Category Archives: Cinematography

Quick Chat: Freefolk colorist Paul Harrison

By Randi Altman

Freefolk, which opened in New York City in October 2017, was founded in London in 2003 by Flame artist Jason Watts and VFX artist Justine White. Originally called Finish, they rebranded to Freefolk with the opening of their NYC operation. Freefolk is an independent post house that offers high-end visual effects, color grading and CG for commercials, film and TV.

We reached out to global head of color grading Paul Harrison to find out his path to color and the way he likes to work.

What are your favorite types of jobs to work on and why?
I like to work on a mix of projects and not be pigeonholed as a particular type of colorist. Commercials are my main work, but I also work on music videos and the odd feature or longform piece. Each form has its own creative challenges, and I enjoy all disciplines.

What is your tool of choice, and why?
I use the FilmLight Baselight color system because it’s extremely versatile and will cope with any file format one cares to mention. On so many levels it allows a colorist to get on with the job at hand and not be bogged down by the kit’s limitations. The toolset is extensive and it doesn’t put boundaries in the way of creativity, like other systems I’ve used.

Are you often asked to do more than just color?
These days, because of the power of the systems we use, the lines are blurring between color and VFX. On most jobs I do things that used to be the realm of the VFX room. Things like softening skin tones, putting in skies or restoring elements of the image that need to be treated differently from the rest of the image.

Traditionally, this was done in the VFX room, now we do it as part of the grade. When there’s more difficult or time-consuming fixes required, the VFX artists will do that work.

How did you become a colorist? What led you down this path?
I started as a runner at the Mill in London. I had always had a keen interest in photography/art and film so this was the natural place for me to go. I was captivated by the mystery of the telecine suite; they looked hideously complex to operate. It was a mix of mechanical machinery, computers, film and various mixers and oscilloscopes, and it spoke to my technical, “How does this work” side of my brain, and the creative, photography/art side too.

Making all the various bits of equipment that comprised a suite then work together and talk to each other was a feat in itself.

Do you have a background in photography or fine art?
I’ve been a keen photographer for years, both on land and underwater. I’ve not done it professionally; it’s just grown through the influence of my work and interests.

In addition to your photography, where do you find inspiration? Museums? Films? A long walk?
I find inspiration from lots of different places — from hiking up mountains to diving in the oceans observing and photographing the creatures that live there. Or going for a walk in all weathers, and at all times of the year.

Art and photography are passions of mine, and seeing the world through the eyes of a talented photographer or artist, absorbing those influences, makes me constantly reassess my own work and what I’m doing in the color room. Colorists sometimes talk about learning to “see.” I think we take notice of things that others pass by. We notice what the “light” is doing and how it changes our environment.

If you had three things to share with a client before a project begins, what would that be?
Before a project begins? That’s a tough question. All I could share would be my vision of the look of the film, any reference that I had to show to illustrate my ideas. Maybe talking about any new or interesting cameras or lenses I’ve seen lately.

How do you prefer getting direction? Photos? Examples from films/TV?
Photos are always good at getting the message across. They describe a scene in a way words can’t. I’m a visual person, so that’s the preferred way for me. Also, a conversation imparts a feeling for the film, obviously that is more open to interpretation.

Do you often work directly with the DP?
DPs seem to be a rarer sight these days. It’s great when one has a good relationship with a DP and there’s that mutual trust in each other.

Is there a part of your job that people might not realize you do? Something extra and special that is sort of below the line?
Yes. Fixing things that no one knows are broken, whether it’s sorting out dodgy exposures/camera faults or fixing technical problems with the material. Colorists and their assistants make the job run smoothly and quietly in the background, outside of the color room.

What project are you most proud of?
Certain jobs stand out to me for different reasons. I still love the look of 35mm, and those jobs will always be favorites. But I guess it’s the jobs that I’ve had the complete creative freedom on like the Stella, Levi’s and Guinness commercials, or some of the music videos like Miike Snow. To be honest I don’t really have a top project.

Can you name some projects that you’ve worked on recently?
Since moving over to NYC recently, I’ve worked on some projects that I knew of before, and some I had no idea existed. Like a Swiffer — I had no idea what that was before working in NYC. But I’ve also graded projects for Cadillac, Bud Light, New York Yankees, Lays, State Farm and Macy’s, to name a few.

Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT. Director Chris McQuarrie.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie

By Iain Blair

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 22 years since Tom Cruise first launched the Mission: Impossible franchise. Since then, it’s become a global cultural phenomenon that’s grossed more than $2.8 billion, making it one of the most successful series in movie history.

With Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise reprises his role of Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team leader Ethan Hunt for the sixth time. And writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the series’ previous film Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, also returns. That makes him the first filmmaker ever to return to direct a second film in a franchise where one of its signature elements is that there’s been a different director for every movie.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Director Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie

In the latest twisty adventure, Hunt and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames), along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan), find themselves in a race against time to stop a nuclear bomb disaster after a mission gone wrong. The film, which also stars Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris and Vanessa Kirby, features a stellar team behind the camera as well, including director of photography Rob Hardy, production designer Peter Wenham, editor Eddie Hamilton, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson and composer Lorne Balfe.

In 1995, McQuarrie got his start writing the script for The Usual Suspects, which won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. In 2000, he made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun. Then in 2008 he reteamed with Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, co-writing the WWII film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. He followed that up with his 2010 script for The Tourist, then two years later, he worked with Cruise again on Jack Reacher, which he wrote and directed.

I recently talked with the director about making the film, dealing with all the visual effects and the workflow.

How did you feel when Tom asked for you to come back and do another MI film?
I thought, “Oh no!” In fact, when he asked me to do Rogue Nation, I was very hesitant because I’d been on the set of Ghost Protocol, and I saw just how complicated and challenging these films are. I was terrified. So after I’d finished Rogue, I said to myself, “I feel really sorry for the poor son-of-a-bitch who does the next one.” After five movies, I didn’t think there was anything left to do, but the joke turned out to be on me!

Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible - FalloutWhat’s the secret of its continuing appeal?
First off, Tom himself. He’s always pushing himself and entertaining the audience with stuff they’ve never seen before. Then it’s all about character and story. The emphasis is always on that and the humanity of these characters. On every film, and with the last two we’ve done together, he’s learned how much deeper you can go with that and refined the process. You’re always learning from the audience as well. What they want.

How do you top yourself and make this different from the last one?
To make it different, I replaced my core crew — new DP, new composer and so on — and went for a different visual language. My intention on both films was not to even try to top the previous one. So when we started this I told Tom, “I just want to place somewhere in the Top 6 of Mission: Impossible films. I’m not trying to make the greatest action film ever.”

You say that, but it’s stuffed full of nail-biting car chases and really ambitious action sequences.
(Laughs) Well, at the same time you’re always trying to do something different from the other films in the franchise, so in Rogue I had this idea for a female counterpart for Tom — Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) was a more dynamic love interest. I looked at the other five films and realized that the biggest action scene of any of those films had not come in the third act. So it was a chance to create the biggest and most climactic third act — a huge team sequence that involved everyone. That was the big goal. But we didn’t set out to make this giant movie, and it wasn’t till we began editing that we realized just how much action there is.

