Category Archives: Collaboration

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty busy.


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.

Patrick J. Don Vito on editing Green Book

By Randi Altman

Universal Pictures’ Green Book tells the tale of an African-American piano virtuoso and his white driver. Based on a true story, this unlikely pair must navigate the Deep South in 1962 for a concert tour during a time most places to eat and sleep were segregated.

This unlikely pairing of the well-educated and sophisticated Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and the blue-collar Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) ends up teaching both men a lesson in understanding and acceptance, and turns into a life-long friendship.

L-R: Viggo Mortensen, Patrick Don Vito and Peter Farrelly

The film was nominated for five Golden Globes and won three: Best Screenplay, Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture. The work of the film’s editor, Patrick J. Don Vito, has also been noticed, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing, in addition to an ACE Eddie nomination in the Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy) category.

We recently spoke to Don Vito, who had previously collaborated with the film’s director, Peter Farrelly, known for unapologetic comedy films such as There’s Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber and Hall Pass. Don Vito, whose resume includes other comedies such as Walk of Shame and My Life in Ruins, really enjoyed walking the line between comedy and drama in this film, which he says made for a fun but challenging edit.

Let’s find out more…

How early did you get involved in Green Book?
I got the script back in August of 2017, expressed a lot of interest to Pete and got hired! The movie started shooting right after Thanksgiving, and I began a few days before that. We set up shop in New Orleans, near where they were shooting.

So you were keeping up with camera?
Yes, I would get dailies every day and try to keep up with the footage. I’d cut during the week when Pete was shooting and he would come in on the weekend to look at cuts. We would discuss ideas, and I’d show him alternate cuts. We did that throughout the shoot, and when we were done shooting, we went to Ojai, where Pete lives, and cut there for six weeks. We then came back to Los Angeles to finish — we set up rooms at EPS-Cineworks.

So you were not on set but you were near set.
Yes. I popped in like the first day of shooting and said hello. I don’t think I ever went to the set again.

Do you prefer it that way?
I’m an editor. I like to tell the story. The set is a lot of sitting around, waiting and planning; you shoot for a couple minutes, then you stop and wait. I like to keep working, and in the cutting room it never stops. You’re always trying new things, looking at different takes and seeing what you can create out of something. It’s that process of always being engaged that I like. Every minute I spend on the set, I feel like I am falling behind. It’s different if you’re directing the film. I’ve directed some shorts, and that is fun because you are always busy and engaged.

Were there times when you realized a scene was close, but still needed something additional?
Yes, every once in a while something would come up and I’d say, “It would be great if we had an insert of this so I can bridge these shots together.” Or I’d say, “If there is time, can you get a shot of this?”

They had a second unit go out and get a bunch of insert shots to fill in gaps — driving shots and various things that we needed. That happened out of our discussions and asking, “What if we did that?”

How do you approach editing? Do you watch everything up front and then build selects?
Usually, but It depends on the scene and how I feel that day. I’ll watch everything and get a feel for what the scene is about and what I have available, and I’ll try to keep that in my head. Once the scenes are placed in the bin, it’s easier for me to visually remember where things are.

I’ll break down selects. Then if a scene is for some reason particularly difficult or causing me problems, I may jump around. I may start at the end of a scene and work backwards, or start in the middle and work out from there. It depends. I like switching it up and making my brain work a little differently each time. I try different tricks to kind of keep it fresh for me in my head.

What would an example of a trick be? Are there any scenes within the film that you can point to?
When Tony Lip’s wife, Delores, is reading the letter to her family and the guys are playing poker in the background — that scene was a little long. We had the entire letter being read on camera in the original cut. Then we went back to the table in the kitchen where the guys are playing poker and talking about Tony’s letters. “They’re not bad. You know? Oh, we had an artsy family.”

Originally, the joke was when the female family member says, “I want a letter,” and her husband answers, “Yeah, as soon as you make a meal.” That used to be in the middle of the scene. What I did was have Tony’s wife start the letter then cut over to the table and she’s now off-camera. You’re hearing her continue to read the letter while we are watching the guys play poker. Then we go back for the end of Delores reading the letter and the joke. It became a much better scene, and thanks to the joke it punched you right out into the next scene.

Essentially, it was just a little reorder, which we do once in a while. One thing I try to do with comedy is look at it as a mathematical equation. Say you have three jokes in a scene. You have A, B and C jokes. A is the funniest, B is not as funny and C is the least funny. You may have an idea of what the funniest joke is, but you don’t necessarily know which one it is until you play it for people. Once you have some screenings you know. You don’t want to end a scene on a B or C joke. You want to end on an A joke. So you can try to either remove a joke or try to reorder the scene so that it ends on the A joke. You want to build it from funny, funnier to funniest.

