Category Archives: Collaboration

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.

An editor recaps Sight, Sound & Story 2018

By Amy Leland

Manhattan Edit Workshop’s Sight, Sound & Story (SS&S) was established in June of 2013, first offering post-related events, and then those based around cinematography as well.

As a working editor always looking to learn, I attend numerous industry events throughout the year, but this one has become one of the “can’t miss” items on my list. They bring in top-notch panelists sharing their work and their insights. This year’s post event was once again a chance to hear from professionals at the top of their craft across documentary, scripted television and feature film.

Documentary Panel
First up was the panel of documentary editors, including Bryan Chang (Brasslands, Narco Cultura, A Year in Space), Ann Collins (Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, Swim Team), Matthew Hamachek (Cartel Land, The Trade, Amanda Knox, Meet the Patels) and moderator Garret Savage (My Perestroika, Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship).

Ann Collins

The panel started at a logical place — at the beginning. Savage asked each of them how they like to begin the cutting process. Both Chang and Collins described processes that involve screening the footage and pulling selects, a fairly traditional approach. While Hamachek said he used to work that way, when faced with hundreds of hours of footage, his process evolved. Now he just starts cutting. Part of his motivation is the pressures of schedule, which made sense given that his most recent project was The Fourth Estate, a documentary series rather than a feature. To cut the first 90-minute episode of the series, he had 14 weeks. He described the advantages of getting to a rough cut as fast as he can. “Editing is a process of failure. The sooner I can get to my first mistakes, the better,” he said.

The difference in his process can also be explained by working with a story producer. A good story producer provides a path through the footage. Feature editors often work as their own story producers. Both Chang and Collins talked about the need to see the footage and find those special clips and sound bites. This way when the time came in the edit where they had to fill the blank, they would know where to find them. Though they used different methods — Chang will lay out selects in a sequence, while Collins creates subclips with metadata — both create a library of moments to draw on later.

Interestingly, when asked if he might change his process if he were editing an indie feature documentary, Hamachek said no. Though his process developed in part because of working on a series, it was a process he had grown to really enjoy. And Collins pointed out that regardless of what process an editor uses, they must always be willing to go back to the footage and make changes as the story reveals itself.

The audience was shown a clip from Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, and Collins explained, “Beginnings are the hardest part of the film, and the part that changes the most often. As the film evolves, that beginning changes a lot.” She said that with the beginning, you have to establish what the world of this film is — the pace, the tone, the style, the rules, etc. All of that has to be taken care of silently and invisibly while you convince the viewer to come with you. What you may find is that as the rest of the film develops you’ll understand later what that beginning should be.

Bryan Chang

Chang addressed a different kind of documentary editing challenge in presenting a clip from Narco Cultura, about the music that glorifies the narco lifestyle, and specifically one of the musicians who traveled to Mexico to meet the narcos. Shaun Schwarz, with whom he had collaborated many times, primarily on shorts for Time, directed the film.

One challenge documentarians often face is the question of permission from the subjects in front of the camera. On their trip to Mexico, one of the narcos that was there kept saying he didn’t want to be in the movie and to not shoot him, but he also kept bragging and showing off in front of the cameras. So, ultimately, they did leave him in and didn’t blur his face. They felt he had put himself in the film. Though editors face a lot of challenges that are technical, sometimes the challenges are more abstract and the solutions are less black and white.

Scripted Television Panel
Next up was a panel of scripted television editors: Naomi Geraghty (Billions, Bloodline, Treme) and Lynne Willingham, ACE (Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan, The X-Files), moderated by Michael Berenbaum, ACE (Sex & the City, The Americans, Divorce).

One of the most popular topics for the TV panel every year is the question of how to break into a scripted television edit room. This year’s panelists addressed this in two important ways. First, in talking about how each of them got their start, they made it clear that there is no one way in. Willingham did not go to film school. She was able to find her way into a studio because her brother was an assistant at Warner. She started as an apprentice, working her way up. She said, “I got my free education just working anytime I could.”

Geraghty, on the other hand, did attend film school in Ireland, which is where she discovered that she was drawn to the process of editing. There wasn’t much work in Ireland, so she got a work visa and came to New York. She eventually got her foot in the door working at Jonathan Demme’s company on a documentary. This led to an opportunity assisting on a feature back in Ireland.

L-R: Naomi Geraghty and Lynne Willingham.

Equally important, both described helping their own assistants get opportunities to cut on the shows where they worked. Willingham’s longtime assistant on Breaking Bad was Kelley Dixon. They had been working together a long time, and Willingham encouraged her to cut whenever possible. Because of union rules, she couldn’t get her a solo credit on an episode, but was able to get her shared credit. By having her in that position, Dixon was eventually able to move up and became the lead editor on the show herself.

One caution that Willingham offered was that the workload for assistants has grown so much that it is difficult to find the time to be in the room when the cutting is happening. It isn’t the same process it used to be when assistants were in the room with their editors for much of the process. So the challenge is to balance the workload with seeing the action and being seen. But the flip side to that, Geraghty pointed out, is that there is so much work in television these days that the path to moving forward can actually be more readily available in television than in film.

A frequently popular topic when discussing television these days is the rising quality of shows, and the “cinematic” quality of the work being done. Both talked about the joys of working on shows that are more character driven and developed over a long period of time. One interesting aspect of this, said Willingham, it that with the current popularity of doing more compact seasons — 10 episodes, instead of 22 or 23 — and shooting them all at once, the work attracts higher-end talent. Actors and directors can commit to the projects, shoot all of the episodes in one concentrated period, and then move on to other projects. All of which is opening the doors to better — and more — work for everyone involved in the process.

Scripted Television Panel

Willingham shared the opening scene from the pilot of Breaking Bad. When asked if she knew, while she was working on it, how good and how popular it would be. She said, yes and no. Everyone working on it knew what they were doing was going to be brilliant simply because it was created by Vince Gilligan. She said that as much as she wanted to take credit for how great that opening scene was, everything she cut came from the script. Gilligan had such a clear plan. But even with all of that, none of them knew just how big a phenomenon it would become.

The one unplanned moment in that opening scene was the footage of Walter talking into the camera. Though that footage was shot that day in the desert, Gilligan never intended for that footage to be used until the very end of the series. But because he let Willingham work so independently, she didn’t know that. She saw the footage, saw a way to use it, and just did it. And it worked. She encouraged everyone — if you are inspired to try something while you are cutting, then try it. It could be exactly what is needed.

Geraghty showed the final scene from Season 1 of Billions. What was fascinating was that, though the scene consisted almost entirely of two men standing and talking to each other, it was filled with tension and drama. She described that sometimes, as an editor, it is your job to not get in the way of the work. The language was so rich, and the performances were so fantastic, that her job was simply to respect the performances and protect the integrity of the work being done. She could certainly help drive the scene by finding the best takes, and the moments when particular angles were the best choice, but she felt the most important thing was to let the performances shine.