Women seem to have far larger roles this time out.
That was very intentional from the start. In my earliest talks with Tom, we discussed the need to resolve the Julia (Michelle Monaghan) character and find closure to that story. So we had her and Rebecca, and then Angela Bassett came on board to replace Alec Baldwin’s character at the CIA after he moves to IMF, and it grew from there. I had an idea for the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) character, and we just stayed open to all possibilities and the idea that these strong women, who own all the scenes they’re in, throw Ethan off balance all the time.

How early did you integrate post into the shoot?
Right at the start, since we had so many visual effects. We also had a major post challenge as Tom broke his ankle doing a rooftop chase stunt in London. So we had to shut down totally for six weeks and re-arrange the whole schedule to accommodate his recovery, and even when he got back on the movie his ankle wasn’t really healed enough.

We then had to shoot a lot of stuff piecemeal, and I knew, in order to make the release date, we had to start cutting right away when we had to stop for six weeks. But that also gave me a chance to re-evaluate it all, since you don’t really know the film you’ve shot until you get in the edit room, and that let me do course corrections I couldn’t have done otherwise. So, I essentially ended up doing re-shoots while still shooting the film. I was able to rewrite the second act, and it also meant that we had a finished cut done just six days after we wrapped. And we were able to test that movie four times and keep fine-tuning it.

Where did you do the post?Mission: Impossible: Fallout Tom Cruise
All in London, around Soho, and we did the sound at De Lane Lea.

Like Rogue, this was edited by Eddie Hamilton. Was he on the set?
Yes, and he’s invaluable because he’s got a very good eye, is a great storyteller and has a great sense of the continuity. He can also course-correct very quickly and let me know when we need to grab another shot. On Rogue Nation, he also did a lot of 2nd unit stuff, and he has great skills with the crew. We didn’t really have a 2nd unit on this one, which I think is better because it can get really chaotic with one. Basically, I love the edit, and I love being in the editing room and working hand in hand with my editor, shot for shot, and communicating all the time during production. It was a great collaboration.

There’s obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
I’d say well over 3,000, and our VFX supervisor Jody Johnson at Double Negative did an amazing job. DNeg, Lola, One of Us, Bluebolt and Cheap Shot all worked on them. There was a lot of rig removal and cleanup along with the big set pieces.

Mission: Impossible Fallout

What was the most difficult VFX sequence/shot to do and why?
The big “High Altitude Low Opening,” or HALO sequence, where Tom jumps out of a Boeing Globemaster at 25,000 feet was far and away the most difficult one. We shot part of it at an RAF base in England, but then with Tom’s broken ankle and the changed schedule, we ended up shooting some of it in Abu Dhabi. Then we had to add in the Paris backdrop and the lightning for the storm, and to maintain the reality we had to keep the horizon in the shot. As the actors were falling at 160 MPH toward the Paris skyline, all of those shots had to be tracked by hand. No computer could do it, and that alone took hundreds of people working on it for three months to complete. It was exhausting.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
It’s so vital, and for me it’s always a three-pronged approach — music, sound and silence, and then the combination of all three elements. It’s very important to maintain the franchise aesthetic, but I wanted to have a fresh approach, so I brought in composer Lorne Balfe, and he did a great job.

The DI must have been vital. How did that process help?
We did it at Molinare in London with colorist Asa Shoul, who is just so good. I’m fairly hands on, especially as the DP was off on another project by the time we did the DI, although he worked on it with Asa as well. We had a big job dealing with all the stuff we shot in New Zealand, bringing it up to the other footage. I actually try to get the film as close as possible to what I want on the day, and then use the DI as a way of enhancing and shaping that, but I don’t actually like to manipulate things too much, although we gave all the Paris stuff this sort of hazy, sweaty look and feel which I love.

What’s next?
A very long nap.


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.

DG 7.9, 8.27

The Handmaiden‘s colorist walks us through scenes

The Handmaiden, directed by Chan-Wook Park and inspired by Sarah Waters’s 2002’s novel Fingersmith, is set in 1930s colonial Korea and Japan. In the film, Park presents a tale of a young Japanese lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but who is secretly involved in a con-man’s plot to defraud her of her large inheritance.

Park Jin-Ho

The film, which is the first Korean film ever to win a BAFTA award for best foreign language film, was graded by Park Jin-Ho, senior colorist at Cinemate in Korea. He completed the color grade in two weeks.

One of the key challenges for Park was to express the wet and humid weather after the rain. “It was difficult to recreate the sense of a wet and muggy scene on the screen,” he explained. “I found it really useful to mix several grades in one stack. It meant I could catch a thought and grade immediately before the idea disappeared, then blend it into the overall grade.”

Park has worked on several movie projects with director Chan-Wook Park since his time as a junior colorist and he also has plenty of experience working alongside Chan-Wook Park’s partner, DP Chung Chung-hoon. This close relationship meant that when The Handmaiden project started, he was able to join in discussions at the pre-production stage, which gave him time to test and adjust the camera and lens characteristics that had been chosen by the DP in advance.

Chung Chung-hoon used the Arri Alexa camera and vintage lenses to try to create the feeling of Joseon during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s.

Park Jin-Ho takes us through some of his work on various scenes in the movie, accompanied by a selection of before and after images. He worked on FilmLight Baselight.

Rain at BoYoungDang
The first scene is a very cloudy day. CG storm clouds were added to the sky. Then, in the DI, I removed the warm tone of the original footage to better express the cloudy day. To make the tone of the characters colder, I removed the yellow color and added blue that is close to white.

Before

After

Wide View of Kouzuki’s Countryside Palace
At the start of part one, we see a wide view of Kouzuki’s countryside palace. CG was used to add a little bit of cloud, and I added a little sunset mode to create the two different tones in the sky.

Before

After

Annex Road
The main lens used is the Hawk Vintage 74 anamorphic. The combination of camera and lens clearly differentiated The Handmaiden from other movies in terms of texture. I thought it might be just one specific look, but it was a good combination and the best reflection of the texture of film in the digital age as I have ever seen.

It was also impressive to create images while zooming in and out deeply with the anamorphic camera showing the depth of field and image texture.

One disadvantage of this lens, however, is that in a wide zoom shot the focus is distorted on the edges and in the corners. In the mask area shown below, blurring is strongly applied everywhere except for the center of the frame, and the focus is soft. I tried to give the images sharpness by using the fast tracking and keyframe together around the eyes of an actor. However, in such a wide view shot, it just wasn’t possible to focus on the upper part of the heroine, even when raising the sharpness value of the whole image.

Despite these disadvantages though, the filmic texture is fascinating.

Before

Improved Sharpness

Annex
This scene was in an annex of Kouzuki’s library. The characteristic of this library is that it is located in the shade and rarely experiences sunlight. So for this shot, I decreased saturation as well as the brightness of the light part of the scene.

