Category Archives: Collaboration

Crazy Rich Asians editor Myron Kerstein

By Amy Leland

When the buzz started in anticipation of the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, there was a lot of speculation about whether audiences would fill the theaters for the first all-Asian cast in an American film since 1993’s Joy Luck Club. Or whether audiences wanted to see a romantic comedy, a format that seemed to be falling out of favor.

The answer to both questions was a resounding, “Yes!” The film grossed $35 million during its opening weekend, against a $30 million budget. It continued going strong its second weekend, making another $28M, the highest Labor Day weekend box office in more than a decade. It was the biggest opening weekend for a rom-com in three years, and is the most successful studio rom-com in nine. All of this great success can be explained pretty simply — it’s a fun movie with a well-told story.

Not long ago, I had the great fun of sitting down with one of its storytellers, editor Myron Kerstein, to discuss this Jon M. Chu-directed film as well as Kerstein’s career as an editor.

How did you get started as an editor?
I was a fine arts major in college and stumbled upon photography, filmmaking, painting and printmaking. I really just wanted to make art of any kind. Once I started doing more short films in college, I found a knack for editing.

When I first moved to New York, I needed to make a living, so I became a PA, and I worked on a series called TV Nation one of Michael Moore’s first shows. It was political satire. There was a production period, and then slowly the editors needed help in the post department. I gravitated toward these alchemists, these amazing people who were making things out of nothing. I really started to move toward post through that experience.

I also hustled quite a bit with all of those editors, and they started to hire me after that job. Slowly but surely I had a network of people who wanted to hire me again. That’s how I really started, and I really began to love it. I thought, what an amazing process to read these stories and look at how much power and influence an editor has in the filmmaking process.

I was not an assistant for too long, because I got to cut a film called Black & White. Then I quickly began doing edits for other indies, one being a film called Raising Victor Vargas, and another film called Garden State. That was my big hit in the indie world, and slowly that lead to more studio films, and then to Crazy Rich Asians.

Myron Kerstein and Crazy Rich Asians actor Henry Golding.

Your first break was on a television show that was nothing like feature films. How did you ultimately move toward cutting feature films?
I had a real attraction to documentary filmmaking, but my heart wanted to make narrative features. I think once you put that out in the universe, then those jobs start coming to you. I then stumbled upon my mentor, Jim Lyons, who cut all of Todd Haynes’s movies for years. When I worked on Velvet Goldmine as an assistant editor, I knew this was where I really needed to be. This was a film with music that was trying to say something, and was also very subversive. Jim and Todd were these amazing filmmakers that were just shining examples of the things I wanted to make in the future.

Any other filmmakers or editors whose work influenced you as you were starting out?
In addition to Todd Haynes, directors like Gus Van Sant and John Hughes. When I was first watching films, I didn’t really understand what editors did, so at the same time I was influenced by Spielberg, or somebody like George Romero. Then I realized there were editors later who made these things. Ang Lee, and his editor Tim Squyres were like a gods to me. I really wanted to work on one of Ang’s crews very badly, but everyone wanted to work with him. I was working at the same facilities where Ang was cutting, and I was literally sneaking into his edit rooms. I would be working on another film, and I would just kind of peek my head in and see what they were doing and that kind of thing.

How did this Crazy Rich Asians come about for you?
Brad Simpson, who was a post supervisor on Velvet Goldmine back in the ‘90s when I was the assistant editor, is a producer on this film. Flash forward 20 years and I stumbled upon this script through agents. I read it and I was like, “I really want to be a part of this, and Brad’s the producer on this thing? Let me reach out to him.” He said, “I think you might be the right fit for this.” It was pretty nerve-wracking because I’d never worked with Jon before. Jon was a pretty experienced filmmaker, and he’d worked with a lot of editors. I just knew that if I could be part of the process, we could make something special.

My first interview with Jon was a Skype interview. He was in Malaysia already prepping for the film. Those interviews are very difficult to not look or sound weird. I just spoke from the heart, and said this is what I think makes me special. These are the ways I can try to influence a film and be part of the process. Lucky enough between that interview and Brad’s recommendation, I got the job.

Myron Kerstein and director Jon Chu.

When did you begin your work on the film?
I basically started the first week of filming and joined them in Malaysia and Singapore for the whole shoot. It was a pretty amazing experience being out there in two Muslim countries — two Westernized Muslim countries that were filled with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It was an almost entirely local crew, a couple of assistant editors, and me. Sometimes I feel like it might not be the best thing for an editor to be around set too much, but in this case it was good for me to see the setting they were trying to portray… and feel the humidity, the steaminess, the romance and Singapore, which is both alien and beautiful at the same time.

What was your collaboration like with Jon Chu?
It was just an organic process, where my DNA started to become infused with Jon’s. The good thing about my going to Malaysia and Singapore was we got to work together early. One thing that doesn’t happen often anymore is a director who actually screens dailies in a theater. Jon would do that every weekend. We would watch dailies, and he would say what he liked and didn’t like, or more just general impressions of his footage. That allowed me to get into his head a bit.

At the same time I was also cutting scenes. At the end of every day’s screening, we would sit down together. He gave me a lot of freedom, but at the same time was there to give me his first impressions of what I was doing. I think we were able to build some trust really early.

