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Category Archives: Collaboration

Rodeo VFX supe Arnaud Brisebois on the Fantastic Beasts sequel

By Randi Altman

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

Arnaud_Brisebois

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

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

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

Let’s find out more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor Wyatt Smith talks Mary Poppins Returns, Marvel Universe

By Amy Leland

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

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

Wyatt Smith at the Mary Poppins Returns premiere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Poppins Returns

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

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

Doctor Strange

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

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

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

Thor: The Dark World

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

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

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

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

Mary Poppins Returns

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Catching up with Aquaman director James Wan

By Iain Blair

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

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

James Wan and Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Wan

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

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

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


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


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

By Brady Betzel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

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

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

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

We reached out to him about his work…

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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

Nightflyers

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

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

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


Foundry Nuke 11.3’s performance, collaboration updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Director Barry Jenkins on latest, If Beale Street Could Talk

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

I spoke with Jenkins about making the film and workflow.

Our writer Iain Blair with Barry Jenkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Barry Jenkins on set.

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

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

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


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


Behind the Title: Exile Editor Kyle Brown

With recent spot work that includes jobs for Comcast, AT&T, T-Mobile and Trojan, this editor jokes, “A good Netflix and chill Tinder date was made possible thanks to the results of my commercial work.”

Name: Kyle Brown

Company: New York- and Santa Monica-based Exile

Can you describe your company?
Exile is a bicoastal editorial and finishing boutique with spaces on both coasts.

What’s your job title?
Offline editor, with a splash of camp counselor.

What does that entail? 
As an offline editor, I take the footage that was shot and assemble it based on the script and creative vision honed on set, adding in tone and texture, rhythm and pacing. Basically, editors are given all the raw material that has been created and we turn it into a visual experience.

What’s great about editorial is you have to be honest — the footage is shot, you have what you have and nothing more, and now you have to take what’s there and stitch it together. If something does not work, you move on and make something else work. You can’t hide in the edit. You can’t say we will fix it in post. You are post! It’s the finish line, and all the preparation and hard work on the front end pays off in the edit bay. It has to.

Kyle Brown cut this Bud Light spot.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
Editor can be a catch-all title — we cut music, add sound effects, edit story and script. We do rough effects, we scratch voiceover and build title lock-ups. It really feels like DIY filmmaking at times, when you’re adding lines or building some crazy comp of two scenes to get the desired reaction or pause.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Problem solving, seeing an edit work and happy accidents. I still get a kick out of an edit working, feeling a joke land or a punch connect. To be a part of movie magic is still a dream come true. I like to rough cut with my gut. I slam things together to have something to react to, and sometimes the best happy accidents come from that. I also enjoy all of the creative challenges that I’m faced with. A client might have a note that seems like a far-out ask, but the answer is always there. Edits can be a puzzle, and I like that.

What’s your least favorite?
This answer, I’m sure will not be popular… but watching dailies. I watch every frame, I swear. Part of my job is knowing all that is there and being able to recall and find it quickly. But nine times out of 10, when I’m watching dailies I have to take a break halfway through and edit a sequence or scene. It’s hard to see something you get excited by and not just start cutting it. Dailies look different after you have done a rough cut; they mean different things and usually give better solutions. So a lot of times, I cut, then I go back and review.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Double agent. Ok, I’m not that cool. Let’s say, schoolteacher.

Why did you choose this profession?
I think I love editing because I did not choose it. I actually stumbled into it. I’ve learned so much through it, as cheesy as it sounds. It’s helped me grow and achieve my goals, not only in work but in life, and it still does. I think is crazy and exciting that I do it for a living. Through necessity and curiosity, something that I fell into — without ever going through the traditional route of assistant editor — has given me a career that allows me to scratch my creative itch. I’m very lucky.

Trojan

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
Lately, I’ve mostly been doing commercials: spots for Comcast, AT&T, T-Mobile and Trojan. So, basically, a good Netflix and chill Tinder date was made possible thanks to the results of my commercial work.

You have worked on all sorts of projects. Do you put on a different hat when cutting for a specific genre?
I have been lucky enough to have worked in a wide variety of genres — from comedy to docs to music videos — but I try to tackle all storytelling the same way: I work around a key moment or idea and fill in the blanks on how to get there. The best example I can use is music videos. I like to find that great part of the track, cut the visual to it, then work backwards to get to that point. This allows me to use each edit to get to the intent of that key moment. The same can be said for a good physical gag or joke. Getting that moment to land, then using what’s around it to make it work harder.

What do you use to edit?
I was a diehard Final Cut Pro guy, but then when the bottom fell out, so I switched to Avid Media Composer for the challenge. I also use Adobe Premiere, on occasion. Over the years, I’ve found that whatever I’m fastest on, meaning getting my thoughts to the screen quickest, is what works best for me. I am sure a new workflow or program will come along, and I make sure that I’m always able to adapt.

You mentioned earlier, that sometimes you provide more than just the cut. Can you talk about that?
I’ve rewritten scripts, done some finishing work, done After Effects work, been the VO artist and, sometimes, I even act as the account person to help sell something through to a client. Of course, there are people that do all these things professionally and are experts at their job, but I feel like in an edit bay we’re all there together trying to hit the deadlines with the best piece in hand, and that means we all dive in. No one can be precious about their roles; we have to be precious about our goals.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Copy and paste (seriously whoever invented that is a god), Spell Check and coffee makers.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Cook. I can’t think of editing when I’m burning stuff.


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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Kona 5 feature highlights include:

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

The Little Stranger director Lenny Abrahamson

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

I spoke with Abrahamson about making the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Digging into the dailies workflow for HBO’s Sharp Objects

By Randi Altman

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

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

Drew Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

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

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

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

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frame.io Masters launches with director Mark Toia

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

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

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

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

Behind the Title: Jogger Studios’ CD Andy Brown

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

NAME: Andy Brown

COMPANY: Jogger Studios (@joggerstudios)

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

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Iain Blair

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

Robert Carlock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Quick Chat: Freefolk colorist Paul Harrison

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mars Williamson

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

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

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

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

John Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka

 

Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys joins Panavision Atlanta as VP/GM

Panavision has hired Zoe Iltsopoulos Borys to lead the company’s Atlanta office as vice president and general manager. Borys will oversee day-to-day operations in the region.

Borys’ 25 years of experience in the motion picture industry includes business development for Production Resources Group (PRG), and GM for Fletcher Camera and Lenses (now VER). This is her second turn at Panavision, having served in a marketing role at the company from 1998-2006. She is also an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers.

Panavision’s Atlanta facilities, located in West Midtown and at Pinewood Studios, supplies camera rental equipment in the southern US, with a full staff of prep technicians and camera service experts. The Atlanta team has provided equipment and services to productions including Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Baby Driver and Pitch Perfect 3.

An editor recaps Sight, Sound & Story 2018

By Amy Leland

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

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

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

Ann Collins

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

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

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

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

Bryan Chang

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

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

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

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

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

L-R: Naomi Geraghty and Lynne Willingham.

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

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

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

Scripted Television Panel

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

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

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

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

Kevin Tent and Bobbie O’Steen.

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

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

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

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

Nebraska

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

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

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

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


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

Color for Television Series

By Karen Maierhofer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil Azenzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Judy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Gregory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Indie film Hoax calls on ACES

By Debra Kaufman

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

Peder Morgenthaler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Making the indie short The Sound of Your Voice

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

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

Hunt Beaty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

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

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

The Duffer Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Optical Art DI colorist Ronney Afortu on In the Fade

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

TheresaJosuttis

Ronney Afortu (Photo Credit: Theresa Josuttis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Film Stills Photo Credit: Gordon Timpen

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did you post?
All in Rome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Adrian Pennington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director Kay Cannon on her raunchy comedy Blockers

By Iain Blair

At a time when women are increasingly breaking down barriers in Hollywood, writer/director Kay Cannon is helping lead the charge. The director of Universal’s new film, Blockers, got her start at such comedic training grounds as The Second City, The iO West Theater and The ComedySportz Theatre.

