Category Archives: Collaboration

Technicolor welcomes colorists Trent Johnson and Andrew Francis

Technicolor in Los Angeles will be beefing up its color department in January with the addition of colorists Andrew Francis and Trent Johnson.

Francis joins Technicolor after spending the last three years building the digital intermediate department of Sixteen19 in New York. With recent credits that include Second Act, Night School, Hereditary and Girls Trip. Francis is a trained fine artist who has established a strong reputation of integrating the bleeding edge of technology in support of the craft of color.

Johnson, a Technicolor alumnus, returns after stints as a digital colorist at MTI, Deluxe and Sony Colorworks. His recent credits include horror hits Slender Man and The Possession of Hannah Grace, as well as comedies Overboard and Ted 2.

Johnson will be using FilmLight and Resolve for his work, while Francis will toggle between Resolve, BaseLight and Lustre, depending on the project.

Francis and Johnson join Technicolor LA’s roster, which includes Pankaj Bajpai, Tony Dustin, Doug Delaney, Jason Fabbro, recent HPA award-winner Maxine Gervais, Michael Hatzer, Roy Vasich, Tim Vincent, Sparkle and others.

Main Image: Trent Johnson and Andrew Francis

Director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Green Book

By Iain Blair

Director, producer and writer Peter Farrelly is best known for the classic comedies he made with his brother Bob: Dumb and Dumber; There’s Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; Me, Myself & Irene; The Three Stooges; and Fever Pitch. But for all their over-the-top, raunchy and boundary-pushing comedy, those movies were always sweet-natured at heart.

Peter Farrelly

Now Farrelly has taken his gift for heartfelt comedy and put his stamp on a very different kind of film, Green Book, a racially charged feel-good drama inspired by a true friendship that transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon line.

Starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it tells the fact-based story of the ultimate odd couple: Tony Lip, a bouncer from The Bronx and Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist. Lip is hired to drive and protect the worldly and sophisticated Shirley during a 1962 concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, where they must rely on the titular “Green Book” — a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for African-Americans during the segregation era.

Set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the valor and volatility of the civil rights movement, the two men are confronted with racism and danger as they challenge long-held assumptions, push past their seemingly insurmountable differences and embrace their shared humanity.

The film also features Linda Cardellini as Tony Vallelonga’s wife, Dolores, along with Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton as two-thirds of The Don Shirley Trio. The film was co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie and reunites Farrelly with editor Patrick J. Don Vito, with whom he worked on the Movie 43 segment “The Pitch.” Farrelly also collaborated for the first-time with cinematographer Sean Porter (read our interview with him), production designer Tim Galvin and composer Kris Bowers.

I spoke with Farrelly about making the film, his workflow and the upcoming awards season. After its Toronto People’s Choice win and Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali), Green Book looks like a very strong Oscar contender.

You told me years ago that you’d love to do a more dramatic film at some point. Was this a big stretch for you?
Not so much, to be honest. People have said to me, “It must have been hard,” but the hardest film I ever made was The Three Stooges… for a bunch of reasons. True, this was a bit of a departure for me in terms of tone, and I definitely didn’t want it to get too jokey — I tend to get jokey so it could easily have gone like that.  But right from the start we were very clear that the comedy would come naturally from the characters and how they interacted and spoke and moved, and so on, not from jokes.

So a lot of the comedy is quite nuanced, and in the scene where Tony starts talking about “the orphans” and Don explains that it’s actually about the opera Orpheus, Viggo has this great reaction and look that wasn’t in the script, and it’s much funnier than any joke we could have made there.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A drama about race and race relations set in a time when it was very fraught, with light moments and a hopeful, uplifting ending.

It has some very timely themes. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. I knew that it would resonate today, although I wish it didn’t. What really hooked me was their common ground. They really are this odd couple who couldn’t be more different — an uneducated, somewhat racist Italian bouncer, and this refined, highly educated, highly cultured doctor and classically trained pianist. They end up spending all this time together in a car on tour, and teach each other so much along the way. And at the end, you know they’ll be friends for life.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Viggo and Mahershala bring to the roles?
Well, for a start they’re two of the greatest actors in the world, and when we were shooting this I felt like an observer. Usually, I can see a lot of the actor in the role, but they both disappeared totally into these characters — but not in some method-y way where they were staying in character all the time, on and off the set. They just became these people, and Viggo couldn’t be less like Tony Lip in real life, and the same with Mahershala and Don. They both worked so hard behind the scenes, and I got a call from Steven Spielberg when he first saw it, and he told me, “This is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and he’s right.

It’s a road picture, but didn’t you end up shooting it all in and around New Orleans?
Yes, we did everything there apart from one day in northern New Jersey to get the fall foliage, and a day of exteriors in New York City with Viggo for all the street scenes. Louisiana has everything, from rolling hills to flats. We also found all the venues and clubs they play in, along with mansions and different looks that could double for places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as Carolinas and the Deep South.

We shot for just 35 days, and Louisiana has great and very experienced crews, so we were able to work pretty fast. Then for scenes like Carnegie Hall, we used CGI in post, done by Pixel Magic, and we were also amazingly lucky when it came to the snow scenes set in Maryland at the end. We were all ready to use fake snow when it actually started snowing and sticking. We got a good three, four inches, which they told us hadn’t happened in a decade or two down there.

Where did you post?
We did most of the editing at my home in Ojai, and the sound at Fotokem, where we also did the DI with colorist Walter Volpatto.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing. Writing is the hardest part, pulling the script together. And I always have fun on the shoot, but you’re always having to make sure you don’t screw up the script. So when you get to the edit and post, all the hard work is done in that sense, and you have the joy of watching the movie find its shape as you cut and add in the sound and music.

What were the big editing challenges, given there’s such a mix of comedy and drama?
Finding that balance was the key, but this film actually came together so easily in the edit compared with some of the movies I’ve done. I’ll never forget seeing the first assembly of There’s Something About Mary, which I thought was so bad it made me want to vomit! But this just flowed, and Patrick did a beautiful job.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It was a huge part of the film and we had a really amazing pianist and composer in Kris Bowers, who worked a lot with Mahershala to make his performance as a musician as authentic as possible. And it wasn’t just the piano playing — Mahershala told me right at the start, “I want to know just how a pianist sits at the piano, how he moves.” So he was totally committed to all the details of the role. Then there’s all the radio music, and I didn’t want to use all the obvious, usual stuff for the period, so we searched out other great, but lesser-known songs. We had great music supervisors, Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, and a great sound team.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
Very important. I love the buzz about it because that gets people out to see it. When we first tested it, we got 100%, and the studio didn’t quite believe it. So we tested again, with “a tougher” audience, and got 98%. But it’s a small film. Everyone took pay cuts to make it, as the budget was so low, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.