Inside the Cutting Room
An ever-popular aspect of Sight Sound & Story is Inside the Cutting Room, an interview with a prominent member of the editing community, moderated by writer and film historian Bobbie O’Steen (“Cut to the Chase,” “The Invisible Cut”). Her subject this time was Kevin Tent, ACE (Sideways, Election, The Descendants, Nebraska, Blow), longtime editor for director Alexander Payne.

Kevin Tent and Bobbie O’Steen.

As with the other panels, they spoke about beginnings, and Tent’s was especially interesting. After working in educational films, he got the opportunity to work with Roger Corman. While working for the king of B-movies might seem like an inauspicious way to become an Oscar-nominated editor, it became clear what a perfect foundation this actually was. Working in a production house churning out movies at a fast pace, Tent was able to collect experience at an accelerated rate. Corman’s way of working also provided additional learning opportunities. Tent described Corman as ruthless — he would think nothing of cutting out an entire scene if it wasn’t working for him. So the challenge for all of the editors was to make every scene so interesting that Corman would leave it in the movie. They also did a lot of work that involved pulling films from the vault that hadn’t been widely seen and cutting clips from them into new movies. He wondered why the big studios don’t do this, since their vaults are also filled with movies that were rarely seen. It’s an interesting thought.

One other unexpected benefit — when his reel came across Alexander Payne’s desk, Tent’s work with Corman was one of the things Payne liked. Payne was looking for an editor for his first feature, Citizen Ruth. The studio wanted him to hire a bigger editor with more credits, but Payne wanted a partner, not a more seasoned figure telling him what to do and how to do it. And with that, a longtime creative partnership was born.

As expected from such a great partnership, there were many fascinating stories about both collaboration and conflict. One of the great moments came in cutting Election. In a pivotal scene with Matthew Broderick, Payne wanted to cut it like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, with long shots and back and forth looks. Tent didn’t. He felt it would be too drawn out and long. So he offered to pay Payne $75 to let him cut it the way he wanted, and the test audiences loved it. So it worked.

One interesting aspect of Tent’s work is his willingness to manipulate the footage for effect. Especially these days, feature editors tend to work in a more straightforward, vérité way. Tent showed two great examples of times when manipulation created iconic scenes. In their first cut of James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted, the biggest problem was that the film was way too long. One solution was to collapse some of the scenes. The example he played was a scene showing day-in-the-life moments in the institution where the girls were. They were put in montage over one another, cross-dissolved into one another, and cut in a very stylistic way over music. Ultimately it was their plan to change it for the final film, but the preview audience print cost $12K. When they told the producer they wanted to change it, the producer said no, they couldn’t print the film again. So this incredibly beautiful scene came from a moment they thought of as a temporary fix, and cut on a whim on a Saturday.

Nebraska

He also employed a fair amount of image manipulation for Nebraska. For example, he occasionally added pauses to Bruce Dern’s performance, which worked because he didn’t move around a lot. And he admitted that, yes, he was guilty of using a lot of fluid morph in order to accomplish this. Every time he did it, Payne would say, “When you do that, you’re saying I’m a bad director.” He also showed an example, near the end of the film, when he would use strategic speed changes to draw out moments in an emotional way. He likes to experiment with those tools and techniques. He said it comes from being greedy and wanting all of the best stuff, which he sometimes does by piecing things together.

Tent won the Eddie and was nominated for the Oscar for The Descendants. They hadn’t cut a feature together in seven years because Payne had been working on writing Downsizing and trying to get it off the ground. Tent said when they first got together, there was a little nervousness in the cutting room, but once they started working they fell into their good rhythm again.

A lot of their work together had been about walking the line between comedy and drama. With The Descendants, in particular, Payne was concerned about being too melodramatic. So he wrote and shot a lot of comedy elements. But when they were in the edit, those moments kept getting in the way and felt disrespectful to what the characters were going through. Eventually they stopped trying to be funny, and found that sometimes there were funny moments anyway, simply because of the humanity of the situation.

O’Steen quoted Payne saying about Tent, “Our process is essentially cowriting the final draft together. Kevin is my audience, and I hunger to please him.” As we were treated to an overview of their work together, it was obvious that they wrote wonderful final drafts together and, ultimately, pleased their audiences a great deal.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

DG 7.9.18

Color for Television Series

By Karen Maierhofer

Several years ago I was lucky enough to see Van Gogh’s original The Starry Night oil on canvas at a museum and was awestruck by how rich and vibrant it really was. I had fallen in love with the painting years before after seeing reproductions/reprints, which paled in comparison to the original’s striking colors and beauty. No matter how well done, the reproductions could never duplicate the colors and richness of the original masterpiece.

Just as in the art world, stories told via television are transformed through the use of color. Color grading and color correction help establish a signature look for a series, though that can, and often does, change from one episode to another — or from one scene to another — based on the mood the DP and director want to portray.

Here we delve into this part of the post process and follow a trio of colorists as they set the tone for three very different television series.

Black-ish
Black-ish is an ABC series about a successful African-American couple raising their five children in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Dre, an advertising executive, is proud of his heritage but fears that culture is lost when it comes to his kids.

There is no struggle, however, when it comes to color grading the show, a job that has fallen to colorist Phil Azenzer from The Foundation in Burbank starting with this past season (Season 4).

The show is shot using an Arri Alexa camera. The dailies are then produced by the show’s in-house editor. The files, including the assembly master, are sent to Azenzer, who uses the raw camera files for his color grading, which is done using Blackmagic’s Resolve.

Azenzer starts a scene by rolling into the establishing shot and sets the look there because “you can see all light sources and their color temperatures,” he says. “I get a feel for the composition of the shot and the gradation of shadow to light. I see what light each of the actors is standing in or walking through, and then know how to balance the surrounding coverage.”

In his opinion, networks, for the most part, like their half-hour comedies to be well lit, more chromatic, with less shadow and contrast than an average one-hour drama, in order to create a more inviting, light feel (less somber). “And Black-ish is no different, although because of the subject matter, I think of Black-ish as more of a ‘dramedy,’ and there are scenes where we go for a more dramatic feel,” Azenzer explains.

Black-ish’s main characters are African-American, and the actors’ skin tones vary. “Black-ish creator Kenya Barris is very particular about the black skin tones of the actors, which can be challenging because some tones are more absorbent and others more reflective,” says Azenzer. “You have to have a great balance so everyone’s skin tone feels natural and falls where it’s supposed to.”

Phil Azenzer

Azenzer notes that the makeup department does an excellent job, so he doesn’t have to struggle as much with pulling out the bounce coming off the actors’ skin as a result of their chromatic clothes. He also credits DP Rob Sweeney (with whom he has worked on Six Feet Under and Entourage) with “a beautiful job of lighting that makes my life easier in that regard.”