L-R: Patrick Don Vito and Mahershala Ali

This is such a serious topic, but the film’s got funny moments as well. How did you walk that line?
That was probably the most difficult thing about it. You don’t want the jokes to seem like a joke. You want them to come out of a scene naturally — out of the drama, characters or the emotion of the scene. There were a lot of options as far as jokes. At first I cut everything in to see what was working and what seemed too jokey. You start eliminating things that take it to a different type of comedy and you try to keep it more real. That was always the mantra from Pete: “Let’s keep it real. All the comedy needs to come out of the scenes and not seem like it’s too much of a joke.”

Had you worked with Pete before?
Yes, a couple of times. I worked on Movie 43 with him, which was a very different kind of comedy. I also worked on a pilot for him a few years ago called Cuckoo, which was a remake of a British series. It didn’t get picked up.

Do you find that you tend to get pigeonholed as an editor? You are either a comedy editor or an action editor, etc.?
I think that happens to everyone. Absolutely, and it can be tough. Even with this movie, the studio asked for a reference list of people. I think that was because they looked at my resume and saw a lot of comedies.

The movie I did right before this, but isn’t out yet, is a drama called Three Christs. It has some comedic elements but it’s pretty much a drama. I think that gave me a better chance at Green Book. It’s directed by Jon Avnet and stars Peter Dinklage, Richard Gere, Walton Goggins, Bradley Whitford and Julianna Margulies. It’s a true story, also from the ’60s, about a psychiatrist who has three patients who all think they’re Jesus Christ. He decides to put them in a room together while they are in a psych ward to see what happens. Will they give up their delusions? Will they fight over it? I’ve known Jon Avnet since I was an assistant editor on Up Close and Personal in 1996.

Ok, let’s turn to tools. You use Avid Media Composer. Do you have any tips or tricks that you would like to share?
It’s not a trick, but when I start a movie I have one of the assistants set up Script Sync, which is really helpful for when you’re in the room with the director and the producers and want to quickly get to different line readings.

Basically, you put the clips on the script itself and you can click on a line and hear every single line reading of that line. I know editors sometimes take every single line reading of dialogue and cut them next to each other in a sequence. I prefer to use Scrypt Sync and make select rolls.

Speaking of assistants, how did you work with yours on Green Book?
Petra Demas was my first assistant, and she was great. She would help organize my room, and when I needed help I could throw her a scene. So she would help me cut scenes now and again when she wasn’t busy.

I had another great assistant named Bart Breve’. He did all the Script Sync work and helped out with dailies with Petra. They would keep me up-to-date with footage to make sure I always had something to work on. Bart was a local in New Orleans, so when I came back to LA, we hired Aleigh Lewis who handled all the visual effects — there are over 400 in the movie.

You assume because it’s a period piece there will be some visual effects, but that’s a lot of shots.
Absolutely. Aleigh helped keep all the visual effects organized. I relied on her to organize the visual effects and show me the new ones as they came in, so I could give notes. Pixel Magic did the visual effects, including the piano playing.

I was wondering about that!
Mahershala Ali is a good actor, but that’s virtuoso piano playing! He did take lessons for a few months from the composer Kris Bowers, who played the piano in the movie. Mahershala learned where to put his hands and how to sit like a classical pianist. Kris would play the music and they’d shoot that, then Mahershala would sit and he would play. Then we’d combine the two into a take. It was mostly head replacement kind of stuff.

What were some of the other VFX shots?
A ton of them were getting rid of modern things in the shots… modern cars, signs, cameras on buildings … that kind of thing. On top of that, the car they were in had a tear in the roof inside the car and it’s supposed to be a brand new 1962 Cadillac. About 85% of the car scenes are visual effects shots. There is an amazing bridge shot where the Cadillacs are leaving NY on the George Washington Bridge. In that shot the blacktop and all the cars are CGI. Pixel Magic took a modern stock shot and created that. It’s pretty impressive.

Fotokem, who processed dailies for us and provided the color correction, even did a few visual effects. When we saw the film in such high resolution during the color correction, we noticed modern elements in some shots that we missed and needed to remove. They took care of that.

Were most of the driving shot greenscreen?
No. It was almost all practical. We drove in and around New Orleans. The only ones that were green screened were when they’re driving in the snow, and still some of them are practical because we actually did get some snow just outside of New Orleans. It started snowing, so they got the camera crew together and went out and shot. Who knew it was going to snow in New Orleans?!