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.

DigitalGlue 1.10

First Man: Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

He talks about his most recent film, First Man

By Iain Blair

It’s been two years since I spoke to writer/director Damien Chazelle for postPerspective about his film La La Land. While he only had three feature films on his short resume at the time, he was already viewed by Hollywood as a promising major talent.

That promise was fulfilled in a big way when La La Land — a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash (which received five Oscar noms, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle) — earned 14 Academy Award nominations, winning six awards, including Best Director for Chazelle. He was the youngest to receive the award. The film also won a record-breaking seven Golden Globe Awards and was honored with five BAFTA wins and 11 nominations.

Damian Chazelle working with DP Linus Sandgren on the set of “First Man.”

Recently, Chazelle reteamed with that film’s star, Ryan Gosling, who plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in Universal Pictures’ First Man, the story behind the first manned mission to the moon. Focusing on Armstrong and the decade leading to the Apollo 11 flight, it’s an intimate account that puts the audience squarely inside the planes and rockets, fully immersing the viewer in the exciting and terrifying test flights and space missions.

Based on the book by James R. Hansen, the film also explores the triumphs and the cost — on Armstrong, his family, his colleagues and the nation itself — of one of the most dangerous missions in history.

The film co-stars Claire Foy, as the unsung hero Janet Armstrong, and a supporting cast that includes Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Patrick Fugit, Ethan Embry, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott and Corey Stoll.

Written by Academy Award-winner Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) — with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer — the film also reunites Chazelle with his Oscar-winning cinematographer Linus Sandgren (American Hustle), Oscar-winning editor Tom Cross (Whiplash) and Oscar-winning composer Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash). The director also teamed for the first time with Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert (Blade Runner 2049, The Huntsman: Winter’s War).

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film, which has already generated a lot of Oscar buzz, and his love of editing and post.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to strip away the mythology a bit, as it’s very easy to forget these are real human beings who risked their lives in glorified sardine cans. It was a time before personal computers, and they were using technology that seems so antiquated now. It was about figuring out the edges of their potential. To me it felt like a story of resilience and sacrifice that was really worth telling, and my hope was to make it totally immersive. I wanted it to feel like you’re right there — in the capsules, in the test flights, wherever the characters are. I wanted to give it a feel of being almost like virtual reality.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big thing was, we all wanted to get it technically right, down to the very smallest details, so all the help we got from NASA was invaluable. And first, we had to deal with the sheer density of material. There was so much knowledge we had to quickly gain in order to reflect it accurately. There was so much research and trips to landing sites and space museums, and meeting and talking to former colleagues and former astronauts. We also got the input and support of Neil’s sons and family. Then there was a lot of prep time where our production designer Nathan Crowley started designing and building all the spacecraft pretty much to scale.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right away, but Nathan and I agreed that we should do as many of the VFX as in-camera as possible rather than using greenscreen, so we used a lot of full-scale models and also some miniatures. We used gimbals, motion-control and LED technology and some other in-camera effects, so the result felt like a very physicalized approach. I thought really suited the subject matter. I didn’t want to glamorize it, but show just how raw and tough it all was.

We looked at a lot of archival footage, and I storyboarded every scene in space and then made animatics set to Dustin’s music, so it gave us a very precise sense of, “OK, this is the shot. How are we going to do this other shot? How are we going to combine this effect with that one?” It was figuring out the methodology, shot by shot, and we had lots of multi-departmental meetings around tables with models and art work laid out. This allowed us to walk each other through the process. It was a bit like a relay race.

Can you talk about how you collaborated again with Linus Sandgren?
He did such a beautiful job on La La Land, and I knew what he was capable of, so it was great to collaborate with him and watch him work on this bigger canvas. He was able to tackle all the technical challenges, yet he was also always able to ensure that his photography had humanity to it. The human beings are at the center of it all, and he captured all the emotions in their faces, all the poetic moments in between all the big set pieces. He’s always searching for those things, which is what I love about his work. He built special light rigs for scenes with the sun, and then we shot the moon sequences at this gray-colored quarry near Atlanta, which we then sculpted.

To get that harsh lunar light, he developed the biggest film light ever built — around 200,000 watts. That gave us that black sky look and stark shadows. We also did a lot of testing of formats to figure out what the balance should be because we planned to shoot a lot in 16mm, some in 35mm, and then all the moon stuff in IMAX. All the transitions were important in telling the story.

(See your interview with Sandgren about his work on La La Land here.)

Where did you post?
All on the Universal lot in LA, including the sound mix.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process, and where it all comes together.

Talk about editing with your go-to guy Tom Cross. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was the huge amount of film I shot — two million feet — and a short editing schedule, shorter than La La Land. So figuring out how to take all that, and a lot of it was documentary style, and wrangle it into a narrative space and make the movie feel visceral, kinetic and propulsive was very challenging. Then finding the balance between the big set pieces in space and the quiet moments at home was demanding, but Tom’s so good at that and finding gems. Our first cut was over three hours long, so we had to cut a lot and find the most economical ways to work through the footage. This wasn’t like our last film, which was full of cuts and close ups. This was more a first-person point of view, and we had to edit in a way that gave clarity, structure and a kineticism to make it feel like this one big breathless ride.

All the VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with visual effects supervisor Paul Lambert.
He was there right from the start, and he also designed all of the in-camera effects, and he’d refer to it as “doing the VFX in prep rather than leaving them all to post.” We used archival footage projected onto LED screens through the windows of the spacecraft, and that gave us our backgrounds. We didn’t have a lot of CG stuff created from scratch, but there was a lot of fine-tuning and finessing, so it was a big endeavor both in prep and post. But it never felt like that kind of effects movie where you shoot a ton of greenscreen and then fix it all in post.

(See our interview with Tom Cross about his work on First Man here.)