Kay Cannon

While writing and performing around Chicago, she met Tina Fey, a fellow Second City alumna. When Fey began 30 Rock, Cannon joined the creative team and worked her way up from staff writer to supervising producer on the show. She’s a three-time Primetime Emmy-nominated writer, twice for Outstanding Comedy Series and once for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She has also won three Writers Guild of America Awards, as well as a Peabody, all for her work on 30 Rock.

Cannon, who also served as a co-executive producer on New Girl, a consulting producer on Cristela and co-produced the hit feature Baby Mama, received rave reviews for her debut screenplay for the film Pitch Perfect, and she wrote and co-produced the hit sequels. She served as the executive producer, creator and showrunner of the Netflix series Girlboss, based on Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography, which starred Britt Robertson.

Now, with the new release Blockers, Cannon — one of only a handful of women ever to direct an R-rated comedy for a big studio — has stepped behind the camera and made an assured and polished directorial debut with this coming-of-age sex comedy that takes one of the most relatable rites of passage and upends a long-held double standard. When three parents discover their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

The film stars Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40), John Cena (Trainwreck, Sisters) and Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Suicide Squad). It is produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver, under their Point Grey Pictures banner (Neighbors, This is the End), alongside Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar) and Chris Fenton (47 Ronin).

Cannon leds an accomplished behind-the-scenes team, including director of photography Russ Alsobrook (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly (The Big Sick) and editor Stacey Schroeder (The Disaster Artist).

I recently talked to Cannon about making the bawdy film, which generated huge buzz at SXSW, and her advice for other aspiring women directors.

This is like a long-overdue female take on such raunchy-but-sweet male comedies as American Pie and Superbad. Was that the appeal of this story for you?
When I read the script, I really connected on two levels. I was a teenager who lost her virginity, and I’m also the mother of a daughter, and while she was only two at the time, it made me think about her and what might happen to her in the future. And that’s scary, and I saw how parents can lose their minds.

How did you first envision the film?
I grew up in a small town in the Chicago area and I was inspired by John Hughes and all his great teen comedies. I could really relate to them, and I felt he was speaking to me, that he really got that world and the way it looked. I wanted to do that too, and show how people really live, and I wanted it to feel real and grounded — but then I was also going to go to a very crazy place and got very silly. (Laughs) That was very important to me, because I wanted to make people laugh really hard, but also feel emotion.

Did you always want to direct?
It wasn’t always my dream. That’s shifted over the years. I started off wanting to be an actor on a sitcom, then writing one and then wanting to have my own show, which happened with Girlboss, so that was my focus for the past few years. To be honest, I’d kind of do movies when TV didn’t work out for me. A pilot didn’t happen, so I wrote Pitch Perfect, and then did Pitch 2 when another pilot didn’t go.

How did you prepare for directing your first film?
Being the showrunner on Girlboss was great training because I could shadow all the directors and watch them work, and I felt definitely ready to direct a film.

What was the biggest surprise of directing for the first time?
I pretty much knew what to expect — and that there will always be surprises on the day and stuff you could never have anticipated. You just have to work through it and keep going.

How tough was the shoot?
It was hard. We shot in Atlanta for nine weeks, and the last five were nights, and that’s very tough. I had a very long script to squeeze into the shoot. But Russ, my DP, was a huge help. We’d worked together before on New Girl, and he’s so experienced; he really guided me through it all.

Where did you do the post?
All in LA. We started at Sunset Gower, and then we took a break and did some reshoots in January, and then finished at Pivotal Post in Burbank.

Do you like post?
When I was at Girlboss I’d never experienced post before, so I was really afraid and uncomfortable with the whole process. It was so new and a bit daunting to me, especially as a writer. I loved writing and shooting, but it took me a while to get comfortable with post. But once I did, I loved it, and now it’s my favorite thing. I’d spend the night there if I could! As they say, it’s where you actually make the film and where the real magic happens.

Kay Cannon on set directing Leslie Mann and John Cena.

Your editor was Stacey Schroeder (pilot for The Last Man on Earth, for which she got an editing Emmy nom). How did that relationship work?
We’d worked together before on Girlboss, and we have a great partnership. She’s like my right-hand, and we’re automatically on the same page. We very rarely disagree, and what’s so great is that she’s extremely opinionated and has no poker face. I’m the same way. So it’s very refreshing to sit there and discuss material and any problems without taking anything personally. I really appreciate her honesty.

What were the biggest editing challenges?
Trying to balance the raucous comedy stuff with the serious emotions underneath, and dealing with some of the big set pieces. The whole puking scene was difficult as we shot three times the material you see, and there was a whole drug thing, and it was very long and it just wasn’t working. We previewed it a couple of times and it was seen as a poor man’s Bridesmaids. (Laughs) And then I saw Baby Driver and it hit us — what if we put the whole scene to music? And that was so much fun and it suddenly all worked.

Resistance VFX did the visual effects shots, and there seemed to be quite a few, considering it’s a comedy. What was involved?
You’re right. Usually comedies don’t have that many and we had a significant amount, including the puke scenes, and then all the computer stuff and the emojis. And then they did such a great job with all Amy Mann’s tears at the end. I really loved working with VFX, and the fact that they can create all this magic in post. I’d be constantly amazed. “Can you do that?” They’d sigh and go, “Yes Kay, we can do that, no problem.” It was a real education for me.

Where did you do the DI?
At Technicolor, and I was pretty involved along with Ross. I loved that whole process too. Again, it’s the magic of post. (Maxine Gervais was the supervising senior colorist. She used a FilmLight Baselight 5.)

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely.

Do you want to direct again?
Definitely, if I get another chance.

What’s next?
I’m writing a movie for Sony — another comedy — and I’ve got a bunch of projects percolating.

What advice would you give to any woman wanting to direct?
Do the work, and don’t quit when it gets hard. I think a lot of women quit before the magic happens, and there were times when I wanted to quit, but you can’t. You have to keep going.

Kay Cannon Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert (c) 2018 Universal. 


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.

B&H expands its NAB footprint to target multiple workflows

By Randi Altman

In a short time, many in our industry will be making the pilgrimage to Las Vegas for NAB. They will come (if they are smart) with their comfy shoes, Chapstick and the NAB Show app and plot a course for the most efficient way to see all they need to see.

NAB is a big show that spans a large footprint, and typically companies showing their wares need to pick a hall — Central, South Lower, South Upper or North. This year, however, The Studio-B&H made some pros’ lives a bit easier by adding a booth in South Lower in addition to their usual presence in Central Hall.

B&H’s business and services have grown, so it made perfect sense to Michel Suissa, managing director at The Studio-B&H, to grow their NAB presence to include many of the digital workflows the company has been servicing.

We reached out to Suissa to find out more.

This year B&H and its Studio division are in the South Lower. Why was it important for you guys to have a presence in both the Central and South Halls this year?
The Central Hall has been our home for a long time and it remains our home with our largest footprint, but we felt we needed to have a presence in South Hall as well.

Production and post workflows merge and converge constantly and we need to be knowledgeable in both. The simple fact is that we serve all segments of our industry, not just image acquisition and camera equipment. Our presence in image and data centric workflows has grown leaps and bounds.

This world is a familiar one for you personally.
That’s true. The post and VFX worlds are very dear to me. I was an editor, Flame artist and colorist for 25 years. This background certainly plays a role in expanding our reach and services to these communities. The Studio-B&H team is part of a company-wide effort to grow our presence in these markets. From a business standpoint, the South Hall attendees are also our customers, and we needed to show we are here to assist and support them.

What kind of workflows should people expect to see at both your NAB locations?
At the South Hall, we will show a whole range of solutions to show the breadth and diversity of what we have to offer. That includes VR post workflow, color grading, animation and VFX, editing and high-performance Flash storage.

In addition to the new booth in South Hall, we have two in Central. One is for B&H’s main product offerings, including our camera shootout, which is a pillar of our NAB presence.

