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Category Archives: Cinematography

DP Chat: Good Omens cinematographer Gavin Finney

By Randi Altman

London-born cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC, has a wealth of television series and film experience under his belt, including Wolf Hall, The Fear and the upcoming series based on the film of the same name, Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. One of his most recent projects was the six-episode Amazon series Good Omens, starring Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) as an angel and a demon with a very long history, who are tasked with saving the world. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Finney was drawn to cinematography by his love of still photography and telling stories. He followed that passion to film school and fell in love with what could be done with moving images.

Let’s find out more about Finney and his work on Good Omens.

How would you describe the look of Good Omens? How did you work with the director/s/producers to achieve the look they wanted?
There is a progression through the story where things get increasingly strange as Adam (who our main characters believe is the antichrist) comes into his powers, and things in his head start manifesting themselves. It is also a 6,000-year-long buddy movie between an angel and a demon! There is Adam’s world — where everything is heightened and strangely perfect — and Aziraphale and Crowley’s world of heaven and hell. At some point, all these worlds intersect. I had to keep a lot of balls in the air in regard to giving each section its own look, but also making sure that when these worlds collide, it still makes sense.

Each era depicted in the series had a different design treatment — obviously in the case of costume and production design — but also in the way we shot each scene and the way they were lit. For instance, Neil Gaiman had always imagined the scene in the church in the blitz in Episode 3 to be an homage to the film noir style of the time, and we lit and photographed it in that style. Ancient Rome was given the patina of an Alma-Tadema oil painting, and we shot Elizabethan London in an exact recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The ‘60s were shot mainly on our Soho set, but redressed with posters from that time, and we changed the lighting to use more neon and used bare bulbs for signage.

I also graded the dailies throughout production on DaVinci Resolve, adding film grain and different looks to different time periods to help anchor where we were in the story. Neil wanted heaven and hell to feel like two parts of the same celestial building, so heaven occupied the best penthouse offices, and hell was stuck in the damp, moldy basement where nothing works properly.

We found a huge empty building for the heaven set that had shiny metal flooring and white walls. I frosted all the windows and lit them from outside using 77 ARRI Skypanels linked to a dimmer desk so we could control the light over the day. We also used extremely wide-angle lenses such as the Zeiss rectilinear 8mm lens to make the space look even bigger. The hell set used a lot of old, slightly greenish fluorescent fittings, some of them flickering on and off. Slimy dark walls and leaking pipes were added into the mix.

For another sequence Neil and Douglas wanted an old-film look. To do this, ARRI Media in London constructed a hand-cranked digital camera out of an old ARRI D21 camera and connected it to an ARRI 435 hand-crank wheel and then to a Codex recorder. This gave us a realistic, organic varis-peed/vari-exposure look. I added a Lensbaby in a deliberately loose mount to emulate film weave and vignetting. In this way I was able to reproduce very accurately the old-style, hand-cranked black and white look of the first days of cinema.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’d worked with the director Douglas Mackinnon a few times before (on Gentlemen’s Relish and The Flying Scotsman), and I’d wanted to work with him again a number of times but was never available. When I heard he was doing this project, I was extremely keen to get involved, as I loved the book and especially the kind of world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were so good at creating. Fortunately, he asked me to join the team, and I dropped everything I was doing to come on board. I joined the show quite late and had to fly from London to Cape Town on an early scout the day after getting the job!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We shot on Leica Summilux Primes and ARRI Alura zooms (15.5-45mm and 45-
250mm) and ARRI Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini cameras outputting UHD 4K files. The Alexa camera is very reliable, easy to work with, looks great and has very low noise in the color channels, which is useful for green/bluescreen work. It can also shoot at 120fps without cutting into the sensor size. We also had to make sure that both cameras and lenses were easily available in Cape Town, where we filmed after the
UK section.

The Alexa output is also very flexible in the grade, and we knew we were going to be pushing the look in a number of directions in post. We also shot with the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera at 1,000fps for some scenes requiring ultra-slo motion, and for one particular sequence, a specially modified ARRI D-21 that could be “hand-cranked” like an old movie camera.

You mentioned using Resolve on set. Is this how you usually work? What benefit did you get from doing this?
We graded the dailies on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve with our DIT Rich
Simpson. We applied different looks to each period of the story, often using a modified film emulation plugin. It’s very important to me that the dailies look great and that we start to establish a look early on that can inform the grade later.

Rich would bring me a variety of looks each day and we’d pick the one we liked for that day’s work. Rich was also able to export our selected looks and workflow to the South African DIT in Cape Town. This formed the starting point of the online grade done at Molinare on FilmLight Baselight under the hugely capable hands of Gareth Spensley. Gareth had a big influence on the look of the series and did some fantastic work balancing all the different day exteriors and adding some magic.

Any challenging scenes you are particularly proud of?
We had some very big sets and locations to light, and the constantly moving style of photography we employed is always a challenge to light — you have to keep all the fixtures out of shot, but also look after the actors and make sure the tone is right for the scene. A complicated rig was the Soho street set that Michael Ralph designed and built on a disused airbase. This involved four intersecting streets with additional alleyways, many shops and a main set — the bookshop belonging to Aziraphale.

This was a two-story composite set (the interior led directly to the exterior). Not only did we have to execute big crane moves that began looking down at the whole street section and then flew down and “through” the windows of the bookshop and into an interior scene. We also had to rig the set knowing that we were going to burn the whole thing down.

Another challenge was that we were filming in the winter and losing daylight at 3:30pm but needing to shoot day exterior scenes to 8pm or later. My gaffer (Andy Bailey) and I designed a rig that covered the whole set (involving eight cranes, four 18Kw HMIs and six six-meter helium hybrid balloons) so that we could seamlessly continue filming daylight scenes as it got dark and went to full night without losing any time. We also had four 20×20-foot mobile self-lighting greenscreens that we could move about the set to allow for the CGI extensions being added later.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
The script inspires me artistically. If I don’t love the story and can’t immediately “see” how it might look, I don’t do it. After that, I’m inspired by real life and the way changing light utterly transforms a scene, be it a landscape or an interior. I also visit art galleries regularly to understand how other people see, imagine and communicate.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
Obviously, digital cinematography has had a huge impact. I trained in film and spent the first 16 years of my career shooting film exclusively, but I was happy to embrace digital when it came in. I love keeping up with all the advances.

Lighting is also going digital with the advent of LED fixtures with on-board computers. I can now dial any gel color or mix my own at any dimmer level from an app on my phone and send it to dozens of fixtures. There is an incredible array of tools now at our disposal, and I find that very exciting and creatively liberating.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I tend to work on quite long jobs — my last two shows shot for 109 and 105 days, respectively. So keeping to sensible hours is critical. Experienced producers who are concerned with the welfare, health and safety of their crew keep to 10 hours on camera, a one-hour lunch and five-days weeks only. Anything in excess of that results in diminishing returns and an exhausted and demoralized crew.

I also think prep time is incredibly important, and this is another area that’s getting squeezed by inexperienced producers to the detriment of the production. Prep time is a comparatively cheap part of the process but one that reaps huge dividends on the shoot. Being fully prepared, making the right location and set design choices, and having enough to time to choose equipment and crew and work out lighting designs all make for a smooth-running shoot.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
This goes back to having enough prep time. The more time there is to visit possible locations and simply talk through all the options for looks, style, movement and general approach the better. I love working with visual directors who can communicate their ideas but who welcome input. I also like being able to ditch the plan on the day and go with something better if it suddenly presents itself. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to come up with something wonderful and fresh.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I always start a new production from scratch, and I like to test everything that’s available and proven in the field. I like to use a selection of equipment — often different cameras and lenses that I feel suit the aesthetic of the show. That said, I think
ARRI Alexa cameras are reliable and flexible and produce very “easy to work with” images.

I’ve been using the Letus Helix Double and Infinity (provided by Riz at Mr Helix) with an Exhauss exoskeleton support vest quite a lot. It’s a very flexible tool that I can operate myself and it produces great results. The Easyrig is also a great back-saver when doing a lot of handheld-work, as the best cameras aren’t getting any lighter.

Apart from that, comfortable footwear and warm, waterproof clothing are essential!


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

For the bibliophiles out there, you know Catch-22 as the 1961 book by Joseph Heller. Cinephiles might remember the 1970 film of the same name starring Alan Arkin. And for those who are familiar with the saying, but not its origins, a Catch-22 is essentially a no-win situation. The famous idiom comes from the book — specifically the main character, Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who finds himself needing to escape the war, but rules and regulations hold him back.

Martin Ruhe (right) on-set with George Clooney.

Now there is yet another Catch-22 to point to: Hulu’s miniseries, which stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney. Clooney is also an executive producer, alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. The series was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras, who each directed two episodes. It was shot entirely in Italy.

We recently reached out to the show’s German-born DP, Martin Ruhe, ASC, to find out about his workflow on the series and how he became a cinematographer.

Tell us about Catch-22. How would you describe the look of the film that you and the directors wanted to achieve?
George was very clear — he wanted to push the look of the show toward something we don’t see very often these days in TV or films. He wanted to feel the heat of the Italian summer.

We also wanted to contrast the absurdity of what happens on the ground with the claustrophobic and panic of the aerial work. We ended up with a strong warm tone and a lot of natural light. And we move the camera as if we‘re always with our hero (Abbott). Very often we travel with him in fluent camera moves, and then we contrast that with shaky hand-held camera work in the air. It was good fun to be able to have such a range to work with.

Were you given examples of the look that was wanted?
We looked at newsreel footage from the period and at stills and benefitted from production designer David Gropman‘s research. Then I took stills when we did camera tests with our actors in costume. I worked on those on my computer until we got to a place we all liked.

Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 did the grading for the show and loved it. He gave us a LUT that we used for our dailies. Later, when we did the final grade, we added film grain and refined our look to what it is now.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I spoke with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for the first time four months before we started to shoot. I had eight weeks of prep.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
A lot of the scenes were happening in very small spaces. I did a lot of research on smaller cameras, and since we would have a lot of action scenes in those planes, I did not want to use any cameras with a rolling shutter.

I ended up using Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke S4 lenses and also some Flare cameras by IO industries, which could record 4K raw to Q7 Odyssey recorders. We mounted those little ones on the planes whenever they were flying for real. We also used it for the parachute jump.

This is a period piece. How did that affect your choices?
The main effect was the choice of light sources when we shot interiors and night scenes. I love fluorescents, and they existed in the period, but just not in those camps and not in the streets of Rome at night. We used a lot of practicals and smaller sources, which we spread out in the little streets of a small town where we shot, called Viterbo (standing in for Rome).

Another thing I learned was that in those camps at night, lights were blacked out. That meant we were stuck with moonlight and general ambience for night scenes, which we created with HMI sources — sometimes direct if we needed to cover big areas, like when the air base gets attacked at night in Episode 5.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging? 
In the end of Episode 5, Yossarian’s plane loses both engines in combat and goes down. We see YoYo and others escape the plane, while the pilot takes the plane over water and tries to land it. It’s a very dramatic scene.

We shot some exteriors of the real B25 Mitchell over Sardinia. We mounted camera systems in a DC3 and our second Mitchell to get the shots with the real planes. The destruction on the engines and the additional planes were added in post. The interiors of our actors in the plane were shot at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. We had a fuselage of a real B-25 on a gimbal. The studio was equipped with a 360-degree screen and a giant top light.

In the plane, we shot with a hand-held ARRI Alexa Mini camera. It was only the actors, myself and my focus puller inside. We never altered the physical space of the plane but instead embraced the claustrophobia. We see all of the crew members getting out — only the pilot stays on board. There was so little physical space for our actors since the fuselage was rigged to the gimbal, and then we also had to create the lighting for them to jump into within a couple of feet of space.

Then, when Yossarian leaves the plane, we actually put a small camera on a stuntman while another stuntman in Yossarian’s wardrobe did a real jump. We combined that with some plate shots from a helicopter (with a 3D plane in it) and some shots of our actor on a rig on the backlot of Cinecitta.

It all worked out. It was always our goal to shoot as many real elements as we could and leave the rest with post.

Stepping away from Catch-22. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I grew up in a small town in western Germany. No one in my family had anything to do with film. I loved movies and wanted to work on them as a director. After a little journey, I got an internship at a camera rental in London. It was then I saw for the first time what cinematographers do. I loved it and knew that was it. Then I studied in Berlin, became a focus puller for a couple of years and started working as a DP on music videos, then commercials and then, a little later, films.

What inspires you artistically?
Photography and movies. There is a lot of good work out there by a lot of talented DPs. I love to look at photographers I like as well as some documentary stills like the ones you see in the World Press Photo contest once a year. I love it when it is real. There are so many images around us every day, but if I don’t believe them (where they seem real to me), they are just annoying.

Looking back over the last few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Maybe LED lighting and maybe the high sensitivity of today’s digital cameras. You are so much more free in your choice of locations, days and, especially, night work because you can work with fewer lights.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Keep it as simple as you can, and stay true to your vision.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I’m not sure there is just one way to go. After reading the script, you have an idea of what it can be, and then you start getting the information of the where and in what frame you will work.

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

I love to spend time with my directors in prep — going to the locations, seeing them in different light, like mornings, noon or during night. Then I love to work with stills and sometimes also reference pictures to show what I think it can be and present a way we can get there. It’s always very important to leave some space for things to develop.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I look for the right gear for each project. I like ARRI cameras, but I’ve also shot two movies with Panavision cameras.

I have shot movies in various countries, and the early ones didn’t have big budgets, so I tried to work with local crew and gear that was available. The thing I like about that is you get to know different ways of doing things, and also you might work with gear you would have never picked yourself. It keeps you flexible. When I start a project, I am trying to develop a feel for the story and the places it lives. Once I have that feel, I start into how and decide what tools I’ll use.

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

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Amazon’s Sneaky Pete: DP Arthur Albert on the look of Season 3

By Karen Moltenbrey

Crime has a way of finding Pete Murphy, or should we say Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi). Marius is a con man who assumed his cellmate’s identity when he was paroled from prison. His plan was twofold: first, pretend to be the still-incarcerated Pete, from whom the family has been estranged for the past 20 years, and hide out on their farm in Connecticut. Second, con the family out of money so he can pay back a brutal mobster (Bryan Cranston, who also produces).

Arthur Albert

Marius’s plan, however, is flawed. The family is lovable, \ quirky and broke. Furthermore, they are in the bail bond business and one of his “cousins” is a police officer — not ideal for a criminal. Ultimately, Marius starts to really care for the family while also discovering that his cover is not that safe.

Similar to how Marius’ plans on Sneaky Pete have changed, so has the show’s production on the current and final Season 3, which is streaming on Amazon now. This season, the story shifts from New York to California, in tandem with the storylines. Blake Masters also took over as showrunner, and cinematographer Arthur Albert (ER, The Blacklist, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) came on as director of photography, infusing his own aesthetic into the series.

“I asked Blake if he wanted me to maintain the look they had used previously, and he said he wanted to put his own stamp on it and raise the bar in every department. So, I had free rein to change the look,” notes Albert.

The initial look established for Sneaky Pete had a naturalistic feel, and the family’s bail office was lit with fluorescent lighting. Albert, in contrast, opted for a more cinematic look with portrait-style lighting. “It’s just an aesthetic choice,” he says. “The sets, designed by (Jonathan) Carlson, are absolutely brilliant, and I tried to keep them as rich and layered as possible.”

For Manhattan scenes, Masters wanted a mid-century, modern look. “I made New York moody and as interesting as I could — cooler, more contrasty,” says Albert. When the story shifts to Southern California, Masters asked for a bright, more vibrant look. “There’s a big location change. For this season, you want to feel that change. It’s a big decision for the whole family to pick up their operation and move it, so I wanted the overall look of the show to feel new and different.”

The edginess and feeling of danger, though, comes less from the lighting in this show and more from the camera movement. The use of Steadicam gives it a bit of a stalking feel, serving as a moving viewpoint.

When Albert first met with Masters, they discussed what they thought worked in previous episodes. They liked the ones that used handheld and close-up shots that were wide and close to the actor, but in the end they went with a more traditional approach used by Jon Avnet, who directed four of the 10 episodes this season.

Season 3 was primarily shot with two cameras (Albert’s son, Nick, served as second-unit DP and A-camera operator, and Jordan Keslow, B-camera/Steadicam operator). A fan of Red cameras — Albert used an early incarnation for the last six episodes of ER – he employed Red’s DSMC2 with the new Gemini 5K S35 sensor for Season 3. The Gemini leverages dual sensitivity modes to provide greater flexibility for a variety of shooting environments.

The DP also likes the way it renders skin tones without requiring diffusion. “The color is really true and good, and the dynamic range is great. It held for really bright window areas and really dark areas, both with amazing range,” he says. The interiors of the sets were filmed on a stage in Los Angeles, and the exteriors were shot on location afterward. With the Gemini’s two settings (standard mode for well-lit conditions and a low-light setting), “You can shoot a room where you can barely see anyone, and it looks fully lit, or if it’s a night exterior where you don’t have enough time, money or space to light it, or in a big set space where suddenly you want to shoot high speed and you need more light. You just flip a switch, and you’ve got it. It was very clean with no noise.”

This capability came in handy for a shoot in Central Park at night. The area was heavily restricted in terms of using lights. Albert used the 3200 ISO setting and the entire skyline of 59th Street was visible — the clouds and how they reflected the light of the buildings, the detail of the night sky, the silhouettes of the buildings. In another similar situation, he used the low-light setting of the camera for a night sequence filmed in Grand Central Terminal. “It looked great, warm and beautiful; there is no way we could have lit that vast space at night to accommodate a standard ISO,” says Albert.

As far as lenses on Sneaky Pete, they used the Angenieux short zooms because they are lightweight and compact, can be put on a Steadicam and are easy to hold. “And I like the way they look,” Albert says. He also used the new Sigma prime lenses, especially when an extreme wide angle was needed, and was impressed with their sharpness and lack of distortion.

Throughout filming, the cinematographer relied on Red’s IPP2 (image processing pipeline) in-camera, which resulted in a more effective post process, as it is designed for an HDR workflow, like Sneaky Pete — which is required by Amazon.

The color grade for the series was done at Level 3 Post by Scott Ostrowsky, who had also handled all the previous seasons of Sneaky Pete and with whom Albert had worked with on The Night Shift and other projects. “He shoots a very cinematic look and negative. I know his style and was able to give him that look before he came into the suite. And when we did the reviews together, it was smooth and fast,” Ostrowsky says. “At times Sneaky Pete has a very moody look, and at times it has a very open look, depending on the environment we were shooting in. Some of the dramatic scenes are moody and low-light. Imagine an old film noir movie, only with color. It’s that kind of feel, where you can see through the shadows. It’s kind of inky and adds suspense and anticipation.”

Ostrowsky worked with the camera’s original negative — “we never created a separate stream,” he notes. “It was always from the camera neg, unless we had to send a shot out for a visual effects treatment.”

Sneaky Pete was shot in 5K, from which a 3840×2160 UHD image was extracted, and that is what Ostrowsky color graded. “So, if I needed to use some kind of window or key, it was all there for me,” he says. Arthur or Nick Albert would then watch the second pass with Ostrowsky, who would make any further changes, and then the producers would watch it, adding their notes. Ostrowsky worked used the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“I want to make the color work for the show. I don’t want the color to distract from the show. The color should tell the story and help the story,” adds Ostrowsky.

While not every change has been for the best for Pete himself since Season 1, the production changes on Sneaky Pete’s last season appear to be working just fine.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.


Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher on Elton John musical

By Iain Blair

The past year has been huge for British director Dexter Fletcher. He was instrumental in getting Bohemian Rhapsody across the finish line when he was brought in to direct the latter part of the production after Bryan Singer was fired. The result? A $903 million global smash that Hollywood never saw coming.

L-R: Dexter Fletcher and Iain Blair

Now he’s back with Rocketman, another film about another legendary performer and musician, Elton John. But while the Freddie Mercury film was more of a conventional, family-friendly biopic that opted for a PG-13 rating and approach that sidestepped a lot of the darker elements of the singer’s life, Rocketman fully embraces its R-rating and dives headfirst into the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll circus that was Elton’s life at the time — hardly surprisingly, the gay sex scenes have already been censored in Russia.

Conceived as an epic musical fantasy about Elton’s breakthrough years, the film follows the transformation of shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. It’s set to Elton’s most beloved songs — performed by star Taron Egerton — and tells the story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture.

Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner, Bernie Taupin; Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager John Reid; and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

Fletcher started as a child actor, appearing in such films as Bugsy Malone, The Elephant Man and The Bounty before graduating to adult roles in film (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and TV (Band of Brothers). He made his directing debut with 2012’s Wild Bill and has since made a diverse slate of films, including Eddie the Eagle.

I recently met up with him to talk about making the film and his workflow.

When you took this on, were you worried you’d now be seen as the go-to director for films about gay British glam rockers?
(Laughs) No, and I never set out to create this specific cinematic universe about gay British glam rockers. I don’t know how many more of them there are left that people want to see films about — maybe Marc Bolan. That would be the next obvious one.

Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton on the set of Rocketman.

What happened was that I was attached early on to direct Bohemian Rhapsody, but then Rocketman came up. While I was preparing that, Bohemian Rhapsody folks came back (after director Bryan Singer was fired during the shoot) and said they needed some help to get it done, so it was more of a coincidence, and Elton’s music is so different from Queen’s.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Definitely an epic musical, and something that was different and imaginative. The first idea that came up was “based on a true fantasy,” and having done biopics before, like Eddie the Eagle, I know you can’t do them accurately. You simply can’t fit a life into two hours, and there’s always people who nitpick it and go, “He’s wearing the wrong shoes, and it missed this bit” and so on. A biopic isn’t a documentary, and you have to breathe creative life into it. The truth/fantasy element of this was far more important to me in telling Elton’s story than doing a by-the-numbers recreation of his career and life.

Casting was obviously crucial. What did Taron bring to the mix?
A great voice, a great performance, and Elton encouraged him to really make the performance his own. He kept saying, “Do your own thing, don’t just copy me. If they wanted just a copy of my music, they can just buy it. So make it original.”

Taron has this great innate ability of being vulnerable and confident at the same time, and that’s a great gift. He’s able to be very driven and focused and yet retain that inner vulnerability and able to show you both sides clashing, which I felt was very true of Elton.

So Elton gave you a pretty free hand?
Yeah, he did. He sat us down right at the start and said to Taron, “Don’t do an impression of me. No one wants that. Do you, honestly, and that’s what will convince an audience and draw them in.” He was right, and he was extremely giving and generous with us. He’s had this incredible life, and he’s putting it all out there on the big screen, which is pretty brave.

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami lipsynced, partly because Freddie Mercury famously had this amazing range that’s so hard to replicate. Taron sang all his vocals?
He did, every note. It was prerequisite for the role, and he wanted to anyway. A musical is very different from a biopic.

You took an imaginative visual approach to the story, especially with all the fantasy elements. How did you collaborate on the look with DP George Richmond, who has shot all your films, whose credits include Tomb Raider and the Kingsman franchise.
He’s got a great eye, and we looked at a lot of the great ‘70s musicals, like The Rose, All That Jazz and Stardust, and there’s this dusty, raw, grainy quality to them. I really wanted to get that feel and texture as this is a period piece and I didn’t want it to look too modern.

So we studied the camera moves and lighting, and it was the same with all the costumes by Julian Day. Elton’s outrageous outfits were the starting point, but we pushed it a little further. So it’s about emotion and how you felt more than just recreating a look or costume or a chronological retelling, and I elaborated as much as possible.

How tough was the shoot?
Fairly grueling. We shot mainly at Bray Studios, outside London, where they shot all the old Hammer Film Productions horror films, and then did some stuff in London.

Where did you post?
We did it at Hireworks in London, which is above this beautiful old cinema, right in the heart of London. It was really conducive for the editing and what we were creating. Then we did all the sound and the mixing round the corner at Goldcrest.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I love it more and more now. It’s this whole side of filmmaking that I never really appreciated as an actor, as I didn’t have much to do with it. But now I can’t wait to get in the edit, and I’m there every day, and I’m very involved with every aspect of post.

Talk about editing with Chris Dickens. What were the big editing challenges?
I’d never worked with him before, though we’d met for another project. He was on the set with us at Bray where he had edit rooms set up, so that was very convenient. He’d start assembling and I could just walk over and check on it all. We had a rough assembly just two weeks after we finished shooting, and as I said, I’m very involved.

We’d discuss stuff, especially all the big musical numbers. Those were the big challenges, as you have to make the music and visuals all work together, and you’re working to a playback track. You’re also very exposed when it comes to changing the tempo or rhythm of a scene. You can’t just cut a few words, as you’re locked into the track. And everyone knows the songs. Songs like “Your Song” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” were done totally live, so it was pretty complicated. But Chris is very experienced with all that, as he cut Slumdog Millionaire. That end musical number there is a total triumph of editing.

Talk about the importance of sound and music. I assume Elton was quite involved and listened to everything?
He was very interested, of course, but he let us all do our own thing. Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin, was in charge of the music. He’s an amazing producer in his own right, and he also has a long history with Elton, who stayed at his house when Giles was young. So there’s a very strong relationship there, and that was key in terms of dealing with Elton’s music legacy.

Giles was the custodian of all that and was instrumental in re-imagining all of Elton’s songs in the most interesting ways, and Elton would listen to them and love it. For instance, at first we thought “Crocodile Rock” wouldn’t fit, but we re-did it in this elevated, really hard rock way, and it worked out so well. We recorded at various places, including Abbey Road and Air Studios and, of course, we spent a lot of time and detail on all the music and sound. Just like with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ if you don’t get that right, the film’s not going to work.

Visual effects play a big role. What was involved?
Cinesite in Montreal did them all, with a few by Atomic Arts, and we had a lot of artists and VFX guys working on them. We had so many, from fireworks to scenes with people floating and all the crowd scenes at stadiums, where we had to recreate fans in the ‘70s. So some of that stuff was fairly standard, but they did a brilliant job. I quite like working with VFX, as it allows you to do so much more with a period piece like this.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Goldcrest with colorist Rob Pizzey, and it’s very important to myself and my DP George Richmond. As I said, we wanted to get a very particular look and texture to it, and George and I worked closely on that from the very outset. Then in the DI, Rob and George worked very closely on it. In fact, George was shooting in Boston at the time, but he flew back to do it and finalize the look. I’m learning so much from him about the DI, and I give my notes and they make all the changes and adjustments. I love the DI.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely. I’m really happy with it. In fact, it’s turned out better than I hoped.