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It’s huge for me, and that’s why music drives a lot of my films. I used to be a jazz drummer and I’m always thinking in terms of rhythm and sound. The sound team collected a huge range of sounds we could play with. Our sound designer Ai-Ling Lee would go down to the Cape and record stuff, and we also recorded sounds in old hangars and sounds from the old space suits and their cooling tubes and so on. It was really specific. Our set sound mixer Mary Ellis also recorded a ton of stuff, and it all went into a pile. The mixing took a long time, and we’d also augment the authentic sounds with animal noises, gunfire and other things, so it was quite experimental. Then there’s the absolute silence of the moon.

(Stay tuned for our interview with the audio post team on First Man.)

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Universal with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did La La Land and Whiplash for me and is very experienced and an artist. The DI is such a key part of post, and I love the look we got.

What’s next?
I’m doing pre-prep on this TV musical drama, The Eddy, for Netflix. It’s set in Paris and we’ll start shooting there in March. Then I’m also writing this drama series for Apple TV, which I’ll direct and also executive produce. I have some movie ideas in development, but nothing set yet. I’m excited about the TV stuff.


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.


Behind the Title: Picture Shop workflow specialist Alex Martin

NAME: Alex Martin

COMPANY: Picture Shop Post

TITLE: Workflow Specialist

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
While Picture Shop is two years old, our team has decades of experience. A majority of our employees here know each other through some previous career venture. We are a hand-picked team that meshes really well together.

We’re led by four individuals who live and breathe post production and have for decades: president Bill Romeo, EVP of sales and marketing Robert Glass, EVP of VFX Tom Kendall and EVP and CTO Jay Bodnar.

Our projects — from superhero shows to Netflix and Hulu’s top HDR projects (oh yeah, and zombies) — we’re constantly expanding.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT A WORKFLOW SPECIALIST DOES?
Technology is always advancing, and so are our shows and their workflows. Keeping up to speed with the new gear and new specs is a large majority of what makes up my day-to-day.

You have to be quick on your feet and one step ahead of the industry at all times in order to grasp success. The biggest challenge for me is always having to think outside the box; looking for new and improved ways to make what already works even better. We are often stumbling upon new advancements, constantly producing and testing new ideas into fruition.

WHAT SYSTEMS DOES PICTURE SHOP HAVE FOR COLOR?
We’re fortunate enough to have three major color correctors: Digital Vision’s Nucoda, Filmlight’s Baselight and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. We also use Colorfront’s software, Express Dailies and Transkoder.

For our online systems we use Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Flame and, recently, Resolve.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST SET UP PROJECTS/ DESIGN WORKFLOWS?
All the time. One moment, I’m figuring out why the text over picture is more transparent than it should be, and the next, I’m creating LUTs for a new show on-set. My day-to-day job is always about workflow, but my minute-to-minute lies in the fine details. The main focus is to help get the show out the door on time and ensure that our clients keep coming back for more.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Probably that no two days are the same. I have a great mentor, senior systems workflow engineer Todd Korody, who we consider the brains of the building. Working alongside him for the past two years has been the most rewarding. Most of the conversations that we have are about a show’s color pipeline, and how we can get to the final delivery stage seamlessly while keeping in mind that each new show brings a different element to the table.

Whether we’re designing the workflow on a regular HD finish for a network show or evolving the HDR processes for Netflix and Hulu, figuring out the pass off from one platform to the next (dailies to online, online to color, or VFX to color) makes each day unique.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite is probably my own tendency to be a perfectionist. I always want to make sure that everything goes according to plan — as most of us do. I’m then reminded of the brilliant team that I am surrounded by, and though seeking a more collaborative effort, the “best way” to fix any issue makes itself known.

It’s amazing to know that I’m surrounded by people that care about our company to the same degree, and we all work together to ensure the best possible success.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be a sound engineer for live concerts. What’s better than being behind the controls, mixing for a great band?

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I kind of fell into it. I wanted to go to recording school for music. Not that I couldn’t have, but a four-year university was needed. I ended up finding film schools had classes in mixing for movies. This turned into an editing and VFX emphasis so I could take mixing classes.

One of the classes offered in the area I was studying was color correction. I loved that class, which opened a very wide door for me to pursue in post. I knew I would end up in the entertainment business in some way around 17. My friends and I would cut together videos on Windows Movie Maker. Always enjoyed the art and still do today.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON OR PLAN TO WORK ON?
On the technology side, we’ve been working a lot with Resolve and Baselight in terms of HDR. Also making sure we are familiar with the Dolby Vision toolsets, color management workflows and making sure our pipeline is smooth for everyone.

We have a few projects coming out which I’m exciting to be a part of, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Unbelievable and Huge in France, all for Netflix. There is also Future Man for Hulu. There’s a lot more HDR work on the horizon, but these are a few currently underway.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF WORK WISE?
Our HDR pipeline. We’ve developed some great tools and strategies along the way to handle very large camera files, ways we bring media in and out of the color correctors, and tools to help us with final delivery.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Camera tests through to final picture. Before each show starts filming, the DP usually directs a camera test. When they do the camera and lens-package comparisons, I love seeing the subtle differences. Once the show’s colorist has a chance to collaborate with the DP’s vision, the best part is seeing the final colored image through their eyes. In my opinion, this finishing touch is what brings the picture to life.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
My phone, my laptop and Resolve… I also have to mention my car.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I use LinkedIn – I follow all the studios, production companies, software companies, different operators and artists; really anything that keeps me up to speed with the post production world.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I guess I always go back to what brought me to this business in the first place, and that’s music. I play the drums, and that helps me decompress and have a good time.


Tom Cross talks about editing First Man

By Barry Goch

As a child, First Man editor Tom Cross was fascinated with special effects and visual effects in films. So much so that he would take out library books that went behind the scenes on movies and focused on special effects. He had a particular interest in the artists who made miniature spacecraft, which made working on Damien Chazelle’s First Man feel like it was meant to be.

“When I learned that Damien wanted to use miniatures and do in-camera effects on this film, my childhood and adulthood kind of joined hands,” shares Cross, who is now a frequent collaborator of Chazelle’s, having cut Whiplash, La La Land and now First Man.

We recently spoke with Cross about his work on this Universal Pictures film, which stars another Chazelle favorite, Ryan Gosling, and follows the story of Neil Armstrong and the decade leading up to our country’s first mission to the moon.