DigitalGlue 2.5

VFX editor Warren Mazutinec on life, work and Altered Carbon

By Jeremy Presner

Long-time assistant editor Warren Mazutinec’s love for filming began when he saw Star Wars as an eight-year-old in a small town in Edmonton, Alberta. Unlike many other Lucas-heads, however, this one got to live out his dream grinding away in cutting rooms from Vancouver to LA working with some of the biggest editors in the galaxy.

We met back in 1998 when he assisted me on the editing of the Martin Sheen “classic” Voyage of Terror. We remain friends to this day. One of Warren’s more recent projects was Netflix’s VFX-heavy Altered Carbon, which got a lot of love from critics and audiences alike.

My old friend, who is now based in Vancouver, has an interesting story to tell, moving from assistant editor to VFX editor working on films like Underworld 4, Tomorrowland, Elysium and Chappie, so I threw some questions at him. Enjoy!

Warren Mazutinec

How did you get into the business?
I always wanted to work in the entertainment industry, but that was hard to find in Alberta. No film school-type programs were even offered, so I took the closest thing at a local college: audiovisual communications. While there, I studied photography, audio and video, but nothing like actual filmmaking. After that I attended Vancouver Film School. After film school, and with the help of some good friends, I got an opportunity to be a trainee at Shavick Entertainment.

What was it like working at a “film factory” that cranked out five to six pictures a year?
It was fun, but the product ultimately became intolerable. Movies for nine-year-olds can only be so interesting… especially low-budget ones.

What do your parents think of your career option?
Being from Alberta, everyone thought it wasn’t a real job — just a Hollywood dream. It took some convincing; my dad still tells me to look for work between gigs.

How did you learn Avid? Were you self-taught?
I was handed the manual by a post supervisor on day one. I never read it. I just asked questions and played around on any machine available. So I did have a lot of help, but I also went into work during my free time and on weekends to sit and learn what I needed to do.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have cool people to work with and to learn with and from. I did six movies before I had an email address, more before I even owned a computer.

As media strayed away from film into digital, how did your role change in the cutting room? How did you refine your techniques with a changing workflow?
My first non-film movie was Underworld 4. It was shot with a Red One camera. I pretty much lied and said I knew how to deal with it. There was no difference really; just had to say goodbye to lab rolls, Keykode, etc. It was also a 3D stereo project, so that was a pickle, but not too hard to figure out.

How did you figure out the 3D stereo post?
It was basically learning to do everything twice. During production we really only played back in 3D for the novelty. I think most shows are 3D-ified in post. I’m not sure though, I’ve only done the one.

Do you think VR/AR will be something you work with in the future?
Yes, I want to be involved in VR at some point. It’s going to be big. Even just doing sound design would be cool. I think it’s the next step, and I want in.

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
David Lynch is my number one, by far. I love his work in all forms. A real treasure tor sure. David Fincher is great too. Scorsese, Christopher Nolan. There are so many great filmmakers working right now.

Is post in your world constantly changing, or have things more or less leveled off?
Both. But usually someone has dailies figured out, so Avid is pretty much the same. We cut in DNx115 or DnX36, so nothing like 4K-type stuff. Conform at the end is always fun, but there are tests we do at the start to figure it all out. We are rarely treading in new water.

What was it like transitioning to VFX editor? What tools did you need to learn to do that role?
FileMaker. And Jesus, son, I didn’t learn it. It’s a tough beast but it can do a lot. I managed to wrangle it to do what I was asked for, but it’s a hugely powerful piece of software. I picked up a few things on Tomorrowland and went from there.

I like the pace of the VFX editor. It’s different than assisting and is a nice change. I’d like to do more of it. I’d like to learn and use After Effects more. On the film I was VFX editor for, I was able to just use the Avid, as it wasn’t that complex. Mostly set extensions, etc.

How many VFX shot revisions would a typical shot go through on Elysium?
On Elysium, the shot version numbers got quite high, but part of that would be internal versioning by the vendor. Director Neil Blomkamp is a VFX guy himself, so he was pretty involved and knew what he wanted. The robots kept looking cooler and cooler as the show went on. Same for Chappie. That robot was almost perfect, but it took a while to get there.

You’ve worked with a vast array of editors, from, including Walter Murch, Lee Smith, Julian Clarke, Nancy Richardson and Bill Steinkamp. Can you talk about that, and have any of them let you cut material?
I’ll assemble scenes if asked to, just to help the editor out so he isn’t starting from scratch. If I get bored, I start cutting scenes as well. On Altered Carbon, when Julian (Clark) was busy with Episodes 2 and 3, I’d try to at least string together a scene or two for Episode 8. Not fine-cutting, mind you, just laying out the framework.