What’s next?
I don’t have anything lined up. I’m out of work!


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.


Whiskey Cavalier DPs weigh in on the show’s look, DITs

While ABC recently cancelled freshman series Whiskey Cavalier, their on-set workflow is an interesting story to tell. The will-they-won’t-they drama featured FBI agent Will Chase (Scott Foley) and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) — his codename is Whiskey Cavalier and hers is Fiery Tribune. The two lead an inter-agency team of spies who travel all over the world, periodically saving the world and each other, all while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.

David “Moxy” Moxness

Like many episodic television shows, Whiskey Cavalier used two cinematographers who alternated episodes so that the directors could work side-by-side with a cinematographer while prepping. David “Moxy” Moxness, CSC, ASC, shot the pilot. Moxness had previously worked on shows like Lethal Weapon, Fringe and Smallville and was just finishing another show when Warner Bros. sent him the pilot script.

“I liked it and took a meeting with director Peter Atencio,” explains Moxness. “We had a great meeting and seemed to be on the same page creatively. For me, it’s so much about collaborating on good shows with great people. Whiskey gave me that feeling.” Sid Sidell, ASC, a friend and colleague of Moxness’, was brought on as the second DP.

While Whiskey Cavalier’s plot has its two main characters traveling all over the world, principal photography took place in Prague. Neither cinematographer had worked there previously, although Moxness had passed through on vacation years before. While prepping and shooting the pilot, Moxness developed the look of the show with director Atencio. “Peter and I had the idea of using the color red when our lead character Will Chase was conflicted emotionally to trigger an emotional response for him,” he explains. “This was a combo platter of set dressing, costumes and lighting. We were very precise about not having the color red in frame other than these times. Also, when the team was on a mission, we kept to a cooler palette while their home base, New York, used warmer tones.”

This didn’t always prove to be straightforward. “You still have to adjust to location surroundings — when scouting for the pilot, I realized Prague still had mostly sodium vapor streetlights, which are not often seen in America anymore,” explains Moxness. “This color was completely opposite to what Peter and I had discussed regarding our nighttime palette, and we had a big car chase over a few nights and in different areas. I knew time and resources would in no way allow us to change or adjust this, and that I would have to work backwards from the existing tones. Peter agreed and we reworked that into our game. For our flashbacks, I shot 35mm 4-perf film with an ARRI IIC hand-cranked camera and Kowa lenses. That was fun! We continued all of these techniques and looks during the series.”

DITs
Mission, a UK-based DIT/digital services provider serving Europe, was brought on to work beside the cinematographers. Mission has an ever-expanding roster of DITs and digital dailies lab operators and works with cinematographers from preproduction onward, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Moxness and Sidell hadn’t worked with Mission before, but a colleague of Moxness’ had spoken to him about the experience of working with Mission on a project the year before. This intrigued Moxness, so he was waiting for a chance to work with them.

“When Whiskey chose to shoot in Prague I immediately reached out to Mission’s managing director, Mark Purvis,” explains Moxness. “Mark was enthusiastic about setting us up on Whiskey. After a few conversations to get to know each other, Mark suggested DIT Nick Everett. Nick couldn’t have been a better match for me and our show.”

Interestingly, Sidell had often worked without a DIT before his time on Whiskey Cavalier. He says, “My thoughts on the DP/DIT relationship changed drastically on Whiskey Cavalier. By choice, before Whiskey, I did the majority of my work without a DIT. The opportunity to work alongside Nick Everett and his Mission system changed my view of the creative possibilities of working with a DIT.”

Gear
Whiskey Cavalier was shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and primarily ARRI Master Prime lenses with a few Angenieux zooms. Both Moxness and Sidell had worked with the Mini numerous times before, finding it ideal for episodic television. The post workflow was simple. On set, Everett used Pomfort’s LiveGrade to set the look desired by the cinematographers. Final color was done at Picture Shop in Los Angeles by senior colorist George Manno.

Moxy (behind camera) and director/EP Peter Atencio (to his right) on the Prague set.

“There are a few inherent factors shooting episodic television that can, and often do, handcuff the DP with regards to maintaining their intended look,” says Moxness. “The shooting pace is very fast, and it is not uncommon for editorial, final color and sometimes even dailies to happen far away from the shooting location. Working with a properly trained and knowledgeable DIT allows the DP to create a desired look and get it into and down the post pipeline to maintain that look. Without a proper solid roadmap, others start to input their subjective vision, which likely doesn’t match that of the DP. When shooting, I feel a strong responsibility to put my thumbprint on the work as I was hired to do. If not, then why was I chosen over others?”

Since successfully working on Whiskey Cavalier in Prague, Mission has set up a local office in Prague, led by Mirek Sochor and dedicated to Mission’s expansion into Central Europe.

And Moxness will be heading back to Prague to shoot Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

 


DP Chat: Brandon Trost on the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked

By Randi Altman

To say that cinematographer Brandon Trost was born to work in the entertainment industry might not be hyperbole. This fourth-generation Angeleno has family roots in the industry — from his dad who did visual/physical effects, to his great uncle, actor Victor French (Little House on the Prairie).

Channeling his innate creativity, Trost studied cinematography at The Los Angeles Film School. His career kicked into high gear after winning the Best Cinematography award at the Newport Beach Film Festival for He Was a Quiet Man.

He has collaborated with Seth Rogen on several films, including The Interview, Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Night Before and This Is the End. Additional credits include The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Disaster Artist and Can You Ever Forgive Me? His most recent project — now streaming on Netflix — Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story of serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) but this time told from his girlfriend’s perspective.

We reached out to Trost to find out about his process and his work on Extremely Wicked.

You’ve worked on a range of interesting projects from different genres. What attracts you to a story?
A movie can be told 100 different ways, so I ask myself where a movie can go — what’s the potential for doing something different? Especially if it is a genre I haven’t done. I really love jumping around.

And, of course, it all starts with the script and who the filmmakers are on a project — and synergy among us all during the interview process.

Tell us about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. How would you describe the general look of the film?
It’s a period movie first and foremost, but we wanted to elevate the production value as much as possible – on a tight budget. The director, Joe Berlinger, is a prolific documentarian. He really wanted to preserve his documentary sensibilities but with a cinematic, nostalgic quality to our approach. A lot of the film is shot handheld because we wanted to create an intimate portrait of the scenario, as horrifying as it is!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
I chose Alexa Mini because of its size — I knew I’d be operating a lot, and Joe wanted a lot handheld. I also wanted to be able to make decisions on the fly and follow the actors as they tell this story. We had two cameras and mounted them with Panavision C Series anamorphics. I love these lenses. Each one has a specific characteristic. Plus, they are the same lenses of the era (made in 1968 and upgraded for today’s cameras), which matches the 1970s period we are depicting on screen.

Is there a challenging scene that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
There is an extensive sequence covering the Miami trial, which was the first one ever televised. It was a phenomenon back then, and we wanted to capture some of that energy. We were strapped for time and lighting was built into a courtroom set. We also used a courtroom location that was augmented to mimic set. We had so many pages to shoot, so I chose not to bring in any additional lights.

Plus, the execution was challenging. With so many long courtroom scenes back to back, we didn’t want it to feel monotonous. With the cameras and lighting set up, I could stand in the courtroom with the freedom to follow a character. I was like an invisible fly on the wall. That helped get us through all the material and infused some energy into the shots.

The sequence ends with Ted Bundy’s statement after firing all his lawyers and ultimately representing himself. We did that shot as a slow zoom, capturing this emotional, impactful speech — even though he’s lying! We zoomed all the way to just Zac’s eyes. His performance was so great, and the results are very satisfying, knowing we could have used twice as many days to shoot these scenes.

I’m glad I had the freedom to make bold choices, and that closing zoom is the only time we broke from shooting handheld. It has a very ‘70s, voyeuristic feel.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid, I always thought I’d do effects like my dad, but he saw my creative side and encouraged me to explore it. When I went to film school, I learned I had a knack for cinematography. I loved movies, and coming from a family who has worked in all sectors of the industry for four generations, I grew up with film.
Finding a frame feels innate to me, but it’s taken a lot of practice to get to where I am now.

What inspires you artistically?
I love the challenge of finding the right image to tell the story and using the right light to achieve that image. As a crew, we all have a different job, but we are all building the same house. We all bring a piece of ourselves to what we do, and it becomes like solving a puzzle to tell the director’s story and create it collaboratively with everyone. Imagery can be so powerful; you can use it to push a scene and evoke a feeling, whether it’s loneliness, strength, optimism or sadness. Camera and lens choices, movement, lighting… it all feeds into completing the puzzle.

I also find cinematography to be very instinctive. If I design a rulebook with the director early on a film, I know it’s just the foundation, something to build from. I like to be reactive – and lean into what feels right in the moment.

How do you stay on top of advancing tools that serve your vision?
I read industry mags, but also through the DITs on set, or the camera houses. I get shown new things and how they work. Or I’ll ask if they have heard about something. This builds my awareness for understanding fundamentals of the tool in case I want to use it.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I’m a big lens guy. For me, the lenses make the movie, and I’m loving using vintage glass. Cameras are being designed with more and more resolution, and I’m always trying to add an analog softness. With every advancement in sharpness and noise reduction, I’m usually trying to take the electric edge off. I rely on lenses to help do that — or I’ll “stress” the camera at a higher ISO or do something in post with texture and grain. I’m usually trying to tear the image apart a little bit.

Panavision has even taken old lenses and customized them optically for me to create a more “shattered” look when it was right for the story.

And everything could go out the window if it serves the purpose of the story. It’s important as a DP to leave your artistic baggage behind if the story guides you to do something different. The story dictates how I work, and as a DP. I have to be flexible in my approaches. That’s what makes this work fun!

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The tool I use the most is my iPhone. I’ve got the Artemis app with the Director’s Viewfinder and the Cinescope app for adjusting aspect ratios, etc. I haven’t held a light meter in years.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 


VFX house a52 launches a52 Color

Santa Monica-based visual effects studio a52 has launched a new custom-built space called a52 Color. It focuses on color grading and finishing. a52 Color is now home to a52 colorist Paul Yacono and new hire Daniel de Vue, who joins from London where he was head of color at Glassworks. a52 Color is able to offer clients access to combined or end-to-end services from its network of affiliated companies, which include Rock Paper Scissors, a52 VFX and Elastic.

“Color has been an offering within a52 with Paul Yacono for over half a decade, so it’s already an established part of the culture here,” explains executive producer Thatcher Peterson, who now runs with a52 after coming over from a four-year stint as EP at The Mill. “And with Daniel joining us from London, the distinction of a52 Color to become a separate entity thrusts our services and talent into its own spotlight.”

Yacono’s first major color project of out a52, was the Netflix series House of Cards, which proved that this boutique facility had the bandwidth to service high-volume 4K projects. Since that time, Yacono has established a body of work that ranges from ads for Target, Nike and BMW to the iconic title sequence for Game of Thrones. Yacono’s latest work includes the feature documentaries Struggle: The Life and Art of Szukalski, 13th, Amanda Knox, the TV miniseries Five Came Back and spots for Toyota, Prada, Samsung and Lexus.

Danish colorist de Vue has worked for directors such as Martin Werner, Martin de Thurah, Andreas Nilsson and Wally Pfister, and crafted the mood for brands such as Nike, Principal Financial, Vans, Mercedes, Toyota, Adidas, H&M and Xbox. Recently he graded an Elliot Rausch-directed TUMI spot featuring Lenny Kravitz and Zoë Kravitz on a journey to their family’s Bahamian roots.

Equipped for theatrical and broadcast color grading, the studio boasts two suites outfitted with FilmLight Baselight grading systems and is equipped for HDR with Dolby Vision certification. Additionally, remote grading services are also available throughout the US and internationally.

EP Peterson was at Company 3 for over 15 years, where he helped grow their core business from commercials to features and television.

As company founder Angus Wall, also an Oscar-winning editor for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, explains, “In adding high-end color and DI to our suite of companies, a52 Color completes our offerings for end-to-end, best of breed creative services.”


Hobo Films’ Howard Bowler on new series The System

By Randi Altman

Howard Bowler, the founder of New York City-based audio post house Hobo
Audio, has launched Hobo Films, a long-form original content development company.

Howard Bowler’s many faces

Bowler is also the founder and president of Green Point Creative, a marijuana-advocacy branding agency focused on the war on drugs and changing drug laws. And it is this topic that inspired Hobo Films’ first project, a dramatic series called The System. It features actress Lolita Foster from Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black.

Bowler has his hand in many things these days, and with those paths colliding, what better time to reach out to find out more?

After years working in audio post, what led you to want to start an original long-form production arm?
I’ve always wanted to do original scripted content and have been collecting story ideas for years. As our audio post business has grown, it’s provided us a platform to develop this related, exciting and creative business.

You are president/founder of Green Point Creative. Can you tell us more about that initiative?
Green Point Creative is an advocacy platform that was born out of personal experience. After an arrest followed by release (not me), I researched the history of marijuana prohibition. What I found was shocking. Hobo VP Chris Stangroom and I started to produce PSAs through Green Point to share what we had learned. We brought in Jon Mackey to aid in this mission, and he’s since moved up the ranks of Hobo into production management. The deeper we explored this topic, the more we realized there was a much larger story to tell and one that couldn’t be told through PSAs alone.

You wrote the script for the show The System? Can you tell our readers what the show is about?
The show’s storyline plots the experiences of a white father raising his bi-racial son, set against the backdrop of the war on drugs. The tone of the series is a cross between Marvel Comics and Schindler’s List. What happens to these kids in the face of a nefarious system that has them in its grips, how they get out, fight back, etc.

What about the shoot? How involved were you on set? What cameras were used? Who was your DP?
I was very involved the whole time working with the director Michael Cruz. We had to change lines of the script on set if we felt they weren’t working, so everyone had to be flexible. Our DP was David Brick, an incredible talent, driven and dedicated. He shot on the Red camera and the footage is stunning.

Can you talk about working with the director?
I met Michael Cruz when we worked together at Grey, a global advertising agency headquartered in NYC. I told him back then that he was born to direct original content. At the time he didn’t believe me, but he does now.

L-R: DP David Brick and director Mike Cruz on set

Mike’s directing style is subtle but powerful; he knows how to frame a shot and get the performance. He also knows how to build a formidable crew. You’ve got to have a dedicated team in place to pull these things off.

What about the edit and the post? Where was that done? What gear was used?
Hobo is a natural fit for this type of creative project and is handling all the audio post as well as the music score that is being composed by Hobo staffer and musician Oscar Convers.

Mike Cruz tapped the resources of his company, Drum Agency to handle the first phase of editing and they pulled together the rough cuts. For final edit, we connected with Oliver Parker. Ollie was just coming off two seasons of London Kills, a police thriller that’s been released to great reviews. Oliver’s extraordinary editing elevated the story in ways I hadn’t predicted. All editing was done on an Avid Media Composer. Music was composed by Hobo staffer Oscar Convers.

The color grade via Juan Salvo at TheColourSpace using Blackmagic Resolve. [Editor’s Note: We reached out to Salvo to find out more. “We got the original 8K Red files from editorial and conformed that on our end. The look was really all about realism. There’s a little bit of stylized lighting in some scenes, and some mixed-temperature lights as well. Mostly, the look was about finding a balance between some of the more stylistic elements and the very naturalist, almost cinéma vérité tone of the series.

“I think ultimately we tried to make it true-to-life with a little bit of oomph. A lot of it was about respecting and leaning into the lighting that DP Dave Brick developed on the shoot. So during the dialogue scenes, we tend to have more diffuse light that feels really naturalist and just lets the performances take center stage, and in some of the more visual scenes we have some great set piece lighting — police lights and flashlights — that really drive the style of those shots.”]

Where can people see The System?
Click here view the first five minutes of the pilot and learn more about the series.

Any other shows in the works?
Yes, we have several properties in development and to help move these projects forward, we’ve brought on Tiffany Jackman to lead these efforts. She’s a gifted producer who spent 10 years honing her craft at various agencies, as well as working on various films. With her aboard, we can now create an ecosystem that connects all the stories.


All Is True director Kenneth Branagh

By Iain Blair

Five-time Oscar-nominee Ken Branagh might be the biggest Shakespeare fan in the business. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that the actor/director/producer/screenwriter largely owes his fame and fortune to the Bard. For the past 30 years he’s directed (and often starred in) dozens of theatrical productions, as well as feature film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, starting with 1989’s Henry V. That film won him two Oscar nominations: Best Actor and Best Director. He followed that with Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet (which won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod), Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

Ken Branagh and Iain Blair

So it was probably only a matter of time before the Irish star jumped at the chance to play Shakespeare himself in the new film All Is True, a fictionalized look at the final years of the playwright. Set in 1613, Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age, but disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family — wife Anne (Judi Dench) and two daughters, Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder). The large ensemble cast also includes Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton.

I sat down with Branagh — whose credits include directing such non-Shakespeare movies as Thor, Cinderella and Murder on the Orient Express and acting in Dunkirk and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — to talk about about making the film and his workflow.

You’ve played many of Shakespeare’s characters in film or on stage. Was it a dream come true to finally play the man himself, or was it intimidating?
It was a dream come true, as I feel like he’s been a guide and mentor since I discovered him at school. And, rather like a dog, he’s given me unconditional love ever since. So I was happy to return some. It’s easy to forget that he was just a guy. He was amazing and a genius, but first and foremost he was a human being.

What kind of film did you hope to make?
A chamber piece, a character piece that took him out of his normal environment. I didn’t want it to be the predictable romp inside a theater, full of backstage bitching and all that sort of theatricality. I wanted to take him away from that and put him back in the place he was from, and I also wanted to load the front part of the movie with silence instead of tons of dialogue.

How close do you feel it gets to the reality of his final years?
I think it’s very truthful about Stratford. It was a very litigious society, and some of the scenes — like the one where John Lane stands up in church and makes very public accusations — all happened. His son Hamnet’s death was unexplained, and Shakespeare did seem to be very insecure in some areas. He wanted money and success and he lived in a very volatile world. If he was supposed to be this returning hero coming back to the big house and a warm welcome from his family, whom he hadn’t seen much of the past two decades, it didn’t quite happen that way. No, he was this absentee dad and husband, and the town had an ambivalent relationship with him; it wasn’t a peaceful retirement at all.

The film is visually gorgeous, and all the candlelit scenes reminded me of Barry Lyndon.
I’m so glad you said that as DP Zac Nicholson and I were partly inspired by that film and that look, and we used only candlelight and no additional lights for those scenes. Painters, like Vermeer and Rembrandt, were our inspiration for all the day and night scenes, respectively.

Clint Eastwood told me, “Don’t ever direct and star in a movie unless you’re a sucker for punishment — it’s just too hard.” So how hard was it?
(Laughs) He’s right. It is very hard, and a lot of work, but it’s also a big privilege. But I had a lot of great help — the crew and people like Judi and Ian. They had great suggestions and you listen to every tidbit they have to offer. I don’t know how Clint does it, but I do a lot of listening and stealing. The directing and acting are so interlinked to me, and I love directing as I get to watch Ian and Judi work, and they’re such hard workers. Judi literally gets to the set before anyone else, and she’s pacing up and down and getting ready to defend Anne Hathaway. She has this huge empathy for her characters which you feel so much, and here she was giving voice to a woman who could not read or write.

Where did you post?
We were based at Longcross Studios, where we did Murder on the Orient Express and the upcoming Artemis Fowl. We did most of it there, and then we ended up at The Post Republic, which has places in London and Berlin, to do the final finishing. Then we did all the final mixing at Twickenham with the great re-recording mixer Andy Nelson and his team. It was my second picture with Andy Nelson as the rerecording mixer. I am completely present throughout and I am completely involved in the final mix.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s the place where I understood, right from my first film, that it could make — in terms of performance — a good one bad, a good one great, a bad one much better. The power of change in post is just amazing to me, and realizing that anything is possible if you have the imagination. So the way you juxtapose the images you’ve collected — and the way a scene from the third act might actually work better in the first act — is so huge in post. That fluidity was a revelation to me, and you can have these tremendous eureka moments in post that can be beautiful and so inspiring.

Can you talk about working with editor Una Ni Dhongaile, who cut The Crown and won a BAFTA for Three Girls?
She’s terrific. She wasn’t on the set but we talked a lot during the shoot. I like her because she really has an opinion. She’s definitely not a “yes” person, but she’s also very sensitive. She also gets very involved with the characters and protects you as a director. She won’t let you cut too soon or too deep, and she encourages you to take a moment to think about stuff. She’s one of those editors who has this special kind of intuition about what the film needs, in addition to all her technical skills and intellectual understanding of what’s going on.

What were the big editing challenges?
After doing a lot of very long takes we used the very best, and despite using a very painterly style we didn’t make the film feel too static. We didn’t want to falsely or artificially cut to just affect the pace, but allow it to flow naturally so every minute was earned. We also didn’t want to feel afraid of holding a particular shot for a long time. We definitely needed pauses and rests, and Shakespeare is musical in his poetry and the way he juxtaposes fast and slow moments. So all those decisions were critical and needed mulling as well as executing.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, as it’s a very quiet film.
It’s absolutely critical in a world like this where light and sound play huge roles and are so utterly different to our own modern understanding of it. The aural and audio space you can offer an audience for this was a big chance to adventure back in time, when the world was far more sparsely populated. Especially in a little place like Stratford; silence played a big role as well. You’re offering a hint of the outside world and the aural landscape is really the bedrock for all the introspection and thoughtfulness this movie deals with.

Patrick Doyle’s music has this gossamer approach — that was the word we used. It was like a breath, so that the whole sound experience invited the audience into the meditative world of Shakespeare. We wanted them to feel the seasons pass, the wind in the trees, and how much more was going on than just the man thinking about his past. It was the experience of returning home and being with this family again, so you’d hear a creak of a chair and it would interrupt his thoughts. So we worked hard on every little detail like that.

Where did you do the grading and coloring?
Post Republic in their North London facility, and again, I’m involved every step of the way.

Did making this film change your views about Shakespeare the man?
Yes, and it was an evolving thing. I’ve always been drawn to his flawed humanity, so it seemed real to be placing this man in normal situations and have him be right out of his comfort zone at the start of the film. So you have this acclaimed, feted and busy playwright, actor, producer and stage manager suddenly back on the dark side of the moon, which Stratford was back then. It was a small town, a three-day trip from London, and it must have been a shock. It was candlelight and recrimination. But I think he was a man without pomp. His colleagues most often described him as modest and gentle, so I felt a vulnerability that surprised me. I think that’s authentic to the man.

What’s next for you?
Disney’s Artemis Fowl, the fantasy-adventure based on the books, which will be released on May 29, and then I start directing Death on the Nile for Fox, which starts shooting late summer.


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.

Tony Dustin joins Efilm as senior colorist

Tony Dustin has joined the Deluxe Creative Services team as senior colorist at Hollywood’s  Efilm. He will also be doing some work for sister company Encore. With more than 20 years of experience in color grading, Dustin’s work spans styles and genres, with a talent for revealing details in the darker palettes of many of his projects. He will be using Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

Dustin’s credits include the Netflix dramatic series Sense8, for which he was nominated for an HPA Award; Hulu horror series Castle Rock; Best Picture Academy Award-nominee Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell; and Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Dustin’s first project for Efilm is the biographical drama Harriet, working with Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll, with whom Dustin previously collaborated with on Sense8.

He comes to Efilm from Technicolor, where he spent nearly 17 years. He’s also held various color-centric roles at Westwind Media and Efilm sister company Encore. Dustin got his start in post by discovering the color grading process through his work in the vault at Editel while attending college. Having spent many hours developing negatives in a photo lab as a youth, Dustin has a well-honed eye and deep appreciation for cinematic visuals.

DP Chat: The Man in the High Castle’s Gonzalo Amat

By Randi Altman

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 Phillip K. Dick novel, which asks the question: “What would it look like if the Germans and Japanese won World War II?” It takes a look at the Nazi and Japanese occupation of portions of the United States and the world. But it’s a Philip K. Dick story, so you know there is more to it than that… like an alternate reality.

The series will premiere its fourth and final season this fall on the streaming service. We recently reached out to cinematographer Gonzalo Amat, who was kind enough to talk to us about workflow and more.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
Since I was very young, I had a strong interest in photography and was shooting stills as long as I can remember. Then, when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, I discovered that movies also had a photographic aspect. I didn’t think about doing it until I was already in college studying communications, and that is when I decided to make it my career.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology?
Artistically, I get inspiration from a lot of sources, such as photography, film, literature, painting or any visual medium. I try to curate what I consume, though. I believe that everything we feed our brain somehow shows up in the work we do, so I am very careful about consuming films, books and photography that feed the story that I will be working on. I think any creation is inspiration. It can be all the way from a film masterpiece to a picture drawn by a kid, music, performance art, historical photographs or testimonies, too.

About staying on top: I read trade magazines and stay educated through seminars and courses, but at some point, it’s also about using those tools. So I try to test the tools instead of reading about them. Almost any rental place or equipment company will let you try newer tools. If I’m shooting, we try to schedule a test for a particular piece of equipment we want to use, during a light day.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
The main new technology would be the migration of most projects to digital. That has changed the way we work on set and collaborate with the directors, since everyone can now see, on monitors, something closely resembling the final look of the project.

A lot of people think this is a bad thing that has happened, but for me, it actually allows more clear communication about the concrete aspects of a sometimes very personal vision. Terms like dark, bright, or colorful are very subjective, so having a reference is a good point to continue the conversation.

Also, digital technology has helped use more available light on interiors and use less light on exterior nights. Still, it hasn’t reached the latitude of film, where you could just let the windows burn. It’s trickier for exterior day shots, where I think you end up needing more control. I would also say that the evolution of visual effects as a more invisible tool has helped us achieve a lot more from a storytelling perspective and has affected the way we shoot scenes in general.

What are some of your best practices, or rules you try to follow on each job?
Each project is different, so I try to learn how that particular project will be. But there are some time-tested rules that I try to implement. The main line is to always go for the story; every answer is always in the script. Another main rule is communication. So being open about questions, even if they seem silly. It’s always good to ask.