Which sci-fi films influenced the style of First Man?
I remember seeing the original Star Wars movies as a kid, and they were life changing… seeing those in the theater really transported me. They opened my eyes to other movies and other movie experiences, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Along the way, I saw and loved The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.

Tom Cross

Damien is a big fan of all those movies as well, but he really wanted to try a different stylistic approach. He knew that 2001 owns that particular look and style, where you’re super high resolution, antiseptic and sleek in a futuristic way.

For First Man, Damien decided to go with something more personal and intimate. He watched hours of 16mm NASA archival footage, which was often shot by astronauts. He loved the idea of First Man feeling like we put a documentary cameraman in the space capsules. He also saw that these spacecrafts appeared more machine-age than space-age. All the gauges and rivets looked like they belonged in a tank from World War II. So I think all of that lo-fi, analog feel informed the cinema vérité-style that he chose.

As a creative editor, you have animatics, previz or temp comps in the Avid, how do you determine the pacing? Could you talk about the creative process working on a big visual effects film?
Damien preplans everything down to the letter. He did that on Whiplash and La La Land, and he did that on First Man, especially all of the big action set pieces — the X-15, the Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 scenes. He had storyboards done, and animatics that he cut with some rough sound effects. So I always used those as a starting point.

I rely heavily on sound. I really try to use it to help illustrate what we’re looking at, especially if we’re using placeholder shots. In general, I’m most reliant on the performances to help me time things out. What the actors bring is really the heartbeat of any action scene. If you don’t identify with the character or get into a point of view, then the action scene becomes something else. It might work on some formal level, but it’s less subjective, which is the opposite of what Damien was going for.

Can you talk about him capturing things in-camera?
Damien made the choice with production designer Nathan Crowley, VFX supervisor Paul Lambert and cinematographer Linus Sandgren to try to shoot as many things in-camera as possible. The backgrounds that you see out all the spacecraft windows were projected on LED screens and then captured in-camera. Later, our VFX artists would improve, or sometimes replace, those windows. But the beautiful thing that in-camera gave us were these amazing reflections on the visors, faces and eyes. That sort of organic play of light is very difficult to replicate later. Having the in-camera VFX was invaluable to me when I was editing and great for rough cut screenings.

A big part of the film played with only the point of view of the astronaut and feeling like it’s a VR experience. Could you talk about that?
It came down to what Damien and Ryan Gosling would refer to as “the moon and the kitchen sink.” That meant that the movie would hinge on the balance between the NASA space missions and the personal domestic storylines. For the earthbound scenes with Neil and his family, Damien wanted the audience to feel like a fly on the wall in their home. He wanted it to feel intimate, and that called for a cinema verité documentary approach to the camera and the cutting.

He wanted to continue that documentary style inside the space capsules but then take it even further. He wanted to make those scenes as subjective as possible. He shot these beautiful POV shots of everything that Neil sees — the Gemini 8 seat before he climbs in, the gauges inside, the view out the window — and we intercut those with Ryan’s face and eyes. Damien really encouraged me to lean into a simple but effective cutting pattern that went back and forth between those elements. It all had to feel immersive.

What about the sound in those POV shots?
It was brilliantly created by our sound designer Ai-Ling Lee and then mixed by Ai-Ling, Frank Montano and Jon Taylor. Damien and I sketched out where all those sounds would be in our Avid rough cuts. Then Ai-Ling would use our template and take it to the next level. We played around with sound in a way that we hadn’t done on Whiplash or La La Land. We made room for sound. We would linger on POV shots of the walls of the space capsule so that we’d have room to put creaks and metal groans from Ai-Ling. We really played those moments up and then tried to answer those sounds with a look from Neil or one of the other astronauts. The goal was to make the audience feel like they were experiencing what the astronauts were experiencing. I never knew how close they were to not even making it to the lunar surface.

There was that pressure of the world watching as alarms are going off in this capsule, and was fuel running out. It was very dramatic. Damien always wanted to honor how heroic these astronauts were by showing how difficult their missions were. They risked everything. We tried to illustrate this by creating sequences that were experiential. We tried to do that through subjective cutting patterns, through sound and by using the big screen in certain ways.

Can you talk about working in IMAX?
Damien is a big canvas director. He always thinks about the big screen. On La La Land, he and Linus shoot in Fox’s original Cinemascope aspect ratio, which is 2:55.

On First Man, he again wanted to tell the story on a wide canvas but then, somehow, take it up a notch at the appropriate moment. He wanted to find a cinematic device that would adequately transport the audience to another world. He came up with this kind of Wizard of Oz transition where the camera passes through the hatch door and out onto the moon. The image opens up from 2.40 to full 1.43 IMAX.

The style and the pace changes after that point. It slows down so that the audience can take in the breathtaking detail that IMAX renders. The scene becomes all about the shadows and the texture of the lunar surface. All the while, we linger even longer on the POV shots so that the viewer feels like they are climbing down that ladder.

What editing system did you use?
We edited on the Avid Media Composer using DNxHD 115. I found that resolution really helpful to assess the focus and detail of the image, especially because we shot a lot of 16mm and 35mm 2-perf.

Tom Cross

I would love to give a shout out to your team, for your assistants and apprentices and anybody else that helped.
I was pretty blessed with a very strong editorial crew. If it weren’t for those guys we’d still be editing the movie since Damien shot 1.75 million feet of film. I need to give credit to my editing team’s great organizational prowess. I also had two great additional editors who worked closely with me and Damien — Harry Yoon and John To. They’re great storytellers and they inspired me everyday with their work.

Ryan Chavez, our VFX editor, also did a lot of great cutting. At the same time, he kept me on target with everything VFX-related. Because of our tight schedule, he was joined by a second VFX editor Jody Rogers, who I had previously worked with on David O. Russell’s movie Joy. She was fantastic.

Then I had two amazing first assistants: Jennifer Stellema and Derek Drouin. Both of them were often sent on missions to find needles in haystacks. They had to wade through hundreds of hours of NASA radio comms, stock footage, and also a plethora of insert shots of gauges and switches. Somehow they always knew where to find everything. The Avid script was also an indispensable resource and that was set up and maintained by Assistant Editors Eric Kench and Phillip Trujillo.