This Studio-B&H booth features a digital cinema and broadcast acquisition technology showcase, including hybrid SDI/IP switching, 4K studio cameras, a gyro-stabilized camera car, the most recent full-frame cinema cameras, and our lightweight cable cam, the DynamiCam.

Our other Central Hall location is where our corporate team can discuss all business opportunities with new and existing B2B customers

How has The Studio-B&H changed along with the industry over the past year or two?
We have changed quite a bit. With our services and tools, we have re-invented our image from equipment providers to solution providers.

Our services now range from system design to installation and deployment. One of the more notable recent examples is our recent collaboration with HBO Sports on World Championship Boxing. The Studio-B&H team was instrumental in deploying our DynamiCam system to cover several live fights in different venues and integrating with NEP’s mobile production team. This is part of an entirely new type of service —  something the company had never offered its customers before. It is a true game-changer for our presence in the media and entertainment industry.

What do you expect the “big thing” to be at NAB this year?
That’s hard to say. Markets are in transition with a number of new technology advancements: machine learning and AI, cloud-based environments, momentum for the IP transition, AR/VR, etc.

On the acquisition side, full frame/large sensor cameras have captured a lot of attention. And, of course, HDR will be everywhere. It’s almost not a novelty anymore. If you’re not taking advantage of HDR, you are living in the past.

Frame.io to preview its next-gen collaboration tool at NAB

Frame.io will be at NAB this year previewing its re-engineered workflow management tool, which will have a full release early this summer. This next generation of the company’s media review and collaboration software, the new Frame.io was redesigned with speed in mind.

“When we first launched Frame.io, it was greenfield territory,” explains CEO Emery Wells. “We were able to launch a ton of features very quickly. Last year we assessed that our core infrastructure needed to be rebuilt if we wanted to execute on our very aggressive roadmap. Over the past year, we have been feverishly rebuilding almost the entire application from the ground up. I’d say it’s analogous to replacing railroad tracks right from underneath a speeding train without any the passengers feeling a thing. That work has been going on for about a year, and now Frame.io is sitting on a brand new, very solid and very secure infrastructure. Now with the right foundation, we’ve been able to work much more quickly and get back to the fast and furious shipping cadence of the first two years. The all new Frame.io is just a sneak peek of much much more to come.”

The new offering will be up 100x faster with a new media browser that enables users to search through thousands of assets quickly. New sorting and search options make it easier for users to find exactly what they need in less time. The new uploader can support speeds above 1GB and retains full nested folder structures during upload.

There will also be a revamped core video playback and media experiences for video, audio, images, multi-page PDFs and animated GIFs. The rebuilt core video playback engine means faster/smoother playback with less buffering, at up to 4K resolution.

Range-based comments will unlock a whole new level of communication. Users can drag the comment handle over the timeline to create a range and better reference the underlying content. Users can also see who’s currently watching (live) and who’s already watched with clip history. Clip statistics show you play count, historical views, and even let you set up a notification when a specific person or group of people start viewing.

All in all, Frame.io is adding over 150 additional features and improvements:
• All new apps and integrations for enhanced workflows
• Improved playback performance with HLS and DASH streaming
• Visual watermarking
• Media lifecycle management
• Dozens of security features in support of a commitment to offer the most secure platform available for video review

Last month, Frame.io shipped a completely redesigned player experience that laid the foundation for the new Frame.io and many more features to come. The new player page supports 360-degree VR content with spatial annotations so users can highlight a specific target within the frame. With a design and improved performance on mobile browsers, the player page allows users to an easily add descriptions to files, clearly see what date and version they are working on and collaborate even more quickly with their teams and clients.

Color plays key role in Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time

Color itself plays a significant role in the fantasy feature A Wrinkle in Time. To help get the look she wanted, director Ava DuVernay chose Mitch Paulson of Hollywood’s Efilm to handle final color grading — the two worked together on the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Wrinkle, which was shot by Tobias Schliessler, captures the magical feel of lead character Meg’s (Storm Reid) journey through time and space.

The film has several different looks. The rather gloomy appearance of the Meg’s difficult life on earth is contrasted by the incredibly vibrant appearance of the far-off planets she’s taken to by a trio of magical women — played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling.

Paulson recalls DuVernay’s thinking. “Ava talked a bit about The Wizard of Oz, where the early scenes are in black and white and then it goes into color. She didn’t want to take things that far but that informed the overall approach. The parts on Earth at the beginning are somewhat desaturated and depressed looking. Meg lives with her mom because her dad has mysteriously disappeared. She has issues at school and is constantly bullied.”

To fine-tune this idea, Paulson built curves inside of Autodesk Lustre 2017. These were designed to desaturate many colors, particularly blues and greens, without significantly altering skin tones. Then he went through shot-by-shot to refine this even further using Lustre’s Diamond Keyer function to isolate certain colors (such as the blue in a row of school lockers) and further pull out some saturation. “I keyed almost everything,” he says, “grass, skies, water. I’d have at least three to four keys per shot.”

Then, as Meg and friends travel to the other planets, Paulson says, “We did the opposite and used curves and keying to make things brighter and more saturated. As soon as they jump to the first planet, you feel the difference.” He also points out that the time travelers find themselves in a large grassy field — a scene for which he isolated the real green of the New Zealand location and brought the saturation beyond anything we’d be used to seeing in real life.

“By manipulating the chrominance softness and tolerance diamonds of the keyer, you can quickly and easily isolate the color for a key. I find it more effective than an HSL tracker,” he explains. The colorist also finds system’s shapes tool to be very effective. “I use it all the time to isolate a portion of an actor’s face or hair to create a subtle idea of light there that sometimes really help as a final step to making a VFX shot blend perfectly with the background.”

Not all the planets the characters travel to are happy places, and Paulson worked with the filmmakers to create some variations on the color themes. The planet, Camazotz is an evil place, he says. “That’s not obvious at first but we sort of queue it right away by making it look just a bit off. For example, we took almost all the green out of the plants.”

Besides the standard d-cinema version, Paulson also did trim passes for Dolby Cinema 2D, Dolby Cinema 3D (14 foot-lamberts) and standard 3D (3.5 foot-lamberts), each of which requires additional refinement. “Tobias likes the really deep blacks you can get in the Dolby Cinema version, but we didn’t want to push things too far. It’s already so colorful and saturated that when we’d open the files in PQ (Dolby’s Perceptual Quantizer) we pulled a lot of it back so that it has an extra pop, but it still is very similar to the way the P3 version looks.”

Dailies were colored at Efilm by Adrian DeLude on Colorfront OSD. Files were conformed in Autodesk Flame. Deluxe’s Portal service was the tool used by VFX vendors to locate and download camera-original material and upload iterations of shots, which were then integrated onto Paulson’s Lustre timeline as the final grade proceeded.

Video: Red Sparrow colorist David Hussey talks workflow

After film school, and working as an assistant editor, David Hussey found himself drawn to color grading. He then became an assistant to a colorist and his path was set.

In a recent video interview with the now senior colorist at LA’s Company 3, Hussey talks about the differences of coloring a short-form project versus a long-form film and walks us through his workflow on Red Sparrow, which stars Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy.

Please watch…

Light Iron opens in Atlanta, targets local film community

In order to support the thriving Georgia production community, post studio Light Iron has opened a new facility in Atlanta. The expansion is the fourth since Panavision acquired Light Iron in 2015, bringing Light Iron’s US locations to six total, including Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans, Albuquerque and Chicago.

“Light Iron has been supporting Georgia productions for years through our mobile dailies services,” explains CFO Peter Cioni. “Now with a team on the ground, productions can take advantage of our facility-based dailies with talent that brings the finishing perspective into the process.”

Clark Cofer

The company’s Atlanta staff recently provided dailies services to season one of Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, season three of Greenleaf and the features Uncle Drew and Superfly.

With a calibrated theater, the Light Iron Atlanta facility has hosted virtual DI sessions from its LA facility for cinematographers working in Atlanta. The theater is also available for projecting camera and lens tests, as well as private screenings for up to 45 guests.

