encompassing movie, an epic in a way, about how we live our daily lives and how they’re affected by politics, race, gender, religion and corruption, and do it through this story. I remember watching the TV series as a kid and how it affected me — how strong all these women were — and I decided to change the location from London to Chicago, which is really an under-used city in movies, and make it a more contemporary view of all these issues.

You assembled a great cast, led by Oscar-winner Viola Davis. What did she bring to the table?
So much weight and gravitas. She’s like an iceberg. There’s so much hidden depth in everything she does, and there’s this well of meaning and emotion she brings to the role, and then everyone has to step up to that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big one was logistics and dealing with all the Chicago locations. We had over 60 locations, all over the city, and 81 speaking parts. So there was a lot of planning, and if one thing got stuck it threw off the whole schedule. It would have been almost impossible to reschedule some of the scenes.

How tough was the shoot?
Pretty tough. They’re always grueling, and when you’re writing a script you don’t always think about how many night shoots you’re going to face, and you forget about this big machine you have to bring with you to all the locations. Trying to make any quick change or adjustment is like trying to turn the Titanic. It takes a while.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
From day one. You have to when you have a big production with a set release date, so we began cutting and assembling while I shot.

Where did you post?
In Amsterdam, where I live, and then we finished it off in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s my favorite part as you have civilized hours — 9 till 5 or whatever —and you’re in total control. You’re not having to deal with 40 or 50 people. It’s just you and the editor in a dark room, actually making the film.

Joe Walker has cut all of your films, including Hunger and Shame, as well Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario. Can you talk about working with him?
He wasn’t on set, and we had someone else assembling stuff as Joe was still finishing up Blade Runner. He came in when I got back to Amsterdam. Joe and I go way back to 2007, when we did Hunger, and we always work very closely together. I sit right next to him, and I’m there for every single cut, dissolve, whatever. I’m very present. I’m not one of those directors who comes in, gives some notes and then disappears. I don’t know how you do that. I love editing and finding the pace and rhythm. What makes Joes such a great editor is that he started off in music, so he has a great sense of how to work with sound.

What were the big editing challenges?
There are all these intertwined stories and characters, so it’s about finding the right balance and tone and rhythm. The whole opening sequence is all about pulling the audience in and then grabbing them with a caress and then a slap — and another caress and slap — as we set up the story and the main characters. Then there are so many parts to the story that it’s like this big Swiss watch: all these moving parts and different functions. But you always go back to the widows. A script isn’t a film, it’s a guide, so you’re feeling your way in the edit, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. The whole thing has to be cohesive, one thing. That’s your goal.

What about the visual effects?
They were all done by One Of Us and Outpost VFX (both in the UK), but the VFX were all about enhancing stuff, not dazzling the audience. The aim was always for realism, not fantasy.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
They’re huge for me, and it’s interesting as a lot of the movie has no sound or music. At the beginning, there’s just this one chord on a violin when we get to the title card, and that’s it. There’s no sound for 2/3 of the movie, and then we only have some ambient music and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and a Van Morrison song. That’s why all the sound design is so important. When the women lose their husbands, I didn’t want it to be hammy and tug at your heartstrings. I wanted you to feel that pain and that grief and that journey. When they start to act and take control of their lives, that’s when the music and sound kick in, almost like this muscular drive. Our supervising sound editor James Harrison did a great job with all that. We did all the mixing in Atmos at De Lane Lea in London.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at Company 3 London with colorist Tom Poole, and it’s very important. We shot on film, and our DP Sean and I spent a lot of time just talking about the palette and the look. When you’re shooting in over 60 locations, it’s not so much about putting your own stamp and look on them, but about embracing what they offer you visually and then tweaking it.

For the warehouse scenes, there was a certain mood and it had crappy tungsten lighting, so we changed it a bit to feel more tactile, and it was the same with most of the locations. We’d play with the palette and the visual mood, which the DI allows you to do so well.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
(Laughs) I always hope it turns out better than I hoped or imagined, as your imagination can only take you so far. What’s great is when you go beyond that and come up with something cooler than you could have imagined. That’s what I always want.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things cooking on the stove, and I should finish writing something in the next few months and then start it next year.

All Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Merrick Morton


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.