Before

After

Leading Actors Skin Tone
The skin tones of the actors were rather pale. Typically, I graded the face of Lady Hideko to be expressed in pure whiteness throughout the movie, because she was trapped in the palace. On the contrary, I raised the skin tone of the maid Sook-hee a little, because she lived more freely than Hideko. The Count’s skin tone was desaturated because the actor’s original skin tone is strong already.

Before

After

Weather Change
In this scene, Hideko and Sook-hee are talking about their mothers. In the middle of their stories, the sun was covered by dark cloud. Before and after the dark clouds cover the sun, I showed the weather change on the two heroines through brightness and color tone.

Before

After

Palace’s Back Garden
This is where the Count is angry with Sook-hee. I reduced the brightness of the tree-lined garden to concentrate on the two characters.

Before

After

Hideko and Sook-hee Run Away
Here Hideko and Sook-hee run away from the palace for freedom. These cuts, arranged in Part 1 and Part 2, have a temporal change from the moment they run away over the wall to the moment they run across a wide field. Hideko and Sook-hee keep running toward freedom from the dark night to the coming of the dawn. The grade involved adding the feeling of the sunshine by separating the key of the characters and the field.

Before

After

Soul Asylum (psychiatric hospital)
The soul asylum scene needed a lot of hard work from the CG team because the director wanted to change the red brick wall into an achromatic wall. When I graded it on the big screen, I worked with mattes from CG as it was difficult to make a key to separate the wall and the actors.

Before

After

Library Basement
My work on the scene of the library basement involved showing when the Count did and did not smoke while in conversation with Kouzuki. The CG team added the smoke source, and I then added the green color to it and gradually revealed the cigarette-smoky basement.

Before

After

For those of you who would like to watch The Handmaiden, it’s available on Amazon Prime in the UK, and Blu-ray and DVD in US.


Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

The independent feature film Miss Arizona is a sort of fish out of water tale that focuses on Rose Raynes, former beauty queen and current bored wife and mother who accepts an invitation to teach a life skills class at a women’s shelter. As you might imagine, the four women who she meets there don’t feel they have much in common. While Rose is “teaching,” the women are told that one of their abusers is on his way to the shelter. The women escape and set out on an all-night adventure through LA and, ultimately, to a club where the women enter Rose into a drag queen beauty pageant — and, of course, along the way they form a bond that changes them all.

L-R: Camera operator Eitan Almagor, DP Jordan McKittrick and Autumn McAlpin.

Autumn McAlpin wrote and directed the film, which has been making its way through the film festival circuit. She hired a crew made up of 70 percent women to help tell this tale of female empowerment. We reached out to her, her colorist Mars Williamson and her visual effects/finishing artist John Davidson to find out more.

Why did you choose the Alexa Mini? And why did you shoot mostly handheld?
Autumn McAlpin: The Alexa Mini was the first choice of our DP Jordan McKittrick, with whom I frequently collaborate. We were lucky enough to be able to score two Alexa Mini cameras on this shoot, which really helped us achieve the coverage needed for an ensemble piece in which five-plus key actors were in almost every shot. We love the image quality and dynamic range of the Alexas, and the compact and lightweight nature of the Mini helped us achieve an aggressive shooting schedule in just 14 days.

We felt handheld would achieve the intimate yet at times erratic look we were going for following an ensemble of five women from very different backgrounds who were learning to get along while trying to survive. We wanted the audience to feel as if they were going on the journey along with the women, and thus felt handheld would be a wise approach to accomplish this goal.

How early did post — edit, color — get involved?
McAlpin: We met with our editor Carmen Morrow before the shoot, and she and her assistant editor Dustin Fleischmann were integral in delivering a completed rough cut just five weeks after we wrapped. We needed to make key festival deadlines. Each day Dustin would drive footage from set over to Carmen’s bay, where she could assemble while we were shooting so we could make sure we weren’t missing anything crucial. This was amazing, as we’d often be able to see a rough assembly of a scene we had shot in the morning by the end of day. They cut on Avid Media Composer.

My DP Jordan and I agreed on the overall look of the film and how we wanted the color to feel rich and saturated. We were really excited about what we saw in our colorist’s reel. We didn’t meet our colorist Mars Williamson until after we had wrapped production. Mars had moved from LA to Melbourne, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to work in close quarters, but we were confident we’d be able to accomplish the desired workflow in the time needed. Mars was extremely flexible to work with.

Can you talk more about the look of the film.
McAlpin: Due to the nature of our film, we sought to create a rich, saturated look color wise. Our film follows a former pageant queen on an all-night adventure through LA with four unlikely friends she meets at a women’s shelter. In a way, we tried to channel an Oz-like world as our ensemble embarks into the unknown. We deliberately used color to represent the various realities the women inhabit. In the film’s open, our production design (by Gabriel Gonzales) and wardrobe (by Cat Velosa) helped achieve a stark, cold world — filled with blues and whites — to represent our protagonist Rose’s loneliness.

As Rose moves into the shelter, we went with warmer tones and a more eclectic production design. A good portion of Act II takes place in a drag club, which we asked Gabe to design to be rich and vibrant, using reds and purples. Toward the end of the film as Rose finds resolution, we went with more naturalistic lighting, primarily outdoor shots and golden hues. Before production, Jordan and I pulled stills from films such as Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Black Swan and Short Term 12, which provided strong templates for the looks we were trying to achieve.

Is there a particular scene or look that stands out for you?
McAlpin: There is a scene when our lead Rose (Johanna Braddy) performs a ventriloquist act onstage with a puppet and they sing Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”  Both Rose and the puppet wore matching cowgirl wardrobe and braids, and this scene was lit to be particularly vibrant with hot pinks and purples. I remember watching the monitors on set and feeling like we had really nailed the rich, saturated look we were going for in this offbeat pageant world we had created.

L-R: Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Shoniqua Shandai, producer De Cooper, Johanna Brady, Autumn McAlpin, Otmara Marrero and Robyn Lively.

Can you talk about the workflow from set to post?
McAlpin: As a low-budget indie, many of our team work from home offices, which made collaboration friendly and flexible. For the four months following production, I floated between the workspaces of our talented and efficient editor Carmen Morrow, brilliant composer Nami Melumad, dedicated sound designer Yu-Ting Su, VFX and online extraordinaire John Davidson, and we used Frame.io to work with our amazing colorist Mars Williamson. Everyone worked so hard to help achieve our vision in our timeframe. Using Frame.io and Box helped immensely with file delivery, and I remember many careful drives around LA, toting our two RAID drives between departments. Postmates food delivery service helped us power through! Everyone worked hard together to deliver the final product, and for that I’m so grateful.

Can you talk about the type of film you were trying to make, and did it turn out as you hoped?
McAlpin: I volunteered in a women’s shelter for several years teaching a life skills class, and this was an experience that introduced me to strong, vibrant women whose stories I longed to tell. I wrote this script very quickly, in just three weeks, though really, the story seemed to write itself. It was the fall of 2016, at a time where I was agitated by the way women were being portrayed in the media. This was shortly before the #metoo movement, and during the election and women’s march. The time felt right to tell a story about women and other marginalized groups coming together to help each other find their voices and a safe community in a rapidly divisive world.