The theater is outfitted with a TVIPS Nevion TBG480, which allows for a full bandwidth 2K signal from either their LA or NY facility for virtual DI sessions. For example, if a cinematographer is working another show in Atlanta, they can still connect with the colorist for the final look of their previous show.

The Light Iron Atlanta dailies team uses Colorfront Express Dailies, which is standard across their facility-based and mobile dailies services worldwide.

Cioni notes that the new location is led by director of business development Clark Cofer, a member of Atlanta’s production and post industry. “Clark brings years of local and state-wide relationships to Light Iron, and we are pleased to have him on our growing team.”

Cofer most recently represented Crawford Media Services, where he drove sales for their renowned content services to companies like Lionsgate, Fox and Marvel. He currently serves as co-president of the Georgia Production Partnership, and is on the board of directors for the DeKalb County Film and Entertainment Advisory Board.

Video: Fotokem DI colorist Walter Volpatto on The Last Jedi and color

 

Last month Blackmagic held its first Expo, and one of the keynote speakers was Fotokem colorist Walter Volpatto. He was born in Italy and grew up on a farm, quite a long way from his current life in Los Angeles.

Volpatto originally got into this industry as a broadcast engineer, but his path continued, and when computers became more a part of this world, he started learning about photography and how computers interact with images.

“I was in the right place at the right moment,” he says. “I was lucky enough to be working with color timers who helped train me and my eye to the color, the image, the feeling and the world they were trying to create. So I was technical first and artistic second and that creates a unique blend.”

And the power of color? Volpatto says, “It’s kind of like when in the 1800s impressionists took over the world of painting; it’s the same now with the colorists. They can create a look that was impossible in-camera, and colorists can now give life to what the camera captured and every shade in between. I’m more on the naturalistic side, but it’s difficult because you have to be able to create what the client wants, but do it in a way that doesn’t step on their photography.”

We were lucky enough to get some quality time with Volpatto — we asked him about his recent high-profile color work on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, how he got started as a colorist and more…

 

Oscar-winner Jordan Peele on directing Get Out

By Iain Blair

Get Out, the feature film debut of comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele, is chock full of shocks and surprises. This multi-layered horror film also shocked a lot of people in the industry when it went on to gross over a quarter of a billion dollars — on a $4.5 million budget — making it one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history. But those shocks are nothing compared to the ones Peele and his movie generated when it scooped up four major Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (in a very strong Best Director year, Peele beat out the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Martin McDonagh). He won for Best Original Screenplay.

The writer/director honed his cinematic skills on the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele, which quickly became a television and Internet sensation, earning 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and over 900 million online hits. For his first film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, he assembled a stellar group of collaborators, including director of photography Toby Oliver (Insidious: Chapter 4), production designer Rusty Smith (Meet the Fockers), editor Gregory Plotkin (the Paranormal Activity series), costume designer Nadine Haders (Into the Badlands) and composer Michael Abels.

With the huge critical and commercial success of Get Out, Peele has now joined the big leagues. I recently caught up with Peele who talked about the Oscars, making the film, and his love of post.

This is your directorial movie debut, and it’s not only Oscar-nominated for Best Picture but also for Best Director. Are you still pinching yourself?
Oh yeah, 100 percent! It’s not something I feel I’ll ever get used to. It’s way beyond any expectations I had.

You were also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay, making you only the third person ever — after Warren Beatty and James L. Books — to score that and Best Director, Best Picture nods for your debut film. You realize it’s all downhill from here?
(Laughs) Yeah, I might as well quit making movies now while I’m still ahead, because I’m in big trouble. And that’s pretty ironic as the best award and reward for making my first movie is the fact that I get to make another.

You’re only the fifth African-American filmmaker to earn a Best Director nom and none have won. Is change coming fast enough?
I think change should have come a long time ago, but at least now we see some real progress, with such directors as Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Gary Gray, Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees. It’s this new class of amazing black directors, and people have worked very hard to get to this point, and it’s thanks to all the work of previous filmmakers. What’s blossoming in the industry now is very beautiful, so I’m very hopeful for the future.

When it comes to the Oscars, horror and comedy are two genres that don’t seem to get much respect. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because they’re genres that are typically focused on getting a monetary return, so they get put in that box and are seen as lightweight and movies that are not art — even though there are many examples of elevated horror and elevated comedy that are extremely artistic films. So there’s that stigma. And if people don’t like horror, they just don’t like it, so it’s not a genre that you can expect everyone to want to see, unlike comedy. Everyone pretty much loves comedy, but when people tell me they don’t like horror, I tell them to seek it out, that it won’t scare them that much, and that it might surprise them.

Did you write this thinking, “I want to direct it too?”No, I never planned to direct it, but then about half-way through writing it I realized I was the only person who could actually direct it. I feel that being both the writer and director is easier than not doing both, because they’re done at separate times, so you don’t have to overlap, and then later if you want to change something on set, you know that you’re not missing or mistaking what the writer intended.

What sort of film did you set out to make, because it’s not just a straightforward horror film, is it?
No. I wanted to make a film I’d never seen before. It’s been called many things, and I myself have called it both a horror film and a social thriller. I was aiming at the genre somewhere between Rosemary’s Baby and Scream, so it’s about a lot of things — the way America deals with race and the idea that racism itself is a monster, and that we can’t neglect abuses and just stand by while atrocities happen. So I tried to incorporate a lot of layers and make something people would want to see more than once.

How did you prepare for directing your first film? It’s got to be pretty daunting.
It’s actually terrifying since you don’t know what you don’t know. I talked to everyone I could — Edgar Wright, Ben Affleck, Leigh Whannell, Peter Atencio who did our show and Keanu, and any other director I could — to try and prepare as much as possible.

How was the shoot?
We shot in Mobile, Alabama, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything. It was so hard and so intense. I was very prepared, but then you also have to be open to adapting and making changes, and too much preparation can work against you if you’re not careful.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely loved it, and one big reason is because after so long just imagining what the film might look like, all of a sudden you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, and you’re finally making the film. Post teaches you so much about what the film is meant to be and what it wants to be.

Where did you edit and post this?
At Blumhouse in LA.

Tell us about working with editor Gregory Plotkin, who cut most of the Paranormal Activity franchise for Paramount and Blumhouse Productions.
He’s a very accomplished editor and a real horror fan like me, so we bonded immediately over that. He could break down the script and all my influences from Hitchcock and Kubrick to Spielberg and Jonathan Demme. He did his pass and then I came in and did my director’s pass, and then we went over it all with a fine-tooth comb, tightening scenes up and so on and focusing on pace and timing, which are crucial in horror and comedy.

Is it true you shot multiple endings for the film? How did you decide on the right one?
We actually shot two, and the first one was not a happy one. When we edited it all together we realized it wasn’t working for an audience. They thought it was a downer, and then I realized it needed a hero and a happy ending instead, so that after going through all the stress, the audience could come out happy. So we asked for more money and went off and did a reshoot of the ending, which added another layer and worked far better.

Sound and music are so important in horror. Can you talk about that?
I look at it as at least half the movie since you can scare audiences so much with just clever sound design. I paid a lot of attention to it during the writing process, and then once we got into post it all became a very meticulous process. We were careful not to overdo all the sound design. We did it all at Wildfire, and they are such pros and were up for trying anything. They really understood my vision.

Can you talk about the VFX?
Ingenuity Studios did them and the big one was creating “The Sunken Place,” and it was tricky to do it as we didn’t have a bearing on this world apart from what I’d originally imagined. There was no up or down. Should the camera be fixed or floating? In the end, we shot Daniel Kaluuya against a black background on cables, and then Gregory played around in the Avid a lot, resizing the image. Then we added some CG stuff to give it that sort of underwater feel. We had a bunch of other shots, like the car hitting the deer and the father being impaled on the deer horns, which was all CGI.

Who was the colorist, and where did you do the DI?
It was all at Blumhouse, with Aidan Stanford, and I was pretty involved. It was tricky, and you can quickly go overboard with color, but the DP, Toby, did such a great job on the shoot that we mainly just tried to match his original color and not push it too far.