While color grading the series, Azenzer avoids any yellow in skin tones, per Barris’s direction. “He likes the skin tones to look more natural, more like what they actually are,” he says. “So, basically, the directive was to veer away from yellow and keep it neutral to cool.”

While the colorist follows that direction in most scenes, he also considers the time of day the scene takes place when coloring. “So, if the call is for the shot to be warm, I let it go warm, but more so for the environment than the skin tones,” explains Azenzer.

Most of the show is shot on set, with few outdoor sequences. However, the scenes move around the house (kitchen, living room, bedrooms) as well as at the ad agency where Dre works. “I have some preferred settings that I can usually use as a starting point because of the [general] consistency of the show’s lighting. So, I might ripple through a scene and then just tighten it up from there,” says Azenzer. But my preference as a colorist is not to take shortcuts. I don’t like to plug something in from another episode because I don’t know if, in fact, the lighting is exactly the same. Therefore, I always start from scratch to get a feel for what was shot.”

For instance, shots that take place in Dre’s office play out at various points in the day, so that lighting changes more often.

The office setting contains overhead lighting directly above the conference table, like one would find in a typical conference room. It’s a diffused lighting that is more intense directly over the table and diminishes in intensity as it feathers out over the actors, so the actors are often moving in and out of varying intensities of light on that set. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance so they don’t get washed out and they don’t get [too much shadow] when they are sitting back from the table,” explains Azenzer. “That’s probably the most challenging location for me.”

Alas, things changed somewhat during the last few episodes of the season. Dre and his wife, Rainbow, hit a rough patch in their marriage and separate. Dre moves into a sleek, ultra-modern house in the canyon, with two-story ceilings and 20-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows — resulting in a new location for Azenzer. “It was filled with natural light, so the image was a little flat in those scenes and awash with light and a cool aura,” he describes. Azenzer adjusted for this by “putting in extra contrast, double saturation nodes, and keying certain colors to create more color separation, which helps create overall separation and depth of field. It was a fun episode.”

In the prior episode, the show toggles back and forth from flashbacks of Bow and Dre from happier times in their marriage to present day. Azenzer describes the flashbacks as saturated with extremely high contrast, “pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable.” When the scene switched to present day, instead of the typical look, it was shot with the movie Blue Valentine in mind, as the characters discussed separating and possibly divorcing.

“Those scenes were shot and color corrected with a very cool, desaturated look. I would latch onto maybe one thing in the shot and pop color back into that. So, it would be almost grayish blue, and if there was a Granny Smith apple on the counter, I grabbed that and popped it, made it chromatic,” explains Azenzer. “And Dre’s red sweatshirt, which was desaturated and cool along with the rest of the scene, I went back in there and keyed that and popped the red back in. It was one of the more creative episodes we did.”

When Azenzer first took over coloring the show, “everybody was involved,” he says. “I had a relationship with Rob Sweeney, but I was new to Kenya, the post team, and Tom Ragazzo, co-producer, so it was very collaborative at the beginning to nail the look they were going for, what Kenya wanted. Now we are at the point so when I finish an episode, I give Rob a heads-up and he’ll come over that day or whenever he can and bring lunch, and I play it back for him.”

It’s not as if the episodes are without change, though Azenzer estimates that 85 percent of the time Sweeney says, “‘Beautiful job,’ and is out the door.” When there are changes, they usually involve something nominal on just a shot or two. “We are never off-base to where we need to redo a scene. It’s usually something subjective, where he might ask me to add a Power Window to create a little shadow in a corner or create a light source that isn’t there.”

Azenzer enjoys working on Black-ish, particularly because of the close relationship he has with those working on the show. “They are all awesome, and we get along really well and collaborate well,” he says. Indeed, he has forged bonds with this new family of sorts on both a professional and personal level, and recently began working on Grown-ish, a spin-off of Black-ish that follows the family’s eldest daughter after she moves away to attend college.

The 100
Dan Judy, senior colorist at DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) in Hollywood, has been working on The CW’s The 100 starting with the pilot in 2014, and since then has helped evolve it into a gritty-looking show. “It started off with more of an Eden-type environment and has progressed into a much grittier, less friendly and dangerous place to live,” he says.

The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama that centers on a group of juvenile offenders from aboard a failing space station who are sent to Earth following a nuclear apocalypse there nearly a century earlier. Their mission: to determine whether the devastated planet is habitable. But, soon they encounter clans of humans who have survived the destruction.

“We have geographical locations that have a particular look to them, such as Polis (the capitol of the coalition),” says Judy of the environment set atop rolling hills lush with vegetation. “In this past season, we have the Eden environment — where after the planet incurs all this devastation, the group finds an oasis of thriving foliage and animated life. Then, gradually, we started backing off the prettiness of Eden and making it less colorful, a little more contrasty, a little harsher.”

The series is shot in Vancouver by DP Michael Blundell. The dailies are handled by Bling Digital’s Vancouver facility, which applies color with the dailies cut. As an episode is cut, Bling then ships drives containing the camera master media and the edit decision list to DFT, which assembles the show with a clip-based approach, using the full-resolution camera masters as its base source.

“We aren’t doing a transcode of the media. We actually work directly, 100 percent of the time, from the client camera master,” says Judy, noting this approach eliminates the possibility of errors, such as dropouts or digital hits that can result from transcoding. “It also gives me handles on either end of a shot if it was trimmed.”

Dan Judy

Vancouver-based Blundell sets the palette, but he conveys his ideas and concepts to Tim Scanlan, director and supervising producer on the show, with whom Judy has a longstanding relationship — they worked together years before on Smallville. “Then Tim and I will sit down and spot the show, setting looks for the scenes, and after the spotting session, I will fill in the gaps to give it a consistent look,” says Judy. Although Scanlan is in nearby Santa Monica, due to LA’s traffic, he and Hollywood-based Judy collaborate remotely, to save valuable time.

“I can remote into [Scanlan’s] system and color correct with him in full resolution and in realtime,” explains Judy. “I can play back the reference file with the dailies color on it, and I can split-screen that with him in realtime if he wants to reference the dailies color for that particular scene.”

For coloring the show, Judy uses Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which is also used to conform the series. Using Resolve’s Project Management tools, the editors and colorists “can all work on the project and contribute to it live, in realtime, simultaneously,” Judy points out. “So, I can be color correcting at the same time the editor is building the show, and getting all of his updates in mere seconds.”

Scanlan uses a remote Resolve system with a monitor that is calibrated to Judy’s, “so what he is seeing on his end is an exact replica of what I’m seeing in my room,” Judy says.