First Man: Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

He talks about his most recent film, First Man

By Iain Blair

It’s been two years since I spoke to writer/director Damien Chazelle for postPerspective about his film La La Land. While he only had three feature films on his short resume at the time, he was already viewed by Hollywood as a promising major talent.

That promise was fulfilled in a big way when La La Land — a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash (which received five Oscar noms, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle) — earned 14 Academy Award nominations, winning six awards, including Best Director for Chazelle. He was the youngest to receive the award. The film also won a record-breaking seven Golden Globe Awards and was honored with five BAFTA wins and 11 nominations.

Damian Chazelle working with DP Linus Sandgren on the set of “First Man.”

Recently, Chazelle reteamed with that film’s star, Ryan Gosling, who plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in Universal Pictures’ First Man, the story behind the first manned mission to the moon. Focusing on Armstrong and the decade leading to the Apollo 11 flight, it’s an intimate account that puts the audience squarely inside the planes and rockets, fully immersing the viewer in the exciting and terrifying test flights and space missions.

Based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film also explores the triumphs and the cost — on Armstrong, his family, his colleagues and the nation itself — of one of the most dangerous missions in history.

The film co-stars Claire Foy, as the unsung hero Janet Armstrong, and a supporting cast that includes Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ethan Embry, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott and Corey Stoll.

Written by Academy Award-winner Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) — with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer — the film also reunites Chazelle with his Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle), Oscar-winning editor Tom Cross (Whiplash) and Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash). The director also teamed for the first time with Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert (Blade Runner 2049, The Huntsman: Winter’s War).

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film, which has already generated a lot of Oscar buzz, and his love of editing and post.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to strip away the mythology a bit, as it’s very easy to forget these are real human beings who risked their lives in glorified sardine cans. It was a time before personal computers, and they were using technology that seems so antiquated now. It was about figuring out the edges of their potential. To me it felt like a story of resilience and sacrifice that was really worth telling, and my hope was to make it totally immersive. I wanted it to feel like you’re right there — in the capsules, in the test flights, wherever the characters are. I wanted to give it a feel of being almost like virtual reality.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big thing was, we all wanted to get it technically right, down to the very smallest details, so all the help we got from NASA was invaluable. And first, we had to deal with the sheer density of material. There was so much knowledge we had to quickly gain in order to reflect it accurately. There was so much research and trips to landing sites and space museums, and meeting and talking to former colleagues and former astronauts. We also got the input and support of Neil’s sons and family. Then there was a lot of prep time where our production designer Nathan Crowley started designing and building all the spacecraft pretty much to scale.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right away, but Nathan and I agreed that we should do as many of the VFX as in-camera as possible rather than using greenscreen, so we used a lot of full-scale models and also some miniatures. We used gimbals, motion-control and LED technology and some other in-camera effects, so the result felt like a very physicalized approach. I thought really suited the subject matter. I didn’t want to glamorize it, but show just how raw and tough it all was.

We looked at a lot of archival footage, and I storyboarded every scene in space and then made animatics set to Dustin’s music, so it gave us a very precise sense of, “OK, this is the shot. How are we going to do this other shot? How are we going to combine this effect with that one?” It was figuring out the methodology, shot by shot, and we had lots of multi-departmental meetings around tables with models and art work laid out. This allowed us to walk each other through the process. It was a bit like a relay race.

Can you talk about how you collaborated again with Linus Sandgren?
He did such a beautiful job on La La Land, and I knew what he was capable of, so it was great to collaborate with him and watch him work on this bigger canvas. He was able to tackle all the technical challenges, yet he was also always able to ensure that his photography had humanity to it. The human beings are at the center of it all, and he captured all the emotions in their faces, all the poetic moments in between all the big set pieces. He’s always searching for those things, which is what I love about his work. He built special light rigs for scenes with the sun, and then we shot the moon sequences at this gray-colored quarry near Atlanta, which we then sculpted.

To get that harsh lunar light, he developed the biggest film light ever built — around 200,000 watts. That gave us that black sky look and stark shadows. We also did a lot of testing of formats to figure out what the balance should be because we planned to shoot a lot in 16mm, some in 35mm, and then all the moon stuff in IMAX. All the transitions were important in telling the story.

(See your interview with Sandgren about his work on La La Land here.)

Where did you post?
All on the Universal lot in LA, including the sound mix.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process, and where it all comes together.