Because of the film’s overwhelming success, this has opened doors for other Asian-led projects.
Isn’t that the most satisfying thing in the world? You hope to define your career by moments like this, but rarely get that chance. I watched this film, right when it was released, which was on my birthday. I ended up sitting next to this young Asian boy and his mom. This kid was just giggling and weeping throughout the movie. To have an interaction with a kid like that, who may have never seen someone like himself represented on the screen was pretty outstanding.

Music was such an important part of this film. The soundtrack is so crucial to moments in the film that it almost felt like a musical. Were you editing scenes with specific songs in mind, or did you edit  and then come back and add music?
Jon gave me a playlist very early on of music he was interested in. A lot of the songs sounded like they were from the 1920s — almost big band tunes. Right then I knew the film could have more of a classy Asian-Gatsby quality to it. Then as we were working on the film together, we started trying out these more modern tunes. I think the producers might have thought we were crazy at one point. You’re asking the audience to go down these different roads with you, and that can sometimes work really well, or sometimes can be a train wreck.

But as much as I love working with music, when I assemble I don’t cut with any music in mind. I try not to use it as a crutch. Oftentimes you cut something with music, either with a song in your head, or often editors will cut with a song as a music bed. But, if you can’t tell a story visually without a song to help drive it, then I think you’re fooling yourself.

I really find that my joy of putting in music happens after I assemble, and then I enjoy experimenting. That Coldplay song at the end of the film, for example… We were really struggling with how to end our movie. We had a bunch of different dialogue scenes that were strung together, but we didn’t feel like it was building up to some kind of climax. I figured out the structure and then cut it like any other scene without any music. Then Jon pitched a couple songs. Ironically enough I had an experience with Coldplay from the opening of Garden State. I liked the idea of this full circle in my own career with Coldplay at the end of a romantic comedy that starred an all-Asian cast. And it really felt like it was the right fit.

The graphic design was fascinating, especially in the early scene with Rachel and Nick on their date that kicks off all of the text messages. Is that something that was storyboarded early, or was that something you all figured out in the edit and in post?
Jon did have a very loose six-page storyboard of how we would get from the beginning of this to the end. The storyboard was nothing compared to what we ended up doing. When I first assembled my footage, I stitched together a two-minute sequence of just split screens of people reacting to other people. Some of that footage is in the movie, but it was just a loose sketch. Jon liked it, but it didn’t represent what he imagined this sequence to be. To some extent he had wondered whether we even needed the sequence.

Jon and I discussed it and said, “Let’s give this a shot. Let’s find the best graphics company out there.” We ended up landing with this company called Aspect, led by John Berkowitz. He and his team of artists worked with us to slowly craft this sequence over months. Beginning with, “How do we get the first text bubble to the second person? What do those text bubbles look like? How do they travel?” Then they gave us 20 different options to see how those two elements would work together. Then we asked, “How do we start expanding outward? What information are we conveying? What is the text bubble saying?” It was like this slowly choreographed dance that we ended up putting together over the course of months.

They would make these little Disney-esque pops. We really loved that. That kind of made it feel like we were back in old Hollywood for a second. At the same time we had these modern devices with text bubbles. So far as the tone was concerned, we tried percussion, just drumming, and other old scores. Then we landed on a score from John Williams from 1941, and that gave us the idea that maybe some old-school big band jazz might go really well in this. Our composer Brian Tyler saw it, and said, “I think I can make this even zanier and crazier.”

How do you work with your assistants?
Assistants are crucial as far as getting through the whole process. I actually had two sets of assistants; John To and David Zimmerman were on the first half in Malaysia and Singapore. I found John through my buddy Tom Cross, who edits for Damien Chazelle. I wanted somebody who could help me with the challenges of getting through places like Malaysia and Singapore, because if you’re looking for help for your Avid, or trying to get dailies from Malaysia to America, you’re kind of on your own. Warner Bros. was great and supportive, and they gave us all the technical help. But it’s not like they can fly somebody out if something goes wrong in an hour.

On the post side I ended up using Melissa Remenarich-Aperlo, and she was outstanding. In the post process I needed somebody to hold down the fort and keep me organized, and also somebody for me to bounce ideas off of. I’m a big proponent of using my assistants creatively. Melissa ended up cutting the big fashion montage. I really struggled with that sequence because I felt strongly like this might be a trope that this film didn’t need. That was the debate with a lot of them. Which romantic comedy tropes should we have in this movie? Jon was like, “It’s wish fulfillment. We really need this. I know we’ve seen it a thousand times, but we need this scene.”

I said let’s try something different. Let’s try inter-cutting the wedding arrival with the montage, and let’s try to make it one big story to get us from us not knowing what she’s going to show up in to her arrival. Both of those sequences were fine on their own, but it didn’t feel like either one of them was doing anything interesting. It just felt like we were eating up time, and we needed to get to the wedding, and we had a lot of story to tell. Once we inter-cut them we knew this was the right choice. As Jon said, you need these moments in the film where you can just sit back and take a breath, smile for a minute and get ready for the drama that starts. Melissa did a great job on that sequence.

Do you have any advice for somebody who’s just starting out and really wants to edit feature films?
I would tell them to start cutting. Cut anything they can. If they don’t have the software, they can cut on iMovie on their iPhone. Then they should  reach out to people like me and create a network. And keep doing that until people say yes. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people.