One scene in The 100 that stands out for Judy occurs early in the episode during the premiere of Season 5, which finds Clarke Griffin, one of the prisoners, trapped in a wasteland. He explains: “We had several different evolutions of what that look was going to be. I gave them a few designs, and they gave me some notes. Before the show was cut, they gave me little snippets of scenes to look at, and I did test looks. They came back and decided to go with one of those test looks at first, and then as the show progressed, we decided, collaboratively, to redesign the look of the scene and go with more of a sepia tone.”

Much of The 100 is filmed outdoors, and as everyone knows, nature does not always cooperate during shoots. “They deal with a lot of different weather conditions in Vancouver, unlike LA. They’ll get rain in the middle of a scene. Suddenly, clouds appear, and you have shadows that didn’t exist before. So, when that’s the only footage you have, you need to make it all blend together,” explains Judy. “Another challenge is making these amazing-looking sets look more natural by shadowing off the edges of the frame with power windows and darkening parts of the frame so it looks like the natural environment.”

Judy points to the character Becca’s abandoned lab — an elaborate set from last year’s season — as a scene that stands out for him. “It was an amazing set, and in wide shots, we would shape that picture with power windows and use color levels and desaturation to darken it, and then color levels and saturation to brighten up other areas,” he says. “This would make the room look more cavernous than it was, even though it was large to begin with, to give it more scope and vastness. It also made the room look dramatic yet inviting at the same time.”

All in all, Judy describes The 100 as a very edgy, dramatic show. “There’s a lot going on. It’s not your standard television fare. It’s very creative,” he says. “Tim and I did a lot of color design on Smallville, and we’re carrying on that tradition in The 100. It’s more feature-esque, more theatrical, than most television shows. We add grain on the picture to give it texture; it’s almost imperceptible, but it gives a slightly different feel than other shows. It’s nice to be part of something where I’m not just copying color for a standardized, formulaic show. This series gives me the opportunity to be creative, which is awesome.”

Dear White People
Sometimes color grading decisions are fairly standard on television shows. Black and white, so to speak. Not so for the Netflix series Dear White People, a comedy-drama spin-off from the 2014 film of the same name, which follows students of color at a predominantly white Ivy League college as they navigate various forms of discrimination — racial and otherwise.

Helping achieve the desired look for the series fell to senior colorist Scott Gregory from NBCUniversal StudioPost. Starting with Season 1, day one, “the show’s creator, Justin Simien, DP Jeffrey Waldron, executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser and I huddled in my bay and experimented with different ‘overall’ looks for the show,” notes Gregory.

Simien then settled on the “feel” that is present throughout most of the series. Once he had locked a base look, the group then discussed how to use color to facilitate the storytelling. “We created looks for title cards, flashbacks, historical footage, locations and even specific characters,” Gregory says.

Using stills he had saved during those creative meetings as a guide, he then color corrects each show. Once the show is ready for review, the executive producers and DP provide notes — during the same session if schedules permit, or separately, as is often the case. If any of the creatives cannot be present, stills and color review files are uploaded for review via the Internet.

According to Gregory, his workflow starts after he receives a pre-conformed 4:4:4 MXF video assembled master (VAM) and an EDL supplied by online editor Ian Lamb. Gregory then performs a process pass on the VAM using Resolve, whereby he re-renders the VAM, applying grain and two Digital Film Tools (DFT) optical filters. This gives the Red camera footage a more weathered, filmic look. This processing, however, is not applied to the full-frame television show inserts to better separate them from the visual palette created for the show by Simien, Bowser and DPs Waldron and Topher Osborn.

Scott Gregory

Once the VAM is processed, Gregory creates a timeline using the EDL, the processed VAM, and the temp audio, applies a one-light correction to all of the shots, and gets to work. As the color progresses, he drops in the visual effects, cleaned shots, composited elements, and some titles as they are delivered. Once the show is locked for color and VFX approval, he renders out a 3840×2160 UHD final 4:4:4 MXF color-timed master, which then goes back to the online editor for titling and delivery.

“Blue contaminated and lifted blacks, strong vignettes, film-grain emulation and warm, compressed filmic highlights are characteristics present in most of the show,” says Gregory. “We also created looks for Technicolor two-strip, sepia, black-and-white silent-era damaged print, and even an oversaturated, diffused, psychedelic drug trip scene.”

The looks for the flashback or “historical” sequences, usually somewhere in Act I, were created for the most part in Resolve. Many of these sequences or montages jump through different time periods. “I created a black-and-white damaged film look for the 1800s, Technicolor two-strip for the early 1900s, a faded-emulsion [Kodak] Ektachrome [film] look for the ’70s, and a more straightforward but chromatic look for the ’80s,” says Gregory.

Simien also wanted to use color “themes” for specific characters. This was reflected in not only the scenes that included the featured character for that particular show, but also in the title card at the head of the show. (The title card for each show has a unique color corresponding to the featured character of that episode.)

When coloring the series, Gregory inevitably encounters processing issues. “Using all the filters and VFX plug-ins that I do on this show and being in UHD resolution both eat up a lot of processing power. This slows down the software significantly, no matter what platform or GPUs are being used,” he says. In order to keep things up to speed, he decided to pre-render, or bake in, the grain and some of the filters that were to be used throughout each show.

“I then create a new timeline using the pre-rendered VAM and the EDL, and set a base correction,” Gregory explains. “This workflow frees up the hardware, so I can still get realtime playback, even with multiple color layers, composites and new effects plug-ins.”

Gregory is hardly new to color grading, having a long list of credits, including television series, full-length movies and short films. And while working on Seasons 1 and the recently released Season 2 of Dear White People, he appreciated the collaborative environment. “Justin is obviously very creative and has a discerning eye. I have really enjoyed the collaborative space in which he, Yvette, Jeffrey and Topher like to work,” he says. “Justin likes to experiment and go big. He wants the artists he works with to be a part of the creative process, and I think he believes that in the end, his final product will benefit from it. It makes for good times in the color bay and a show we are all very proud of.”


Karen Maierhofer is a longtime technical writer with more than two decades of experience in segments of the CG and post industries.


Indie film Hoax calls on ACES

By Debra Kaufman

Shot in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado, Hoax follows a brilliant primate specialist and ruthless TV producer as they investigate the site of a camping trip gone terribly wrong. They soon find themselves fighting to survive — and coming to grips with the fact that Big Foot may not be a legend after all. The movie, which will complete post production in mid-June, is the brainchild of Matt Allen, who wrote and directed it. His friend, freelance editor and colorist Peder Morgenthaler wore many hats, starting with multiple readings of the script. “As Matt was pulling the production together, he asked if I’d like to edit and color grade,” says Morgenthaler. “I ended up post supervising too.”