On the VFX end, we were very lucky to have our VFX producer Kevin Elam down the hall. We also had two incredible postviz artists — John Weckworth and Joe DiValerio — who fed us shots constantly. It was a very challenging schedule, which got more difficult once we got into film festivals.

Fortunately, our great post supervisors from La La Land —Jeff Harlacker and Jason Miller — were onboard. They’re the ones who really kept us all on track and had the big picture in mind. Together, with our trusted post PA Ryan Cunningham, we were covered.

The truly unsung heroes of this project had to be the families and loved ones of our crew. As we worked the long hours to make this movie, they supported us in every way imaginable. Without them, none of this would be possible.


Barry Goch is a finishing artist at The Foundation, a boutique post facility in the heart of Burbank’s Media District. He is also an instructor for post production at UCLA Extension. You can follow him on Twitter @gochya


Adobe Max 2018: Creative Cloud updates and more

By Mike McCarthy

I attended my first Adobe Max 2018 last week in Los Angeles. This huge conference takes over the LA convention center and overflows into the surrounding venues. It began on Monday morning with a two-and-a-half-hour keynote outlining the developments and features being released in the newest updates to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. This was followed by all sorts of smaller sessions and training labs for attendees to dig deeper into the new capabilities of the various tools and applications.

The South Hall was filled with booths from various hardware and software partners, with more available than any one person could possibly take in. Tuesday started off with some early morning hands-on labs, followed by a second keynote presentation about creative and career development. I got a front row seat to hear five different people, who are successful in their creative fields — including director Ron Howard — discuss their approach to work and life. The rest of the day was so packed with various briefings, meetings and interviews that I didn’t get to actually attend any of the classroom sessions.

By Wednesday, the event was beginning to wind down, but there was still a plethora of sessions and other options for attendees to split their time. I presented the workflow for my most recent project Grounds of Freedom at Nvidia’s booth in the community pavilion, and spent the rest of the time connecting with other hardware and software partners who had a presence there.

Adobe released updates for most of its creative applications concurrent with the event. Many of the most relevant updates to the video tools were previously announced at IBC in Amsterdam last month, so I won’t repeat those, but there are still a few new video ones, as well as many that are broader in scope in regards to media as a whole.

Adobe Premiere Rush
The biggest video-centric announcement is Adobe Premiere Rush, which offers simplified video editing workflows for mobile devices and PCs.  Currently releasing on iOS and Windows, with Android to follow in the future, it is a cloud-enabled application, with the option to offload much of the processing from the user device. Rush projects can be moved into Premiere Pro for finishing once you are back on the desktop.  It will also integrate with Team Projects for greater collaboration in larger organizations. It is free to start using, but most functionality will be limited to subscription users.

Let’s keep in mind that I am a finishing editor for feature films, so my first question (as a Razr-M user) was, “Who wants to edit video on their phone?” But what if the user shot the video on their phone? I don’t do that, but many people do, so I know this will be a valuable tool. This has me thinking about my own mentality toward video. I think if I was a sculptor I would be sculpting stone, while many people are sculpting with clay or silly putty. Because of that I would have trouble sculpting in clay and see little value in tools that are only able to sculpt clay. But there is probably benefit to being well versed in both.

I would have no trouble showing my son’s first-year video compilation to a prospective employer because it is just that good — I don’t make anything less than that. But there was no second-year video, even though I have the footage because that level of work takes way too much time. So I need to break free from that mentality, and get better at producing content that is “sufficient to tell a story” without being “technically and artistically flawless.” Learning to use Adobe Rush might be a good way for me to take a step in that direction. As a result, we may eventually see more videos in my articles as well. The current ones took me way too long to produce, but Adobe Rush should allow me to create content in a much shorter timeframe, if I am willing to compromise a bit on the precision and control offered by Premiere Pro and After Effects.

Rush allows up to four layers of video, with various effects and 32-bit Lumetri color controls, as well as AI-based audio filtering for noise reduction and de-reverb and lots of preset motion graphics templates for titling and such.  It should allow simple videos to be edited relatively easily, with good looking results, then shared directly to YouTube, Facebook and other platforms. While it doesn’t fit into my current workflow, I may need to create an entirely new “flow” for my personal videos. This seems like an interesting place to start, once they release an Android version and I get a new phone.

Photoshop Updates
There is a new version of Photoshop released nearly every year, and most of the time I can’t tell the difference between the new and the old. This year’s differences will probably be a lot more apparent to most users after a few minutes of use. The Undo command now works like other apps instead of being limited to toggling the last action. Transform operates very differently, in that they made proportional transform the default behavior instead of requiring users to hold Shift every time they scale. It allows the anchor point to be hidden to prevent people from moving the anchor instead of the image and the “commit changes” step at the end has been removed. All positive improvements, in my opinion, that might take a bit of getting used to for seasoned pros. There is also a new Framing Tool, which allows you to scale or crop any layer to a defined resolution. Maybe I am the only one, but I frequently find myself creating new documents in PS just so I can drag the new layer, that is preset to the resolution I need, back into my current document. For example, I need a 200x300px box in the middle of my HD frame — how else do you do that currently? This Framing tool should fill that hole in the features for more precise control over layer and object sizes and positions (As well as provide its easily adjustable non-destructive masking.).

They also showed off a very impressive AI-based auto selection of the subject or background.  It creates a standard selection that can be manually modified anywhere that the initial attempt didn’t give you what you were looking for.  Being someone who gives software demos, I don’t trust prepared demonstrations, so I wanted to try it for myself with a real-world asset. I opened up one of my source photos for my animation project and clicked the “Select Subject” button with no further input and got this result.  It needs some cleanup at the bottom, and refinement in the newly revamped “Select & Mask” tool, but this is a huge improvement over what I had to do on hundreds of layers earlier this year.  They also demonstrated a similar feature they are working on for video footage in Tuesday night’s Sneak previews.  Named “Project Fast Mask,” it automatically propagates masks of moving objects through video frames and, while not released yet, it looks promising.  Combined with the content-aware background fill for video that Jason Levine demonstrated in AE during the opening keynote, basic VFX work is going to get a lot easier.

There are also some smaller changes to the UI, allowing math expressions in the numerical value fields and making it easier to differentiate similarly named layers by showing the beginning and end of the name if it gets abbreviated.  They also added a function to distribute layers spatially based on the space between them, which accounts for their varying sizes, compared to the current solution which just evenly distributes based on their reference anchor point.

