Category Archives: Digging Deeper

Director Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

After seeing some of her previous work, Humble director Sasha Levinson was approached by agency R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority with a vision of creating four short films of personal transformation, each set across one weekend in Las Vegas, where the city was the catalyst in each narrative. The spots play more like a film trailer than a commercial.

Initial scripts were already written, when Levinson won project. “Right out of the gate I started to develop ideas about how I would bring these stories to life in a way that created a human mystique around Las Vegas while showcasing how the city could have an authentically positive impact on each character’s life,” she says.

We reached out to Levinson to find out more about her process and the project.

Who did you work with the most from the agency?
R&R Partners’ Arnie DiGeorge (ECD), Scott Murray (CD) and Gerri Angelo (Producer) were the primary people I interacted with. Once I was officially on board, the collaboration stretched into a place I hadn’t seen in my commercial work thus far. The team stressed their desire to have a filmmaker that could truly bring the films to life, and I think I did just that. They trusted my process whole-heartedly.

Now and Then

Can you walk us through the production process?
While working on readying the scripts for production, I flew out to Las Vegas and spent several days location scouting in and around the city. It was very inspiring to start to feel the environment and begin to envision exactly how our scenes might play out.

We scouted many incredible spaces, both interior and exterior. My process was to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters and decide where they would want to spend their weekend.

The next step was casting, which was done in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We all took a collective breath when we found our actors because they became the characters that had only been living on the page for quite a while.

It took a dedicated team and the full support of Humble, our production company, to pull this off. Line producer Trevor Allen, AD Scott Murray, AD Todd Martin, costume designer Karmen Dann and location scout/manager Kim Houser-Amaral were a huge help during this two-week shoot.

Two weeks?
Yes, we shot for eight days over the course of two weeks, filming mostly at night in restaurants, nightclubs and suites both on and off The Strip. For interiors alone we shot at over nine different hotel properties, and then filmed various exteriors, driving shots and desert scenes.

Can you talk about each of the four spots?
For the Now and Then spot we used a handheld and Steadicam to stay intimate with the characters. The film lives in a dreamy, indie space, making the audience feel like they are inside the story, and as if the flashbacks are their own memories.

Party of One

The Anniversary was the flirtiest, most luxurious of the films. We were initially planning to film in a different bar, but I changed the schedule when I saw the personality of the final location. It was perfect.

To me, Party of One was a quirky romantic comedy, but the real romance is with herself. This film had a cleaner look with colors that really popped, a playful wardrobe and fun music. The Meetup has the most obvious references to the iconic Oceans and Bond films, and I wanted to do this genre justice.

Victor, the actor in The Meetup has a comedy background, so he was able to give us something different and great each take. We used cleaner lenses and slower-paced, more precise movements using a dolly.

What did you shoot on, and why did you (and assuming the DP) feel this was the best camera?
We shot on the Alexa Mini for its stunning Alexa image and the smaller body. The choice was due to all of the handheld and Steadicam we knew we would be working with. I really love the Alexa and of course we played with a lot of filtration and elements in front of the lens.

Where did you find the inspiration for this campaign?
I was really inspired by the film Paris, je t’aime, which became a reference we really stayed true to with this campaign. We kept saying, “If these four films feel like a love letter to Las Vegas, then we’ve done our job.”

After we finished casting in LA, I spent a weekend in Vegas visiting Valley of Fire State Park, seeing Elton John in concert, riding on the High Roller, eating at some amazing restaurants and overall experiencing the city in a new and inspiring way. I’ve always loved the desert, so there is a built-in romance for me about Vegas being a desert oasis that you just feel, looking out the windows wherever you are. I wanted to capture that essence in this campaign.

Sasha on set

What was the biggest obstacle in directing these four spots?
Las Vegas is all about tourism, so we had to keep the visitor experience in mind when planning our schedules and shooting. It was a constantly changing puzzle of a schedule, but each location had a filming liaison that worked with us. They helped us film across iconic Las Vegas locations like the High Roller at the LinQ Hotel & Casino and the Bellagio Fountains, where we even had an engineer help us control the fountains, starting them at just the right moment in the shot.

Where was this project edited, and how did you work with the editors?
I worked extremely closely with the editors Erin Nordstrom and Nick Pezillo at Spot Welders in Venice, California. They cut on Adobe Premiere, and during the edit process we cut in side-by-side rooms. As we were cutting the first cuts I would hop between rooms as the edits were evolving.

Music was a huge point of discussion. Josh Baron was our music supervisor, and Human created some original pieces. Early in the edit process there was a lot of conversation about tone and feel of the soundtracks. Getting the music to encourage the cinematic feeling was very important to all of us.

Can you talk about what you wanted from the color grade?
Las Vegas has so much light and spectacle, and most of the films took place at night, so I wanted to capture that essence and make sure we didn’t go too far. The idea was that the character of Las Vegas should be cohesive across all four films, but each of the storylines should feel visually dedicated to their respective characters.

Dave Hussey at Company 3 too the reigns on color and hit the perfect balance between fantasy and reality.

We’ve heard a lot about making the ad and production industries more inclusive. How do you see the industry changing? Do you think organizations like Free the Bid are doing their jobs to help female directors get the work they deserve?
I think that filmmaking and content creation is about telling stories that accurately reflect reality, but this isn’t possible without diverse creators showcasing their own unique realities. I’ve spent a lot of time on scouts and shoots where I am the only woman, but this is changing, and there are more and more times where the van is all women, and it’s amazing!

However, just when I think diversity is becoming the norm, I’ll be on set with a crew member or client who says they’ve never worked with a female director. Free the Bid has been an incredible initiative and because it’s so action oriented, you can feel the rumblings of change in realtime. That’s exciting.

Do you have any tips for aspiring female directors?
Being a filmmaker in film or advertising is an incredible career path. My best advice is to develop your authentic voice and find projects that resonate with it. Don’t get lost in what you think you should be doing, and don’t just follow the trends. Be authentic in your work and speak from the heart. And when it comes to starting a reel, donate your time. Find brands or projects that cover the costs and give them your creative skills in exchange for footage to build a reel.

There has been a trend around branded content and spots, that look and like films, like this campaign. Do you think this trend will continue?
I think this trend will continue and extend deeper into newer mediums like immersive storytelling and interactivity. Brands are constantly searching for ways to connect with consumers, and I believe the art of storytelling is an age-old unifier and connector. So it makes sense. Personally, I love the three-act structure and any opportunity to work with this, whether it be 90 seconds or 90 minutes, inspires me.

Are you working on any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently taking my recent film Welcome to Grandville through the festival circuit. It made its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Perspectives Exhibition, and more recently in New York City at the Soho International Film Festival.

I’ve also just completed a commercial project for Whirlpool, Google and Amazon’s Alexa. Currently, I’m writing a film called the The Discomfort of Skin, about the human discomfort with nudity and sexuality.

How being a special needs dad helps me be a better editor at Conan

By Robert James Ashe

I have been working in late night television for Conan O’Brien for nearly 10 years, currently as the lead editor for Conan on the TBS network. Late night television has an extraordinarily demanding pace. An old colleague of mine used to refer to it as the “speed chess” of editing. It demands that your first instincts when editing are the best ones. The pace also puts extraordinary pressure on your writers and producers. I like to think of editors as the pilots hired to bring the plane in for a landing that may have already lost an engine, so it’s important that you maintain balance and focus.