Another rule is listening to ideas. People that end up being part of my team are very experienced and sometimes have solutions to problems that come up. If you are open to ideas, more ideas will come, and people will do their jobs with more intention and commitment. Gratitude, respect, collaboration, communication and being conscious about safety is important and part of my process.

Gonzalo Amat on set

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
Every director is different, so I look at each new project as an opportunity to learn. As a DP, you have to learn and adapt, since through your career you will be asked for different levels of involvement. Because of my interest in storytelling, I personally prefer a bit more of a hands-off approach from directors; talking more about story and concepts, where we collaborate setting up the shoots for covering a scene, and same with lighting: talking moods and concepts that get polished as we are on set. Some directors will be very specific, and that is a challenge because you have to deliver what is inside their heads and hopefully make it better. I still enjoy this challenge, because it also makes you work for someone’s vision.

Ideally, developing the look of a project comes from reading the script together and watching movies and references together. This is when you can say “dark like this” or “moody like this” because visual concepts are very subjective, and so is color. From then on, it’s all about breaking up the script and the visual tone and arc of the story, and subsequently all the equipment and tools for executing the ideas. Lots of meetings as well as walking the locations with just the director and DP are very useful.

How would you describe the overarching look of the show?
Basically, the main visual concept of this project is based in film noir, and our main references were The Conformist and Blade Runner. As we went along, we added some more character-based visual ideas inspired by projects like In the Mood for Love and The Insider for framing.

The main idea is to visually portray the worlds of the characters through framing and lighting. Sometimes, we play it the way the script tells us; sometimes we counterpoint visually what it says, so we can make the audience respond in an emotional way. I see cinematography as the visual music that makes people respond emotionally to different moods. Sometimes it’s more subtle and sometimes more obvious. We prefer to not be very intrusive, even though it’s not a “realist” project.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I start four or five weeks before the season. Even if I’m not doing the first episode, I will still be there to prepare new sets and do some tests for new equipment or characters. Preparation is key in a project like this, because once we start with the production the time is very limited.

Did you start out on the pilot? Did the look change from season to season at all?
James Hawkinson did the pilot, and I came in when the series got picked up. He set up the main visual concepts, and when it came to series I adapted some of the requirements from the studio and the notes from Ridley Scott into the style we see now.

The look has been evolving from season to season, as we feel we can be bolder with the visual language of the show. If you look at the pilot all the way to the end of Season 3, or Season 4, which is filming, you can definitely see a change, even though it still feels like the same project — the language has been polished and distilled. I think we have reached the sweet spot.

Does the look change at all when the timelines shift?
Yes, all of the timelines require a different look and approach with lighting and camera use. Also, the art design and wardrobe changes, so we combine all those subtle changes to give each world, place and timeline a different feel. We have lots of conceptual meetings, and we develop the look and feel of each timeline and place. Once these concepts are established, the team gets to work constructing the sets and needed visual elements, and then we go from there.

This is a period piece. How did that affect the look, if at all?
We have tried to give it a specific and unique look that still feels tied to the time period so, yes, the fact that this happens in our own version of the ‘60s has determined the look, feeling and language of the series. We base our aesthetics in what the real world was in 1945, which our story diverges from to form this alternate world.

The 1960s of the story are not the real 1960s because there is no USA and no free Europe, so that means most of the music and wardrobe doesn’t look like the 1960s we know. There are many Nazi and Japanese visual elements on the visuals that distinguish us from a regular 1960s look, but it still feels period.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
Because we had a studio mandate to finish in 4K, the Red One with Zeiss Master Prime lenses was chosen in the pilot, so when I came on we inherited that tech. We stuck with all this for the first season, but after a few months of shooting we adapted the list and filters and lighting. On Season 2, we pushed to change to an ARRI Alexa camera, so we ended up adjusting all the equipment around this new camera and it’s characteristics — such as needing less light, so we ended up with less lighting equipment.

We also added classic Mitchell Diffusion Filters and some zooms. Lighting and grip equipment have been evolving toward less and less equipment since we light less and less. It’s a constant evolution. We also looked at some different lens options in the season breaks, but we haven’t added them because we don’t want to change our budget too much from season to season, and we use them as required.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of in Season 3?
I think the most challenging scene was the one in the Nebenwelt tunnel set. We had to have numerous meetings about what this tunnel was as a concept and then, based on the concept, find a way to execute it in a visual way. We wanted to make sure that the look of the scene matched the concepts of quantum physics within the story.

I wanted to achieve lighting that felt almost like plasma. We decided to put a mirror at the end of the tunnel with circle lighting right above it. We then created the effect of the space travel by using a blast of light — using lighting strikes with an elaborate setup that collectively used more than a million watts. It was a complex setup, but fortunately we had a lot of very talented people come together to execute it.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
On this project, I’d say it’s the 40mm lens. I don’t think this project would have the same vibe without this lens. Then, of course, I love the Technocrane, but we don’t use it every day, for budgetary and logistical reasons.

For other projects, I would say the ARRI Alexa camera and the 40mm and handheld accessories. You can do a whole movie with just those two; I have done it, and it’s liberating. But if I had an unlimited budget, I would love to use a Technocrane every day with a stabilized remote head.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Little’s dailies-to-ACES finishing workflow via FotoKem

FotoKem’s Atlanta and Burbank facilities both worked on the post production — from digital dailies through finishing with a full ACES finish — for Universal Pictures’ and Legendary Entertainment’s film, Little.

From producer Will Packer (Girls Trip, Night School, the Ride Along franchise) and director/co-writer Tina Gordon (Peeples, Drumline), Little tells the story of a tech mogul (Girls Trip’s Regina Hall) who is transformed into a 13-year-old version of herself (Marsai Martin) and must rely on her long-suffering assistant (Insecure’s Issa Rae) just as the future of her company is on the line.

Martin, who stars in the TV series Black-ish, had the idea for the film when she was 10 and acts as an executive producer on the film.

Principal photography for Little took place last summer in the Atlanta area. FotoKem’s Atlanta location provided digital dailies, with looks developed by FotoKem colorist Alastor Arnold alongside cinematographer Greg Gardiner (Girls Trip, Night School), who shot with Sony F55 cameras.

Cinematographer Greg Gardiner on set.

“Greg likes a super-clean look, which we based on Sony color science with a warm and cool variant and a standard hero LUT,” says Arnold. “He creates the style of every scene with his lighting and photography. We wanted to maximize his out-of-the-camera look and pass it through to the grading process.”

Responding to the sharp growth of production in Georgia, FotoKem entered the Atlanta market five years ago to offer on-the-ground support for creatives. “FotoKem Atlanta is an extension of our Burbank team with colorists and operations staff to provide the upfront workflow required for file-based dailies,” says senior VP Tom Vice of FotoKem’s creative services division.

When editor David Moritz and the editorial team moved to Los Angeles, FotoKem sent EDLs to its nextLAB dailies platform, the facility’s proprietary digital file management system, where shots for VFX vendors were transcoded as ACES EXR files with full color metadata. Non-VFX shots were also automatically pulled from nextLAB for conform. The online was completed in Blackmagic Resolve.

The DI and the film conform happened concurrently, with Arnold and Gardiner working together daily. “We had a full ACES pipeline, with high dynamic range and high bit rate, which both Greg and I liked,” Arnold says. “The film has a punchy, crisp chromatic look, but it’s not too contemporary in style or hyper-pushed. It’s clean and naturalistic with an extra chroma punch.”

Gordon was also a key part of the collaboration, playing an active role in the DI, working closely with Gardiner to craft the images. “She really got into the color aspect of the workflow,” notes Arnold. “Of course, she had a vision for the movie and fully embraced the way that color impacts the story during the DI process.”

Arnold’s first pass was for the theatrical grade and the second for the HDR10 grade. “What I like about ACES is the simplicity of transforming to different color spaces and working environments. And the HDR grade was a quicker process,” he says. “HDR is increasingly part of our deliverables, and we’re seeing a lot more ACES workflows lately, including work on trailers.”

FotoKem’s deliverables included a DCP, DCDM and DSM for the theatrical release; separations and .j2k files for HDR10 archiving; and ProRes QuickTime files for QC.

Star Wars: Ep. VII DP Dan Mindel: Cinematographer-in-Residence at UCLA TFT

Director of photography Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC, SASC, has been named the 2019 Kodak Cinematographer-in-Residence at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT). In a career spanning more than 25 years, Mindel has worked with many high-level directors, including Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and J.J. Abrams. He is best known for his work on such blockbuster action films as Enemy of the State, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek (2009) and Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens. Mindel’s unique artistic approach to his cinematography, as well as his use of real film, are responsible for the signature look of the films to which he lends his talents.

The residency began Monday, April 29, 2019 with hands-on student workshops and a special screening of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015), followed by a Q&A with Mindel, at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus. The residency will continue for the remainder of the 2019 academic year.

This is the 19th year of the residency program at UCLA TFT, which is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company. Mindel joins a distinguished group of cinematographers who have received this honor, including Michael Goi, ASC, (American Horror Story), John Bailey, ASC, (American Gigolo, In the Line of Fire); Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, (Brokeback Mountain, Argo, Silence); Dean Cundey, ASC, (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park); Roger Deakins, BSC, ASC, (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall); Guillermo Navarro ASC, AMC, (From Dusk Till Dawn, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, (Hercules, Tower Heist, Public Enemies), among many others.

The Kodak Cinematographer-in-Residence Program was established in 2000 by UCLA TFT professor William McDonald to bring together the worlds of professional and academic cinematography, exposing theater, film and television students to critically acclaimed industry veterans who have attained the highest levels of achievement within the filmmaking industry. Students study with these experts for an entire academic year through a series of workshops and screenings.

“Dan Mindel’s body of work as a cinematographer is an impressive representation of his technical skill and artistic talent,” McDonald says. “He is a supreme visual storyteller, and our students will learn so much from his extensive experience as a premier director of photography. He has a generous spirit, and we are grateful for his enthusiastic willingness to share his knowledge with this generation of young filmmakers and those still to come.”

 

NAB 2019: A cinematographer’s perspective

By Barbie Leung

As an emerging cinematographer, I always wanted to attend an NAB show, and this year I had my chance. I found that no amount of research can prepare you for the sheer size of the show floor, not to mention the backrooms, panels and after-hours parties. As a camera operator as well as a cinematographer who is invested in the post production and exhibition end of the spectrum, I found it absolutely impossible to see everything I wanted to or catch up with all the colleagues and vendors I wanted to. This show is a massive and draining ride.

Panasonic EV1

There was a lot of buzz in the ether about 5G technology. Fast and accurate, the consensus seems to be that 5G will be the tipping point in implementing a lot of the tech that’s been talked about for years but hasn’t quite taken off yet, including the feasibility of autonomous vehicles and 8K streaming stateside.

It’s hard to deny the arrival of 8K technology while staring at the detail and textures on an 80-inch Sharp 8K professional display. Every roof tile, every wave in the ocean is rendered in rich, stunning detail.

In response to the resolution race, on the image capture end of things, Arri had already announced and started taking orders for the Alexa Mini LF — its long-awaited entry into the large format game — in the week before NAB.

Predictably, at NAB we saw many lens manufacturers highlighting full-frame coverage. Canon introduced its Sumire Prime lenses, while Fujinon announced the Premista 28-100mm T2.9 full-format zoom.

Sumire Prime lenses

Camera folks, including many ASC members, are embracing large format capture for sure, but some insist the appeal lies not so much in the increased resolution, but rather in the depth and overall image quality.

Meanwhile, back in 35mm sensor land, Panasonic continues its energetic push of the EVA1 camera. Aside from presentations at their booth emphasizing “cinematic” images from this compact 5.7K camera, they’ve done a subtle but not-to-subtle job of disseminating the EVA1 throughout the trade show floor. If you’re at the Atomos booth, you’ll find director/cinematographers like Elle Schneider presenting work shot with Atomos with the EVA1 balanced on a Ronin-S, and if you stop by Tiffen you’ll find an EVA1 being flown next to the Alexa Mini.

I found a ton of motion control at the show. From Shotover’s new compact B1 gyro stabilized camera system to the affable folks at Arizona-based Defy, who showed off their Dactylcam Pro, an addictively smooth-to-operate cable-suspension rig. The Bolt high-speed Cinebot had high-speed robotic arms complete with a spinning hologram.

Garret Brown at the Tiffen booth.

All this new gimbal technology is an ever-evolving game changer. Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown was on hand at the Tiffen booth to show the new M2 sled, which has motors elegantly built into the base. He enthusiastically heralded that camera operators can go faster and more “dangerously” than ever. There was so much motion control that it vied for attention alongside all the talk of 5G, 8K and LED lighting.

Some veterans of the show have expressed that this year’s show felt “less exciting” than shows of the past eight to 10 years. There were fewer big product launch announcements, perhaps due to past years where companies have been unable to fulfill the rush of post-NAB orders for new products for 12 or even 18 months. Vendors have been more conservative with what to hype, more careful with what to promise.

For a new attendee like me, there was more than enough new tech to explore. Above all else, NAB is really about the people you meet. The tech will be new next year, but the relationships you start and build at NAB are meant to last a career.

Main Image: ARRI’s Alexa Mini LF.


Barbie Leung is a New York-based cinematographer and camera operator working in independent film and branded content. Her work has played Sundance, the Tribeca Film Festival and Outfest. You can follow her on Instagram at @barbieleungdp.

Colorfront at NAB with 8K HDR, product updates

Colorfront, which makes on-set dailies and transcoding systems, has rolled out new 8K HDR capabilities and updates across its product lines. The company has also deepened its technology partnership with AJA and entered into a new collaboration with Pomfort to bring more efficient color and HDR management on-set.

Colorfront Transkoder is a post workflow tool for handling UHD, HDR camera, color and editorial/deliverables formats, with recent customers such as Sky, Pixelogic, The Picture Shop and Hulu. With a new HDR GUI, Colorfront’s Transkoder 2019 performs the realtime decompression/de-Bayer/playback of Red and Panavision DXL2 8K R3D material displayed on a Samsung 82-inch Q900R QLED 8K Smart TV in HDR and in full 8K resolution (7680 X 4320). The de-Bayering process is optimized through Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics cards with Turing GPU architecture (also available on Colorfront On-Set Dailies 2019), with 8K video output (up to 60p) using AJA Kona 5 video cards.

“8K TV sets are becoming bigger, as well as more affordable, and people are genuinely awestruck when they see 8K camera footage presented on an 8K HDR display,” said Aron Jaszberenyi, managing director, Colorfront. “We are actively working with several companies around the world originating 8K HDR content. Transkoder’s new 8K capabilities — across on-set, post and mastering — demonstrate that 8K HDR is perfectly accessible to an even wider range of content creators.”

Powered by a re-engineered version of Colorfront Engine and featuring the HDR GUI and 8K HDR workflow, Transkoder 2019 supports camera/editorial formats including Apple ProRes RAW, Blackmagic RAW, ARRI Alexa LF/Alexa Mini LF and Codex HDE (High Density Encoding).

Transkoder 2019’s mastering toolset has been further expanded to support Dolby Vision 4.0 as well as Dolby Atmos for the home with IMF and Immersive Audio Bitstream capabilities. The new Subtitle Engine 2.0 supports CineCanvas and IMSC 1.1 rendering for preservation of content, timing, layout and styling. Transkoder can now also package multiple subtitle language tracks into the timeline of an IMP. Further features support fast and efficient audio QC, including solo/mute of individual tracks on the timeline, and a new render strategy for IMF packages enabling independent audio and video rendering.

Colorfront also showed the latest versions of its On-Set Dailies and Express Dailies products for motion pictures and episodic TV production. On-Set Dailies and Express Dailies both now support ProRes RAW, Blackmagic RAW, ARRI Alexa LF/Alexa Mini LF and Codex HDE. As with Transkoder 2019, the new version of On-Set Dailies supports real-time 8K HDR workflows to support a set-to-post pipeline from HDR playback through QC and rendering of HDR deliverables.

In addition, AJA Video Systems has released v3.0 firmware for its FS-HDR realtime HDR/WCG converter and frame synchronizer. The update introduces enhanced coloring tools together with several other improvements for broadcast, on-set, post and pro AV HDR production developed by Colorfront.

A new, integrated Colorfront Engine Film Mode offers an ACES-based grading and look creation toolset with ASC Color Decision List (CDL) controls, built-in LOOK selection including film emulation looks, and variable Output Mastering Nit Levels for PQ, HLG Extended and P3 colorspace clamp.

Since launching in 2018, FS-HDR has been used on a wide range of TV and live outside broadcast productions, as well as motion pictures including Paramount Pictures’ Top Gun: Maverick, shot by Claudio Miranda, ASC.

Colorfront licensed its HDR Image Analyzer software to AJA for AJA’s HDR Image Analyzer in 2018. A new version of AJA HDR Image Analyzer is set for release during Q3 2019.

Finally, Colorfront and Pomfort have teamed up to integrate their respective HDR-capable on-set systems. This collaboration, harnessing Colorfront Engine, will include live CDL reading in ACES pipelines between Colorfront On-Set/Express Dailies and Pomfort LiveGrade Pro, giving motion picture productions better control of HDR images while simplifying their on-set color workflows and dailies processes.

Color Chat: Light Iron’s Sean Dunckley

Sean Dunckley joined Light Iron New York’s studio in 2013, where he has worked on episodic television and features films. He finds inspiration in many places, but most recently in the photography of Stephen Shore and Greg Stimac. Let’s find out more…

NAME: Sean Dunckley

COMPANY: LA- and NYC-based Light Iron

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Light Iron is a Panavision company that offers end-to-end creative and technical post solutions. I color things there.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I like to get involved early in the process. Some of the most rewarding projects are those where I get to work with the cinematographer from pre-production all the way through to the final DCP.

Ongoing advances in technology have really put the spotlight on the holistic workflow. As part of the Panavision ecosystem, we can offer solutions from start to finish, and that further strengthens the collaboration in the DI suite. We can help a production with camera and lens choices, oversee dailies and then bring all that knowledge into the final grade.

Recently, I had a client who was worried about the speed of his anamorphics at night. The cinematographer was much more comfortable shooting the faster spherical lenses, but the film and story called for the anamorphic look. In pre-production, I was able to show him how we can add some attributes of anamorphic lenses in post. That project ended up shooting a mix of anamorphic and spherical, delivering on both the practical and artistic needs.

Hulu’s Fyre Fraud doc.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Filmlight’s Baselight. Its color management tools offer with strong paint capabilities, and the Blackboard 2 panel is very user-friendly.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Now that DI systems have expanded their tools, I can integrate last-minute fixes during the DI sessions without having to stop and export a shot to another application. Baselight’s paint tools are very strong and have allowed me to easily solve many client issues in the room. Many times, this has saved valuable time against strict deadlines.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
That’s easy. It is the first day of a new project. It feels like an artistic release when I am working with filmmakers to create style frames. I like to begin the process by discussing the goals of color with the film’s creative team.

I try to get their take on how color can best serve the story. After we talk, we play for a little while. I demonstrate the looks that have been inspired by their words and then form a color palette for the project. During this time, it is just as important to learn what the client doesn’t like as much as what they do like.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I think the hours can be tough at times. The deadlines we face often battle with the perfectionist in me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Architecture is a field I would have loved to explore. It’s very similar, as it is equal parts technical and creative.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I had always been interested in post. I used to cut skateboard videos with friends in high school. In film school, I pursued more of an editing route. After graduation, I got a job at a post house and quickly realized I wanted to deviate and dive into color.

Late Night with Emma Thompson. Photo by Emily Aragones

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Recent film titles I worked on include Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon, both of which got picked up at Sundance by Amazon.

Other recent projects include Amazon Studio’s Life Itself, and the Fyre Fraud documentary on Hulu. Currently, I am working on multiple episodic series for different OTT studios.

The separation that used to exist between feature films, documentaries and episodics has diminished. Many of my clients are bouncing between all types of projects and aren’t contained to a single medium.

It’s a unique time to be able to color a variety of productions. Being innovative and flexible is the name of the game here at Light Iron, and we’ve always been encouraged to follow the client and not the format.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s impossible to pick a single project. They are all my children!

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I go through phases but right now it’s mostly banal photography. Stephen Shore and Greg Stimac are two of my favorite artists. Finding beauty in the mundane has a lot to do with the shape of light, which is very inspiring to me as a colorist.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I need my iPhone, Baselight and, of course, my golf course range finder.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I follow Instagram for visuals, and I keep up with Twitter for my sports news and scores.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have young children, so they make sure I leave those stresses back at the office, or at least until they go to bed. I also try to sneak in some golf whenever I can.

Sony’s NAB updates — a cinematographer’s perspective

By Daniel Rodriguez

With its NAB offerings, Sony once again showed that they have a firm presence in nearly every stage of production, be it motion picture, broadcast media or short form. The company continues to keep up to date with the current demands while simultaneously preparing for the inevitable wave of change that seems to come faster and faster each year. While the introduction of new hardware was kept to a short list this year, many improvements to existing hardware and software were released to ensure Sony products — both new and existing — still have a firm presence in the future.

The ability to easily access, manipulate, share and stream media has always been a priority for Sony. This year at NAB, Sony continued to demonstrate its IP Live, SR Live, XDCAM Air and Media Backbone Hive platforms, which give users the opportunity to manage media all over the globe. IP Live allows users to access remote production, which contains core processing hardware while accessing it anywhere. This extends to 4K and HDR/SDR streaming as well, which is where SR Live comes into play. SR Live allows for a native 4K HDR signal to be processed into full HD and regular SDR signals, and a core improvement is the ability to adjust the curves during a live broadcast for any issues that may arise in converting HDR signals to SDR.

For other media, including XDCAM-based cameras, XDCAM Air allows for the wireless transfer and streaming of most media through QoS services, and turns almost any easily accessible camera with wireless capabilities into a streaming tool.

Media Backbone Hive allows users to access their media anywhere they want. Rather than just being an elaborate cloud service, Media Backbone Hive allows internal Adobe Cloud-based editing, accepts nearly every file type, allows a user to embed metadata and makes searching simple with keywords and phrases that are spoken in the media itself.

For the broadcast market, Sony introduced the Sony HDC-5500 4K HDR three-CMOS sensor camcorder which they are calling their “flagship” camera in this market. Offering 4K HDR and high frame rates, the camera also offers a global shutter — which is essential for dealing with strobing from lights — and can now capture fast action without the infamous rolling shutter blur. The camera allows for 4K output over 12G SDI, allowing for 4K monitoring and HDR, and as these outputs continue to be the norm, the introduction of the HDC-5500 will surely be a hit with users, especially with the addition of global shutter.

Sony is very much a company that likes to focus on the longevity of their previous releases… cameras especially. Sony’s FS7 is a camera that has excelled in its field since its introduction in 2014, and to this day is an extremely popular choice for short form, narrative and broadcast media. Like other Sony camera bodies, the FS7 allows for modular builds and add-ons, and this is where the new CBK-FS7BK ENG Build-Up Kit comes in. Sporting a shoulder mount and ENG viewfinder, the kit includes an extension in the back that allows for two wireless audio inputs, RAW output, streaming and file transfer via Wireless LAN or 4G/LTE connection, as well as QoS streaming (only through XDCAM Air) and timecode input. This CBK-FS7BK ENG Build-Up Kit turns the FS7 into an even more well-rounded workhorse.

The Sony Venice is Sony’s flagship Cinema camera, replacing the Sony F65, which is still brilliant and a popular camera. Having popped up as recently as last year’s Annihilation, the Venice takes a leap further in entering the full-frame, VistaVision market. Boasting top-of-the-line specs and a smaller, more modular build than the F65, the camera isn’t exactly a new release — it came out in November 2017 — but Sony has secured longevity in their flagship camera in a time when other camera manufacturers are just releasing their own VistaVision-sensored cameras and smaller alternatives.

Sony recently released a firmware update to the Venice that allows X-OCN XT — their highest form of compressed 16-bit RAW — two new imager modes, allowing the camera to sample 5.7K 16:9 in full frame and 6K 2.39:1 in full width, as well as 4K signal over 6G/12G SDI output and wireless remote control with the CBK-WA02. Since the Venice is smaller and able to be mounted on harder-to-reach mounts, wireless control is quickly becoming a feature that many camera assistants need. Newer anamorphic desqueeze modes for 1.25x, 1.3x, 1.5x and 1.8x have also been added, which is huge, since many older and newer lenses are constantly being created and revisited, such as the Technovision 1.5x — made famous by Vittorio Storaro on Apocalypse Now (1979) — and the Cooke Full Frame Anamorphics 1.8X. With VistaVision full frame now being an easily accessible way of filming, new forms of lensing are now becoming common, so systems like anamorphic are no longer limited to 1.3X and 2X. It’s reassuring to see Sony look out for storytellers who may want to employ less common anamorphic desqueeze sizes.

As larger resolutions and higher frame rates become the norm, Sony has introduced the new Sony SxS Pro X cards. A follow up to the hugely successful Sony SxS Pro+ cards, these new cards boost an incredible transfer speed of 10Gbps (1250Mbps) in 120GB and 240GB cards. This is a huge step up from the previous SxS Pro+ cards that offered a read speed of 3.5Gbps and a write speed of 2.8Gbps. Probably the most exciting part of these new cards being introduced is the corresponding SBAC-T40 card reader which guarantees a full 240GB card to be offloaded in 3.5 minutes.

Sony’s newest addition to the Venice camera is the Rialto extension system. Using the Venice’s modular build, the Rialto is a hardware extension that allows you to remove the main body’s sensor and install it into a smaller body unit which is then tethered either nine or 18 feet by cable back to the main body. Very reminiscent of the design of ARRI’s Alexa M unit, the Rialto goes further by being an extension of its main system rather than a singular system, which may bring its own issues. The Rialto allows users to reach spots where it may otherwise prove difficult using the actual Venice body. Its lightweight design allows users to mount it nearly anywhere. Where other camera bodies that are designed to be smaller end up heavy when outfitted with accessories such as batteries and wireless transmitters, the Rialto can easily be rigged to aerials, handhelds, and Steadicams. Though some may question why you wouldn’t just get a smaller body from another camera company, the big thing to consider is that the Rialto isn’t a solution to the size of the Venice body — which is already very small, especially compared to the previous F65 — but simply another tool to get the most out of the Venice system, especially considering you’re not sacrificing anything as far as features or frame rates. The Rialto is currently being used on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, as its smaller body allows him to employ two simultaneously for true 3D recording whilst giving all the options of the Venice system.

