Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: Collaboration

DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


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

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

By Karen Moltenbrey

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

Arthur Albert

Marius’s plan, however, is flawed. The family is lovable and quirky, but broke. Furthermore, they are in the bail bond business. Marius starts to really care for the family while also discovering that his cover is not that safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher on Elton John musical

By Iain Blair

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

L-R: Dexter Fletcher and Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton on the set of Rocketman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tony Dustin joins Efilm as senior colorist

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

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

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

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


Fox Sports promotes US women’s World Cup team with VFX-heavy spots

Santa Monica creative studio Jamm worked with Wieden+Kennedy New York on the Fox Sports campaign “All Eyes on US.” Directed by Joseph Kahn out of Supply & Demand, the four spots celebrate the US Women’s soccer team as it gears up for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in June.

The newest 60-second spot All Eyes on US, features tens of thousands of screaming fans thanks to Jamm’s CG crowd work. On set, Jamm brainstormed with Kahn on how to achieve the immersive effect he was looking for. Much of the on-the-ground footage was shot using wide-angle lenses, which posed a unique set of challenges by revealing the entire environment as well as the close-up action. With pacing, Jamm achieved the sense of the game occurring in realtime, as the tempo of the camera keeps in step with the team moving the ball downfield.

The 30-second spot Goliath features the first CG crowd shot by the Jamm team, who successfully filled the soccer stadium with a roaring crowd. In Goliath, the entire US women’s soccer team runs toward the camera in slow motion. Captured locked off but digitally manipulated via a 3D camera to create a dolly zoom technique replicating real-life parallax, the altered perspective translates the unsettling feeling of being an opponent as the team literally runs straight into the camera.

On set, Jamm got an initial Lidar scan of the stadium as a base. From there, they used that scan along with reference photos taken on set to build a CG stadium that included accurate seating. They extended the stadium where there were gaps as well to make it a full 360 stadium. The stadium seating tools tie in with Jamm’s in-house crowd system (based on Side Effects Houdini) and allowed them to easily direct the performance of the crowd in every shot.

The Warrior focuses on Megan Rapinoe standing on the field in the rain, with a roaring crowd behind her. Whereas CG crowd simulation is typically captured with fast-moving cameras, the stadium crowd remains locked in the background of this sequence. Jamm implemented motion work and elements like confetti to make the large group of characters appear lively without detracting from Rapinoe in the foreground. Because the live-action scenes were shot in the rain, Jamm used water graphing to seamlessly blend the real-world footage and the CG crowd work.

The Finisher centers on Alex Morgan, who earned the nickname because “she’s the last thing they’ll see before it’s too late.”  The team ran down the field at a slow motion pace, while the cameraman rigged with a steady cam sprinted backwards through the goal. Then the footage was sped up by 600%, providing a realtime quality, as Morgan kicks a perfect strike to the back of the net.

Jamm used Autodesk Flame for compositing the crowds and CG ball, camera projections to rebuild and clean up certain parts of the environment, refining the skies and adding in stadium branding. They also used Foundry Nuke and Houdini for 3D.

The edit was via FinalCut and editor Spencer Campbell. The color grade was by Technicolor’s Tom Poole.


Collaboration company Pix acquires Codex

Pix has reached an agreement to acquire London-based Codex, in a move that will enable both companies to deliver a range of new products and services, from streamlined camera capture to post production finishing.

The Pix System  is a collaboration tool that provides industry pros with secure access to production content on mobile devices, laptops or TVs from offices, homes or while traveling. They won an Oscar for its technology in 2019.

Codex products include recorders and media processing systems that transfer digital files and images from the camera to post, and tools for color dynamics, dailies creation, archiving, review and digital asset management.

“Our clients have relied on Pix to protect their material and ideas throughout all phases of production. In Codex, we found a group that similarly values relationships with attention to critical details,” explains Pix founder/CEO Eric Dachs. “Codex will retain its distinct brand and culture, and there is a great deal we can do together for the benefit of our clients and the industry.”