Peder Morgenthaler

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) was already on Morgenthaler’s radar. He’d followed its early development and began experimenting with it as soon as he could. As a result, he immediately thought ACES would be ideal for the Hoax, which would be shot with Red Helium and Monstro cameras. “We wanted to work with the Red RAW data instead of baking in a look,” he says. “The challenge would be how to maintain the full dynamic range present in the camera originals all the way through every step of post production — from dailies to visual effects — so that when the footage came to the color grade none of the information would have been flattened out or lost.”

He also was aware that High Dynamic Range was being discussed as a new display format. “In my research about ACES it became clear that it was a really good way to be able to make an HDR master down the road,” says Morgenthaler. “That would be a big advantage for an indie film. We don’t have access to image scientists or an advanced image processing pipeline. ACES offers us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have because of our limited resources.”

Because the production was going to take place in a remote area, with no opportunity for a DIT station, Allen and Morgenthaler made the decision that ACES would only be implemented in post. “We weren’t doing all the on-set color grading and look previewing that you would do in a full ACES pipeline,” notes Morgenthaler. Cinematographer Scott Park shot at 6K and 8K resolution, framing for a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio while shooting 1.78:1 to give enough room for reframing in post. “In addition, we shot segments on ENG and Flir infrared and night vision cameras, so we had several codecs and color spaces in the workflow,” Morgenthaler says. “We also had 120 VFX shots — mostly invisible ones — planned, so we needed a color pipeline that could handle that component as well.”

In post, Morgenthaler used Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, Adobe After Effects with the OpenColorIO plug-in for visual effects and Blackmagic Resolve for dailies, color grading and finishing. “All this software can work in an ACES environment,” he says. “Our goals were to enable a responsive and efficient editorial workflow; maintain image quality, resolution and dynamic range; simplify color management between VFX artists and the colorist; and generate deliverables for multiple display standards with minimal additional grading.”

For dailies, assistant editor Ricardo Cozzolino worked in Resolve, syncing dual-system sound to picture and performing a quick color balance using the Red RAW controls, then exporting the shots as Rec. 709 HD ProRes 422 proxies. “During the edit, I’d apply temp color correction, compositing and stabilization in the Premiere timeline for preview purposes, knowing I would likely have to rebuild those effects in Resolve during the finishing process,” Morgenthaler says. “There were no ACES operations required during editorial; we just worked with the color corrected dailies in Rec. 709 space.”

One unexpected challenge was getting the After Effects compositors up to speed working in ACES scene linear space. “It wasn’t familiar to them,” he says. “They’re used to working in Rec. 709, and since After Effects doesn’t support an ACES pipeline natively you have to use a third-party plug in like OpenColorIO, which has been developed for a number of platforms including AE to enable the ACES color transformations.” The plug-in allows the user to disable AE’s internal color management functions and replace them with the proper ACES color transforms.

Using Resolve, the editorial team exported each plate at 4K as an ACES 16-bit OpenEXR image sequence in linear space. The visual effect artists then executed their shots in After Effects, using the OpenColorIO (OCIO) plugin. In the end, the ACES process worked for VFX exactly like he hoped it would. “All the dynamic range is there,” Morgenthaler says. “I just conformed the completed VFX shots into my color timeline and it worked perfectly, seamlessly replacing the original footage. The shots look wonderful, and they grade exactly like the camera-original R3D files.”

In color grading, Morgenthaler conformed back to the original 6K and 8K Red files inside Resolve, targeting a DCI Scope 4K finish. “After the master grade is completed, we’ll create additional versions targeting various display technologies simply by switching the ACES Output Transform,” he explains. “We can easily create versions for digital cinema, HDR and streaming, which is one of the huge benefits of the ACES process.”

Having the right storage is important to the ACES workflow, since 16-bit OpenEXR at 4K is around 45MB per frame, or just over 1,000MBps at 24 fps to play back in realtime, says Morgenthaler. “Not all storage can do that.” Morgenthaler, who consults with Seagate on their storage systems for post, relied on a Seagate RealStor shared storage system with 144TB of fibre channel storage. “The file sharing is based off of Tiger Technology’s Tigerstore, which enables simultaneous access for all users on the network at full quality and resolution,” he says “That greatly increased the efficiency of our workflow. It meant instant collaboration between team members, with no syncing of separate drives required to maintain collaboration.” In total, the production generated 44 hours of footage and ended up with 19.5TB of total data, not including visual effects.

“We may be on the front edge of using ACES in indie films, but it’ll be more important for indie filmmakers going forward,” he predicts. “There are real benefits to doing so. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining dynamic range and quality, and the pre-built color management pipeline simplifies complex VFX processes. It also increases the film’s desirability to distributors by enabling generation of additional versions such as HDR.

“I don’t know that we could have achieved what we did on this film without ACES,” concludes Morgenthaler. “Large films have access to color scientists and secret sauce, and ACES gives you that in a turnkey package, which is really powerful for a small film.”


Debra Kaufman has covered media and entertainment for 30 years for publications including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, International Cinematographer, Wired and others. She currently also writes for USC’s Entertainment Technology Center’s daily newsletter, ETCentric.


Frame.io adds Image Review tool to all-new version

Frame.io, a workflow management platform for video, has rolled out the first of many new features to come in what the company is referring to as the all-new Frame.io. The new advanced Image Review tool brings all of the platform’s review and collaboration capabilities to more types of visual media, like photos, illustrations and graphic design.

The expansion of Frame.io’s toolset to support high-resolution images will enable professional video teams to collaborate on visual content and manage their video creative assets in one place.

Filmmakers will be able to collaborate on imagery from location scouts, castings, mood boards and other graphical assets; content marketers can now collaborate with their teams on video branding concepts and high-res imagery; and digital agencies can share creative campaigns with clients using safe and secure review tools on a variety of projects, from ad spots to Instagram Stories.

Image Review tool’s main features:
• Commenting and annotations
• High-resolution renders up to 8K
• Graphical assets for previewing graphical or animated elements as PNGs
• Zoom, pan, and loupe. Users can zoom by pinching, pan by dragging and magnify at 100% resolution with the new loupe tool
• Full-screen viewing
• Mini image map preview. If you are zoomed in and looking at a large image, the new mini image map will help find your current area of focus

 

 


Making the indie short The Sound of Your Voice

Hunt Beaty is a director, producer and Emmy Award-winning production sound recordist based in Brooklyn. Born and raised in Nashville, this NYU Tisch film school grad spent years studying how films got made — and now he’s made his own.

The short film The Sound of Your Voice was directed by Beaty and written and produced by Beaty, José Andrés Cardona and Wesley Wingo. This thriller focuses a voiceover artist who is haunted by a past relationship as she sinks deep into the isolation of a recording booth.

Hunt Beaty

The Sound of Your Voice was shot on location at Silver Sound, a working audio post house, in New York City.