Walter asked a lot of us — the workload was massive. Lee Smith didn’t ask for much. Everyone asks for scene cards that they never use, ha!

Walter hadn’t worked on the Avid for five years or so prior to Tomorrowland, so there was a lot of him walking out of his room asking, “How do I?” It was funny because a lot of the time I knew what he was asking, but I had to actually do it on my machine because it’s so second nature.

What is Walter Murch like in the cutting room? Was learning his organizational process something you carried over into future cutting rooms?
I was a bit intimidated prior to meeting him. He’s awesome though. We got along great and worked well together. There was Walter, a VFX editor and four assistants. We all shared in the process. Of course, Walter’s workflow is unlike any other so it was a huge adjustment, but within a few weeks we were a well-oiled machine.

I’d come in at 6:30am to get dailies sorted and would usually finish around lunch. Then we’d screen in our theater and make notes, all of us. I really enjoyed screening the dailies that way. Then he would go into his room and do his thing. I really wish all films followed his workflow. As tough as it is, it all makes sense and nothing gets lost.

I have seen photos with the colored boxes and triangles on the wall. What does all that mean, and how often was that board updated?
Ha. That’s Walter’s own version of scene cards. It makes way better sense. The colors and shapes mean a particular thing — the longer the card the longer the scene. He did all that himself, said it helps him see the picture. I would peek into his room and watch him do this. He seemed so happy doing it, like a little kid.

Do you always add descriptions and metadata to your shots in Avid Media Composer?
We add everything possible. Usually there is a codebook the studios want, so we generate that with FileMaker on almost all the bigger shows. Walter’s is the same just way bigger and better. It made the VFX database look like a toy.

What is your workflow for managing/organizing footage?
A lot of times you have to follow someone else’s procedure, but if left to my own devices I try to make it the simplest it can be so anyone can figure out what was done.

How do you organize your timeline?
It’s specific to the editor, but I like to use as many audio tracks as possible and as few video tracks as possible, but when it’s a VFX-heavy show, that isn’t possible due to stacking various shot versions.

What did you learn from Lee Smith and Julian Clarke?
Lee Smith is a suuuuuper nice guy. He always had great stories from past films and he’s a very good editor. I’m glad he got the Oscar for Dunkirk, he’s done a lot of great work.

Julian is also great to work with. I’ve worked with him on Elysium, Chappie and Altered Carbon. He likes to cut with a lot of sound, so it’s fun to work with him. I love cutting sound, and on Altered Carbon we had over 60 tracks. It was a alternating stereo setup and we used all the tracks possible.

Altered Carbon

It was such a fun world to create sound for. Everything that could make a sound we put in. We also invented signature sounds for the tech we hoped they’d use in the final. And they did for some things.

Was that a 5.1 temp mix?? Have you ever done one?
No. I want to do a 5.1 Avid mix. Looks fun.

What was the schedule like on Altered Carbon? How was that different than some of the features you’ve worked on?
It was six-day weeks and 12 hours a day. Usually one week per month I’d trade off with the 2nd assistant and she’d let me have an actual weekend. It was a bit of a grind. I worked on Episodes 2, 3 and 8, and the schedules for those were tight, but somehow we got through it all. We had a great team up here for Vancouver’s editorial. They were also cutting in LA as well. It was pretty much non-stop editing the whole way through.

How involved was Netflix in terms of the notes process? Were you working with the same editors on the episodes you assisted?
Yes, all episodes were with Julian. First it went through Skydance notes, then Netflix. Skydance usually had more as they were the first to see the cuts. There were many versions for sure.

What was it like working with Neil Blomkamp?
It was awesome. He makes cool films, and it’s great to see footage like that. I love shooting guns, explosions, swords and swearing. I beat him in ping-pong once. I danced around in victory and he demanded we play again. I retired. One of the best environments I’ve ever worked in. Elysium was my favorite gig.

What’s the largest your crew has gotten in post?
Usually one or two editors, up to four assistants, a PA, a post super — so eight or nine, depending.

Do you prefer working with a large team or do you like smaller films?
I like the larger team. It can all be pretty overwhelming and having others there to help out, the easier it can be to get through. The more the merrier!

Altered Carbon

How do you handle long-ass-days?
Long days aren’t bad when you have something to do. On Altered Carbon I kept a skateboard in my car for those times. I just skated around the studio waiting for a text. Recently I purchased a One-Wheel (skateboard with 1 wheel) and plan to use it to commute to work as much as possible.