I assume you can’t wait to direct again?
Oh yeah! There’s nothing more fun. It’s the biggest artistic collaboration I can imagine, with all these moving parts, and I loved every minute of it.

What’s next?
I’m working on another screenplay, which I’ll direct for Universal. I just love Hitchcockian thrillers, so I’m staying in the same genre and zone.


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: MTI Senior Colorist Trent Johnson

NAME: Trent Johnson

COMPANY: MTI Film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MTI Film works in multiple post production disciplines, including TV and feature post, film restoration and software development.

AS A SENIOR COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
In order to be excellent in this profession you have to be obsessive about the details, because it is in the composite of details that the whole mood and tempo of the show comes alive.

At this point in the post process, I may even become more passionate about certain aspects of the project than the clients. With years of experience under my belt, I have mastered many tricks of the trade that clients may or may not be aware of. I can see what needs to be corrected in lighting and color to make the director, cinematographer and producer’s vision for the piece become a reality.

It is my responsibility to make it right and I take this responsibility very seriously and down to the tiniest detail. For example, I can unify inconsistent shots, change the time of day, augment special effects that have to be married into practical photography, tint color to affect an emotional response from the audience and enhance the appearance of characters, to name a few. The addition of my creative input to the creative process – at the direction of the creative heads of a project – serves as the icing on the cake. It’s the final perfection of the product before it’s delivered and released.

WHAT SYSTEMS DO YOU WORK ON?
I am proficient on Nucoda, Resolve and Baselight.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? IF SO, CAN YOU DESCRIBE?
I take on light editorial tasks: compositing, speed changes, titling, etc. For a restoration project it could be sifting through various elements to choose the best quality.

The Emoji Movie

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I have lots of favorites. First is working with very talented creative clients who know what they want and how to communicate a vision. Sitting in a theatre with these creative giants, over a period of several days, an atmosphere of camaraderie develops. This has resulted in many wonderful working relationships.

Second, I love being given a challenge on a film or TV project and then being able to meet or exceed expectations. I have always said there are two kinds of people in this world: those who give you reasons why they can’t do something and those who give you reasons why something that seems impossible can be done. I like to be the guy that figures out how to make it happen for a client, even though it may be out of the wheelhouse of most color correctors.

Third, once I meet a challenge and succeed in enhancing the creative vision of the client to an unexpected level, I like reviewing what I colored and how it’s made everything come together according to the vision. I thoroughly enjoy looking at what I colored yesterday and liking it, not to mention witnessing my client’s satisfaction with the final product.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Rushing through the grade. I’m a perfectionist and like to refine a look until everyone in the room is pleased. I’m willing to put the time to get it right.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I edited as well as colored early in my career. I could have easily pursued editing, as I enjoy it quite a lot. I like focusing on performances and finding the magic moments in shots and scenes and piecing it all together to move the story forward. I bring these skills into the color bay every day and draw on them by using color to amplify and strengthen the storyline of the project I’m working on.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
As a child I binge-watched TV shows and movies and developed a love of classic Hollywood. I can walk into a room and glance at a movie and usually know what the title is. My kids get a kick out of that. I have a bit of a photographic memory in that sense. This has come in handy because I not only remember the movie, but the color and lighting as well, and how it was used in that particular instance to create a mood.

As I grew into my teens, I decided to make that movie-watching time investment pay off. I bought a Super 8 camera in high school and began making movies with my friends. I’ve never looked back. I majored in film production at the collegiate level at USC and San Diego State University. I started my career at Complete Post in Hollywood, and the rest is history.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I recently worked on Overboard for MGM, Proud Mary for Screen Gems and The Emoji Movie for Sony/Columbia.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’ve worked on all the Smurfs movies. I started on the animated TV series early in my career and was hired to color correct all three of the motion pictures. The most challenging aspect of these movies early on was the combination live action and animation.

I became known as the “Smurf Blue guy” for keeping the characteristic blue color of the characters consistent. I especially enjoyed working with the animation clients on these shows because they are extremely precise, and I respect that.

A close second favorite is the motion picture Burlesque. The cinematography on that film was executed brilliantly; it featured dramatic dance numbers enhanced with creative lighting, had an avant-garde cast and was a throw-back to old Hollywood.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
I feel as connected to the old as to the new. Technology is always morphing, and the way movies are made constantly in flux. This is a source of fascination to me, and I’m inspired by the way all forms of art both reflect and influence culture. I study how camerawork and lighting techniques come and go, and how they were and are effectively used artistically in movies past and present. How to communicate different facets of life is the fundamental inspiration for art. What I do is a technical art form, so it draws deeply on these principles.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
XM Radio, television, my iPhone and my coffeemaker.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I thoroughly enjoy reading blogs, and especially listening to podcasts of cinematographers and other colorists to stay current on innovation trends. Anything to do with the industry on Facebook, YouTube, etc. is always interesting to me.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Sinatra, classic radio shows and pastry. Actually, it’s my sense of humor that keeps me going. Also, coming home to my loving family and being highly involved in my children’s lives is my lifeblood.

Behind the Title: Encore (and Ryan Murphy) Colorist Kevin Kirwan

NAME: Kevin Kirwan

COMPANY: Encore Hollywood

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Encore specializes in television post production. I’ve been at Encore forever — they have nice people and it’s a nice working environment.

JOB TITLE: Colorist

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Not a lot of surprises here. As a final colorist for television you have to balance the wishes of the producers against those of the director of photography and various post supervisors.

Feud

I think in features you have a great deal more input from directors — that really doesn’t exist in my world. The people skills that are required to keep everyone feeling like their voices are being heard and their concerns addressed, might be one of the overlooked nuances of the job.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
I’m currently working on the DaVinci Resolve. I started coloring just about 30 years ago, so I cut my teeth on the old analog Amigo and Dubner color correction systems. I’ve spent the bulk of my career on DaVinci systems since.

That has to be one of the more interesting aspects of having been at this as long as I have, the changes in technology are stunning. I used to master to 1-inch tape for god’s sake. When I came up, the old quads were just being phased out. Those things were massive. Everything that I did back in the day was mastered from film. Tape to tape came along much later and then, of course, digital.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Not really. I do get invited to the set occasionally to offer advice on situations that might become an issue later on in the process, but that’s become increasingly rare. I just do my thing in the color correction suite and schmooze with the clients.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Interacting with the creatives. I’m a people person. I have a creative personality, and that’s a nice mix when you’re dealing with like-minded producers and DPs. I have had great client relationships over the past 15 years or so; it’s always enjoyable to have that familiarity and the loyalty that comes along with having worked on multiple projects with a client.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
As much as I enjoy collaboration there is a downside to that as well. When you get too many voices in the room, and this is even more pronounced when they’re not in the room together, then occasionally you see a project suffer from having too many cooks in the kitchen, too many disparate visions fighting one another. That can end badly, and the overall look of the show can take a hit.

It’s difficult to say no to a client, but once in a while I am faced with pointing out the negative effects that a producer, or a DP, may be imposing on a show by insisting on something that might not be serving the best interests of the project.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’m also a professional helicopter pilot. I’ve been flying for as long as I’ve been coloring. I owned and operated a helicopter tour and charter business here in LA for years, and sold it this past July. I’m incredibly passionate about aviation, so for sure if I ever stop coloring, I’ll be up flying something the next day.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I stumbled into it. I came to LA to be a rock star — this is me rolling my eyes at my youthful naiveté — but it was a lot of fun. I wasn’t much of a musician to be honest, but I was enthusiastic!

I did however land a job driving and working in the mailroom at a tiny little film lab… this was when I was in my early 20s. They had one color correction bay and two guys operating the video department. I befriended them and they took me under their collective wing. I took that opportunity and made the most of it.

YOU’RE A LONGTIME COLLABORATOR OF RYAN MURPHY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT HISTORY?
I used to do all of Mike Robin’s stuff, Popular, Nip/Tuck, The Closer, etc. Ryan worked with Mike on a few things, and I started out with him on Popular, and then Nip/Tuck while he and Mike were still in business together. I became very close with Alexis Martin-Woodall, who was at that time just cutting her teeth as a post producer. She’s now exec producing all of the shows along with Ryan. She is by far one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet, and easily the best client that I’ve had in my career. Alexis is a total rock star. She and I are creatively simpatico, she trusts me, and I know what she and Ryan are looking for. It’s a nice marriage.