Over the years, Pix and Codex have seen wide industry adoption, delivering a proven record of contributing value to their clients. Introduced in 2003, Pix soon became a trusted and widely used secure communication and content management provider. The Pix System enables creative continuity and reduces project risk by ensuring that ideas are accurately shared, stored, and preserved throughout the entire production process.

“Pix and Codex are complementary, trusted brands used by leading creatives, filmmakers and studios around the world,” says Codex managing director Marc Dando. “The integration of both services into one simplified workflow will deliver the industry a fast, secure, global collaborative ecosystem.”

With the acquisition of Codex, Pix will expand its servicing reach across the globe. Pix founder Dachs will remain as CEO, and Dando will take on the role of chief design officer at Pix, with a focus on existing and new products.


Colorist Andreas Brueckl on embracing ACES workflow

By Debra Kaufman

Senior colorist Andreas Brueckl has graded a wide range of projects, from feature films to over 1,000 commercials, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He began his career at Bavaria Film/Cinepost in Germany, then freelanced across Europe and the Middle East before landing at 1000Volt in Istanbul, where he was lead colorist for almost four years. In 2014, he moved to Pinewood Studios Malaysia and is now currently senior colorist at FutureWorks in Mumbai, India.

Andreas Brueckl

With his cinematic grading approach, Brueckl was an early adopter of the ACES workflow. Since then he has published tutorials about ACES workflows and color grading. He spoke to postPerspective about adopting the ACES workflow and why he’s encouraging cinematographers and VFX houses to use it

Tell me about how those first trials worked out?
In 2013, when I was working at 1000Volt in Istanbul, I played around with ACES color spaces, but I was so busy — working on as many as six TV commercials a day — that I didn’t really have the time to devote to learning something new. That changed when I started at Pinewood Studios in Malaysia in 2014. The Malaysian government really wanted to build up the film industry and attract international clients. They teamed up with Imagica from Japan to create a post department. I had this beautiful brand new 100-seat 4K grading theater and a new FilmLight Baselight. I graded my first feature there in the typical telecine way with a P3 timeline, and then I started from scratch with the same movie and graded it in ACES, learning along the way. After a week or so of working on it, my grade clearly looked way better in ACES.

How was the learning process?
I was used to starting from a log image, which is the way most of us DI colorists graded for many years — and was irritated that my image was suddenly so contrasty and saturated. Thankfully, Andy Minuth and Daniele Siragusano from FilmLight helped me to understand that a scene-referred color space isnʼt as limited as a display-referred color space. In other words, I wasn’t losing information or limiting myself, and I could always dial it back to a more log-looking image if needed. Knowing this, I could achieve a “film-style” grading more readily. After a year of using ACES, and as Pinewood Malaysia started getting more and more Singaporean and Chinese clients, I made ACES tutorials with Chinese subtitles to help educate those clients.

Bazaar

Now that you’re working at FutureWorks, are you still using ACES?
In 2017, I signed on at FutureWorks in Mumbai where we work on a wide range of content, including blockbuster movies, smaller movies, TV commercials and, more recently, lots of streaming TV from Amazon Prime and Netflix. We’ve really committed to ACES there. Hope Aur Hum and Bazaar are just two examples of how well ACES has worked. Besides always grading in ACES, we switched our entire VFX pipeline to ACES in combination with Baselight grade files. In-house, all of that was easy — and welcomed by our clients. I have cinematographers coming in asking if we’re grading in ACES. Some of them already know the benefits of ACES quite well, and others just heard it is a new and very “filmic” approach of grading. So the DPs that haven’t tried ACES yet are keen to know everything about this new grading style.

How has switching to an ACES pipeline for visual effects worked out?
It was and still is a bit more work to convince VFX vendors to switch to ACES. They’re not concerned about ACES per se, but about the size of the OpenEXR files which, at uncompressed 4K, can go up to 50MB per frame. For that reason, they sometimes want to stick to the 10-bit DPX they’ve used for the past 10 years.

I found that communication is key to get the VFX facility to embrace the ACES workflow. To make it easier, we meet the compositing supervisors of all the VFX vendors and walk them through the process in Nuke and how to use the Baselight plugin. It makes it super easy.