How do you navigate the politics of a cutting room?
Politics can be tricky. I usually try to keep out of things unless I’m asked, but I do like to have a sit down or a discussion of what’s going on privately with the editor or post super. I like to be aware of what’s coming, so the rest of us are ready.

Do you prefer features to TV?
It doesn’t matter anymore because the good filmmakers work in both mediums. It used to be that features were one thing and TV was another, with less complex stories. Now that’s different and at times it’s the opposite. Features usually pay more though, but again that’s changing. I still think features are where it’s at, but that’s just vanity talking.

Sometimes your project posts in Vancouver but moves to LA for finishing. Why? Does it ever come back?
Mostly I think it’s because that’s where the director/producers/studio lives. After it’s shot everyone just goes back home. Home is usually LA or NY. I wish they’d stay here.

How long do you think you’ll continue being an AE? Until you retire? What age do you think that’ll be?
No idea; I just want to keep working on projects that excite me.

Would you ever want to be an editor or do you think you’d like to pivot to VFX, or are you happy where you are?
I only hope to keep learning and doing more. I like the VFX editing, I like assisting and I like being creative. As far as cutting goes, I’d like to get on a cool series as a junior editor or at least start doing a few scenes to get better. I just want to keep advancing, I’d love to do some VR stuff.

What’s next for you project wise?
I’m on a Disney Show called Timmy Failure. I can’t say anything more at this point.

What advice do you have for other assistant editors trying to come up?
It’s going to take a lot longer than you think to become good at the job. Being the only assistant does not make you a qualified first assistant. It took me 10 years to get there. Also you never stop learning, so always be open to another approach. Everyone does things differently. With Murch on Tomorrowland, it was a whole new way of doing things that I had never seen before, so it was interesting to learn, although it was very intimidating at the start.


Jeremy Presner is an Emmy-nominated film and television editor residing in New York City. Twenty years ago, Warren was AE on his first film. Since then he has cut such diverse projects as Carrie, Stargate Atlantis, Love & Hip Hop and Breaking Amish.


Rodeo VFX supe Arnaud Brisebois on the Fantastic Beasts sequel

By Randi Altman

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, is a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) as they attempt to take down the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).

Arnaud_Brisebois

As you can imagine, the film features a load of visual effects, and once again the team at Rodeo FX was called on to help. Their work included establishing the period in which the film is set and helping with the history of the Obscurus, Credence Barebone, and more.

Rodeo FX visual effects supervisor Arnaud Brisebois and team worked with the film’s VFX supervisors — Tim Burke and Christian Manz — to create digital environments, including detailed recreations of Paris in the 1920s and iconic wizarding locations like the Ministry of Magic.

Beyond these settings, the Montreal-based Brisebois was also in charge of creating the set pieces of the Obscurus’ destructive powers and a scene depicting its backstory. In all, they produced approximately 200 shots over a dozen sequences. While Brisebois visited the film’s set in Leavesden to get a better feel of the practical environments, he was not involved in principal photography.

Let’s find out more…

How early did you get involved, and how much input did you have?
Rodeo got involved in May 2017, at the time mainly working on pre-production creatures, design and concept art. I had a few calls with the film’s VFX supervisors, Tim Burke and Christian Manz, to discuss creatures and main directive lines for us to play with. From there we tried various ideas.
At that moment in pre-production, the essence of what the creatures were was clear, but their visual representation could really swing between extremes. That was the time to invent, study and propose directions for design.

Can you talk about creating the Ministry of Magic, which was partially practical, yes?
Correct, the London Ministry of Magic was indeed partially practically built. The partial set in this case meant a simple incurved corridor with a ceramic tiled wall. We still had to build the whole environment in CG in order to directly extend that practical set, but, most importantly, we extended the environment itself, with its immense circular atrium filled with thousands of busy offices.

For this build, we were provided with original Harry Potter set plans from production designer Stuart Craig, as well as plan revisions meant specifically for Crimes of Grindelwald. We also had access to LIDAR scans and cross-polarized photography from areas of the Harry Potter tour in Leavesden, which was extremely useful.

Every single architectural element was precisely built as individual units, and each unit composed of individual pieces. The single office variants were procedurally laid out on a flat grid over the set plan elevations and then wrapped as a cylinder using an expression.

The use of a procedural approach for this asset allowed for faster turnarounds and for changes to be made, even in the 11th hour. A crowd library was built to populate the offices and various areas of the Ministry, helping give it life and support the sense of scale.