In other news, Photoshop is coming to iPad, and while that doesn’t affect me personally, I can see how this could be a big deal for some people. They have offered various trimmed down Photoshop editing applications for iOS in the past, but this new release is supposed to be based on the same underlying code as the desktop version and will eventually replicate all functionality, once they finish adapting the UI for touchscreens.

New Apps
Adobe also showed off Project Gemini, which is a sketch and painting tool for iPad that sits somewhere between Photoshop and Illustrator. (Hence the name, I assume) This doesn’t have much direct application to video workflows besides being able to record time-lapses of a sketch, which should make it easier to create those “white board illustration” videos that are becoming more popular.

Project Aero is a tool for creating AR experiences, and I can envision Premiere and After Effects being critical pieces in the puzzle for creating the visual assets that Aero will be placing into the augmented reality space.  This one is the hardest for me to fully conceptualize. I know Adobe is creating a lot of supporting infrastructure behind the scenes to enable the delivery of AR content in the future, but I haven’t yet been able to wrap my mind around a vision of what that future will be like.  VR I get, but AR is more complicated because of its interface with the real world and due to the variety of forms in which it can be experienced by users.  Similar to how web design is complicated by the need to support people on various browsers and cell phones, AR needs to support a variety of use cases and delivery platforms.  But Adobe is working on the tools to make that a reality, and Project Aero is the first public step in that larger process.

Community Pavilion
Adobe’s partner companies in the Community Pavilion were showing off a number of new products.  Dell has a new 49″ IPS monitor, the U4919DW, which is basically the resolution and desktop space of two 27-inch QHD displays without the seam (5120×1440 to be exact). HP was displaying their recently released ZBook Studio x360 convertible laptop workstation, (which I will be posting a review of soon), as well as their Zbook X2 tablet and the rest of their Z workstations.  NVidia was exhibiting their new Turing-based cards with 8K Red decoding acceleration, ray tracing in Adobe Dimension and other GPU accelerated tasks.  AMD was demoing 4K Red playback on a MacBookPro with an eGPU solution, and CPU based ray-tracing on their Ryzen systems.  The other booths spanned the gamut from GoPro cameras and server storage devices to paper stock products for designers.  I even won a Thunderbolt 3 docking station at Intel’s booth. (Although in the next drawing they gave away a brand new Dell Precision 5530 2-in-1 convertible laptop workstation.)   Microsoft also garnered quite a bit of attention when they gave away 30 MS Surface tablets near the end of the show.  There was lots to see and learn everywhere I looked.

The Significance of MAX
Adobe MAX is quite a significant event, especially now that I have been in the industry long enough to start to see the evolution of certain trends — things are not as static as we may expect.  I have attended NAB for the last 12 years, and the focus of that show has shifted significantly away from my primary professional focus. (No Red, Ncidia, or Apple booths, among many other changes)  This was the first year that I had the thought “I should have gone to Sundance,” and a number of other people I know had the same impression. Adobe Max is similar, although I have been a little slower to catch on to that change.  It has been happening for over ten years, but has grown dramatically in size and significance recently.  If I still lived in LA, I probably would have started attending sooner, but it was hardly on my radar until three weeks ago.  Now that I have seen it in person, I probably won’t miss it in the future.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.


Adobe launches Premiere Rush CC for social video

At the Adobe Max Creativity Conference, Adobe introduced Adobe Premiere Rush CC, the first all-in-one video editing app for social media creators that simplifies video creation and sharing on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram.

Designed specifically for online video creators, Premiere Rush CC integrates capture, intuitive editing, simplified color, audio and motion graphics with seamless publishing to leading social platforms, such as YouTube and Instagram, all in one easy-to-use solution.

With Premiere Rush CC, content creators do not have to be video, color or audio experts to publish professional-quality videos. Premiere Rush CC harnesses the power of Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC; offers built-in access to professionally designed Motion Graphics templates in Adobe Stock to get started quickly; and features a Sensei-powered, one-click auto-duck feature to adjust music and normalize sound. It also allows access anywhere, enabling users to create compelling video projects — optimized for social distribution — on one device and publish from another with a consistent user experience across desktop and mobile.

Premiere Rush CC is available now on Windows and macOS and via the iOS App Store. (Google Play store availability is coming in 2019.) Adobe offers a variety of pricing plans tailored for customers’ needs:

• Premiere Rush CC is available for $9.99/month to individuals, $19.99/month to teams and $29.99/month to enterprise customers. Premiere Rush CC is also included as part of All Apps, Student and Premiere Pro CC single app plans and comes with 100 GB of CC storage. Additional storage options, up to 10 TB, are also available for purchase.

• Premiere Rush CC Starter Plan: Available for free, the Starter Plan gives customers access to all Premiere Rush CC features, use of desktop and mobile apps and the ability to create an unlimited number of projects and export up to three projects for free.


Digital Domain Shanghai’s Simon Astbury talks color, projects

England-born Simon Astbury’s path to color grading wasn’t a straight one. He earned a degree in music and had vague ambitions about working in A&R. “I started working in this industry briefly in the early ‘90s and pretty much hated it,” he shares.

One day, Astbury went to sound sync and dialogue edit in a small facility in Twickenham Film Studios where they had two MkIII Rank Cintel telecines. “It was love at first sight,” he says. “The ‘Heath Robinson’ craziness of these systems, with their very limited color tools in those days, PEC master control (operated with a tweaker) and primaries.

Simon Astbury

“There was no machine control or editing, so no stopping once you’d started. It was a great way to learn the craft, to hone an instinctive reaction to an image that still serves me well today. The green radioactive glow from the tube, the smell of film all went to make grading a much more visceral experience! The early ‘90s was a period of huge change in post. Avid was this new thing that the editors mistrusted, most of them were using Steenbecks at that time.”

Astbury’s path was officially changed and he went on to work on many films, including Shakespeare in Love, Sense and Sensibility and Notting Hill. “I also worked with a bunch of film legends including Roger Pratt, Jack Cardiff, Richard Attenborough, Alan Parker, Franco Zeferelli… and The Spice Girls!”

Astbury has worked in a wide range of genres, from Oscar-winning films to iconic ad campaigns and pop promos. He has collaborated with people like Jack Cardiff, Roger Pratt, Tony Kaye, Paul WS Anderson and many more. Today, he is the head of color at Digital Domain in Shanghai.