Talk about editing with your go-to guy Tom Cross. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was the huge amount of film I shot — two million feet — and a short editing schedule, shorter than La La Land. So figuring out how to take all that, and a lot of it was documentary style, and wrangle it into a narrative space and make the movie feel visceral, kinetic and propulsive was very challenging. Then finding the balance between the big set pieces in space and the quiet moments at home was demanding, but Tom’s so good at that and finding gems. Our first cut was over three hours long, so we had to cut a lot and find the most economical ways to work through the footage. This wasn’t like our last film, which was full of cuts and close ups. This was more a first-person point of view, and we had to edit in a way that gave clarity, structure and a kineticism to make it feel like this one big breathless ride.

All the VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert.
He was there right from the start, and he also designed all of the in-camera effects, and he’d refer to it as “doing the VFX in prep rather than leaving them all to post.” We used archival footage projected onto LED screens through the windows of the spacecraft, and that gave us our backgrounds. We didn’t have a lot of CG stuff created from scratch, but there was a lot of fine-tuning and finessing, so it was a big endeavor both in prep and post. But it never felt like that kind of effects movie where you shoot a ton of greenscreen and then fix it all in post.

(See our interview with Tom Cross about his work on First Man here.)

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It’s huge for me, and that’s why music drives a lot of my films. I used to be a jazz drummer and I’m always thinking in terms of rhythm and sound. The sound team collected a huge range of sounds we could play with. Our sound designer Ai-Ling Lee would go down to the Cape and record stuff, and we also recorded sounds in old hangars and sounds from the old space suits and their cooling tubes and so on. It was really specific. Our set sound mixer Mary Ellis also recorded a ton of stuff, and it all went into a pile. The mixing took a long time, and we’d also augment the authentic sounds with animal noises, gunfire and other things, so it was quite experimental. Then there’s the absolute silence of the moon.

(Stay tuned for our interview with the audio post team on First Man.)

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Universal with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did La La Land and Whiplash for me and is very experienced and an artist. The DI is such a key part of post, and I love the look we got.

What’s next?
I’m doing pre-prep on this TV musical drama, The Eddy, for Netflix. It’s set in Paris and we’ll start shooting there in March. Then I’m also writing this drama series for Apple TV, which I’ll direct and also executive produce. I have some movie ideas in development, but nothing set yet. I’m excited about the TV stuff.


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 Chat: Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC

Cinematographer Polly Morgan, who became an active member of the ASC in July, had always been fascinated with films, but she got the bug for filmmaking as a teenager growing up in Great Britain. A film crew shot at her family’s farmhouse.

“I was fixated by the camera and cranes that were being used, and my journey toward becoming a cinematographer began.”

We reached out to Morgan recently to talk about her process and about working on the FX show Legion.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I am inspired by the world around me. As a cinematographer you learn to look at life in a unique way, noticing elements that you might not have been aware of before. Reflections, bouncing light, colors, atmosphere and so many more. When I have time off, I love to travel and experience different cultures and environments.

I spend my free time reading various periodicals to stay of top of the latest developments in technology. Various publications, such as the ASC’s magazine, help to not only highlight new tools but also people’s experiences with them. The filmmaking community is united by this exploration, and there are many events where we are able to get together and share our thoughts on a new piece of equipment. I also try to visit different vendors to see demos of new advances in technology.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
Live on-set grading has given me more control over the final image when I am not available for the final DI. Over the last two years, I have worked more on episodic television, and I am often unable to go and sit with the colorist to do the final grade, as I am working on another project. Live grading enables me to get specific with adjustments on the set, and I feel confident that with good communication, these adjustments will be part of the final look of the project.

How do you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the right look for a story?
I like to vary my choice of camera and lenses depending on what story I am telling.
When it comes to cameras, resolution is an important factor depending on how the project is going to be broadcast and if there are specific requirements to be met from the distributor, or if we are planning to do any unique framing that might require a crop into the sensor.

Also, ergonomics play a part. Am I doing a handheld show, or mainly one in studio mode? Or are there any specifications that make the camera unique that will be useful for that particular project? For example, I used the Panasonic VariCam when I needed an extremely sensitive sensor for night driving around downtown Los Angeles. Lenses are chosen for contrast and resolution and speed. Also, sometimes size and weight play a part, especially if we are working in tight locations or doing lots of handheld.