So you were able to use assets from previous films?
What really links these movies together is production designer Stuart Craig. This is definitely his world, at least in visual terms. Also, as with all the Potter films, there are a large number of references and guidelines available for inspiration. This world has its own mythology, history and visual language. One does not need to look for long before finding a hint, something to link or ground a new effect in the wizarding world.

What about the scenes involving the Obscurus? Was any of the destruction it caused practical?
Apart from a few fans blowing a bit of wind on the actors, all destruction was full-frontal CG. A complex model of Irma’s house was built with precise architectural details required for its destruction. We also built a wide library of high-resolution hero debris, which was scattered on points and simulated for the very close-up shots. In the end, only the actors were preserved from live photography.

What was the most challenging sequence you worked on?
It was definitely Irma’s death. This sequence involved such a wide variety of effects — ranging from cloth and RBD levitation, tearing cloth, huge RBD simulations and, of course, the Obscurus itself, which is a very abstract and complex cloth setup driving flip simulations. The challenge also came from shot values, which meant everything we built or simulated had to hold up for tight close-ups, as well as wide shots.

Can you talk about the tools you used for VFX, management and review and approval?
All our tracking and review is done in Autodesk Shotgun. Artists worked up versions that they would then submit for dailies. All these submissions got in front of me at one point or another, and I then reviewed them and entered notes and directives to guide artists in the right direction.
For a project the size of Crimes of Grindelwald, over the course of 10 months, I reviewed and commented on approximately 6,000 versions for about 500 assets and 200 shots.

We are working on a Maya-based pipeline mainly, using it for modeling, rigging and shading. Zbrush is of course our main tool for organic modeling. We mostly use Mari and Substance Designer for textures. FX and CFX is handled in Houdini and our lighting pipeline is Katana based using Arnold as renderer. Our compositing pipeline is Nuke with a little use of Flame/Flare for very specific cases. We obviously have proprietary tools which help us boost these great softwares potential and offer custom solutions.

How did the workflow differ on this film from previous films?
It didn’t really differ. Working with the same team and the same crew, it really just felt like a continuation of our collaboration. These films are great to work on, not only because of their subject matter, but also thanks to the terrific people involved.


Editor Wyatt Smith talks Mary Poppins Returns, Marvel Universe

By Amy Leland

Wyatt Smith’s career as an editor is the kind that makes for a great story. His unintended path began with an unusual opportunity to work with Mariah Carey and a chance meeting with director Rob Marshall. He has since collaborated on big musicals and action films with Marshall, which opened the door to superhero movies. His latest project — in which he was reunited with Marshall — saw him editing a big musical with a title character who is, in her own Disney way, also a superhero.

Smith’s resume is impressive: Doctor Strange, Into the Woods, 300: Rise of an Empire, Thor: The Dark World, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. When I had a chance to talk with him about Mary Poppins Returns, I first had to ask him how his fascinating journey began.

Wyatt Smith at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere.

Can you talk about what led you to editing?
Some things just happen unexpectedly. Opportunities arise and you just have to hear the knock and not be afraid to open the door. When they were building the now-closed Sony Music Studios in New York City, I knew a lot about computers. Avid was first coming in, and there were all these video engineers who weren’t as savvy with Macs and things like that because they were used to linear, old-school tape editing. I worked in the maintenance department at the studio, servicing online editing suites, as well as setting up their first Avid Media Composer and giving people some tutorials on how to use that.

Then a very odd circumstance came up — they were working on a Mariah Carey concert video and needed an additional editor to work at her house at night (she was working during the day with another editor). My father is in the music business and had ties to Mariah — we had met before — so they thought it would be a comfortable situation. It came out of nowhere, and while I certainly knew, technically, how to edit, creatively I had no idea.

That was my first opportunity to edit, and I never went back to anything else. That was the day. That was it. I started to edit music videos and concerts and little music documentaries. Years and years later that led me to work with Rob Marshall on a music project.

The Tony Bennett American Classic special?
Exactly. I had known the Bennett family and worked with them since Tony Bennett’s “Unplugged.” When Rob was brought on to direct an NBC special celebrating Tony’s career, he wanted to bring his whole film team with him, but the TV network and the Bennett family wanted somebody who knew the music world, and that style of deadline, which is quite different from film.

I was brought in to interview with Rob, and we had a wonderful experience making that show. When it was done, he said, “Next time I make a film, I want you to come along.” To be completely honest, I didn’t believe him. I thought it was very kind of him, and he is a very nice man, but I was like, yeah, sure. In 2008, I think it was the Friday before they started shooting Nine, he called and said, “You gotta get to London.” I immediately quit my job and got on a plane.