What inspired the film?
This short was largely reverse-engineered. I work with Silver Sound, a production and post sound studio in New York City, so we knew we had a potential location. Given access to such a venue, Andrés lit the creative fuse with an initial concept and we all started writing from there.

I’ve long admired the voiceover craft, as my father made his career in radio and VO work. It’s a unique job, and it felt like a world not often portrayed in film/TV up to this point. That, combined with my experience working alongside VO artists over the years, made this feel like fertile ground to create a short film.

The film is part of a series of shorts my producers and I have been making over the past few months. We’re all good friends who met at NYU film undergrad. While narrative filmmaking was always our shared interest and catalyst for making content, the realities of staying afloat in NYC after graduation prompted a focus on freelance commercial work in our chosen crafts in order to make a living. It’s been a great ride, but our own narrative work, the original passion, was often moved to the backburner.

After discussing the idea for years — we drank too many beers one night and decided to start getting back into narrative work by making shorts within a particular set of constrained parameters: one weekend to shoot, no stunts/weapons or other typical production complicators, stay close to home geographically, keep costs low, finish the film fast and don’t stop. We’re getting too old to remain stubbornly precious.

Inspired by a class we all took at NYU called “Sight and Sound: Film,” we built our little collective on the idea of rotating the director role while maintaining full support from the other two in whatever short currently in production.

Andrés owns a camera and can shoot, Wesley writes and directs and also does a little bit of everything. I can produce and use all of my connections and expertise having been in the production and post sound world for so long.

We shot a film that Wesley directed at the end of November and released it in January. We shot my film in January and are releasing it here and now. Andrés just directed a film that we’re in post-production on right now.

What were you personally looking to achieve with the film?
My first goal was to check my natural inclination to overly complicate a short story, either by including too many characters or bouncing from one location to another.
I wanted to stay in one close-fitting place and largely focus on one character. The hope was I’d have more time to focus on performance nuance and have multiple takes for each setup. Realistically, with indie filmmaking, you never have the time you want, but being able to work closely with the actors on variations of their performances was super important. I also wanted to be able to focus on the work of directing as opposed to getting lost in the ambition of the production itself.

How was the film made?
The production was noticeably scrappy, as all of these films inevitably become. The crew was just the three of us, in addition to a rotating set of production sound recordists and an HMU artist (Allison Brooke), who all agreed to help us out.

We rented from Hand Held films, which is a block away from Silver Sound, so we knew we could just wheel over all of the lights and grip equipment without renting a vehicle. Wesley would would primarily focus on camera and lighting support for Andrés, but we were all functioning within an “all hands on deck” framework. It was never pretty, but we made it all happen.

Our cast was incredibly chill, and we had worked with Harry, the engineer, on our first short Into Quiet. We shot the whole thing over a weekend, (again, one of our parameters) so we could do our best to get back to our day-to-day.

Also, a significant amount of re-writing was done to the off-screen voices in post based on the performance of our actress, which gave us some interesting room to play around while writing to the edit, tweaking the edit itself to fit new script, and in the recording of our voice actors to the cut. Meta? Probably.

We’ve been wildly fortunate to have the support of our post-sound team at Silver Sound. Theodore Robinson and Tarcisio Longobardi, in particular, gave so much of themselves to the sound design process in order to make this come to life. Given my background as a production recordist, and simply due to the storyline of this short, sound design was vital.

In tandem with that hard work, we had Alan Gordon provide the color grading and Brent Ferguson the VFX.

What are you working on now?
Mostly fretting about our cryptocurrency investments. But once that all crashes and burns, we’re going to try and keep the movie momentum going. We’re all pretty hungry to make stuff. Doing feels better than sitting idly and talking about it.

L-R: Re-recording mixer Cory Choy, Hunt Beaty and supervising sound editor Tarcisio Longobardi.

We’re currently in post for Andrés’ movie, which should be coming out in a month or so. Wesley also has a new script and we’re entering into pre-production for that one as well so that we can hopefully start the cycle all over again. We’re also looking for new scripts and potential collaborators to roll into our rotation while our team continues to build momentum towards potentially larger projects.

On top of that, I’m hanging up the headphones more often to transition out of production sound work and shift to fully producing and directing commercial projects.

What camera and why?
The Red Weapon Helium because the DP owns one already (laughs). But in all seriousness, it is an incredible camera. We also shot on elite anamorphic glass. Only had two focal lengths on set, a 50mm and a 100mm plus a diopter set.

How involved were you in the edit?
DP Andres Cardona singlehandedly did the first pass at a rough cut. After that, myself and my co-producer Wes Wingo gave elaborate notes on each cut thereafter. Also, we ended up re-writing some of the movie itself after reconsidering the overall structure of the film due to our lead actress’ strong performance in certain shots.

For example, I really loved the long close-up of Stacey’s eyes that’s basically the focal point of the movie’s ending. So I had to reconfigure some of the story points in order to give that shot its proper place in the edit to allow it to be the key moment the short is building up to.

The grade what kind of look were you going for?
The color grade was done by Alan Gordon at Post Pro Gumbo using a DaVinci Resolve. It was simply all about fixing inconsistencies and finessing what we shot in camera.

What about the sound design and mix?
The sound design was completed by Ted Robinson and Tarcisio Longobardi. The final mix was handled by Cory Choy at Silver Sound in New York. All the audio work was done in Reaper.


The Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

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

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

The Duffer Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Optical Art DI colorist Ronney Afortu on In the Fade

Chicago-born, Germany-raised Ronney Afortu has been enjoying a storied career at Hamburg-based studio Optical Art. This veteran senior DI colorist has an impressive resume, having worked on the Oscar-nominated film Mongol, with Oscar-winning director Bille August on Night Train to Lisbon, as well as the recent Golden Globe-winning movie In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts), a crime drama starring Diane Kruger and Denis Moschitto.

TheresaJosuttis

Ronney Afortu (Photo Credit: Theresa Josuttis)

Afortu believes that HDR and a wider color gamut is the technology to watch for the in future. He says, “It has had a big impact on DPs in how they set up a shot, how they light it.”

Let’s find out more about his path to colorist, his workflow in In the Fade, and trends he is seeing.

What led you to become a colorist?
After school, I started studying media engineering. But I also worked with a production company specializing in advertising. Having been on the shoot of a Coca-Cola commercial, I was invited to join the director for the telecine. I knew right away that was what I wanted to do.

The first experience of color grading for cinema — on a Thomson Specter with Pandora Pogle controller — was at VCC in Hamburg, the former parent company of Optical Art. I asked them if there were any opportunities to train as a colorist with them, and that was it.

What sort of projects do you work on?
At the time I joined them, Optical Art was a pioneer in digital intermediate. So from the start I have worked a lot on movies, and that is still what I do the most. But I also graded television features.