Also don’t be afraid to be an assistant editor. As much as they want to cut, as they should, they also need to learn the process of editing from others. Be willing to stick with it, even if that means years of doing it. I think you’d be surprised how much you learn over the course of time with good editors. I feel like it’s a long bridge. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it took a long time to get here, but perseverance goes a long way in this field. You just have to really know you want to do it and keep doing it.


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.

AJA Introduces Kona 5 with 12G-SDI I/O

At IBC 2018, AJA debuted Kona 5, a new eight-lane PCIe 3.0 video and audio I/O card supporting 12G-SDI I/O and HDMI 2.0 monitoring/output for workstations or Thunderbolt 3-connected chassis. Kona 5 supports 4K/UltraHD and HD high frame rate, deep color and HDR workflows over one cable. For developers, AJA’s SDK offers support for Kona 5 multi-channel 12G-SDI I/O, enabling multiple 4K streams of input or output.

The Kona 5 capture and output card is interoperable with standard tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer, using AJA’s Mac OS and Windows drivers and application plug-ins. The card supports simultaneous capture with pass-through monitoring when using 12G-SDI and offers HDMI 2.0 output for connecting to the latest displays.

“With today’s audiences expecting the highest quality content, high resolution, high frame rate and deep color are quickly becoming the norm across broadcast and post workflows, prompting the need for faster, more efficient approaches,” says AJA president Nick Rashby. “Kona 5 combines the flexibility of AJA’s Io 4K Plus into a desktop I/O solution with a more powerful feature set.”

Kona 5 feature highlights include:

• 12G-SDI I/O and HDMI 2.0 monitoring/output for 4K, UltraHD, 2K, HD and SD with HFR support up to 4K 60p at YUV 10-bit 4:2:2 and support for RGB 12-bit 4:4:4 up to 4K 30p
• 4x bi-directional 12G-SDI ports and 1x reference in, on robust HD-BNC connectors, with HD-BNC to full-sized BNC cables included
• 16-channel embedded audio on SDI, 8-channel embedded audio on HDMI
• 8-channel AES audio I/O, LTC I/O, and RS-422 serial control via supplied break-out cable
• 10-bit downstream keyer in hardware, supporting up to 4K resolution
• Compatibility with Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, Telestream Wirecast, AJA Control Room and others
• AJA SDK compatibility, offering advanced features including multi-channel 4K I/O
• Three-year international warranty

DG 7.9, 8.27, 9.26

The Little Stranger director Lenny Abrahamson

By Iain Blair

Lenny Abrahamson, the Irish director who helmed the cult indies Frank, Garage, What Richard Did and Adam & Paul, burst onto the international scene in 2015 with the harrowing drama Room. The claustrophobic tale — of a woman and her young son kept prisoner in a 10×10-foot garden shed — picked up four Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and won the Best Actress Oscar and BAFTA for lead Brie Larson.

Now Abrahamson is back with a new film, Focus Features’ The Little Stranger, which swaps the tight confines of The Room for the sprawling, light and airy expanses of a huge English country home.

But don’t be fooled by appearances. Abrahamson begins to twist the screws from the very start of the story, which is part ghost story, part murder mystery. The film follows Dr. Faraday (Domnhall Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, but it is now in decline. Its inhabitants — mother, son and daughter — are haunted by something more ominous than dying. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own. It also stars Ruth Wilson (Showtime’s The Affair).

I spoke with Abrahamson about making the film.

Last time we talked, you had been offered a lot of high-profile projects after the huge success of Room. Instead you made this smaller film, which you had been developing. What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of this new film?
I did this for the same reason I did all my other films — I felt compelled to do it, and I connected to it. I’d been thinking about it for the past 10 years. I’m not really strategic about my career. I did consider other projects, but this just felt ready to go, and I was worried that if I didn’t do it just then, I’d never get to do it. So the timing was right.

This is based on Sarah Waters’ novel “The Little Stranger,” and translating any novel to cinema is always tricky, especially this book with all its flashbacks. How difficult was it?
It was very tough, because in a novel you’ve got space to work and digress and build up atmosphere and shift focus. But films are so demanding in terms of unfolding narrative, and it was hard maintaining forward motion while keeping it subtle and ambiguous and dealing with multiple timelines. I also focused on doing it elegantly, not mechanically. It took all the combined efforts of everyone involved — editing, production design, music and sound — to deal with those challenges and also keep it true to the novel.

It’s quite a mixture of genres, tones and themes. Was that your intent?
Finding the right balance and the right tone is always crucial, and in this case we had to find that sense of disquiet and uneasiness, which permeates everything. We also had to keep that sense of ambiguity about everything that happens. I wanted a sort of mash-up of genres — drama, psychological thriller, ghost story, period romance and gothic chiller — and to keep the audience off balance all the time.

Obviously, casting the right actors was crucial. Is it true you originally cast Domnhall Gleeson as another character, not Faraday?
Yes, I’d worked with him on Frank, and he’s got such a range and is so clever. I’d actually started talking to him about this three, four years ago, and I sent him the script with another character in mind for him, but he said he so loved Faraday that he wanted to play him instead. It just made sense, so I cast around him.