What are some best practices, or rules, you try to follow on each job?
Every job is different, but I always try to root my work in naturalism to keep it grounded. I feel like a relatable story can have the most impact on its viewer, so I want to make images that the audience can connect with and be drawn into emotionally. As a cinematographer, we want our work to be invisible but yet always support and enhance the narrative.

On set, I always ensure a calm and pleasant working environment. We work long and bizarre hours, and the work is demanding so I always strive to make it an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone,

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is always my aim to get a clear idea of what the director is imagining when they describe a certain approach. As we are all so different, it is really about establishing a language that can be a shorthand on set and help me to deliver exactly what they want. It is invaluable to look at references together, whether that is art, movies, photography or whatever.

As well as the “look,” I feel it is important to talk about pace and rhythm and how we will choose to represent that visually. The ebb and flow of the narrative needs to be photographed, and sometimes directors want to do that in the edit, or sometimes we express it through camera movement and length of shots. Ideally, I will always aim to have a strong collaboration with a director during prep and build a solid relationship before production begins.

How do you typically work with a colorist?
This really varies from project to project, depending if I am available to sit in during the final DI. Ideally, I would work with the colorist from pre-production to establish and build the look of the show. I would take my camera tests to the post house and work on building a LUT together that would be the base look that we work off while shooting.

I like to have an open dialogue with them during the production stage so they are aware and involved in the evolution of the images.

During post, this dialogue continues as VFX work starts to come in and we start to bounce the work between the colorist and the VFX house. Then in the final grade, I would ideally be in the room with both the colorist and the director so we can implement and adjust the look we have established from the start of the show.

Tell us about FX’s Legion. How would you describe the general look of the show?
Legion is a love letter to art. It is inspired by anything from modernist pop art to old Renaissance masters. The material is very cerebral, and there are many mental planes or periods of time to express visually, so it is a very imaginative show. It is a true exploration of color and light and is a very exciting show to be a part of.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I got involved with Legion starting in Season 2. I work alongside Dana Gonzales, ASC, who established the look of the show in Season one with creator Noah Hawley. My work begins during the production stage when I worked with various directors both prepping and shooting their individual episodes.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
Most of the scenes in Legion take a lot of thought to figure out… contextually as well as practically. In Season 2, Episode 2, a lot of the action takes place out in the desert. After a full day, we still had a night shoot to complete with very little time. Instead of taking time to try to light the whole desert, I used one big soft overhead and then lit the scene with flashlights on the character’s guns and headlights of the trucks. I added blue streak filters to create multiple horizontal blue flares from each on-camera source (headlights and flashlights) that provided a very striking lighting approach.

FX’s Legion, Season 2, Episode 2

With the limited hours available, we didn’t have enough time to complete all the coverage we had planned so, instead, we created one very dynamic camera move that started overhead looking down at the trucks and then swooped down as the characters ran out to approach the mysterious object in the scene. We followed the characters in the one move, ending in a wide group shot. With this one master, we only ended up needing a quick reverse POV to complete the scene. The finished product was an inventive and exciting scene that was a product of limitations.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories you can’t live without)?
I don’t really have any go-to gear except a light meter. I vary the equipment I use depending on what story I am telling. LED lights are becoming more and more useful, especially when they are color- and intensity-controllable and battery-operated. When you need just a little more light, these lights are quick to throw in and often save the day!


DevinSuperTramp: The making of a YouTube filmmaker

Devin Graham, aka DevinSuperTramp, made the unlikely journey from BYU dropout to a viral YouTube sensation who has over five million followers. After leaving school, Graham went to Hawaii to work on a documentary. The project soon ran out of money and he was stuck on the island… feeling very much a dropout and a failure. He started making fun videos with his friends to pass the time, and DevinSuperTramp was born. Now he travels, filming his view of the world, taking on daring adventures to get his next shot, and risking life and limb.

Shooting while snowboarding behind a trackhoe with a bunch of friends for a new video.

We recently had the chance to sit down with Graham to hear firsthand what lessons he’s learned along his journey, and how he’s developed into the filmmaker he is today.

Why extreme adventure content?
I grew up in the outdoors — always hiking and camping with my dad, and snowboarding. I’ve always been intrigued by pushing human limits. One thing I love about the extreme thing is that everyone we work with is the best at what they do. Like, we had the world’s best scooter riders. I love working with people who devote their entire lives to this one skillset. You get to see that passion come through. To me, it’s super inspiring to show off their talents to the world.