The boundaries between the two have become much more fluid in recent years. Television has become much more sophisticated. You meet the same DPs and directors on movies and television. The only difference is that in television you will have less time!

You currently work on FilmLight Baselight?
Yes. When I started out as a colorist, the Specter/Pogle combination was seen as state-of-the-art for 2K grading work, but it also represented a challenge in DI for movies. It was difficult to manage color spaces when writing back to film.

Frank Hellmann, the DI supervisor at Optical Art, learned about an outfit in London called Computer Film Company. They had developed a system that allowed you to communicate with the lab in printer lights. It transformed the way we worked — we were convinced that this was the right way to go.

That system developed by Computer Film Company was spun out into a new company, FilmLight, and the grading platform became Baselight. Optical Art decided to buy a Baselight system, and we became beta testers very early on. We still keep that serial number 0001 on one of our machines, though it has been upgraded a few times to the latest hardware.

Though I started in telecine, today we rarely see film because most of the labs in Europe have gone. Film meant many days of struggling to get a perfect print. So in that way I don’t miss it. In digital, you get a new [sensor] chip every couple of months. Kodak and Fuji would produce a new stock every few years. So we have constant improvement and new opportunities.

Can you tell us more about In the Fade?
I had worked with director Fatih Akin and DP Rainer Klausmann on a couple of movies previously, so the working relationship was very close right from the start.

In the Fade is a complex and dark movie. Each of its three acts has a distinctly different feel to it, and it was important for everyone to set these looks before the first day of shooting. This was one of those rare projects when the production company talked to us early to determine how best to do it. Rainer is a true DP — he lights really well. We ran six to eight tests to get the right kit, which allowed us to agree on how to get the looks in each section of the movie. But both Rainer and Fatih are quite “analog” thinkers. They believe that if you can do it on set, you should do so.

The tests went all the way to make-up. The director wanted lead actor Diane Kruger to look “not so good” in some of the more harrowing sequences. They wanted to ensure that every detail of the performance was captured.

What was the workflow for the movie?
In the Fade was shot using Arri Alexa cameras with wide gamut and that allowed for a high-quality DCP finish. Because of the way that Fatih and Rainer work, I was able to handle the dailies as well as the final grade. I used FilmLight’s Daylight system. This has the same grading toolkit as Baselight, and allows grades to be exported as BLG metadata so nothing is lost.

Fatih and Rainer prefer to watch dailies in the editing room — the old-fashioned way. On set they liked to concentrate on shooting, having faith in everyone else in the team. Daylight suits this workflow really well in creating graded dailies for the editing department, that was also located at Optical Art, as well as giving me the same starting point in the final Baselight grade.

Did you run into any challenges on the film?
Given that a lot of the “effects” were done in-camera, and we had seen everything in the dailies, by the time of the final grade we were pretty much on top of everything.

An interesting part of the movie is the big scenes in the rain. Most of the tension was created with lighting, but Fatih and Rainer encouraged me to enhance it. They wanted the audience to really feel getting drenched by the rain.

What about HDR, 4K and other trends in technology?
When I sit in the cinema, I don’t usually see pixels. So more resolution is not important to me. HDR and wider color gamut is what is exciting — provided we can get that all the way to the big screen.

That has the most impact I have seen over the last couple of years. You cannot compare it to film, but it has a big impact on DPs, in how they set up a shot, how they light it. Say the script says the villain moves out of a bar. Normally you could cut from interior to exterior. In HDR, you could simply follow the villain. Or the camera could stay inside and still see what is happening outside. This is a big shift for writers as well as for directors and DPs.

What do you do when you are not grading?
I love to be outside, because I spend my working time in the dark. I do a lot of sport, but most of all I spend time with my daughter.


Film Stills Photo Credit: Gordon Timpen


Il Postino director Michael Radford on his latest film, The Music of Silence

By Iain Blair

British director and writer Michael Radford is probably best known for Il Postino, a huge international hit that earned five Oscar noms, two BAFTA awards (for Best Director and Best Foreign Film) and a raft of other honors.

Radford, who began as a director of documentaries, has returned to Italy with his newest film, The Music of Silence. Loosely based on Andrea Bocelli’s 1999 memoir of the same title, it tells the story of a blind boy who against all odds becomes one of the most successful entertainers and opera singers in the world. It stars Game of Thrones actor Toby Sebastian as the singer’s alter ego, Amos Bardi.

We spoke with Radford, whose credits include 1984, White Mischief, Dancing at the Blue Iguana and The Merchant of Venice, about making the film, his love of post, and his upcoming projects.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making this film?
I always look for a good story and something different. When I was offered this, I came in and rewrote it with Anna Pavignano, who worked with me on the screenplay for Il Postino. I didn’t want to just make the usual biopic, and I actually turned it down several times before they finally persuaded me to do it.

Just as well. It was a huge hit in Italy.
I know, and I’m thrilled.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to make a fully Italian film that didn’t betray the culture. I certainly didn’t want to do a hagiography of Andrea Bocelli, so I set out to make a very simple Italian movie, all in Italian. That was my goal, but the producers wanted me to shoot it in English, but using Italian actors. I kind of liked the idea, although it was a bit of a compromise. I loved working with the actors, and at least they appeared to be real Italians, not actors pretending to be Italians.

You got a fantastic cast, including Antonio Banderas and Game of Thrones star Toby Sebastian, who actually looks like a young Andrea Bocelli.
You’re right, he does, and that helps a lot — especially when the real person’s still very much alive. Luckily, everyone in Italy loved him in the role. He was really great. Such a good young actor, and he was my rock.

You shot it all in Italy. How was the shoot?
It was tough, as we had a tight budget and schedule, just over five weeks — much smaller than a similar film in the US or the UK, and everyone works far shorter hours than in England or the States. So I had a lot of battles over the budget, and we ended up having to cut quite a few scenes from the script. On top of that, we shot it mainly in the wintertime, which was hard for everyone despite how it looks on screen. But you can do so much in post now with digital effects that you’d never guess.

I hear you’re fluent in Italian. That must be a huge help when you have to yell at the crew?
Yes, although that can be counter-productive. Everyone in Italy yells at each other all the time. The crews are great there, really hard-working and professional, and I can discuss stuff in fairly colloquial terms, which helps. It’s always a great pleasure working there, as I’m well-known there and people give me great seats in restaurants (laughs).

Do you like the post process?
I do, very much. When I was starting out, I’d turn up for every single minute of it — I’d never leave the editing room or sound mix. That comes from being in film school, where you want to do it all. But now I tend to stand back far more. I’ll talk to the editor for a week or so, then leave him alone, then come back and see what he’s done. It’s a much more relaxed process — and also a much more useful one, as that way you can take a step back and have a clear vision of what you’ve done and what you want to achieve.

Where did you post?
All in Rome.