It’s beautifully shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland, the DP who also just shot the Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renee Zellweger for director Rupert Goold. What was your approach?
We didn’t have any hard and fast rules. I always think that’s a mistake. So we watched a lot of films and talked a lot, and tried to go against the usual assumptions about making a film like this. We avoided the obvious dark look, and in some of the more sinister scenes the lighting is very even and bright, which I think makes it creepier. It’s a bright interior, maybe not what you expect for violence.

He did a great job, very subtle work, and he created great atmosphere without using any of the obvious lighting tropes. We tested a lot, which was very useful, and Ole didn’t use any direct light. All the light is bounced and soft, which was a very smart decision by him. We shot in a real 18th Century country house near London, and then used another in better repair for all the exterior flashbacks.

Where did you post?
I’m based in Dublin, so I always do all the post there, and we have great facilities and great people. We posted and did most of the cutting at Screen Scene in Dublin, where I’ve posted my last four films. We had a big room with a big screen and projector, which was great, and they also did all the VFX.

Ed Bruce was the VFX supervisor and is very experienced. They do such subtle work. For instance, the house didn’t have the beautiful skylight you see quite a lot, so they added all that, and there are a lot of invisible things they did that you’d never notice. They do shows like Game of Thrones, so they’re very experienced and very good at what they do, and it’s a close collaborative relationship.

Do you like the post process?
I love post after the stress of the shoot and the instant decisions and deadlines you have to deal with on the set. It’s such a big contrast, and it’s where you can take your time to actually make the film.

I love sitting there with the editor and slowly building the movie. And unlike the shoot, where the meter’s ticking away, it’s relaxing and also the cheapest part of the whole filmmaking process. It’s where all the magic happens and you begin to discover what the film is.

The film was cut by your go-to editor Nathan Nugent. Can you tell us about that relationship and how it worked?
He was on the set and also shot 2nd unit for me, so he was very involved during the shoot. He began cutting in Soho during the shoot, and then did most of the editing back in Dublin after we got back.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It’s so important and we began all the sound design and sound work at the same time we began the offline editing, instead of the usual waiting until picture’s locked. I always insist on doing it this way now as there are so many advantages. As you work, you can really see the effect of sound, and that helps with the picture cut.

Our sound editors Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady were also on set and recorded tons of material. Then Steve designed for seven months while we cut, assembling this very rich soundscape. The sound was done at Screen Scene and partly at Ardmore, with some ADR at Goldcrest in London. The music mix was by Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley, ex-Abbey Road, now with their own studio called Sweet Thunder. They did incredibly delicate and beautiful work.

How important was the DI on this?
It’s so important, and we did all the grading and picture finishing at Outer Limits in Dublin, with my regular colorist, Gary Curran, who started early on developing looks. We also did an HDR grade, which I hadn’t really delved into before, and it was very beautiful.

What’s next? A big Hollywood movie?
(Laughs) I do get offered projects, but it would have to be something original that really excites me. Next, I’ll probably shoot this boxing film called A Man’s World, based on the true story of Emile Griffith. It’s a fascinating life, and I’ll shoot it in the US next year… hopefully.

We’re heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar for Room, which won a ton of awards. How important are awards to you and your films?
Very important. They bring a lot of attention to smaller films like mine, and this one is very unusual. It looks like it falls into a genre, but it doesn’t really, so awards and recognition really help.


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.


Digging into the dailies workflow for HBO’s Sharp Objects

By Randi Altman

If you have been watching HBO’s new series Sharp Objects, you might have some theories about who is murdering teenage girls in a small Missouri town, but at this point they are only theories.

Sharp Objects revolves around Amy Adams’ character, Camille, a journalist living in St. Louis, who returns to her dysfunctional hometown armed with a deadline from her editor, a drinking problem and some really horrific childhood memories.

Drew Dale

The show is shot in Atlanta and Los Angeles, with dailies out of Santa Monica’s Local Hero and post out of its sister company, Montreal’s Real by Fake. Real by Fake did all the post on the HBO series Big Little Lies.

Local Hero’s VP of workflows, Drew Dale, managed the dailies workflow on Sharp Objects, coming up against the challenges of building a duplicate dailies set up in Atlanta as well as dealing with HBO’s strict delivery requirements — not just for transcoding, but for labeling files and more. Local Hero co-owner Steve Bannerman calls it “the most detailed and specific dailies workflow we’ve ever designed.”

To help cope with such a high level of complexity, Dale turned to Assimilate’s Scratch as the technical heart of his workflow. Since Scratch is a very open system, it was able to integrate seamlessly with all the software and hardware tools that were needed to meet the requirements.

Local Hero’s DI workflow is something that Dale and the studio have been developing for about five or six years and adjusting for each show or film they work on. We recently reached out to Dale to talk about that workflow and their process on Sharp Objects, which was created by Marti Noxon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

Can you describe your workflow with the footage?
Basically, the DIT hands a shuttle RAID (we use either OWC or Areca RAIDs) to a PA, and they’ll take it to our operator. Our operators tend to start as soon as wrap hits, or as soon as lunch breaks, depending on whether or not you’re doing one or two breaks a day.

We’ll ingest into Scratch and apply the show LUT. The LUT is typically designed by our lead colorist and is based on a node stack in Blackmagic Resolve that we can use on the back end as the first pass of the DI process. Once the LUT is loaded, we’ll do our grades using the CDL protocol, though we didn’t do the grade on Sharp Objects. Then we’ll go through, sync all the audio, QC the footage and make our LTO back-ups.