Hope Aur Hum

If there is no demand for uncompressed files, there’s nothing wrong with using an OpenEXR Zip 1 or Piz compression, which is actually smaller than DPX renders. This year, I’m working on some of the biggest feature films and Netflix and Amazon shows in the Indian market. I’m making it clear from the beginning to all the vendors that we work in ACES and we go for an ACES VFX workflow. We’ve found that once we contact all the VFX houses and walk them through the process, they have no problem implementing the ACES workflows.

What do you personally like about ACES?
First of all, ACES is not a plugin that only works on one platform — it is an entire system that connects all platforms. I explain to the DPs that I can mix my LMTs (Look Modification Transforms) to shape the look and play with the density in chosen areas. Essentially, I have the chance to mix my own digital film stock. ACES gives me a base look much faster than I could get from a log telecine timeline workflow, where I would have had to build up a time-consuming grade from a Log image.

As HDR grades become more popular, ACES is absolutely mandatory in my opinion. One big advantage of using ACES is the ability to get additional details in the highlights. Finally, ACES is the perfect workflow for deliveries to multiple platforms. With just a few adjustments, I can make deliverables in P3, Rec.709, HDR and so on without quality loss.

Main Image: Bazaar


Debra Kaufman has been writing about the intersection of technology and media/entertainment for nearly 30 years. She currently writes the daily newsletter for USC’ Entertainment Technology Center (www.etcentric.org).


The Kominsky Method‘s post brain trust: Ross Cavanaugh and Ethan Henderson

By Iain Blair

As Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” But Netflix’s The Kominsky Method proves that in the hands of veteran sitcom creator Chuck Lorre — The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and many others — there’s plenty of laughs to be mined from old age… and disease, loneliness and incontinence.

The show stars Michael Douglas as divorced, has-been actor and respected acting coach Sandy Kominsky and Alan Arkin as his longtime agent Norman Newlander. The story follows these bickering best friends as they tackle life’s inevitable curveballs while navigating their later years in Los Angeles, a city that values youth and beauty above all. Both comedic and emotional, The Kominsky Method won Douglas a Golden Globe.

Ethan Henderson and Ross Cavanaugh

The single-camera show is written by Al Higgins, David Javerbaum and Lorre, who also directed the first episode. Lorre, Higgins and Douglas executive produce the series, which is produced by Chuck Lorre Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television.

I recently spoke with associate producer Ross Cavanaugh and post coordinator Ethan Henderson about posting the show.

You are currently working on Season 2?
Ross Cavanaugh: Yes, and we’re moving along quite quickly. We’re already about three-quarters of the way through the season shooting-wise, out of the eight-show arc.

Where do you shoot, and what’s the schedule like?
Cavanaugh: We shoot mainly on the lot at Warner Bros. and then at various locations around LA. We start prepping each show one week before we start shooting, and then we get dailies the day after the first shooting day.

Our dailies lab is Picture Shop, which is right up the street in Burbank and very convenient for us. So getting footage from the set to them is quick, and they’re very fast at turning the dailies around. We usually get them by midnight the same day we drop them off,  then our editors start cutting fairly quickly after that.

Where do you do all the post?
Cavanaugh: Mainly at Picture Shop, who are very experienced in TV post work. They do all the post finishing and some of the VFX stuff — usually the smaller things, like beauty fixes and cleanup. They also do all the final color correction since DP Anette Haellmigk really wanted to work with colorist George Manno. They’ve been really great.

Ethan Henderson: We’re back and forth from the lot to Picture Shop, and once we get more heavily involved in all the post, I spend a lot of time there while we are onlining the show, coloring and doing the VFX drop-ins, and when we start the final deliverables process, since everything for Netflix comes out of there.

What are the big challenges of post production on this show, and how closely do you work with Chuck Lorre?
Cavanaugh: As with any TV show, you’re always on a very tight deadline, and there are a lot of moving parts to deal with very quickly. While our prolific showrunner Chuck Lorre is busy with all the projects he has going — especially with all the writing — he always makes time for us. He’s very passionate about the cut and is extremely on top of things.

I’d say the challenges on this show are actually fairly minimal. Basically, we ran a pretty tight ship on the first season, and now I’d say it’s a well-oiled machine. We haven’t had any big problems or surprises in post, which can happen.