HOW HAS THE VISUAL STYLE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS AS YOU AND RYAN HAVE WORKED TOGETHER?
It’s a show-by-show thing. Shows like Glee, or something like the new series that we just started, 911, are pretty straightforward, nothing stylized, good contrast, nice poppy colors, don’t go too dark, feature the performance, make sure you can see into the actors’ expressions… that sort of thing.

American Horror Story is a different creature each season. These anthology series are fun because even though it’s technically the same show each time, the seasons all have their own theme. The look is much more tailored to fit the individual story. Season 2, which was called Asylum, was my favorite in terms of look. Very desaturated, dark and moody. It was a grungy, forbidding vibe that I really had fun with.

We just finished the second season of American Crime. This one was The Assassination of Gianni Versace. It’s very warm and colorful, especially when we were in Miami, but as we descended into Andrew Cunanan’s world it got a bit dirty, and we got to play a bit.

The first season of American Crime, The People Vs. OJ Simpson, was pretty gritty. It had a really tight look and a nice period feel.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT AND UPCOMING PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The Ryan Murphy camp keeps me busy. I mentioned 911 earlier. That’s a brand-new series. We get to watch the shows, of course, and it’s nice when you enjoy what you work on. I like 911.

American Horror Story

I’m looking forward to the next series of Feud, another anthology. Season 1 was the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford story with Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange. I believe the next season is the Charles and Diana saga. That should be pretty opulent to look at.

At some point in the near future we’ll start a series based on Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with Sarah Paulson. Looking forward to that one.

WHAT IS THE SHOW THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s probably American Horror Story. As I said earlier the changes in theme for each season make it new and different each time, and I really enjoy the show and am very proud of the work that we do on it.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Music. I’m a huge music fan; anything from John Denver to Jay-Z. Love the Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Snoop and Slim Shady. I grew up listening to vinyl and got back into that recently.

My daughter Bella inspires me with her art, she’s amazing, she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with some day. Hold it, I take that back, she already is a force to be reckoned with. My house is pretty much baby girl’s own personal art studio at this point.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone. I’m an old man, there were no cell phones for the first half of my life pretty much, and I still remember when pagers were a big deal. It’s insane how dependent we’ve become on our phones, but I can’t live without mine.

My computer, of course.

GPS is huge for me when I fly. Again, I’m dating myself but I learned to fly when you kept a paper chart on your lap and kept dialing up nearby VORs (you older pilots will know what I’m talking about), in order to navigate. GPS was an absolute game changer.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Don’t do social media. Don’t understand the need to share every detail of one’s life like that. Not my thing. (I’m a crotchety old man at this point. Hey, you kids get off my lawn!)

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Fly airplanes and helicopters and hang out with my daughter. We go to live theater and concerts quite a bit. My dogs de-stress me. I take them everywhere.

The A-List: The Big Sick director Michael Showalter

By Iain Blair

If life is stranger than fiction, then the acclaimed Oscar-nominated film The Big Sick is Exhibit A. Based on the unlikely real-life courtship between Pakistani comedian/writer Kumail Nanjiani and writer/producer Emily V. Gordon, it tells the story of Kumail (playing a version of himself), who connects with grad student Emily (Zoe Kazan) after one of his standup sets. However, what they thought would be just a one-night stand blossoms into the real thing, which complicates the life that is expected of Kumail by his traditional Muslim parents.

Michael Showalter on set.

When Emily is beset with a mystery illness, and then placed in a medically induced coma, it forces Kumail to navigate the medical crisis with her parents, Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), whom he’s never met, while dealing with the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart.

The Big Sick is a crowd-pleasing rom-com, written by Gordon and Nanjiani, and produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, This is 40) and Barry Mendel (Trainwreck, The Royal Tenenbaums). But it also deals with drama, racism and the clash of cultures. It was directed by Michael Showalter, who co-wrote and directed the SXSW Audience Award-winning film Hello, My Name is Doris, starring Sally Field. He’s a founding member of the comedy groups The State and Stella, his other film credits include The Baxter, Wet Hot American Summer and They Came Together. He has also co-created numerous television projects, including Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) and Search Party (TBS).

We recently spoke with Showalter about making the film, which has been generating awards buzz (it won AFI’s Movie of the Year award), including an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Is it true you actually gave Nanjiani his first big TV job, and what did you think when you first read this?
Yes. I’ve known Kumail a long time. I met him in New York in the comedy scene when he first arrived. I love his comedy and sensibility, and I also love him personally. He’s a great guy and we’ve worked together a lot over the years.

We hired him as a staff writer and actor for a Comedy Central series, Michael and Michael Have Issues. I did, and then I cast him in a supporting role in My Name is Doris. Then he sent me this script without saying much about it. I didn’t know it was based on their lives and that all this had happened — I just loved it and everything about it.

Kumail Nanjiani as “Kumail” and Zoe Kazan as “Emily” in THE BIG SICK. Photo by Sarah Shatz.

It’s definitely not your usual rom-com.
I kind of knew what sort of film they wanted it to be — more than just the genre, but the feel of it. I knew the tone they were going for, and that I could do that. So I begged them to hire me, and then I met with Judd and Barry and we spent eight months rewriting it — Kumail, Emily, Judd, Barry and me, and then I got hired and off we went.

The structure is very different from a normal rom-com. How challenging was that, and what sort of film did you set out to make?
You’re right, as usually the second act is where the characters fall in love, then they break up and then they get back together in the third act, but in this all of that happens right in the first act. Then the love interest isn’t even there for the entire second act — which is pretty challenging — and the film gets a lot darker in the second half. So we had to figure out how to keep it moving forward, and I wanted to make a film that’s very funny, first and foremost — a comedy.

But it’s a comedy that walks the line between comedy and drama, even tragedy, and I wanted to give full weight to both elements and not let it get too sentimental. I love theater and some of my favorite plays — like Angels in America — start off as laugh-out-loud comedies and then get really serious, and I love the way they allow those opposites to co-exist.

How involved was Judd Apatow in developing the film?
Judd was very involved in all aspects — tightening up the screenplay, casting and then editing. He’s so experienced, and a great collaborator.

How was the shoot?
We shot on digital, in New York, it was just 25 days, so pretty tight, but it went great thanks to a great line producer and crew. The biggest issue was that it’s set in cold weather and we shot in a heat wave.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s so creative and, of course, it’s where you actually make the movie.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Nassau, who cut My Name is Doris for you and Wanderlust for Judd Apatow. What were the main editing challenges?
As a TV showrunner and film director, my preferred way of working in post is to empower editors, and I rely on them the same way I do with a production designer or DP. I’m not big on micro managing, so I like to give the footage to my editor and then see what they do with it. And I go into production with a very clear game-plan. There’s not a lot of figuring it all out on the day. Then I’m very interested in the editor’s interpretation of the footage, and if it’s working, I give notes and we go along like that. I’m not the sort of director who’s in the room all the time, looking over the editor’s shoulder. I’m much more laissez-faire.

Where did you edit and post this?
Rob has his own editing suite at home in New York, so he did the assembly and director’s cut there while I was in LA. Then he came out to LA for the producer’s cut, and on any given day either me or Kumail, Judd and Barry — or all of us — would be there too, going over specific scenes and beats. But Judd had final cut, and once I’d done my cut, all the post became much more of a group endeavor.

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both crucial elements and we did it all in LA, working with Judd’s sound team, which does most of his projects. We wanted the sound to be very intimate and very clean, so you feel like you’re with the characters all the time and you hear everything they’re saying in these small, intimate places, as opposed to having a rougher, grittier sound design. Then composer Mike Andrews, who’s scored a lot of projects for Judd, like Bridesmaids, came on board and did a score that really mirrored the emotions of the characters, without over-scoring it.