I am the father to three amazing kiddos with special needs. My first daughter was born with the amyoplasia form of arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. She is also nonverbal. My youngest daughter was born with amniotic banding syndrome. For her, it means she only has a few fully developed fingers and a prosthesis on one of her legs. We’ve addressed her physical challenges through surgery and she has lots of fun sprinting around with her “robot leg,” which is what we call her prosthesis. We are in the middle of adopting our son and hope to bring him home in the fall. He has similar orthopedic challenges to our second daughter.

I take my jobs as editor and as a father very seriously, but it is also important to note that I am happy. Here are some things that I have learned over the years. I have made mistakes in every one of these rules, but I try every day to be better.

1. You will reach a new normal
I like to think of an editor’s job as a client’s spirit guide of sorts. A guardian of the story you are helping to tell. Once you get all of the footage, and you have a good idea of what you are dealing with, your job is to advocate for the story your client is trying to tell while handling various tech issues so you can remain creative. It took me a long time to make this adjustment. Now I try every day to make it my new normal.

Once we got through the first few weeks of my first daughter’s life and received a diagnosis, we decided to not live our lives with a cloud over our heads and to instead look for the sunshine. We refused to consider our lives to be a tragedy. My job is to advocate for my children while making sure they can remain kids throughout the doctor’s appointments and surgeries. I want them to feel happy about their lives.

2. Know Your Role
It’s important to know that the story you are being hired to tell for your client is not yours. I am very trusted at my job to work on pieces with little supervision. I have earned this trust because the writers (my client) know that I will put together segments based on their sensibilities. I am there to help tell their story and to solve any tech problems that may arise in doing so. I am not reinterpreting the story to fit my own sensibilities (plus, I’m not very funny so it works out).

I am a player in my children’s life story. I deal with insurance. My wife takes them to appointments on workdays. But, we are not the ones receiving the therapy or medical services, so our story is different than our children’s. You must know how to separate the two. I am there to guide them. I am there to protect them but it is their story.

Rob (center) with his co-editors Chris Heller and Matt Shaw.

3. Attitude monitors everything
I have to be mindful of my attitude. I am a large, intimidating looking man. The slightest expression of negativity is read to be much larger because of my size. Your attitude can affect an entire workspace. People will recommend a decent editor who is nice over a grumpy “professional” any day of the week. I’ve made this mistake many times. I would start on a new project so passionate and personally invested in the story that I was hired to tell I would be arrogantly offended if I felt that anyone I was working with didn’t give their absolute best. The truth of it is most people try to do their best with the circumstances they have been given, and the more I’d complain the more I’d become the real problem. Give people more credit. You don’t know the kinds of things they have had to deal with.

Dealing with the medical industry can be daunting. It’s easy to feel frustrated on calls with insurance or scheduling appointments. I try to have empathy for the other person I am dealing with as they have to deal with frustrated and frightened people all day. You don’t know the kinds of things they have to deal with. I also have to be very mindful of my attitude around my kids. My wife figured out quickly that if our lives were going to revolve around going to the Children’s Hospital that we were going to make it fun. Our kids actually love going. They have a playground and so many things for the kids to enjoy. If we acted depressed around our children, it would affect them. Before my youngest daughter’s prosthesis, we would talk about all the things she would be able to do and all the fun she’d be able to have once she got her robot leg.

4. The world isn’t fair
Not everyone is going to recognize what you contribute, even when you are at your absolute best. You must try to not take it personally. I try to remind myself that often we are working for people who have their own issues to worry about and don’t always understand the technical challenges of what we do. I have seen hundreds of all sorts of people passed over for promotions they deserve or recognition that they have earned. As someone who has been in charge of other editors, I have also received credit for work that is their own. That is why I insist at the end of every project sending a private post mortem to my clients so people can understand everyone’s contribution.

I get way more credit than I deserve for being a father of my children, and it’s not fair. One time my wife and I brought the kids to a party. My oldest daughter doesn’t have the muscle strength to feed herself, so I spent time feeding her while my wife talked with her friends. After leaving the party, my wife remarked how impressed they were that I fed my child. My wife is an amazing mom. I married Mary Poppins. Our family does deal with a fair amount of challenges, but I have met many single mothers over the years that are worthy of so much more admiration for what they take on than anything we’ve ever accomplished.

5. Take care of yourself
You will never be the best editor you can be unless you take care of yourself. Eating correctly, sleeping enough and moderating drinking or drug use is just the tip of the iceberg. The most high-profile jobs will demand that you be at your best 100% of the time.

My oldest daughter cannot walk without the use of braces, so we need to remain strong enough to lift her upstairs or into the shower. I am getting older, so I’m really starting to make a concentrated effort to eat better, exercise and drink less. The most challenging times we have faced have demanded that we be at our absolute best mentally and physically as long nights during surgeries can be draining.

6. A job is a job; family is everything
I like to park my car on the far side of the studio that I work at. It gives me a 20-minute walk to my trailer that allows me to look at all the other shoots happening that day and reflect on how I used to dream as a kid to one day work in Hollywood. It also gives me a chance to get some exercise.

Hollywood has been very kind to me, but my job doesn’t define my happiness. It’s not who I am. One of the best things that has ever happened to me in Hollywood was to figure out that once you take all the glitz and glamor away, it is a job like any other. A job I enjoy that allows me to provide for my family.

When I’m gone from this world, my most meaningful accomplishments will have nothing to do with my job and everything to do with my family and friends. The greatest thing I have done with my life is adopting my (soon to be) two children. My job demands long hours, so I have to miss some things, but I take comfort in knowing that it is to provide for their future.

7. You are capable of much more than you know
When I became an editor, I really didn’t know what my career would have in store. I just found it fun and decided that I could make money doing it. When I started in late night television almost 10 years ago, delivering a 42-minute show in 90 minutes used to make my hands shake. Now, it is one of the easiest points of my day. I went from freelancing on side projects for little money to helping plan international media transfers and deliveries for network primetime specials supported by an amazing and capable team. I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.

When my first child was born. I didn’t know what life was going to have in store. We just decided to go all in and be the best we could be at it, and now we are parents to (soon to be) three wonderful kiddos with an amazing orthopedic medical team. Our children are part of case studies that will advance medical science. They’ve been filmed and photographed for others to learn how to properly treat joint contractures and prosthesis adaptations. Their presence is going to help future kids get the treatment they need. When something like this happens in your life, you find out what you are really made of.

8. Finally, please remember to have fun. It’s fun.
I wish you nothing but the best.


Robert James Ashe is the four-time Emmy-nominated lead editor of Conan on TBS. You can follow him on Twitter at @robertjamesashe and read more pieces from him on The Mighty.

DG 7.9.18

AlphaDogs’ Terence Curren is on a quest: to prove why pros matter

By Randi Altman

Many of you might already know Terence Curren, owner of Burbank’s AlphaDogs, from his hosting of the monthly Editor’s Lounge, or his podcast The Terence and Philip Show, which he co-hosts with Philip Hodgetts. He’s also taken to producing fun, educational videos that break down the importance of color or ADR, for example.

He has a knack for offering simple explanations for necessary parts of the post workflow while hammering home what post pros bring to the table. You can watch them here:

I reached out to Terry to find out more.