How did you get DevinSuperTramp off the ground? Pun intended.
I’ve made movies ever since I can remember. I was a little kid shooting Legos and stop-motion with my siblings. In high school, I took photography classes, and after I saw the movie Jurassic Park, I was like, “I want to make movies for a living. I want to do the next Jurassic Park.” So, I went to film school. Actually, I got rejected from the film program the first time I applied, which made me volunteer for every film thing going on at the college — craft service, carrying lights, whatever I could do. One day, my roommate was like, “YouTube is going to be the next big thing for videos. You should get on that.”

And you did.
Well, I started making videos just kind of for fun, not expecting anything to happen. But it blew up. Eight years later, it’s become the YouTube channel we have now, with five million subscribers. And we get to travel around the world creating content that we love creating.

Working on a promo video for Recoil – all the effects were done practically.

And you got to bring it full circle when you worked with Universal on promoting Fallen Kingdom.
I did! That was so fun and exciting. But yeah, I was always making content. I didn’t wait ‘til after I graduated. I was constantly looking for opportunities and networking with people from the film program. I think that was a big part of (succeeding at that time), just looking for every opportunity to milk it for everything I could.

In the early days, how did you promote your work?
I was creating all my stuff on YouTube, which, at that time, had hardly any solid, quality content. There was a lot of content, but it was mostly shot on whatever smartphone people had, or it was just people blogging. There wasn’t really anything cinematic, so right away our stuff stood out. One of the first videos I ever posted ended up getting like a million views right away, and people all around the world started contacting me, saying, “Hey, Devin, I’d love for you to shoot a commercial for us.” I had these big opportunities right from the start, just by creating content with my friends and putting it out on YouTube.

Where did you get the money for equipment?
In the beginning, I didn’t even own a camera. I just borrowed some from friends. We didn’t have any fancy stuff. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon T2i, which are fairly cheap cameras compared to what we’re using now. But I was just creating the best content I could with the resources I had, and I was able to build a company from that.

If you had to start from scratch today, do you think you could do it again?
I definitely think it’s 100 percent doable, but I would have to play the game differently. Even now we are having to play the game differently than we did six months ago. Social media is hard because it’s constantly evolving. The algorithms keep changing.

Filming in Iceland for an upcoming documentary.

What are you doing today that’s different from before?
One thing is just using trends and popular things that are going on. For example, a year and a half ago, Pokémon Go was very popular, so we did a video on Pokémon and it got 20 million views within a couple weeks. We have to be very smart about what content we put out — not just putting out content to put out content.

One thing that’s always stayed true since the beginning is consistent content. When we don’t put out a video weekly, it actually hurts our content being seen. The famous people on YouTube now are the ones putting out daily content. For what we’re doing, that’s impossible, so we’ve sort of shifted platforms from YouTube, which was our bread and butter. Facebook is where we push our main content now, because Facebook doesn’t favor daily content. It just favors good-quality content.

Teens will be the first to say that grown-ups struggle with knowing what’s cool. How do you chase after topics likely to blow up?
A big one is going on YouTube and seeing what videos are trending. Also, if you go to Google Trends, it shows you the top things that were searched that day, that week, that month. So, it’s being on top of that. Or, maybe, Taylor Swift is coming out with a new album; we know that’s going to be really popular. Just staying current with all that stuff. You can also use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get an idea of what people are really excited about.

Can you tell us about some of the equipment you use, and the demands that your workflow puts on your storage needs?
We shoot so much content. We own two Red 8K cameras that we film everything with, and we’re shooting daily for the most part. On an average week, we’re shooting about eight terabytes, and then backing that up — so 16 terabytes a week. Obviously, we need a lot of storage, and we need storage that we can access quickly. We’re not putting it on tape. We need to pull stuff up right there and start editing on it right away.

So, we need the biggest drives that are as fast as possible. That’s why we use G-Tech’s 96TB G-Speed Shuttle XL towers. We have around 10 of those, and we’ve been shooting with those for the last three to four years. We needed something super reliable. Some of these shoots involve forking out a lot of money. I can’t take a hard drive and just hope it doesn’t fail. I need something that never fails on me — like ever. It’s just not worth taking that risk. I need a drive I can completely trust and is also super-fast.