With innovations in broadcast and motion picture production, there is a constant drive to push boundaries and make capture/distribution instant. Creating a huge network for distribution, streaming, capture, and storage has secured Sony not only as the powerhouse that it already is, but also ensures its presence in the ever-changing future.


Daniel Rodriguez is a New York based director and cinematographer. Having spent years working for such companies as Light Iron, Panavision and ARRI Rental, he currently works as a freelance cinematographer, filming narrative and commercial work throughout the five boroughs. 

 

Atomos’ new Shogun 7: HDR monitor, recorder, switcher

The new Atomos Shogun 7 is a seven-inch HDR monitor, recorder and switcher that offers an all-new 1500-nit, daylight-viewable, 1920×1200 panel with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 15+ stops of dynamic range displayed. It also offers ProRes RAW recording and realtime Dolby Vision output. Shogun 7 will be available in June 2019, priced at $1,499.

The Atomos screen uses a combination of advanced LED and LCD technologies which together offer deeper, better blacks the company says rivals OLED screens, “but with the much higher brightness and vivid color performance of top-end LCDs.”

A new 360-zone backlight is combined with this new screen technology and controlled by the Dynamic AtomHDR engine to show millions of shades of brightness and color. It allows Shogun 7 to display 15+ stops of real dynamic range on-screen. The panel, says Atomos, is also incredibly accurate, with ultra-wide color and 105% of DCI-P3 covered, allowing for the same on-screen dynamic range, palette of colors and shades that your camera sensor sees.

Atomos and Dolby have teamed up to create Dolby Vision HDR “live” — a tool that allows you to see HDR live on-set and carry your creative intent from the camera through into HDR post. Dolby have optimized their target display HDR processing algorithm which Atomos has running inside the Shogun 7. It brings realtime automatic frame-by-frame analysis of the Log or RAW video and processes it for optimal HDR viewing on a Dolby Vision-capable TV or monitor over HDMI. Connect Shogun 7 to the Dolby Vision TV and AtomOS 10 automatically analyzes the image, queries the TV and applies the right color and brightness profiles for the maximum HDR experience on the display.

Shogun 7 records images up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 or 2kp240 slow motion from compatible cameras, in RAW/Log or HLG/PQ over SDI/HDMI. Footage is stored directly to AtomX SSDmini or approved off-the-shelf SATA SSD drives. There are recording options for Apple ProRes RAW and ProRes, Avid DNx and Adobe CinemaDNG RAW codecs. Shogun 7 has four SDI inputs plus a HDMI 2.0 input, with both 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 outputs. It can record ProRes RAW in up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 DCI/UHD and 2kp240 DCI/HD, depending on the camera’s capabilities. Also, 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHR recording is available up to 4Kp60 or 2Kp240. The four SDI inputs enable the connection of most quad-link, dual-link or single-link SDI cinema cameras. Pixels are preserved with data rates of up to 1.8Gb/s.

In terms of audio, Shogun 7 eliminates the need for a separate audio recorder. Users can add 48V stereo mics via an optional balanced XLR breakout cable, or select mic or line input levels, plus record up to 12 channels of 24/96 digital audio from HDMI or SDI. Monitoring selected stereo tracks is via the 3.5mm headphone jack. There are dedicated audio meters, gain controls and adjustments for frame delay.

Shogun 7 features the latest version of the AtomOS 10 touchscreen interface, first seen on the Ninja V.  The new body of Shogun 7 has a Ninja V-like exterior with ARRI anti-rotation mounting points on the top and bottom of the unit to ensure secure mounting.

AtomOS 10 on Shogun 7 has the full range of monitoring tools, including Waveform, Vectorscope, False Color, Zebras, RGB parade, Focus peaking, Pixel-to-pixel magnification, Audio level meters and Blue only for noise analysis.

Shogun 7 can also be used as a portable touchscreen-controlled multi-camera switcher with asynchronous quad-ISO recording. Users can switch up to four 1080p60 SDI streams, record each plus the program output as a separate ISO, then deliver ready-for-edit recordings with marked cut-points in XML metadata straight to your NLE. The current Sumo19 HDR production monitor-recorder will also gain the same functionality in a free firmware update.

There is asynchronous switching, plus use genlock in and out to connect to existing AV infrastructure. Once the recording is over, users can import the XML file into an NLE and the timeline populates with all the edits in place. XLR audio from a separate mixer or audio board is recorded within each ISO, alongside two embedded channels of digital audio from the original source. The program stream always records the analog audio feed as well as a second track that switches between the digital audio inputs to match the switched feed.

DP Chat: The Village cinematographer William Rexer

By Randi Altman

William Rexer is a cinematographer who has worked on documentaries, music videos, commercials and narratives — both comedies and dramas. He’s frequently collaborated with writer/director Ed Burns (Friends With Kids, Newlyweds, Summertime). Recently, he’s directed photography on several series including The Get Down, The Tick, Sneaky Pete and the new NBC drama The Village.

He sat down with us to answer some questions about his love of cinematography, his process and The Village, which follow a diverse group of people living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn.

The set of The Village. Photo: Peter Kramer

How did you become interested in cinematography?
When I was a kid, my mother had a theater company and my father was an agent/producer. I grew up sleeping backstage. When I was a teen, I was running a followspot (light) for Cab Calloway. I guess there was no escaping some job in this crazy business!

My father would check out 16mm movies from the New York City public library — Chaplin, Keaton — and that would be our weekend night entertainment. When I was in 8th grade, an art cinema started in my hometown; it is now called the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, New York. It showed cinema from all over the world, including Bergman, Fellini, Jasny. I began to see the world through films and fell in love.

What inspires you artistically?
I love going to the movies, the theater and art galleries. Films like Roma and Cold War make me have faith in the world. What mostly inspires me is checking out what my peers are up to. Tim Ives, ASC, and Tod Campbell are two friends that I love to watch. Very impressive guys. David Mullen, ASC, and Eric Moynier are doing great work on Mrs. Maisel. I guess I would say watching my peers and their work inspires me.

NBC’s The Village

How do you stay on top of advancing technology tools for achieving your vision on set or in post?
The cameras and post workflow change every few months. I check in with the rental houses to stay on top of gear. Panavision, Arri Rental, TCS, Keslow and Abel are great resources. I also stay in touch with post houses. My friends at Harbor and Technicolor are always willing to help create LUTs, evaluate cameras and lenses.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The introduction of the Red One MX and the ARRI D-20 changed a lot of things. They made shooting high-quality images affordable and cleaner for the environment. It put 35mm size sensors out there and gave a lot of young people a chance to create.

The introduction of large-format cameras, the Red Monstro 8K VV, the ARRI LF and 65, and the Sony Venice have made my life more interesting. All these sensors are fantastic, and the new color spaces we get to work with like Red’s IPP2 are truly astounding. I like having control of depth of field and controlling where the audience looks.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I try my best to shoot tests, create a LUT in the test phase and take the footage through the entire process and see how it holds up. I make sure that all my monitors are calibrated at the post house to match; that gets us all on the same page. Then, I’ll adjust the LUT after a few days of shooting in the field, using the LUT as a film stock and light to it. I watch dailies, give notes and try to get in with colorist/timer and work with them.

Will Rexer (center) with showrunner Mike Daniels and director Minkie Spiro. Photo: Jennifer Rhoades

Tell us about The Village. How would you describe the general look of the show?
The look of The Village is somewhere between romantic realism and magical realism. It is a world that could be. Our approach was to thread that line between real and the potential — warm and inviting and full of potential.

Can you talk about your collaboration with the showrunner when setting the look of a project?
Mike Daniels, Minkie Spiro, Jessica Rhoades and I looked at a ton of photographs and films to find our look. The pilot designer Ola Maslik and the series designer Neil Patel created warm environments for me.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I had three weeks of prep for the pilot, and I worked with Minkie and Ola finding locations and refining the look.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
The show required a decent amount of small gimbal work, so we chose the Red Monstro 8K VV using Red’s IPP2 color space. I love the camera, great look, great functionality and my team has customized the accessories to make our work on set effortless.

We used the Sigma Cine PL Primes with 180mm Leica R, Nikon 200 T2, Nikkor Zero Optik 58mm T1.2, Angenieux HR 25-250mm and some other special optics. I looked at other full-frame lenses but really liked the Sigma lenses and their character. These lenses are a nice mix of roundness and warmth and consistency.

What was your involvement with post? Who supported your vision from dailies through final grade? Have you worked with this facility and/or colorists on past projects?
Dailies were through Harbor Picture Company. I love these guys. I have worked with Harbor since they started, and they are total pros. They have helped me create LUTs for many projects, including Public Morals.

The final post for The Village was done in LA at NBC/Universal. Craig Budrick has done a great job coloring the show. I do wish that I could be in the room, but that’s not always possible.

What’s most satisfying to you about this show?
I am very proud of the show and its message. It’s a romantic vision of the world. TV and cinema often go to the dark side. I like going there, but I do think we need to be reminded of our better selves and our potential.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Review: Mzed.com’s Directing Color With Ollie Kenchington

By Brady Betzel

I am constantly looking to educate myself, no matter what the source — or subject. Whether I am learning how to make a transition in Adobe After Effects from an eSports editor on YouTube to Warren Eagles teaching color correction in Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve on FXPHD.com, I’m always beefing up my skills. I even learn from bad tutorials — they teach you what not to do!

But when you come across a truly remarkable learning experience, it is only fair to share with the rest of the world. Last year I saw an ad for an MZed.com course called “Directing Color With Ollie Kenchington,” and was immediately interested. These days you can pretty much find any technical tutorial you can dream of on YouTube, but truly professional, higher education-like, theory-based education series are very hard to come by. Even ones you need to pay for aren’t always worth their price of admission, which is a huge let down.

Ollie sharing his wisdom.

Once I gained access to MZed.com I wanted to watch every educational series they had. From lighting techniques with ASC member Shane Hurlbut to the ARRI Amira Camera Primer, there are over 150 hours of education available from industry leaders. However, I found my way to Directing Color…

I am often asked if I think people should go to college or a film school. My answer? If you have the money and time, you should go to college followed by film school (or do both together, if the college offers it). Not only will you learn a craft, but you will most likely spend hundreds of hours studying and visualizing the theory behind it. For example, when someone asks me about the science behind camera lenses, I can confidently answer them thanks to my physics class based on lenses and optics from California Lutheran University (yes, a shameless plug).

In my opinion, a two-, four- or even 10-year education allows me to live in the grey. I am comfortable arguing for both sides of a debate, as well as the options that are in between —  the grey. I feel like my post-high school education really allowed me to recognize and thrive in the nuances of debate. Leaving me to play devil’s advocate maybe a little too much, but also having civil and proactive discussions with others without being demeaning or nasty — something we are actively missing these days. So if living in the grey is for you, I really think a college education supplemented by online or film school education is valuable (assuming you make the decision that the debt is worth it like I did).

However, I know that is not an option for everyone since it can be very expensive — trust me, I know. I am almost done paying off my undergraduate fees while still paying off my graduate ones, which I am still two or three classes away from finishing. That being said, Directing Color With Ollie Kenchington is the only online education series I have seen so far that is on the same level as some of my higher education classes. Not only is the content beautifully shot and color corrected, but Ollie gives confident and accessible lessons on how color can be used to draw the viewer’s attention to multiple parts of the screen.

Ollie Kenchington is a UK-based filmmaker who runs Korro Films. From the trailer of his Directing Color series, you can immediately see the beauty of Ollie’s work and know that you will be in safe hands. (You can read more about his background here.)

The course raises the online education bar and will elevate the audiences idea of professional insight. The first module “Creating a Palette” covers the thoughts behind creating a color palette for a small catering company. You may even want to start with the last Bonus Module “Ox & Origin” to get a look at what Ollie will be creating throughout the seven modules and about an hour and a half of content.

While Ollie goes over “looks,” the beauty of this course is that he goes through his internal thought processes including deciding on palettes based on color theory. He didn’t just choose teal and orange because it looks good, he chooses his color palette based on complementary colors.

Throughout the course Ollie covers some technical knowledge, including calibrating monitors and cameras, white balancing and shooting color charts to avoid having wrong color balance in post. This is so important because if you don’t do these simple steps, your color correction session while be much harder. And wasting time on fixing incorrect color balance takes time away from the fun of color grading. All of this is done through easily digestible modules that range from two to 20 minutes.

The modules include Creating a Palette; Perceiving Color; Calibrating Color; Color Management; Deconstructing Color 1 – 3 and the Bonus Module Ox & Origin.

Without giving away the entire content in Ollie’s catalog, my favorite modules in this course are the on-set modules. Maybe because I am not on-set that often, but I found the “thinking out loud” about colors helpful. Knowing why reds represent blood, which raise your heart rate a little bit, is fascinating. He even goes through practical examples of color use in films such as in Whiplash.

In the final “Deconstructing Color” modules, Ollie goes into a color bay (complete with practical candle backlighting) and dives in Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. He takes this course full circle to show how since he had to rush through a scene he can now go into Resolve and add some lighting to different sides of someone’s face since he took time to set up proper lighting on set, he can focus on other parts of his commercial.

Summing Up
I want to watch every tutorial MZed.com has to offer. From “Philip Bloom’s Cinematic Masterclass” to Ollie’s other course “Mastering Color.” Unfortunately, as of my review, you would have to pay an additional fee to watch the “Mastering Color” series. It seems like an unfortunate trend in online education to charge a fee and then when an extra special class comes up, charge more, but this class will supposedly be released to the standard subscribers in due time.

MZed.com has two subscription models: MZed Pro, which is $299 for one year of streaming the standard courses, and MZed Pro Premium for $399. This includes the standard courses for one year and the ability to choose one “Premium” course.

“Philip Bloom’s Cinematic Master Class” was the Premium course I was signed up for initially, but you you can decide between this one and the “Mastering Color” course. You will not be disappointed regardless of which one you choose. Even their first course “How to Photograph Everyone” is chock full of lighting and positioning instruction that can be applied in many aspects of videography.

I really was impressed with Directing Color with Ollie Kenchington, and if the other course are this good MZed.com will definitely become a permanent bookmark for me.


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.

Atomos offering Shinobi SDI camera-top monitor

On the heels of its successful Shinobi launch in March, Atomos has introduced Atomos Shinobi SDI, a
super-lightweight, 5-inch HD-SDI and 4K HDMI camera-top monitor. Its color-accurate calibrated display makes makes it suitable compact HDR and SDR reference monitor. It targets the professional video creator who uses or owns a variety of cameras and camcorders and needs the flexibility of SDI or HDMI, accurate high bright and HDR, while not requiring external recording capability.

Shinobi SDI features a compact, durable body combined with an ultra-clear, ultra-bright, daylight viewable 1000-nit display. The anti-reflection, anti-fingerprint screen has a pixel density of 427PPI (pixels per inch) and is factory calibrated for color accuracy, with the option for in-field calibration providing ongoing accuracy. Thanks to the
HD-SDI input and output, plus a 4K HDMI input, it can be used in most productions.

This makes Shinobi SDI a useful companion for high-end cinema and production cameras, ENG cameras, handheld camcorders and any other
HD-SDI equipped source.

“Our most requested product in recent times has been a stand-alone SDI monitor. We are thrilled to be bringing the Atomos Shinobi SDI to market for professional video and film creators,” says Jeromy Young, CEO of Atomos.

ARRI’s new Alexa Mini LF offers large-format sensor in small footprint

Offering a large-format sensor in a small form factor, ARRI has introduced its new Alexa Mini LF camera, which combines the compact size and low weight of the Alexa Mini with the large-format Alexa LF sensor. According to the company, it “provides the best overall image quality for large-format shooting” and features three internal motorized FSND filters, 12V power input, extra power outputs, a new Codex Compact Drive and a new MVF-2 high-contrast HD viewfinder.

The new Alexa Mini LF cameras are scheduled to start shipping in mid-2019.

ARRI’s large-format camera system, launched in 2018, is based around a 4.5K version of the Alexa sensor, which is twice the size and offers twice the resolution of Alexa cameras in 35 format. This allows for large-format looks, with improvements on the Alexa sensor’s natural colorimetry, pleasing skin tones, low noise and it’s suitable for HDR and Wide Color Gamut workflows.

Alexa Mini LF now joins the existing system elements: the high-speed capable Alexa LF camera; ARRI Signature Prime lenses; LPL lens mount and PL-to-LPL adapter; and Lens Data System LDS-2. The combined feature sets and form factors of ARRI’s two large-format cameras encompass all on-set requirements.

The Alexa Mini LF is built for use in challenging professional conditions. It features a hard-wearing carbon body and a wide temperature range of -4° F to +113° F, and each Alexa Mini LF is put through a vigorous stress test before leaving the ARRI factory and is then supported by ARRI’s global service centers.

While Alexa Mini LF is compatible with almost all Alexa Mini accessories, the company says it brings significant enhancements to the Mini camera design. Among them are extra connectors, including regulated 12V and 24V accessory power; a new 6-pin audio connector; built-in microphones; and improved WiFi.

Six user buttons are now in place on the camera’s operating side, and the camera and viewfinder each have their own lock button, while user access to the recording media, and VF and TC connectors, has been made easier.

Alexa Mini LF allows internal recording of MXF/ARRIRAW or MXF/Apple ProRes in a variety of formats and aspect ratios, and features the new Compact Drive recording media from Codex, an ARRI technology partner. This small and lightweight drive offers 1TB of recording. It comes with a USB-C Compact Drive reader that can be used without any extra software or licenses on Mac or Windows computers. In addition, a Compact Drive adapter can be used in any dock that accepts SXR Capture Drives, potentially more than doubling download speeds.

Another development from Codex is Codex High Density Encoding (HDE), which uses sophisticated, loss-less encoding to reduce ARRIRAW file sizes by around 40% during downloading or later in the workflow. This lowers storage costs, shortens transfer times and speeds up workflows.

HDE is free for use with Codex Capture or Compact Drives, openly shared and fast: ARRIRAW Open Gate 4.5K can be encoded at 24fps on a modern MacBook Pro.

ARRI’s new MVF-2 viewfinder for the Alexa Mini LF is the same high-contrast HD OLED display, color science and ARRICAM eyepiece as in Alexa LF’s EVF-2 viewfinder, allowing optimal judgment of focus, dynamic range and color on set.

In addition, the MVF-2 features a large, four-inch flip-out monitor that can display the image or the camera control menu. The MVF-2 can be used on either side of the camera and connects via a new CoaXPress VF cable that has a reach of up to 10m for remote camera operations. It features a refined user interface, a built-in eyepiece lens heater for de-fogging and a built-in headphones connector.

DP Tom Curran on Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

By Iain Blair

Forget all the trendy shows about updating your home décor or renovating your house. What you really need to do is declutter. And the guru of decluttering is Marie Kondo, the Japanese star of the hot Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

The organizational expert became a global star when her first book, 2014’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” was translated into English, becoming a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up was 2016’s “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.”

Tom Curran

Clearly, people everywhere need to declutter, and Kondo’s KonMari Method is the answer for those who have too much stuff. As she herself puts it, “My mission is to organize the world and spark joy in people’s lives. Through this partnership with Netflix, I am excited to spread the KonMari Method to as many people as possible.”

I recently spoke with Tom Curran, the cinematographer of the Kondo show. His extensive credits include Ugly Delicious for Netflix, Fish My City for National Geographic and 9 Months for Facebook, which is hosted by Courteney Cox. Curran has an Emmy on his mantle for ABC Sports’ Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Let’s start with the really important stuff. Do you have too much clutter? Has Marie’s philosophy helped you?
(Laughs). It has! I think we all have too much stuff. To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first about all this. But as I spent time with her and educated myself, I began to realize just how much there is to it. I think that it particularly applies to the US, where we all have so much and move so quickly.

In her world, you come to a pause and evaluate all of that, and it’s really quite powerful. And if you follow all of her steps, you can’t do it quickly. It forces you to slow down and take stock. My wife is an editor, and we’re both always so busy, but now we take little pockets of time to attack different parts of the house and the clutter we have. It’s been really powerful and helpful to us.

Why do you think her method and this show have resonated so much with people everywhere?
Americans tend to get so busy and locked into routines, and Japan’s culture is very different. I’ve worked there quite a bit, and she brings this whole other quality to the show. She’s very thoughtful and kind. I think the show does a good job of showing that, and you really feel it. An awful lot of current TV can be a little sharp and mean, and there’s something old-fashioned about this, and audiences really respond. She doesn’t pass judgment on people’s messy houses — she just wants to help.

You’re well-known for shooting in extreme conditions and locations all over the world. How did this compare?
It was radically different in some ways. Instead of vast and bleak landscapes, like Antarctica, you’re shooting the interiors of people’s homes in LA. Working with EP Hend Baghdady and showrunner Bianca Barnes-Williams, we set out to redefine how to showcase these homes. We used some of the same principles, like how to incorporate these characters into their environment and weave the house into the storyline. That was our main goal.

What were the challenges of shooting this show?
A big one was keeping ourselves out of the shot, which isn’t so easy in a small space. Also, keeping Marie central to all the storytelling. I’ve done several series before, shooting in people’s homes, like Little People, Big World, where we stayed in one family’s home for many years. With this show the crew was walking into their homes for a far shorter time, and none of them were actors. The were baring their souls.

Cleaning up all their clutter before we arrived was contrary to what the show’s all about, so you’re seeing all the ugly. My background’s in cinéma vérité, and a lot of this was stripping back the way these types of unscripted shows are usually done — with multiple cameras. We did use multiple cameras, but often it was just one, as you’re in a tiny room, where there’s no space for another, and we’re shooting wide since the main character in most stories was the home.

As well as being a DP you’re also the owner of Curran Camera, Inc. Did you supply all the camera gear for this through your company?
Sometimes I supply equipment for a series, sometimes not. It all depends on what the project needs. On this, when Hend, Bianca and I began discussing different camera options, I felt it wasn’t a series we could shoot on prime lenses, but we wanted the look that primes would bring. We ended up working with Fujinon Cabrio Cine Zooms and Canon cameras, which gave us a really filmic look, and we got most of our gear from T-stop Camera Rentals in LA. In fact, the Fujinon Cabrio 14-35mm became the centerpiece of the storytelling in the homes because of its wide lens capture — which was crucial for scenes with closets and small rooms and so on.

I assume all the lighting was a big challenge?
You’re right. It was a massive undertaking because we wanted to follow all the progress in each home. And we didn’t want it to be a dingy, rough-looking show, especially since Marie represented this bright light that’d come into people’s homes and then it would get brighter and brighter. We ended up bringing in all the lighting from the east coast, which was the only place I could source what I needed.

For Marie’s Zen house we had a different lighting package with dozens of small fresnels because it was so calm and stood still. For the homes and all the movement, we used about 80 Flex lights — paper-thin LED lights that are easily dimmable and quick to install and take down. Even though we had a pretty small crew, we were able to achieve a pretty consistent look.

How did the workflow operate? How did you deal with dailies?
Our post supervisor Joe Eckardt was pretty terrific, and I’d spend a lot of time going through all the dailies and then give a big download to the crew once a week. We had six to eight camera operators and three crews with two cameras and additional people some days. We had so much footage, and what ended up on screen is just a fraction of what we shot. We had a lot of cards at the end of every day, and they’d be loaded into the post system, and then a team of 16 editors would start going through it all.  Since this was the first season, we were kind of doing it on the fly and trying different techniques to see what worked best.

Color correction and the mix was handled by Margarita Mix. How involved were you in post and the look of the show?
I was very involved, especially early on. Even in the first month or so we started to work on the grade a bit to get some patterns in place; that helped carry us through. We set out to capture a really naturalistic look, and a lot of the homes were very cramped, so we had to keep the wrong lighting look looking wrong, so to speak. I’m pretty happy with what we were able to do. (Margarita Mix’s Troy Smith was the colorist.)

How important is post to you as a DP?
It’s hard to overstate. I’d say it’s not just a big piece of the process, it is the process. When we’re shooting, I only really think about three things; One, what is the story we’re trying to tell? Two, how can we best capture that, particularly with non-actors. How do you create an environment of complete trust where they basically just forget about you? How do we capture Marie doing her thing and not break the flow, since she’s this standup performer? Three, how do we give post what they need? If we’re not giving editorial the right coverage, we’re not doing our job. That last one is the most important to me — since I’m married to an editor, I’m always so aware of post.

The first eight shows aired in January. When is the next season?
We’ve had some light talks about it, and I assume since it’s so popular we’ll do more, but nothing’s finalized yet. I hope we do more.  I love this show.


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.

Red Ranger all-in-one camera system now available

Red Digital Cinema has made its new Red Ranger all-in-one camera system available to select Red authorized rental houses. Ranger includes Red’s cinematic full-frame 8K sensor Monstro in an all-in-one camera system, featuring three SDI outputs (two mirrored and one independent) allowing two different looks to be output simultaneously; wide-input voltage (11.5V to 32V); 24V and 12V power outs (two of each); one 12V P-Tap port; integrated 5-pin XLR stereo audio input (Line/Mic/+48V Selectable); as well as genlock, timecode, USB and control.

Ranger is capable of handling heavy-duty power sources and boasts a larger fan for quieter and more efficient temperature management. The system is currently shipping in a gold mount configuration, with a v-lock option available next month.

Ranger captures 8K RedCode RAW up to 60fps full-format, as well as Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHR formats at 4K up to 30fps and 2K up to 120fps. It can simultaneously record RedCode RAW plus Apple ProRes or Avid DNxHD or DNxHR at up to 300MB/s write speeds.

To enable an end-to-end color management and post workflow, Red’s enhanced image processing pipeline (IPP2) is also included in the system.

Ranger ships complete, including:
• Production top handle
• PL mount with supporting shims
• Two 15mm LWS rod brackets
• Red Pro Touch 7.0-inch LCD with 9-inch arm and LCD/EVF cable
• LCD/EVF adaptor A and LCD/EVF adaptor D
• 24V AC power adaptor with 3-pin 24V XLR power cable
• Compatible Hex and Torx tools

Shooting, posting New Republic’s Indie film, Sister Aimee

After a successful premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, New Republic Studios’ Sister Aimee screened at this month’s SXSW. The movie tells the story of an infamous American evangelist of the 1920s, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson, who gets caught up in her lover’s dreams of Mexico and finds herself on a road trip toward the border.