I’m not going to lie, with our budget, all facets of production and post were quite challenging, but I was so overwhelmed by the fastidious efforts of everyone on our team to create something powerful. I feel we were all aligned in vision, which kept everyone fueled to create a finished product I am very proud of. The crowning moment of the experience was after our world premiere at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Fest, when a few women from the audience approached and confided that they, too, had lived in shelters and felt our film spoke to the truths they had experienced. This certainly made the whole process worthwhile.

Autumn, you wrote as well as directed. Did the story change or evolve once you started shooting or did you stick to the original script?
McAlpin: As a director who is very open to improv and creative play on set, I was quite surprised by how little we deviated from the script. Conceptually, we stuck to the story as written. We did have a few actors who definitely punched up scenes by making certain lines more their own (and much more humorous, i.e. the drag queens). And there were moments when location challenges forced last-minute rewrites, but hey, I guess that’s one advantage to having the writer in the director’s chair! This story seemed to flow from the moment it first arrived in my head, telling me what it wanted to be, so we kind of just trusted that, and I think we achieved our narrative goals.

You used a 70 percent female crew. Can you talk about why that was important to you?
McAlpin: For this film, our producer DeAnna Cooper and I wanted to flip the traditional gender ratios found on sets, as ours was indeed a story rooted in female empowerment. We wanted our set to feel like a compatible, safe environment for characters seeking safety and trusted female friendships. So many of the cast and crew who joined our team expressed delight in joining a largely female team, and I think/hope we created a safe space for all to create!

Also, as women, we tend to get each other — and there were times when those on our production team (all mothers) were able to support each other’s familial needs when emergencies at home arose. We also want to give a shout-out to the numerous woman-supporting men we had on our team, who were equally wonderful to work with!

What was everyone’s favorite scene and why?
McAlpin: There’s a moment when Rose has a candid conversation with a drag queen performer named Luscious (played by Johnathan Wallace) in a green room during which each opens up about who they are and how they got there. Ours is a fish out of water story as Rose tries to achieve her goal in a world quite new to her, but in this scene, two very different people bond in a sincere and heartfelt way. The performances in this scene were just dynamite, thanks to the talents of Johanna and Johnathan. We are frequently told this scene really affects viewers and changes perspectives.

I also have a personal favorite moment toward the end of the film in which a circle of women from very different backgrounds come together to help out a character named Leslie, played by the dynamic Robyn Lively, who is searching for her kids. One of the women helping Leslie says, “I’m a mama, too,” and I love the strength felt in this group hug moment as the village comes together to defend each other.

If you all had to do it again, what would you do differently?
McAlpin: This was one fast-moving train, and I know, as is the case in every film, there are little shots or scenes we’d all love to tweak just a little if given the chance to start over from scratch. But at this point, we are focusing on the positives and what lies in store for Miss Arizona. Since our Bentonville premiere and LA premiere at Dances With Films, we have been thrilled to receive numerous distribution offers, and it’s looking like a fall worldwide release may be in store. We look forward to connecting with audiences everywhere as we share the message of this film.

Mars Williamson

Mars, can you talk about your process and how you worked with the team? 
Williamson: Autumn put us in touch, and John and I touched based a little bit before I was going to start color. We all had a pretty good idea of where we were taking it from the offline and discussed little tweaks here and there, so it was fairly straightforward. There were a couple of things like changing a wall color and the last scene needing more sunset than was shot. Autumn and John are super easy and great to work with. We found out pretty early that we’d be able to collaborate pretty easily since John has DaVinci Resolve on his end in the states as well.  I moved to Melbourne permanently right before I really got into the grade.

Unbeknownst to me, Melbourne was/is in the process of upgrading their Internet, which is currently painfully slow. We did a couple of reviews via Frame.io and eventually moved to me just emailing John my project. He could relink to the media on his end and all of my color grading would come across for sessions in LA with Autumn. It was the best solution to contend with the snail pace uploads of large files. From there it was just going through it reel by reel and getting notes from the stateside team. I couldn’t have worked on this with a better group of people.

What types of projects do you work on most often?
Williamson: My bread and butter has always been TV commercials, but I’ve worked hard to make sure I work on all sort of formats across different genres. I like to make sure I’ve got a wide range of stuff under my belt. The pool is smaller here in Australia than it is in LA (where I moved from) so TV commercials are still the bill payers, but I’m also still dipping into the indie scene here and trying to diversify what I work on. Still working on a lot of indie projects and music videos from the states as well so thank you stateside clients! Thankfully the difference in time hasn’t hindered most of them (smiles). It has led to an all-nighter here and there for me, but I’m happy to lose sleep for the right projects.

How did you work with the DP and director on the look of the film? What look did you want and how did you work to achieve that look or looks?
John Davidson: Magic Feather is a production company and creative agency that I started back in 2004. We provide theatrical marketing and creative services for a wide variety of productions. From the 3D atomic transitions in Big Bang Theory to the recent Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom week-long event on Discovery, we have a pretty great body of work. I came onboard Miss Arizona very much by accident. Last year, after working with Weta in New Zealand, we moved to Laguna Niguel and connected with Autumn and her husband Michael via some mutual friends. I was intrigued that they had just finished shooting this movie on their own and offered to replace a few license plates and a billboard. Somehow I turned that into coordinating the post-Avid workflow across the planet and creating 100-plus visual effects shots. It was a fantastic opportunity to use every tool in our arsenal to help a film with a nice message and a family we have come to adore.

John Davidson

Working with Jordan and Autumn for VFX and final mastering was educational for all of us, but definitely so with me. As I mentioned to Jordan after the showing in Hollywood, if I did my job right you would never know. There were quite a few late nights, but I think that they are both very happy with the results.

John, I understand there were some challenges in the edit? Relinking the camera source footage? Can you talk about that and how you worked around it?
Davidson: The original Avid cut was edited off of the dailies at 1080p with embedded audio. The masters were 3.2k Arri Alexa Mini Log with no sync sound. There were timecode issues the first few days on set and because Mars was using DaVinci Resolve to color, we knew we had to get the footage from Avid to Resolve somehow. Once we got the footage into DaVinci via AAF, I realized it was going to be a challenge relinking sources from the dailies. Resolve was quite the utility knife, and after a bit of tweaking we were able to get the silent master video clips linked up. Because 12TB drives are expensive, we thought it best to trim media to 48-frame handles and ship a smaller drive to Australia for Mars to work with. With Mars’s direction we were able to get that handled and shipped.

While Mars was coloring in Australia, I went back into the sources and began the process of relinking the original separate audio to the video sources because I needed to be able to adjust/re-edit a few scenes that had technical issues we couldn’t fix with VFX. Resolve was fantastic here again. Any clip that couldn’t be automatically linked via timecode was connected with clap marks using the waveform. For safety, I batch-exported all of the footage out with embedded audio and then relinked the film to that. This was important for archival purposes as well as any potential fixes we might have to do before the film delivered.