What’s the one piece of advice that you wish somebody had given you when you were starting out?
In my early days, I didn’t have much of a budget, so I would never back up any of my footage. I was working on two really important projects and had them all on one drive. My roommate knocked that drive off the table, and I lost all that footage. It wasn’t backed up. I only had little bits and pieces still saved on the card — enough to release it, but a lot of people wanted to buy the stock footage and I didn’t have most of the original content. I lost out on a huge opportunity.

Today, we back up every single thing we do, no matter how big or how small it is. So, if I could do my early days over again, even if I didn’t have all the money to fund it, I’d figure out a way to have backup drives. That was something I had to learn the hard way.

Tom Cross talks about editing First Man

By Barry Goch

As a child, First Man editor Tom Cross was fascinated with special effects and visual effects in films. So much so that he would take out library books that went behind the scenes on movies and focused on special effects. He had a particular interest in the artists who made miniature spacecraft, which made working on Damien Chazelle’s First Man feel like it was meant to be.

“When I learned that Damien wanted to use miniatures and do in-camera effects on this film, my childhood and adulthood kind of joined hands,” shares Cross, who is now a frequent collaborator of Chazelle’s, having cut Whiplash, La La Land and now First Man.

We recently spoke with Cross about his work on this Universal Pictures film, which stars another Chazelle favorite, Ryan Gosling, and follows the story of Neil Armstrong and the decade leading up to our country’s first mission to the moon.

Which sci-fi films influenced the style of First Man?
I remember seeing the original Star Wars movies as a kid, and they were life changing… seeing those in the theater really transported me. They opened my eyes to other movies and other movie experiences, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Along the way, I saw and loved The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.

Tom Cross

Damien is a big fan of all those movies as well, but he really wanted to try a different stylistic approach. He knew that 2001 owns that particular look and style, where you’re super high resolution, antiseptic and sleek in a futuristic way.

For First Man, Damien decided to go with something more personal and intimate. He watched hours of 16mm NASA archival footage, which was often shot by astronauts. He loved the idea of First Man feeling like we put a documentary cameraman in the space capsules. He also saw that these spacecrafts appeared more machine-age than space-age. All the gauges and rivets looked like they belonged in a tank from World War II. So I think all of that lo-fi, analog feel informed the cinema vérité-style that he chose.

As a creative editor, you have animatics, previz or temp comps in the Avid, how do you determine the pacing? Could you talk about the creative process working on a big visual effects film?
Damien preplans everything down to the letter. He did that on Whiplash and La La Land, and he did that on First Man, especially all of the big action set pieces — the X-15, the Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 scenes. He had storyboards done, and animatics that he cut with some rough sound effects. So I always used those as a starting point.

I rely heavily on sound. I really try to use it to help illustrate what we’re looking at, especially if we’re using placeholder shots. In general, I’m most reliant on the performances to help me time things out. What the actors bring is really the heartbeat of any action scene. If you don’t identify with the character or get into a point of view, then the action scene becomes something else. It might work on some formal level, but it’s less subjective, which is the opposite of what Damien was going for.

Can you talk about him capturing things in-camera?
Damien made the choice with production designer Nathan Crowley, VFX supervisor Paul Lambert and cinematographer Linus Sandgren to try to shoot as many things in-camera as possible. The backgrounds that you see out all the spacecraft windows were projected on LED screens and then captured in-camera. Later, our VFX artists would improve, or sometimes replace, those windows. But the beautiful thing that in-camera gave us were these amazing reflections on the visors, faces and eyes. That sort of organic play of light is very difficult to replicate later. Having the in-camera VFX was invaluable to me when I was editing and great for rough cut screenings.

A big part of the film played with only the point of view of the astronaut and feeling like it’s a VR experience. Could you talk about that?
It came down to what Damien and Ryan Gosling would refer to as “the moon and the kitchen sink.” That meant that the movie would hinge on the balance between the NASA space missions and the personal domestic storylines. For the earthbound scenes with Neil and his family, Damien wanted the audience to feel like a fly on the wall in their home. He wanted it to feel intimate, and that called for a cinema verité documentary approach to the camera and the cutting.