Who was the colorist and where did you do the DI?
We did the digital intermediate and dailies at Technicolor Postworks NY, and Alex Bickel was the colorist. I’m very involved in all that. The color is very important, and we wanted a very warm, authentic look, as opposed to going more muted and drained-out. We experimented a bit and Alex did a great job.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things I’m working on but I can’t talk about them yet!


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.

The A-List: Roman J. Israel, Esq. director Dan Gilroy

By Iain Blair

Writing and movies have always been in director/writer Dan Gilroy’s DNA. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Frank Gilroy, he has two brothers who’re also in the business — director/writer Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne franchise) and editor John Gilroy.

After making a name for himself as a successful screenwriter on such projects as The Bourne Legacy, Real Steel and Two for the Money, he made his feature directorial debut with Nightcrawler in 2014. He also wrote the film, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Nightcrawler earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington on set.

His film, Roman J. Israel, Esq., which earned its star Denzel Washington an Academy Award nomination and recognition from the Golden Globe and SAG, is another intense character study. Set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system, it stars Denzel Washington as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended after his boss and mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When Roman is recruited to join a law firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students — the ambitious George Pierce (Colin Farrell) — and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a series of events ensues that put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.

Collaborating with Gilroy behind the scenes was director of photography Robert Elswit, editor John Gilroy, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.

I recently talked with Gilroy about making the film and collaborating with Washington.

Is it true you wrote the film on spec specifically for Denzel?
I did. After Nightcrawler I took myself off the market for a year, researched this and wrote it on spec. I could only ever see Denzel playing Israel.

Would you have still done it without him?
No, I would have just put it away. He was crucial to the film. You have to take a pill with every movie and buy into the premise, and on this you had to believe that for 40 years he’s toiled away in the shadows and never compromised his beliefs. And Denzel utterly transformed himself physically for the role, but he’s also a man of faith who believes in something bigger than himself.

What did he bring to the role?
Apart from being this incredibly gifted actor, he brought a deep conviction to the part.

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
My biggest struggle is with my conscience. Am I doing enough? And this was a chance to examine activism, which can take a big emotional toll, but then you also know that you’re helping make the world a better place. That’s one of the key themes of the film — the importance of belief. It’s an homage to activism and to anyone who dedicates some of their time to a cause other than themselves. That sort of belief can be both a blessing and a burden, as it can get you up in the morning to fight for something, but it can also sap you.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
We wanted that great film look, even though it’s very expensive to shoot that way now. Denzel and I actually shared the added cost.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
You’re right, it does, as you have to find a lab that can still handle film as everyone’s so used to digital now, and you have a slight delay in dailies — 24 hours. But apart from that, there’s not much interruption to the flow. One big thing it does is cut way down on the footage you have to deal with in editing and post. When you shoot digitally, you don’t think twice about doing 10 or 15 takes in a row. You don’t do that with film. You’re far more careful and specific about what you shoot.

Dan Gilroy opted to shoot on 35mm.

You shot all on location downtown. How tough was that? 
Very tough. We had over 60 locations, and unlike Nightcrawler it was nearly all daytime, and the traffic is just brutal and makes it very hard just moving around. I always wanted to put the character in real-world situations, so sometimes we’d hide cameras down alleyways and behind cars and shoot stuff as if it was surveillance footage. Denzel would be walking around and people would bump into him and not give him a second glance — and those weren’t extras.

Where did you post?
On the Sony lot. We did all the sound at Formosa.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it. You have all the pieces in front of you, and they haven’t hardened yet. They’re malleable, and you can do anything you want and rewrite the whole movie in post if you want. You can pre-lap dialogue, you can intercut and do so many things that have a profound impact on the flow of the story. You can speed up stuff and slow it down by the way you cut and use transitions, and give scenes a whole new energy. Post is amazing.

You edited again with your brother John, who cut Nightcrawler. How did that work?
He read the script before we began shooting, and then he was on the set and then we worked side-by-side on the assembly. He’s like my right arm. (See our interview with John.)

What were the main challenges of editing this film?
The time! We were running long and had to keep cutting. We went to the Toronto Film Festival with it and screened it at 2 hours 14 minutes, but that was still too long, so we had to go back and cut another 13 minutes… that was very tough to do.

I heard Denzel was also involved in the edit.
It’s true, he was. Isn’t that crazy? Normally I couldn’t have even conceived of having an actor come into the cutting room and doing that, because most actors are just not objective. But Denzel is such an asset, and he truly is objective and has an incredible eye. Of course, he’s directed films himself, so it made perfect sense to keep collaborating in the edit.

How many visual effects shots were there and who did them?
Zero VFX did them, and there were quite a few. The biggest VFX shot — which originally was going to be done practically — was when we dropped down 400 feet at night into this alley. We planned to do it with a drone, so we sent it up with an Alexa on it, but it was wet and windy that night and it just didn’t work, so we had to redo it all in post. The apartment building they’re constructing next to Israel’s building was all a big VFX shot, and we had a lot of smaller shots and clean-up and so on.

It has a great soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important to me, and they’re a huge percentage of the final film. Music can instantly transport you to other levels and places and change the whole emotional fabric of a scene. Denzel was very involved in that too. He has over 20,000 songs on his iPod and he came up with specific songs that would be the soundtrack to Roman’s life — songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s — and picked a lot of the cues. James Newton Howard, who did Nightcrawler, did the film score.

How about the DI?
We did it at Company 3 in LA with Stefan Sonnenfeld who has worked a lot with Tony. I’m very involved in about 85% of it, and then I leave the last 15% to the DP and my brother John. I love the DI as you can go in and highlight small details and play around with the look and color so much. It’s so creative.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It’s beyond what I imagined when I was writing it, and I think Denzel’s performance is truly amazing.

What’s next?
I’m in pre-production on a film for Netflix, a drama set in LA’s contemporary art world. It’s starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Renee Russo, and it’ll be out in October.


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.

Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14 for editing

By Brady Betzel

Resolve 14 has really stepped up Blackmagic’s NLE game with many great new updates over the past few months. While I typically refer to Resolve as a high-end color correction and finishing tools, this review will focus on the Editing tab.

Over the last two years, Resolve has grown from a high-end color correction and finishing app to include a fully-capable nonlinear editor, media organizer and audio editing tool. Fairlight is not currently at the same level as Avid Pro Tools, but it is still capable, and with a price of free or at most $299 you can’t lose. For this review, I am using the $299 version, which has a few perks — higher than UHD resolutions; higher than 60 frames per second timelines; the all-important spatial and/or temporal noise reduction; many plugins like the new face tracker; multi-user collaboration; and much more. The free version will work with resolutions up to UHD at up to 60fps and still gives you access to all of the powerful base tools like Fairlight and the mighty color correction tool set.

Disclaimer: While I really will try and focus on the Editing tab, I can’t make any promises I won’t wander.

Digging In
My favorite updates to Resolve 14’s Editing tab revolve around collaboration and conforming functions, but I even appreciate some smaller updates like responsiveness while trimming and video scopes on the edit page. And don’t forget the audio waveforms being visible on the source monitor!

With these new additions, among others, I really do think that Resolve is also becoming a workable nonlinear editor much like industry standards such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro X. You can work from ingest to output all within one app. When connected to a collaborative project there is now bin-locking, sharing bins and even a chat window.

Multicam works as expected with up to 16 cameras in one split view. I couldn’t figure out how to watch all of the angles in the source monitor while playing down the sequence in the record monitor, so I did a live switch (something I love to do in Media Composer). I also couldn’t figure out how to adjust the multi-cam after it had been created, because say, for instance, audio was one frame out of sync or I needed to add another angle later on. But the multicam worked and did its job by allowing me to sync by in point, out point, timecode, sound or marker. In addition, you can make the multicam a different frame rate than your timeline, which is handy.

[Editor’s Note: Blackmagic says: “There are a few ways to do that. You can right click on the multicam clip and select ‘open in timeline.’ Or you can pause over any segment of a multicam clip, click on a different angle and swap out the shots. Most importantly, you get into multicam edit mode by clicking on the drop down menu on the lower left hand corner of the source viewer and selecting Multicam mode.”]