Talk about working with editor Roberto Missiroli.
He came to visit the set now and then, but he wasn’t cutting on the set. He began cutting while we were shooting and did a very rough first cut and assembly, so when I walked into the editing room we could start right away. He was fantastic to work with. A real discovery, and he had great ideas, which is what you want in an editor.

What were the main editing challenges?
We had to recuperate the scenes that we’d lost because we didn’t have time to shoot them in the end. So we almost had to try and reconstruct the film as we were going along, and then we had to keep that sense of drama and momentum.

How involved was Andrea Bocelli, given that he’s blind?
Because of his condition, it was a limited contribution. He had to try and understand what we were doing, even though he couldn’t see it — and amazingly he could. But he kept out of the picture for the most part, as did the family, until the time came to show them a rough cut. Then the family was always in the background — not in the editing room, but around — and you’d go, “Did this happen like it’s portrayed in the scene?” They’d say, “No, it wasn’t like that at all!” And you’d have to say, “Well, this is a movie, not a documentary,” and have to explain it to them. So there was a bit of a tussle, but then they understood what we were trying to do, and they were very supportive.

Obviously, sound was crucial for this. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker?
They’re incredibly important to me, especially on a film where the sound was always going to be a challenge because of all the different voices. We did all the sounds effects at New Digital Film Sound in Rome. Music is always so important to me, because of what you can convey emotionally with it in a scene, and of course there’s a lot of music already recorded that I wanted to use, and not just of Andrea.

It also helped that the editor was really fantastic with music. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right composer, and I talked to a lot of well-known musicians in Italy who didn’t quite fit the bill. We started off using a lot of temp pieces, and then I found this amazing composer, Gabriele Roberto, who lives in Japan and scores Japanese films, and he was perfect.

You must have used some VFX?
We did, especially for the big concert scene that has over 100,000 people in the audience and a huge orchestra. That was actually shot in a small blue box on a stage at Cinecitta in Rome, and I loved the way that turned out. Then when we shot all the scenes at the seaside, it was a dead calm day, so in post they created this really rough water that no one could go into, and that was quite hard to do. Then we used a lot of VFX to enhance scenes and for cleanup and so on.

How important is the DI to you?
Very important, and I’m always very involved. I love working with light, and if I can get the look naturally, I’ll do it.  I also love the way you can do so much in the DI and really fine-tune the look.

Did the film turn out the way you first envisioned it?
No, not at all. I had a much grander vision for it, but then it got smaller and smaller (laughs). I think I’d have gone for something less sentimental, but there’s a lot about it I really like.

What’s next?
I’m developing a couple of really interesting projects. One is an American movie about the treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who found a galleon full of gold from the 1600s. It’s a great story. The Italians have asked me to do a film about the famous car manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini, with Antonio Banderas playing him and Alec Baldwin as Ferrari.


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.

Creating the look for Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World

By Adrian Pennington

Content in 8K UHD won’t be transmitting or streaming its way to a screen anytime soon, but the ultra-high-resolution format is already making its mark in production and post. Remarkably, it is high-end TV drama, rather than feature films, that is leading the way. The End of The F***ing World is the latest series to pioneer a workflow that gives its filmmakers a creative edge.

Adapted from the award-winning graphic novels of Charles Forsman, the dark comedy is an eight-part co-production between Netflix and UK broadcaster Channel 4. The series invites viewers into the confused lives of teen outsiders James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), as they decide to escape from their families and embark on a road trip to find Alyssa’s estranged father.

Executive producer and director Jonathan Entwistle and cinematographer Justin Brown were looking for something special stylistically to bring the chilling yet humorous tale to life. With Netflix specifying a 4K deliverable, the first critical choice was to use 8K as the dominant format. Brown selected the Red Weapon 8K S35 with the Helium sensor.

In parallel, the filmmakers turned to colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of East London grading and finishing boutique studio Cheat, to devise a look and a workflow that would maximize the rich, detailed color, as well as the light information from the Red rushes.

“I’ve worked with Justin for about 10 years, since film school,” explains Tomkins. “Four years ago he shot the pilot for The End of The F***ing World with Jon, which is how I first became involved with the show. Because we’d worked together for so long, I kind of already knew what type of thing they were looking for. Justin shot tests on the Red Weapon, and our first job was to create a 3D LUT for the on-set team to refer to throughout shooting.”

Expert at grading commercials, and with feature-length narrative Sixteen (also shot by Justin Brown) under his belt, this was Tomkins’ first responsibility for an episodic TV drama, and he relished the challenge. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to work completely RAW at 7K/8K the whole way through and final output at 4K,” he explains. “We conformed to the R3D rushes, which were stored on our SSD NAS. This delivered 10Gbps bandwidth to the suite.”

With just 10 days to grade all the episodes, Tomkins needed to develop a rich “Americana” look that would not only complement the dark narrative but would also work across a range of locations and timescales.

“We wanted the show to have richness and a denseness to it, with skin tones almost a leathery red, adding some warmth to the characters,” he says. “Despite being shot at British locations — with British weather — we wanted to emulate something filmic and American in style. To do this we wanted quite a dense film print look, using skin tones you would find on celluloid film and a shadow and highlight roll-off that you would find in films, as opposed to British TV.”

Cheat used its proprietary film emulation to create the look. With virtually the whole series shot in 8K, the Cheat team invested in a Quad GPU Linux Resolve workstation, with dual Xeon processors, to handle the additional processing requirements once in the DaVinci Resolve finishing suite.

“The creative benefits of working in 8K from the Red RAW images are huge,” says Tomkins. “The workstation gave us the ability to use post-shoot exposure and color temperature settings to photorealistically adjust and match shots and, consequently, more freedom to focus on the finer details of the grade.

“At 8K the noise was so fine in size that we could push the image further. It also let us get cleaner keys due to the over-sample, better tracking, and access to high-frequency detail that we could choose to change or adapt as necessary for texture.”

Cheat had to conform more than 50 days of rushes and 100TBs of 7K and 8K RAW material spread across 40 drives, a process that was completed by Cheat junior colorist Caroline Morin in Resolve.

“After the first episode, the series becomes a road movie, so almost each new scene is a new location and lighting setup,” Tomkins explains. “I tried to approach each episode as though it was its own short film and to establish a range of material and emotion for each scene and character, while also trying to maintain a consistent look that flowed throughout the series.”

Tomkins primarily adjusted the RAW settings of the material in Resolve and used lift, gamma and gain to adjust the look depending on the lighting ratios and mood of the scenes. “It’s very easy to talk about workflow, tools and approach, but the real magic comes from creative discussions and experimentation with the director and cinematographer. This process was especially wonderful on this show because we had all worked together several times before and had developed a short hand for our creative discussion.

“The boundaries are changing,” he adds. “The creative looks that you get to work and play with are so much stronger on television now than they ever used to be.”