Sister Aimee shot at the newly renovated New Republic Studios near Austin, Texas, over two and a half weeks. “Their crew used our 2,400-square-foot Little Bear soundstage, our 3,000-square-foot Lone Wolf soundstage, our bullpen office space and numerous exterior locations in our backlot,” reports New Republic Studios president Mindy Raymond, adding that the Sister Aimee production also had access to two screening rooms with 5.1 surround sound, HDMI hookups to 4K monitors and theater-style leather chairs to watch dailies. The film also hit the road, shooting in the New Mexico desert.

L-R: Directors Samantha Buck, Marie Schlingmann at SXSW. Credit: Harrison Funk

Co-written and co-directed by Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann, the movie takes some creative license with the story of Aimee. “We don’t look for factual truth in Aimee’s journey,” they explain. “Instead we look for a more timeless truth that says something about female ambition, the female quest for immortality and, most of all, the struggle for women to control their own narratives. It becomes a story about storytelling itself.”

The film, shot by cinematographer Carlos Valdes-Lora at 3.2K ProRes 4444 XQ on an Arri Alexa Mini, was posted at Dallas and Austin-based Charlieuniformtango.

We reached out to the DP and the post team to find out more.

Carlos, why did you choose the package of the Alexa and Cooke Mini S4 Primes?
Carlos Valdes-Lora: In early conversations with the directors, we all agreed that we didn’t want Sister Aimee to feel like a traditional period movie. We didn’t want to use softening filters or vintage lenses. We aimed instead for clear images, deep focus and a rich color palette that remains grounded in the real world. We felt that this would lend the story a greater sense of immediacy and draw the viewer closer to the characters. Following that same thinking, we worked very extensively with the 25mm and 32mm, especially in closeups and medium closeups, emphasizing accessibility.

The Cooke Mini S4s are a beautiful and affordable set (relative to our other options.) We like the way they give deep dimensionality and warmth to faces, and how they create a slightly lower contrast image compared to the other modern lenses we looked at. They quickly became the right choice for us, striking the right balance between quality, size and value.

The Cookes paired with the Alexa Mini gave us a lightweight camera system with a very contained footprint, and we needed to stay fast and lean due to our compressed shooting schedule and often tight shooting quarters. The Chapman Cobra dolly was a big help in that regard as well.

What was the workflow to post like?
Charlieuniformtango producers Bettina Barrow, Katherine Harper, David Hartstein: Post took place primarily between Charlieuniformtango’s Dallas and Austin offices. Post strategizing started months before the shoot, and active post truly began when production began in July 2018.

Tango’s Evan Linton handled dailies brought in from the shoot, working alongside editor Katie Ennis out of Tango’s Austin studio, to begin assembling a rough cut as shooting continued. Ennis continued to cut at the studio through August with directors Schlingmann and Buck.

Editorial then moved back to the directors’ home state of New York to finish the cut for Sundance. (Editor Ennis, who four-walled out of Tango Austin for the first part of post, went to  New York with the directors, working out of a rented space.)

VFX and audio work started early at Tango, with continuously updated timelines coming from editorial, working to have certain locked shots also finished for the Sundance submission, while saving much of the cleanup and other CG heavy shots for the final picture lock.

Tango audio engineer Nick Patronella also tackled dialogue edit, sound design and mix for the submission out of the Dallas studio.

Can you talk about the VFX?
Barrow, Harper, Hartstein: The cut was locked in late November, and the heavy lifting really began. With delivery looming, Tango’s Flame artists Allen Robbins, Joey Waldrip, David Hannah, David Laird, Artie Peña and Zack Smith divided effects shots, which ranged from environmental cleanup, period-specific cleanup, beauty work such as de-aging, crowd simulation, CG sign creation and more. 3D

(L-R) Tango’s Artie Peña, Connor Adams, Allen Robbins in one of the studio’s Flame suites.

Artist Connor Adams used Houdini, Mixamo and Maya to create CG elements and crowds, with final comps being done in Nuke and sent to Flame for final color. Over 120 VFX shots were handled in total and Flame was the go-to for effects. Color and much of the effects happened simultaneously. It was a nice workflow as the project didn’t have major VFX needs that would have impacted color.

What about the color grade?
Barrow, Harper, Hartstein: Directors Buck and Schlingmann and DP Valdes-Lora worked with Tango colorist Allen Robbins to craft the final look of the film — with the color grade also done in Flame. The trio had prepped shooting for a Kodachrome-style look, especially for the exteriors, but really overall. They found important reference in selections of Robert Capa photographs.

Buck, Schlingmann and Valdes-Lora responded mostly to Kodachrome’s treatment of blues, browns, tans, greens and reds (while staying true to skin tone), but also to their gamma values, not being afraid of deep shadows and contrast wherever appropriate. Valdes-Lora wanted to avoid lighting/exposing to a custom LUT on set that would reflect this kind of Kodachrome look, in case they wanted to change course during the process. With the help of Tango, however, they discovered that by dialing back the Capa look it grounded the film a little more and made the characters “feel” more accessible. The roots of the inspiration remained in the image but a little more naturalism, a little more softness, served the story better.

Because of that they monitored on set with Alexa 709, which he thought exposing for would still provide enough room. Production designer Jonathan Rudak (another regular collaborator with the directors) was on the same page during prep (in terms of reflecting this Capa color style), and the practical team did what they could to make sure the set elements complemented this approach.

What about the audio post?
Barrow, Harper, Hartstein: With the effects and color almost complete, the team headed to Skywalker Ranch for a week of final dialogue edit, mix, sound design and Foley, led by Skywalker’s Danielle Dupre, Kim Foscato and E. Larry Oatfield. The team also was able to simultaneously approve color sections in Skywalker’s Stag Theater allowing for an ultra-efficient schedule. With final mix in hand, the film was mastered just after Christmas so that DCP production could begin.

Since a portion of the film was musical, how complex was the audio mix?
Skywalker sound mixer Dupre: The musical number was definitely one of the most challenging but rewarding scenes to design and mix. It was such a strong creative idea that played so deeply into the main character. The challenge was in striking a balance between tying it into the realism of the film while also leaning into the grandiosity of the musical to really sell the idea.

It was really fun to play with a combination of production dialogue and studio recordings to see how we could make it work. It was also really rewarding to create a soundscape that starts off minimally and simply and transitions to Broadway scale almost undetectably — one of the many exciting parts to working with creative and talented filmmakers.

What was the biggest challenge in post?
Barrow, Harper, Hartstein: Finishing a film in five to six weeks during the holidays was no easy feat. Luckily, we were able to have our directors hands-on for all final color, VFX and mix. Collaborating in the same room is always the best when you have no time to spare. We had a schedule where each day was accounted for — and we stuck to it almost down to the hour.

 

DP Chat: Madam Secretary’s Learan Kahanov

By Randi Altman

Cinematographer Learan Kahanov’s love of photography started at an early age, when he would stage sequences and scenes with his Polaroid camera, lining up the photos to create a story.

He took that love of photography and turned it into a thriving career, working in television, features and commercials. He currently works on the CBS drama Madam Secretary — where he was initially  hired to be the A-camera operator and additional DP. He shot 12 episodes and tandem units, then he took over the show fully in Season 3. The New York-shot, Washington, DC-set show stars Téa Leoni as the US Secretary of State, following her struggle to balance her work and personal life.

We recently reached out to Kahanov to find out more about his path, as well as his workflow, on Madam Secretary.

Learan Kahanov on set with director Rob Greenlea.

Can you talk about your path to cinematography?
My mother is a sculptor and printmaker, and when I was in middle school, she went back to get a degree in fine arts with a minor in photography. This essentially meant I was in tow, on many a weeknight, to the darkroom so she could do her printing and, in turn, I learned as well.

I shot mostly black and white all through middle school and high school. I would often use my mother’s art studio to shoot the models who posed for the drawing class she taught. Around the same time, I developed a growing fascination with animal behavior and strove to become a wildlife photographer, until I realized I didn’t have the patience to sit in a tree for days to get the perfect shot.

I soon turned my attention to videography while working at a children’s museum, teaching kids how to use the cameras and how to make short movies. I decided to pursue cinematography officially in high school. I eventually found myself at NYU film school, based off my photography portfolio. As soon as I got to New York City, I started working on indie films, as an electrician and gaffer, shooting every student film and indie project I could.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I could list artists or filmmakers whose work I gravitate to, but the main thing I learned from my mother about art is that it’s about a feeling. Whether it’s being affected by a beautifully photographed image of a woman in a commercial or getting sucked into the visuals in a wildlife documentary, if you can invoke a feeling and or create an emotion you have made art.

Madam Secretary

I am always looking at things around me, and I’m always aware of how light falls on the world around me. Or how the shape of everyday objects and places change depending on the time, the weather or just my mood at the moment.

My vision of a project is always born out of the story, so the key for me is to always use technology (new or old) to support that story. Sometimes the latest in LED technology is the right tool for the job, sometimes it’s a bare light bulb attached to the underside of a white, five-gallon paint bucket (a trick Gaffer Jack Coffin and I use quite often). I think the balance between vision and technology is a two-way street — the key is to recognize when the technology serves your vision or the other way around.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
In the area of lighting, I have found that no matter what new tools come onto the scene, I still hold true to my go-to lighting techniques that I have preferred for years.

A perfect example would be my love for book lights — a book light is a bounced light that then goes through another layer of diffusion, which is perfect for lighting faces. Whether I am using an old Mole Richardson 5K tungsten unit or the newer ARRI S60 SkyPanels, the concept and end result are basically the same.

That being said, for location work the ARRI LED SkyPanels have become one of the go-to units on my current show, Madam Secretary. The lights’ high-output, low-power consumption, ease for matching existing location color sources and quick effects make them an easy choice for dealing with the faster-paced TV production schedule.

On-set setup

One other piece of gear that I have found myself calling for on a daily basis, since my key grip Ted Lehane introduced me to. It’s a diffusion material called Magic Cloth, which is produced by The Rag Place. This material can work as a bounce, as well as a diffusion, and you can directly light through. It produces a very soft light, as it’s fairly thick, but it does not change the color temperature of the source light. This new material, in conjunction with new LED technology, has created some interesting opportunities for my team.

Many DPs talk about the latest digital sensor, camera support (drone/gimbals, etc.) or LED lighting, but sometimes it’s something very simple, like finding a new diffusion material that can really change the look and the way I work. In fact, I think gripology in general often gets overlooked in the current affairs of filmmaking where everything seems to need to be “state of the art.”

What are some of your best practices or rules that you try to follow on each job?
I have one hard and fast rule in any project I shoot: support the story! I like to think of myself as a filmmaker first, using cinematography as a way to contribute to the filmmaking process. That being said, we can create lots of “rules” and have all the “go-to practices” to create beautiful images, but if what you are doing doesn’t advance the story, or at the very least create the right mood for the scene, then you are just taking a picture.

There are definite things I do because I simply prefer how it looks, but if it doesn’t make sense for the scene/move (based on the directors and my vision), I will then adjust what I do to make sure I am always supporting the story. There are definitely times where a balance is needed. We don’t create in a bubble, as there are all the other factors to consider, like budget, time, shooting conditions, etc. It’s this need/ability to be both technician and artisan that excites me the most about my job.

Can you explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
When working in episodic TV, every episode — essentially every eight days — there is a different director. Even when I have a repeat director, I have to adapt quickly between each director’s style. This goes beyond just being a chameleon from a creative standpoint — I need to quickly establish trust and a short hand to help the director put their stamp on their episode, all while staying within the already established look of the show.

Madam Secretary

I have always considered myself not an “idea man” but rather a “make-the-idea-better” man. I say this because being able to collaborate with a director and not just see their vision, but also enhance it and take it a step further (and see their excitement in the process), is completely fulfilling.

Tell us about Madam Secretary. How would you describe the overarching look of the show? How early did you get involved in the production?
I have been a part of Madam Secretary since the beginning, minus the pilot. I was hired as the A camera operator and as an additional DP. Jonathan Brown, ASC, shot the pilot and was the DP for the first two seasons. He was also one of our directors for the first three seasons. In addition to shooting tandem/2nd unit days and filling on scout days, I was the DP whenever Jonathan directed. So while I didn’t create the initial look of the show, I worked closely with Jonathan as the seasons went on until I officially took over in the third season.

Since I took over (and during my episodes), I felt an obligation to hold true to the original look and the intent of the show, while also adding my personal touch and allowing the show’s look to evolve with the series. The show does give us opportunities every week to create something new. While the reoccurring sets/locations do have a relatively set look, every episode takes us to new parts of the world and to new events.

It gives the director, production team and me an opportunity to create different looks and aesthetics to differentiate it from Madam Secretary’s life in DC. While it’s a quick schedule to prep,  research and create new looks for convincing foreign locations every episode (we shoot 99% of the show in New York), it is a challenge that brings a creativity and excitement to the job that I really enjoy.

Learan Kahanov on set with Hillary Clinton for the episode E Pluribus Unum.

Can you talk about what you shoot on and what lenses you use, etc.?
The show is currently shooting on Alexa SXTs with Leica Summicron Prime lenses and Fujinon Cabrio zooms. One of the main things I did when I officially took over the show was to switch to Lecia Primes. We did some testing with Tèa Leoni and Tim Daly on our sets to see how the lenses treated skin tones.

Additionally, we wanted to see how they reacted to the heavy backlight and to the blown out windows we have on many of our sets. We all agreed that the lenses were sharp, but also realized that they created a softer feel on our actors faces, had a nice focus fall-off and they handled the highlights really well. They are flexible enough to help me create different looks while still retaining a consistency for the show. The lenses have an interesting flare characteristic that sometimes makes controlling them difficult, but it all adds to the current look of the show and has yet to be limiting.

You used a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera for some specialized shots. Can you describe those?
The show has many scenes that entail some specialized shots that need a small but high-res camera that has an inherently different feel from the Alexa. These shots include webcam and security camera footage. There are also many times when we need to create body/helmet cam footage to emulate images recorded from military/police missions that then were played back in the president’s situation room. That lightweight, high-quality camera allows for a lot of flexibility. We also employ other small cameras like GoPro and DJI Osmo, as well as the Sony A7RII with PL mount.

Madam Secretary

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
I don’t think there is an episode that goes by without some type of challenge, but one in particular that I was really happy with took place on a refugee boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

The scene was set at night where refugees were making a harrowing trip from the north coast of Libya to France. Since we couldn’t shoot on the ocean at night, we brought the boat and a storm into the studio.

Our production designer and art department cut a real boat in half and brought it onto the stage. Drew Jiritano and his special effects team then placed the boat on a gimbal and waterproofed the stage floor so we could place rain towers and air cannons to simulate a storm in the middle of the sea.

Using a technocrane, handheld cameras and interactive lighting, we created a great scene that immersed the audience in a realistic depiction of the dramatic journey that happens more often than most Americans realize.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Disney Channel’s Fast Layne director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull

By Randi Altman

London-based Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a man with a rich industry background. He started out in this business as a visual effects artist (The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2) and VFX supervisor (America: The Story of the US), and has expanded his resume in recent years to include producer, screenwriter and feature film director of his own projects (The Beyond, 2036 Origin Unknown).

HaZ (left) on set directing Disney’s Fast Layne.

Even more recently, he added television series director to that long list, thanks to his work on Disney Channel’s action-comedy miniseries Fast Layne, where he directed Episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8. He is currently developing a slate of feature and TV projects with his next film being a sci-fi/horror offering called Lunar, which is scheduled to start shooting later in the year.

Fast Layne focuses on a very bright 12-year-old girl named Layne and her eccentric neighbor, who find V.I.N., a self-driving and talking car in an abandoned shed. The car, the girls and a classmate with experience fixing cars embark on high-speed adventures while trying to figure out why V.I.N. was created, all the while tangling with bad guys and secret agents. You can watch Fast Layne on Sundays at 7:00pm ET/PT on Disney Channel.

We reached out to Dulull to find out more about establishing the look of the show, as well as his process, and how he uses his post background to inform his directing.

As the pilot director, what was your process in establishing the look for the show?
My process was very similar to how I worked on my feature films, since I come from a filmmaking-style that is very visually driven and hands-on. As a director, I would usually do lots of look development on my end anyway, which for Fast Layne involved creating style frames in Photoshop with direction notes and ideas. These eventually became a look bible for the show.

I worked closely with the Disney Channel’s development team and the showrunners Matt Dearborn, Tom Burkhard and Travis Braun (the creator of the show). We would discuss the ideas from the early style frames I had created and developed further, along with a set of rules of what the color palette should be, the graphics and even the style of framing with the key sequences.

By the end of the process, we firmly set the tone and mood of the show as having a saturated and punchy look, while feeling slick and cinematic with a lot of energy. Since we were shooting in Vancouver during the time of year that it gets overcast/grey very quickly, we made sure the art department had many colorful objects in the environment/sets to help — including the cast’s wardrobes.

How did you work with the DP and colorist? Who did the color, and do you know the tools they used?
We had a great DP — Neil Cervin and his team of camera ninjas! They are super-fast and so collaborative in pushing the shots further.

During the prep stage, I worked closely with Neil on the look of the show, and he was really into what we wanted to do something punchy, so he made sure we retained that throughout.

Our A camera was always the ARRI Alexa during the pilot shoot. We had a DIT, Jay Rego, who would quickly apply looks on the frames we had shot using DaVinci Resolve. During this on-set color process, we would see how far we could push it with the grade and what additional lighting we would need to achieve the look we were after. This really helped us nail the look very quickly and get it approved by the showrunners and the Disney Channel team on set before we continued shooting.

We then saved those looks as DPX frames along with CDLs (color decision lists) and sent those over to colorist Lionel Barton over at Vancouver’s OmniFilm Entertainment to work from in Blackmagic Resolve. This saved time in the grading process since that was done early during the shoot. Larry and his team at Omnifilm were taking the look we had set and pushing it further with each shot across all the episodes.

Colorist Lionel Barton during grading session.

Can you talk about the car sequences? They are fun!
On the first days of prepping the show, I cut a mood reel of car chase action scenes, making clear that I love well-designed car chases and that we need to give the kids that cinematic experience they get in movies. Plus, Travis came from a NASCAR racing family, so he backed this up.

We designed the car action scenes to be fun and energetic with cool camera angles — not violent and frenetic (like the Bourne films). We were not doing crazy camera shake and motion blur action scenes; this is slick and cool action — we want the kids to experience those key action moments and go “wow.”

You are known for directing your own feature films. What was it like to direct your first TV series for a studio as big as Disney Channel?
Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful for Disney Channel giving me the opportunity to be on this journey. I have to thank Rafael Garcia at Disney Channel, who lobbied hard for me early in the process.

The first thing I quickly picked up and made sure stayed in my mind is that feature film is a director’s medium, whereas TV is a writer’s medium. So with that in mind, I ensured I collaborated very closely with Matt, Tom, and Travis on everything. Those guys were such a bundle of joy to work with. They were continually pushing the show with additional writing, and they supported me and the other directors (Joe Menendez, Rachel Leiterman) on our episodes throughout, making sure we hit those essential comedy and drama moments they wanted for the show. In fact, I would be in the same car as Matt (some days with Tom) to the shoot location every morning and back to our hotel every evening, going through things on the script, the shoot, etc. — this was a very tight collaboration, and I loved it.

The big difference between the feature films I had done and this TV series is the sheer amount of people involved from an executive and creative level. We had the writing team/execs/showrunners, then we had the executives at the Disney Channel, and we also had the team from the production company Omnifilm.

Therefore, we all had to be in sync with the vision and decisions taken. So once a decision was made, it was tough to go back and retract, so that ensured we were all making the right decisions throughout. I have to say the Fast Layne team were all very collaborative and respectful to each other, which made the “network studio” experience a very pleasant and creative one.

You are also credited as creative consultant on all the episodes? What did that entail?
I fell into that role almost automatically after shooting my first block (Episodes 1 and 2). I think it’s due to my filmmaking nature — being so hands-on technically and creatively and having that know-how from my previous projects on creating high-concept content (which usually involves a lot of visual effects) on a tight budget and schedule.

I had also done a lot of work in advance regarding how we would shoot stuff fast to allow things to be taken further in VFX. The network wanted to have someone that knew the show intimately to oversee that during the post production stage. So once production wrapped, I flew back home to London and continued working on the show by reviewing dailies, cuts and VFX shots and providing notes and creative solutions and being on conference calls with Disney and Omnifilm.

What tools were used for review and approval?
I used Evernote to keep all my notes neat and organized, and we would use Aspera for transferring files securely while Pix was the primary platform for reviewing cuts and shots.

Most of the time I would provide my notes visually rather than writing long emails, so a screen grab of the shot and then lots of arrows and annotations. I was in this role (while doing other stuff) right up to the end of the show’s post, so at the time of answering these questions I just signed off on the last episode grade (Episode 8) last week. I am now officially off the show.

You mostly shoot on Alexa, can you talk about what else you used during production?
Yes, we shot on Alexa with a variety of lenses at 3K to allow us to pan and scan later for HD deliverable. We also used GoPro and DJI Osmo’s (4K) for V.I.N.’s POV, and some DJI Drone shots too.

The biggest camera tech toy we had on the show was the Russian Arm! (It didn’t help that I keep quoting Micheal Bay during the prep of the car chase scenes). So somehow the production team managed to get us a Russian Arm for the day, and what we achieved with that was phenomenal.

We got so much bang for our buck. The team operating it, along with the stunt driving team, worked on films like Deadpool 2, so there was a moment during second unit when we almost forgot this was a kids’ show because it had the energy of an action feature film.

Russian Arm

Stylistically, we always kept the camera moving, even during drama scenes — a slow move helped give perspective and depth. All the camera moves had to be slick; there was no handheld-style in this show.

For earlier scenes in Episode 1 with Layne, we used the idea of a single camera move/take, which was choreographed slickly and timed with precision. This was to reflect the perfect nature of Layne’s character being super-organized like a planner. Most of these camera moves were simply achieved with a dolly/track and slider. Later on in the the show, as Layne’s character breaks out of her comfort zone of being safe and organized, she begins to be more spontaneous, so the camera language reflected that too with more loose shots and whip pans.

You are a post/VFX guy at heart, how did that affect the way you directed Fast Layne?
Oh yes, it had a massive influence on the way I directed my episodes, but only from a technical side of things, not creatively in the way I worked with the actors.

With my VFX background, I had the instinct to be sensible with things, such as how to frame the shots to make VFX life smoother, where to stage my actors to avoid them crossing over tracing markers (to save money on paint-outs) and, of course, to use minimal green/blue screen for the car scenes.

I knew the spill coming from the greenscreens would be a nightmare in VFX, so to avoid that as much as I could, we shot driving plates and then used a lot of rear/side projections playing them back.

Previs

The decision to go that route was partly based on my experience as a compositor back in the day, crying in the late hours de-spilling greenscreen on reflection and dealing with horrible hair mattes. The only time we shot greenscreen was for scenes where the camera was moving around areas we didn’t have screen projection space for. We did shoot car greenscreen for some generic interior plates to allow us to do things later in post if we needed to create an insert shot with a new background.

Did you use previs?
As you know from our conversations about my previous projects, I love previs and find that previs can save so much money later on in production if used right.

So the car chase sequences, along with a big action scene in the series finale, had to be prevised, mainly because we had to end big but only had limited time to shoot. The previs was also instrumental with getting first VFX budgets in for the sequences and helping the 1st AD create the schedule.

Vancouver’s Atmosphere VFX was kind enough to let me come in and work closely with one of the previs artists to map out these key scenes in 3D, while I also did some previs myself using the assets they generated for me. The previs also dictated what lens we needed and how much real estate we needed on the location.

Being a former VFX supervisor certainly helped when communicating with the show’s on-set VFX supervisors Andrew Karr and Greg Behrens. We had a shorthand with each other, which sped things up massively on set with decisions made quickly regarding shooting plates to work with VFX later.

Before and After

On set I would show the actors, via mockups and previs on my iPad, what was going to happen, why I wanted them to be staged in a certain way, and why they should look at this reference, etc. So I think that gave the actors (both the kids and adults) confidence in the scenes that involved VFX.

My personal approach to VFX is that it’s part of the arsenal of tools required to tell the story and, if possible, its best used in combination with the other crafts as opposed to just relying on it solely to achieve things.

Atmosphere created the visual effects?
Yes. I have been a fan of their work from the first season of The Expanse. They were the only main VFX house on the show and handled the CG V.I.N. shots, steering wheel transformation, and V.I.N.’s front grill, as well as other shots involving digital cloth, a robotic arm and a helicopter that appears in later episodes.

We also had a team of internal VFX artists (Mike Jackson and Richard Mintak) working for Omnifilm who were on throughout the post schedule. They handled the smaller VFX, compositing and graphics type shots, such as the windshield graphics, V.I.N.’s internal visual screen and other screen graphics as well as Layne’s Alonzo watch graphics.

How many VFX in total?
There were 1,197 VFX shots delivered, with Atmosphere VFX providing the main bulk of around 600, while the rest were graphics VFX shots done by our internal VFX team at Omnifilm.

Most of the visual effects involving CGI in the show involved V.I.N. doing cool things and his front grill communicating his emotion.

During my pitch for getting the job, I referenced my film 2036 Origin Unknown as an example of visual communication I had explored when it came to AI and characters.

From that we explored further and knew we wanted something with personality, but not with a face. We were very clear at the start that this was not going to be cartoony or gimmicky; it had to feel technologically cool, yet fresh and unique. We didn’t want to have the typical LED screen displaying graphics or emoji. Instead, we went for something resembling a pushpin cushion to give it a little organic touch — it showing that this was advanced tech, but used simple arrangements of pins moving in and out to create the shape of the eyes to communicate emotion.

It was important we went with a visual approach, which was simple to communicate with our core audience, for V.I.N. to come across visually as a personality with comedy beats. I remember being in my hotel room, drawing up emotive sketches on paper to see how simple we could get V.I.N. to be and then emailing them across to the writers for their thoughts.

Atmosphere spent some time developing R&D in Maya and Python scripting to create a system that could feed off the sound files to help generate the animation of the pins. The passes were rendered out of Maya and Vray and then composited with the final look established in Foundry Nuke.

To ensure we didn’t end up with a show where all the shots needed VFX, V.I.N.’s emotive visuals on the front grill can pop on and off when required. That meant that during the car chase sequences, V.I.N.’s face would only pop up when needed (like when it was angry as it was being chased or to show its competitive face during a race). Having this rule in place allowed us to stick with our budget and schedule as closely as possible without extreme overages (which tends to happen after editorial).