At this point Mars was sharing her cuts on Frame.io with Jordan and Autumn. I felt like a little green shift was being introduced over H.264 so we would occasionally meet here to review a relinked XML that Mars would send for a full quality inspection. For VFX we used Adobe After Effects and worked in flat color. We then would upload shots to box.com for Mars to incorporate into her edit. There were also two re-cut scenes that were done this way as well which was a challenge because any changes had to be shared with the audio teams who were actively scoring and mixing.

Once Mars was done we put the final movie together here, and I spent about two weeks working on it. At this point I took the film from Resolve to FCP X. Because we were mastering at 1080p, we had the full 3.2K frame for flexibility. Using a 1080p timeline in FCP X, the first order of business was making final on-site color adjustments with Autumn.

Can you talk about the visual effects provided?
Davidson: For VFX, we focused on things like the license plates and billboards, but also took a bit of initiative and reviewed the whole movie for areas we could help. Like everyone else, I loved the look of the stage and club scenes, but wanted to add just a little flare to the backlights so the LED grids would be less visible. This was done in Final Cut Pro X using the MotionVFX plugin mFlare2. It made very quick work of using its internal Mocha engine to track the light sources and obscure them as needed when a light went behind a person’s head, for example. It would have been agony tracking so many lights in all those shots using anything else. We had struggled for a while getting replacement license plates to track using After Effects and Mocha. However, the six shots that gave us the most headaches were done as a test in FCP X in less than a day using CoreMelt’s TrackX. We also used Final Cut Pro X’s stabilization to smooth out any jagged camera shakes as well as added some shake using FCP X’s handheld effect on a few shots that needed it for consistency.

Another area we had to get creative with was with night driving shots that were just too bright even after color. By layering a few different Rampant Design overlays set to multiply, we were able to simulate lights in motion around the car at night with areas randomly increasing and decreasing in brightness. That had a big impact on smoothing out those scenes, and I think everyone was pretty happy with the result. For fun, Autumn also let me add in a few mostly digital shots, like the private jet. This was done in After Effects using Trapcode Particular for the contrails, and a combination of Maxon Cinema 4D and Element 3D for the jet.

Resolve’s face refinement and eye brightening were used in many scenes to give a little extra eye light. We also used Resolve for sky replacement on the final shot of the film. Resolve’s tracker is also pretty incredible, and was used to hide little things that needed to be masked or de-emphasized.

What about finishing?
Davidson: We finalized everything in FCP X and exported a full, clean ProRes cut of the film. We then re-imported that and added grain, unsharp masks and a light vignette for a touch of cinematic texture. The credits were an evolving process, so we created an Apple Numbers document that was shared with my internal Magic Feather team, as well as Autumn and the producers. As the final document was adjusted and tweaked we would edit an Affinity Photo file that my editor AJ Paschall and I shared. We would then export a huge PNG file of the credits into FCP X and set position keyframes to animate the scroll. Any time a change was made we would just relink to the new PNG export and FCP X would automatically update the credits. Luckily, that was easy because we did that probably 50 times.

Lastly, our final delivery to the DCP company was a HEVC 10-bit 2K encode. I am a huge fan of HEVC. It’s a fantastic codec, but it does have a few caveats in that it takes forever to encode. Using Apple Compressor and a 10-core iMac Pro, it took approximately 13 hours. That said, it was worth it because the colors were accurately represented and gave us a file that 5.52GB versus 18GB or 20GB. That’s a hefty savings on size while also being an improvement in quality over H.264.

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka

 


Behind the Title: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Rick Dalby

NAME: Rick Dalby

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I would describe DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) as a smaller, bleeding-edge, independently-owned post house that is capable of remote dailies, color and edit. I work with fellow colorists Dan Judy and Patrick Woodard.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
What should fall under that title is that a Resolve colorist has become the creative gatekeeper for the producer’s, director’s and DP’s vision. You don’t just hand off a show and add some color. We have color tools that work akin to the way you work in Photoshop, using layer-mixers and alpha-mattes.

On-set, the DP and/or DIT that uses Resolve can send projects or custom LUTs or nodes that we can carry directly into the final color session. I would describe the colorist-driven post workflow as more holistic than ever before.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? 
Yes, we are asked to stabilize shots and add OFX plug-in looks and effects, which will evolve further with Resolve 15’s addition of Fusion. It’s really show-dependent. On a larger scale, with 4K and HDR, our colorists are redesigning workflows on a continual basis. Our online conform artists are doing most of the editing, though with Resolve, any of us might make the deliverables.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Collaborating with everyone at DFT and working with the clients that depend on us is rewarding for me. I like the art of color correction. When I can just sit down and get to work on scene looks and matching, the day passes quickly, and I can feel the creativity flow. It’s fun. When the client comes in to view and I’m in sync with their vision, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Post facilities have few windows. Sometimes, I just like to open the door and see something alive and green. Seriously though, the business end and paperwork are the things that don’t interest me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Park ranger, running an animal rescue, Buddhist monk or one of my previous jobs, like being a broadcast news technical director. That sounds like a silly answer, but it’s not meant to be.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
That’s a long and difficult question to answer. When I was small, I used to get up very early with my dad and wait for the engineer to turn on the transmitter, so I could see the test pattern and watch some cartoons. I was a computer science major in college, but I didn’t like it. My brother worked at Compact Video and urged me to change career paths. I trained in journalism and broadcast news and worked in Sacramento television in graphics, studio and ENG camera, editing, technical directing and, finally, directing.

Next, was film transfer of 35mm prints for syndication, then on to master control and transmitter operations requiring an FCC license. That was all by the time I was 24, when I moved to Los Angeles to work with my brother in post. Within a year I was running a Rank and transferring features for most of the majors.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The re-boot of Roseanne. Also Wrecked for TBS. I’ve been doing collaborative color with Dan and Patrick on NCIS: Los Angeles, Angie Tribeca, Great News and The 100.

The 100

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m very satisfied to have worked on iconic long-running shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and developing looks for shows like Friday Night Lights with David Boyd and Todd McMullen. Recently, having a chance to work with the creative team on the Roseanne reboot was a great experience. DP Johnny Simmons and Sara Gilbert were a great pleasure to work with.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Inspiration comes from the people I meet and the challenges I face. I also love the changing exhibits at the Broad Museum and LACMA. I’m always looking at films and television to dissect what other people think and do. I don’t like the work when it seems copy-cat.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
DaVinci, which has been part of most of my career — with the exception of a few years on Lustre. The best quality hero monitor that can display the great color and resolution we need to do this job. Anything Apple. My iPad is in much need of replacement.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I like Theo Miesner’s YouTube posts and the rapid-fire way he delivers. Recently, there’s a slew of YouTube posts that are helping me with Fusion. I use Facebook to follow my fellow meditators.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I don’t take it too seriously after this many decades. The stress is there sometimes. I acknowledge it, meditate and even go on long silent meditation retreats once or twice a year.

I walk to work, hike and sometimes just walk outside and breathe deeply. Ultimately, the stress is up to me, and how I choose to respond. Equanimity has become a guiding concept with the worldly winds.