Let’s talk about editing. You had two editors for Season 1 in Matthew Barbato and Gina Sansom. I assume that’s because of the time factor. How does that work?
Cavanaugh: Each editor has their own assistant editor — that was true in Season One (Matthew with Jack Cunningham and Gina with Barb Steele) and in Season two (Steven Lang with Romeo Rubio and Gina with Rahul Das). They cut separately and work on an odds-and-evens schedule, each doing every other episode. We all get together to watch screenings of the Director’s Cut, usually in the editorial bay.

What are the big editing challenges?
Cavanaugh: We have a pretty big cast, and there’s a ton of jokes and stuff going on all the time. In addition to Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, the actors are so experienced. They give such great performances — there’s a lot of material for the editors to cut from. To be honest, the scripts are all so tight that I think one of the challenges is knowing when to cut out a joke, to serve the pacing of an episode.

This isn’t a VFX-driven show, but there are some visual effects shots. Can you explain?
Cavanaugh: We do a lot of driving scenes and use 24frame.com, who have this really good wraparound HD projection technology, so we pretty much shoot all our car scenes on the stage.

Henderson: Once in a while, we’ll pick up some exterior or establishing shots on a freeway using doubles in the cars. All the plates are picked ahead of time. Occasionally, for the sake of continuity, we’ll have to replace a plate in the background and put a different section of the plate in because too many cars ran by, and it didn’t match up in the edit.

That’s one of the things that comes up every so often. The other big thing is that both of the leads wear glasses, so reflections of crew and equipment can become an issue; we have to deal with all that and clean it up.

Cavanaugh: We don’t use many big VFX shots, and we can’t reveal much about what happens in the new season, but sometimes there’s stuff like the scene in season one where one of the characters threw some firecrackers at Michael Douglas’ feet. We obviously weren’t going to throw real ones at Michael Douglas, although I think he’d have sucked it up if we’d done it that way! We were shooting in a residential neighborhood at night and we couldn’t set off real ones because they are very loud, so we ended up doing it all with VFX. FuseFx handled the workload for the heavier VFX work.

Henderson: There was a big shot in the pilot where we did a lot of shot extensions in a restaurant where Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and Nancy Travis’ character are having coffee. It was this big sweeping pan down over the city.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
Cavanaugh: They both play a key role, and we have a great team that includes music editor Joe Deveau, supervising sound editor Lou Thomas, and sound mixers Yuri Reese and Bill Smith. The sound recording quality we get on set is always great, so that means we only need very minimal ADR. The whole sound mix is done here on the lot at Warners.

Our composer, Jeff Cardoni, worked with Chuck on Young Sheldon, and he’s really on top of getting all the new cues for the show. We basically have two versions of our main title sequence music cues — one is very bombastic and in-your-face, and the other is a bit more subtle — and it’s funny how it broke down in the first season. The guy who cut the pilot and the odd episodes went with the more bombastic version, while the second editor on the even episodes preferred the softer cues, so I’ll be curious to see how all that breaks down in the new season.

How important is all the coloring on this?
Cavanaugh: Very important. After we do all the online, we ship it over to George at Picture Shop and spend about a day and a half on it. The DP either comes in or gets a file, and she gives her notes. Then we’ll play it for Chuck. We’re in the HDR world with Dolby Vision, and it makes it look so beautiful — but then we have to do the standard pass on it as well.

I know you can’t reveal too much about the new season, but what can fans expect?
Henderson: They’re getting a continuation of these two characters’ journey together — growing old and everything that comes with that. I think it feels like a very natural extension of the first season.

Cavanaugh: In terms of the post process, I feel like we’re a Swiss watch now. We’re ticking along very smoothly. Sometimes post can be a nightmare and full of problems, so it’s great to have it all under control.


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.

Color Chat: Light Iron’s Sean Dunckley

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

NAME: Sean Dunckley

COMPANY: LA- and NYC-based Light Iron

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

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

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

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

Hulu’s Fyre Fraud doc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Night with Emma Thompson. Photo by Emily Aragones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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