Let’s find out more…

You’ve recently moved to Shanghai. Why the move, and are your clients’ requests or expectations there different than in London?
I felt it was time to leave my Soho comfort zone. I’d always intended to travel with the job, but the right opportunity never came up. Then when the offer to relocate came somewhat out of the blue, I consulted my family and we decided to go for it.

Digital Domain has an incredible body of work and a global presence. It was also an opportunity to develop and grow a grading department worldwide in a company that is primarily focused on VFX.

Managing client expectations is always very important, but in China the client really is king or queen. Making sure that the work remains good and not diluted by overthinking and over-tweaking is sometimes a very delicate negotiation.

How have you gone about building or enhancing the grading department at Digital Domain China?
So far I’ve introduced some enhanced workflows and defined training for the juniors and assistants. I’m also attempting to make remote grading available to any of our other offices around the world. Additionally, I’m promoting increased co-operation between our Shanghai and Beijing offices.

You’ve worked on all sorts of projects, from documentaries to features to commercials. Is there a genre you enjoy grading the most?
If it doesn’t sound trite, I would say that good, well-executed work is the most enjoyable to grade. I love commercials because they afford the opportunity to go into detail and occasionally push things creatively.

I love documentaries because the grade can enhance the story in so many different ways. I love dramas because the story arc and mood can be helped immensely by a good grade. I love movies because in my heart I’m a film nut and the opportunity to have your work in a cinema is an incredible buzz that will never ever get old.

What work are you most proud of?
There are a few things that stand out for me, most recently a grade for the wonderful director Nieto at Stink for Wu Fang Zhai. It was great fun to throw away the rulebook and do some crazy stuff.

There are a bunch of things that I’ve done over the years that I remember fondly, a travelogue for BBC4 called Travels With a Tangerine, which was amazingly well shot on SD DVCAM. Also some beautiful films for Volvo directed by Martin Swift, and some epic stuff for Audi directed by Paul WS Anderson. There is also the amazing multi-screen art installation “Mother’s Day” for artist Smadar Dreyfuss about dispossessed stateless children in Israel.

Working with younger directors like Stella Scott has been a great experience for me. Passing on knowledge and at the same time learning new visual languages helps to keep everything fresh. At the other end of the spectrum is The Human Centipede trilogy — it’s not often that you get to be involved in a cultural phenomenon.

Wu Fang Zha

Can you describe a recent project and what tools were particularly beneficial?
The Wu Fang Zhai project was shot on greenscreen with matte-painted backgrounds and sometimes with complicated comps. It was really easy to assemble rough comps in my FilmLight Baselight to ensure the grade looked correct. Layer mode composite settings were particularly useful.

Baselight Editions is also a brilliant tool for VFX-heavy jobs. We have a top-secret project on at the moment and the ability to have a renderless workflow between Baselight and Nuke is invaluable.

As a colorist what are your biggest strengths?
I’ve been doing it for a long time and can come up with creative solutions for most eventualities. Sometimes the client wants you to drive the session and come up with all the ideas, sometimes they want you to do as you are told, and sometimes they want it to be a collaboration. I’m comfortable with any of these scenarios, but the client is paying for my eyes and my interpretation, so sometimes you have to be the guide, even when the client has very definite ideas.

You also have to be the arbiter of taste. So on occasion you have to be firm, particularly when bad decisions are being made. I try to separate my ego from the work and create a calm-but-creative atmosphere in the grade suite. Music is hugely important, as well as a fully stocked drink trolley!

The wonderful colorist Bob Festa has said that he asks people what they want their films to say, rather than how they want them to look, and that’s pretty much my approach. I’ve been compared to an airline pilot or cruise ship captain more than once….I’ll take that (he smiles).

You’ve been a colorist for over 20 years and witnessed the time when color correction was processed in film labs. What are your thoughts today about film versus digital?
I worked exclusively in film for about half my career and I love it. It is tactile, it smells great, it feels good in your hands and, of course, many of the most memorable images in cinema were shot on it. The soft detail, intensity and richness of color, the roll off into the whites and blacks is something that digital still finds hard to replicate.

Gucci commercial

Also, the recent resurgence in Europe and the USA of film in shorts, commercials and promos is great to see. However, I find myself thinking about all those things I don’t miss about film, such as weave, cell scratches, grain, wet gate TK and that buttock-clenching moment when the lab manager tells you the reel had broken in the bath and 300 feet of neg had been destroyed. X-ray fogging! Oh my goodness, I have so many film horror stories.

Modern cameras produce amazingly clear images with great color and response to light with far less in the way of insurmountable problems, and I don’t see either as particularly better. Actually, I think decent glass and proper lighting are just as important as what camera or format you shoot on.

What are the biggest challenges you face today as a colorist?
There are a few, but I don’t think they’re specific to colorists. Content is becoming continually more disposable. It’s more important than ever that respect for the craft — not only of color grading but the whole production and post process — becomes central to every production. The proliferation of display devices is also a big subject, making sure that the grade looks good on phones, tablets, laptops and TVs is an issue that will only get more challenging.

Do you have a routine when grading?
Yes, definitely. Although color is incredibly subjective, I personally think that your process shouldn’t be. I strongly believe there’s a right and wrong way of going about a grade. Every colorist has a different process but there are definitely ways that work and ways that don’t.

The longer I do the job, the more important the psychological aspect of it becomes — how your choices in the grade affect the thoughts and emotions of the viewer… what really matters and what doesn’t. I’m always on a quest to distil the essence of a grade. A lot of the content I see now, in my opinion, is over-graded. We have such comprehensive tools now, so you don’t have to throw the kitchen sink at every shot. “Keep it simple” is a mantra I try to impress upon my juniors.

Baselight is your main tool?
I’ve been working on Baselight for just shy of a decade. My favorite thing about Baselight is what I call “redundancy of process,” by which I mean there are multiple ways of doing most grading operations — hue angle not working? Then try Dkey. Dkey no good? Then try RGB key or curves, etc, etc.

What advice would you give to a junior colorist starting out today?
Be patient, there are no shortcuts, although I think it takes less time nowadays than it did due to the absence of telecines. Be a geek about your industry, cameras, lighting and lenses. Watch movies, ads and everything that’s good. Study art and artists, if only to have common points of reference. Remember that the grading part is only a portion of what makes a good colorist. You’re the host, therapist, barman and ringmaster.