Another addition is the Position Lock located in the middle right, above the timeline. The Position Lock keeps all of your clips locked in time in your timeline. What is really interesting about this is that it still allows you to trim and apply other effects to clips while locking the position of your clips in place. This is extremely handy when doing conforms and online passes of effects when you don’t want timing and position of clips to change. It’s a great safety net. There are some more fancy additions like re-time curves directly editable in the timeline. But what I would really love is a comprehensive overhaul of the Title Tool that would allow for direct manipulation of the text on top of the video. It would be nice to have a shortcut to use the title as a matte for other footage for some quick and fancy titling effects, but maybe that is what Fusion is for? The title tool works fine and will now give you nice crisp text even when blown up. The bezier curves really come in handy here to make animations ease in and out nicely.

If you start and finish within Resolve 14, your experience will most likely be pretty smooth. For anyone coming from another NLE — like Media Composer or Premiere — there are a few things you will have to get used to, but overall it feels like the interface designers of Resolve 14 kept the interface familiar for those “older” editors, yet also packed it with interesting features to keep the “YouTube” editors’ interest piqued. As someone who’s partial to Media Composer, I really like that you can choose between frame view in the timeline and clips-only view, leaving out thumbnails and waveform views in the timeline.

I noticed a little bit of a lag when editing with the thumbnail frames turned on. I also saw recently that Dave Dugdale on YouTube found an interesting solution to the possible bug. Essentially, one of the thumbnail views of the timeline was a little slower at re-drawing when zooming into a close view in a sequence Regardless, I like to work without thumbnails, and that view seemed to work fluidly for me.

After working for about 12 minutes I realized I hadn’t saved my work and Resolve didn’t auto-saved. This is when I remembered hearing about the new feature “Live Save.” It’s a little tricky to find, but the Live Save feature lives under the DaVinci Resolve Menu > User > Auto Save and is off by default — I really think this should be changed. Turn this fuction on and your Resolve project will continually save, which in turn saves you from unnecessary conniptions when your project crashes and you try to find the spot that was last saved.

Coming from another NLE, the hardest thing for me to get used to in a new app was the keyboard layouts and shortcuts. Typically, trimming works similar to other apps and overwriting; ripple edits, dissolves and other edit functions don’t change, but the placement of their shortcuts does. In Resolve 14, you can access the keyboard shortcut commands in the same spot as the Live Save, but under the Keyboard Mapping menu under User. From here you can get grounded quickly by choosing a preset that is similar to your NLE of choice — Premiere, FCP X, Media Composer — or Resolve’s default keyboard layout, which isn’t terrible. If this could be updated to how apps like Premiere and/or Avid have their keyboard layouts designed, it would be a lot easier to navigate. Meaning there is usually a physical representation of a keyboard that allows you to drag your shortcuts to and from it realtime.

Right now, Resolve’s keyboard mapper is text-based and a little cumbersome. Overall, Resolve’s keyboard shortcuts (when in the editing tab) are pretty standard, but it would do you well to read and go through basic moves like trimming, trimming the heads and tails of clips or even just trimming by plus or minus and the total frames you want to trim.

Something else I discovered when trimming was when you go into actual “trim mode,” it isn’t like other NLEs where you can immediately start trimming. I had to click on the trim point with my mouse or pen, then I could use keyboard shortcuts to trim. This is possibly a bug, but what I would really love to happen is when you enter “trim mode,” you would see trimming icons at the A and B sides of the nearest clips on the selected tracks. This would allow you to immediately trim using keyboard shortcuts without any mouse clicks. In my mind, the more mouse clicks I have to use to accomplish a task means time wasted. This leads to having less time to spend on “important” stuff like story, audio, color, etc. When time equals money, every mouse click means money out of my pocket. [Note from Blackmagic: “In our trim tools you can also enter trim mode by hitting T on the keyboard. We did not put in specific trim tool icons on purpose because we have an all-in-one content sensitive trim tool that changes based on where you place the cursor. And if you prefer trimming with realtime playback, hit W for dynamic trim mode, and then click on the cut you want to trim with before hitting JKL to play the trim.”]

I have always treated Resolve as another app in my post workflow — I wasn’t able to use it all the way from start to finish. So in homage to the old way of working, a.k.a. “a round trip workflow,” I wanted to send a Media Composer sequence to Resolve by way of a linked AAF, then conform the media clips and work from there. I had a few objectives, but the main one was to make sure my clips and titles came over. Next was to see if any third-party effects would translate into Resolve from Media Composer and, finally, I wanted to conform an “updated” AAF to the original sequence using Resolve’s new “Compare with Current Timeline” command.

This was a standard 1080p, 23.98 sequence (transcoded to one mezzanine DNx175x codec with 12 frame handles) with plenty of slates, titles, clips, speed ramps, Boris Continuum Complete and Sapphire Effect. Right off the bat all of the clip-based media came over fine and in its correct time and place in the timeline. Unfortunately, the titles did not come over and were offline — none of them were recognized as titles so they couldn’t be edited. Dissolves came over correctly, however none of the third-party BCC or Sapphire effects came across. I didn’t really expect the third-party effects to come over, but at some point, in order to be a proper conforming application, Resolve will need to figure out a way to translate those when sending sequences from an NLE to Resolve. This is more of a grand wish, but in order to be a force in the all-in-one app for the post finishing circle, this is a puzzle that will need to be solved.

Otherwise, for those who want to use alternative nonlinear editing systems, they will have to continue using their NLE as the editor, Resolve as a color-only solution, and the NLE as their finisher. And from what I can tell Blackmagic wants Resolve to be your last stop in the post pipeline. Obviously, if you start your edit in Resolve and use third-party OpenFX (OFX) like BCC or Sapphire, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Last on my list was to test the new Compare with Current Timeline command. In order for this option to pop up when you right click, you must be in the Media tab with the sequence you want to compare to the one loaded. You then need to find the sequence you want to compare from, right click on it and click Compare with Current Timeline. Once you click the sequences you want to compare, a new window will pop up with the option to view the Diff Index. The Diff Index is a text-based list of each new edit next to the timeline that visually compares your edits between the two sequences. This visual representation of the edits between the sequences is where you will apply those changes. There are marks identifying what has changed, and if you want to apply those changes you must right click and hit Apply Changes. My suggestion is to duplicate your sequence before you apply changes (actually you should be constantly duplicating your sequence as a backup as a general rule). The Compare with Current Timeline function is pretty incredible. I tested it using an AAF I had created in Media Composer and compared it against an AAF made from the same sequence but with some “creative” changes and trimmed clips — essentially a locked sequence that suddenly became unlocked while in Online/Color and needed to reflect the latest changes from the offline edit.

I wasn’t able to test Resolve 14 in a shared-project environment, so I couldn’t test a simultaneous update coming from another editor. But this can come in really handy for anyone who has to describe any changes made to a particular sequence or for that pesky online editor that needs to conform a new edit while not losing all their work.

I can’t wait to see the potential of this update, especially if we can get Resolve to recognize third-party effects from other NLEs. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not oblivious to the fact that asking Resolve engineers to figure out how to recognize third-party effects in an AAF workflow is a pie-in-the-sky scenario. If it was easy it probably would have already been done. But it is a vital feature if Blackmagic wants Resolve to be looked at like a Flame or Media Composer but with a high-end coloring solution and audio finishing solution. While I’m at it, I can’t help but think that Resolve may eventually include Fusion as another tab maybe as a paid add-on, which would help to close that circle to being an all-in-one post production solution.

Summing Up
In the end, Resolve 14 has all the makings of becoming someone’s choice as a sole post workflow solution. Blackmagic has really stepped up to the plate and made a workable and fully functional NLE. And, oh yeah not to mention it is one of the top color correction tools being used in the world.

I did this review of the editing tab using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 14.2. Find the latest version here. And check out our other Resolve review — this one from a color and finishing perspective.


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