How do you pick the topics you are going to tackle? Is it based on questions you get from clients? Those just starting in the industry?
Good question. It isn’t about clients as they already know most of this stuff. It’s actually a much deeper project surrounding a much deeper subject. As you well know, the media creation tools that used to be so expensive, and acted as a barrier to entry, are now ubiquitous and inexpensive. So the question becomes, “When everyone has editing software, why should someone pay a lot for an editor, colorist, audio mixer, etc.?”

ADR engineer Juan-Lucas Benavidez

Most folks realize there is a value to knowledge accrued from experience. How do you get the viewers to recognize and appreciate the difference in craftsmanship between a polished show or movie and a typical YouTube video? What I realized is there are very few people on the planet who can’t afford a pencil and some paper, and yet how many great writers are there? How many folks make a decent living writing, and why are readers willing to pay for good writing?

The answer I came up with is that almost anyone can recognize the difference between a paper written by a 5th grader and one written by a college graduate. Why? Well, from the time we are very little, adults start reading to us. Then we spend every school day learning more about writing. When you realize the hard work that goes into developing as a good writer, you are more inclined to pay a master at that craft. So how do we get folks to realize the value we bring to our craft?

Our biggest problem comes from the “magician” aspect of what we do. For most of the history of Hollywood, the tricks of the trade were kept hidden to help sell the illusion. Why should we get paid when the average viewer has a 4K camera phone with editing software on it?

That is what has spurred my mission. Educating the average viewer to the value we bring to the table. Making them aware of bad sound, poor lighting, a lack of color correction, etc. If they are aware of poorer quality, maybe they will begin to reject it, and we can continue to be gainfully employed exercising our hard-earned skills.

Boom operator Sam Vargas.

How often is your studio brought in to fix a project done by someone with access to the tools, but not the experience?
This actually happens a lot, and it is usually harder to fix something that has been done incorrectly than it is to just do it right from the beginning. However, at least they tried, and that is the point of my quest: to get folks to recognize and want a better product. I would rather see that they tried to make it better and failed than just accepted poor quality as “good enough.”

Your most recent video tackles ADR. So let’s talk about that for a bit. How complicated a task is ADR, specifically matching of new audio to the existing video?
We do a fair amount of ADR recording, which isn’t that hard for the experienced audio mixer. That said, I found out how hard it is being the talent doing ADR. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is when you are trying to match your delivery from the original recording.

What do you use for ADR?
We use Avid Pro Tools as our primary audio tool, but there are some additional tools in Fairlight (included free in Blackmagic’s Resolve now) that make ADR even easier for the mixer and the talent. Our mic is Sennheiser long shotgun, but we try to match mics to the field mic when possible for ADR.

I suppose Resolve proves your point — professional tools accessible for free to the masses?
Yeah. I can afford to buy a paint brush and some paint. It would take me a lot of years of practice to be a Michelangelo. Maybe Malcolm Gladwell, who posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something, is not too far off target.

What about for those clients who don’t think you need ADR and instead can use a noise reduction tool to remove the offensive noise?
We showed some noise reduction tools in another video in the series, but they are better at removing consistent sounds like air conditioner hum. We chose the freeway location as the background noise would be much harder to remove. In this case, ADR was the best choice.

It’s also good for replacing fumbled dialogue or something that was rewritten after production was completed. Often you can get away with cheating a new line of dialogue over a cutaway of another actor. To make the new line match perfectly, you would rerecord all the dialogue.

What did you shoot the video with? What about editing and color?
We shot with a Blackmagic Cinema Camera in RAW so we could fix more in post. Editing was done in Avid Media Composer with final color in Blackmagic’s Resolve. All the audio was handled in Avid’s Pro Tools.

What other topics have you covered in this series?
So far we’ve covered some audio issues and the need for color correction. We are in the planning stages for more videos, but we’re always looking for suggestions. Hint, hint.

Ok, letting you go, but is there anything I haven’t asked that’s important?
I am hoping that others who are more talented than I am pick up the mantle and continue the quest to educate the viewers. The goal is to prevent us all becoming “starving artists” in a world of mediocre media content.


Cinesite VFX supervisor Stephane Paris: 860 shots for The Commuter

By Randi Altman

The Commuter once again shows how badass Liam Neeson can be under very stressful circumstances. This time, Neeson plays a mild-mannered commuter named Michael who gets pushed too far by a seemingly benign but not-very-nice Vera Farmiga.

For this Jaume Collet-Serra-directed Lionsgate film, Cinesite’s London and Montreal locations combined to provide over 800 visual effects shots. The studio’s VFX supervisor, Stephane Paris, worked hand in hand with The Commuter’s overall VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

Stephane Paris

The visual effects shots vary, from CG commuters to Neesom’s outfits changing during his daily commute to fog and smog to the climactic huge train crash sequence. Cinesite’s work on the film included a little bit of everything. For more, we reached out to Paris…

How early did Cinesite get involved in The Commuter?
We were involved before principal photography began. I was then on set at Pinewood Studios, just outside London, for about six weeks alongside Steve. They had set up two stages. The first was a single train carriage adapted and dressed to look like multiple carriages — this was used to film all the main action onboard the train. The carriage was surrounded by bluescreen and shot on a hydraulic system to give realistic shake and movement. In one notable shot, the camera pulls back through the entire length of the train, through the carriage walls. A camera rig was set up on the roof and programmed to repeat the same pullback move through each iteration of the carriage — this was subsequently stitched together by the VFX team.

How did you work with the film’s VFX supervisor, Steve Begg?
Cinesite had worked with Steve previously on productions such as Spectre, Skyfall and Inkheart. Having created effects with him for the Bond films, he was confident that Cinesite could create the required high-quality invisible effects for the action-heavy sequences. We interacted with Steve mainly. The client’s approach was to concentrate on the action, performances and story during production, so we lit and filmed the bluescreens carefully, ensuring reflections were minimized and the bluescreens were secure in order to allow creative freedom to Jaume during filming. We were confident that by using this approach we would have what we needed for the visual effects at a later stage.

You guys were the main house on the film, providing a whopping 860 visual effects shots. What was your turnaround like? How did you work for the review and approval process?
Yes, Cinesite was the lead vendor, and in total we worked on The Commuter for about a year, beginning with principal photography in August 2016 and delivering in August 2017. Both our London and Montreal studios worked together on the film. We have worked together previously, notably on San Andreas and more recently on Independence Day: Resurgence, so I had experience of working across both locations. Most of the full CG heavy shots were completed in London, while the environments, some of the full CG shots and 2D backgrounds were completed in Montreal, which also completed the train station sequence that appears early in the film.

My time was split fairly evenly between both locations, so I would spend two to three weeks in London followed by the same amount of time in Montreal. Steve never needed to visit the Montreal studio, but he was very hands-on and involved throughout. He visited our London studio at least twice a week, where we used the RV system to review both the London and Montreal work.

Can you describe the types of shots you guys provided?
We delivered over 860, from train carriage composites right through to entirely CG shots for the spectacular climactic train crash sequence. The crash required the construction of a two-kilometers-long environment asset complete with station, forest, tracks and industrial detritus. Effects were key, with flying gravel, breaking and deforming tracks, exploding sleepers, fog, dust, smoke and fire, in addition to the damaged train carriages. Other shots required a realistic Neeson digi-double to perform stunts.

The teams also created shots near the film’s opening that demonstrate the repetition of Michael’s daily commute. In a poignant shot at Grand Central Station multiple iterations of Michael’s journey are shown simultaneously, with the crowds gradually accelerating around him while his pace remains measured. His outfit changes, and the mood lighting changes to show the passing of the seasons around him.