I’m guessing the music world was a heavy influence on you, but were you drawn toward movies as well?
I have always been a movie junkie. At an early age, I saw a lot of the big epics, including David Lean’s films — Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India — which just transported me to another place and another culture. I loved that.

That was back in the early VHS days, and I had just about every Bond film that had been released. I watched them obsessively. In high school, my closest friend worked in a video rental store, so we constantly had movies. It was always a huge thing for me, but never in my life did I dream of pursuing it. The language of film was never anything I studied or thought about until I was kind of thrust into it.

What was it like coming into this film with Rob Marshall, after so many years of working with him? Do your collaborations now feel different from when you first started working together?
The most important part is trust. When I first met Rob, aside from just not having any confidence, I didn’t remotely know what I was doing. We all know that when you have your actors and your sets if something’s not quite right that’s the time to bring it up. But 12 years ago, the thought of me going to Rob and saying, “I don’t know if that really works, maybe you should grab a shot like…” I’d never, ever. But over the years we’ve developed that trust. I’m still very cautious with things like that, but I now know I can talk to him. And if he has a question, he’ll call me to set and say, “Quickly put this together,” or, “Stay here and watch this with me,” and he’ll explain to me exactly what he’s going for.

Then, once we reach post, unquestionably that relationship changes. We used to cut everything from scratch and start re-watching all the material and rebuilding the film again. Now we can work through existing cuts because I kind of know his intentions. It’s easier for me to see in the scene work what he’s going for, and that only comes from collaborating. Now I’m able to get the movie that’s in his head on screen a lot faster.

Mary Poppins Returns

You were working with complex animations and effects, and also combining those with elaborate choreography and live action. Was there more preplanning for this than you might normally have done?
I wasn’t really involved in the preplanning. I came in about a month before shooting to mostly to catch up with the schedules of the second unit, because I’m always going to work closely with them. I also went through all the storyboards and worked with visual effects and caught up on their look development. We did have a previz team, but we only really needed to previz two of the sequences in the film — the underwater bath time and the balloon sequence.

While previz gives you methodology, shot count, rough lenses and things, it’s missing the real emotion of the story because it is a video game and often cut like a music video. This is no disrespect to previz editors — they’re very good — but I always want to come in and do a pass before we start shooting because I find the timings are very different.

Doctor Strange

Take a film like Marvel’s Doctor Strange. So much of it had been prevized to figure out how to do it. When I came into the Doctor Strange previz cuts early on, they were exciting, psychedelic, wild and really imaginative, but I was losing actors. I found that something that was running at four minutes wasn’t representing any of the dialogue or the emotional content of the actors. So I asked them to give me stills of close-ups to cut them in. After putting in the dialogue, that four-minute sequence becomes seven minutes and you realize it’s too long. Before we go shoot it, how do we make it something that’s more manageable for the ultimate film?

Were you on set during most of the filming?
There were days where Rob would pull me onto set, and then days or weeks where I wouldn’t even see him. I did the traditional assembly process. Even the film I’m cutting right now, which has a very short schedule, four days after they were done shooting I had a cut of the film. It’s the only way for me to know that it’s working. It’s not a great cut, but I know that the movie’s all there. And, most importantly, I need to know, barring the last day of shooting, that I’ve seen every single frame of every take before they wrap. I need the confidence of knowing where it’s all going. I don’t want to discover any of that with a director in post.

On a project this complex, I imagine you must work with multiple assistants?
When I worked on the second Thor movie, The Dark World, I had a friend who was my first assistant, Meagan Costello. She has worked on many Marvel films. When Doctor Strange came up — I think it was almost a year before shooting that I got the call from the director saying I was in —within five seconds, I called Meagan because of her experience, her personality and her incredible skill set. Toward the end of Doctor Strange, when the schedule for Poppins was starting to lock in, she said, “I’ve always wanted to live in New York, and I’ve always wanted to work in a music hall.” I said, “We can make that happen.”

Thor: The Dark World

She is great at running the cutting room, taking care of all of my little, and many, prima donna bugaboos — how things are set up and working, technically, cutting in surround, having the right types of monitors, etc. What’s also important is having someone spiritually and emotionally connected into the film… someone I can talk to and trust.

We had two second assistant editors on Mary Poppins once we were in post — two in the US and two in London. It’s always interesting when you have two different teams. I try to keep as much consistency as I can, so we had Meagan all the way through London and New York. For second assistants in London, we had Gemma Bourne, Ben Renton and Tom Lane. Here in the states we had Alexander Johnson and Christa Haley. Christa is my first assistant on the film I’m currently doing for Focus Features, called Harriet.