DP Patrick Stewart’s path and workflow on Netflix’s Arrested Development

With its handheld doc-style camerawork, voiceover narration and quirky humor, Arrested Development helped revolutionize the look of TV sitcoms. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, with Ron Howard serving as one of its executive producers, the half-hour comedy series follows the once-rich Bluth family, that continues to live beyond their means in Southern California. At the center of the family is the mostly sane Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who does his best to keep his dysfunctional family intact.

Patrick Stewart

The series first aired for three seasons on the Fox TV network (2003-2006) but was canceled due to low ratings. Because the series was so beloved, in 2013, Netflix brought it back to life with its original cast in place. In May 2018, the fifth season began streaming, shot by cinematographer Patrick Stewart (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The League, Flight of the Conchords). He called on VariCam LT cinema cameras.

Stewart’s path to becoming a cinematographer wasn’t traditional. Growing up in Los Angeles and graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Santa Clara, he got his start in the industry when a friend called him up and asked if he’d work on a commercial as a dolly grip. “I did it well enough where they called me for more and more jobs,” explains Stewart. “I started as a dolly grip but then I did sound, worked as a tape op and then started in the camera department. I also worked with the best gaffers in San Francisco, who showed me how to look at the light, understand it and either augment it or recreate it. It was the best practical film school I could have ever attended.”

Not wanting to stay “in a small pond with big fish” Stewart decided to move back to LA and started working for MTV, which brought him into the low-budget handheld world. It also introduced him to “interview lighting” where he lit celebrities like Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. “At that point I got to light every single amazing musician, actor, famous person you could imagine,” he says. “This practice afforded me the opportunity to understand how to light people who were getting older, and how to make them look their best on camera.”

In 1999, Stewart received an offer to shoot Mike Figgis’ film Time Code (2000), which was one of the landmark films of the DV/film revolution. “It was groundbreaking not only in the digital realm but the fact that Time Code was shot with four cameras from beginning to end, 93 minutes, without stopping, shown in a quad split with no edits — all handheld,” explains Stewart. “It was an amazingly difficult project, because having no edits meant you couldn’t make mistakes. I was very fortunate to work with a brilliant renegade director like Mike Figgis.”

Triple Coverage
When hired for Arrested Development, the first request Stewart approached Hurwitz with was to add a third camera. Shooting with three cameras with multiple characters can be a logistical challenge, but Stewart felt he could get through scenes more quickly and effectively, in order to get the actors out on time. “I call the C camera the center camera and the A and the B are screen left and screen right,” Stewart explains. “C covers the center POV, while A and B cover the scene from their left and right side POV, which usually starts with overs. As we continue to shoot the scene, each camera will get tighter and tighter. If there are three or more actors in the scene, C will get tighter on whoever is in the center. After that, C camera might cover the scene following the dialogue with ‘swinging’ singles. If no swinging singles are appropriate, then the center camera can move over and help out coverage on the right or left side.

“I’m on a walkie — either adjusting the shots during a scene for either of their framing or exposure, or I’m planning ahead,” he continues. “You give me three cameras and I’ll shoot a show really well for you and get it done efficiently, and with cinematic style.”

Because it is primarily a handheld show, Stewart needed lenses that would not weigh down his operators during long takes. He employed Fujinon Cabrio zooms (15-35mm, 19-90mm, and 85-300mm), which are all f/2.8 lenses.

For camera settings, Stewart captures 10-bit 422 UHD (3840×2160) AVC Intra files at 23.98-fps. He also captures in V-Log but uses the V-709 LUT. “To me, you can create all the LUTs you want,” he says, “but more than likely you get to color correction and end up changing things. I think the basic 709 LUT is really nice and gentle on all the colors.”

Light from Above
Much of Arrested Development is shot on a stage, so lighting can get complicated, especially when there are multiple characters in a scene. To makes things less complicated, Stewart provided a gentle soft light from softboxes covering the top of each stage set, using 4-by-8 wooden frames with Tungsten-balanced Quasar tubes dimmed down to 50%. His motivated lighting explanation is that the unseen source could basically be a skylight. If characters are close to windows, he uses HMIs creating “natural sunlight” punching through to light the scene. “The nice thing about the VariCam is that you don’t need as many photons, and I did pretty extensive tests during pre-production on how to do it.”

On stage, Stewart sets his ISO to 5000 base and dials down to 2500 and generally shoots at an f/2.8 and ½. He even uses one level of ND on top of that. “You can imagine 27-foot candles at one level of ND at a 2.8 and 1/2 — that’s a pretty sensitive camera, and I noticed very little noise. My biggest concern was mid-tones, so I did a lot of testing — shooting at 5000, shooting at 2500, 800, 800 pushed up to 1600 and 2500.

“Sometimes with certain cameras, you can develop this mid-tone noise that you don’t really notice until you’re in post. I felt like shooting at 5000 knocked down to 2500 was giving me the benefit of lighting the stage at these beautifully low-lit levels where we would never be hot. I could also easily put 5Ks outside the windows to have enough sunlight to make it look like it’s overexposed a bit. I felt that the 5000 base knocked down to 2500, the noise level was negligible. At native 5000 ISO, there was a little bit more mid-tone noise, even though it was still acceptable. For daytime exteriors, we usually shot at ISO 800, dialing down to 500 or below.”

Stewart and Arrested Development director Troy Miller have known each other for many years since working together on the HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. “There was a shorthand between director and DP that really came in handy,” says Stewart. “Troy knows that I know what I’m doing, and I know on his end that he’s trying to figure out this really complicated script and have us shoot it. Hand in hand, we were really able to support Mitch.”


Director Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

After seeing some of her previous work, Humble director Sasha Levinson was approached by agency R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority with a vision of creating four short films of personal transformation, each set across one weekend in Las Vegas, where the city was the catalyst in each narrative. The spots play more like a film trailer than a commercial.

Initial scripts were already written, when Levinson won project. “Right out of the gate I started to develop ideas about how I would bring these stories to life in a way that created a human mystique around Las Vegas while showcasing how the city could have an authentically positive impact on each character’s life,” she says.

We reached out to Levinson to find out more about her process and the project.

Who did you work with the most from the agency?
R&R Partners’ Arnie DiGeorge (ECD), Scott Murray (CD) and Gerri Angelo (Producer) were the primary people I interacted with. Once I was officially on board, the collaboration stretched into a place I hadn’t seen in my commercial work thus far. The team stressed their desire to have a filmmaker that could truly bring the films to life, and I think I did just that. They trusted my process whole-heartedly.

Now and Then

Can you walk us through the production process?
While working on readying the scripts for production, I flew out to Las Vegas and spent several days location scouting in and around the city. It was very inspiring to start to feel the environment and begin to envision exactly how our scenes might play out.

We scouted many incredible spaces, both interior and exterior. My process was to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters and decide where they would want to spend their weekend.

The next step was casting, which was done in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We all took a collective breath when we found our actors because they became the characters that had only been living on the page for quite a while.