The shot was achieved with a combination of multiple motion control passes, creation of the iconic station environment using photogrammetry and, ultimately, by creating the crowd of fellow commuters in CG for the latter part of the shot (a seamless transition was required between the live-action passes and the CG people).

Did you do previs? If so, what tools did you use?
No. London’s Nvizible handled all the initial previs for the train crash. Steve Begg blocked everything out and then sent it to Jaume for feedback initially, but the final train crash layout was done by our team with Jaume at Cinesite.

What did you use tool-wise for the VFX?
Houdini’s RBD particle and fluid simulation processes were mainly used, with some Autodesk Maya for falling pieces of train. Simulated destruction of the train was also created using Houdini, with some internal set-up.

What was the most challenging scene or scenes you worked on? 
The challenge was, strangely enough, more about finding proper references that would fit our action movie requirements. Footage of derailing trains is difficult to find, and when you do find it you quickly notice that train carriages are not designed to tear and break the way you would like them to in an action movie. Naturally, they are constructed to be safe, with lots of energy absorption compartments and equipped with auto triggering safe mechanisms.

Putting reality aside, we devised a visually exciting and dangerous movie train crash for Jaume, complete with lots of metal crumbling, shattering windows and multiple large-scale impact explosions.

As a result, the crew had to ensure they were maintaining the destruction continuity across the sequence of shots as the train progressively derails and crashes. A high number of re-simulations were applied to the train and environment destruction whenever there was a change to one of these in a shot earlier in the sequence. Devising efficient workflows using in-house tools to streamline this where possible was key in order to deliver a large number of effects-heavy destruction shots whilst maintaining accurate continuity and remaining responsive to the clients’ notes during the show.


VFX supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster on Amazon’s Mrs. Maisel

By Randi Altman

If you are one of the many who tend to binge-watch streaming shows, you’ve likely already enjoyed Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This new comedy focuses on a young wife and mother living in New York City in 1958, when men worked and women tended to, well, not work.

After her husband leaves her, Mrs. Maisel chooses stand-up comedy over therapy — or you could say stand-up comedy chooses her. The show takes place in a few New York neighborhoods, including the toney Upper West Side, the Garment District and the Village. The storyline brings real-life characters into this fictional world — Midge Maisel studies by listening to Red Foxx comedy albums, and she also befriends comic Lenny Bruce, who appears in a number of episodes.

Lesley Robson-Foster on set.

The show, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, is colorful and bright and features a significant amount of visual effects — approximately 80 per episode.

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor, Lesley Robson-Foster, to find out more.

How early did you get involved in Mrs. Maisel?
The producer Dhana Gilbert brought my producer Parker Chehak and I in early to discuss feasibility issues, as this is a period piece and to see if Amy and Dan liked us! We’ve been on since the pilot.

What did the creators/showrunners say they needed?
They needed 1958 New York City, weather changes and some very fancy single-shot blending. Also, some fantasy and magic realism.

As you mentioned, this is a period piece, so I’m assuming a lot of your work is based on that.
The big period shots in Season 1 are the Garment District reconstruction. We shot on 19th Street between 5th and 6th — the brilliant production designer Bill Groom did 1/3 of the street practically and VFX took care of the rest, such as crowd duplication and CG cars and crowds. Then we shot on Park Avenue and had to remove the Met Life building down near Grand Central, and knock out anything post-1958.

We also did a major gag with the driving footage. We shot driving plates around the Upper West Side and had a flotilla of period-correct cars with us, but could not get rid of all the parked cars. My genius design partner on the show Douglas Purver created a wall of parked period CG cars and put them over the modern ones. Phosphene then did the compositing.

What other types of effects did you provide?
Amy and Dan — the creators and showrunners — haven’t done many VFX shows, but they are very, very experienced. They write and ask for amazing things that allow me to have great fun. For example, I was asked to make a shot where our heroine is standing inside a subway car, and then the camera comes hurtling backwards through the end of the carriage and then sees the train going away down the tunnel. All we had was a third of a carriage with two and a half walls on set. Douglas Purver made a matte painting of the tunnel, created a CG train and put it all together.

Can you talk about the importance of being on set?
For me being on set is everything. I talk directors out of VFX shots and fixes all day long. If you can get it practically you should get it practically. It’s the best advice you’ll ever give as a VFX supervisor. A trust is built that you will give your best advice, and if you really need to shoot plates and interrupt the flow of the day, then they know it’s important for the finished shot.

Having a good relationship with every department is crucial.

Can you give an example of how being on set might have saved a shot or made a shot stronger?
This is a character-driven show. The directors really like Steadicam and long, long shots following the action. Even though a lot of the effects we want to do really demand motion control, I know I just can’t have it. It would kill the performances and take up too much time and room.

I run around with string and tennis balls to line things up. I watch the monitors carefully and use QTake to make sure things line up within acceptable parameters.

In my experience you have to have the production’s best interests at heart. Dhana Gilbert knows that a VFX supervisor on the crew and as part of the team smooths out the season. They really don’t want a supervisor who is intermittent and doesn’t have the whole picture. I’ve done several shows with Dhana; she knows my idea of how to service a show with an in-house team.

You shot b-roll for this? What camera did you use, and why?
We used a Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro. We rented one on The OA for Netflix last year and found it to be really easy to use. We liked that’s its self-contained and we can use the Canon glass from our DSLR kits. It’s got a built-in monitor and it can shoot RAW 4.6K. It cut in just fine with the Alexa Mini for establishing shots and plates. It fits into a single backpack so we could get a shot at a moment’s notice. The user interface on the camera is so intuitive that anyone on the VFX team could pick it up and learn how to get the shot in 30 minutes.

What VFX houses did you employ, and how do you like to work with them?
We keep as much as we can in New York City, of course. Phosphene is our main vendor, and we like Shade and Alkemy X. I like RVX in Iceland, El Ranchito in Spain and Rodeo in Montreal. I also have a host of secret weapon individuals dotted around the world. For Parker and I, it’s always horses for courses. Whom we send the work to depends on the shot.

For each show we build a small in-house team — we do the temps and figure out the design, and shoot plates and elements before shots leave us to go to the vendor.

You’ve worked on many critically acclaimed television series. Television is famous for quick turnarounds. How do you and your team prepare for those tight deadlines?
Television schedules can be relentless. Prep, shoot and post all at the same time. I like it very much as it keeps the wheels of the machine oiled. We work on features in between the series and enjoy that slower process too. It’s all the same skill set and workflow — just different paces.

If you have to offer a production a tip or two about how to make the process go more smoothly, what would it be?
I would say be involved with EVERYTHING. Keep your nose close to the ground. Really familiarize yourself with the scripts — head trouble off at the pass by discussing upcoming events with the relevant person. Be fluid and flexible and engaged!


Working with Anthropologie to build AR design app

By Randi Altman

Buying furniture isn’t cheap; it’s an investment. So imagine having an AR app that allows you to see what your dream couch looks like in paisley, or colored dots! Well imagine no more. Anthropologie — which sells women’s clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as furniture, home décor, beauty and gifts — just launched its own AR app, which gives users the ability to design and customize their own pieces and then view them in real-life environments.

They called on production and post house CVLT to help design the app. The bi-coastal studio created over 96,000 assets, allowing users to combine products in very realistic and different ways. The app also accounts for environmental lighting and shadows in realtime.