He wanted to continue that documentary style inside the space capsules but then take it even further. He wanted to make those scenes as subjective as possible. He shot these beautiful POV shots of everything that Neil sees — the Gemini 8 seat before he climbs in, the gauges inside, the view out the window — and we intercut those with Ryan’s face and eyes. Damien really encouraged me to lean into a simple but effective cutting pattern that went back and forth between those elements. It all had to feel immersive.

What about the sound in those POV shots?
It was brilliantly created by our sound designer Ai-Ling Lee and then mixed by Ai-Ling, Frank Montano and Jon Taylor. Damien and I sketched out where all those sounds would be in our Avid rough cuts. Then Ai-Ling would use our template and take it to the next level. We played around with sound in a way that we hadn’t done on Whiplash or La La Land. We made room for sound. We would linger on POV shots of the walls of the space capsule so that we’d have room to put creaks and metal groans from Ai-Ling. We really played those moments up and then tried to answer those sounds with a look from Neil or one of the other astronauts. The goal was to make the audience feel like they were experiencing what the astronauts were experiencing. I never knew how close they were to not even making it to the lunar surface.

There was that pressure of the world watching as alarms are going off in this capsule, and was fuel running out. It was very dramatic. Damien always wanted to honor how heroic these astronauts were by showing how difficult their missions were. They risked everything. We tried to illustrate this by creating sequences that were experiential. We tried to do that through subjective cutting patterns, through sound and by using the big screen in certain ways.

Can you talk about working in IMAX?
Damien is a big canvas director. He always thinks about the big screen. On La La Land, he and Linus shoot in Fox’s original Cinemascope aspect ratio, which is 2:55.

On First Man, he again wanted to tell the story on a wide canvas but then, somehow, take it up a notch at the appropriate moment. He wanted to find a cinematic device that would adequately transport the audience to another world. He came up with this kind of Wizard of Oz transition where the camera passes through the hatch door and out onto the moon. The image opens up from 2.40 to full 1.43 IMAX.

The style and the pace changes after that point. It slows down so that the audience can take in the breathtaking detail that IMAX renders. The scene becomes all about the shadows and the texture of the lunar surface. All the while, we linger even longer on the POV shots so that the viewer feels like they are climbing down that ladder.

What editing system did you use?
We edited on the Avid Media Composer using DNxHD 115. I found that resolution really helpful to assess the focus and detail of the image, especially because we shot a lot of 16mm and 35mm 2-perf.

Tom Cross

I would love to give a shout out to your team, for your assistants and apprentices and anybody else that helped.
I was pretty blessed with a very strong editorial crew. If it weren’t for those guys we’d still be editing the movie since Damien shot 1.75 million feet of film. I need to give credit to my editing team’s great organizational prowess. I also had two great additional editors who worked closely with me and Damien — Harry Yoon and John To. They’re great storytellers and they inspired me everyday with their work.

Ryan Chavez, our VFX editor, also did a lot of great cutting. At the same time, he kept me on target with everything VFX-related. Because of our tight schedule, he was joined by a second VFX editor Jody Rogers, who I had previously worked with on David O. Russell’s movie Joy. She was fantastic.

Then I had two amazing first assistants: Jennifer Stellema and Derek Drouin. Both of them were often sent on missions to find needles in haystacks. They had to wade through hundreds of hours of NASA radio comms, stock footage, and also a plethora of insert shots of gauges and switches. Somehow they always knew where to find everything. The Avid script was also an indispensable resource and that was set up and maintained by Assistant Editors Eric Kench and Phillip Trujillo.

On the VFX end, we were very lucky to have our VFX producer Kevin Elam down the hall. We also had two incredible postviz artists — John Weckworth and Joe DiValerio — who fed us shots constantly. It was a very challenging schedule, which got more difficult once we got into film festivals.

Fortunately, our great post supervisors from La La Land —Jeff Harlacker and Jason Miller — were onboard. They’re the ones who really kept us all on track and had the big picture in mind. Together, with our trusted post PA Ryan Cunningham, we were covered.

The truly unsung heroes of this project had to be the families and loved ones of our crew. As we worked the long hours to make this movie, they supported us in every way imaginable. Without them, none of this would be possible.


Barry Goch is a finishing artist at The Foundation, a boutique post facility in the heart of Burbank’s Media District. He is also an instructor for post production at UCLA Extension. You can follow him on Twitter @gochya