It took a dedicated team and the full support of Humble, our production company, to pull this off. Line producer Trevor Allen, AD Scott Murray, AD Todd Martin, costume designer Karmen Dann and location scout/manager Kim Houser-Amaral were a huge help during this two-week shoot.

Two weeks?
Yes, we shot for eight days over the course of two weeks, filming mostly at night in restaurants, nightclubs and suites both on and off The Strip. For interiors alone we shot at over nine different hotel properties, and then filmed various exteriors, driving shots and desert scenes.

Can you talk about each of the four spots?
For the Now and Then spot we used a handheld and Steadicam to stay intimate with the characters. The film lives in a dreamy, indie space, making the audience feel like they are inside the story, and as if the flashbacks are their own memories.

Party of One

The Anniversary was the flirtiest, most luxurious of the films. We were initially planning to film in a different bar, but I changed the schedule when I saw the personality of the final location. It was perfect.

To me, Party of One was a quirky romantic comedy, but the real romance is with herself. This film had a cleaner look with colors that really popped, a playful wardrobe and fun music. The Meetup has the most obvious references to the iconic Oceans and Bond films, and I wanted to do this genre justice.

Victor, the actor in The Meetup has a comedy background, so he was able to give us something different and great each take. We used cleaner lenses and slower-paced, more precise movements using a dolly.

What did you shoot on, and why did you (and assuming the DP) feel this was the best camera?
We shot on the Alexa Mini for its stunning Alexa image and the smaller body. The choice was due to all of the handheld and Steadicam we knew we would be working with. I really love the Alexa and of course we played with a lot of filtration and elements in front of the lens.

Where did you find the inspiration for this campaign?
I was really inspired by the film Paris, je t’aime, which became a reference we really stayed true to with this campaign. We kept saying, “If these four films feel like a love letter to Las Vegas, then we’ve done our job.”

After we finished casting in LA, I spent a weekend in Vegas visiting Valley of Fire State Park, seeing Elton John in concert, riding on the High Roller, eating at some amazing restaurants and overall experiencing the city in a new and inspiring way. I’ve always loved the desert, so there is a built-in romance for me about Vegas being a desert oasis that you just feel, looking out the windows wherever you are. I wanted to capture that essence in this campaign.

Sasha on set

What was the biggest obstacle in directing these four spots?
Las Vegas is all about tourism, so we had to keep the visitor experience in mind when planning our schedules and shooting. It was a constantly changing puzzle of a schedule, but each location had a filming liaison that worked with us. They helped us film across iconic Las Vegas locations like the High Roller at the LinQ Hotel & Casino and the Bellagio Fountains, where we even had an engineer help us control the fountains, starting them at just the right moment in the shot.

Where was this project edited, and how did you work with the editors?
I worked extremely closely with the editors Erin Nordstrom and Nick Pezillo at Spot Welders in Venice, California. They cut on Adobe Premiere, and during the edit process we cut in side-by-side rooms. As we were cutting the first cuts I would hop between rooms as the edits were evolving.

Music was a huge point of discussion. Josh Baron was our music supervisor, and Human created some original pieces. Early in the edit process there was a lot of conversation about tone and feel of the soundtracks. Getting the music to encourage the cinematic feeling was very important to all of us.

Can you talk about what you wanted from the color grade?
Las Vegas has so much light and spectacle, and most of the films took place at night, so I wanted to capture that essence and make sure we didn’t go too far. The idea was that the character of Las Vegas should be cohesive across all four films, but each of the storylines should feel visually dedicated to their respective characters.

Dave Hussey at Company 3 too the reigns on color and hit the perfect balance between fantasy and reality.

We’ve heard a lot about making the ad and production industries more inclusive. How do you see the industry changing? Do you think organizations like Free the Bid are doing their jobs to help female directors get the work they deserve?
I think that filmmaking and content creation is about telling stories that accurately reflect reality, but this isn’t possible without diverse creators showcasing their own unique realities. I’ve spent a lot of time on scouts and shoots where I am the only woman, but this is changing, and there are more and more times where the van is all women, and it’s amazing!

However, just when I think diversity is becoming the norm, I’ll be on set with a crew member or client who says they’ve never worked with a female director. Free the Bid has been an incredible initiative and because it’s so action oriented, you can feel the rumblings of change in realtime. That’s exciting.

Do you have any tips for aspiring female directors?
Being a filmmaker in film or advertising is an incredible career path. My best advice is to develop your authentic voice and find projects that resonate with it. Don’t get lost in what you think you should be doing, and don’t just follow the trends. Be authentic in your work and speak from the heart. And when it comes to starting a reel, donate your time. Find brands or projects that cover the costs and give them your creative skills in exchange for footage to build a reel.

There has been a trend around branded content and spots, that look and like films, like this campaign. Do you think this trend will continue?
I think this trend will continue and extend deeper into newer mediums like immersive storytelling and interactivity. Brands are constantly searching for ways to connect with consumers, and I believe the art of storytelling is an age-old unifier and connector. So it makes sense. Personally, I love the three-act structure and any opportunity to work with this, whether it be 90 seconds or 90 minutes, inspires me.

Are you working on any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently taking my recent film Welcome to Grandville through the festival circuit. It made its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Perspectives Exhibition, and more recently in New York City at the Soho International Film Festival.

I’ve also just completed a commercial project for Whirlpool, Google and Amazon’s Alexa. Currently, I’m writing a film called the The Discomfort of Skin, about the human discomfort with nudity and sexuality.


Review: The Litra Torch for pro adventure lighting

By Brady Betzel

If you are on Instagram you’ve definitely seen your fair share of “adventure” photography and video. Typically, it’s those GoPro-themed action-adventure shots of someone cliff diving off a million-mile-high waterfall. I definitely get jealous. Nonetheless, one thing I love about GoPro cameras is their size. They are small enough to fit in your pocket, and they will reliably produce a great image. Where those actioncams suffer is with light performance. While it is getting better every day, you just can’t pull a reliably clean and noise-free image from a camera sensor so small. This is where actioncam lights come into play as a perfect companion, including the Litra Torch.

The Litra Torch is an 800 Lumen, 1.5 by 1.5-inch magnetic light. I first started seeing the tiny light trend on Instagram where people were shooting slow shutter photos at night but also painting certain objects with a tiny bit of light. Check out Litra on Instagram: @litragear to see some of the incredible images people are producing with this tiny light. I saw an action sports person showing off some incredible nighttime pictures using the GoPro Hero. He mentioned in the post that he was using the Litra Torch, so I immediately contacted Litra, and here I am reviewing the light. Litra sent me the Litra Paparazzi Bundle, which retails for $129.99. The bundle includes the Litra Torch,  along with a filter kit and cold shoe mount.

So the Litra Torch has four modes, all accessible by clicking the button on top of the light: 800 Lumen brightness, 450 Lumens, 100 Lumens and flashing. The Torch has a consistent color temperature of 5700 kelvin, essentially the light is a crisp white — right in between blue and yellow. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery can be charged via the micro USB cable and will last up to 30 minutes or more depending on the brightness selected. With a backup battery attached you could be going for hours.