We reached out to CVLT president Alberto Ruiz to find out more about how the studio worked with Anthroplogie to create this app.

How early did CVLT get involved in the project?
Our involvement began in the spring of 2017. We collaborated early in the planning phases when Anthropologie was concepting how to best execute the collection. Due to our background in photography, video production and CGI, we discussed the positives and pitfalls of each avenue, ultimately helping them select CGI as the path forward.

We’re often approached by a brand with a challenge and asked to consult on the best way to create the assets needed for the campaign. With specialists in each category, we look at all available ways of executing a particular project and provide a recommendation as to the best way to build a campaign with longevity in mind.

How did CVLT work with Anthropologie? How much input did you have?
We worked in close collaboration with Anthropologie every step of the way. We helped design style guides and partnered with their development team to test and optimize assets for every platform.

Our creatives worked closely with Anthropologie to elevate the assets to a high-quality reflective of the product integrity. We presented CGI as a way to engage customers now and in the future through AR/VR platforms. Because of this partnership, we understood the vision for future executions and built our assets with those executions in mind. They were receptive to our suggestions and engaged in product feedback. All in all, it was a true partnership between companies.

Has CVLT worked on assets or materials for an app before? How much of your work is for apps or the web?
The majority of the work that we produce is for digital platforms, whether for the web, mobile or experiential platforms. In addition to film and photography projects, we produce highly complex CGI products for luxury jewelers, fragrance and retail companies.

More and more clients are looking to either supplement or run full campaigns digitally. We believe that investing in emerging technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality, is paramount in the age of digital and mobile content. Our commitment to emerging technologies connects our clients with the resources to explore new ways of communicating with their audience.

What were the challenges of creating so many assets? What did you learn that could be applicable moving forward?
The biggest challenge was unpacking all the variables within this giant puzzle. There are 138 unique pieces of furniture in 11 different fabrics, with 152 colorways, eight leg finishes and a variety of hardware options. Stylistically, colors of a similar family were to live on complementary backgrounds, adding yet another variable to the project. It was basically a rubix cube on steroids. Luckily, we really enjoy puzzles.

We always believed in having a strong production team and pipeline. It was the only way to achieve the scale and quality of this project. This was further reinforced as we raced toward the finish line. We’re now engaged in future seasons and are focused on refining the pipe and workflow tools therein.

Any interesting stories from working on the project?
One of the most interesting things about working on the project was how much we learned about furniture. The level of planning and detail that goes into each piece is amazing. We talk a lot about the variables in colors, fabrics and styles because they are the big factors. What remains hidden are the small details that have large impacts. We were given a crash course in stitching details, seam placements, tufting styles and more. Those design details are what set an Anthropologie piece apart.

Another interesting part of the project was working with such an iconic brand with a strong heritage. The rich history of design at Anthropologie permeates every aspect of their work. The same level of detail poured into product design is also visible in the way they communicate with and understand their customer.

What tools were used throughout the project?
Every time we approach a new project we assess the tools that we have in our arsenal and the custom tools that we can develop to make the process smoother for our clients. This project was no different in that sense. We combined digital project management tools with proprietary software to create a seamless experience for our client and staff.

We built a bi-coastal team for this project between our New York and Los Angeles offices. Between that and our Philadelphia-based client, we relied heavily on collaborative digital tools to manage reviews. It’s a workflow we’re accustomed to as many of our clients have a global presence, which was further refined to meet the scale of this project.

What was the most difficult part of the project?
The timeframe was really the biggest challenge in this project. The sheer volume of assets — 96,000 that we created in under five months was definitely a monumental task, and one we’re very proud of.


Digging Deeper: The Mill Chicago’s head of color Luke Morrison

A native Londoner, Morrison started his career at The Mill where worked on music videos and commercials. In 2013, he moved across to the Midwest to head up The Mill Chicago’s color department.

Since then, Morrison has worked on campaigns for Beats, Prada, Jeep, Miller, Porsche, State Farm, Wrigley’s Extra Gum and a VR film for Jack Daniel’s.

Let’s find out more about Morrison.

How early on did you know color would be your path?
I started off, like so many at The Mill, as a runner. I initially thought I wanted to get into 3D, and after a month of modeling a photoreal screwdriver I realized that wasn’t the path for me. Luckily, I poked my nose into the color suites and saw them working with neg and lacing up the Spirit telecine. I was immediately drawn to it. It resonated with me and with my love of photography.

You are also a photographer?
Yes, I actually take pictures all the time. I always carry some sort of camera with me. I’m fortunate to have a father who is a keen photographer and he had a darkroom in our house when I was young. I was always fascinated with what he was doing up there, in the “red room.”

Photography for me is all about looking at your surroundings and capturing or documenting life and sharing it with other people. I started a photography club at The Mill, S35, because I wanted to share that part of my passion with people. I find as a ‘creative’ you need to have other outlets to feed into other parts of you. S35 is about inspiring people — friends, colleagues, clients — to go back to the classic, irreplaceable practice of using 35mm film and start to consider photography in a different way than the current trends.

State Farm

In 2013, you moved from London to Chicago. Are the markets different and did anything change?
Yes and no. I personally haven’t changed my style to suit or accommodate the different market. I think it’s one of the things that appeals to my clients. Chicago, however, has quite a different market than in the UK. Here, post production is more agency led and directors aren’t always involved in the process. In that kind of environment, there is a bigger role for the colorist to play in carrying the director’s vision through or setting the tone of the “look.”

I still strive to keep that collaboration with the director and DP in the color session whether it’s a phone call to discuss ahead of the session, doing some grade tests or looping them in with a remote grade session. There is definitely a difference in the suite dynamics, too. I found very quickly I had to communicate and translate the client’s and my creative intent differently here.

What sort of content do you work on?
We work on commercials, music promos, episodics and features, but always have an eye on new ways to tell narratives. That’s where the pioneering work in the emerging technology field comes into play. We’re no longer limited and are constantly looking for creative ways to remain at the forefront of creation for VR, AR, MR and experiential installations. It’s really exciting to watch it develop and to be a part of it. When Jack Daniel’s and DFCB Chicago approached us to create a VR experience taking the viewer to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Kentucky, we leapt at the chance.

Do you like a variety of projects?
Who doesn’t? It’s always nice to be working on a variety, keeping things fresh and pushing yourself creatively. We’ve moved into grading more feature projects and episodic work recently, which has been an exciting way to be creatively and technically challenged. Most recently, I’ve had a lot of fun grading some comedy specials, one for Jerrod Carmichael and one for Hasan Minhaj. This job is ever-changing, be it thanks to evolving technology, new clients or challenging projects. That’s one of the many things I love about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs

You recently won two AICE awards for best color for your grade on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ spot Wise Man. Can you talk about that?
It was such a special project to collaborate on. I’ve been working with Ian Pons Jewell, who directed it, for many years now. We met way back in the day in London, when I was a color assistant. He would trade me deli meats and cheeses from his travels to do grades for him! That shared history made the AICE awards all the more special. It’s incredible to have continued to build that relationship and see how each of us have grown in our careers. Those kinds of partnerships are what I strive to do with every single client and job that comes through my suite.

When it comes to color grading commercials, what are the main principles?
For me, it’s always important to understand the idea, the creative intent and the tone of the spot. Once you understand that, it influences your decisions, dictates how you’ll approach the grade and what options you’ll offer the client. Then, it’s about crafting the grade appropriately and building on that.