For the scenes that involved a CGI V.I.N., we shot the live-action plates with a special buggy developed exclusively for the show. This allowed our stunt driver to do cool car maneuvers and tricks, while also providing a body frame that had lots of space for rigging cameras to capturing the HDRI of the environment. It also had tracking markers across it to allow for full object tracking. (See before and after image of the buddy and CGI VIN).

The other big bulk of the VFX was all the UI/heads up display graphics on V.I.N.’s windshield, which was the way the car’s system displayed information. During Transformed mode, the windshield became a navigation system to help support Layne. It couldn’t be too crazy since we were dealing with pop-up windows overlaid so we can still see the driving action outside.

Most of those graphics were done by our internal team at Omnifilm, by graphic designers and compositors using Adobe After Effects with render passes such as wireframes of V.I.N. provided by Atmosphere. We wanted to show that the car was technologically cool without having to use any tech speak in the script. So we researched a lot into what automated cars are doing and what the developments are for the future and depicted this in the show.

Before and After

Can you provide an example?
In Episode 1, when the windshield presents a trajectory of the jump across the construction bridge, a wireframe of the bridge based on its LIDAR scan capabilities was shown as a safe jump option. Another example was during the first big motorway chase sequence. V.I.N. recognized the bad guys chasing them in the SUV, so we featured facial recognition tracking technology to show how V.I.N. was able to read their vitals from this scan as being hostile.

We used this same grounded-tech approach to create the POV of the car, using the graphics style we had created for the windshield, to show what V.I.N. was seeing and thinking and that it was essentially a sentient being. This also helped, editorially, to mix things up visually during the drama scenes inside the car.

The show was shot in Vancouver, what was that like?
I love Vancouver!! There is such a buzz in that city, and that’s because you can feel the filmmaking vibe every day, due to the fact there were like 30 other shows happening at the same time we were shooting Fast Layne! I can’t wait to go back and shoot there again.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Digital services company Mission hires Mirek Sochor

UK-based Mission, which provides DIT and digital lab/dailies services, has hired Mirek Sochor as manager for Central Europe. Sochor joins Mission from Universal Production Partners (UPP) in Prague where he was the associate producer and supervisor of the film and TV services department. UPP is one of the biggest post facilities in mainland Europe.

Sochor’s recent credits include Crazy Rich Asians, Carnival Row and Genius. Additionally, in 2013 he was named by the Czech Republic’s Minister of Culture as an advising expert in economical and technological aspects in the field of technical development and innovation in cinematography, and in the field of preserving the national film heritage and making it accessible to the public.

At Mission, he will head business and production in Central Europe, spearheading the company’s expansion into Prague and beyond. For the last few months Mission’s DIT Nick Everett has been supporting cinematographers David Moxness, ASC, and Sid Sidell, ASC, on the ABC TV series Whiskey Cavalier. ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier stars Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan.

Mark Purvis, Mission’s managing director, saw the opportunities in Prague and other locations in Central Europe, explaining, “We are strongly committed to providing the same high level of support to productions as we have in the United Kingdom, with a focus on streamlining workflows, adding the best staff in key locations and continually training our technicians to better service our clients.”

Mission continues to grow, with offices in London and Wales and an ever-expanding roster of world-class DITs and digital dailies lab operators. They have recently worked on feature films Yesterday, Mary Queen of Scots and Downton Abbey, TV shows A Discovery of Witches, His Dark Materials and Whiskey Cavalier plus many more. They are a key partner to many cinematographers, working with them from pre-production onwards, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Colorist Christopher M. Ray talks workflow for Alexa 65-shot Alpha

By Randi Altman

Christopher M. Ray is a veteran colorist with a varied resume that includes many television and feature projects, including Tomorrowland, Warcraft, The Great Wall, The Crossing, Orange Is the New Black, Quantico, Code Black, The Crossing and Alpha. These projects have taken Ray all over the world, including remote places throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

We recently spoke with Ray, who is on staff at Burbank’s Picture Shop, to learn more about his workflow on the feature film Alpha, which focuses on a young man trying to survive alone in the wilderness after he’s left for dead during his first hunt with his Cro-Magnon tribe.

Ray was dailies colorist on the project, working with supervising DI colorist Maxine Gervais. Gervais of Technicolor won an HPA Award for her work on Alpha in the Outstanding Color Grading — Feature Film category.

Let’s find out more….

Chris Ray and Maxine Gervais at the HPA Awards.

How early did you get involved in Alpha?
I was approached about working on Alpha right before the start of principal photography. From the beginning I knew that it was going to be a groundbreaking workflow. I was told that we would be working with the ARRI Alexa 65 camera, mainly working in an on-set color grading trailer and we would be using FilmLight’s Daylight software.

Once I was on board, our main focus was to design a comprehensive workflow that could accommodate on-set grading and Daylight software while adapting to the ever-changing challenges that the industry brings. Being involved from the start was actually was a huge perk for me. It gave us the time we needed to design and really fine-tune the extensive workflow.

Can you talk about working with the final colorist Maxine Gervais and how everyone communicated?
It was a pleasure working with Maxine. She’s really dialed in to the demands of our industry. She was able to fly to Vancouver for a few days while we were shooting the hair/makeup tests, which is how we were able to form in-person communication. We were able to sit down and discuss creative approaches to the feature right away, which I appreciated as I’m the type of person that likes to dive right in.

At the film’s conception, we set in motion a plan to incorporate a Baselight Linked Grade (BLG) color workflow from FilmLight. This would allow my color grades in Daylight to transition smoothly into Maxine’s Baselight software. We knew from the get-go that there would be several complicated “day for night” scenes that Maxine and I would want to bring to fruition right away. Using the BLG workflow, I was able to send her single “Arriraw” frames that gave that “day for night” look we were searching for. She was able to then send them back to me via a BLG file. Even in remote locations, it was easy for me to access the BLG grade files via the Internet.

[Maxine Gervais weighs in on working with Ray: “Christopher was great to work with. As the workflow on the feature was created from scratch, he implemented great ideas. He was very keen on the whole project and was able to adapt to the ever-changing challenges of the show. It is always important to have on-set color dialed in correctly, as it can be problematic if it is not accurately established in production.”]

How did you work with the DP? What direction were you given?
Being on set, it was very easy for DP Martin Gschlacht to come over to the trailer and view the current grade I was working on. Like Maxine, Martin already had a very clear vision for the project, which made it easy to work with him. Oftentimes, he would call me over on set and explain his intent for the scene. We would brainstorm ways of how I could assist him in making his vision come to life. Audiences rarely see raw camera files, or the how important color can influence the story being told.

It also helps that Martin is a master of aesthetic. The content being captured was extremely striking; he has this natural intuition about what look is needed for each environment that he shoots. We shot in lush rain forests in British Columbia and arid badlands in Alberta, which each inspired very different aesthetics.

Whenever I had a bit of down time, I would walk over to set and just watch them shoot, like a fly on the wall quietly observing and seeing how the story was unfolding. As a colorist, it’s so special to be able to observe the locations on set. Seeing the natural desaturated hues of dead grass in the badlands or the vivid lush greens in the rain forest with your own eyes is an amazing opportunity many of us don’t get.

You were on set throughout? Is that common for you?
We were on set throughout the entire project as a lot of our filming locations were in remote areas of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. One of our most demanding shooting locations included the Dinosaur Provincial Park in Brooks, Alberta. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that no one had been allowed to film at prior to this project. I needed to have easy access to the site in order to easily communicate with the film’s executive team and production crew. They were able to screen footage in their trailer and we had this seamless back-and-forth workflow. This also allowed them to view high-quality files in a comfortable and controlled environment. Also, the ability to flag any potential issues and address them immediately on set was incredibly valuable with a film of such size and complexity.

Alpha was actually the first time I worked in an on-set grading trailer. In the past I usually worked out of the production office. I have heard of other films working with an on-set trailer, but I don’t think I would say that it is overly common. Sometimes, I wish I could be stationed on set more often.

The film was shot mostly with the Alexa 65, but included footage from other formats. Can you talk about that workflow?
The film was mostly shot on the Alexa 65, but there were also several other formats it was shot on. For most of the shoot there was a second unit that was shooting with Alexa XT and Red Weapon cameras, with a splinter unit shooting B-roll footage on Canon 1D, 5D and Sony A7S. In addition to these, there were units in Iceland and South Africa shooting VFX plates on a Red Dragon.

By the end of the shoot, there were several different camera formats and over 10 different resolutions. We used the 6.5K Alexa 65 resolution as the master resolution and mapped all the others into it.

The Alexa 65 camera cards were backed up to 8TB “sled” transfer drives using a Codex Vault S system. The 8TB transfer drives were then sent to the trailer where I had two Codex Vault XL systems — one was used for ingesting all of the footage into my SAN and the second was used to prepare footage for LTO archival. All of the other unit footage was sent to the trailer via shuttle drives or Internet transfer.

After the footage was successfully ingested to the SAN with a checksum verification, it was ready to be colored, processed, and then archived. We had eight LTO6 decks running 24/7, as the main focus was to archive the exorbitant amounts of high-res camera footage that we were receiving. Just the Alexa 65 alone was about 2.8TB per hour for each camera.

Had you worked with Alexa 65 footage previously?
Many times. A few year ago, I was in China for seven months working on The Great Wall, which was one of the first films to shoot with the Alexa 65. I had a month of in-depth pre-production with the camera testing, shooting and honing the camera’s technology. Working very closely with Arri and Codex technicians during this time, I was able to design the most efficient workflow possible. Even as the shoot progressed, I continued to communicate closely with both companies. As new challenges arose, we developed and implemented solutions that kept production running smoothly.

The workflow we designed for The Great Wall was very close to the workflow we ended up using on Alpha, so it was a great advantage that I had previous experience working in-depth with the camera.

What were some of the challenges you faced on this film?
To be honest, I love a challenge. As a colorist, we are thrown into tricky situations every day. I am thankful for these challenges; they improve my craft and enable me to become more efficient at problem solving. One of the largest challenges that I faced in this particular project was working with so many different units, given the number of units shooting, the size of the footage alone and the dozens of format types needed.

We had to be accessible around the clock, most of us working 24 hours a day. Needless to say, I made great friends with the transportation driving team and the generator operators. I think they would agree that my grading trailer was one of their largest challenges on the film since I constantly needed to be on set and my work was being imported/exported in such high resolutions.

In the end, as I was watching this absolutely gorgeous film in the theater it made sense. Working those crazy hours was absolutely worth it — I am thankful to have worked with such a cohesive team and the experience is one I will never forget.

DP Petr Hlinomaz talks about the look of Marvel’s The Punisher

By Karen Moltenbrey

For antiheroes like Frank Castle, the lead character in the Netflix series Marvel’s The Punisher, morality comes in many shades of gray. A vigilante hell-bent on revenge, the Marine veteran used whatever lethal means possible — kidnapping, murder, extortion — to exact revenge on those responsible for the deaths of his family. However, Castle soon found that the criminal conspiracy that set him on this destructive path ran far deeper than initially imagined, and he had to decide whether to embrace his role as the Punisher and help save other victims, or retreat to a more solitude existence.

Alas, in the end, the decision to end the Punisher’s crusade was made not by Frank Castle nor by the criminal element he sought to exact justice upon. Rather, it was made by Netflix, which just recently announced it was cancelling all its live-action Marvel shows. This coming a mere month after Season 2 was released, as many fans are still watching the season’s action play out.

Petr Hlinomaz

The Punisher is dark and intense, as is the show itself. The overall aesthetic is dim and gritty to match the action, yet rich and beautiful at the same time. This is the world initially envisioned by Marvel and then brought to life on screen late in Season 1 by director of photography Petr Hlinomaz under the direction of showrunner Steve Lightfoot.

The Punisher is based on the Marvel Comics character by the same name, and the story is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning it shares DNA with the films and other TV shows in the franchise. There is a small family resemblance, but The Punisher is not considered a spin-off of Marvel’s Daredevil, despite the introduction of the Punisher (played by Jon Bernthal) on Season 2 of that series, for which Hlinomaz served as a camera operator and tandem DP. Therefore, there was no intent to match the shows’ cinematic styles.

“The Punisher does not have any special powers like other Marvel characters possess; therefore, I felt that the photographic style should be more realistic, with strong compositions and lighting resembling Marvel’s style,” Hlinomaz says. “It’s its own show. In the Marvel universe, it is not uncommon for characters to go from one show to another and then another after that.”

Establishing the Look
It seems that Hlinomaz followed somewhat in the characters’ footsteps himself, later joining The Punisher crew and taking on the role of DP after the first 10 episodes. He sussed out Lightfoot to find out what he liked as far as framing, look, camera movement and lighting were concerned, and built upon the look of those initial 10 episodes to finish out the last three episodes of Season 1. Then Hlinomaz enhanced that aesthetic on Season 2.

Hlinomaz was assisted by Francis Spieldenner, a Marvel veteran familiar with the property, who in Season 1 and again in Season 2 functioned as A camera/steadicam operator and who shot tandems in addition to serving as DP on two episodes (209 and 211) for Season 2.

“Steve and I had some discussions regarding the color of lighting for certain scenes in Season 2, but he pretty much gave me the freedom of devising the look and camera movement for the show on my own,” recalls Hlinomaz. “I call this look ‘Marvel Noir,’ which is low light and colorful. I never use any normal in the camera color temperature settings (for instance, 3,200K for night and 5,600K for day). I always look for different settings that fit the location and feel of the scene, and build the lighting from there. My approach is very source-oriented, and I do not like cheating in lighting when shooting scenes.”

According to Hlinomaz, the look they were striving for was a mix of Taxi Driver and The Godfather, but darker and more raw. “We primarily used wide-angle lenses to place our characters into our sets and scenery and to see geographically where they are. At times we strived to be inside the actors’ head.” They also used Jason Bourne films as a guideline, “making Jon (the Punisher) and all our characters feel small in the large NYC surroundings,” he adds. “The stunt sequences move fast, continuously and are brutally real.”

In terms of color, Hlinomaz uses very low light with a dark, colorful palette. This compliments New York City, which is colorful, while the city’s multitude of lights and colors “provide a spectacular base for the filming.” The show highlights various location throughout the city. “We felt the look is very fitting for this show, the Punisher being an earnest human being in the beginning of his life, but after joining the force is troubled by his past, PTSD and his family being brutally slaughtered, and in turn, he is brutal and ruthless to ‘bad people,’” explains Hlinomaz.

For instance, in a big fight scene in Season 1, Episode 11 at Micro’s hideout, Hlinomaz showed the top portion of the space to its fullest extent. “It looks dark, mysterious. We used a mixture of top, side and uplighting to make the space look interesting, with lots of color temperature mixes,” he says. “There was a plethora of leftover machinery and huge transformers and generators that were no longer in use, and stairwells that provided a superb backdrop for this sequence.”

The Workflow
For the most part, Hlinomaz has just one day to prep for an episode with the director, and that is often during the technical scout day. “Aside from reading the script and exchanging a few emails, that is the only prep we get,” he says.

During the technical scout, a discussion takes place with the director concerning how the scenes should look and feel. “We discuss lighting and grip, set dressing, blocking, shooting direction, time of day, where we light from, where the sun should be and so on, along with any questions concerning the locations for the next episodes,” he says.

During the scout and rehearsal, Hlinomaz looks for visually stimulating backgrounds, camera angles and shots that will enhance and propel the story line.

When they start shooting the episode, the group rehearses the scene, discusses the most efficient or suitable blocking for the scene and which lenses to use. During the shoot, Hlinomaz takes stills that will be used by the colorists as reference for the lighting, density, color and mood. When the episode is cut and roughly colored, he then will view the episode at the lab (Company 3 in New York) and make notations. Those notes are then provided to the post producer and colorist Tony D’Amore (from Encore) for the final color pass and Lightfoot’s approval.

The group employs HDR, “which, in a way, is hard because you always have to protect for overexposure on sources within the frame,” adds Hlinomaz. In fact, D’Amore has commended Hlinomaz, the directors and Lightfoot with devising unique lighting scenarios that highlighted the HDR aspect of the show in Season 2.

Tools of the Trade
The Punisher’s main unit uses two cameras – “we have crew to cover two at all times,” Hlinomaz says. That number increases to three or more as needed for certain sequences, though there are times when just one camera is used for certain scenes and shots.

According to Hlinomaz, Netflix and Marvel only shoot with Red 4K cameras and up. For the duration of The Punisher shoot, the crew only carried four “Panavised” Red cameras. “We shot 4K but frequently used the 5K and 6K settings to go a bit wider with the [Panavision] Primo lenses, or for a tilt and swing lens special look,” he says, adding that he has used Red cameras for the past four years and is still impressed with the color rendering of the Red sensors. Prior to shooting the series, he tested Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses, Leica Summilux lenses, along with Panavision Primos; Hlinomaz chose the Primos for their 3D rendering of the subjects.

The lens set ranged from 10mm to 150mm; there was also an 11:1 zoom lens that was used sparingly. It all depended on the shot. In Episode 13, when Frank finally shoots and kills hitman Billy Russo (aka Jigsaw), Hlinomaz used an older 12mm lens with softer edges to simulate Billy’s state as he is losing a lot of blood. “It looked great, somewhat out of focus along the edges as Frank approaches; then, when Frank steps closer for the kill, he comes into clear focus,” Hlinomaz explains.

In fact, The Punisher was shot using the same type of camera and lenses as the second season of the now-cancelled Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage (Hlinomaz served as a DP on Luke Cage Season 2 and a camera operator for four episodes of Season 1). In addition to wide-angle lenses, the show also used more naturalistic lighting, similar to The Punisher.

Hlinomaz details another sequence pertaining to his choice of cameras and lenses on The Punisher, whereby he used 10mm and 14mm lenses for a fight scene inside an elevator. Spieldenner, the A cam operator, was inside the elevator with the performers. “We didn’t pull any walls for that, only the ceilings were pulled for one overhead shot when Frank flips a guy over his shoulder,” explains Hlinomaz. “I did not want to pull any walls; when you do, it feels like the camera is on the outside, especially if it’s a small space like that elevator.”

On-Set Challenges
A good portion of the show is filmed outdoors — approximately two-thirds of the series —which always poses an additional challenge due to constantly changing weather conditions, particularly in New York. “When shooting exteriors, you are in the elements. Night exteriors are better than day exteriors because you have more control, unless the day provides constant lighting — full sun or overcast, with no changes. Sometimes it’s impractical or prohibitive to use overhead cover to block out the sun; then you just have to be quick and make smart decisions on how to shoot a scene with backlight on one side and front fill that feels like sunlight on the other, and make it cut and look good together,” explains Hlinomaz.

As he noted earlier, Hlinomaz is a naturalist when it comes to lighting, meaning he uses existing source-driven lighting. “I like simplicity. I use practicals, sun and existing light to give and drive our light direction,” he further adds. “We use every possible light, from big HMIs all the way down to the smallest battery-driven LED lights. It all depends on a given shot, location, sources and where the natural or existing light is coming from. On the other hand, sometimes it is just a bounce card for a little fill or nothing extra to make the shot look great.”

All The Punisher sets, meanwhile, have hard ceilings. “That means with our use of lower camera angles and wide lenses, we are seeing everything, including the ceilings, and are not pulling bits of ceilings and hanging any lights up from the grid. All lighting is crafted from the floor, driven by sources, practicals, floor bounces, windows and so on,” says Hlinomaz. “My feeling is that this way, the finished product looks better and more natural.”

Most of Season 1’s crew returned for Season 2, so they were familiar with the dark and gritty style, which made things easier on Hlinomaz. The season begins with the Punisher somewhere in the Midwest before agent Madani brings Frank back to New York, although all the filming took place throughout New York.

One of the more challenging sequences this season, according to Hlinomaz, was an ambulance chase that was filmed in Albany, New York. For the shoot, they used a 30-foot Louma crane and Edge arm from Action Camera cars, and three to four Red cameras. For the actual ambulance drop, they placed four additional cameras. “We had to shoot many different passes with stunts as well as the actors, in addition to the Edge arm pass. It was quite a bit of work,” he says. Of course, it didn’t help that when they arrived in Albany to start filming, they encountered a rain delay, but “we used the time to set up the car and ambulance rigs and plan to the last detail how to approach our remaining days there.” For the ambulance interior, they shot on a greenscreen stage with two ambulances — one on a shaky drive simulation rig and the other mounted 20 feet or so high on a teeter rig that simulated the drop of the highway as it tilted forward until it was pointing straight to the ground.

“If I remember correctly, we spent six days total on that sequence,” says Hlinomaz.

The second season of The Punisher was hard work, but a fun and rewarding experience, Hlinomaz contends. “It was great to be surrounded from top to bottom with people working on this show who wanted to be there 100 percent, and that dedication and our hard work is evident, I believe, in the finished season,” he adds.

As Hlinomaz waited for word on Season 3 of The Punisher, he lent his talents to Jessica Jones, also set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — and sadly also receiving the same ultimate fate — as Hlinomaz stepped in to help shoot Episode 305, with the new Red DSMC2 Gemini 5K S35 camera. “I had a great experience there and loved the new camera. I am looking forward to using it on my next project,” he adds.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Color plays big role in the indie thriller Rust Creek

In the edge-of-your-seat thriller Rust Creek, confident college student Sawyer (Hermione Corfield) loses her way while driving through very rural Appalachia and quickly finds herself in a life-or-death struggle with some very dangerous men. The modestly-budgeted feature from Lunacy Productions — a company that encourages female filmmakers in top roles — packs a lot of power with virtually no pyrotechnics using well-thought-out filmmaking techniques, including a carefully planned and executed approach to the use of color throughout the film.

Director Jen McGowan and DP Michelle Lawler

Director Jen McGowan, cinematographer Michelle Lawler and colorist Jill Bogdanowicz of Company 3 collaborated to help express Sawyer’s character arc through the use of color. For McGowan, successful filmmaking requires thorough prep. “That’s where we work out, ‘What are we trying to say and how do we illustrate that visually?’” she explains. “Film is such a visual medium,” she adds, “but it’s very different from something like painting because of the element of time. Change over time is how we communicate story, emotion and theme as filmmakers.”

McGowan and Lawler developed the idea that Sawyer is lost, confused and overwhelmed as her dire situation becomes clear. Lawler shot most of Rust Creek handholding an ARRI Alexa Mini (with Cooke S4s) following Sawyer as she makes her way through the late autumn forest. “We wanted her to become part of the environment,” Lawler says. “We shot in winter and everything is dead, so there was a lot of brown and orange everywhere with zero color separation.”

Production designer Candi Guterres pushed that look further, rather than fighting it, with choices about costumes and some of the interiors.

“They had given a great deal of thought to how color affects the story,” recalls colorist Bogdanowicz, who sat with both women during the grading sessions (using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve) at Company 3 in Santa Monica. “I loved the way color was so much a part of the process, even subtly, of the story arc. We did a lot in the color sessions to develop this concept where Sawyer almost blends into the environment at first and then, as the plot develops and she finds inner strength, we used tonality and color to help make her stand out more in the frame.”

Lawler explains that the majority of the film was shot on private property deep in the Kentucky woods, without the use of any artificial light. “I prefer natural light where possible,” she says. “I’d add some contrast to faces with some negative fill and maybe use little reflectors to grab a rake of sunlight on a rock, but that was it. We had to hike to the locations and we couldn’t carry big lights and generators anyway. And I think any light I might have run off batteries would have felt fake. We only had sun about three days of the 22-day shoot, so generally I made use of the big ‘silk’ in the sky and we positioned actors in ways that made the best use of the natural light.”

In fact, the weather was beyond bad, it was punishing. “It would go from rain to snow to tornado conditions,” McGowan recalls. “It dropped to seven degrees and the camera batteries stopped working.”

“The weather issues can’t be overstated,” Lawler adds, describing conditions on the property they used for much of the exterior location. “Our base camp was in a giant field. The ground would be frozen in the morning and by afternoon there would be four feet of mud. We dug trenches to keep craft services from flooding.”

The budget obviously didn’t provide for waiting around for the elements to change, David Lean-style. “Michelle and I were always mindful when shooting that we would need to be flexible when we got to the color grading in order to tie the look together,” McGowan explains. “I hate the term ‘fix it post.’ It wasn’t about fixing something, it was about using post to execute what was intended.”

Jill Bogdanowicz

“We were able to work with my color grading toolset to fine tune everything shot by shot,” says Bogdanowicz. “It was lovely working with the two of them. They were very collaborative but were very clear on what they wanted.”

Bogdanowicz also adapted a film emulation LUT, which was based on the characteristics of a Fujifilm print stock and added in a subtle hint of digital grain, via a Boris FX Sapphire plug-in, to help add a unifying look and filmic feel to the imagery. At the very start of the process, the colorist recalls, “I showed Jen and Michelle a number of ‘recipes’ for looks and they fell in love with this one. It’s somewhat subtle and elegant and it made ‘electric’ colors not feel so electric but has a film-style curve with strong contrast in the mids and shadows you can still see into.”

McGowan says she was quite pleased with the work that came out of the color theater. “Color is not one of the things audiences usually pick up on, but a lot of people do when they see Rust Creek. It’s not highly stylized, and it certainly isn’t a distracting element, but I’ve found a lot of people have picked up on what we were doing with color and I think it definitely helped make the story that much stronger.”

Rust Creek is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and Google.

Free Solo: The filmmakers behind the Oscar-winning documentary

By Iain Blair

Do you suffer from vertigo? Are you deathly afraid of heights? Does the thought of hanging by your fingertips over the void make you feel like throwing up? Then the new, nail-biting climbing film Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary feature, might not be for you.

But if you enjoy an edge-of-your-seat thriller that allows you — thanks to truly awesome cinematography — to virtually “free solo” (climb a rock face without any safety gear) from the comfort of your own armchair, then you should rush to see this inspiring portrait of an athlete who challenges both his body and his beliefs on a quest to triumph over the impossible.

Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi

Made by the award-winning husband-and-wife team of documentary filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (a renowned photographer and mountaineer), it follows daredevil climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to tackle the greatest challenge of his career: a death-defying ascent of Yosemite’s famous 3,200-foot sheer rock face El Capitan — without any ropes, safety harness or assistance in a “free solo” climb. His meticulous preparation is complicated by his falling in love with a new girlfriend, Sanni.