On huge films like these, so much of the assistant editor’s time is dealing with the vast deliveries for the studio, the needs of a huge sound and music team as well as a lot of visual effects. In the end, we had about 1,300 hundred visual effect shots. That means a lot of turnovers, screenings and quality control so that nothing is ever coming in or going out without being meticulously watched and listened to.

The first assistant runs the cutting room and the stuff I shouldn’t be thinking about. It’s not stuff I would do well either. I want to be solely focusing on the edit, and when I’m lost in the movie, that’s the greatest thing. Having a strong editorial team allows me to be in a place where I’m not thinking about anything but the cut.

Mary Poppins Returns

That’s always good to hear. Most editors I talk to also care about making sure their assistants are getting opportunities.
When I started out, I had assistants in the room with me. It was very much film-style — the assistant was in the room helping me out with the director and the producers every day. If I had to run out of the room, the assistant could step in.

Unfortunately, the way the world has evolved, with digital post, the assistant editor and editor positions have diverged massively. The skill sets are very different. I don’t think I could do a first assistant editor’s job, but I know they could do my job. Also, the extra level of material keeps them very busy, so they’re not with me in the room. That makes for a much harder path, and that bothers me. I don’t quite know how to fix that yet, but I want to.

This industry started with apprentices, and it was very guild-like. Assistants were very hands on with the editor, so it was very natural to become an editor. Right now, that jump is a little tricky, and I wish I knew how to fix it.

Even if the assistants cut something together for you, it doesn’t necessarily evolve into them getting to work with a director or producer. With Poppins, there’s certainly a scene or two in the film that I asked Meagan to put together for that purpose. Rob works very closely in the cutting room each day, along with John DeLuca, our producer and choreographer. I was wondering if there would be that moment when maybe they’d split off, like, “Oh, go with Meagan and work on this, while I work on this with Rob.” But those opportunities never really arose. It’s hard to figure out how to get that door open.

Do you have any advice for editors who are just starting out?
I love the material I’m working on, and that’s the most important part. Even if something’s not for you, your job is not to make it what you want it to be. The job is to figure out who the audience is and how you make it great for them. There’s an audience for everything, you just have to tap into who that audience is.


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.


Catching up with Aquaman director James Wan

By Iain Blair

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

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

James Wan and Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Wan

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

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

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


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


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

By Brady Betzel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

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

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

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

We reached out to him about his work…

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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


Foundry Nuke 11.3’s performance, collaboration updates

Foundry has launched Nuke 11.3, introducing new features and updates to the company’s family of compositing and review tools. The release is the fourth update to the Nuke 11 Series and is designed to improve the user experience and to speed up heavy processing tasks for pipelines and individual users.

Nuke 11.3 lands with major enhancements to its Live Groups feature. It introduces new functionality along with corresponding Python callbacks and UI notifications that will allow for greater collaboration and offer more control. These updates make Live Groups easier for larger pipelines to integrate and give artists more visibility over the state of the Live Group and flexibility when using user knobs to override values within a Live Group.

The particle system in NukeX has been optimized to produce particle simulations up to six times faster than previous versions of the software, and up to four times faster for playback, allowing for faster iteration when setting up particle systems.

New Timeline Multiview support provides an extension to stereo and VR workflows. Artists can now use the same multiple-file stereo workflows that exist in Nuke on the Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer timeline. The updated export structure can also be used to create multiple-view Nuke scripts from the timeline in Nuke Studio and Hiero.

Support for full-resolution stereo on monitor out makes review sessions even easier, and a new export preset helps with rendering of stereo projects.

New UI indications for changes in bounding box size and channel count help artists troubleshoot their scripts. A visual indication identifies nodes that increase bounding box size to be greater than the image, helping artists to identify the state of the bounding box at a glance. Channel count is now displayed in the status bar, and a warning is triggered when the 1024-channel limit is exceeded. The appearance and threshold for triggering the bounding box and channel warnings can be set in the preferences.

The selection tool has also been improved in both 2D and 3D views, and an updated marquee and new lasso tool make selecting shapes and points even easier.

Nuke 11.3 is available for purchase — alongside full release details — on Foundry’s website and via accredited resellers.

Director Barry Jenkins on latest, If Beale Street Could Talk

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

I spoke with Jenkins about making the film and workflow.

Our writer Iain Blair with Barry Jenkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Barry Jenkins on set.

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

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

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


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.