You use FilmLight Baselight, what do your clients like most about what you can provide with that system?
Clients are always impressed with the speed at which I’m able to address their comments and react to things almost before they’ve said them. The tracker always gets a few “ooooooh’s” or “ahhhh’s.” It’s like they’re watching fireworks or something!

How do you keep current with emerging technologies?
That’s the amazing thing about working at The Mill: we’re makers and creators for all media. Our Emerging Technologies team is constantly looking for new ways to tell stories and collaborate with our clients, whether it’s branded content or passion projects, using all technologies at our disposal: anything is at our fingertips, even a Pop Llama.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Well, I’ve got to have my Contax T2, an alarm clock, otherwise I’d never be anywhere on time, and my bicycle.

Would you say you are a “technical” colorist or would you rather prioritize instincts?
It’s all about instincts! I’m into the technical side, but I’m mostly driven by my instincts. It’s all about feeling and that comes from creating the correct environment in the suite, having a good kick off chat with clients, banging on the tunes and spinning the balls.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration from just being outside. It might sound like a cliché but travel is massive for me, and that goes hand in hand with my photography. I think it’s important to change your surroundings, be it traveling to Japan or just taking a different route to the studio. The change keeps me engaged in my surroundings, asking questions and stimulating my imagination.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Riding my bike is my main thing. I usually do a 30-mile ride a few mornings a week and then 50 to 100 miles at the weekend. Riding keeps you constantly focused on that one thing, so it’s a great way to de-stress and clear your mind.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got some great projects coming up that I’m excited about. But outside of the suite, I’ll be riding in this year’s 10th Annual Fireflies West ride. For the past 10 years, Fireflies West participants have embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles in support of City of Hope. This year’s ride has the added challenge of an extra day tacked onto it making the ride 650 miles in total over seven days, so…I best get training! (See postPerspectives’ recent coverage on the ride.)


A conversation with editor Hughes Winborne, ACE

This Oscar-winning editor talks about his path, his process, Fences and Guardians of the Galaxy.

By Chris Visser

In the world of feature film editing, Hughes Winborne, ACE, has done it all. From cutting indie features (1996’s Sling Blade) to CG-heavy action blockbusters (2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy) to winning an Oscar (2005’s Crash), Winborne has run the proverbial gamut of impactful storytelling through editing.

His most recent film, the multiple-Oscar-nominated Fences, was an adaptation of the seminal August Wilson play. Denzel Washington, who starred alongside Viola Davis (who won an Oscar for her role), directed the film.

Winborne and I chatted recently about his work on Fences, his career and his brief foray into house painting before he caught the filmmaking bug. He edits on Avid Media Composer. Let’s find out more.

What led you to the path you are on now?
I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I graduated with a degree in history without a clue as to what I was going to do. I come from a family of attorneys, so because of an extreme lack of imagination, I thought I should do that. I became a paralegal and worked at North Carolina Legal Services for a bit. It didn’t take me long to realize that that wasn’t what I was meant to do, and I became a house painter.

A house painter?
I had my own house painting business for about three years with a couple of friends. The preamble to that is, I had always been a big movie fan. I went to the movies all the time in high school, but after college I started seeing between five and 10 a week. I didn’t even imagine working in the film business, because in Raleigh, that wasn’t really something that crossed my radar.

Then I saw an ad in the New York Times magazine for a six-week summer workshop at NYU. I took the course, moved to New York and set out to become a film editor. In the beginning, I did a lot of PA work for commercials and documentaries. Then I got an assistant editor job on a film called Girl From India.

What came next?
My father told me about a guy on the coast of North Carolina, A.B. Cooper, Jr., who wanted to make his own slasher film. I made him an offer: “If I get you an editor, can I be the assistant?” He said yes! About one-third of the way through the film, he fired the editor, and I took over that role. It was only my second film credit. I was never an assistant again, which is to the benefit of every editor that ever worked — I was terrible at it!

Where you able to make a living editing at that point?
Not as a picture editor, but I really started getting paid full-time for my editing when I started cutting industrials at AT&T. From there, I worked my way to 48 Hours. While I was there, they were kind enough to let me take on independent film projects for very little money, and they would hire me back after I did the job.

After a while, I moved to LA and started doing whatever I could get my hands on. I started with TV movies and gradually indie films, which really started for me with Sling Blade. Then, I worked my way into the studios after Crash. I’ve been kind of going back and forth ever since.

You mention your love of movies. What are the stories that inspire you? The ones that you get really excited to tell?
The movie that made me want to work in the film business was Barry Lyndon. Though it was not, by far, the film that got me started. I grew up on Truffaut. All his movies were just, for me, wonderful. It was a bit of a religion for me in those days; it gave me sustenance. I grew up on The Graduate. I grew up on Midnight Cowboy and Blow-Up.

I didn’t have a specific story I was interested in telling. I just knew that editing would be good for me. I like solitary jobs. I could never work on the set. It’s too crazy and social for me. I like being able to fiddle in the editing room and try things. The bottom line is, it’s fun. It can be a grind, and there can be a bit of pressure, but the best experiences I’ve had have been when I everybody on the show was having fun and working together. Films are made better when that collaboration is exploited to the limit.

Speaking of collaboration, how did that work on a film like Fences? What about working with actor/director Denzel Washington?
I’d worked with Denzel before [on The Great Debaters], so I kind of knew what he liked. They shot in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t go on location. There was no real collaboration the first six weeks but because I had worked with him before I had a sense of what he wanted.

I didn’t have to talk to him in order to put the film together because I could watch dailies — I could watch and listen to direction on camera and see how he liked to play the scenes. I put together the first cut on my own, which is typical, but in this case it was without almost any input. And my cut was really close. When Denzel came back, we concentrated in a few places on getting the performances the way he really wanted them, but I was probably 85 percent there. That’s not because I’m so great either, by the way, it’s because the actors were so great. Their performances were amazing, so I had a lot to choose from.

Can you talk about editing a film that was adapted from a play?
It was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, so I wasn’t going to be taking anything out of it or moving anything around. All I had to do was concentrate on putting it together with strong performances — that’s a lot harder than it sounds. I’m working within these constraints where I can’t do anything, really. Not that I really wanted to. Have you seen the movie?

Yes, I loved it. It’s a movie I’ve been coming back to every day since I’ve seen it. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
Then you’ll remember that the first 45 minutes to an hour is like a machine gun. That’s intentional. That’s me, intentionally, not slowing it down. I could have, but the idea is — and this is what was tricky — the film is about rhythm. Editing is about rhythm anyway, but this film is like rhythm to the 50th degree.

There’s very little music in the film, and we didn’t temp with much music either. I remember when Marc Evans [president, Motion Picture Group, Paramount Pictures] saw this film, he said, “The language is the music.” That’s exactly right.

To me, the dialogue feels like a score. There’s a musicality to it, a certain beat and timbre where it’s leading the audience through the scene, pulling them into the emotion without even hearing what they’re saying. Like when Denzel’s talking machine gun fast and it’s all jovial, then Lyons comes in and everything slows down and becomes very tense, then the scene busts back open and it’s all happy and fun again.
Yeah. You can just quote yourself on that one. [Laughs] That’s a perfect summation of it.