I spoke with the filmmaking couple, whose credits include the acclaimed 2015 climbing epic Meru, about making the Nat Geo film, their love of post, and the Oscars.

Congratulations on your Oscar win. How important are Oscars to a film like this?
E. Chai Vasarhelyi (ECV): Incredibly important, as they bring so much attention to it and get it to a far wider audience than it might otherwise get. But, of course, we didn’t make this with awards in mind. You can’t think like that when you’re doing it, but we’re so grateful for the nomination.

This is not your typical climbing movie. Jimmy, you’re also an elite climber. What drives someone to do this, and what sort of film did you set out to make?
Jimmy Chin (JC): I think it’s the same thing as what makes us want to go to the moon, or why someone pushes themselves to the edge for their calling or passion: to see how far you can take it. That’s at the heart of this and the sort of film we set out to make, and what’s amazing about Alex and his story is just how far he’s come.

He was this very shy, sort of awkward kid who was scared of all kinds of things, and through his determination to face all his fears — whether it was simply hugging people or his dislike of vegetables — he’s gone through this huge transformation. Climbing like this was, I think, ultimately easier for him to conquer than some other stuff in his life. So we wanted to capture all of that, but also all the raw emotional moments that really engage an audience. It’s a film about this amazing climb, but it’s not just a climbing movie. That’s how we approached it.

Alex is also a friend of yours. How do you film a potentially fatal climb like this without exploiting it?
ECV: It was a big ethical question, even if a more extreme case of it than comes with every documentary. Did we even want to make this film? And, if so, how did we honor Alex and what he was trying to do without making it at all sensational. There are so many different ways to tell a story, and Alex had to trust us. Then there’s that existential ethical question at the center of it all — is he more likely to fall because we’re there filming it? That’s something we really had to wrestle with.

Alex thought more about his own mortality than anyone else, and he chooses every day to live a certain way and we were going to do everything in our power to mitigate the risk. So it was all about doing justice to the story and respecting Alex and every decision he makes, including the way he prepared so carefully for the climb.

How tough was the shoot?
ECV: It was very hard, even though we had a big team of elite climbers who were also great cameramen and trained for two years to do this.

JC: We had over 30 people on El Cap alone, including four cameramen on the wall, including myself, and most of us were very up high — around 2,000 feet. We used some very long lens cameras on the ground, as well as some remote rigs and drones and other equipment. But we knew that we were in situations where a simple mistake could be catastrophic. There were a lot of potential hazards, and the big thing for the crew was to never get distracted, which is so easy when you’re watching someone free solo up 3,000 feet in front of you. It was grueling and exhausting for everyone involved — super-intense, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to overstate what everyone went through to make this film.

Talk about re-teaming with Meru editor Bob Eisenhardt, who just won the ACE Eddie for this film. He told me it took over a year to edit.
ECV: It actually took over 18 months, partly because we had so much footage to look at and sort through. But I don’t think the sheer volume of footage was the main editing challenge. We were attracted to his story because there’s so much more to it than just the climb itself, and while we were all so prepared for that, we never anticipated him and Sanni falling in love. When that happened, you have to just go with it. We spent a lot of time trying stuff and figuring out how to marry that with the climb so that it played authentically to people very familiar with climbing as well as to people like me, who aren’t. It was all about a negotiation.

Where did you post?
ECV: All in New York, at our own post place called Little Monster Films, and then we did our sound work and mixing at Soundtrack with re-recording mixer Tommy Fleischman, and we also did some ADR work at C5 Inc.

Do you like the post process?
ECV: We love it, because you finally start pulling in all the layers — like the music and sound and VFX — and you see the film come to life and change as you go along. We also had the luxury of a long post schedule to play around with the material, and it’s so much fun.

Obviously, sound is very important, especially when Alex was out of range of wireless mics.
ECV: Having made a few films, we know just how important the sound is and we had a great sound recordist in the field and a great sound team. When you don’t climb with ropes, all the sounds are very subtle.

What VFX were involved?
JC: One of the big ones was trying to give you a sense of El Cap’s true scale. It’s so hard to get across just how big it is. We tried a lot of things and finally ended up getting access to Google Earth high-res satellite imagery, and we were able to 3D map that and then build out those moving, contextual shots, and all that stuff was done by Big Star.

Where did you do the DI, and how important was it to you?
JC: We did the DI at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld. It was very important as one of the big challenges was that we shot using a lot of different cameras, and so we had to work to get a consistent look and feel the whole way through, so you don’t pull people out of it at key moments. But we also didn’t want to create a stylized look to the footage. We wanted to keep it fairly naturalistic, and we worked hard on that.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
ECV: Yes, as we’d planned it so carefully — how to treat the climb, how you get to know Alex. This whole project took about four years, from start to finish. But Sanni was the big surprise.

What’s your view of Alex today?
JC: He’s an incredible person who did something no one else has ever done. It’s still hard to comprehend just how amazing this feat was.

What’s next? Another climbing film?
ECV: (Laughs) No. No more climbing for a while. It’s a documentary about conservation.

SciTech Medallion Recipient: A conversation with Curtis Clark, ASC

By Barry Goch

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has awarded Curtis Clark, ASC, the John A. Bonner Medallion “in appreciation for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy.” The presentation took place in early February and just prior to the event, I spoke to Clark and asked him to reflect on the transition from film to digital cinema and his contributions to the industry.

Clark’s career as a cinematographer includes features, TV and commercials. He is also the chair of the ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council that developed the ASC- CDL.

Can you reflect on the changes you’ve seen over your career and how you see things moving ahead in the future?
Once upon a time, life was an awful lot simpler. I look back on it nostalgically when it was all film-based, and the possibilities of the cinematographer included follow-up on the look of dailies and also follow through with any photographic testing that helped to hone in on the desired look. It had its photochemical limitations; its analog image structure was not as malleable or tonally expansive as the digital canvas we have now.

Do you agree that Kodak’s Cineon helped us to this digital revolution — the hybrid film/digital imaging system where you would shoot on film, scan it and then digitally manipulate it before going back out to film via a film recorder?
That’s where the term digital intermediate came into being, and it was an eye opener. I think at the time not everyone fully understood the ramifications of the sort of impact it was making. Kodak created something very potent and led the way in terms of methodologies, or how to arrive at integration of digital into what was then called a hybrid imaging system —combining digital and film together.

The DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) was created to establish digital projection standards. Without a standard we’d potentially be creating chaos in terms of how to move forward. For the studios, distributors and exhibitors, it would be a nightmare Can you talk about that?
In 2002, I had been asked to form a technology committee at the ASC to explore these issues: how the new emerging digital technologies were impacting the creative art form of cinematography and of filmmaking, and also to help influence the development of these technologies so they best serve the creative intent of the filmmaker.

DCI proposed that for digital projection to be considered ready for primetime, its image quality needed to be at least as good as, if not better than, a print from the original negative. I thought this was a great commitment that the studios were making. For them to say digital projection was going to be judged against a film print projection from the original camera negative of the exact same content was a fantastic decision. Here was a major promise of a solution that would give digital cinema image projection an advantage since most people saw release prints from a dupe negative.

Digital cinema had just reached the threshold of being able to do 2K digital cinema projection. At that time, 4K digital projection was emerging, but it was a bit premature in terms of settling on that as a standard. So you had digital cinema projection and the emergence of a sophisticated digital intermediate process that could create the image quality you wanted from the original negative, but projected on a digital projection.

In 2004, the Michael Mann film Collateral film was shot with the Grass Valley Viper Film Stream, the Sony F900 and Sony F950 cameras, the latest generation of digital motion picture cameras — basically video cameras that were becoming increasingly sophisticated with better dynamic range and tonal contrast, using 24fps and other multiple frame rates, but 24p was the key.
These cameras were used in the most innovative and interesting manner, because Mann combined film with digital, using the digital for the low-light level night scenes and then using film for the higher-light level day exterior scenes and day interior scenes where there was no problem with exposure.

Because of the challenge of shooting the night scenes, they wanted to shoot at such low light levels that film would potentially be a bit degraded in terms of grain and fog levels. If you had to overrate the negative, you needed to underexpose and overdevelop it, which was not desirable, whereas the digital cameras thrived in lower light levels. Also, you could shoot at a stop that gave you better depth of field. At the time, it was a very bold decision. But looking back on it historically, I think it was the inflection point that brought the digital motion picture camera into the limelight as a possible alternative to shooting on film.

That’s when they decided to do Camera Assessment Series tests, which evaluates all the different digital cinema cameras available at the time?
Yeah, with the idea being that we’d never compare two digital cameras together, we’d always compare the digital camera against a film reference. We did that first Camera Assessment Series, which was the first step in the direction of validating the digital motion picture camera as viable for shooting motion pictures compared with shooting on film. And we got part way there. A couple of the cameras were very impressive: the Sony F35, the Panavision Genesis, the Arri D21 and the Grass Valley Viper were pretty reasonable, but this was all still mainly within a 2K (1920×1080) realm. We had not yet broached that 4K area.

A couple years later, we decided to do this again. It was called the Image Control Assessment Series, ICAS. That was shot at Warner Bros. It was the scenes that we shot in a café — daylight interior and then night time exterior. Both scenes had a dramatically large range of contrast and different colors in the image. It was the big milestone. The new Arri Alexa was used, along with the Sony F65 and the then latest versions of the Red cameras.

So we had 4K projection and 4K cameras and we introduced the use of ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) color management. So we were really at the point where all the key components that we needed were beginning to come together. This was the first instance where these digital workflow components were all used in a single significant project testing. Using film as our common benchmark reference — How are these cameras in relation to film? That was the key thing. In other words, could we consider them to be ready for prime time? The answer was yes. We did that project in conjunction with the PGA and a company called Revelations Entertainment, which is Morgan Freeman’s company. Lori McCreary, his partner, was one of the producers who worked with us on this.

So filmmakers started using digital motion picture cameras instead of film. And with digital cinema having replaced film print as a distribution medium, these new generation digital cameras started to replace film as an image capture medium. Then the question was would we have an end-to-end digital system that would become potentially viable as an alternative to shooting on film.

L to R: Josh Pines, Steve MacMillan, Curtis Clark and Dhanendra Patel.

Part of the reason you are getting this acknowledgement from the Academy is your dedication on the highest quality of image and the respect for the artistry, from capture through delivery. Can you talk about your role in look management from on-set through delivery?
I think we all need to be on the same page; it’s one production team whose objective is maintaining the original creative intent of the filmmakers. That includes director and cinematographer and working with an editor and a production designer. Making a film is a collective team effort, but the overall vision is typically established by the director in collaboration with the cinematographer and a production designer. The cinematographer is tasked with capturing that with lighting, with camera composition, movement, lens choices — all those elements that are part of the process of creative filmmaking. Once you start shooting with these extremely sophisticated cameras, like the Sony F65 or Venice, Panavision Millennium DXL, an Arri or the latest versions of the Red camera, all of which have the ability to reproduce high dynamic range, wide color gamut and high resolution. All that raw image data is inherently there and the creative canvas has certainly been expanded.

So if you’re using these creative tools to tell your story, to advance your narrative, then you’re doing it with imagery defined by the potential of what these technologies are able to do. In the modern era, people aren’t seeing dailies at the same time, not seeing them together under controlled circumstances. The viewing process has become fragmented. When everyone had to come together to view projected dailies, there was a certain camaraderie constructive contributions that made the filmmaking process more effective. So if something wasn’t what it should be, then everyone could see exactly what it was and make a correction if you needed to do that.

But now, we have a more dispersed production team at every stage of the production process, from the initial image capture through to dailies, editorial, visual effects and final color grading. We have so many different people in disparate locations working on the production who don’t seem to be as unified, sometimes, as we were when it was all film-based analog shooting. But now, it’s far easier and simpler to integrate visual effects into your workflow. Like Cineon indicated when it first emerged, you could do digital effects as opposed to optical effects and that was a big deal.

So coming back to the current situation, and particularly now with the most advanced forms of imaging, which include high dynamic range, wider color gamut, wider than even P3, REC 2020, having a color management system like ACES that actually has enough color gamut to be able to contain any color space that you capture and want to be able to manipulate.

Can you talk about the challenges you overcame, and how that fits into the history of cinema as it relates to the Academy recognition you received?
As a cinematographer, working on feature films or commercials, I kept thinking, if I’m fortunate enough to be able to manage the dailies and certainly the final color grading, there are these tools called lift gain gamma, which are common to all the different color correctors. But they’re all implemented differently. They’re not cross-platform-compatible, so the numbers from a lift gain gamma — which is the primary RGB grading — from one color corrector will not translate automatically to another color corrector. So I thought, we should have a cross platform version of that, because that is usually seen as the first step for grading.

That’s about as basic as you can get, and it was designed so that it would be a cross-platform implementation, so that everybody who installs and applies the ASC-CDL in a color grading system compatible with that app, whether you did it on a DaVinci, Baselight, Lustre or whatever you were using, the results would be the same and transferable.

You could transport those numbers from one set-up on set using a dailies creation tool, like ColorFront for example. You could then use the ASC CDL to establish your dailies look during the shoot, not while you’re actually shooting, but with the DIT to establish a chosen look that could then be applied to dailies and used for VFX.

Then when you make your way into the final color grading session with the final cut — or whenever you start doing master color grading going back to the original camera source — you would have these initial grading corrections as a starting point as references. This now gives you the possibility of continuing on that color grading process using all the sophistication of a full color corrector, whether it’s power windows or secondary color correction. Whatever you felt you needed to finalize the look.

I was advocating this in the ASC Technology Committee, as it was called, now subsequently renamed the Motion Imaging Technology Council (MITC). We needed a solution like this and there were a group of us who got together and decided that we would do this. There were plenty of people who were skeptical, “Why would you do something like that when we already have lift gain gamma? Why would any of the manufacturers of the different color grading systems integrate this into their system? Would it not impinge upon their competitive advantage if they had a system that people were used to using, and if their own lift gain gamma would work perfectly well for them, why would they want to use the ASC CDL?

We live in a much more fragmented post world, and I saw that becoming even more so with the advances of digital. The ASC CDL would be a “look unifier” that would establish initial look parameters. You would be able to have control over the look at every stage of the way.

I’m assuming that the cinematographer would work with the director and editor, and they would assess certain changes that probably should be made because we’re now looking at cut sequences and what we had thought would be most appropriate when we were shooting is now in the context of an edit and there may need to be some changes and adjustments.

Were you involved in ACES? Was it a similar impetus for ACES coming about? Or was it just spawned because visual effects movies became so big and important with the advent of digital filmmaking?
It was bit of both, including productions without VFX. So I would say that initially it was driven by the fact that there really should be a standardized color management system. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. When we were all photochemical and basically shooting with Kodak stock, we were working with film-based Kodak color science.

It’s a color science that everybody knew and understood, even if they didn’t understand it from an engineering photochemical point of view, they understood the effects of it. It’s what helps enable the look and the images that we wanted to create.

That was a color management system that was built into film. That color science system could have been adapted into the digital world, but Kodak resisted that because of the threat to negatives. If you apply that film color science to digital cameras, then you’re making digital cameras look more like film and that could pose a threat to the sale of color film negative.

So that’s really where the birth of ACES came about — to create a universal, unified color management system that would be appropriate anywhere you shot and with the widest possible color gamut. And it supports any camera or display technology because it would always have a more expanded (future proofing) capability within which the digital camera and display technologies would work effectively and efficiently but accurately, reliably and predictably.

Very early on, my ASC Technology Committee (now called Motion Imaging Technology Council) got involved with ACES development and became very excited about it. It was the missing ingredient needed to be able to make the end-to-end digital workflow the success that we thought that it could become. Because we no longer could rely on film-based color science, we had to either replicate that or emulate it with a color management system that could accommodate everything we wanted to do creatively. So ACES became that color management system.

So, in addition to becoming the first cross-platform primary color grading tool, the ASC CDL became the first official ACES look modification transform. Because ACES is not a color grading tool, it’s a color management system, you have to have color grading tools with color management. So you have the color management with ACES, you have the color grading with ASC CDL and the combination of those together is the look management system because it takes them all to make that work. And it’s not that the ASC CDL is the only tool you use for color grading, but it has the portable cross-platform ability to be able to control the color grading from dailies through visual effects up to the final color grade when you’re then working with a sophisticated color corrector.

What do you see for the future of cinematography and the merging of the worlds of post and on-set work and, what do you see as future challenges for future integrations between maintaining the creative intent and the metadata.
We’re very involved in metadata at the moment. Metadata is a crucial part of making all this work, as you well know. In fact, we worked on the common 3D LUT format, which we worked on with the Academy. So there is a common 3D LUT format that is something that would again have cross-platform consistency and predictability. And it’s functionality and its scope of use would be better understood if everyone were using it. It’s a work in progress. Metadata is critical.

I think as we expand the canvas and the palette of the possibility of image making, you have to understand what these technologies are capable of doing, so that you can incorporate them into your vision. So if you’re saying my creative vision includes doing certain things, then you would have to understand the potential of what they can do to support that vision. A very good example in the current climate is HDR.

That’s very controversial in a lot of ways, because the set manufacturers really would love to have everything just jump off the screen to make it vibrant and exciting. However, from a storytelling point of view, it may not be appropriate to push HDR imagery where it distracts from the story.
Well, it depends on how it’s done and how you are able to use that extended dynamic range when you have your bright highlights. And you can use foreground background relationships with bigger depth of field for tremendous effect. They have a visceral presence, because they have a dimensionality when, for example, you see the bright images outside of a window.

When you have an extended dynamic range of scene tones that could add dimensional depth to the image, you can choreograph and stage the blocking for your narrative storytelling with the kind of images that take advantage of those possibilities.

So HDR needs to be thought of as something that’s integral to your storytelling, not just something that’s there because you can do it. That’s when it can become a distraction. When you’re on set, you need a reference monitor that is able to show and convey, all the different tonal and color elements that you’re working with to create your look, from HDR to wider color gamut, whatever that may be, so that you feel comfortable that you’ve made the correct creative decision.

With virtual production techniques, you can incorporate some of that into your live-action shooting on set with that kind of compositing, just like James Cameron started with Avatar. If you want to do that with HDR, you can. The sky is the limit in terms of what you can do with today’s technology.

So these things are there, but you need to be able to pull them all together into your production workflow to make sure that you can comfortably integrate in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. And that it conforms to what the creative vision for the final result needs to be and then, remarkable things can happen. The aesthetic poetry of the image can visually drive the narrative and you can say things with these images without having to be expositional in your dialogue. You can make it more of an experientially immersive involvement with the story. I think that’s something that we’re headed toward, that’s going to make the narrative storytelling very interesting and much more dynamic.

Certainly, and certainly with the advancements of consumer technology and better panels and the high dynamic range developments, and Dolby Vision coming into the home and Atmos audio coming into the home. It’s really an amazing time to be involved in the industry; it’s so fun and challenging.

It’s a very interesting time, and a learning curve needs to happen. That’s what’s driven me from the very beginning and why I think our ASC Motion Imaging Technology Council has been so successful in its 16 years of continuous operation influencing the development of some of these technologies in very meaningful ways. But always with the intent that these new imaging technologies are there to better serve the creative intent of the filmmaker. The technology serves the art. It’s not about the technology per se, it’s about the technology as the enabling component of the art. It enables the art to happen. And expands it’s scope and possibility to broader canvases with wider color gamuts in ways that have never been experienced or possible before.


Barry Goch is a Finishing Artist at The Foundation and a Post Production Instructor at UCLA Extension. You can follow him on Twitter at @gochya.

Cold War’s Oscar-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski

By Iain Blair

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is a BAFTA-winning writer and director whose film Ida won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Pawlikowski, who left Poland at age 14 and currently resides in the UK, is Oscar nominated again — as Best Director for his latest film, Cold War. Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War earned cinematographer Lukasz Zal an Oscar nomination, as well as an ASC Award win.

Pawel Pawlikowski                            Credit: Magda Wunsche and Aga Samsel

Cold War traces the passionate love story between Wiktor and Zula, a couple who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, it’s the tale of a couple separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate — an impossible love story in impossible times.

I spoke with Pawlikowski, whose credits include The Woman in the Fifth, which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, about making the film, the Oscars and his workflow.

How surprised are you by the Oscar nominations, including the one for Best Director?
I’m pleasantly surprised as it’s very unusual for a small film like this — and it’s in B&W — to cut through all the noise of the big films, especially as it’s an American competition and there’s so much money and PR involved.

Your Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal also got an Oscar nomination for his beautiful B&W work. It’s interesting that Roma is also semi-autobiographical and in B&W.
I’m so happy for him, and yes, it is a bit of a coincidence. Someone told me that having two foreign-language film directors both nominated in the same year has only happened once before, and I feel we were both trying to reconnect with the past through something personal and timeless. But they’re very different films and very different in their use of B&W. In Roma you can see everything, it’s all in focus and lit very evenly, while ours is far more contrast-y, shot with a lot of very different lenses — some very wide, some very long.

You won the Oscar for Ida. How important are the Oscars to a film like this?
Very, I think. This was made totally as we wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of compromise, and it’s not formulaic, yet it’s getting all this attention. This, of course, means a wider audience — and that’s so important when there’s so much stuff out there vying for attention. It’s very encouraging.

What sort of film did you set out to make, as the story is so elliptical and leaves a lot unsaid?
That’s true, and I think it’s a great pleasure for audiences to work things out for themselves, and to not spell every single thing out. When you work by suggestion, I think it stays in your imagination much longer, and leaving certain types of gaps in the narrative makes the audience fill them in with their own imagination and own experience of life. As a film lover and audience member myself, I feel that approach lets you enter the space of a film much more, and it stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema. When a film ties up every loose end and crosses every “T” and dots every “I” you tend to forget it quite quickly, and I think not showing everything is the essence of art.

Is it true that the two main characters of Wiktor and Zula are based on your own parents?
Yes, but very loosely. They have the same names and share a lot of the same traits. They had a very tempestuous, complicated relationship — they couldn’t live with each other and couldn’t live without each other. That was the starting point, but then it took on its own life, like all films do.

The film looks very beautiful in B&W, but I heard you originally planned to shoot it in color?
No. Not at all. It’s been like this Chinese whisper, where people got it all wrong. When the DP and I first started discussing it, we immediately knew it’d be a B&W film for this world, this time period, this story, especially as Poland wasn’t very colorful back then. So whatever colors we could have come up with would have been so arbitrary anyway. And we knew it’d be very high contrast and very dramatic. Lukasz did say, “Maybe we shouldn’t do two films in a row in B&W,” but we never seriously considered color. If it had been set in the ‘70s or ‘80s I would have shot it in color, but B&W was just visually perfect for this.

Where did you post?
All in Poland, at various places in Warsaw, and it took over six months. It was very tricky and very hard to get it right because we had a lot of greenscreen work, and it wasn’t straightforward. People would say, “That’s good enough,” but it wasn’t for me, and I kept pushing and pushing to get it all as nearly perfect as we could. That was quite nerve-wracking.

Do you like the post process?
Very much, and I especially love the editing and the grading. I’m basically an editor in my approach to filmmaking, and I usually do all the editing while I shoot, so by the time we get to post it’s practically all edited.

Talk about editing with Jaroslaw Kaminski, who cut Ida for you. What were the big editing challenges?
We sit down after the shoot and go through it all, but there’s not that much to tweak because of the coverage. I like to do one shot from one angle, with a simple, square composition, but I do quite a lot of takes, so it’s more about finding the best one, and he’s very used to the way I work.

This spans some 15 years, and all period films use some VFX. What was involved?
Quite a lot, like the whole transition in Berlin when he crosses the border. We don’t have all the ruins, so we had to use enormous greenscreens and VFX. West Berlin is far brighter and more colorful, which is both symbolic and also realistic. We shot all the Paris interiors in Poland, so everything that happens outside the windows is greenscreen, and that was very hard to get right. I didn’t want it to feel like it was done in post. We scoured Poland for locations, so we could use real elements to build on with the VFX, and the story also takes place in Split, Yugoslavia, so the level of realism had to be very high.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It was so important, and it took a long time to do as it’s really a silent movie when there’s no music, and as it’s not an action film, it was really critical that we didn’t overdo it or under-do it. I took a very long time working with my sound mixer — over four months. Before we shot, I went around Poland with my casting director to lots of folk music festivals and selected various faces, voices and tunes for the first part of the film. That took over half a year. Then I chose three tunes performed by Mazowsze, a real ensemble founded after the war and still performing today. A tune could be used in different ways — as a simple folk song at the start of the film, but then also later as a haunting jazz number in the Paris scenes. For me, all this was like the glue holding it all together. Then I chose a lot of other music, like the Russian piece, Gershwin and also a song like “Rock Around The Clock,” which really drives a wedge between Wiktor and Zula. The film ends with Bach, which gives it a whole different feel and perspective.

The grading must have also been very important for the look?
Yes. Michal Herman was the colorist and we spent a long time getting the contrast and grain just right. I love that process.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s more or less everything I felt and imagined about my parents and their story, even though it’s a work of fiction.


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.

ASC Awards honor cinematography

At this year’s ASC Awards, Łukasz Żal, PSC, took home Feature Cinematography Award for his work on Cold War. Giorgi Shvelidze won the Spotlight Award for Namme. In the TV categories, winners included Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, BSC, for The Crown; Jon Joffin, ASC for Beyond; and James Friend, BSC, for Patrick Melrose.

The 33 rd ASC Awards gala took place tonight in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, with Ben Mankiewicz from TCM taking his second turn as host.