What are you looking for in the QC?
Things like crew in the shot, hot pixels, corrupt footage, lens flares, just weird stuff that’s going to cost money on the backend. Since we’re working in conjunction with production a lot of the time, we can catch those things reasonably early; a lot earlier than if you were waiting until editorial. We flag those and say, “This scene that you shot yesterday is out of focus. You should probably re-shoot.” This allows them adjust more quickly to that sort of thing.

After the QC we do a metadata pass, where we take the embedded information from the WAV files provided by the sound mixer, as well as custom metadata entered by our operator and apply that throughout the footage. Then we’ll render out editorial media — typically Avid but sometimes Premiere or Final Cut — which will then get transferred to the editors either via online connection or shipped shuttle drives. Or, if we’re right next to them, we’ll just push it to their system from our computer using a fiber or Ethernet intranet.

We’ll also create web dailies. Web dailies are typically H.264s, and those will either get loaded onto an iPad for the director, uploaded to pix or Frame.io for web review, or both.

You didn’t grade the dailies on Sharp Objects?
No, they wanted a specific LUT applied; one that was used on the first season of Big Little Lies, and is being used on the second season as well. So they have a more generic look applied, but they do have very specific needs for metadata, which is really important. For example, a lot of the things they require are the input of shoot date and shoot day information, so you can track things.

We also ingest track information from WAV files, so when the editor is cutting the footage you can see the individual audio channel names in the edit, which makes cutting audio a lot easier. It also helps sync things up on the backend with the audio mix. As per HBO’s requests, a lot of extra information in the footage goes to the editor.

The show started in LA and then moved to Atlanta, so you had to build your workflow for a second time? Can you talk about that?
The tricky part of working on location is making sure the Internet is set up properly and getting a mobile version of our rig to wherever it needs to go. Then it’s dealing with the hassle of being on location. I came up in the production world in the camera department, so it reminds me of being back on set and being in the middle of nowhere with a lot less infrastructure than you’re used to when sitting at a post house in Los Angeles. Most of the challenge of being on location is finding creative ways to implement the same workflow in the face of these hurdles.

Let’s get back to working with HBO’s specific specs. Can you talk about different tools you had to call on to make sure it was all labeled and structured correctly?
A typical scene identifier for us is something like “35B-01” 35 signifies the scene, “B” signifies the shot and “01” signifies the take.

The way that HBO structured things on Sharp Objects was more by setup, so it was a much more fluid way of shooting. It would be like “Episode 1, setup 32, take one, two, three, four, five.” But each of those takes individually was more like a setup and less like a take itself. A lot of the takes were 20 minutes long, 15 minutes long, where they would come in, reset the actors, reset the shot, that kind of thing.

In addition to that, there was a specific naming convention and a lot of specific metadata requirements required by the editors. For example, the aforementioned WAV track names. There are a lot of ways to process dailies, but most software doesn’t provide the same kind of flexibility with metadata as Scratch.

For this show it was these sorts of things, as well as very specific LTO naming conventions and structure, which took a lot of effort on our part to get used to. Typically, with a smaller production or smaller movie, the LTO backups they require are basically just to make sure that the footage is placed somewhere other than our hard drives, so we can store it for a long period of time. But with HBO, very specific manifests are required with naming conventions on each tape as well as episode numbers, scene and take info, which is designed to make it easier for un-archiving footage later for restoration, or for use in later seasons of a show. Without that metadata, it becomes a much more labor-intensive job to track down specific shots and scenes.

HBO also requires us to use multiple LTO brands in case one brand suddenly ceases to support the medium, or if a company goes under, they can un-archive the footage 30 years from now. I think a lot of the companies are starting to move toward future-proofing their footage in case you need to go back and remaster it.

Does that make your job harder? Easier?
It makes it harder in some ways, and easier in others. Harder because there is a lot of material being generated. I think the total count for the show was something like 120TB of footage, which is not an excessive amount for a show this big, but it’s definitely a lot of data to manage over the course of a show.

Could name some of the tools that you used?
As I mentioned, the heartbeat of all our dailies workflows is Scratch. I really love Scratch for three reasons. First, I can use it to do fully color graded, fully animated dailies with power windows, ramping curves — everything. Second, it handles metadata very well. This was crucial for Sharp Objects. And finally, it’s pretty affordable.

Beyond Scratch, the software that we tend to use most for copying footage is Silverstack. We use that for transferring files to and from the RAID to make sure everything’s verified. We use Scratch for processing the footage; that’s sort of the big nexus of everything. We use YoYottaID for LTO creations; that’s what HBO suggests we use to handle their specific LTO requirements. One of the things I love is the ability to export ALEs directly out of Scratch and into YoYattID. This saves us time and errors. We use Aspera for transferring files back and forth between HBO and ourselves. We use Pix for web daily distributions. Pix access was specifically provided to us by HBO.

Hardware wise, we’re mostly working on either Mac Pros or Silverdraft Demon PCs for dailies. We used to use mostly Mac Pros, but we find that they aren’t quite robust enough for larger projects, though they can be useful for mid-range or smaller jobs.