Partially, that’s going to come from set, that’s the acting and the direction, but on some level you’re going to have to construct that. How conscious of that were you the entire time?
I was very conscious of it. Where it becomes a little bit dicey at times is, unlike a play, you can cut. In a play, you’re sitting in the audience and watching everybody on stage at the same time. In a film, you’re not. When you start cutting, now you’ve got a new rhythm that’s different from the stage. In so doing, you’ve got to maintain that rhythm. You can’t just be on Denzel the entire time or Viola. You need to move around, and you need to move around in a way that rhythmically stays in time with the language. That was hard. That’s what we worked on most of the time after Denzel came back. We spent a lot of time just trying to make the rhythms right.

I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs an editor has, is choosing when to show someone saying something and when to show someone’s reaction to the thing being said. One example is when Troy is telling the story of his father, and you stay on him the entire time.
Hughes: Right.

The other side of that coin is when Troy reveals his secret to Rose and the reveal is on her. You see that emotion hit her and wash over her. When I was watching the movie, I thought, “That is the moment Viola Davis won an Oscar.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I agree.

I think that’s one of the most difficult jobs as an editor, knowing when to do what. Can you speak to that?
When I put this film together initially, I over-cut it, and then I tried to figure out where I wanted to be. It gets over-cut because I’m trying the best I can to find out what the core of the scene is. By I’m also trying to do that with what I consider to be the best performances. My process is, I start with that, and then I start weeding through it, getting it down and focusing; trying to make it as interesting as I can, and not predictable.

In the scenes that you’re talking about, it was all about Viola’s reaction anyway. Her reaction was going to be almost more interesting than whatever he says. I watched it a few times with audiences, and I know from talking to Denzel that when he did it on stage, there’s like a gasp.

When I saw it, everybody in the theatre was like, “What?” It was great.
I know, I know. It was so great. On the stage, people would talk to him, yell at him [Denzel]. “Shame on you, Denzel!” [laughs]. Then, she went into the backyard and did the scene, and that was the end of it. I’d never seen anything like it before. Honestly. It blew me away.

I was cutting that scene at my little home office. My wife was working behind me on her own stuff, and I was crying all the time. Finally, she turned around and asked, “What is wrong with you?” I showed it to her, and she had the same response. It took eight takes to get there, but when she got it, it was amazing. I don’t think too many actresses can do what Viola did. She’s so exposed. It’s just remarkable to watch.

There were three editors on Guardians of the Galaxy — you, Fred Raskin and Craig Wood. How did that work?
Marvel films are, generally speaking, 12 months from shoot to finish. I was on the film for eight months. Craig came in and took over for me. Having said that, it’s hard with two editors or just multiple editors in general. You have to divvy up scenes. Stuff would come in and we would decide together who was going to do it. I got the job because of Fred. I’d known Fred for 25 years. Fred was my intern on Drunks.

Fred had a prior relationship with James Gunn [director of Guardians]. In most cases, I deferred to Fred’s judgment as to how he wanted to divvy up the scenes, because I didn’t have much of a relationship with James when we started. I’d never done a big CG film. For me, it was a revelation. It was fun, trying to cut a dialogue scene between two sticks. One was tall, and one was short — the green marking was going to be Groot, and the other one was going to be Rocket Raccoon.

Can you talk about the importance of the assistant editor in the editorial process? How many assistants did you have on Fences?
On Fences, I had a first and a second. I started out cutting on film, and the assistant editor was a physical job. Touch it, slice it, catalog it, etc. What they have to do now is so complicated and technical that I don’t even know how to do it. Over my career, I’ve pretty much worked with a couple of assistants the whole time. John Breinholt and Heather Mullen worked with me on Fences. I’ve known Heather for 30 years.

What do you look for in an assistant?
Somebody who is going to be able to organize my life when I’m editing; I’m terrible at that. I need them to make sure that things are getting done. I don’t want to think about everything that’s going on behind the scenes, especially when I’m cutting, because it takes a lot of concentration for me just to sit there for 10 hours a day, or even longer, and concentrate on trying to put the movie together.

I like to have somebody that can look at my stuff and tell me what’s working and what’s isn’t. You get a different perspective from different assistants, and it’s really important to have that relationship.

You talked about working on Guardians for eight months, and I read that you cut Fences in six. What do you do to decompress and take care of your own mental health during those time periods?
Good question. It’s hard. When I was working on Fences, I was on the Paramount lot. They have a gym there, so I tried to go to the gym every day. It made my day longer, because I’d get there really early, but I’d go to the gym and get on the treadmill or something for 45 minutes, and that always helped.

Finally, for those who are young or aspiring editors, do you have any words of wisdom?
I think the once piece of advice is to keep going. It helps if you know what you want to do. So many people in this business don’t survive. There can be a lot of lean years, and there certainly were for me in the beginning — I had at least 10. You just have to stay in the game. Even if you’re not working at what you want to do, it’s important to keep working. If you want to be an editor, or a director, you have to practice.

Also, have fun. It’s a movie. Try and have a good time when you’re doing it. You’ll do your best work when you’re relaxed.


Chris Visser is a Wisconsin kid who works and lives in LA. He is currently an assistant editor working in scripted TV. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.


Digging Deep: Helping launch the OnePlus 3T phone

By Jonathan Notaro

It’s always a big deal when a company drops a new smartphone. The years of planning and development culminate in a single moment, and the consumers are left to judge whether or not the new device is worthy of praise and — more importantly — worthy of purchase.

For bigger companies like Google and Apple, a misstep with a new phone release can often amount to nothing more than a hiccup in their operations. But for newer upstarts like OnePlus, it’s a make or break event. When we got the call at Brand New School to develop a launch spot for the company’s 3T smartphone, along with the agency Carrot Creative, we didn’t hesitate to dive in.

The Idea
OnePlus has built a solid foundation of loyal fans with their past releases, but with the 3T they saw the chance to build their fanbase out to more everyday consumers who may not be as tech-obsessed as their existing fans. It is an entirely new offering and, as creatives, the chance to present such a technologically advanced device to a new, wider audience was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

Carrot wanted to create something for OnePlus that gave viewers a unique sense of what the phone was capable of — to capture the energy, momentum and human element of the OnePlus 3T. The 3T is meant to be an extension of its owner, so this spot was designed to explore the parallels between man and machine. Doing this can run the risk of being cliché, so we opted for futuristic, abstract imagery that gets the point across effectively without being too heavy handed. We focused on representing the phone’s features that set it apart from other devices in this market, such as its powerful processor and its memory and storage capabilities.

How We Did It
Inspired by the brooding, alluring mood reflected in the design for the title sequence of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we set out to meld lavish shots of the OnePlus 3T with robotically-infused human anatomy, drawing up initial designs in Autodesk Maya and Maxon Cinema 4D.

When the project moved into the animation phase, we stuck with Maya and used Nuke for compositing. Type designs were done in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Adobe After Effects.

Collaboration is always a concern when there are this many different scenes and moving parts, but this was a particular challenge. With a CG-heavy production like this, there’s no room for error, so we had to make sure that all of the different artists were on the same page every step along the way.

Our CG supervisor Russ Wootton and technical director Dan Bradham led the way and compiled a crack team to make this thing happen. I may be biased, but they continue to amaze me with what they can accomplish.

The Final Product
The project was two-month production process. Along the way, we found that working with Carrot and the brand was a breath of fresh air, as they were very knowledgeable and amenable to what we had in mind. They afforded us the creative space to take a few risks and explore some more abstract, avant-garde imagery that I felt represented what they were looking to achieve with this project.