The complete list of winners and nominees follows:

Theatrical Release Category (presented by John Bailey, ASC)

  • Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma”
  • Matthew Libatique, ASC for “A Star Is Born”
  • Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC for “The Favourite”
  • Linus Sandgren, ASC, FSF for “First Man”
  • Łukasz Żal, PSC for “Cold War” – WINNER

Spotlight Award Category (presented by George Tillman Jr. and Ellen Kuras, ASC)

  • Joshua James Richards for “The Rider”
  • Giorgi Shvelidze for “Namme” – WINNER
  • Frank van den Eeden, NSC, SBC for “Girl”

Episode of a Series for Non-Commercial Television (presented by Lea Thompson)

  • Gonzalo Amat for “The Man in the High Castle” (Jahr Null)
  • Adriano Goldman, ASC, ABC, BSC for “The Crown” (Beryl) – WINNER
  • David Klein, ASC for “Homeland” (Paean to the People)
  • Colin Watkinson, ASC, BSC for “The Handmaid’s Tale” (The Word)
  • Cathal Watters, ISC for “Peaky Blinders” (The Company)
  • Zoë White, ACS for “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Holly)

Episode of a Series for Commercial Television (presented by Merrin Dungey)

  • Nathaniel Goodman, ASC for “Timeless” (The King of the Delta Blues)
  • Jon Joffin, ASC for “Beyond” (Two Zero One) – WINNER
  • Ben Richardson for “Yellowstone” (Daybreak)
  • David Stockton, ASC for “Gotham” (A Dark Knight: Queen Takes Knight)
  • Thomas Yatsko, ASC for “Damnation” (A Different Species)

Motion Picture, Miniseries, or Pilot Made for Television (presented by Thomas Lennon)

  • James Friend, BSC for “Patrick Melrose” (Bad News) – WINNER
  • Mathias Herndl, AAC for “Genius: Picasso” (Chapter 1)
  • Florian Hoffmeister, BSC for “The Terror” (Go for Broke)
  • M. David Mullen, ASC for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Pilot)
  • Brendan Steacy, CSC for “Alias Grace” (Part 1)

This is Żal’s second win. He previously earned a Spotlight Award for his co-cinematography duties with Ryszard Lenczewsk on “Ida.” Goldman also won last year for “The Crown.” Shvelidze, Joffin and Friend are first-time winners.

The Spotlight Award – co-presented by George Tillman Jr., who produced the Oscar®-nominated “Mudbound” and directed this year’s “The Hate U Give” – recognizes cinematography in smaller features that may not receive wider theatrical release or awareness.

Honorary awards also handed out at the event included:

  • The ASC Board of Governors Award was presented to Jeff Bridges by actor-stuntman Loyd Catlett for his significant and indelible contributions to cinema. It is the only ASC Award not given to a cinematographer and is reserved for filmmakers who have been champions for directors of photography and the visual art form. 
  • The ASC Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Robert Richardson, ASC and presented by frequent collaborator, writer-director Quentin Tarantino. 
  • The ASC Career Achievement in Television Award was presented to Jeffrey Jur, ASC by director John Dahl. 
  • The ASC Bud Stone Award of Distinction was given to Franz Kraus, managing director, ARRI Group. This award is presented to an ASC Associate Member who has demonstrated extraordinary service to the society and/or has made a significant contribution to the motion-picture industry.

Main Image: Cold War camera operator Ernest Wilczynski_and John Bailey, ASC. Łukasz Żal, PSC, wasn’t at the ceremony.

Sundance Videos: Watch our editor interviews

postPerspective traveled to Sundance for the first time this year, and it was great. In addition to attending some parties, brunches and panels, we had the opportunity to interview a number of editors who were in Park City to help promote their various projects. (Watch here.)

Billy McMillin

We caught up with the editors on the comedy docu-series Documentary Now!, Michah Gardner and Jordan Kim. We spoke to Courtney Ware about cutting the film Light From Light, as well as Billy McMillin, editor on the documentary Mike Wallace is Here. We also chatted with Phyllis Housen, the editor on director Chinonye Chukwu’s Clemency and Kent Kincannon who cut Hannah Pearl Utt’s comedy, Before you Know It. Finally, we sat down with Bryan Mason, who had the dual roles of cinematographer and editor on Animals.

We hope you enjoy watching these interviews as much as we enjoyed shooting them.

Don’t forget, click here to view!

Oh, and a big shout out to Twain Richardson from Jamaica’s Frame of Reference, who edited and color graded the videos. Thanks Twain!

Quick Chat: Crew Cuts’ Nancy Jacobsen and Stephanie Norris

By Randi Altman

Crew Cuts, a full-service production and post house, has been a New York fixture since 1986. Originally established as an editorial house, over the years as the industry evolved they added services that target all aspects of the workflow.

This independently-owned facility is run by executive producer/partner Nancy Jacobsen, senior editor/partner Sherri Margulies Keenan and senior editor/partner Jake Jacobsen. While commercial spots might be in their wheelhouse, their projects vary and include social media, music videos and indie films.

We decided to reach out to Nancy Jacobsen, as well as EP of finishing Stephanie Norris, to find out about trends, recent work and succeeding in an industry and city that isn’t always so welcoming.

Can you talk about what Crew Cuts provides and how you guys have evolved over the years?
Jacobsen: We pretty much do it all. We have 10 offline editors as well as artists working in VFX, 2D/3D animation, motion graphics/design, audio mix and sound design, VO record, color grading, title treatment, advanced compositing and conform. Two of our editors double as directors.

In the beginning, Crew Cuts primarily offered only editorial. As the years went by and the industry climate changed we began to cater to the needs of clients and slowly built out our entire finishing department. We started with some minimal graphics work and one staff artist in 2008.

In 2009, we expanded the team to include graphics, conform and audio mix. From there we just continued to grow and expand our department to the full finishing team we have today.

As a woman owner of a post house, what challenges have you had to overcome?
Jacobsen: When I started in this business, the industry was very different. I made less money than my male counterparts and it took me twice as long to be promoted because I am a woman. I have since seen great change where women are leading post houses and production houses and are finally getting the recognition for the hard work they deserve. Unfortunately, I had to “wait it out” and silently work harder than the men around me. This has paid off for me, and now I can help women get the credit they rightly deserve

Do you see the industry changing and becoming less male-dominated?
Jacobsen: Yes, the industry is definitely becoming less male-dominated. In the current climate, with the birth of the #metoo movement and specifically in our industry with the birth of Diet Madison Avenue (@dietmadisonave), we are seeing a lot more women step up and take on leading roles.

Are you mostly a commercial house? What other segments of the industry do you work in?
Jacobsen: We are primarily a commercial house. However, we are not limited to just broadcast and digital commercial advertising. We have delivered specs for everything from the Godzilla screen in Times Square to :06 spots on Instagram. We have done a handful of music videos and also handle a ton of B2B videos for in-house client meetings, etc., as well as banner ads for conferences and trade shows. We’ve even worked on display ads for airports. Most recently, one of our editors finished a feature film called Public Figure that is being submitted around the film festival circuit.

What types of projects are you working on most often these days?
Jacobsen: The industry is all over the place. The current climate is very messy right now. Our projects are extremely varied. It’s hard to say what we work on most because it seems like there is no more norm. We are working on everything from sizzle pitch videos to spots for the Super Bowl.

What trends have you seen over the last year, and where do you expect to be in a year?
Jacobsen: Over the last year, we have noticed that the work comes from every angle. Our typical client is no longer just the marketing agency. It is also the production company, network, brand, etc. In a year we expect to be doing more production work. Seeing as how budgets are much smaller than they used to be and everyone wants a one-stop shop, we are hoping to stick with our gut and continue expanding our production arm.

Crew Cuts has beefed up its finishing services. Can you talk about that?
Stephanie Norris: We offer a variety of finishing services — from sound design to VO record and mix, compositing to VFX, 2D and 3D motion graphics and color grading. Our fully staffed in-house team loves the visual effects puzzle and enjoys working with clients to help interpret their vision.

Can you name some recent projects and the services you provided?
Norris: We just worked on a new campaign for New Jersey Lottery in collaboration with Yonder Content and PureRed. Brian Neaman directed and edited the spots. In addition to editorial, Crew Cuts also handled all of the finishing, including color, conform, visual effects, graphics, sound design and mix. This was one of those all-hands-on-deck projects. Keeping everything under one roof really helped us to streamline the process.

New Jersey Lottery

Working with Brian to carefully plan the shooting strategy, we filmed a series of plate shots as elements that could later be combined in post to build each scene. We added falling stacks of cash to the reindeer as he walks through the loading dock and incorporated CG inflatable decorations into a warehouse holiday lawn scene. We also dramatically altered the opening and closing exterior warehouse scenes, allowing one shot to work for multiple seasons. Keeping lighting and camera positions consistent was mission-critical, and having our VFX supervisor, Dulany Foster, on set saved us hours of work down the line.

For the New Jersey Lottery Holiday spots, the Crew Cuts CG team, led by our creative director Ben McNamara created a 3D Inflatable display of lottery tickets. This was something that proved too costly and time consuming to manufacture and shoot practically. After the initial R&D, our team created a few different CG inflatable simulations prior to the shoot, and Dulany was able to mock them up live while on set. Creating the simulations was crucial for giving the art department reference while building the set, and also helped when shooting the plates needed to composite the scene together.

Ben and his team focused on the physics of the inflation, while also making sure the fabric simulations, textures and lighting blended seamlessly into the scene — it was important that everything felt realistic. In addition to the inflatables, our VFX team turned the opening and closing sunny, summer shots of the warehouse into a December winter wonderland thanks to heavy compositing, 3D set extension and snow simulations.

New Jersey Lottery

Any other projects you’d like to talk about?
Jacobsen: We are currently working on a project here that we are handling soup to nuts from production through finishing. It was a fun challenge to take on. The spot contains a hand model on a greenscreen showing the audience how to use a new product. The shoot itself took place here at Crew Cuts. We turned our common area into a stage for the day and were able to do so without interrupting any of the other employees and projects going on.

We are now working on editorial and finishing. The edit is coming along nicely. What really drives the piece here is the graphic icons. Our team is having a lot of fun designing these elements and implementing them into the spot. We are so proud because we budgeted wisely to make sure to accommodate all of the needs of the project so that we could handle everything and still turn a profit. It was so much fun to work in a different setting for the day and has been a very successful project so far. Clients are happy and so are we.

Main Image: (L-R) Stephanie Norris and Nancy Jacobsen

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.

Catching up with Aquaman director James Wan

By Iain Blair

Director James Wan has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood thanks to the $1.5 billion-grossing Fast & Furious 7, as well as the Saw, Conjuring and Insidious films — three of the most successful horror franchises of the last decade.

Now the Malaysian-born, Australian-raised Wan, who also writes and produces, has taken on the challenge of bringing Aquaman and Atlantis to life. The origin story of half-surface dweller, half-Atlantean Arthur Curry stars Jason Momoa in the title role. Amber Heard plays Mera, a fierce warrior and Aquaman’s ally throughout his journey.

James Wan and Iain Blair

Additional cast includes Willem Dafoe as Vulko, council to the Atlantean throne; Patrick Wilson as Orm, the present King of Atlantis; Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, King of the Atlantean tribe Xebel; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the revenge-seeking Manta; and Nicole Kidman as Arthur’s mom, Atlanna.

Wan’s team behind the scenes included such collaborators as Oscar-nominated director of photography Don Burgess (Forrest Gump), his five-time editor Kirk Morri (The Conjuring), production designer Bill Brzeski (Iron Man 3), visual effects supervisor Kelvin McIlwain (Furious 7) and composer Rupert Gregson-Williams (Wonder Woman).

I spoke with the director about making the film, dealing with all the effects, and his workflow.

Aquaman is definitely not your usual superhero. What was the appeal of doing it? 
I didn’t grow up with Aquaman, but I grew up with other comic books, and I always was well aware of him as he’s iconic. A big part of the appeal for me was he’d never really been done before — not on the big screen and not really on TV. He’s never had the spotlight before. The other big clincher was this gave me the opportunity to do a world-creation film, to build a unique world we’ve never seen before. I loved the idea of creating this big fantasy world underwater.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Something that was really faithful and respectful to the source material, as I loved the world of the comic book once I dove in. I realized how amazing this world is and how interesting Aquaman is. He’s bi-racial, half-Atlantean, half-human, and he feels he doesn’t really fit in anywhere at the start of the film. But by the end, he realizes he’s the best of both worlds and he embraces that. I loved that. I also loved the fact it takes place in the ocean so I could bring in issues like the environment and how we treat the sea, so I felt it had a lot of very cool things going for it — quite apart from all the great visuals I could picture.

Obviously, you never got the Jim Cameron post-Titanic memo — never, ever shoot in water.
(Laughs) I know, but to do this we unfortunately had to get really wet as over 2/3rds of the film is set underwater. The crazy irony of all this is when people are underwater they don’t look wet. It’s only when you come out of the sea or pool that you’re glossy and dripping.

We did a lot of R&D early on, and decided that shooting underwater looking wet wasn’t the right look anyway, plus they’re superhuman and are able to move in water really fast, like fish, so we adopted the dry-for-wet technique. We used a lot of special rigs for the actors, along with bluescreen, and then combined all that with a ton of VFX for the hair and costumes. Hair is always a big problem underwater, as like clothing it behaves very differently, so we had to do a huge amount of work in post in those areas.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
It’s that kind of movie where you have to start post and all the VFX almost before you start production. We did so much prep, just designing all the worlds and figuring out how they’d look, and how the actors would interact with them. We hired an army of very talented concept artists, and I worked very closely with my production designer Bill Brzeski, my DP Don Burgess and my visual effects supervisor Kelvin McIlwain. We went to work on creating the whole look and trying to figure out what we could shoot practically with the actors and stunt guys and what had to be done with VFX. And the VFX were crucial in dealing with the actors, too. If a body didn’t quite look right, they’d just replace them completely, and the only thing we’d keep was the face.

It almost sounds like making an animated film.
You’re right, as over 90% of it was VFX. I joke about it being an animated movie, but it’s not really a joke. It’s no different from, say, a Pixar movie.

Did you do a lot of previs?
A lot, with people like Third Floor, Day For Nite, Halon, Proof and others. We did a lot of storyboards too, as they are quicker if you want to change a camera angle, or whatever, on the fly. Then I’d hand them off to the previs guys and they’d build on those.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together on the shoot?
We shot most of it Down Under, near Brisbane. We used all nine of Village Roadshow Studios’ soundstages, including the new Stage 9, as we had over 50 sets, including the Atlantis Throne Room and Coliseum. The hardest thing in terms of shooting it was just putting all the actors in the rigs for the dry-for-wet sequences; they’re very cumbersome and awkward, and the actors are also in these really outrageous costumes, and it can be quite painful at times for them. So you can’t have them up there too long. That was hard. Then we used a lot of newish technology, like virtual production, for scenes where the actors are, say, riding creatures underwater.

We’d have it hooked up to the cameras so you could frame a shot and actually see the whole environment and the creature the actor is supposed to be on — even though it’s just the actors and bluescreen and the creature is not there. And I could show the actors — look, you’re actually riding a giant shark — and also tell the camera operator to pan left or right. So it was invaluable in letting me adjust performance and camera setups as we shot, and all the actors got an idea of what they were doing and how the VFX would be added later in post. Designing the film was so much fun, but executing it was a pain.

The film was edited by Kirk Morri, who cut Furious 7, and worked with you on the Insidious and The Conjuring films. How did that work?
He wasn’t on set but he’d visit now and again, especially when we were shooting something crazy and it would be cool to actually see it. Then we’d send dailies and he’d start assembling, as we had so much bluescreen and VFX stuff to deal with. I’d hop in for an hour or so at the end of each day’s shoot to go over things as I’m very hands on — so much so that I can drive editors crazy, but Kirk puts up with all that.

I like to get a pretty solid cut from the start. I don’t do rough assemblies. I like to jump straight into the real cut, and that was so important on this because every shot is a VFX shot. So the sooner you can lock the shot, the better, and then the VFX teams can start their work. If you keep changing the cut, then you’ll never get your VFX shots done in time. So we’d put the scene together, then pass it to previs, so you don’t just have actors floating in a bluescreen, but they’re in Atlantis or wherever.

Where did you do the post?
We did most of it back in LA on the Warner lot.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it, and it’s very important to my filmmaking style. For a start, I can never give up editing and tweaking all the VFX shots. They have to pull it away from me, and I’d say that my love of all the elements of the post process — editing, sound design, VFX, music — comes from my career in suspense movies. Getting all the pieces of post right is so crucial to the end result and success of any film. This post was creatively so much fun, but it was long and hard and exhausting.

James Wan

All the VFX must have been a huge challenge.
(Laughs) Yes, as there’s over 2,500 VFX shots and we had everyone working on it — ILM, Scanline, Base, Method, MPC, Weta, Rodeo, Digital Domain, Luma — anyone who had a computer! Every shot had some VFX, even the bar scene where Arthur’s with his dad. That was a set, but the environment outside the window was all VFX.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The answer is, the whole movie. The trench sequence was hard, but Scanline did a great job. Anything underwater was tough, and then the big final battle was super-difficult, and ILM did all that.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
For the most part, but like most directors, I’m never fully satisfied.


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.

Filmic adds Log V2 to FilmicPro

Filmic has added Log V2 within FilmicPro, its mobile filmmaking tool. Log V2 for FilmicPro offers to 2.5 stops of additional dynamic range for mobile devices, enabling the newest iPhone XR, XS and XS Max models to exceed 12 stops of total dynamic range at base ISO. Filmic says these results rival those of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and the Panasonic Lumix GH5s.

Additionally, to further complement the new Log V2 curve, Filmic has increased the maximum target bit rate for 4K recording to 130Mbps on the latest-generation smartphones, delivering a higher-quality recording experience for mobile filmmakers.

Filmic has also released a new professional LUT pack for use with its Cinematographer Kit, that gives filmmakers the ability to color grade data rich content for cinematic results. Filmic is also offering deFlat and deLogLUT packs are also offered, free of charge, on the Filmic site.

The new FilmicPro LUT Pack uses the .cube format which ensures its compatibility with Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro X, DaVinci Resolve and other standard industry editing solutions for the desktop. The Filmic deFlat and deLog LUTs are also pre-bundled with LumaFusion and VideoLUT apps for iOS. By partnering with leading iOS editing apps like LumaFusion and VideoLUT, Filmic will simplify advanced color grading on mobile devices for filmmakers and editors. One click will conform their Log to the Rec.709 color space while still giving them additional dynamic range.

With the release of FilmicPro Log V2 and its new Pro LUT Pack, Filmic is offering a series of new tutorials and test shot clips. All resources for mobile filmmakers are available here.

Filmic Pro Log V2 capabilities are available immediately as an in-app purchase, for optional devices, with Cinematographer Kit and is priced at $14.99. The new Pro LUT Pack is available as a free download from their website. The Filmic Pro app is available as a download from the Apple App store (for iOS devices) and on Google Play (for Android devices) for $14.99.

Inside the mind and workflow of a 14-year-old filmmaker

By Brady Betzel

From editing to directing, I have always loved how mentoring and teaching is a tradition that lives on in this industry. When I was an assistant editor, my hope was that the editors would let me watch them work, or give me a chance to edit. And a lot of the time I got that opportunity.

Years ago I worked with an editor named Robb McPeters, who edited The Real Housewives of New York City. I helped cut a few scenes, and Robb was kind enough to give me constructive feedback. This was the first time I edited a scene that ran on TV. I was very excited, and very appreciative of his feedback. Taking the time to show younger assistant editors who have their eye on advancement makes you feel good — something I’ve learned firsthand.

As I’ve become a “professional” editor I have been lucky enough to mentor assistant editors, machine room operators, production assistants and anyone else that was interested in learning post. I have found mentoring to be very satisfying, but also integral to the way post functions. Passing on our knowledge helps the community move forward.

Even with a couple of little scenes to cut for Robb, the direction I received helped make me the kind of editor I am today. Throughout the years I was lucky enough to encounter more editors like Robb and took all of the advice I could.

Last year, I heard that Robb’s son, Griffin, had made his first film at 13 years old, Calling The Shots. Then a few months ago I read an article about Griffin making a second film, at 14 years old, The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher. Griffin turns 15 in February and hopes to make a film a year until he turns 18.

It makes sense that someone who has been such a good mentor has produced a son with such a passion for filmmaking. I can see the connection between fatherhood and mentorship, especially between an editor and an assistant. And seeing Robb foster his son’s love for filmmaking, I realized I wanted to be able to do that with my sons. That’s when I decided to reach out to find out more.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is really a story of adventure, friendship and finding love. After learning that his best friend Jim (Sam Grossinger) has attempted suicide, Tom (Adam Simpson) enlists the help of the neighborhood kingpin, Granddaddy’ (Blake Borders). Their plan is to sneak Jim out of the hospital for one last adventure before his disconnected parents move him off to Memphis. On the way they encounter a washed up ‘90s boy-band star and try to win the hearts of their dream girls.

Tom realizes that this adventure will not fix his friend, but their last night together does evolve into the most defining experience of their lives.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is a feature film that I wrote while in 8th grade. I saved every penny I could earn and then begged my parents to let me use money from my college savings. They knew how important this film was to me so they agreed. This is my second feature and I wanted to do everything better, starting with the script to casting. I was able to cast professional actors and some of my schoolmates.

I shot in 4K UHD using my Sony A7riii. I then brought the footage into the iMac and transcoded into CineForm 720p files. This allowed me to natively edit them on the family iMac in Adobe Premiere. We have a cabin in Humboldt County, which is where I assemble my rough cuts.

I spent hours and hours this summer in my grandfather’s workshop editing the footage. Day after day my mom and sister would go swimming at the river, pick berries, all the lazy summer day stuff and I would walk down to the shop to cut, so that I could finish a version of my scene.

Once I finished my director’s cut, I would show the assembly to my parents, and they would start giving me ideas on what was working and what wasn’t. I am currently polishing the movie, adding visual effects (in After Effects), sound design, and doing a color grade in Adobe SpeedGrade. I’ll also add the final 5.1 surround sound mix in Adobe Audition to deliver for distribution.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THE FILM?
In 8th grade, a classmate attempted suicide and it affected me very deeply. I wondered if other kids were having this type of depression. After doing some research I realized that many kids suffer from deep depression. In fact, in 2016, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 13.15. That amazed and saddened me. I felt that I had to do something about it. I took my ideas and headed to our cabin in the woods to write the script over my winter break.

I was so obsessed with this story that I wrote a 120-page script.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PRODUCING?
It was a lot of scheduling, scheduling and scheduling. Locking locations, permits, insurance, and did I mention scheduling?

I think there was some begging in there too. “Please let us use. Please can we…” My school SCVi was extremely helpful with getting me insurance. It was heartwarming to see how many people wanted to help. Even support from companies, including Wooden Nickel who donated an entire lighting package.

WHAT ABOUT AS A DIRECTOR?
As the director I really wanted to push the fantastical and sometimes dark and lonely world these characters were living in. Of course, because I wrote the script I already had an idea of what I wanted to capture in the scene, but I put it to paper with shotlist’s and overhead camera placements. That way I had a visual reference to show of how I wanted to film from day one to the end.

Rehearsals with the actors were key with such a tight shooting schedule. Right from the start the cast responded to me as their director, which surprised me because I had just turned 14. Every question came to me for approval to represent my vision.

My dad was on set as my cinematographer, supporting me every step of the way. We have a great way of communicating. Most of the time we were on the same page, but if we were not, he deferred to me. I took my hits when I was wrong and then learned from them.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT MAKING THIS FILM?
This was a true, small-budget, independent film that I made at 14 years old. Our production office was my mom and dad and myself. Three people usually don’t make films. Even though I am young, my parents trusted the weight of the film to me. It is my film. This means I did a little of everything all of the time, from pulling costumes to stocking the make-up kit to building my own 4K editing system.

We had no grips, no electric, no PAs. If we needed water or craft service, it was me, my dad and my mom. If a scene needed to be lit, my dad and I lit everything ourselves, we were the last ones loading costumes, extension cords and equipment. In post was all the same ordeal.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART?
I really love everything about filmmaking. I love crafting a story, having to plan and think of how to capture a scene. How show something that isn’t necessarily in front of your eyes. I love talking out my ideas. My mom teases me that I even sleep moviemaking because she saw me in the hall going to the bathroom the other night and I mumbled, “Slow pan on Griffin going to bathroom.”

But post is really where the movie comes together. I like seeing what works for a scene. Which reaction is better? What music or sound effects help tell the story? Music design is also very personal to me. I listen to songs for hours to find the perfect one for a scene.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to cut some really great scenes that I know an actor is looking forward to seeing in that first screening. It is a really hard decision to remove good work. I even cut my grandmother from my first film. Now that’s hard!

WHAT CAMERAS AND PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT DO YOU USE?
For recording I use the Sony A7rIII with various lenses recording to a Ninja Flame at 10-bit 4K. For sound I use a Røde NG2 boom and three lav mics. For lighting we used a few Aputure LED lights and a Mole Richardson 2k Baby Junior.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I am not much of a night person. I get really tired around 9:30pm. In fact, I still have a bedtime of 10:00pm. I would say my best work is done at the time I have after school until my bedtime. I edit every chance I get. I do have to break for dinner and might watch one half of a episode of The Office. Other than that I am in the bay from 3:30-10:00pm every day.

CAN YOU THINK OF ANOTHER JOB YOU MIGHT WANT SOMEDAY?
No, not really. I enjoy taking people on emotional rides, creating a presentation that evokes personal feelings and using visuals to takes my audience somewhere else. With all that said, if I couldn’t do this I would probably build professional haunted houses. Is that a real job?

IT’S STILL VERY EARLY, BUT HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My parents have this video of me reaching for the camera on the way to my first day of pre-school saying, “I want the camera, I want to shoot.”

When I was younger, silent films mesmerized me. I grew up wanting to be Buster Keaton. The defining moment was seeing Jaws. I watched it at five and then realized what being a filmmaker was, making a mosaic of images (as mentioned by Hitchcock on editing). I began trying to create. At 11 and 12 I made shorts, at 13 I made my first full-length feature film. The stress and hard work did not even faze me; I was excited by it.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST FILM?
Calling the Shots, which is now available on Amazon Prime, was an experiment to see if I could make a full-length film. A test flight, if you will. With T.P. Man I really got to step behind the camera and an entirely different side of directing I didn’t get to experience with my first film since I was the lead actor in that.

I also love the fact that all the music and sound design and graphics were done with my hands and alone, most the time, in my editing suite. My dad designed it for me. I have two editing systems that I bounce back and forth between. I can set the lighting in the room, watch on a big 4K monitor and mix in 5.1 surround. Some kids have tree forts. I have my editing bay.

FINALLY, DO YOU GET STRESSED OUT FROM THE PROCESS?
I don’t allow myself to stress out about any of these things. The way I look at it is that I have a very fun and hard job. I try to keep things in perspective — there are no lives in danger here. I do my best work when I am relaxed. But, if there is a time, I walk away, take a bike ride or watch a movie. Watching others work inspires me to make my movies better.

Most importantly, I brainstorm about my next project. This helps me keep a perspective that this project will soon be over and I should enjoy it while I can and make it the best I possibly can.


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.

DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.

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.

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!