We typically use Flanders monitors for our on-set grading, but we’ve also used Sony’s and JVC’s, depending on the budget level and what’s available on hand. We tend to use the G-Speed Shuttle XLs for the main on-set RAIDs, and we like to use OWC Thunderbays or Areca thunderbolt RAIDS for our transfer drives.

What haven’t I asked that is important?
For me it’s important to have tools, operators and infrastructure that are reliable so we can generate trust with our clients. Trust is the biggest thing for me, and the reason we vetted all the software… we know what works. We know it does what we need it to do to be flexible for everybody’s needs. It’s really about just showing the clients that we’ve got their back.


Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, from creator, writer and director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), is a 10-episode modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Duttons, owners of the largest ranch in the contiguous United States.

The Dutton family is in constant conflict with owners of the property surrounding their land, including developers, an Indian reservation and a national park. The series follows Costner’s character and his dysfunctional children as they navigate their bumpy road.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson and Efilm senior colorist Mitch Paulson already had a color lock on the pilot for Yellowstone, but brought on Encore senior colorist Bob Festa to work on the episodes. “As a Deluxe sister company, it was only natural to employ Encore Hollywood’s television resources,” explains Festa. “I was keen to collaborate with both Ben and Mitch. Mitch then served as supervising colorist.”

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

How did you work with the director and DP?
Honestly, my first discussions with Ben were quite involved and fully articulated. For instance, while Ben’s work with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Wind River are wildly different looking projects —and shot on different formats — the fundamentals that he shared with me were fully in place in both of those projects, as well as with Yellowstone.

There is always a great deal of talking that goes on beforehand, but nothing replaces collaboration in the studio. I guess I auditioned for the job by spending a full day with Ben and Mitch at Encore. Talk is a cheap abstraction, and there is nothing like the feeling you get when you dim the lights, sit in the chair and communicate with pictures.

The only way I can describe it is it’s like improvising with another musician when you have never played together before. There’s this buildup of ideas and concepts that happens over a few shots, grades get thrown out or refined, layers are added, apprehension gives way to creativity, and a theme takes place. If you do this over 50 shots, you develop a language that is unique to a given project and a “look” is born.

What was your workflow for this project? What did you use tool-wise on Yellowstone?
ARRI RAW and Resolve were the foundation, but the major lifting came from using a Log Offset workflow, better known as the printer lights workflow. Although printer lights has its roots in a photochemical laboratory setting, it has tremendous real-world digital applications. Many feel this relationship to printer lights is very elementary, but the results can be scaled up very quickly to build an amazingly natural and beautiful grade.

The Resolve advanced panel can be remapped to use an additional fourth trackball as a fuel-injected printer light tool that is not only very fast and intuitive, but also exceptionally high quality. The quality angle comes from the fact that Log Offset grading works in a fashion that keeps all of the color channels moving together during a grade. All curves work in complete synchronicity, resulting in a very natural transition between the toe and the knee, and the shoulder and head of the grade.

This is all enhanced using pivot and contrast controls to establish the transfer characteristic of a scene. There is always a place for cross process, bleach bypass and other twisted aggressive grades, but this show demanded honest emotion and beauty from the outset. The Log Offset workflow delivered that.

What inspired the look of Yellowstone? Are there any specific film looks it is modeled after?
As a contemporary western, you can draw many correlations to cinematic looks from the past, from Sergio Leone to Deadwood, but the reality is the look is decidedly modern western.

In the classic film world, the look is very akin to a release print, or in the DI world it emulates a show print (generationally closer to the original negative). The look demands that the curves and saturation are very high quality. Ben has refined an ARRI LUT that really enhances the skies and flesh tones to create a very printy film laboratory look. We also use Livegrain for the most part using a 35mm 5219 emulation for night shots and a 5207 look for day exteriors to create texture. That is the Yellowstone recipe.

How did you approach the sweeping landscape shots?
Broad, cinematic and we let the corners bleed. Vignettes were never used on the wide vistas. The elements are simple: you have Kevin Costner on a horse in Montana. The best thing I can think of is to follow the medical credo of “do no harm.”

What was the most challenging aspect of coloring Yellowstone?
Really just the time constraints. Coordinating with the DP, the VFX teams and the post crew on a weekly basis for color review sessions is hard for everyone. The show is finished week by week, generally delivering just days before air. VFX shots are dropped in daily. Throw in the 150 promos, teasers and trailers, and scheduling that is a full-time job.

Other than color, did you perform any VFX shots?
Every VFX vendor supplied external mattes with their composites. We always color composite plates using a foreground and a background grade to serve the story. This is where the Resolves external matte node structure can be a lifesaver.

What is your favorite scene or scenes?
I have to go with episode one of the pilot. That opening shot sets the tone for the entire series. The first time I saw that opening shot, my jaw dropped both from a cinematography and story background. If you have seen the show, you know what I’m talking about.


Frame.io Masters launches with director Mark Toia

The makers of the video collaboration tool Frame.io has launched Frame.io Masters, a short-film series examining the inspiration, motivation and work of master filmmakers — in their own words. The inaugural installment features commercial director Mark Toia and explores his journey in becoming an award-winning director.

“Mark Toia launched his career off a $50 job and has since flown the world many times over,” says Emery Wells, co-founder/CEO of Frame.io. “His story is the epitome of why any of us do what we do — to make a life creating art. We can’t wait for aspiring artists to dive deeper into his incredible journey, as well as the journey of many more Frame.io Masters to come.”