In the end, we created something that I hope cuts through the crowded landscape of product videos and appeals to both the brand’s diehard-tech-savvy following and consumers who may not be as deep into that world. (Check it out here.)

Fueled by the goal of conveying the underlying message of “raw power” while balancing the scales of artificial and human elements, we created something I believe is beautiful, compelling and completely unique. Ultimately though, the biggest highlight was seeing the positive reaction the piece received when it was released. Normally, reaction from consumers would be centered solely on the product, but to have the video receive praise from a very discerning audience was truly satisfying.


Jonathan Notaro is a director at Brand New School, a bicoastal studio that provides VFX, animation and branding. 

25 Million Reasons to Smile: When a short film is more than a short

By Randi Altman

For UK-based father and son Paul and Josh Butterworth, working together on the short film 25 Million Reasons to Smile was a chance for both of them to show off their respective talents — Paul as an actor/producer and Josh as an aspiring filmmaker.

The film features two old friends, and literal partners in crime, who get together to enjoy the spoils of their labors after serving time in prison. After so many years apart, they are now able to explore a different and more intimate side of their relationship.

In addition to writing the piece, Josh served as DP and director, calling on his Canon 700D for the shoot. “I bought him that camera when he started film school in Manchester,” says Paul.

Josh and Paul Butterworth

The film stars Paul Butterworth (The Full Monty) and actor/dialect/voice coach Jon Sperry as the thieves who are filled with regret and hope. 25 Million Reasons to Smile was shot in Southern California, over the course of one day.

We reached out to the filmmakers to find out why they shot the short film, what they learned and how it was received.

With tools becoming more affordable these days, making a short is now an attainable goal. What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Josh: It’s wonderful. Young and old aspiring filmmakers alike are so lucky to have the ability to make short films. This can lead to issues, however, because people can lose sight of what it is important: character and story. What was so good about making 25 Million was the simplicity. One room, two brilliant actors, a cracking story and a camera is all you really need.

What about the edit?
Paul: We had one hour and six minutes (a full day’s filming) to edit down to about six minutes, which we were told was a day’s work. An experienced editor starts at £500 a day, which would have been half our total budget in one bite! I budgeted £200 for edit, £100 for color grade and £100 for workflow.

At £200 a day, you’re looking at editors with very little experience, usually no professional broadcast work, often no show reel… so I took a risk and went for somebody who had a couple of shorts in good festivals, named Harry Baker. Josh provided a lot of notes on the story and went from there. And crucial cuts, like staying off the painting as long as possible and cutting to the outside of the cabin for the final lines — those ideas came from our executive producer Ivana Massetti who was brilliant.

How did you work with the colorist on the look of the film?
Josh: I had a certain image in my head of getting as much light as possible into the room to show the beautiful painting in all its glory. When the colorist, Abhishek Hans, took the film, I gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best, and I was extremely happy with the results. He used Adobe Premiere Pro for the grade.

Paul: Josh was DP and director, so on the day he just shot the best shots he could using natural light — we didn’t have lights or a crew, not even a reflector. He just moved the actors round in the available light. Luckily, we had a brilliant white wall just a few feet away from the window and a great big Venice Beach sun, which flooded the room with light. The white walls bounced light everywhere.

The colorist gave Josh a page of notes on how he envisioned the color grade — different palettes for each character, how he’d go for the dominant character when it was a two shot and change the color mood from beginning to end as the character arc/resolution changed and it went from heist to relationship movie.

What about the audio?
Paul: I insisted Josh hire out a professional Róde microphone and a TASCAM sound box from his university. This actually saved the shoot as we didn’t have a sound person on the boom, and consequently the sound box wasn’t turned up… and also we swiveled the microphone rather than moving it between actors, so one had a reverb on the voice while the other didn’t.

The sound was unusable (too low), but since the gear was so good, sound designer Matt Snowden was able to boost it in post to broadcast standard without distortion. Sadly, he couldn’t do anything about the reverb.

Can you comment on the score?
Paul: A BAFTA mate of mine, composerDavid Poore, offered to do the music for free. It was wonderful and he was so professional. Dave already had a really good hold on the project as we’d had long chats but he took the Josh’s notes and we ended up with a truly beautiful score.

Was the script followed to the letter? Any improvisations?
Josh: No, not quite. Paul and Jon were great, and certainly added a lot to the dialogue through conversations before and during the shoot. Jon, especially, was very helpful in Americanizing his character, Jackson’s, dialogue.

Paul: Josh spent a long time on the script and worked on every word. We had script meetings at various LA cafes and table reads with me and Jon. On the shoot day, it was as written.

Josh ended up cutting one of my lines in the edit as it wasn’t entirely necessary, and the reverb was bad. It tightened it up. And our original ending had our hands touching on the bottle, but it didn’t look right so Josh went with the executive producer’s idea of going to the cabin.

What are the benefits of creating something like 25 Million Reasons to Smile?
Paul: Wow! The benefits are amazing… as an actor I never realized the process. The filming is actually a tiny proportion of the entire process. It gave me the whole picture (I’m now in awe of how hard producers work, and that’s only after playing at it!) and how much of a team effort it is — how the direction, edit, sound design and color grade can rewrite the film. I can now appreciate how the actor doesn’t see the bigger picture and has no control over any of those these elements. They are (rightly) fully immersed in their character, which is exactly what the actor’s role is: to turn up and do the lines.

I got a beautiful paid short film out of it, current footage for my show reel and a fantastic TV job — I was cast by Charles Sturridge in the new J.K.Rowling BBC1/HBO series Cormoran Strike as the dad of the female lead Robin (Holliday Grainger). I’d had a few years out bringing Josh up and getting him into film school. I relaunched when he went to university, but my agent said I needed a current credit as the career gap was causing casting directors problems. So I decided to take control and make my own footage — but it had to stand up on my show reel against clips like The Full Monty. If it wasn’t going to be broadcast-standard technically, then it had to have something in the script, and my acting (and my fellow actor had to be good) had to show that I could still do the job.

Josh met a producer in LA who’s given him runner work over here in England, and a senior producer with an international film company saw this and has given him an introduction to their people in Manchester. He also got a chance to write and direct a non-student short using industry professionals, which in the “real” world he might not get for years. And it came with real money and real consequences.

Josh, what did you learn from this experience from a filmmaker’s point of view?
More hands on deck is never a bad thing! It’s great having a tight-knit cast and crew, but the shoot would have definitely benefited from more people to help with lighting and sound, as well as the process running smoother overall.

Any surprises pop up? Any challenges?
Josh: The shoot actually ran very smoothly. The one challenge we had to face was time. Every shot took longer than expected, and we nearly ran out of time but got everything we needed in the end. It helped having such professional and patient actors.

Paul: I was surprised how well Josh (at 20 years old and at the start of film school) directed two professional middle-aged actors. Especially as one was his dad… and I was surprised by how filmic his script was.

Any tips for those looking to do something similar?
Josh: Once you have a story, find some good actors and just do it. As I said before, keep it simple and try to use character not plot to create drama.

Paul: Yes, my big tip would be to get the script right. Spend time and money on that and don’t film it till it’s ready. Get professional help/mentoring if you can. Secondly, use professional actors — just ask! You’d be surprised how many actors will take a project if the script and director are good. Of course, you need to pay them (not the full rate, but something).

Finally, don’t worry too much about the capture — as a producer said to me, “If I like a project I can buy in talent behind the camera. In a short I’m looking for a director’s voice and talent.”