Over a month with intermittent use I only charged it once. One night I had to check out something under the hood of my car and used the Litra Torch to see what I was doing. It is very bright and when I placed the light onto the car I realized it was magnetic! Holy cow. Why doesn’t GoPro put magnets into their cameras for mounting! The Torch also has two ¼-20 camera screw mounts so you can mount them just about anywhere. The construction of the Torch is amazing — it is drop-proof, waterproof and made of a highly resilient aluminum. You can feel the high quality of the components the first time you touch the Torch.

In addition to the Torch itself, the cold shoe mount and diffuser, the Paparazzi Bundle comes with the photo filter kit. The photo filter kit comes with five frames to mount the color filters onto the Torch; three sets of Rosco Tungsten 4600k filters; three sets of Rosco Tungsten 3200k filters; 1 White Diffuser filter; and one each of a red, yellow and green color filter. Essentially, they give you a cheap way to change white balance temperatures and also some awesome color filters to play around with. I can really see the benefit of having at least two if not three of the Litra Torches in your bag with the filter sets; you can easily set up a properly lit product shoot or even a headshot session with nothing more than three tiny Torch lights.

Putting It To The Test
To test out the light in action I asked my son to set-up a Lego scene for me. One hour later I had some Lego models to help me out. I always love seeing people’s Lego scenes on Instagram so I figured this would also be a good way to show off the light and the extra color filters sent in the Paparazzi Bundle. One thing I discovered is that I would love to have a slide-in filter holder that is built onto the light; it would definitely help me avoid wasting time having to pop filters into frames.

All in all, this light is awesome. The only problem is I wish I had three so I could do a full three-point lighting setup. However, with some natural light and one Litra Torch I had enough to pull off some cool lighting. I really liked the Torch as a colored spotlight; you can get that blue or red shade on different objects in a scene quickly.

Summing Up
In the end, the Litra Torch is an amazing product. In the future I would really love to see multiple white balance temperatures built into the Torch without having to use photo filters. Also, a really exciting but probably expensive prospect of building a Bluetooth connection and multiple colors. Better yet, make this light a full-color-spectrum app-enabled light… oh wait, just recently they announced the Litra Pro on Kickstarter. You should definitely check that out as well with it’s advanced options and color profile.

I am spoiled by all of those at home lights, like the LIFX brand, that change to any color you want, so I’m greedy and want those in a sub-$100 light. But those are just wishes — the Litra Torch is a must-have for your toolkit in my opinion. From mounting it on top of my Canon DSLR using the cold shoe mount, to using the magnetic ability and mounting in unique places, as well as using the screw mount to attach to a tripod — the Litra Torch is a mind-melting game changer for anyone having to lug around a 100-pound light kit, which makes this new Kickstarter of the Litra Pro so enticing.

Check out their website for more info on the Torch and new Litra Pro, as well as a bunch of accessories. This is a must-have for any shooter looking to carry a tiny but powerful light anywhere, especially for summer and the outdoors!


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.


Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys joins Panavision Atlanta as VP/GM

Panavision has hired Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys to lead the company’s Atlanta office as vice president and general manager. Borys will oversee day-to-day operations in the region.

Borys’ 25 years of experience in the motion picture industry includes business development for Production Resources Group (PRG), and GM for Fletcher Camera and Lenses (now VER). This is her second turn at Panavision, having served in a marketing role at the company from 1998-2006. She is also an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Panavision’s Atlanta facilities, located in West Midtown and at Pinewood Studios, supplies camera rental equipment in the southern US, with a full staff of prep technicians and camera service experts. The Atlanta team has provided equipment and services to productions including Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Baby Driver and Pitch Perfect 3.

Quick Chat: Bill Ferwerda on coloring Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

The premiere season of the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale earned eight Primetime Emmys, two Golden Globes, a Peabody Award and a BAFTA Award. Season 2, which is now streaming on Hulu, expands on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name.

For the latest season Deluxe Toronto senior colorist Bill Ferwerda reteamed with series DP Colin Watkinson, who won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography on The Handmaid’s Tale pilot, and also worked with DP Zoe White.

Ferwerda once again delivered HDR and SDR grades for Season 2, following the same palette established for Season One and helping develop looks for new environments, including the polluted Colonies.

“The look of The Handmaid’s Tale is so established and familiar to audiences, there wasn’t a need to reinvent the look for season two, but rather we pick up where season one left off and keep that tension building. I often pulled up season one footage to make sure I was staying true to that original aesthetic and feel,” explains Ferwerda.

Similar to how Ferwerda keyed in the signature “handmaid red” for Season 1 — a creative decision established by Watkinson and director of Season 1, episodes 1-3 Reed Morano — he accentuated a few primary colors in one key element within a scene, maintaining a simple palette and adding contrast to help the wardrobe and set design pop. He used the SDR grade as the guide for the HDR Dolby Vision grade, careful to carry through the intentionally subdued look.

Season 2 introduces The Colonies, a horrific compound where disobedient handmaids are sent to work in incredibly harsh conditions. To underscore the unpleasant environment, Ferwerda played up smoke and atmosphere with harsh contrast, following an aesthetic he helped develop with Watkinson and DIT Ben Whaley. He also accommodated for changing daylight in exterior scenes and footage shot with both Arri Alexa and drone cameras.

Bill Ferwerda

“The Colonies environment is toxic, so I was more aggressive in pushing the contrast; blacks are harder and I balanced a lot of opposite colors, such as adding a pink sky to counter green and different color tones,” explains Ferwerda. “As a fan myself, this was a very exciting project to be part of, and I can attest that season two lives up to its very high expectations.”

Let’s find out more from Ferwerda:

How does your process differ when delivering HDR and SDR?
HDR delivers more detail and clarity in the highlights as opposed to SDR, where the detail can be almost nonexistent. When working on a deliverable that is both HDR and SDR, you have to be aware of the image on both formats at the same time. The reason we do this is that both versions are delivered on one file. That is to say, the SDR is derived from the HDR source.

Using the HDR source, we do a “trim pass” to match the two images minus the highlight detail. Interestingly, in the case of The Handmaids Tale, the creative decision was made that the HDR version would look exactly the same as the SDR version because everyone liked the lack of detail in the highlights. When coloring an episode, we still do the HDR pass first and then trim past to SDR, but we keep it in the SDR parameters.

I know most of the palette from Season 1 remains, but other than The Colonies, what how did you approach environments new to Season 2?
We approach new environments by reviewing the looks that have been applied on set. After this review session, we go through a series of presentations, discussions and tweaks to get exactly what the DP wants.

When the shooting was going on in Toronto, the DPs would come in and sit down with me. Now that the shooting is finished, Deluxe sends the DPs to one of our sister companies in LA or New York (where we know the monitors will match) and does sessions with them there while we have the content and Resolve panels in Toronto.

What about this season stands out to you?
Season 2 was awesome, and I loved all the episodes, but what stands out to me the most is working with the new DP, Zoë White. Colin Watkinson and Zoe would flip-flop between episodes. It was such a pleasure working with her and watching her sink her teeth into the Handmaids’ world!