You have to be someone people don’t mind spending 12 hours in a dark room with or they’ll never use you again. With difficult client requests try to say yes and then work out how you’re going to do it; if you can’t do it, suggest an alternative rather than saying no. Social media, especially Instagram is a brilliant medium for colorists, but be careful not to post things just for the sake of it.

Main Image Caption: Wu Fang Zhai 


Tamara Jenkins talks writing, directing the Netflix film Private Life

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins has never been shy about mining her personal life for laughs and tears — or taking her time with a project. Her debut feature film, 1998’s semi-autobiographical dark comedy Slums of Beverly Hills, which she wrote and directed, was partly based on her own childhood growing up poor in the mega-wealthy city. The cult hit went on to score two Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Nearly a decade later, she premiered The Savages at Sundance. The comedy, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as neurotic siblings dealing with their dementia-afflicted father, went on to receive two Oscar noms — a Best Actress nod for Linney and a Best Original Screenplay nod for Jenkins.

Tamara Jenkins

Now, another decade later, Jenkins and her husband’s own real-life struggle to have a child has provided fertile material for her new film, Private Life, which stars Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged married couple who have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. Just as the possibilities of conception seem to get further away with each passing attempt, an unexpected Hail Mary arrives in the form of a recent college dropout who might just prove to be the last, unconventional piece of their fertility puzzle.

I talked recently with Jenkins about making the film and her advice for aspiring women directors.

So just how autobiographical is this new film?
Quite a bit. The experience of dealing with infertility and IVF is something me and my husband went through for years. I’d discuss it all with a friend who kept telling me, “You should write all this stuff down because it’s so hilarious and so heartbreaking. You should make a movie about this.” But I didn’t quite see it that way at the time (laughs). So the emotional core of the story is true, and I felt like quite an expert on the subject and it informed it all, but then the demands of fiction take over and invention comes in and stuff is made up. So it’s a combination of both fact and fiction.

It’s been over a decade since Savages, partly because of your battle to get pregnant. I assume this can’t have been easy to get greenlit?
No kidding! Infertility is a tough sell. I actually had notes for this back in ’08, right on the heels of The Savages, and I remember going back to them years later and wondering why I hadn’t carried on writing it. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I had a baby in 2009!” I’d forgotten that little detail. And then deals fell through until Netflix got involved, so it was a long process.

It’s about infertility, but it’s also really about a marriage, right?
Exactly. I always thought of it as a portrait of a marriage, but one that takes place in the land of IVF and doctors. I had this guiding principle: that it’s like a road movie, and these two characters are in a car and they’re off to infertility land. The key thing was, ‘How do they handle it and endure it, and how does it affect the marriage?’ I was also interested in writing about middle-aged marriage, and how they’re almost having a mutual mid-life crisis together — when you find yourself hitting your head up against what your expectations were for your life and dreams, and what the reality actually is. I think everyone can relate to that.

You assembled a great cast that’s so believable. No one’s super-rich or super-beautiful. What did Paul and Kathryn bring to the roles?
I wanted to make a film about a real couple, not a movie couple, set in a New York that also feels real and not like a movie version of it. They’re so great and grounded in the roles, and have such great chemistry. What’s funny is that you assume actors like Paul and Kathryn know each other having been in the business for a long time, but they’d never even met before. So I ended up organizing a dinner for them at Paul’s house, and I cooked, and they did the dishes together and then we had a read-through. Then a couple of months later we had a few days rehearsal when they both got back to town from other projects.

How long was the shoot?
Just 30 days, which wasn’t long enough. We shot in a real apartment and had to work very fast, but it was pretty smooth.

Where did you do the post?
At Sim Post New York, which used to be Post Factory.

Do you like post?
I absolutely love it. I feel like you always learn so much about filmmaking in post. It’s probably the best way to teach people about what a movie really is, and how it comes together and gets cut and made. For me, post is very exciting but also terrifying. Every movie has this plasticity and you’re trying to find your way. Do you have all the pieces you need? Are they the right stuff for it? But then I love when you start to drop music in and work on all the sound design, and things start to emerge. It’s truly amazing how it takes on a life of its own, like some science experiment.

You worked with The Savages editor Brian Kates. What did he bring to the project, and was he on set?
He visited once, just to check it out, but he then began to do his assembly while I shot. He’s a great collaborator. There was one scene we shot in the apartment that I was a bit worried about, so he cut that early on and then showed me so I could get a sense of how it was working, in case I needed to go back to it. That was very helpful.

What were the main editing challenges?
Tone and pacing are always crucial, but I felt like the tone was pretty well established with the writing and the performances. I suppose the big challenge was finding the right takes, the best performances, but there were tonal things. Maybe it was a bit too broad here, it needed to be a bit more subtle there, that sort of thing.

Can you talk about the VFX in this film?
We had a bit of seasonal stuff, adding snow where there wasn’t enough, doing signage, cleanup, and we used a few fluid morphs, which Brian is really good at on the Avid, and I loved those.

What about the DI?
We also did that at Sim, with colorist Alex Bickel, who is this brilliant artist. I love the DI process, and I think he gave it this beautiful look. We were actually the first people to use their brand new DI stage, so that was a thrill.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. Are things improving?
I think the idealism for the improvement is there, but it just takes so long for that to translate into real action and bear fruit. There’s a lot of talk and thinking, but it hasn’t hit the ground yet. It’s still tough for women.

Tamara Jenkins on set.

What’s your advice to a woman who wants to direct?
The best thing I can say is you should probably write and learn to make your own material, so you actually have something to bring to the table. You also have to stick to your guns. I remember years ago going to a writing workshop when I was working on Slums of Beverly Hills, and this big Hollywood screenwriter said, “You can’t open a movie with five pages on a girl getting fitted for a bra!” And I felt like an idiot. It took a while for me to reclaim my sense of self. So if someone tells you something like that, just don’t listen to them.

We’re already heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar. How important are awards to you and your films?
They’re so important for smaller films like mine because they bring attention they probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

What’s next?
I have an idea I’m developing. I just hope people don’t have to wait another decade for it to arrive (laughs).


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.

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.