“The [art of] filmmaking brings a great community of people together. But I’ve also been able to meet a lot of great VFX artists and freelance editors around the world, and that’s where Frame.io comes in,” says Toia. “I’ve been able to set up a sort of virtual post house working with Frame.io, and that has saved me so much time and money. I don’t need to have a building to house all of these people. Through all the folder procedures that we’ve set up, I can collaborate with editors and artists around the world.”

Hailing from Australia, Toia has worked with global commercial clients including Virgin Airlines, Jeep, Coca-Cola, Yamaha, Powerade and Mazda. More detail on Toia’s work and his story is available on Variety.com, as well as in the first Frame.io Masters film.


Behind the Title: Jogger Studios’ CD Andy Brown

This veteran creative director can also often be found at the controls of his Flame working on a new spot.

NAME: Andy Brown

COMPANY: Jogger Studios (@joggerstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique post house with offices in the US and UK providing visual effects, motion graphics, color grading and finishing. We are partnered with Cut + Run for editorial and get to work with their editors from around the world. I am based in our Jogger Los Angeles office, after having helped found the company in London.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing compositing, visual effects and finishing. Looking after staff and clients. Juggling all of these things and anticipating the unexpected.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still working “on the box” every day. Even though my title is creative director, it is the hands-on work that is my first love as far as project collaborations go. Also I get to re-program the phones and crawl under the desks to get the wires looking neater when viewed from the client couch.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The variety, the people and the challenges. Just getting to work on a huge range of creative projects is such a privilege. How many people get to go to work each day looking forward to it?

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The hours, occasionally. It’s more common to have to work without clients nowadays. That definitely makes for more work sometimes, as you might need to create two or three versions of a spot to get approval. If everyone was in the room together you reach a consensus more quickly.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the start of the day best, when everyone is coming into the office and we are getting set up for whatever project we are working on. Could be the first coffee of the day that does it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I want to say classic car dealer, but given my actual career path the most likely alternative would be editor.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
There were lots of reasons, when I look at it. It was either the Blue Peter Book of Television (the longest running TV program for kids, courtesy of the BBC) or my visit to the HTV Wales TV station with my dad when I was about 12. We walked around the studios and they were playing out a film to air, grading it live through a telecine. I was really struck by the influence that the colorist was having on what was seen.

I went on to do critical work on photography, film and television at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. Part of that course involved being shown around the Pebble Mill BBC Studios. They were editing a sequence covering a public enquiry into the Handsworth riots in 1985. It just struck me how powerful the editing process was. The story could be told so many different ways, and the editor was playing a really big part in the process.

Those experiences (and an interest in writing) led me to think that television might be a good place to work. I got my first job as a runner at MPC after a friend had advised me how to get a start in the business.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We worked on a couple of spots for Bai recently with Justin Timberlake creating the “brasberry.” We had to make up some graphic animations for the newsroom studio backdrop for the shoot and then animate opening title graphics to look just enough like it was a real news report, but not too much like a real news report.

We do quite a bit of food work, so there’s always some burgers, chicken or sliced veggies that need a bit of love to make them pop.

There’s a nice set extension job starting next week, and we recently finished a job with around 400 final versions, which made for a big old deliverables spreadsheet. There’s so much that we do that no one sees, which is the point if we do it right.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Sometimes the job that you are most proud of isn’t necessarily the most amazing thing to look at. I used to work on newspaper commercials back in the UK, and it was all so “last minute.” A story broke, and all of a sudden you had to have a spot ready to go on air with no edit, no footage and only the bare bones of a script. It could be really challenging, but we had to get it done somehow.

But the best thing is seeing something on TV that you’ve worked on. At Jogger Studios, it is primarily commercials, so you get that excitement over and over again. It’s on air for a few weeks and then it’s gone. I like that. I saw two of our spots in a row recently on TV, which I got a kick out of. Still looking for that elusive hat-trick.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Flame, the Land Rover Series III and, sadly, my glasses.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Just friends and family on Instagram, mainly. Although like most Flame operators, I look at the Flame Learning Channel on YouTube pretty regularly. YouTube also thinks I’m really interested in the Best Fails of 2018 for some reason.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
More often than not it is podcasts. West Wing Weekly, The Adam Buxton Podcast, Short Cuts and Song Exploder. Plus some of the shows on BBC 6 Music, which I really miss.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I go to work every day feeling incredibly lucky to be doing the job that I do, and it’s good to remember that. The 15-minute walk to and from work in Santa Monica usually does it.

Living so close to the beach is fantastic. We can get down to the sand, get the super-brella set up and get in the sea with the bodyboards in about 15 minutes. Then there’s the Malibu Cars & Coffee, which is a great place to start your Sunday.


Showrunner/EP Robert Carlock talks Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

By Iain Blair

When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt first premiered back in 2015, the sitcom seemed quite shocking — and not just because NBC sold it off to Netflix so quickly. While at the streaming service, it has been a big hit with audiences and critics alike, racking up dozens of industry awards and nominations, including 18 Primetime Emmy nominations.

Robert Carlock

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the sunny comedy with a dark premise stars Ellie Kemper as the title character. She moves to New York City after being rescued from an underground bunker where she and three other women were held captive for 15 years by a doomsday cult leader (Jon Hamm).

Alone in the Big Apple, and armed only with her unbreakable sense of optimism, Kimmy soon forges a new life that includes her colorful landlady Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), her struggling actor roommate (Tituss Burgess) and her socialite employer (Jane Krakowski). The strong cast also boasts recurring talent and A-list guests, such as Tina Fey, Martin Short, Fred Armisen, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris and Lisa Kudrow.

Last year Netflix renewed the show for a final season, with the first six episodes premiering in May 2018.

I recently spoke with Carlock about making the show, the Emmys and the planned movie version.

When Kimmy Schmidt first came out, its premise seemed bizarre and shocking — a young woman who was kidnapped, abused and held captive in an underground bunker. But looking back today, it seems ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right. At the time we felt strongly it was a way to get people talking about things and issues they didn’t necessarily want to talk about, such as how women are really treated in this society. And with the #MeToo movement it’s more timely than ever. Tina would say, “It keeps happening, it’s in the news all the time, and at this level,” and it’s really sad that it’s true. The last two seasons we’ve been dealing more and more with issues like this, and now people really are talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. But we have the added burden of also trying to make it funny.

Is Season 4 definitely the final one?
I think so, and the second half will stream sometime early next year. In the meantime, we’re talking about the movie deal that Netflix wants and what that will entail. We kind of thought about it as, “Let’s give our characters endings since there’s still so much to talk about,” but you also have to bear in mind the topicality of it all in a year or so. So it gave us the luxury of being able to finish the show in a way that felt right, and Season 5 — the second half of Season 4 — will satisfy fans, I think. We’re also very happy that Netflix is so enthusiastic about doing it this way.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, and I love it better than not being in charge. The beauty of TV is that, unlike in movies, and for a variety of reasons, writers get to be in charge. I love the fact that when you’re a showrunner, you get to learn so much about everything, including all the post production. You work with all these really skilled artisans and get to oversee the entire process from start to finish, including picking out what shade of blue the dress should be (laughs). It’s much better than watching other people make all the key decisions.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
The big one is trying to think outside of the writer’s room. You have all that ambition on the page, but then you have to deal with the reality of actually shooting it and making it work. It’s a lot easier to type it than execute it. Then you have to be really objective about what’s working and what isn’t, because you fall in love with what you write. So you have to realize, “Maybe this needs a little insert, or more jokes here to get the point across,” and you have to put that producer hat on — and that can be really tricky. It’s a challenge for sure, but we’ve also been fortunate in having a great crew that’s been with us a while, so there’s that shorthand, and things move quickly on the set and we get a lot done.

Where do you shoot and post?
We do the shooting at the Broadway Stages in Brooklyn, and have all the editing setup there as well. Then we have Tina’s production offices at Columbus Circle, and we do all the sound at Sync Sound in midtown Manhattan.

Do you like the post process?
I love post and the whole process of seeing a script come alive as you edit.  You find ways of telling the story that you maybe didn’t expect.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the big creative challenges of a single-camera show — which ultimately also gives you so many more tools in writing, shooting and editing — is that you don’t get to see rehearsals. So one of the reasons our episodes are going into post and often coming out of post so stuffed with story and jokes is that we don’t get so many opportunities to see exactly what’s making the scene tick. We’re hitting the story, hitting the jokes and hitting the characters too many times, and  a lot of the challenge is scraping all those away. Our episodes come in around the mid-30s often, and we think they live and play best around 26 or 27 minutes. That’s where I think the sweet spot is. So you can feel, “Oh, I love that joke,” but the hard reality is that the scene plays so much better without it.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
I think it’s so important in comedy, and it can totally change the feel of a scene. Jeff Richmond — Tina’s husband and one of our producers — does all the music. He’s also fantastic in the edit. So if I’m not available or Tina isn’t, then he or Sam Means, another producer, can take our edit notes and interpret them. We’ll type up 15 pages on a Director’s Cut, and then we hone the show until it’s a lock for the network, and we go through it all frame by frame.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
Increasingly now, with all the noise and static out there, and so many other good shows, it’s really important. I think it helps cut through the clutter. When you’re working hard on a show like this, with your head down all the time, you don’t really know where you stand sometimes. So to be nominated by your peers means a lot. (Laughs) I wish it didn’t, but we’re small-minded people who only really care about other people’s opinions.

What’s the latest on talk about a movie? Will it be a theatrical release or just Netflix, or both?
That’s a great question. Who knows? We’re in the middle of trying to figure out the budget. I imagined it would be just streaming, but maybe it will be theatrical as well. One thing’s for sure. We won’t be one of those TV shows that gets a whole new cast for the movie version. Lightning struck with our first cast, and we’re not looking to replace anyone.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I can only speak for us, but we like shows where there’s a lot of diversity and different voices, and sometimes we step in a bear trap we didn’t even know was there because we’re trying to write for so many different voices. For us, it just makes sense to embrace diversity, but it’s such a complicated and thorny issue. I’m just glad we’re talking about it more now. It’s what interests us. When Tina and I first sat down to write this, we didn’t want to do something salacious and exploitive. We were thinking about a really startling way to get people talking about gender and class. It’s been a fun challenge.


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.


Quick Chat: Freefolk colorist Paul Harrison

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mars Williamson

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

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

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

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

John Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka