Audionamix – 7.1.20

Category Archives: Director

Behind the Title: The Cabinet director Doug Cox

As a director who also edits, Doug Cox finds that each discipline informs the other.

Name: Doug Cox

Company: San Francisco’s The Cabinet 

Title: Founder/Director/Editor

Can you describe what The Cabinet is and provides?
I started The Cabinet about four years ago with the intention of making a content creation space that did everything. I had been the in-house editor at a huge agency for eight years when digital content exploded, and suddenly I was writing and directing as well.

A few roster-ships later I realized I was surrounded by all the right talent comprising everything we would need to do it all under one roof. Fifteen years later, I started The Cabinet with my business partner and executive producer David Verhoef, who is an industry vet as well. The Cabinet is a true one-stop shop. Previs, production, post and finish.

Method Men

What would surprise people about what falls under the title of director?
In the commercial world, I would say efficiency. Oftentimes, when you are brought onto a production you are given a list of ingredients that have a delivery date. When I get calendars from producers that want to shoot in two weeks, it is the director that should know if it’s possible — and the layer of efficiency and self-discipline it takes to execute that without sacrificing any creative integrity.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love being on set with my shoot family and the shorthand we have with each other. But I also love the martini shot. And post! My friend and another editor/director at The Cabinet, Stu Barnes, edits anything I direct, and I edit anything he directs for the most part. If we can, we try to stick to that pact as much as possible. It is a discipline I encourage all director/editors to try. If you find yourself the right talent, they will bring something to the table every time. It’s the instinct to let go of the edit in your head and embrace the one that tells the best story.

The last three months with the COVID shutdown have certainly been a challenge and very sobering. Social distancing has been critical to help us all get back to set faster. I miss my crew very much. I hope they feel the same but I also imagine them celebrating the break from me, not unlike the chyub nyub Ewok celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi. Now that we are cleared to return June 12th, our struggle will be to adapt to the new AICP guidelines ,which are restrictive — understandably so. I can tell you the rule about no more buffet-style food service at crafty is one my scale and my pants are very grateful for.

What’s your least favorite?
Unrealistic timelines and non-collaborative clientele. It’s the nature of the ad industry these days, so we all just dog paddle to stay creatively relevant. But for the most part when clients come to The Cabinet, they aren’t coming to us to be “Mac Monkeys.” They know they are looking for conceptual “plussing.” That’s what we do best.

If you didn’t have this job what would you be doing instead?
Carpentry. There’s something rewarding about working with your hands and the smell of sawdust. I’m very bad at it, but I enjoy my efforts. And let’s be honest, anything you make can always become a paper weight.

Doug Cox on set

How early on did you know this would be your path?
I was eight when I told my dad I was either going to be an actor or I was going to make movies. We were at a Sbarro’s in the mall, and he asked and that was my response. He told me I should consider something that was actually possible like in the medical field. I’m very glad I didn’t choose the medical field… or acting.

What is it about directing that attracted you?
I was raised in a very religious household, so secular TV and movies made after 1960 weren’t really allowed, but I was obsessed with Hitchcock. Somehow my parents let me watch that, but I wasn’t allowed to watch The Smurfs because Gargamel was a warlock. When left to myself I would grab my dad’s VHS camera, I made warplanes out of boxes and filmed my own stories. I just enjoyed it so damn much. I really couldn’t not be a director, and editing was an immediately employable skillset.

What is it about directing that continues to keep you interested?
The technique continues to adapt to story. I am continually impressed that filmmakers aren’t so much relying on the technique but still paying attention to the story. I love the exploration of it. It’s never 100% exactly how you pictured it in your head but if you stick to your guns on story, the technique does not matter.

Method Men

How do you pick the people you work with on a particular project?
I like to think the people I work with can bring something to the table, are passionate about their craft and, most importantly, laugh at my dumb jokes. Let’s just say I think there is bravery in silliness, and right now levity is something we can all appreciate.

How do you work with your DP?
I draw a lot of pictures before I ever get to set. I share them with my DP. I share my ideas about lensing. I share my ideas about color and mood and composition. At the end of the day, I hope to either get a suggestion to stay in budget or a “hell ya.”

Can you talk about your love of post, in addition to directing.
This is an interesting question because this is the thing that has changed the most about our industry. I love getting a pass at the edit with the editor in the room. But when I am an editor, I have only once had a director take me up on the offer to work with me in the room. I like to think that because I respect the edit, that respect is reciprocal, but every director is different. That’s why Stu and I and The Cabinet have an amazing thing going on. Our inherent ability to shoot for the edit makes the edit all the more enjoyable for the editor.

Method Men

What are some recent projects that you’ve worked on?
I most recently collaborated with the team at Method Home for a launch campaign for Method Men. It’s a series of comedy spots featuring their new line of male grooming products. I directed and Stu edited. This was a perfect example of beginning-to-end collaboration. And I am currently in pre-production on a film for Quibi that I am writing and directing.

What project are you most proud of?
About 10 years ago, Levi’s came to me and asked me to edit a commercial for Modern Frontier, which was a traveling artist collaboration shot in black and white. It’s my favorite edit of all I have ever done. The footage was dropped in my lap with zero script or direction. And it flew under the radar, so I dug in and created a :60 commercial and let the footage drive the narrative. It went on to win an AICE award in the Fashion/Beauty category. It was rewarding on all fronts and to this day is one of my favorites.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My phone, my laptop and my Nespresso machine. I mean, it literally spins your coffee and is ready in seconds. And it brought George Clooney and Danny Devito together on screen … I feel like this is a “no duh” moment.

Hulu’s The Great: Creator and showrunner Tony McNamara

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director Tony McNamara is the creator, showrunner and executive producer of Hulu’s The Great, the new 10-episode series starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as Russian Emperor Peter III. The Great is a comedy-drama about the rise of Catherine the Great — from German outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history (from 1762 until 1796).

Season 1 is a fictionalized and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court on her side. A very modern story about the past, which incorporates historical facts occasionally, it encompasses the many roles she played over her lifetime — as lover, teacher, ruler, friend and fighter.

L-R: Tony McNamara and cinematographer John Brawley

McNamara most recently wrote the Oscar-winning film The Favourite, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His other feature film credits include The Rage in Placid Lake, which he wrote and directed, and Ashby.

McNamara has writen some Australia’s most memorable television series, including The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Doctor Doctor and Spirited. He also served as showrunner of the popular series Puberty Blues.

I recently spoke with McNamara, who was deep in post, about making the show and his love of editing and post.

When you wrote the stage play this is based on, did you also envision it as a future TV series?
Not at all. I was just a playwright and I’d worked a bit in TV but I never thought of adapting it. But then Marian Macgowan, my co-producer on this, saw it and suggested making a movie of it, and I began thinking about that

What did the stage version teach you?
That it worked for an audience, that the characters were funny, and that it was just too big a story for a play or a film.

It’s like a Dickensian novel with so many periods and great characters and multiple storylines.
Exactly, and as I worked more and more in TV, it seemed like the perfect medium for this massive story with so many periods and great characters. So once the penny dropped about TV, it all went very fast. I wrote the pilot and off we went.

I hear you’re not a fan of period pieces, despite this and all the success you had with The Favourite. So what was the appeal of Catherine and what sort of show did you set out to make?
I love period films like Amadeus and Barry Lyndon, but I don’t like the dry, polite, historically accurate, by-the-numbers ones. So I write my things thinking, “What would I want to watch?” And Catherine’s life and story are so amazing, and anything but polite.

What did Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult bring to their roles?
They’re both great actors and really funny, and that was important. The show’s a drama in terms of narrative, but it also feels like a comedy, but then it also gets very dark in places. So they had to be able to do both — bring a comic force to it but also be able to put emotional boots on the ground… and move between the two very easily, and they can do that. They just got it and knew the show I wanted to make before we even got going. I spent time with them discussing it all, and they were great partners.

Where do you shoot?
We did a lot of it on stages at 3 Mills Studios in London and shot some exteriors around London. We then went to this amazing palace near Naples, Italy, where we shot exteriors and interiors for a couple of weeks. We really tried to give the show a bit more of a cinematic feel and look than most TV shows, and I think the production design is really strong. We all worked very hard to not make it feel at all like sets. We planned it out so we could move between a lot of rooms so you didn’t feel trapped by four walls in just one set. So even though it’s a very character-driven story, we also wanted to give it that big epic sweep and scope.

Do you like being a showrunner?
(Laughs) It depends what day it is. It’s a massive job and very demanding.

What are the best parts of the job and the worst?
I love the writing and working with the actors and the director. Then I love all the editing and all the post — that’s really my favorite thing in the whole process after the writing. I’ve always loved editing, as it’s just another version of writing. And I love editors, and ours are fun to hang out with, and it’s fun to try and solve problems. The worst parts are having to deal with all the scheduling and the nuts and bolts of production. That’s not much fun.

Where do you post?
We do it all in London, with all the editing at Hireworks and all the sound at Encore. When we’re shooting at the studios we set up an edit suite on site, so we start working on it all right away. You have to really, as the TV schedule doesn’t allow much time for post compared with film.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We had three editors, who are all so creative and inventive. I love getting all the material and then editing and tweaking things, particularly in comedy. There’s often a very fine line in how you make something funny and how you give the audience permission to laugh.

I think the main editing challenges were usually the actual storytelling, as we tell a lot of stories really fast, so it’s managing how much story you tell and how quickly. It’s a 10-hour story; you’re also picking off moments in an early episode that will pay off far later in the series. Plus you’re dealing with the comedy factor, which can take a while to get up and running in terms of tone and pace. And if there’s a darker episode, you still want to keep some comedy to warm it up a bit.

But I don’t micro-manage the editors. I watch cuts, give some notes and we’ll chat if there are big issues. That way I keep fresh with the material. And the editors don’t like coming on set, so they keep fresh too.

How involved are you with the sound?
I’m pretty involved, especially with the pre-mix. We’ll do a couple of sessions with our sound designer, Joe Fletcher, and Marian will come in and listen, and we’ll discuss stuff and then they do the fixes. The sound team really knows the style of the soundscape we want, and they’ll try various things, like using tones instead of anything naturalistic. They’re very creative.

Tony McNamara and Elle Fanning on set

There’s quite a lot of VFX. 
BlueBolt and Dneg did them all — and there are a lot, as period pieces always need a ton of small fixes. Then in the second half, we had a lot of stuff like dogs getting thrown off roofs, carriages in studios that had to be running through forests, and we have a lot of animals — bears, butterflies and so on. There’s also a fair whack of violence, and all of it needed VFX.

Where do you do the DI?
We did the grading at Encore, and we spent a lot of time with DP John Brawley setting the basic look early on when we did the pilot, so everyone got it. We had the macro look early, and then we’d work on specific scenes and the micro stuff.

Are you already planning Season 2?
I have a few ideas and a rough arc worked out, but with the pandemic we’re not sure when we’ll even be able to shoot again.


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.

Audionamix – 7.1.20

Unit9 signs trilingual director Maya Albanese  

Production studio Unit9 has signed director Maya Albanese to its roster. She specializes in emotional and comedic stories that highlight diverse characters and under-represented social themes. Albanese brings experience in filmmaking, branded entertainment and screenwriting.

As a trilingual director, she has crafted work in English, Spanish and French for brands including Disney, Warner Bros, Chevrolet, L’Oréal, IBM, Visa and Google. Albanese is fresh off directing a series of magical-realism spots for Bic and comedy spots for Visa, all of which combine her expertise in directing talent, visual effects and animation.

Earlier this year, she finished a dark surrealist comedy called Freeze, which she wrote and directed about women’s fertility. It stars Chris Parnell, Adrian Grenier, Mindy Sterling, Nora Zehetner, Rick Overton, Kel Mitchell and Queen Jazzmun.  “Freeze” is an official selection of the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase at the 73rd Cannes Film Festival.

Albanese has shot and directed three documentaries: Cuba’s Violin (2014), which screened at festivals worldwide; Blind Date (2015), which premiered at Doc NYC; and Bigger Than Us (2020), which is an intimate behind-the-scenes story of the first-ever, SAG-registered feature film made made by a cast and crew, more than half of whom have a disability.

Albanese found her way to Unit9 through the Commercial Directors Diversity Program fellowship. In 2018, she was one of six directors chosen by the Directors Guild of America and Association of Independent Commercial Producers for the competitive fellowship.

“Telling moving stories that create more inclusivity in front of and behind the camera, whether that’s about women, minorities or people with disabilities, is what drives me,” says Albanese. “I believe we need to continue pushing for this now more than ever. I’m really looking forward to working with the Unit9 team to make bold new stories come to life on screen. Together, I believe we can make sure that all kinds of people get to see themselves reflected in media and advertising.”

Caption: Maya Albanese is pictured left, on set.


Director/EP Lenny Abrahamson on Hulu’s Normal People

By Iain Blair

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson first burst onto the international scene in 2015 with the harrowing drama Room, which picked up four Oscar nominations, including for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director. Abrahamson’s latest project is Hulu’s Normal People, based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name.

 (Photo by: Enda Bowe)

Lenny Abrahamson

The series focuses on the passionate, tender and complicated relationship of Marianne and Connell — from the end of their school days in a small town in the west of Ireland to their undergraduate years at Trinity College. At school, he’s a popular sports hero, while she’s upper class, lonely, proud and intimidating. But when Connell comes to pick up his mother from her cleaning job at Marianne’s house, a strange connection grows between the two teenagers… one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying in Dublin and Marianne has found her feet in a new social world but Connell hangs on the sidelines, shy and uncertain as the tables are turned.

The series stars Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds, Cold Feet) as Marianne and Paul Mescal, in his first television role, as Connell. Adapted by Sally Rooney alongside writers Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe, Normal People is a 12-episode 30-minute drama series produced by Element Pictures for Hulu and BBC Three. Rooney and Abrahamson also serve as executive producers and Endeavour Content is the international distributor.

I spoke with Abrahamson — whose credits also include The Little Stranger, Frank, Garage, What Richard Did and Adam & Paul — about making the show, his workflows and his love of editing.

You’ve taken on quite a few book projects in the past. What was the appeal of this one?
It’s always an instinctual thing — something chimes with me. Yeah, I’ve done a number of literary adaptations, and I wasn’t really looking to do another. In fact, I was setting out not do another one, but in this case the novel just struck me so much, with such resonance, and it’s very hard not to do it when that happens. And it’s an Irish project and I hadn’t shot in Ireland for some seven years, and it was great to go back and do something that felt so fresh, so all of that was very attractive to me.

(Photo by Enda Bowe/Hulu)

Rooney co-wrote the script with Alice Birch, but translating any novel to a visual medium is always tricky, especially this book with all its inner psychological detail. As a director, how challenging was it to translate the alternating sections of the book while maintaining forward motion of the narrative?
It was pretty challenging. The writing is so direct and honest, yet deep, which is a rare combination. And Sally’s perspective is so fresh and insightful, and all that was a challenge I tried to take on and capture in the filming. How do you deal with something so interior? When you really care about the characters as I did, how do you do justice to them and their extraordinary relationship? But I relished the challenge.

Obviously, casting the right actors was crucial. What did Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal bring to their roles and the project?
I feel very lucky to have found them. We actually found Paul first, very early on. He’d been making some waves in theater in Ireland, but he’d never been on screen in anything. What I saw in him was a combination of intelligence, which both characters had to have, and brilliant choices in playing Connell. He really captured that mix of masculinity and anxiety which is so hard to do. There is a sensitivity but also an inarticulateness, and he has great screen presence. Daisy came later, and it was harder in that you had to find someone who works well with Paul. She’s brilliant too, as she found a way of playing Marianne’s spikiness in a very un-clichéd and delicate way that allows you to see past it. They ended up working so well together and became good friends, too.

You co-directed with Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who, Howard’s End), with you directing the first six episodes and Macdonald directing the final six. How did that work in terms of maintaining the same naturalistic tone and feel you set?
We spoke a lot at the beginning when she came on board. The whole idea was for her to bring her own sensibility to it. We’d already cast and shot the first half and we knew a director of her caliber wasn’t going to break that. We had two DPs: Suzie Lavelle and she had had Kate McCullough. During the shooting I had the odd note, like, “It looks great,” but I was more involved with her material during editing, which is natural as the EP. We had a great relationship.

Tell us about post and your approach.
We did it all — the editing, sound and VFX — at Outer Limits, which is on the coast about 30 minutes outside Dublin. It’s run by two guys who used to be at Screen Scene, where I posted my last five or six films. I followed them over there as I like them so much. It’s a lovely place, very quiet. The editor and I were based out there for the whole thing.

Our VFX supervisor was Andy Clarke, and it’s all pretty invisible stuff, like rain and all the fixes. I also did all the grading and picture finishing at Outer Limits with my regular colorist Gary Curran, who’s done nearly all my projects. He knows what I like, but also when to push me into bolder looks. I tend toward very low-contrast, desaturated looks, but over the years he’s nudged me into more saturated, vivid palettes, which I now really like. And we’ll be doing a 4K version.

I love post, as after all the stress of the shoot and all the instant decisions you have to make on the set, it’s like swimming ashore. You reach ground and can stand up and get all the water out of your lungs and just take your time to actually make the film. I love all the creative possibilities you get in post, particularly in editing.

You edited with your go-to editor Nathan Nugent. Was he on set?
No, we sent him dailies. On a film, he might be cutting next door if we’re in a studio, but not on this. He’s very fast and I’d see an assembly of stuff within 24 hours of shooting it. We like to throw everything up in the air again during the edit. Whatever we thought as we shot, it’s all up for grabs.

What were the main editing challenges?
I think choosing to work with short episodes was really good as it takes away some of the pressure to have lots of plot and story, and it allows you to look really closely at the shifts in their relationship. But there’s nowhere to hide, and you have to absolutely deeply care about the two of them. But if you do, then all the losses and gains, the highs and lows, become as big a story as any you could tell. That’s what gives it momentum. But if you don’t get that right, or you miscast it, then the danger is that you do lose that momentum.

So it’s a real balancing act… to feel that you’re spending time with them but also letting the story move forward in a subtle way. It’s the challenge of all editing — maintaining the tension and pace while letting an audience get a deep and close enough look at the characters.

Lenny Abrahamson

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the show.
I’ve had the same team ever since What Richard Did, including my supervising sound designer and editor Steve Fanagan and sound mixer Niall O’Sullivan. They’re so creative. Then I had composer Stephen Rennicks who’s also done all my projects. What was different this time was that we also licensed some tracks, as it just felt right. Our music supervisors Juliet Martin and Maggie Phillips were great with that.

So it was a core team of five, and I did what I always like to do — get all of that involved far earlier than you’d normally do. We don’t just lock picture and hand it over, so this way you have sound constantly interacting with editorial, and they both develop organically at the same time.

What’s next?
Another collaboration with Sally on her first novel, “Conversations With Friends,” with the same team I had on this. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, who knows when we’ll be able to start shooting.


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: Kaboom’s Doug Werby

After starting his career as an editor, Doug Werby transitioned to director as well. He loves when a project combines both of his talents.

Name: Doug Werby

Company: Kaboom

Can you describe what Kaboom does?
Kaboom is a full-creative service production company providing production and post.

Doug Werby on set

What’s your job title?
Director and editor

What does that entail?
Whatever it takes to pull down and execute a project to the highest degree of my ability. It means having a concrete vision from beginning to end and always collaborating with the team. From directing a voiceover session in LA from a remote island off the coast of Croatia to editing at 2am for an east coast 6am delivery. Whatever it takes. I’m an all-in person by nature.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
That everything I’ve learned in editing I apply to each moment of directing. I started my career as an editor, and it’s about seeing collaborations from different angles and using that to produce creative work efficiently. I believe my strength is in making other peoples ideas better. Shaping the narrative with all the tools and talent available.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Editing: Cracking open a fresh bin of un-cut dailies in my editing studio when everything is quiet.
Directing: First shot of the first day of shooting.

What’s your least favorite?
Editing: Editing screen captures for app interfaces.
Directing: Late, late-night shoots.

What is your most productive time of day?
After my first cup of coffee at 7:30am til around 11:30am, and then from 8pm to 11pm after a dessert espresso.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Origami or pottery, but basically the same thing I already do – shaping things with my hands – but paid commissions are more rarified.

Why did you choose this profession?
It was really the only possible option that made my heart beat faster.

How early did you know this would be your path?
When I was 22 years old. After four years at a liberal arts college, not knowing what the heck to study but always loving film and radio, I made that my focus and, ultimately, my career.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
On the editing front for Kaboom: Campaigns for American Express promoting Wimbledon. This was a “social” project we cut in NYC. It was great fun bringing together celebrity, humor, music, stylized art direction and motion graphics for the small screen.

Wimbledon

The Oakland Airport TV edit for Kaboom. This was a throwback to the days of cutting deadpan mockumentary humor. I love this format and working closely with the creatives, we got the most out of the footage. Plus, I love Oakland Airport.

My two personal short films: For the past few years I’ve been parlaying all my skills from the commercial world and applying them to the scripted drama genre. I’ve come up with a series of real-life stories adapted for film that I’m packaging up to present as a whole. The idea would be to create a series of 10 half-hour programs all dealing with kindness. Individually the films have been honored at multiple film festivals.

The first is called No Tricks, based on a gritty, real-life experience of Julio Diaz that unveils a mugging gone good. Two men from different worlds bring change and some unexpected wisdom.

Motorbike Thief tells a real-life incident that happened to Michael Coffin when he discovered a stranger with his stolen bike. So enraged at the sight, he confronts the assailant in no uncertain terms and just when the situation is about to get out of hand, the anger turns empathetic and an unlikely friendship develops.

Do you put on a different hat when cutting a specific genre?
Completely. When editing spots and promotions, I’m trying to tell the most entertaining story in the shortest amount of time while staying focused on a clear message. When editing scripted material, I’m focused on story beats, character development and performance. Performance trumps all.

Oakland Airport

What is the project you are most proud of?
The work I did as a director with Kaboom for Bank of America via Hill Holiday a few years back for the Special Olympics. Making stars out of unsung heroes and shining a light on how brave these individuals are was a great honor. The films really puts things into perspective and makes you think about what we take for granted.

What do you edit on?
Adobe Premiere Pro is my current weapon of choice, but I would edit on an iPhone, Amiga 500 or a Moviola if need be.

Favorite plugin?
That would be Dope Transitions for Premiere.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without?
iPhone, iMac, airplane.

What do you do to destress from it all?
I bike the hills and valleys around the San Francisco Bay Area. I work out as much as possible, and I help my wonderful partner cook and entertain our friends and family. And travel!


Quick Chat: Director/DP Ruben Latre creates Candleosophy spot at home

Unable to travel the globe to shoot his spots and documentary projects, New York’s Hostage Films director/DP Ruben Latre is still working. With social distancing rules in effect, Ruben is still filming, designing and editing… but from his home. His latest spot for mediation candle company Candleosophy showcases some of his in-house capabilities to create new content without cast or crew.

The spot, created for digital and social networks, features macro shots of organic imagery, layered with subtle text, stylized design treatment and a peaceful music track.

Latre on set before social distancing.

We reached out to Latre to find out more about the spot and his workflow:

Was this an existing project you setup and then came up with an alternative on how to do it?
Yes, we had planned to shoot a spot for Candleosophy, showing a candle meditation with a cast and in a nature setting. Once it became clear that involving anyone would be risking the health of cast and crew, production made the decision to shut down the live-action shoot. At that point, we regrouped on how to convey the meditative moment without a full studio shoot, without cast and location — and to have only the tabletop portion — without leaving the house. It was always supposed to be more focused on serenity, and less product-oriented, so I tried to have that play out in this smaller way.

How did you describe to the client what it was going to look like?
I’ve worked with the client before on a really unique wonderful project, The Pioneer, so I think part of it was a level of trust. It was a bit of luck to have a client who believed in me.

What did you shoot on, light with, edit and color on?
I shot on a Red camera that I have at home, and even though I have lighting, the spot felt like it was calling for something more raw. So it’s being lit by natural light, shaped to suit each frame. I edited on Adobe Premiere and color corrected in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve. Sound design was via Adobe Audition.

Latre’s at-home set up

Did the client provide some of the footage?
They did not provide footage, only candles. All the rest was done in my house.

What were some lessons you learned from the project?
Since the sets were very little, about two feet, I tried to make it feel wider and worked a lot with magnification.

For the whole project, I used diopters and extension tubes to create a shallow depth of field, which was a little bit of testing and playing around to get the look I was after.

What were some of the best and worst parts of working this way?
While I was shooting the spot, I was easily able to change directions. I think when you are able to work alone and see something you as the director are happy with it, it feels easier to stand by the result. However, it’s a lot more work in all of the aspects of making a frame, and there are technical limitations in terms of what you are able to execute.


Behind the Title: Unit9 director Matthew Puccini

This young director has already helmed two short films, Dirty and Lavender, that got into Sundance. And he still finds time to edit when his schedule allows. 

Name: Director Matthew Puccini

Can you describe Unit9?
Unit9, which has headquarters in London and Los Angeles, is a global production company that represents a team of producers and film directors, creative and art directors, designers, architects, product designers, software engineers and gaming experts. I’m based in Brooklyn.

Puccini on set of Dirty

What would surprise people the most about what falls under the title of director?
These days, there’s a certain element of self-promotion that’s required to be a young director. We have to figure out how to brand ourselves in a way that people might not have had to do 10 to 15 years ago when the Internet wasn’t as prevalent in how people discovered new artists. I constantly have to be tip-toeing back and forth between the creative side of the work and the more strategic side — getting the work seen and amplified as much as possible.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of directing is the collaborative aspect of it. I love that it offers this unique ability to dip into so many other disciplines and to involve so many other incredible, wildly different people.

What’s your least favorite?
The salesperson aspect of it can be frustrating. In a perfect world it would be nice to just make things and not have to worry about the back end of finding an audience. But at the same time, sometimes being forced to articulate your vision in a way that’s palatable to a financier or a production company can be helpful in figuring out what the core of the idea is. It’s a necessary evil.

Why did you choose this profession? How early on did you know this would be your path?
I fell in love with directing in high school. We had an amazing theater program at my school. I started off mainly acting, and then there was one show where I ended up being the assistant director instead of acting. That experience was so wonderful and fulfilling and I realized that I preferred being on that side of things. That happened parallel to getting my first video camera, which I enjoyed as a hobby but began to take more seriously during my junior and senior years of high school.

What was it about directing that attracted you?
I fell in love with working with actors to craft performances. The whole process requires so much collaboration and trust and vulnerability. Over time, I’ve also grown to appreciate filmmaking as a means of filling in gaps in representation. I get to highlight human experiences that I feel like I haven’t seen properly portrayed before. It’s wish fulfillment, in a sense; you get to make the work that you wish you were seeing as an audience member.

Puccini on set of Lavender

How do you pick the people you work with on a particular project?
I began making work while I was in school in New York, so there’s a wonderful community of people that I met in college and with whom I still work. I also continue to meet new collaborators at film festivals, or will occasionally just reach out to someone after having seen a film of theirs that I responded to. I continue to be amazed by how willing people are to make time for something if they believe in it, even if it seems like it’s far beneath their pay grade.

How do you work with your DP?
It always just starts with me sending them the script and having a meeting to talk about the story. I might have some preconceived ideas going into that meeting about how I’m thinking of shooting it — what my visual references were while writing the script — but I try to stay open to what they imagined when they were reading it. From there, it’s a very organic process of us pulling references and gradually building a look book together of colors, lighting styles, compositions and textures.

It could be as specific as a frame that we want to be completely copy or as general as a feeling that an image evokes, but the idea is that we’re figuring out what our shared vocabulary is going to be before we get to set. My number one need is knowing that the person is just as passionate about the story as I am and is able to tailor their shooting style to what’s right for that particular project.

Do you get involved with the post at all?
Definitely. I’m very involved with every stage of post, working closely with the department heads who are running the show on a more granular level. I love the post process and enjoy being involved as much as possible.

I also work as a video editor myself, which has given me so much awareness and respect for the importance of a good edit and a good editor. I think sometimes it’s easy to waste time and resources on shooting coverage you’re never going to use. So as a director, it’s important even before starting a project for me to think ahead and visualize what the film really needs so that I can be as efficient and decisive as possible on set.

Dirty

Can you talk about Dirty? What was it like getting it ready for Sundance?
We found out that Dirty got into Sundance last November. Obviously, it’s the call of anyone’s dreams and such a wonderful feeling and boost of validation. We had finished the film back in April, so it had been a long time of waiting.

From November to the festival, it was a rush to get the film ready. We got it recolored and remixed, trying to make it as good as possible before it premiered there. It was a bit of a whirlwind. The festival itself was a really special experience. It was incredibly powerful to have a film that, in my mind, is somewhat doing things that are really pushing the boundaries of what we’re seeing on screen and getting to share it with a lot of people. There’s a gay sex scene in the middle of the film, and to have that celebrated and accepted by an important part of the film community was really special.

Can you describe the film?
Dirty is a tender coming-of-age film. It follows two queer teenagers over an afternoon as they navigate intimacy for the first time.

What about Lavender? Do you have a distributor for that?
The film was acquired by Searchlight Pictures out of Sundance last year. They released the film on their Vimeo and YouTube channels last spring. They put the film in theaters for a week in NYC and LA in front of a feature film they were showing, which actually qualified it for the Oscars last year.

Can you describe that film?
The film is about a young gay man who is growing increasingly entangled in the marriage of an older couple. It is the portrait of an unconventional relationship as it blossoms and ultimately unravels.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
To me Dirty and Lavender are both equally important. I don’t have an answer. I’m grateful for both films for different reasons and they are all part of one period of my life — exploring these ideas of intimacy and loneliness and queer people seeking connection. In some ways they’re almost two attempts to answer the same question.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
My laptop for all of the writing and editing I do. I try to watch a lot of movies, so I enjoy my TV. And even though I’m trying to wean myself off my phone as much as possible, I still rely on that throughout the day. Obvious answers I know, but it’s true!

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I find that watching movies and seeing a lot of theater are often the best ways to get inspired and excited about making new work. I’m trying to meditate more. Starting the day with something like that and building out some introspection into my routine has been really helpful. And therapy, of course. Gotta have therapy.


Behind the Title: Akkurat Studios director Andreas Roth

Originally from Hamburg, Andreas Roth is a graduate of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. He began his directing career at 21 and gained momentum with a film for Dirt Devil that went viral, accumulating over 30 million views on Vimeo and garnering an AICP Show honor that placed the piece in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

NAME: Director Andreas Roth

COMPANY: Akkurat Studios

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Akkurat Studios is a creative label sprung out of Berlin and Los Angeles. We act as an artist-driven production and publishing company. We manage talent coming from a variety of acknowledged constellations. We work side by side with brands and agencies to create visionary projects.

Dirt Devil

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE OF DIRECTOR?
Being a psychologist, because you always deal with a bunch of different characters and people. It all comes down to communication; the better that works, the better the results.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I guess it’s the variety the job brings — you always meet new and interesting people. It’s a dream scenario.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Client or agency politics — when it’s less about the film or final result; instead it’s about marketing tests, numbers and guidelines.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I guess with opening our own shop, Akkurat Studios, I kind of brought all the things I like into one place, meaning: direction, creative direction, publishing (Akkurat Journal), photography, producing and traveling (even though world events at the moment won’t allow that).

L-R: Parterns Rocco Kopecny and Andreas Roth

My business partner, Rocco Kopecny, and I have a lot of plans for the upcoming months, which will all somehow have the Akkurate label on it but are slightly different territories out of the film and advertising jungle.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
In art class in high school, I fell in love with editing and picked up a camera. I guess after writing and shooting my first client commercial at the age of 21, I felt that could be a future job. I created the idea with a good friend of mine — we just pitched it direct to the client and got a cinema release — without any big knowledge upfront.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
I guess I liked the collaboration aspect of things — you need to bring in the best people to realize great results. In the end, a good director knows who he needs around.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
You always learn something on each and every project, especially staging and how to work with actors.

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
I like to work with people I know; it’s kind of a family vibe and makes life easier. From time to time I like to mix up things — normally I get attracted by their work online, usually via Instagram.

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH YOUR DP?
The visuals are really important to me. That’s why I like to work closely with my DP — talking about lenses, camera movement and the overall look what we aim to achieve. Moods are really helpful and I always create mood boards or even edit short mood films.

DO YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE POST AT ALL?
I like to be part of the edit if possible because it’s the final stage where you tell the story.

Bucherer

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Lately I’ve been focused on opening our shops in Berlin and Los Angeles, which took some time. Last year I shot a commercial for Bucherer, a Swiss luxury brand. We also produced it with Akkurat.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I have a few: Dirt Devil because we really pushed on this one to make it what it is. Herbaria — shooting at Pinewood’s Underwater Stage was a great experience. Also the O’Neill project with big wave surfer Mark Mathews because it was such an intimate time — just him, the DP and me,

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Sadly, my phone, headphones and laptop. Without those three it’s tricky to survive in the industry. (laughs)

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Tell me! Do you have a secret? For me, it’s normally sports, reading a good book or traveling.


Catching up with Jojo Rabbit director Taika Waititi

By Iain Blair

Now available on-demand and on DVD, Jojo Rabbit has had an impressive path to the big screen and beyond. Since it premiered at Toronto last year, Jojo Rabbit went from festival favorite to Oscar darling. Helmed by New Zealander Taika Waititi, and infused with his trademark blend of comedy and pathos, it’s a World War II satire that follows Jojo, a lonely German boy, whose world view is turned upside down when he discovers his single mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (Waititi), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism.

The Oscar-winning adapted screenplay by Waititi, who brought a fresh perspective and impish humor to the usually dead-serious subject matter, is based upon the book “Caging Skies” by Christine Leunens.

The behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Mihai Malaimare, production designer Ra Vincent, editor Tom Eagles, composer Michael Giacchino and visual effects supervisor Jason Chen.

Here, Waititi, whose diverse credits include the $854 million global blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok, Flight of the Conchords and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, talks about making the film.

Given the current rise of anti-Semitism and as someone who’s Jewish yourself, fair to say this was a very personal endeavor?
It was, but not so much because I’m Jewish. I just think anyone who sees the rise of intolerance and the horrible things people do to each other could tackle this. But I definitely felt a sort of quiet power behind me on this, and it’s also the first time I’ve ever sat down and written a script from page one all the way through. I usually start at the end and then bounce around a lot as I figure out how to cobble it all together. But this time it all flowed so easily, so maybe it was my ancestry coming through and helping me.

What sort of film did you set out to make, as this could so easily have been a very bleak drama?
Right, so I set out to make a film with some hope and humor that was also a very different look at such a dark period and a fairly simple story, one about two kids learning to bridge the gaps between themselves and their cultures and understand each other. I also wanted to tell a story about a kid — who’s been indoctrinated to hate — learning to think for himself.

Tonally, I always wanted it to feel like this. I never wanted to make a straight drama, as I don’t know how to do that, or some ridiculous comedy, as that wouldn’t have any substance to it. So I wanted that flow in and out of drama and comedy, which is more in keeping with human experience anyway to me.

Hitler isn’t even in the novel. Did writing him into the film and playing him yourself help exorcise some ghosts?
I think so. The novel’s very dark, without the humor I wanted in this, and the idea of creating Hitler as the imaginary friend just seemed the perfect way to bring in all the comedy and satire. It’s an old theme — young boy befriends a monster — and there’s something quite poetic about looking at the world through the eyes of children.

Clint Eastwood told me it’s not easy directing yourself. How tough was it?
I don’t find it tough. He’s probably felt that way because they’re dramas and he’s not having any fun. For me, it’s improvising and being ridiculous, and I’m pretty aware of my acting abilities, so I always give myself the easier roles. This was so much fun to do, and there was no pressure, as I had no intention of doing an authentic portrayal.

Maybe this was a bit harder than other roles I’ve played because you just feel a bit more embarrassed when you’re dressed like Hitler, and everyone’s looking at you like you’re the biggest piece of shit in the world… because you’re dressed like the biggest piece of shit in the world. (Laughs) So I’d always take the mustache off if I didn’t have to be on camera to feel normal again.

DP Mihai Malaimare shot it, and visually it couldn’t be more different than the usual somber, black-and-white WWII film with its saturated colors. Talk about the shoot and the look you went for.
I’m glad you noticed that, as usually films about the Nazis make everything look very grim and bleak and gray. But we wanted to capture just how much color and brightness there was in Germany then, and we needed to see it that way through the boy’s eyes — all the excitement and hysteria, like a wonderland of celebration and a giant party.

Mihai shot with the ARRI Alexa SXT, and instead of the standard anamorphic 2X lenses he used the Hawk V-Lite squeeze anamorphic 1.3X lenses that gave us the vivid color saturation we wanted. We shot in these small towns in the Czech Republic that still had all these pre-war buildings perfectly preserved, and the interior sets were built on stages at Prague’s Barrandov Studios, the same place the Nazis used to shoot all their propaganda.

Talk about post and editing with frequent collaborator Tom Eagles, who won the ACE Eddie for cutting this film. How did that work?
While we shot, Tom set up in Prague to deal with dailies and work on scenes and move towards an assembly. When we got back here in LA, we started cutting in offices in Burbank, and then we did all the mixing on the Fox lot.

I imagine finding the right tone and the right balance between comedy and tragedy were the big editing challenges?
They were. Tom and I’ve worked together for a long time, and he’s brilliant and also has a great knack for finding music that fits perfectly. He’s got a good eye for comedy and in the end it took us about nine months to get it all right. We also did a lot of testing – about 14 times – and the reason I do it so much is because I really value the audience’s opinion and feedback, and I want to really understand what they want and don’t want from my films. So then we’d make some changes, maybe test some new jokes, delete a couple of scenes, but the final film was pretty close to the original script. (Read postPerspective’s interview with Eagles.)

Do you like the post process?
I do, but I find editing quite hard, as I don’t like sitting still, and watching the editor pull little pieces together drives me nuts. So I tend to leave and come back, watch what they’ve done and give notes, and then maybe we’ll work together on it for a bit. I also don’t want to see the film too many times, as I get bored and start making changes just to keep interested.

VFX play a role. Talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jason Chen.
We always knew we’d have to do a lot of clean up, as it’s a period piece —  taking out modern road signs and we had some set extensions and wire removal. Luma did them and there was nothing major… not like Thor, where we had well over 2,000 shots, I think.

I loved the scene with The Beatles singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German over the worshipful Hitler footage. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
It’s huge, and a big part of it came from all the research I did of the Hitler rallies and Hitler Youth. It really hit me watching old footage how all these people — men, women, children — would be screaming and fainting and crying, and how Hitler was like this rock star of the ‘30s; their reaction was the same as with The Beatles. It was the same crowd hysteria. I’d also included Bowie’s “Heroes” in the first draft, as I always wanted contemporary music in it, along with contemporary dialogue, because it is a modern story. It can happen again.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan, and it’s key for the vivid look we wanted, but I really trust Mihai and Tim. I don’t want to micro-manage the whole DI. I go in and out and give notes.

How important was the Oscars and awards for a film like this?
(Laughs) You’re talking to a New Zealander, and we have this humility that we think is really charming but is probably really annoying. It’s so great to get a Best Picture nomination, and it’s been 10 years since I read the book and began working on it, so it’s been a lot of work. The goal was always to make something positive that promotes love and change, so I feel validated.

What’s next?
I like to keep doing very different things, so I’ve shot this sports film about football, Next Goal Wins, which we’ve started post on in LA.


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.

Director Vincent Lin discusses colorful Seagram’s Escapes spot

By Randi Altman

Valiant Pictures, a New York-based production house, recently produced a commercial spot featuring The Bachelor/Bachelorette host Chris Harrison promoting Seagram’s Escapes and its line of alcohol-based fruit drinks. A new addition to the product line is Tropical Rosé, which was co-developed by Harrison and contains natural passion fruit, dragon fruit and rosé flavors.

Valiant’s Vincent Lin directed the piece, which features Harrison in a tropical-looking room — brightened with sunny pinks and yellows thanks to NYC’s Nice Shoes — describing the rosé and signing off with the Seagram’s Escapes brand slogan, “Keep it colorful!”

Here, director Lin — and his DP Alexander Chinnici — talks about the project’s conception, shoot and post.

How early did you get involved? Did Valiant act as the creative agency on this spot?
Valiant has a long-standing history with the Seagram’s Escapes brand team, and we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to brainstorm a few ideas with them early on for their launch of Seagram’s Escapes Tropical Rosé with Chris Harrison. The creative concept was developed by Valiant’s in-house creative agency, headed by creative directors Nicole Zizila and Steven Zizila, and me. Seagram’s was very instrumental in the creative for the project, and we collaborated to make sure it felt fresh and new — like an elevated evolution of their “Keep It Colorful” campaign rather than a replacement.

Clearly, it’s meant to have a tropical vibe. Was it shot greenscreen?
We had considered doing this greenscreen, which would open up some interesting options, but also it would pose some challenges. What was important for this campaign creatively was to seamlessly take Chris Harrison to the magical world of Seagram’s Escapes Tropical Rosé. A practical approach was chosen so it didn’t feel too “out of this world,” and the live action still felt real and relatable. We had considered putting Chris in a tropical location — either in greenscreen or on location — but we really wanted to play to Chris’ personality and strengths and have him lead us to this world, rather than throw him into it. Plus, they didn’t sign off on letting us film in the Maldives. I tried (smiles).

L-R: Vincent Lin and Alex Chinnici

What was the spot shot on?
Working with the very talented DP Alex Chinnici, he recommended shooting on the ARRI Alexa for many reasons. I’ll let Alex answer this one.

Alex Chinnici: Some DPs would likely answer with something sexier  like, “I love the look!” But that is ignoring a lot of the technical realities available to us these days. A lot of these cameras are wonderful. I can manipulate the look, so I choose a camera based on other reasons. Without an on-set live, color-capable DIT, I had to rely on the default LUT seen on set and through post. The Alexa’s default LUT is my preference among the digital cameras. For lighting and everyone on the set, we start in a wonderful place right off the bat. Post houses also know it so well, along with colorists and VFX. Knowing our limitations and expecting not to be entirely involved, I prefer giving these departments the best image/file possible.

Inherently, the color, highlight retention and skin tone are wonderful right off the bat without having to bend over backward for anyone. With the Alexa, you end up being much closer to the end rather than having to jump through hoops to get there like you would with some other cameras. Lastly, the reliability is key. With the little time that we had, and a celebrity talent, I would never put a production through the risk of some new tech. Being in a studio, we had full control but still, I’d rather start in a place of success and only make it better from there.

What about the lenses?
Chinnici: I chose the Zeiss Master Primes for similar reasons. While sharp, they are not overbearing. With some mild filtration and very soft and controlled lighting, I can adjust that in other ways. Plus, I know that post will beautify anything that needs it; giving them a clean, sharp image (especially considering the seltzer can) is key.

I shot at a deeper stop to ensure that the lenses are even cleaner and sharper, although the Master Primes do hold up very well wide open. I also wanted the Seagram’s can to be in focus as much as possible and for us to be able to see the set behind Chris Harrison, as opposed to a very shallow depth of field. I also wanted to ensure little to no flares, solid contrast, sharpness across the field and no surprises.

Thanks Alex. Back to you Vincent. How did you work with Alex to get the right look?
There was a lot of back and forth between Alex and me, and we pulled references to discuss. Ultimately, we knew the two most important things were to highlight Chris Harrison and the product. We also knew we wanted the spot to feel like a progression from the brand’s previous work. We decided the best way to do this was to introduce some dimensionality by giving the set depth with lighting, while keeping a clean, polished and sophisticated aesthetic. We also introduced a bit of camera movement to further pull the audience in and to compose the shots it in a way that all the focus would be on Chris Harrison to bring us into that vibrant CG world.

How did you work with Nice Shoes colorist Chris Ryan to make sure the look stayed on point? 
Nice Shoes is always one of our preferred partners, and Chris Ryan was perfect for the job. Our creatives, Nicole and Steven, had worked with him a number of times. As with all jobs, there are certain challenges and limitations, and we knew we had to work fast. Chris is not only detail oriented, creative and a wizard with color correction, but also able to work efficiently.

He worked on a FilmLight Baselight system off the Alexa raw files. The color grading really brought out the saturation to further reinforce the brand’s slogan, “Keep It Colorful,” but also to manage the highlights and whites so it felt inviting and bright throughout, but not at all sterile.

What about the VFX? Can you talk about how that was accomplished? 
Much like the camera work, we wanted to continue giving dimensionality to the spot by having depth in each of our CG shots. Not only depth in space but also in movement and choreography. We wanted the CG world to feel full of life and vibrant in order to highlight key elements of the beverage — the flavors, dragonfruit and passionfruit — and give it a sense of motion that draws you in while making you believe there’s a world outside of it. We wanted the hero to shine in the center and the animation to play out as if a kaleidoscope or tornado was pulling you in closer and closer.

We sought the help of creative production studio Taylor James tto build the CG elements. We chose to work with a core of 3ds Max artists who could do a range of tasks using Autodesk 3ds Max and Chaos Group’s V-Ray (we also use Maya and Arnold). We used Foundry Nuke to composite all of the shots and integrate the CGI into the footage. The 3D asset creation, animation and lighting were constructed and rendered in Autodesk Maya, with compositing done in Adobe After Effects.

One of the biggest challenges was making sure the live action felt connected to the CG world, but with each still having its own personality. There is a modern and clean feel to these spots that we wanted to uphold while still making it feel fun and playful with colors and movement. There were definitely a few earlier versions that we went a bit crazy with and had to scale down a bit.

Does a lot of your work feature live action and visual effects combined?
I think of VFX like any film technique: It’s simply a tool for directors and creatives to use. The most essential thing is to understand the brand, if it’s a commercial, and to understand the story you are trying to tell. I’ve been fortunate to do a number of spots that involve live-action and VFX now, but truth be told, VFX almost always sneaks its way in these days.

Even if I do a practical effect, there are limitless possibilities in post production and VFX. Anything from simple cleanup to enhancing, compositing, set building and extending — it’s all possible. It’d be foolish not to consider it as a viable tool. Now, that’s not to say you should rely solely on VFX to fix problems, but if there’s a way it can improve your work, definitely use it. For this particular project, obviously, the CG was crucial to let us really be immersed in a magical world at the level of realism and proximity we desired.

Anything challenging about this spot that you’d like to share?
Chris Harrison was terrible to work with and refused to wear a shirt for some reason … I’m just kidding! Chris was one of the most professional, humblest and kindest celebrity talents that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. This wasn’t a simple endorsement for him; he actually did work closely with Seagram’s Escapes over several months to create and flavor-test the Tropical Rosé beverage.


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

Krista Liney directs Ghost-inspired promo for ABC’s The Bachelor

Remember the Ghost-inspired promo for ABC’s The Bachelor, which first aired during the 92nd Academy Awards telecast? ABC Entertainment Marketing developed the concept and wrote the script, which features current Bachelor lead Peter Weber in a send-up of the iconic pottery scene in Ghost between Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. It even includes the Righteous Brothers song, Unchained Melody, which played over that scene in the film.

ABC Entertainment Marketing tapped Canyon Road Films to produce and Krista Liney to direct. Liney captured Peter taking off his shirt, sitting down at the pottery wheel and “getting messy” — a metaphor for how messy his journey to love has been. As he starts to mold the clay, he is joined by one set of hands, then another and another. As the clay collapses, Whoopi Goldberg appears to say, “Peter, you in danger, boy” – a take-off of the line she delivers to Moore’s character in the film.

This marks Liney’s first shoot as a newly signed director coming on board at Canyon Road Films, a Los Angeles-based creative production company that specializes in television promos and entertainment content.

Liney has a perspective from the side of the client and the production house, having previously served as a marketing executive on the network side. “With promos, I aim to create pieces that will cut through the clutter and command attention,” she explains. “For me, it’s all about how I can best build the anticipation and excitement within the viewer.”

The piece was shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini with Primes and Optimo lenses. ABC finished the spot in-house.

Other credits include EP Lara Wickes and DP Eric Schmidt.

Destin Daniel Cretton talks directing Warner’s Just Mercy

By Iain Blair

An emotionally powerful and thought-provoking true story, Just Mercy is the latest film from award-winning filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton (The Glass Castle, Short Term 12), who directed the film from a screenplay he co-wrote. Based on famed lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson’s memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” which details his crusade to defend, among others, wrongly accused prisoners on death row, it stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winners Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson.

The story starts when, after graduating from Harvard, Stevenson (Jordan) — who had his pick of lucrative jobs — instead heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson).

One of his first cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite evidence proving his innocence. In the years that follow, Stevenson becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings as well as overt racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds — and the system — stacked against them.

This case becomes the main focus of the film, whose cast also includes Rob Morgan as Herbert Richardson, a fellow prisoner who also sits on death row; Tim Blake Nelson as Ralph Myers, whose pivotal testimony against Walter McMillian is called into question; Rafe Spall as Tommy Chapman, the DA who is fighting to uphold Walter’s conviction and sentence; O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Anthony Ray Hinton, another wrongly convicted death row inmate whose cause is taken up by Stevenson; and Karan Kendrick as Walter’s wife, Minnie McMillian.

Cretton’s behind-the-scenes creative team included DP Brett Pawlak, co-writer Andrew Lanham, production designer Sharon Seymour, editor Nat Sanders and composer Joel P. West, all of whom previously collaborated with the director on The Glass Castle.

Destin Daniel Crettin

I spoke with the director about making the film, his workflow and his love of post.

When you read Brian’s book, did you feel compelled to take this on?
I did. His voice and the way he tells the story about these characters, who seem so easy to judge at first. Then he starts peeling off all the layers, and the way he uses humor in certain areas and devastation in others. Somehow it still makes you feel hopeful and inspired to do something about all the injustice – all of it just hit me so hard, and I felt I had to be involved in it some way.

Did you work very closely with him on the film?
I did. Before we even began writing a word, we went to meet him in Montgomery, and he introduced us to the real Anthony Ray Hinton and a bunch of lawyers working on cases. Brian was with us through the whole writing process, filling in the blanks and helping us piece the story together. We did a lot of research, and we had the book, but it obviously couldn’t include everything. Brian gave us all the transcripts of all the hearings, and a lot of the lines were taken directly from those.

This is different from most other courtroom dramas, as the trial’s already happened when the movie begins. What sort of film did you set out to make?
We set out to make the book in as compelling a way as possible. And it’s a story about this young lawyer who’s trying to convince the system and state they made a terrible mistake, with all the ups and downs, and just how long it takes him to succeed. That’s the drama.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Telling a very intense, true story about people, many of whom are still alive and still doing the work they were doing then. So accuracy was a huge thing, and we all really felt the burden and responsibility to get it right. I felt it more so than any film I’ve ever done because I respect Brian’s work so much. We’re also telling stories about people who were very vulnerable.

Trying to figure out how to tell a narrative that still moved at the right pace and gave you an emotional ride, but which stayed completely accurate to the facts and to a legal process that moves incredibly slowly was very challenging. A big moment for me were when Brian first saw the film and gave me a big hug and thank you; he told me it was not for how he was portrayed, but for how we took care of his clients. That was his big concern.

What did Jamie and Michael bring to their roles?
They’ve been friends for a long time, so they already had this great natural chemistry, and they were able to play through scenes like two jazz musicians and bring a lot of stuff that wasn’t there on the page.

I heard you actually shot in the south. How tough was the shoot?
Filming in some of the real locations really helped. We were able to shoot in Montgomery — such as the scenes where Brian’s doing his morning jogs, the Baptist church where MLK Jr. was the pastor, and then the cotton fields and places where Walter and his family actually lived. Being there and feeling the weight of history was very important to the whole experience. Then we shot the rest of the film in Atlanta.

Where did you post?
All in LA on the Warner lot.

Do you like the post process?
I love post and I hate it (laughs). And it depends on whether you’re finding a solution to a problem or you’re realizing you have a big problem. Post, of course, is where you make the film and where all the problems are exposed… the problems with all the choices I made on set. Sometimes things are working great, but usually it’s the problems you’re having to face. But working with a good post team is so fulfilling, and you’re doing the final rewrite, and we solved so many things in post on this.

Talk about editing with your go-to Nat Sanders, who got an Oscar nom for his work (with co-editor Joi McMillon) on Moonlight and also cut If Beale Street Could Talk.
Nat wasn’t on set. He began cutting material here in LA while we shot on location in Atlanta and Alabama, and we talked a lot on the phone. He did the first assembly which was just over three hours long. All the elements were there but shaping all the material and fine-tuning it all took nearly a year as we went through every scene, talking them out.

Finding the correct emotional ride and balance was a big challenge, as this has so many emotional highs and lows and you can easily tire an audience out. We had to cut some storylines that were working, but we were sending people on another down when they needed something lighter. The other part of it was performance, and you can craft so much of that in the edit; our leads gave us so many takes and options to play with. Dealing with that is one of Nat’s big strengths. Both of us are meticulous, and we did a lot of test screenings and kept making adjustments.

Writer Iain Blair (left) and director Destin Daniel Crettin.

Nat and I both felt the hardest scene to cut and get right was Herb’s execution scene, because of the specific tone needed. If you went too far in one direction, it felt too much, but if you went too far the other way, it didn’t quite hit the emotional beat it needed. So that took a lot of time, playing around with all the cross-cutting and the music and sound to create the right balance.

All period films need VFX. What was entailed?
Crafty Apes did them, and we did a lot of fixes, added period stuff and did a lot of wig fixes — more than you’d think (laughs). We weren’t allowed to shoot at the real prison, so we had to create all the backdrops and set extensions for the death row sequences.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music.
It’s always huge for me, and I’ve worked with my composer, Joel, and supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Onnalee Blank, who was half of the sound team, since the start. For both of them, it was all about finding the right tone to create just the right amount of emotion that doesn’t overdo it, and Joel wrote the score in a very stripped-down way and then got all these jazz musicians to improvise along with the score.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
That’s huge too, and we did it at Light Iron with colorist Ian Vertovec. He’s worked with my DP on almost every project I’ve done, and he’s so good at grading and giving you a very subtle palette.

What’s next?
We’re currently on preproduction on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, featuring Marvel’s first Asian superhero. It’s definitely a change of pace after this.


 

Quick Chat: Director Sorrel Brae on Rocket Mortgage campaign

By Randi Altman

Production company Native Content and director Sorrel Brae have collaborated once again with Rocket Mortgage’s in-house creative team on two new spots in the ongoing “More Than a House” campaign. Brae and Native had worked together on the campaigns first four offerings.

The most recent spots are More Than a Tradition and More Than a Bear. More Than a Tradition shows a ‘50s family sitting down to dinner and having a fun time at home. Then the audience sees the same family in modern times, hammering home how traditions become traditions.

More Than a Bear combines fantasy and reality as it shows a human-sized teddy bear on an operating table. Then viewers see a worried boy looking on as his mother is repairing the his stuffed animal. Each spot opens with the notes of Bob Dylan’s “The Man In Me,” which is featured in all the “More Than a House” spots.

More Than a Bear was challenging, according to Brae, because there was some darker material in this piece as compared to the others  —  viewers aren’t sure at first if the bear will make it. Brae worked closely with DP Jeff Kim on the lighting and color palette to find a way to keep the tone lighthearted. By embracing primary colors, the two were able to channel a moodier tone and bring viewers inside a scared child’s imagination while still maintaining some playfulness.

We reached out to director Brae to find our more.

Sorrel Brae

What did you shoot these two spots on, and why?
I felt that in order for the comedy to land and the idea to shine, the visual separation between fantasy and reality had to be immediate, even shocking. Shooting on an Alexa Mini, we used different lenses for the two looks: Hawk V-Lite Vintage ’74 anamorphic for epic and cinematic fantasy, and spherical Zeiss and Cooke S4 primes for reality. The notable exception was in the hospital for the teddy bear spot, where our references were the great Spielberg and Zemeckis films from the ‘80s, which are primarily spherical and have a warmer, friendlier feeling.

How did you work with the DP and the colorist on the look? And how would you describe the look of each spot, and the looks within each spot? 
I was fortunate to bring on longtime collaborators DP Jeffrey Kim and colorist Mike Howell for both spots. Over the years, Jeff and I have developed a shorthand for working together. It all starts with defining our intention and deciding how to give the audience the feelings we want them to have.

In Tradition, for example, that feeling is a warm nostalgia for a bygone era that was probably a fantasy then, just as it is now. We looked to period print advertisements, photographs, color schemes, fonts — everything that spoke to that period. Crucial to pulling off both looks in one day was Heidi Adams’ production design. I wanted the architecture of the house to match when cutting between time periods. Her team had to put a contemporary skin on a 1950s interior for us to shoot “reality” and then quickly reset the entire house back to 1950s to shoot “fantasy.”

The intention for More Than a Bear was trickier. From the beginning I worried a cinematic treatment of a traumatic hospital scene wouldn’t match the tone of the campaign. My solution with Jeff was to lean into the look of ‘80s fantasy films like E.T. and Back to the Future with primary colors, gelled lights, a continuously moving camera and tons of atmosphere.

Mike at Color Collective even added a retro Ektachrome film emulation for the hospital and a discontinued Kodak 5287 emulation for the bedroom to complete the look. But the most fun was the custom bear that costume designer Bex Crofton-Atkins created for the scene. My only regret is that the spot isn’t 60 seconds because there’s so much great bear footage that we couldn’t fit into the cut.

What was this edited on? Did you work with the same team on both campaigns?
The first four spots of this campaign were cut by Jai Shukla out of Nomad Edit. Jai did great work establishing the rhythm between fantasy and reality and figuring out how to weave in Bob Dylan’s memorable track for the strongest impact. I’m pretty sure Jai cuts on Avid, which I like to tease him about.

These most recent two spots (Tradition and Teddy Bear) were cut by Zach DuFresne out of Hudson Edit, who did an excellent job navigating scripts with slightly different challenges. Teddy Bear has more character story than any of the others, and Tradition relies heavily on making the right match between time periods. Zach cuts on Premiere, which I’ve also migrated to (from FCP 7) for personal use.

Were any scenes more challenging than the others?
What could be difficult about kids, complex set design, elaborate wardrobe changes and detailed camera moves on a compressed schedule? In truth, it was all equally challenging and rewarding.

Ironically, the shots that gave us the most difficulty probably look the simplest. In Tradition there’s a SteadiCam move that introduces us into the contemporary world, has match cuts on either end and travels through most of the set and across most of the cast. Because everyone’s movements had to perfectly align with a non-repeatable camera, that one took longer than expected.

And on Teddy Bear, the simple shot looking up from the patient’s POV as the doctor/mom looms overhead was surprisingly difficult. Because we were on an extremely wide lens (12mm or similar), our actress had to nail her marks down to the millimeter, otherwise it looked weird. We probably shot that one setup 20 times.


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

Director James Mangold on Oscar-nominated Ford v Ferrari

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker James Mangold has been screenwriting, producing and directing for years. He has made films about country legends (Walk the Line), cowboys (3:10 to Yuma), superheroes (Logan) and cops (Cop Land), and has tackled mental illness (Girl Interrupted) as well.

Now he’s turned his attention to race car drivers and Formula 1 with his movie Ford v Ferrari, which has earned Mangold an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film also received nods for its editing, sound editing and sound mixing.

James Mangold (beard) on set.

The high-octane drama was inspired by a true-life friendship that forever changed racing history. In 1959, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is on top of the world after winning the most difficult race in all of motorsports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But his greatest triumph is followed quickly by a crushing blow — the fearless Texan is told by doctors that a grave heart condition will prevent him from ever racing again.

Endlessly resourceful, Shelby reinvents himself as a car designer and salesman working out of a warehouse space in Venice Beach with a team of engineers and mechanics that includes hot-tempered test driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). A champion British race car driver and a devoted family man, Miles is brilliant behind the wheel, but he’s also blunt, arrogant and unwilling to compromise.

After Shelby’s vehicles make a strong showing at Le Mans against Italy’s venerable Enzo Ferrari, Ford Motor Company recruits the firebrand visionary to design the ultimate race car, a machine that can beat even Ferrari on the unforgiving French track. Determined to succeed against overwhelming odds, Shelby, Miles and their ragtag crew battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to develop a revolutionary vehicle that will outshine every competitor. The film culminates in the historic showdown between the US and Italy at the grueling 1966 24 hour Le Mans race.

Mangold’s below-the-line talent, many of whom have collaborated with the director before, includes Academy Award-nominated director of photography Phedon Papamichael; film editors Michael McCusker, ACE, and Andrew Buckland; visual effects supervisor Olivier Dumont; and composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and Director James Mangold

I spoke with Mangold — whose other films include Logan, The Wolverine and Knight and Day — about making the film and his workflow.

You obviously love exploring very different subject matter in every film you make.
Yes, and I do every movie like a sci-fi film — meaning inventing a new world that has its own rules, customs, language, laws of physics and so on, and you need to set it up so the audience understands and they get it all. It’s like being a world-builder, and I feel every film should have that, as you’re entering this new world, whether it’s Walk the Line or The French Connection. And the rules and behavior are different from our own universe, and that’s what makes the story and characters interesting to me.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Well, given all that, I wanted to make an exciting racing movie about that whole world, but it’s also that it was a moment when racing was free of all things that now turn me off about it. The cars were more beautiful then, and free of all the branding. Today, the cars are littered with all the advertising and trademarks — and it’s all nauseating to me. I don’t even feel like I’m watching a sport anymore.

When this story took place, it was also a time when all the new technology was just exploding. Racing hasn’t changed that much over the past 20 years. It’s just refining and tweaking to get that tiny edge, but back in the ‘60s they were still inventing the modern race car, and discovering aerodynamics and alternate building materials and methods. It was a brand-new world, so there was this great sense of discovery and charm along with all that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
Trying to do what I felt all the other racing movies hadn’t really done — taking the driving out of the CG world and putting it back in the real world, so you could feel the raw power and the romanticism of racing. A lot of that’s down to the particulates in the air, the vibrations of the camera, the way light moves around the drivers — and the reality of behavior when you’re dealing with incredibly powerful machines. So right from the start, I decided we had to build all the race cars; that was a huge challenge right there.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Day one. I wanted to use real cars and shoot the Le Mans and other races in camera rather than using CGI. But this is a period piece, so we did use a lot of CGI for set extensions and all the crowds. We couldn’t afford 50,000 extras, so just the first six rows or so were people in the stands; the rest were digital.

Did you do a lot of previz?

A lot, especially for Le Mans, as it was such a big, three-act sequence with so many moving parts. We used far less for Daytona. We did a few storyboards and then me and my second unit director, Darrin Prescott — who has choreographed car chases and races in such movies as Drive, Deadpool 2, Baby Driver and The Bourne Ultimatum — planned it out using matchbox cars.

I didn’t want that “previzy” feeling. Even when I do a lot of previz, whether it’s a Marvel movie or like this, I always tell my previz team “Don’t put the camera anywhere it can’t go.” One of the things that often happens when you have the ability to make your movie like a cartoon in a laboratory — which is what previz is — is that you start doing a lot of gimmicky shots and flying the camera through keyholes and floating like a drone, because it invites you to do all that crazy shit. It’s all very show-offy as a director — “Look at me!” — and a turnoff to me. It takes me out of the story, and it’s also not built off the subjective experience of your characters.

This marks your fifth collaboration with DP Phedon Papamichael, and I noticed there’s no big swooping camera moves or the beauty shot approach you see in all the car commercials.
Yes, we wanted it to look beautiful, but in a real way. There’s so much technology available now, like gyroscopic setups and arms that let you chase the cars in high-speed vehicles down tracks. You can do so much, so why do you need to do more? I’m conservative that way. My goal isn’t to brand myself through my storytelling tricks.

How tough was the shoot?
It was one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever had, with my regular crew and a great cast. But it was also very grueling, as we were outside a lot, often in 115-degree heat in the desert on blacktop. And locations were big challenges. The original Le Mans course doesn’t exist anymore like it used to be, so we used several locations in Georgia to double for it. We shot the races wide-angle anamorphic with a team of a dozen professional drivers, and with anamorphic you can shoot the cars right up into the lens — just inches away from camera, while they’d be doing 150 mph or 160 mph.

Where did you post?
All on the Fox lot at my offices. We scored at Capitol Records and mixed the score in Malibu at my composer’s home studio. I really love the post, and for me it’s all part of the same process — the same cutting and pasting I do when I’m writing, and even when I’m directing. You’re manipulating all these elements and watching it take form — and particularly in this film, where all the sound design and music and dialogue are all playing off one another and are so key. Take the races. By themselves, they look like nothing. It’s just a car whipping by. The power of it all only happens with the editing.

You had two editors — Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland. How did that work?
Mike’s been with me for 20 years, so he’s kind of the lead. Mike and Drew take and trade scenes, and they’re good friends so they work closely together. I move back and forth between them, which also gives them each some space. It’s very collaborative. We all want it to look beautiful and elegant and well-designed, but no one’s a slave to any pre-existing ideas about structure or pace. (Check out postPerspective‘s interview with the editing duo here.)

What were the big editing challenges?
It’s a car racing movie with drama, so we had to hit you with adrenalin and then hold you with what’s a fairly procedural and process-oriented film about these guys scaling the corporate wall to get this car built and on the track. Most of that’s dramatic scenes. The flashiest editing is the races, which was a huge, year-long effort. Mike was cutting the previz before we shot a foot, and initially we just had car footage, without the actors, so that was a challenge. It all transformed once we added the actors.

Can you talk about working on the visual effects with Method’s VFX supervisor Olivier Dumont?
He did an incredible job, as no one thinks there are so many. They’re really invisible, and that’s what I love — the film feels 100% analog, but of course it isn’t. It’s impossible to build giant race tracks as they were in the ‘60s. But having real foregrounds really helped. We had very few scenes where actors were wandering around in a green void like on so many movies now. So you’re always anchored in the real world, and then all the set extensions were in softer focus or backlit.

This film really lends itself to sound.
Absolutely, as every car has its own signature sound, and as we cut rapidly from interiors to exteriors, from cars to pits and so on. The perspective aural shifts are exciting, but we also tried to keep it simple and not lose the dramatic identity of the story. We even removed sounds in the mix if they weren’t important, so we could focus on what was important.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Efilm with Skip Kimball (working on Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve), and it was huge on this, especially dealing with the 24-hour race, the changing light, rain and night scenes, and having to match five different locations was a nightmare. So we worked on all that and the overall look from early on in the edit.

What’s next?
Don’t know. I’ve got two projects I’m working on. We’ll see.


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.

Directing bookend sequences for Portals, a horror anthology film

By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull

Portals is a genre-bending feature film anthology focusing on a series of worldwide blackouts — after which millions of mysterious objects appear everywhere across the planet. While many flee from the sentient objects, some people are drawn toward and into them with horrifying consequences.

Portals

The film was in the final stages of post when writer/director Liam O’Donnell (Beyond Skyline and the upcoming Skylines film) called to see if I would like to get involved and direct some bookend sequences to add more scope and setup, which the producers felt was very much needed. I loved the premise and the world of the anthology, so I said yes. I pitched an idea for an ending, that quickly evolved into an extra segment at the end of the film, which I directed. That’s why there are officially four directors on the show, with me getting executive producer and “end-segment created by” credits.

Two of the other sequences are around 20 to 25 minutes each, and O’Donnell’s sequence was around 35 minutes. The film is 85 minutes long. Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale (The Blair Witch Project) co-directed their segments. So the anthology feature film is really three long segments with my bookend sequences. The only connections among all the stories are the objects that appear, the event itself and the actual “portal,” but everything else was unique to each segment’s story. In terms of production, the only consistencies throughout the anthology were the camera language — that slight hand-held feel — and, of course, the music/sound

I had to watch the latest cut of the entire anthology film to get my head into that world, but I was given freedom to bring my own style to my sequences. That is exactly the point of an anthology — for each director to bring his or her own sensibilities to the individual segments. Besides Liam, the main producers I worked closely with on this project were Alyssa Devine and Griffin Devine from Pigrat Productions. They are fans of my first feature film, The Beyond, so they really encouraged the grounded tone I had demonstrated in that film.

The portal in Portals.

I’ve been a huge advocate of Blackmagic cameras and technology for a long time. Additionally, I knew I had to a lot to shoot in a very short time space (two days!), so I needed a camera that was light and flexible yet able to shoot 4K. I brought on cinematographer Colin Emerson, who shoots in a very loose way but always makes his stuff look cinematic. We watched the cut of the film and noticed the consistent loose nature to the cinematography on all the segments. Colin uses the Fig Rig a lot and I love the way that rig works and the BMD Pocket Cinema 4K fits nicely on it along with his DSLR lenses he likes to use. The other reason was to be able to use Blackmagic’s new BRaw format too.

We also shot the segment using a skeleton crew, which comprised of myself as director/producer; VFX supervisor/1st AD John Sellings, who also did some focus pulling; James De Taranto (sound recording); DP/camera op Colin Emerson, FX makeup artists Kate Griffith and Jay James; and our two actors, Georgina Blackledge and Dare Emmanuel. I worked with both of them on my feature film The Beyond.

The Post
One thing I wanted to make sure of was that the post team at The Institution in LA was able to take my Resolve files and literally work from that for the picture post. One of the things I did during prep of the project (before we even cast) was to shoot some tests to show what I had in mind in terms of look and feel. We also tested the BRaw and color workflow between my setup in London and the LA team. Colin and I did this during location recce. This proved to be extremely useful to ensure we set our camera to the exact specs the post house wanted. So we shot at 23.98, 4K (4096×1716) 2:39 cropped, Blackmagic color design log color space.

HaZ’s segments were captured with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

During the test, I did some quick color tests to show the producers in LA the tone and mood I was going for and to make sure everyone was on board before I shot it. The look was very post apocalyptic, as it’s set after the main events have happened. I wanted the locations to be a contrast with each other, one interior and one exterior with greens.

Colin is used to shooting most of his stuff on the Panasonic GH, but he had the Cinema Pocket Camera and was looking for the right project to use it on. He found he could use all of his usual lenses because the Cinema Pocket Camera has the same mount. Lenses used were the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 + Metabones Speedbooster; the Olympus 12mm f2; and the Lumix 35-100mm f2.8

Colin used the onboard monitor screen on the Pocket Cinema Camera, while I used a tethered external monitor — the Ikan DH5e — for directing. We used a 1TB Samsung external SSD securely attached to the rig cage along with a 64GB CFast card. The resolution we shot in was determined by the tests we did. We set up the rushes for post after each of the two days of the shoot, so during the day we would swap out drives and back things up. At the end of the day, we would bring in all the picture and sound rushes and use the amazing autosync feature in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve to set it all up. This way, when I headed back home I could start editing right away inside Resolve.

Resolve

I have to admit, we were hesitant at first because I was shooting and capturing Log in QuickTime ProRes 4:4:4:4, and I always avoided DNG raw because of the huge file size and data transfer. But the team at Blackmagic has always been so supportive and provided us with support right up till the end of the shoot, so after testing BRaw I was impressed. We had so much control as all that information is accessed within Resolve. . I was able to set the temp look during editing, and the colorist worked from there. Skin tones were of utmost importance; because of the intimate nature of the drama, I wanted a natural look to the skin tones. I am really happy with the way they came out at the end.

They couldn’t believe how cinematic the footage was when we told them we shot using the Pocket Cinema Camera, since the other segments were shot on cameras like Red. We delivered the same 4K deliverables spec as the other segments in the film.

HaZ on set, second from right.

I used the AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 version of the Blackmagic eGPU. The reason was because I wanted to edit on my MacBook Pro (late 2017) and needed the power to run 4K in realtime. I was so impressed with how much power it provided; it was like having a new MacBook Pro without having to buy one. The eGPU had all the connectivity (two Thunderbolt and four USB-3) I needed, which is a limitation of the MacBook Pro.

The beauty of keeping everything native was that there wasn’t much work to do when porting, as it’s just plug and play. And the Resolve detects the eGPU, which you can then set as default. The BRaw format makes it all so manageable to preview and playback in real time. Also, since it’s native, Resolve doesn’t need to do any transcoding in the background. I have always been a huge fan of the tracking in Resolve, and I was able to do eye effects very easily without it being budgeted or done as a VFX shot. I was able to get the VFX render assets from the visual effects artist (Justin Martinez ) in LA and do quick-slap comps during editing. I love the idea that I can set looks and store them as memories, which I can then recall very quickly to apply on a bunch of shots. This allows me to have a slick-looking preview rough cut of the film.

Portals

I sent a hard drive containing all the organized rushes to the team in LA while I was doing the final tweaks to the edit. Once the edit was signed off, or if any last-minute notes came in, I would do them and email them my Resolve file. It was super simple, and the colorists (Oliver Ojeil) and post team (Chad Van Horn and Danny Barone) in LA appreciated the simple workflow because there really wasn’t any conforming for them to do apart from a one-click relink of media location; they would just take my Resolve file and start working away with it.

We used practical effects to keep the horror as real and grounded as possible, and used VFX to augment further. We were fortunate to be able to get special effects makeup artist Kate Griffiths. Given the tight schedule she was able to create a terrifying effect, which I won’t give away. You need to watch the film to see it! We had to shoot those make-up FX-heavy shots at the end of the day, which meant we had to be smart about how we scheduled the shoot given the hours-long make-up process. Kate was also on hand to provide effects like the liquid coming out of the eyes and sweat etc. — every detail of which the camera picked up for us so we could bring it out in the grade.

The Skype-style shots at the start of the film (phone and computer monitor shots) had their VFX screen elements placed as a separate layer so the post team in LA could grade them separately and control the filters applied on them. For some of the wide shots showing our characters entering and leaving the portal, we keyframed some movement of the 4K shot along with motion blur to give the effect of in-camera movement. I also used the camera shake within Resolve, which comes with so many options to create bespoke movement on static frames.

Portals is now available on iTunes and other VOD platforms.


HaZ Dulull is known for his sci-fi feature films The Beyond and 2036 Origin Unknown, also in television for his pilot and episodes on Disney’s Fast Layne. He is currently busy on projects at various stages of development and production at his production company, hazfilm.com.

Directing Olly’s ‘Happy Inside Out’ campaign

How do you express how vitamins make you feel? Well, production company 1stAveMachine partnered with independent creative agency Yard NYC to develop the stylized “Happy Inside Out” campaign for Olly multivitamin gummies to show just that.

Beauty

The directing duo of Erika Zorzi and Matteo Sangalli, known as Mathery, highlighted the brand’s products and benefits by using rich textures, colors and lighting. They shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini. “Our vision was to tell a cohesive narrative, where each story of the supplements spoke the same visual language,” Mathery explains. “We created worlds where everything is possible and sometimes took each product’s concept to the extreme and other times added some romance to it.”

Each spot imagines various benefits of taking Olly products. The side-scrolling Energy, which features a green palette, shows a woman jumping and doing flips through life’s everyday challenges, including through her home to work, doing laundry and going to the movies. Beauty, with its pink color pallete, features another woman “feeling beautiful” while turning the heads of a parliament of owls. Meanwhile, Stress, with its purple/blue palette, features a women tied up in a giant ball of yarn, and as she unspools herself, the things that were tying her up spin away. In the purple-shaded Sleep, a lady lies in bed pulling off layer after layer of sleep masks until she just happily sleeps.

Sleep

The spots were shot with minimal VFX, other than a few greenscreen moments, and the team found itself making decisions on the fly, constantly managing logistics for stunt choreography, animal performances and wardrobe. Jogger Studios provided the VFX using Autodesk Flame for conform, cleanup and composite work. Adobe After Effects was used for all of the end tag animation. Cut+Run edited the campaign.

According to Mathery, “The acrobatic moves and obstacle pieces in the Energy spot were rehearsed on the same day of the shoot. We had to be mindful because the action was physically demanding on the talent. With the Beauty spot, we didn’t have time to prepare with the owls. We had no idea if they would move their heads on command or try to escape and fly around the whole time. For the Stress spot, we experimented with various costume designs and materials until we reached a look that humorously captured the concept.”

The campaign marks Mathery’s second collaboration with Yard NYC and Olly, who brought the directing team into the fold very early on, during the initial stages of the project. This familiarity gave everyone plenty of time to let the ideas breath.

Uncut Gems directors Josh and Benny Safdie

By Iain Blair

Filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie have been on the verge of the big time since they started making their own distinctive brand of cinema: one full of anxiety, brashness, untamed egos and sweaty palms. They’ve finally done it with A24’s Uncut Gems.

Following their cinema verité Heaven Knows What — with its look at the New York City heroin subculture — and the crime thriller Good Time, the Safdies return to the mean streets of New York City with their latest, Uncut Gems. The film is a twisty, tense tale that explores the tragic sway of fortune, family and fate.

The Safdies on set.

It stars Adam Sandler in a career-defining performance as Howard Ratner, a profane, charismatic New York City jeweler who’s always on the lookout for the next big score. When he makes a series of high-stakes bets that could lead to the windfall of a lifetime, Howard must perform a high-wire act by balancing business, family and encroaching adversaries on all sides.

Uncut Gems combines relentless pacing with gritty visuals, courtesy of DP Darius Khondji, and a score from Brooklyn-based experimental composer Daniel Lopatin.

In the tradition of ‘70s urban thrillers by Sidney Lumet, William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese (who produced, along with Scott Rudin), the film creates an authentic tapestry of indelible faces, places, sounds and moods.

Behind the camera, the Safdies also assembled a stellar team of go-to collaborators that included co-editor Ronald Bronstein and production designer Sam Lisenco.

I recently sat down with the Safdies, whose credits include Daddy Longlegs, Lenny Cooke and The Pleasure of Being Robbed, to talk about making the film (which is generating awards buzz) and their workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Josh Safdie: The exact one you see on the screen. It changed a lot along the way, but the cosmic vibe of it and the mélange of characters who don’t seem to fit together but do on this journey where we are all on on this colorful rock that might as well be a colorful uncut gem – it was all there in the original idea. It’s pulpy, cosmic, funny, tense, and it’s what we wanted to do.

Benny Safdie: We have veteran actors, first-time actors and non-professionals in the cast, working alongside people we love so much. It’s great to see it all come together like it did.

How tough was it getting Adam Sandler, as I heard he initially passed on it?
Josh: He did. We sent it to him back in 2012, and I’m not sure it even got past “the moat,” as we call it. But once he saw our work, he immediately responded; he called us right after seeing Good Time. The irony is, one of his favorites was Daddy Longlegs, which we’d tried to approach him with. Once we actually made contact and started talking, it was instantly a strong kinship.

Benny: Now it’s like a deep friendship. He really got our need to dig deep on who this character is, and he put in the time and the care.

Any surprises working with him?
Josh: What’s funny is, we had a bunch of jokes written for him, and he then ad-libbed so many little things. He made us all smile every day.

What did he bring to the role of Howard, who could easily be quite unlikeable?
Josh: Exactly, and Adam brought that likeability in a way only he can. We had the benefit of following up his 50-city standup tour, where he did three hours of material every night, and we had a script loaded with dialogue. His mind was so sharp, so by the time he did this — and we were giving him new pages over lunch sometimes — he could just ingest them and regurgitate them and go out on a limb and try out a new joke, and then come back to the dialogue. He was so well oiled in the character that it was second nature to him.

Benny: And you root for him. You want him to succeed. Adam pushed us on stuff, like the family and the kids. He knew it was important to show those relationships, that audiences would want to see and feel that. And he wanted to create a very complicated person. Yes, Howard’s doing some bad things, but you want him to get there.

Was it difficult getting former pro basketball player Kevin Garnett to act in the film?
Josh: It’s always tough when someone is very successful in their own field. When you try to convince them to do acting, they know it’s a lot of work and they don’t need the money, and you’re asking them to play a version of themselves — and there’s the huge time commitment. But Kevin really committed, and he came back a bunch to shoot scenes we needed.

You’re well known for your run-and-gun, guerilla-style of shooting. Was that how you shot this film?
Josh: Yeah, a lot of locations, but we built the office sets. And we got permits for everything.

Benny: But we kept the streets open and mixed in the 80 SAG actors in the background.

How does it work on the set in terms of co-directing?
Josh: On a technical level, we’ll work with our DP on placing the camera. It was a bit different this time since Benny wasn’t also acting, like he did in Good Time. We were co-directing and getting that much closer to the action; you see different parts of a performance that way, and we have each other’s backs. We are able to put our heads together and get a really full picture of what’s happening on set. And if one of us talks to somebody, it’s always coming from both of us. We’ve been working together since we were kids, and we have a huge amount of trust in each other.

The way characters talk over each other, and then all the background chatter, reminded me a lot of Robert Altman and his approach.
Benny: Thanks. He was a huge influence on us. It’s using sound as it’s heard in real life. We heard this great story about Altman and the film McCabe and Mrs. Miller. About 15 minutes into the premiere Warren Beatty turned to Altman and asked, “Does the whole movie sound like this?” And Altman replied excitedly, “Yeah!” He was so far ahead of his time, and that’s what we tried to emulate.

What’s so great about Altman is that he saw life as a film, and he tried to get the film to ride up parallel to life in that sense. We ended up writing 45 extra pages of dialogue recording — just for the background. Scott Rudin was like, “You wrote a whole other script for background people?” We’d have a character there just to say one line, but it added all these extra layers.

Josh: On top of the non-stop dialogue, Howard’s a real loudmouth; he hears everything. Our post sound team was very special, and it was very educational for us. We began with Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Tom Fleischman, but then he had to go off to do The Irishman, so Skip Lievsay took over. Then Warren Shaw came on, and we worked with the two of them for a very long time.

Thanks to our producers, we had the time to really get in there and go deeper and deeper. I’d say the soundscape they built in Dolby Atmos really achieved something like life, and it also had areas for music and sound design that are so meticulous and rich that we’d watch the movie without the dialogue.

Where did you do the post?
Benny: All in New York. For sound, we started off at Soundtrack and then went to Warner Bros. Sound. We edited at our company offices with co-editor Ronny Bronstein. Brainstorm Digital did most of the crazy visual effects. We worked closely with them and on the whole idea of, “What does the inside of a gemstone look like?”

How does editing work with Ronny?
Josh: He’s often on the set with us, but we didn’t cut a frame until we sat down after the shoot and watched it all. I think that kept it fresh for us. Our assistant editor developed binders with all the script and script supervisor notes, and we didn’t touch it once during the edit. I think coming from documentaries, and that approach to the material, has informed all our editing. You look at what’s in front of you, and that’s what you use to make your film. Who cares what the script says!

One big challenge was the sheer amount of material, even though we only shot for 35 days — that includes the African unit. We had so many setups and perspectives, in things like the auction and the Seder scenes, but the scene we spent the most time writing and editing was the scene between Howard and Kevin in the back room… and we had the least time to shoot it — just over three hours.

L-R: Benny Safdie, Iain Blair and Josh Safdie.

You have a great score by your go-to composer Daniel Lopatin, who records as Oneohtrix Point Never.
Josh: We did the score at his studio in Brooklyn. It’s really another main character, and he did a great job as usual.

The DI must have been vital?
Josh: Yes, and we did all the color at The Mill with colorist Damien van der Cruyssen, who’s a really great colorist and also ran our dailies. Darius likes to spend a lot of time in the DI experimenting and finding the look, so we ended up doing about a month on it. Usually, we get just four days.

What’s next? A big studio movie?
Josh: Maybe, but we don’t want to abandon what we’ve got going right now. We know what we want. People offer us scripts but I can’t see us doing that.


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.

Director Robert Eggers talks about his psychological thriller The Lighthouse

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Robert Eggers burst onto the scene when his feature film debut, The Witch, won the Directing Award in the US Dramatic category at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. He followed up that success by co-writing and directing another supernatural, hallucinatory horror film, The Lighthouse, which is set in the maritime world of the late 19th century.

L-R: Director Robert Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke on set.

The story begins when two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) arrive on a remote island off the coast of New England for their month-long stay. But that stay gets extended as they’re trapped and isolated due to a seemingly never-ending storm. Soon, the two men engage in an escalating battle of wills, as tensions boil over and mysterious forces (which may or may not be real) loom all around them.

The Lighthouse has the power of an ancient myth. To tell this tale, which was shot in black and white, Eggers called on many of those who helped him create The Witch, including cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, production designer Craig Lathrop, composer Mark Korven and editor Louise Ford.

I recently talked to Eggers, who got his professional start directing and designing experimental and classical theater in New York City, about making the film, his love of horror and the post workflow.

Why does horror have such an enduring appeal?
My best argument is that there’s darkness in humanity, and we need to explore that. And horror is great at doing that, from the Gothic to a bad slasher movie. While I may prefer authors who explore the complexities in humanity, others may prefer schlocky films with jump scares that make you spill your popcorn, which still give them that dose of darkness. Those films may not be seriously probing the darkness, but they can relate to it.

This film seems more psychological than simple horror.
We’re talking about horror, but I’m not even sure that this is a horror film. I don’t mind the label, even though most wannabe auteurs are like, “I don’t like labels!” It started with an idea my brother Max had for a ghost story set in a lighthouse, which is not what this movie became. But I loved the idea, which was based on a true story. It immediately evoked a black and white movie on 35mm negative with a boxy aspect ratio of 1.19:1, like the old movies, and a fusty, dusty, rusty, musty atmosphere — the pipe smoke and all the facial hair — so I just needed a story that went along with all of that. (Laughs) We were also thinking a lot about influences and writers from the time — like Poe, Melville and Stevenson — and soaking up the jargon of the day. There were also influences like Prometheus and Proteus and God knows what else.

Casting the two leads was obviously crucial. What did Willem and Robert bring to their roles?
Absolute passion and commitment to the project and their roles. Who else but Willem can speak like a North Atlantic pirate stereotype and make it totally believable? Robert has this incredible intensity, and together they play so well against each other and are so well suited to this world. And they both have two of the best faces ever in cinema.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together, and is it true you actually built the lighthouse?
We did. We built everything, including the 70-foot tower — a full-scale working lighthouse, along with its house and outbuildings — on Cape Forchu in Nova Scotia, which is this very dramatic outcropping of volcanic rock. Production designer Craig Lathrop and his team did an amazing job, and the reason we did that was because it gave us far more control than if we’d used a real lighthouse.

We scouted a lot but just couldn’t find one that suited us, and the few that did were far too remote to access. We needed road access and a place with the right weather, so in the end it was better to build it all. We also shot some of the interiors there as well, but most of them were built on soundstages and warehouses in Halifax since we knew it’d be very hard to shoot interiors and move the camera inside the lighthouse tower itself.

Your go-to DP, Jarin Blaschke, shot it. Talk about how you collaborated on the look and why you used black and white.
I love the look of black and white, because it’s both dreamlike and also more realistic than color in a way. It really suited both the story and the way we shot it, with the harsh landscape and a lot of close-ups of Willem and Robert. Jarin shot the film on the Panavision Millennium XL2, and we also used vintage Baltar lenses from the 1930s, which gave the film a great look, as they make the sea, water and sky all glow and shimmer more. He also used a custom cyan filter by Schneider Filters that gave us that really old-fashioned look. Then by using black and white, it kept the overall look very bleak at all times.

How tough was the shoot?
It was pretty tough, and all the rain and pounding wind you see onscreen is pretty much real. Even on the few sunny days we had, the wind was just relentless. The shoot was about 32 days, and we were out in the elements in March and April of last year, so it was freezing cold and very tough for the actors. It was very physically demanding.

Where did you post?
We did it all in New York at Harbor Post, with some additional ADR work at Goldcrest in London with Robert.

Do you like the post process?
I love post, and after the very challenging shoot, it was such a relief to just get in a warm, dry, dark room and start cutting and pulling it all together.

Talk about editing with Louise Ford, who also cut The Witch. How did that work?
She was with us on the shoot at a bed and breakfast, so I could check in with her at the end of the day. But it was so tough shooting that I usually waited until the weekends to get together and go over stuff. Then when we did the stage work at Halifax, she had an edit room set up there, and that was much easier.

What were the big editing challenges?
The DP and I developed such a specific and detailed cinema language without a ton of coverage and with little room for error that we painted ourselves into a corner. So that became the big challenge… when something didn’t work. It was also about getting the running time down but keeping the right pace since the performances dictate the pace of the edit. You can’t just shorten stuff arbitrarily. But we didn’t leave a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor. The assembly was just over two hours and the final film isn’t much shorter.

All the sound effects play a big role. Talk about the importance of sound and working on them with sound designer Damian Volpe, whose credits include Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Leave No Trace, Mudbound, Drive, Winter’s Bone and Margin Call.
It’s hugely important in this film, and Louise and I did a lot of work in the picture edit to create temps for Damian to inspire him. And he was so relentless in building up the sound design, and even creating weird sounds to go with the actual light, and to go with the score by Mark Korven, who did The Witch, and all the brass and unusual instrumentation he used on this. So the result is both experimental and also quite traditional, I think.

There are quite a few VFX shots. Who did them, and what was involved?
We had MELS and Oblique in Quebec and Brainstorm Digital in New York also did some. The big one was that the movie’s set on an island but we shot on a peninsula, which also had a lighthouse further north, which unfortunately didn’t look at all correct, so we framed it out a lot but we had to erase it for some of the time. And our period-correct sea ship broke down and had to be towed around by other ships, so there was a lot of clean up. Also with all the safety cables we had to use for cliff shots with the actors.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Harbor with colorist Joe Gawler, and it was hugely important although it was fairly simple because there’s very little latitude on the Double-X film stock we used. We did a lot of fine detail work to finesse it, but it was a lot quicker than if it’d been in color.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
No, they always change and surprise you, but I’m very proud of what we did.

What’s next?
I’m prepping another period piece, but it’s not a horror film. That’s all I can say.


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: Logan & Sons director Tom Schlagkamp

This director also loves editing, sound design and working with VFX long before and after the shoot.

Name: Tom Schlagkamp

Company: Logan & Sons, the live-action division of bicoastal content creation studio Logan, which is based in NYC and LA.

Job Title: Director

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I can honestly say I love every detail of the job, even the initial pitch, as it’s the first contact with a new story, a new project and a new challenge. I put a lot of heart into every aspect of a film — the better you’ve prepared in pre-production, the more creative you can be during the shoot; it brings you more time and oversight during shooting and more power to react if anything changes.

Tom Schlagkamp’s short film Dysconnected.

For my European, South African and Asian projects, I’m also very happy to be deeply involved in editing, sound design and post production, as I love working with the material. I usually shoot footage, so there are more possibilities to work with in editing.

What’s your least favorite?
Not winning a job, that’s why I’m trying to avoid that… (laughs).

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Well, plan A would be a rock star — specifically, a guitarist in a thrash metal band. Plan B would be the exact opposite: working at my family’s winery — Schlagkamp-Desoye in Germany’s beautiful Mosel Valley. My brother runs this company now, which is in its 11th generation. Our family has grown wine since 1602. The winery also includes a wine museum.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
In Germany, you don’t necessarily jump from high school to college right away, so I took a short time to learn all the basics of filmmaking with as much practical experience as I could get. That included directing music videos and short films while I worked for Germany’s biggest TV station, RTL. There I learned to edit and produced campaigns for shows, and in particular movie trailers and campaigns for the TV premieres of blockbuster movies. That was a lot of work and fun at the same time.

What was it about directing that attracted you?
The whole idea of creating something completely new. I loved (and still do) the films of the “New Hollywood” and the Nouvelle Vague — they challenged the regular way of storytelling and created something outstanding that changed filmmaking forever. This fascinated me, and I knew I had to learn the rules first in order to be able to question them, so I started studying at Germany’s film academy, the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.

What is it about directing that keeps you interested?
It’s about always moving forward. There are so many more ways you can tell a story and so many stories that have not yet been told, so I love working on as many projects as possible.

Dysconnected

Do you get involved with post at all?
Yes, I love to be part of that whenever the circumstances allow it. As mentioned before, I love editing and sound design as well, but also planning and working with VFX long before and after the shoot is fascinating to me.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
As I answer these questions, I’m sitting at the airport in Berlin, traveling to Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m excited about shooting a series of commercials in the African savanna. I shot many commercials this year, but was also happy that my short film Dysconnected, which I shot in Los Angeles last year, premiered at LA Shorts International Film Festival this summer.

What project are you most proud of?
I loved shooting the Rock ’n’ Roll Manifesto for Visions magazine, because it was the perfect combination of my job as a director and my before-mentioned “alternative Plan A,” making my living as a musician. Also, everybody involved in the project was so into it and it’s been the best shooting experience. And winning awards with it in the end was an added bonus.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Manifesto

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
1. Noise cancelling headphones. When I travel, I love listening to music and podcasts, and with these headphones you can dive into that world perfectly.
2. My mobile phone, which I hardly use for phone calls anymore but everything else.
3. My laptop, which is part of every project from the beginning until the end.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Cycling, hiking and rock concerts. There is nothing like the silence of being in pure nature and the loudness of heavy guitars and drums at a metal show (laughs).

Todd Phillips talks directing Warner Bros.’ Joker

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker Todd Phillips began his career in comedy, most notably with the blockbuster franchise The Hangover, which racked up $1.4 billion at the box office globally. He then leveraged that clout and left his comedy comfort zone to make the genre-defying War Dogs.

Todd Phillips directing Joaquin Phoenix

Joker puts comedy even further in his rearview mirror. This bleak, intense, disturbing and chilling tragedy has earned over a $1 billion worldwide since its release, making it the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2019 and the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. Not surprisingly, Joker was celebrated by the Academy, earning a total of 11 Oscar nods, including two for Phillips.

Directed, co-written and produced by Phillips (nominated for Directing and Screenplay), Joker is the filmmaker’s original vision of the infamous DC villain — an origin story infused with the character’s more traditional mythologies. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is portrayed — and fully inhabited — by three-time Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. Longing for any light to shine on him, he tries his hand as a stand-up comic but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy, cruelty and, ultimately, betrayal, Arthur makes one bad decision after another that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this powerful, allegorical character study.

Phoenix is joined by Oscar-winner Robert De Niro, who plays TV host Murray Franklin, and a cast that includes Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Leigh Gill.

Behind the scenes, Phillips was joined by a couple of frequent collaborators in DP Lawrence Sher, ASC, and editor Jeff Groth. Also on the journey were Oscar-nominated co-writer Scott Silver, production designer Mark Friedberg and Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges. Hildur Guðnadóttir provided the music.

Joker was produced by Phillips and actor/director Bradley Cooper, under their Joint Effort banner, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff.

I recently talked to Phillips, whose credits include Borat (for which he earned an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), Due Date, Road Trip and Old School, about making the film, his love of editing and post.

You co-wrote this very complex, timely portrait of a man and a city. Was that the appeal for you?
Absolutely, 100 percent. While it takes place in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and we wrote it in 2016, it was very much about making a movie that deals with issues happening right now. Movies are often mirrors of society, and I feel this is exactly that.

Do you think that’s why so many people have been offended by it?
I do. It’s really resonated with audiences. I know it’s also been somewhat divisive, and a lot of people were saying, “You can’t make a movie about a guy like this — it’s irresponsible.” But do we want to pretend that these people don’t exist? When you hold up a mirror to society, people don’t always like what they see.

Especially when we don’t look so good.
(Laughs) Exactly.

This is a million miles away from the usual comic-book character and cartoon violence. What sort of film did you set out to make?
We set out to make a tragedy, which isn’t your usual Hollywood approach these days, for sure.

It’s hard to picture any other actor pulling this off. What did Joachin bring to the role?
When Scott and I wrote it, we had him in mind. I had a picture of him as my screensaver on my laptop — and he still is. And then when I pitched this, it was with him in mind. But I didn’t really know him personally, even though we created the character “in his voice.” Everything we wrote, I imagined him saying. So he was really in the DNA of the whole film as we wrote it, and he brought the vulnerability and intensity needed.

You’d assume that he’d jump at this role, but I heard it wasn’t so simple getting him.
You’re right. Getting him was a bit of a thing because it wasn’t something he was looking to do — to be in a movie set in the comic book world. But we spent a lot of timing talking about it, what it would be, what it means and what it says about society today and the lack of empathy and compassion that we have now. He really connected with those themes.

Now, looking back, it seems like an obvious thing for him to do, but it’s hard for actors because the business has changed so much and there’s so many of these superhero movies and comic book films now. Doing them is a big thing for an actor, because then you’re in “that group,” and not every actor wants to be in that group because it follows you, so to speak. A lot of actors have done really well in superhero movies and have done other things too, but it’s a big step and commitment for an actor. And he’d never really been in this kind of film before.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
I really wanted to shoot on location all around New York City, and that was a big challenge because it’s far harder than it sounds. But it was so important to the vibe and feel of the movie. So many superhero movies use lots of CGI, but I needed that gritty reality of the actual streets. And I think that’s why it’s so unsettling to people because it does feel so real. Luckily, we had Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who’s one of the great New York producers. She was key in getting locations.

Did you do a lot of previz?
I don’t usually do that much. We did it once for War Dogs and it worked well, but it’s a really slow and annoying process to some extent. As crazy as it sounds, we tried it once on the big Murray Franklin scene with De Niro at the end, which is not a scene you’d normally previz — it’s just two guys sitting on a couch. But it was a 12-page scene with so many camera angles, so we began to previz it and then just abandoned it half-way through. The DP and I were like, “This isn’t worth it. We’ll just do it like we always do and just figure it out as we go.” But previz is an amazing tool. It just needed more time and money than we had, and definitely more patience than I have.

Where did you post?
We started off at my house, where Jeff and I had an Avid setup. We also had a satellite office at 9000 Sunset, where all the assistants were. VFX and our VFX supervisor Edwin Rivera were also based out of there along with our music editor, and that’s where most of it was done. Our supervising sound editor was Alan Robert Murray, a two-time Oscar-winner for his work on American Sniper and Letters From Iwo Jima, and we did the Atmos sound mix on the lot at Warners with Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic.

Talk about editing with Jeff Groth. What were the big editing challenges?
There are a lot of delusions in Arthur’s head, so it was a big challenge to know when to hide them and when to reveal them. The scene order in the final film is pretty different from the scripted order, and that’s all about deciding when to reveal information. When you write the script, every scene seems important, and everything has to happen in this order, but when you edit, it’s like, “What were we thinking? This could move here, we can cut this, and so on.”

Todd Phillips on set with Robert DeNiro

That’s what’s so fun about editing and why I love it and post so much. I see my editor as a co-writer. I think every director loves editing the most, because let’s face it — directors are all control freaks, and you have the most control in post and the editing room. So for me at least, I direct movies and go through all the stress of production and shooting just to get to the editing room. It’s all stuff I just have to deal with so I can then sit down and actually make the movie. So it’s the final draft of the script and I very much see it as a writing exercise.

Post is your last shot at getting the script right, and the most fun part of making a movie is the first 10 to 12 weeks of editing. The worst part is the final stretch of post, all that detail work and watching the movie 400 times. You get sick of it, and it’s so hard to be objective. This ended up taking 20 weeks before we had the first cut. Usually you get 10 for the director’s cut, but I asked Warners for more time and they were like, “OK.”

Visual effects play a big role in the film. How many were there?
More than you’d think, but they’re not flashy. I told Edwin early on, if you do your job right, no one will guess there are any VFX shots at all. He had a great team, and we used various VFX houses, including Scanline, Shade and Branch.

There’s a lot of blood, and I’m guessing that was all enhanced a lot?
In fact, there was no real blood — not a drop — used on set, and that amazes people when I tell them. That’s one of the great things about VFX now — you can do all the blood work in post. For instance, traditionally, when you film a guy being shot on the subway, you have all the blood spatters and for take two, you have to clean all that up and repaint the walls and reset, and it takes 45 minutes. This way, with VFX, you don’t have to deal with any of that. You just do a take, do it again until it’s right, and add all the blood in post. That’s so liberating.

L-R: Iain Blair and Todd Phillips

What was the most difficult VFX shot to do?
I’d say the scene with Randall at his apartment, and all that blood tracking on the walls and on Arthur’s face and hands is pretty amazing, and we spent the most time on all that, getting it right.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with my regular colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, and it’s vital for the look. I only began doing DIs on the first Hangover, and the great thing about it is you can go in and surgically fix anything. And if you have a great DP like Larry Sher, who’s shot the last six movies for me, you don’t get lost in the maze of possibilities, and I trust him more than I trust myself sometimes.

We shot it digitally, though the original plan was to shoot 65mm large format, and when that fell through to shoot 35mm. Then Larry and I did a lot of tests and decided we’d shoot digital and make it look like film. And thanks to the way he lit and all the work he and Jill did, it has this weird photochemical feel and look. It’s not quite film, but it’s definitely not digital. It’s somewhere in the middle, its own thing.


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.

Jacki Sextro opens commercial production company Kin

Founder and executive producer Jacki Sextro has launched LA-based production company Kin. For over a decade, Sextro has been part of award-winning teams at production companies including Hungry Man, Biscuit and The Directors Bureau. In making the leap from executive producer to business owner, Sextro, says, “I had a list of goals — a commitment to diversity, green practices and creating memorable original content. I looked around for a company that shared these goals but didn’t see it. I knew that if I felt that way, directors must be searching for it too.”

Kin’s directorial lineup includes Ric Cantor, a D&AD, British Arrow and Cannes Lions-winning director who is known industry wide for elevating lifestyle, auto and comedy campaigns with a cinematic eye; Jeff Baena, a Lions-winning comedy filmmaker whose features have starred Alison Brie, Thomas Middleditch and Aubrey Plaza; Minhal Baig, a writer (BoJack Horseman, Dune: The Sisterhood) and director whose feature, Hala, about a Muslim teenager coping with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own, will be released by Apple TV+; JD Dillard, who weaves genre with emotional, character-driven stories as showcased in his Sundance-premiering features Sleight and Sweetheart; Liza Mandelup, an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has explored what it means to be a mom, athlete, coder and fangirl; and Ryan Reichenfeld, who connects viewers with dynamic subjects, from skaters to footballers, by creating vivid scenes in everyday moments.

As for the directors she’s drawn to Sextro says they are makers “whose ideas and work surprise me. The biggest error you can make is to be forgettable or average.

“I love that we’re in an era where there is a spectrum of tone in advertising,” she continues. “Ultimately, my role is to help the directors shape ideas in a way where creative teams walk away with an elevated finished product.”

Main Image: (top L to R) Minhal Baig, Ric Cantor, JD Dillard
(Bottom L to R) Ryan Reichenfeld, Jeff Baena, Liza Mandelup

Good Company adds director Daniel Iglesias Jr.

Filmmaker Daniel Iglesias Jr., whose reel spans narrative storytelling to avant-garde fashion films with creativity and an eccentric visual style, has signed with full-service creative studio Good Company.

Iglesias’ career started while attending Chapman University’s renowned film school, where he earned a BFA in screen acting. At the same time, Iglesias and his friend Zack Sekuler began crafting images for his friends in the alt-rock band The Neighbourhood. Iglesias’ career took off after directing his first music video for the band’s breakout hit “Sweater Weather,” which reached over 310 million views. He continues working behind the camera for The Neighbourhood and other artists like X Ambassadors and AlunaGeorge.

Iglesias uses elements of surrealism and a blend of avant-garde and commercial compositions, often stemming from innovative camera techniques. His work includes projects for clients like Ralph Lauren, Steve Madden, Skyy Vodka and Chrysler and the Vogue film Death Head Sphinx.

One of his most celebrated projects was a two-minute promo for Margaux the Agency. Designed as a “living magazine,” Margaux Vol 1 merges creative blocking, camera movement and effects to create a kinetic visual catalog that is both classic and contemporary. The piece took home Best Picture at the London Fashion Film Festival, along with awards from the Los Angeles Film Festival, the International Fashion Film Awards and Promofest in Spain.

Iglesias’ first project since joining Good Company was Ikea’s Kama Sutra commercial for Ogilvy NY, a tongue-in-cheek exploration of the boudoir. Now he is working on a project for Paper Magazine and Tiffany.

“We all see the world through our own lens; through film, I can unscrew my lens and pop in onto other people and, by effect, change their point of view or even the depth of culture,” he says. “That’s why the medium excites me — I want to show people my lens.”

We reached out to Iglesias to learn a bit more about how he works.

How do you go about picking the people you work with?
I do have a couple DPs and PDs I like to work with on the regular, depending on the job, and sometimes it makes sense to work with someone new. If it’s someone new that I haven’t worked with before, I typically look at three things to get a sense of how right they are for the project: image quality, taste and versatility. Then it’s a phone call or meeting to discuss the project in person so we can feel out chemistry and execution strategy.

Do you trust your people completely in terms of what to shoot on, or do you like to get involved in that process as well?
I’m a pretty hands-on and involved director, but I think it’s important to know what you don’t know and delegate/trust accordingly. I think it’s my job as a director to communicate, as detailed and effectively as possible, an accurate explanation of the vision (because nobody sees the vision of the project better than I do). Then I must understand that the DPs/PDs/etc. have a greater knowledge of their field than I do, so I must trust them to execute (because nobody understands how to execute in their fields better than they do).

Since Good Company also provides post, how involved do you get in that process?
I would say I edit 90% of my work. If I’m not editing it myself, then I still oversee the creative in post. It’s great to have such a strong post workflow with Good Company.

Color grading IT Chapter Two’s terrifying return

In IT Chapter Two, the kids of the Losers’ Club are all grown up and find themselves lured back to their hometown of Derry. Still haunted both by the trauma that monstrous clown Pennywise let loose on the community and by each one’s own unique insecurities, the group (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader) find themselves up against even more terrifying forces than they faced in the first film, IT.

Stephen Nakamura

IT Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti called on cinematographer Checco Varese and colorist Stephen Nakamura of Company 3. Nakamura returned to the franchise, performing the final color grade at Efilm in Hollywood. “I felt the first one was going to be a big hit when we were working on it, because these kids’ stories were so compelling and the performances were so strong. It was more than just a regular horror movie. This second one, in my opinion, is just as powerful in terms of telling these characters’ stories. And, not surprisingly, it also takes the scary parts even further.”

According to Nakamura, Muschietti “is a very visually oriented director. When we were coloring both of the films, he was very aware of the kinds of things we can do in the DI to enhance the imagery and make things even more scary. He pushed me to take some scenes in Chapter Two in directions I’ve never gone with color. I think it’s always important, whether you’re a colorist or a chef or a doctor, to always push yourself and explore new aspects of your work. Andy’s enthusiasm encouraged me to try new approaches to working in DaVinci Resolve. I think the results are very effective.”

For one thing, the technique he used to bring up just the light level in the eyes of the shapeshifting clown Pennywise got even more use here because there were more frightening characters to use it on. In many cases, the companies that created the visual effects also provided mattes that let Nakamura easily isolate and adjust the luminance of each individual eye in Resolve. When such mattes weren’t available, he used Resolve to track each eyeball a frame at a time.

“Resolve has excellent tracking capabilities, but we were looking to isolate just the tiny whites of the characters’ eyes,” Nakamura explains, “and there just wasn’t enough information to track.” It was meticulous work, he recalls, “but it’s very effective. The audience doesn’t consciously know we’re doing anything, but it makes the eyes brighter in a very strange way, kind of like a cat’s eyes when they catch the light. It really enhances the eerie feeling.”

In addition, Nakamura and the filmmakers made use of Resolve’s Flicker tool in the OpenFX panel to enhance the flickering effect in a scene involving flashing lights, taking the throbbing light effects further than they did on set. Not long ago, this type of enhancement would have been a more involved process in which the shots would likely be sent to a visual effects house. “We were able to do it as part of the grading, and we all thought it looked completely realistic. They definitely appreciated the ability to make little enhancements like that in the final grade, when everyone can see the scenes with the grade in context and on a big screen.”

Portions of the film involve scenes of the Losers’ Club as children, which were comprised of newly shot material (not cut in from the production of the first It). Nakamura applied a very subtle amount of Resolve’s mid-tone detail tool over them primarily to help immediately and subliminally orient the audience in time.

But the most elaborate use of the color corrector involved one short sequence in which Hader’s character, walking in a local park on a pleasant, sunny day, has a sudden, terrifying interaction with a very frightening character. The shots involved a significant amount of CGI and compositing work, which was completed at several effects houses. Muschietti was pleased with the effects work, but he wanted Nakamura to bring in an overall quality to the look of the scene that made it feel a bit more otherworldly.

Says Nakamura, “Andy described something that reminded me of the old-school, two-strip color process, where essentially anything red would get pushed into being a kind of magenta, and something blue or green would become a kind of cyan.”

Nakamura, who colored Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (shot by Robert Richardson, ASC), had designed something at that point to create more of a three-strip look, but this process was more challenging, as it involved constraining the color palette to an even greater degree — without, of course, losing definition in the imagery.

With a bit of trial and error, Nakamura came up with the notion of using the splitter/combiner node and recombined some nodes in the output, forcing the information from the green channel into the red and blue channels. He then used a second splitter/combiner node to control the output. “It’s almost like painting a scene with just two colors,” he explains. “Green grass and blue sky both become shades of cyan, while skin and anything with red in it goes into the magenta area.”

The work became even more complex because the red-haired Pennywise also makes an appearance; it was important for him to retain his color, despite the rest of the scene going two-tone. Nakamura treated this element as a complex chroma key, using a second splitter/combiner node and significantly boosting the saturation just to isolate Pennywise while preventing the two-tone correction from affecting him.

When it came time to complete the pass for HDR Dolby Cinema — designed for specialty projectors capable essentially of displaying brighter whites and darker blacks than normal cinema projectors — Muschietti was particularly interested in the format’s treatment of dark areas of the frame.

“Just like in the first one,” Nakamura explains, “we were able to make use of Dolby Cinema to enhance suspense. People usually talk about how bright the highlights can be in HDR. But, when you push more light through the picture than you do for the P3 version, we also have the ability to make shadowy areas of the image appear even darker while keeping the details in those really dark areas very clear. This can be very effective in a movie like this, where you have scary characters lurking in the shadows.

“The color grade always plays some kind of role in a movie’s storytelling,” Nakamura sums up, “but this was a fun example of how work we did in the color grade really helped scare the audience.”

You can check out our Q&A with Nakamura about his work on the original IT.

Michael Engler on directing Downton Abbey movie

By Iain Blair

If, like millions of other fans around the world, you still miss watching the Downton Abbey series, don’t despair. The acclaimed show is back as a new feature film, still showcasing plenty of drama, nostalgia, glamour and good British values with every frame.

So sit back in a comfy armchair, grab a cup of tea (assuming you don’t have servants to fetch it for you) and forget about the stresses of modern life. Just let Downton Abbey take you back to a simpler time of relative innocence and understated elegance.

Director Michael Engler

The film reunites the series’ cast (including Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith) and also adds some new members. The film starts with a simple but effective plot device, a visit to the Great House from the most illustrious guests the Crawley family could ever hope to entertain — their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. With a dazzling parade and lavish dinner to orchestrate, Mary (Dockery), now firmly at the reins of the estate, faces the greatest challenge to her tenure as head of Downton.

At the film’s helm was TV and theater director Michael Engler, whose diverse credits include 30 Rock, Empire, Deadwood, Nashville, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and several episodes of the series Downton Abbey.

I recently talked to him about making the film, its durable appeal and the workflow.

You directed one episode in the fifth season of the TV show and then a few in the final season. How daunting was it making a film of such a beloved show?
It was very daunting, especially as people have such high expectations. They love it so much, so you feel you really have to deliver. You can’t disappoint them. But basically, you’re pretty lucky in life and in your career when those are your big problems. Then you also have the advantage of this amazing cast, who know their characters so well, and Julian (Fellowes, the series creator), who loves writing these characters. We’ve all developed such a good working rhythm together, and all that really helped so much. Because of the huge fan base, it’s not like so many projects where you’re trying to get audiences to pay attention. They’re already very invested in it, and I’d far rather have that than the worry of directing an unknown project.

What were the big differences between shooting the series and the movie?
The big one was the need to ramp it up, even though the TV series was always ambitious cinematically, and we knew that the template would be a good one to build on. The DNA of the show was a good foundation. For instance, one of the things we discovered very quickly, even shooting intimate scenes of a few people in a bedroom or a drawing room, it would be full-scale. We could hold the shots longer and see everyone’s reactions in a big wide shot. We didn’t have to emphasize plot points with a lot of cutting as you’d do in TV. We could let the rooms play in full size for a while, and that automatically made it all feel bigger and richer. It almost feels like you’re in those rooms, and you get the whole visual sweep of their grandeur.

Then the royal visit gave us some tremendous opportunities with all the lavish set pieces — the arrival, the banquet, the parade, the ball — to really show them fully and showcase the huge scale of them. In the series, more often than not, you’d imply the sheer scale of such events and focus more on details and pieces of them. I think the series was more realistic and objective in many ways, more “on the ground” and real and undecorated. It is more understated. The film is far more sweeping, with more camera movement. It’s elevated for the big screen.

Was it a plus being an American? Did it give you a fresh perspective?
I was already such a big fan when I began working on the series, and I’d seen many of the episodes several times, so I did feel I knew it and understood it well. But then there was a lot of the protocol and etiquette that I didn’t know, so I studied and learned as much as I could and consulted with a historical advisor. After that, I quickly felt very much at home in this world.

How tough was it juggling so many familiar characters — along with some new ones?
That was difficult, but mainly because of all the filming logistics and schedules. We had people flying in from all over — India, New York, California — maybe just for a day or two, so it was a big logistical puzzle to make it work out.

The film looks gorgeous. You used DP Ben Smithard, who shot Blinded by the Light and Goodbye Christopher Robin. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him on the look?
We wanted it to have a big, rich film feel and look, so we shot it in 6K. And Ben does such beautiful work with the lighting, which really helped take the edge off the digital look. He’s just so good at capturing the romance of all those great sweeping period films and the very different look between upstairs — which is all elegant, sparkly and light-filled — and downstairs, which is rougher, less refined and darker. There are a lot of tonal shifts, so we worked on all those visual contrasts, both in camera and in post and the DI.

L-R: Cinematographer Ben Smithard, director Michael Engler and producer Gareth Neame.

Where did you post?
We did all the editing at Hireworks in London with editor Mark Day and his team, and sound at Hackenbacker Studios and Abbey Road Studios, where we recorded with an orchestra twice as big as any we had on the series, which also elevated all the sound and music. Framestore did all the VFX.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it. I like shooting, but it’s so stressful because of the ticking clock and a huge crew waiting while we fix something and the light is going down. Then you get into post, and it’s stress-free in that sense, and you can look at what you have and start playing with it and really be creative. You can leave for a few days and have a fresh perspective on it. You can’t do that on the set.

Talk about editing with Mark Day. How did that work?
We didn’t start cutting until after we wrapped, and we experimented quite a lot, trying to find the best way to tell all the stories. For instance, we took one scene that was originally early on, and moved it five scenes later, and it changed the entire meaning of it. So we tried a lot of that sort of thing. Then there are all the other post elements that work on a subconscious level, especially once you cut in all the tiny background sounds — voices in the distance, footsteps and so on, that help create and add to the reality of the visuals.

What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was taking the rhythms of the series and adjusting them for the film. In the series, it was far more broken up because all the different stories didn’t have to be finished by the end of an episode. There would be some cliffhangers while some would be resolved, so we could hop around a lot and break up scenes. But on this we found it was far more effective to stay with a storyline and let longer arcs play out and finish. That way the audiences would know exactly where they were if we left one story, went to another and then came back. Mark was very clear about that, keeping the main story moving forward all the time, while juggling all the side stories.

What was involved in all the visual effects?
More than you’d think. We had a big set piece at King’s Cross train station, which we actually shot at a tiny two-track station in the north of England. Framestore then created everything around it and built the whole world, and they did an amazing job. Then we had the big military parade, and they did a lot of work on the surroundings and the pub overlooking it. And, of course, we had a ton of cleanup and replacement background work, as it’s a period piece.

Talk about the importance of sound in this film.
As they say, it’s half the movie, and our supervising sound editor Nigel Heath was so thorough and detailed in his work. He also really understands how sound can help storytelling. In the scene where Molesley embarrasses himself, we played around with it a lot, thinking maybe it needed some music and so on. But when Nigel started on it, he kept it totally silent except for the sound of a ticking clock — and it was so perfect. It made the moment and silence that much more vivid, along with underscoring how time was dragging on. It heightened the whole thing. Sound is also so important downstairs in the house, where you feel this constant activity and work going on in every room, and all the small sounds and noises add so much weight and reality.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did the digital intermediate at Molinare with Gareth Spensley, and it’s hugely important to me, though the DP’s more involved. I let them do their work and then went through it with them and gave my notes, and we got quite detailed.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Much better! I was worried it might feel too disjointed and not unified enough since there were so many plotlines and characters and tones to deal with. But in the end it all flowed together so well.

How do you explain the huge global appeal of Downton Abbey?
I think that, apart from the great acting and fascinating characters, the themes are so universal. It’s like a workplace drama and a family drama with all the complex relationships, and you get romance, emotion, suspense, comedy and then all the great costumes and beautiful locations. The nostalgia appeals to so many people, and the Brits do these period dramas just better than anyone else.

What’s next? Would you do another Downton movie?
I’d love to, if it happens. They’re all such lovely people to work with. Making movies is hard, but this was just such a wonderful experience.


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

DP Chat: Peaky Blinders‘ Si Bell ramps up the realism for Season 5

By Randi Altman

UK-based cinematographer Si Bell is known for his work on the critically acclaimed feature films Electricity (2015), In Darkness (2019) and Tiger Raid (2016), as well as high-profile TV shows such as Fortitude, Hard Sun, Britannia and Ripper Street. He is currently working on the new Steven Knight drama special, A Christmas Carol.

Si Bell

He also shot the new season of Peaky Blinders, which begins airing on BBC One on August 25 and then makes its way to Netflix on October 4. Peaky Blinders takes place in Birmingham, England not long after World War I, and follows the Shelby family and its mafia-like business. The show is often dark, brutally violent and completely compelling. It stars Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby.

We recently reached out to Bell to ask him about his work on this current season of the edgy crime drama, followed by a look at his career in cinematography.

Tell us about Peaky Blinders Season 5. How early did you get involved in planning for the season? What direction did the showrunners give you about the look they wanted this season?
I got involved pretty early on and ended up having over 10 weeks prep, which is a long time for a TV show. I worked closely with Anthony Byrne, our director, whom I know very well. As the scripts came in, we began to discuss and plan how we were going to tackle the story.

I met with the showrunners early on as well, and they really loved the work Anthony and I had done in the past together on the movie In Darkness and on Ripper Street. Anthony is a very visual director and they trusted us both, so that was really amazing. They wanted us to do Peaky but also to bring our own style and way of working to the table. We were massive fans of the show and had big respect for what the previous directors and cinematographers had done. We knew we had big shoes to fill!

How would you describe the look?
I would describe the Peaky Blinders look as very stylized and larger than life. Lighting wise, it’s known for beams of light, smoke and atmosphere and an almost theatrical look with over cranked camera moves and speed ramps. I wanted to push some realism into the show and not make things quite as theatrical this season yet still keep that Peaky vibe. Tommy (Cillian Murphy) is battling with himself and his own demons more than anyone else in our story.

I wanted to try and show this with the lighting and the camera style. We also tried to use more developing shots in certain scenes to put the audience right in the center of the action and create this sense of visceral realism. We tried to motivate every decision based on how to tell the story in the best and most powerful way to bring out the emotional aspects and really connect with audience.

How did you work with the directors and colorist to achieve the intended look?
I used my DIT James Shovlar to create a look on set for the offline edit and we used that as a starting point for the grade. Then Anthony and I worked with grader Paul Staples at Deluxe in London, whom we had worked with on Ripper Street, and from the reference grade Paul created the finished look. Paul really understood where we wanted to take it, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. We didn’t want it to feel too pushed but we still wanted it to look like Peaky Blinders.

Where was it shot, and how long was the shoot?
We shot around the northwest of England. We were based mainly in Manchester where we built a number of sets, including the Garrison, Houses of Parliament and Shelby HQ. We also shot in Birmingham, Liverpool, Rochdale and Bradford. We shot 16 five-day weeks in total.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We had to shoot 4K, so the standard ARRI Alexa was off the table. A friend of mine, Sam McCurdy, BSC, had mentioned he had been shooting on the new Red Monstro and said he was really blown away by the images. I tested it and thought it was perfect for us. We coupled that with Cooke Anamorphic lenses and delivered in a 2:1 ratio.

Can you describe the lighting?
The lighting is a big part of Peaky Blinders, and it had to be right. My gaffer Oliver Whickman and I used our prep time to draw up detailed lighting plans, which included all of our machine and rigging requirements. We had 91 different lighting diagrams, and because we were scouting and planning the whole six episodes, it was very important that everything had to be written down in a clear, accurate way that could be passed on to our rigging crews.

We were scouting in September 2018, but some of the locations we weren’t shooting until January 2019 and we weren’t going to come back to them because we were so busy shooting. Oliver used the Shot Designer app to make the plans and we made printed books for the rigging gaffer and our best boy Alan Millar. It was certainly the most technically difficult job I have ever done in terms of planning, but everything went very smoothly.

Are there any scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging?
There were many challenging scenes and sets. I’m really pleased how the opening sequence in Chinatown turned out. Also, there’s a big sequence set around a ballet, and I loved how that came together. I thought the design was great, with all the practicals that our designer Nicole Northridge installed in the set. There’s so much in this series, it’s hard to mention one thing.

I’m very proud of all our team. Everyone worked so hard and put so much into it, and I really think it shows. My camera operator Andrew Fletcher, focus puller Tom Finch and key grip Paul Kemp provided exceptional talent to the project. Not only are they great friends, they are the best of the best at what they do and I’m very proud of everything they did on Peaky.

Now let’s dig into some general DP questions. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I used to make skate videos, and then I studied photography in college and started to get interested in the idea of making films. I studied film production at university, and then started to work as a camera trainee once I left. At first I thought I wanted to be a director and made some short films, but after training under some great DPs — Sam McCurdy, BSC, and Lol Crawley, BSC — I realized that’s what I wanted to do, so I started shooting as much as I could and went from there.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology?
I am inspired by watching movies or TV with great stories. I’m also inspired by working with talented people, great directors, great producers and people with a great passion for what they do. Peaky Blinders was massively inspiring as we got to work with some of the greatest actors of our age who are at the top of their game. Working at that level, you need to up your game and that also was massively inspiring.

I always stay on top of new technology by going to trade shows and reading trade magazines.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
I think the camera getting smaller has been the biggest change, as we can use drones, Trinity rigs and other gimbals to move the camera in ways we could never even have dreamed of five years ago.

What are some of your best practices you try to follow on each job?
I always try to bring all my own crew if I can. We have a tight team and it’s so much easier if I can bring all of my guys onto a job as we all have a shorthand with each other. Additionally, I always do detailed lighting diagrams with my gaffer and put in lots of prep and time into the planning of the lighting so we can move quickly and adapt on the day. I also try to build a good relationship with the director as much as I can before shooting.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director or showrunner when starting a new project.
For me it’s ideal when you work with someone who wants to hear your ideas and bounces off you creatively. It should be a collaboration, and you should be able to talk openly about ideas and feel like you’re valued. That connection is very important — sometimes you click, and sometimes you don’t — it’s about chemistry.

What’s your go-to gear? Things you can’t live without?
Things change depending on the show, but I love a Technocrane and a good remote head. If the show has the budget, they are such brilliant tools to move a camera and find the shot quickly.

On Peaky Blinders we used the ARRI Trinity camera stabilizer quite a lot, which is especially great if you have operator Andrew Fletcher, who is a master!


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

Official Secrets director Gavin Hood talks workflow on this real-life thriller

By Iain Blair

South African writer/director Gavin Hood burst onto the international scene when he wrote and directed 2005’s Academy Award-winning Tsotsi. The film, which was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Gavin Hood

Hood followed up that success with the harrowing political drama Rendition (Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the sci-fi offering Ender’s Game (with Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley) and the thriller Eye in the Sky (Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman).

For his new film, Official Secrets, Hood returns to the murky world of government secrets and political double-dealing with a true but largely forgotten story that could have prevented the disaster that was the Iraq invasion and war. It tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information. In 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun defies her government and leaks the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that ignited an international firestorm, exposed a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

I recently spoke with Hood about making the film — which co-stars Ralph Fiennes as Gun’s lawyer and Matt Smith as journalist Martin Bright, who helped break the story — and his workflow.

To be honest, I’d never heard of Katharine Gun and her amazing story. Had you?
No, I knew nothing about it either. My producer Ged Doherty, who did Eye in the Sky with me, told me about this incredible true story and suggested I Google Katharine. Two hours later, having done a deep dive into this truly fascinating story, I realized it was this way of getting into the Iraq War and all that convoluted history through a very personal story.

What attracted you to this project?
That personal angle. Here’s a person who’s not a big political figure, but just someone going about her job. She comes across something that just smells rotten and decides she must say so. I thought, this could be any of us, in any organization, and who would be brave enough to become a whistleblower and risk losing our job in order to reveal the truth? She also risked losing her freedom as well, so whatever you think politically, she was very brave in following her conscience. I was intrigued right away by this character but not sure I actually wanted to do it.

I flew to London to meet Katharine. I sat down with her for five days, and each day we’d just talk and work for four or five hours. I’d take all these notes and over those five days, I think I won her trust. The main thing was, I just let her tell me about the events and what really happened without trying to make it into something more “Hollywood” or more exciting in terms of a movie. After that, I felt, “OK, we can do this.”

Lack of government transparency seems more timely than ever.
Absolutely, and that’s why this story is so important.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A political thriller that’s also an understated personal drama. But making these kinds of films is far more difficult than making non-controversial entertainment fare, and it’s always so difficult getting financing.

Do you feel more responsibility when it’s based on real events and characters?
I do, and though I’ve made these kind of films before, this was the first time for me that all the main people were still alive, so it brings with it certain restrictions. You don’t want to fall short and have them scoff at your efforts, and you can’t take liberties with the narrative and the facts. Then this had the challenge of being a true story that doesn’t follow the conventional Hollywood “hero whistleblower” tale. It didn’t change the world. She’s just an ordinary person who did something extraordinary, and it’s about common decency and dignity.

What did Keira bring to the lead role, as well as Ralph Fiennes as her lawyer and Matt Smith as journalist Martin Bright?
They were all so committed and did a lot of research into their characters. Keira told me it was great to play a strong woman without having to wear a corset, and she really inhabits the role and makes you feel what it was like to be in Katharine’s shoes. She shows so much with just her eyes, so we used a lot of close-up work with a 75mm lens. Ralph shot all his scenes in just six days because of our tight 34-day schedule.

Your DP was Florian Hoffmeister, and you shot with the new Sony 6K Venice camera. Can you talk about how you collaborated on the look and how that affected the DI?
Yes, we were actually the first feature film to use it, so we did a lot of tests. It has an incredible dynamic range, not only moving from highlights to shadow but it’s got this great nuanced control of color. I’ve always loved shooting on film, but this camera’s so amazing that I’m now totally comfortable going all digital. In terms of post and the DI, we were really able to play with the footage.

When I shoot, I never want to push the look too much in-camera, as then you’re really limited in your choices in the DI. So my goal in shooting is always to get as much really detailed raw footage as I can, so I can then manipulate it in the DI. I don’t like to shoot with lots of filters and toys on the lens.

Where did you post?
At Technicolor in London and LA, and we did all the sound at Tribeca West in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love writing, I love shooting, but post is where you actually make the film.

Talk about editing with your go-to editor Megan Gill who’s cut almost every film since 2005’s Tsotsi. How did that work?
She visits the set once or twice, but she doesn’t like to see how the sausage is made. She was on location and just to look at the dailies and do her assembly, and I’d drop by and we’d discuss it. Then she started cutting in London and then we finished in LA.

What were the big editing challenges?
It was basically a meticulous search for the most nuanced performances and trusting that we could then let them play out. There’s a scene where Katharine’s visited at home by a detective who tells her she can’t talk to a lawyer or anyone without clearing it with the authorities first. Instead of cutting back and forth between them as you’d usually do, we kept it on Keira and you see her slow burn, and it was far more effective that way. So, often it’s more important where you don’t cut rather than where you do.

VFX play a role. How many were there and what did they entail?
Technicolor VFX did them all, and they were mostly comps for scenes shot in places like rooftops in Manchester and Liverpool, which doubled for London. So it was live shots augmented with matte paintings and VFX for the London skyline. And we had a lot of television comps, but not nearly as many VFX as I had on my last film, Eye in the Sky.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music, as again, you recruited composers Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian, who have scored a number of your films, including Tsotsi and Rendition.
We go way back, and they’re both amazing South African composers who have such a range — from classical to jazz and world music. That range works so well with my films, which are often multicultural. So in this film we have Britain, but it’s also about Iraq. And Katharine’s husband is Kurdish-Turkish, so we had to build a soundtrack that vibrates with the sound and emotional resonance of all these different places and cultures.

They crafted a great score that did exactly that. We did most of the sound work at Technicolor. Then sound editor Craig Mann, who won the Oscar for Whiplash and who did Eye in the Sky, did all the mixing at Tribeca West… most of it in a very small room. And he worked closely with Paul and Mark and is so good at building atmosphere and tension.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
Also at Tribeca West, and it’s extremely important to me, as I have a background in photography. Florian and I worked very closely with colorist Doug Delaney, and it’s a period piece so we wanted a dusty, slightly period feel without pushing it too far.

What’s next?
I’m developing several projects, so whatever comes together first.


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.

Danielle Katvan joins 1stAveMachine’s directorial roster

Film and commercial director Danielle Katvan has joined the roster at Brooklyn-based production company 1stAveMachine. Her work includes the Clio-winning spot for Vogue and Free People, as well as commercials for The Venetian Resort Las Vegas and Service Now’s The Future of Work. Her short film, The Foster Portfolio, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Katvan grew up in her parents photography studio in New York City, so she was exposed to the art of storytelling from a young age. She began by taking 35mm photographs, developing the film in their home’s darkroom. This fascination evolved into an interest in moving images, and she bought her first video camera at age 12.

Katvan’s style includes adding offbeat humor into highly stylized, cinematic worlds. “It’s like our world, but with the volume turned up a bit,” she explains. “The beauty of filmmaking is that you can escape to another place but still feel emotionally connected to what you’re watching – and good performances are such a huge part of making that connection.”

“We have been big fans of Danielle’s work for some time. Her eye for authentic performances and beautiful cinematography, set against thoughtful art direction, have made for some incredibly compelling films,” says Sam Penfield, a partner at 1stAveMachine.

Behind the Title: Element EP Kristen Kearns

NAME: Kristen Kearns

COMPANY: Boston’s Element Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Element has been in business for 20 years. We handle production and post production for video content on all platforms.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer / COO

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I oversee the office operations and company culture, and I work with clients on their production and post projects. I handle sales and bidding and work with our post and production talent to keep growing and expanding their creative goals.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I wear a lot of hats. I think people are always surprised by how much I have to juggle. From hiring employees, approving bills, bidding projects and collaborating with directors on treatments.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE?
We love Slack, Box and Google Apps. Collaboration is such a big part of what we do, and we could not function as seamlessly as we do without these awesome tools.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The people. I love who I work with.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
When we work really hard on bidding a project and we don’t win. I understand this is a competitive business, but it is still really hard to lose after you put so much time and energy into a bid.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I love the mornings. I like the quiet before everyone comes in. I get into the office early and take that time to think through my day and my priorities. Or, sometimes I use the time to brainstorm and think through business challenges or business goals for the overall growth of the company.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I am a bit obsessed with The Home Edit. If you don’t follow them on Instagram, you should. Their stories are hilarious. Anyway, I would want to work for them. Crazy lives all wrapped up in tidy cabinets.

Alzheimer’s Association

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently launched a project for a local bank that featured a Yeti, a unicorn and a Sasquatch. Projects like this are what keep my job interesting and challenging. I had to do a bunch of research on costumes and prosthetics.

We also just wrapped on a short film for the Alzheimer’s Association. Giving back is a really important part of our company culture. We were so moved by the story of this couple and their struggles with this debilitating disease. I was really proud to be a part of this production.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I am proud of a lot of the work that we do, but I would say most recently we worked on a multi-platform project with Dunkin’ that really stretched our producing skills. The idea was very innovative, with the goal being to power a home entirely on coffee grounds.

We connected all the dots of the projects, from finding a biofuel manufacturer to the builder in Nashville, and documented the entire process. The project manifested itself into a live event in New York City before traveling to the coast of Massachusetts to be listed as an Airbnb.

Dunkin

NAME PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I recently went to Washington, DC, with my family, and the National Museum of American History had an exhibit “Within These Walls.” It highlighted the evolution of one home, and with it the changing technology. I remember being really taken aback by the laundry exhibit. I think we all take for granted the time and convenience it saves us. Can you imagine if we had to spend hours dunking and ringing out clothes? It has actually given us more freedom and convenience to pursue passions and interests. I could live without my phone or a television, but trap me with a bucket and a clothesline and I would lose my mind.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I grew up in a dance studio, so I actually find that I work better with some sort of music in the background. The office has a Sonos system, so we all take turns playing music.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Immersing myself in art and culture. Whether it is going to a museum to view artwork, seeing a band or heading to a movie to truly appreciate other people’s creativity. It is the best way for me to unwind as I enjoy the talent and art of others.

Yesterday director Danny Boyle

By Iain Blair

Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town remembers their songs. That’s the brilliant-yet-simple setup for Yesterday, the new rock ’n’ roll comedy from Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill).

Danny Boyle on set with lead actor Himesh Patel

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of BBC’s EastEnders) is the struggling singer-songwriter whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend/manager, Ellie (Lily James, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). But after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that only he remembers The Beatles and their music, and his career goes supercharged when he ditches his own mediocre songs and instead starts performing hit after hit by the Fab Four — as if he’d written them.

Yesterday co-stars Ed Sheeran and James Corden (playing themselves) and Emmy Award-winner Kate McKinnon as Jack’s Hollywood agent. Along with new versions of The Beatles’ most beloved hits, Yesterday features a seasoned group of collaborators, including DP Christopher Ross (Terminal, the upcoming Cats), editor Jon Harris (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 127 Hours), music producer Adem Ilhan (The Ones Below, In the Loop) and composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).

I recently spoke with Boyle, whose eclectic credits include Shallow Grave, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary, Trance, Steve Jobs, Sunshine and 127 Hours, about making the film and the workflow.

What was your first reaction when you read this script?
I was a big fan of Richard’s work, and we’d worked together on the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, when we did this Chariots of Fire spoof with Rowan Atkinson, and I casually said to him, “If you’ve ever got anything for me, send it over.” And he said, “Funnily enough, I do have a script that might suit you,” and he sent it over, and I was just overwhelmed when I read it. He’d managed to take these two fairly ordinary people and their love story, and then intertwine it, like a double helix, with this love letter to The Beatles, which is the whole texture and feeling of this film.

It comes across as this very uplifting and quite emotional film.
I’m glad you said that, as I thought this whole simple idea — and it’s not sci-fi, but it’s not really explained — of this global amnesia about The Beatles and all their songs was just so glorious and wonderful, and just like listening to one of their songs. It really moved me, and especially the scene at the end. That affected me in a very personal way.  It’s about the wonder of cinema and its relationship to time, and film is the only art form that really looks at time in such detail because film is time. And that relates directly to editing, where you’re basically compressing time, stretching it, speeding it up, freezing it — and even stopping it. No other art form can do that.

The other amazing aspect of film is that going to the movies is also an expression of time. The audience says, “I’m yours for the next two hours,” and in return you give them time that’s manipulated and squeezed and stretched, and even stopped. That’s pretty amazing, I think. That’s what I tried to do with this film, do something that brings back The Beatles and all that sense of pure joy in their music, and how it changed people’s lives forever.

Is it true that Jack is partly based on Ed Sheeran’s own life story?
It is, absolutely, and he’s good friends with Richard Curtis. Ed played all the little pubs and small festivals where we shot, and very unsuccessfully when he started out. Then he was propelled into superstardom, and that also appeared to happen overnight. Where did all his great songs come from? Then, like in the film, Ed actually returned to his childhood sweetheart and they ended up getting married, and you go, “Wow! OK. That’s amazing.” So all that gave us the exo-skeleton of the film, and Ed’s also done some acting — he was in Game of Thrones and Bridget Jones’ Baby, and then he also wrote the song at the end, so it was really perfect he was also in it.

What did Himesh bring to the role of Jack?
The only trepidation I had was when I began auditioning people for the part, as it was basically, “Come in and sing a couple of Beatles songs.” And some were probably better technically than Himesh, but I soon realized it was going to be far harder than I thought to get the right guy. We had great actors who weren’t great singers, and vice versa, and we didn’t want just a karaoke version of 17 songs.

And making it more complicated was that, unlike in the film, we all do remember The Beatles. But then Himesh walked in, played “Yesterday” and “Back in the USSR,” and even though I was oversaturated by The Beatles music at this point, they just grabbed me. He made them his own, as if they were his songs. He was also very modest with it as well, in his demeanor and approach. He doesn’t rethink the wheel. He says, “This is the song you’ve missed, and I’m bringing it back to you.” And that’s the quality he brings to his performance. There’s a genuine simplicity, but he’s also very funny and subtle. He doesn’t try and hijack The Beatles and lay on extra notes that you don’t need. He’s a very gentle guy, and he lets you see the song for what it is, the beauty of them.

Obviously, the music and sound were crucial in this, and usually films have the actors lipsync, but Himesh sang live?
Totally. He played and sang live — no dubs or pre-records. Early on I sat down with Simon Hayes, who won the Oscar for mixing Les Mis, and told him that’s what I wanted. It’s very difficult to do live recording well, but once Simon heard Himesh sing, he got it.

The songs in this help tell the story, and they’re as important as all the dialogue, so every time you hear Himesh play and sing it live. Then for all the big concerts, like at Wembley, we added extra musicians, which we over-dubbed. So even if there were mistakes or problems with Himesh’s performances, we kept it, as you’ve got to believe it’s him and his songs. It had to be honest and true.

We screened the premiere in Dolby Vision Atmos in London, and it’s got such a fantastic range. The sound is so crisp and clean — and not just the effects, but all the dialogue, which is a big tribute to Simon. It’ll be so sad if we lose cinema to streaming on TV and watching films on tiny phones because we’ve now achieved a truly remarkable technical standard in sound.

Where did you do all the post?
We edited at a few places. We were based at Pinewood to start with, as I was involved with the Bond film, and then we moved to some offices in central London. Finally, we ended up at Working Title, where they have a great editing setup in the basement. Then as usual we did all the sound mixing at Pinewood with Glenn Freemantle and his team from Sound 24. They’ve done a lot of my films.

We did all the visual effects with my usual guy, VFX supervisor Adam Gascoyne over at Union Visual Effects in London. He’s done all my films for a very long time now, and they did a lot of stuff with crowd and audience work for the big shows. Plus, a lot of invisible stuff like extensions, corrections, cleanup and so on.

You also reteamed with editor Jon Harris, whose work on 127 Hours earned him an Oscar nom. What were the big editing challenges?
We had quite a few. There was this wonderful scene of Jack going on the James Corden show and playing “Something,” the George Harrison song, and we ultimately had to cut the whole thing. On its own, it was this perfect scene, but in the context of the film it came too late, and it was also too reminiscent of “Yesterday” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

The film just didn’t need it, and it was quite a long sequence, and it was really sad to cut it, but it just flowed better without it. Originally, we started the film with a much longer sequence showing Jack being unsuccessful, and once we tested that, it was immediately obvious that the audience understood it all very quickly. We just didn’t need all that, so we had to cut a lot of that. It’s always about finding the right rhythm and pace for the story you’re telling.

L-R: Iain Blair and Danny Boyle

Where was the DI done?
At Goldcrest with colorist Adam Glasman, who has worked a lot with DP Chris Ross. It was a very joyous film to make and I wanted it to look joyful too, with a summer spirit, but also with a hint of melancholy. I think Himesh has that too, and it doesn’t affect the joy, but it’s a sub-note. It’s like the English countryside, where we tried to capture all its beauty but also that feeling it’s about to rain all the time. It’s that special bittersweet feeling.

I assume Paul and Ringo gave you their blessing on this project?
Yeah, you have to get their agreement as they monitor the use of the songs, and Working Title made a great deal with them. It was very expensive, but it gave us the freedom to be able to change the songs in the edit at the last minute if need be, which we did a few times. We got beautiful letters back, very touching, and Paul was very funny as he gave us permission to use “Yesterday,” which we also used as the film title. He told us that his original lyric title was “Scrambled Eggs,” and if the film turned out to be a mess, we could just call it Scrambled Eggs instead.


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.

Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher on Elton John musical

By Iain Blair

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

L-R: Dexter Fletcher and Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton on the set of Rocketman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

All Is True director Kenneth Branagh

By Iain Blair

Five-time Oscar-nominee Ken Branagh might be the biggest Shakespeare fan in the business. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that the actor/director/producer/screenwriter largely owes his fame and fortune to the Bard. For the past 30 years he’s directed (and often starred in) dozens of theatrical productions, as well as feature film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, starting with 1989’s Henry V. That film won him two Oscar nominations: Best Actor and Best Director. He followed that with Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet (which won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nod), Love’s Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

Ken Branagh and Iain Blair

So it was probably only a matter of time before the Irish star jumped at the chance to play Shakespeare himself in the new film All Is True, a fictionalized look at the final years of the playwright. Set in 1613, Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age, but disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family — wife Anne (Judi Dench) and two daughters, Susanna (Lydia Wilson) and Judith (Kathryn Wilder). The large ensemble cast also includes Ian McKellen as the Earl of Southampton.

I sat down with Branagh — whose credits include directing such non-Shakespeare movies as Thor, Cinderella and Murder on the Orient Express and acting in Dunkirk and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — to talk about about making the film and his workflow.

You’ve played many of Shakespeare’s characters in film or on stage. Was it a dream come true to finally play the man himself, or was it intimidating?
It was a dream come true, as I feel like he’s been a guide and mentor since I discovered him at school. And, rather like a dog, he’s given me unconditional love ever since. So I was happy to return some. It’s easy to forget that he was just a guy. He was amazing and a genius, but first and foremost he was a human being.

What kind of film did you hope to make?
A chamber piece, a character piece that took him out of his normal environment. I didn’t want it to be the predictable romp inside a theater, full of backstage bitching and all that sort of theatricality. I wanted to take him away from that and put him back in the place he was from, and I also wanted to load the front part of the movie with silence instead of tons of dialogue.

How close do you feel it gets to the reality of his final years?
I think it’s very truthful about Stratford. It was a very litigious society, and some of the scenes — like the one where John Lane stands up in church and makes very public accusations — all happened. His son Hamnet’s death was unexplained, and Shakespeare did seem to be very insecure in some areas. He wanted money and success and he lived in a very volatile world. If he was supposed to be this returning hero coming back to the big house and a warm welcome from his family, whom he hadn’t seen much of the past two decades, it didn’t quite happen that way. No, he was this absentee dad and husband, and the town had an ambivalent relationship with him; it wasn’t a peaceful retirement at all.

The film is visually gorgeous, and all the candlelit scenes reminded me of Barry Lyndon.
I’m so glad you said that as DP Zac Nicholson and I were partly inspired by that film and that look, and we used only candlelight and no additional lights for those scenes. Painters, like Vermeer and Rembrandt, were our inspiration for all the day and night scenes, respectively.

Clint Eastwood told me, “Don’t ever direct and star in a movie unless you’re a sucker for punishment — it’s just too hard.” So how hard was it?
(Laughs) He’s right. It is very hard, and a lot of work, but it’s also a big privilege. But I had a lot of great help — the crew and people like Judi and Ian. They had great suggestions and you listen to every tidbit they have to offer. I don’t know how Clint does it, but I do a lot of listening and stealing. The directing and acting are so interlinked to me, and I love directing as I get to watch Ian and Judi work, and they’re such hard workers. Judi literally gets to the set before anyone else, and she’s pacing up and down and getting ready to defend Anne Hathaway. She has this huge empathy for her characters which you feel so much, and here she was giving voice to a woman who could not read or write.

Where did you post?
We were based at Longcross Studios, where we did Murder on the Orient Express and the upcoming Artemis Fowl. We did most of it there, and then we ended up at The Post Republic, which has places in London and Berlin, to do the final finishing. Then we did all the final mixing at Twickenham with the great re-recording mixer Andy Nelson and his team. It was my second picture with Andy Nelson as the rerecording mixer. I am completely present throughout and I am completely involved in the final mix.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s the place where I understood, right from my first film, that it could make — in terms of performance — a good one bad, a good one great, a bad one much better. The power of change in post is just amazing to me, and realizing that anything is possible if you have the imagination. So the way you juxtapose the images you’ve collected — and the way a scene from the third act might actually work better in the first act — is so huge in post. That fluidity was a revelation to me, and you can have these tremendous eureka moments in post that can be beautiful and so inspiring.

Can you talk about working with editor Una Ni Dhongaile, who cut The Crown and won a BAFTA for Three Girls?
She’s terrific. She wasn’t on the set but we talked a lot during the shoot. I like her because she really has an opinion. She’s definitely not a “yes” person, but she’s also very sensitive. She also gets very involved with the characters and protects you as a director. She won’t let you cut too soon or too deep, and she encourages you to take a moment to think about stuff. She’s one of those editors who has this special kind of intuition about what the film needs, in addition to all her technical skills and intellectual understanding of what’s going on.

What were the big editing challenges?
After doing a lot of very long takes we used the very best, and despite using a very painterly style we didn’t make the film feel too static. We didn’t want to falsely or artificially cut to just affect the pace, but allow it to flow naturally so every minute was earned. We also didn’t want to feel afraid of holding a particular shot for a long time. We definitely needed pauses and rests, and Shakespeare is musical in his poetry and the way he juxtaposes fast and slow moments. So all those decisions were critical and needed mulling as well as executing.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, as it’s a very quiet film.
It’s absolutely critical in a world like this where light and sound play huge roles and are so utterly different to our own modern understanding of it. The aural and audio space you can offer an audience for this was a big chance to adventure back in time, when the world was far more sparsely populated. Especially in a little place like Stratford; silence played a big role as well. You’re offering a hint of the outside world and the aural landscape is really the bedrock for all the introspection and thoughtfulness this movie deals with.

Patrick Doyle’s music has this gossamer approach — that was the word we used. It was like a breath, so that the whole sound experience invited the audience into the meditative world of Shakespeare. We wanted them to feel the seasons pass, the wind in the trees, and how much more was going on than just the man thinking about his past. It was the experience of returning home and being with this family again, so you’d hear a creak of a chair and it would interrupt his thoughts. So we worked hard on every little detail like that.

Where did you do the grading and coloring?
Post Republic in their North London facility, and again, I’m involved every step of the way.

Did making this film change your views about Shakespeare the man?
Yes, and it was an evolving thing. I’ve always been drawn to his flawed humanity, so it seemed real to be placing this man in normal situations and have him be right out of his comfort zone at the start of the film. So you have this acclaimed, feted and busy playwright, actor, producer and stage manager suddenly back on the dark side of the moon, which Stratford was back then. It was a small town, a three-day trip from London, and it must have been a shock. It was candlelight and recrimination. But I think he was a man without pomp. His colleagues most often described him as modest and gentle, so I felt a vulnerability that surprised me. I think that’s authentic to the man.

What’s next for you?
Disney’s Artemis Fowl, the fantasy-adventure based on the books, which will be released on May 29, and then I start directing Death on the Nile for Fox, which starts shooting late summer.


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: MPC creative director Rupert Cresswell

This Brit is living in New York while working on spots, directing and playing dodgeball.

NAME: Rupert Cresswell

COMPANY: MPC

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC has been one of the global leaders in VFX for nearly 50 years, with industry-leading facilities in London, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Bangalore, New York, Montréal, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Paris. Well-known for adding visuals for advertising, film and entertainment industries, some of our most famous projects include blockbuster movies such as The Jungle Book, The Martian, the Harry Potter franchise, the X-Men movies and the upcoming The Lion King, not to mention famous advertising campaigns for brands such as Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Apple. I am based in New York.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director (and Director)

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Lots of things, depending on the project. I am repped by MPC to direct commercials, so my work often mixes live action with some form of visual effects or animation. I’m constantly pitching for jobs; if I am successful, I direct the subsequent shoot, then oversee a team of artists at MPC through the post process until delivery.

VeChain 

When I’m not directing, I work as a creative director, leading teams on animation and design projects within MPC. It’s mostly about zeroing in on a client’s needs and offering a creative solution. I critique large teams of artists’ work — sometimes up to 60 artists across our global network — ensuring a consistent creative vision. At MPC we are expected to keep the highest standards of work and make original contributions to the industry. It’s my job to make sure we do.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I feel like the lines between agency, production company and VFX studio can be blurred these days. In my job, I’m often called on for a wide range of disciplines such as writing the creative, directing actors, and even designing large-scale print and OOH (out of the home) advertising campaigns.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There’s always a purity to the concepts at the pitch stage, which I tend to get really enthusiastic about, but the best bit is to get to travel to shoot. I’ve been super-lucky to film in some awesome places like the south of France, Montreal, Cape Town and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Additionally, the industry is full of funny, cool, creative characters, and if you can take a beat to remind yourself of that, it’s always a blast working with them. The usual things can bother you, like stress and long hours; also, no one likes it when ideas with great potential get compromised. But more often than not, I’m thankful for what I get to do.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
There’s a sweet spot in the morning after I’ve had some caffeine and before I get hungry for lunch — that’s when the heavy lifting happens.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always knew I wanted to go to art school but never really knew what to do after that. It took years to figure out how to turn my interests into a career. There’s a lot to be said for stubbornly refusing to do something less interesting.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I finished a big campaign for Timberland, which was a great experience. I worked directly with the client, first on the creative, then I directed the shoot in Montreal. I then I oversaw the post and the print campaign, which seemed to go up everywhere I went in the city. It was a huge technical and creative challenge, but great to be involved from the very start to the very end of the process.

I also worked on one of the first brand campaigns for the blockchain currency, VeChain. That was a huge VFX undertaking and lots of fun — we created a love letter to some classic sci-fi films like Star Wars and Blade Runner, which turned out pretty sweet.

In complete contrast, my most favorite recent experience was to work on the branding for the cult Hulu comedy Pen15. The show is so funny, it was a bit of a dream project. It was refreshing to go from such a large technical endeavor as Timberland with a big VFX team to working almost solo, and mostly just illustrating. There was something really cathartic about it. The job required me to spend most of the day doodling childish pictures — I got a real kick out of the puzzled faces around the office wondering if I’d had some kind of breakdown.

Pen15

WHAT OTHER PROJECTS STAND OUT?
Some of my stuff won glittery awards, but I am super-proud that I made a short film, called Charlie Cloudhead, that got picked up by many festivals. I always wanted to try writing and directing narrative work, and I wanted something that could showcase more of my live-action direction.

It was an unusually personal film, which I still feel a little awkward about, but I am really proud that I put in the effort to make it. It was amazing to work with two fantastic actors (Paul Higgins and Daisy Haggard), and I’m still humbled by all the hard work a big team of people put in just for some kooky little idea that I dreamed up.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The idea of no phone and no Internet gives me anxiety. Add to the horror by taking away AC during a New York summer and I’d be a weeping mess.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty much addicted to scrolling through Instagram, but I’m lazy at posting stuff. Maybe it’ll become Myspace 2.0 and we’ll all laugh at all those folks with thousands of followers. Until then, it’s very useful for seeing inspiring new work out there.

I’m also a Brit living abroad in the US, so I’m rather masochistically glued to any news of the whole Brexit thing going down.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I do. Music is incredibly influential. Most of the time when I’m working on a project, it will be inspired by a song. It helps me create a mood for the film and I’ll listen to it repeatedly while I’m working on script or walking around thinking about it. For example, my short film was inspired by a song by Cate Le Bon.

My taste is pretty random to be honest. Recently I’ve been re-visiting Missy Elliott and checking out Rosalia, John Maus and the new Karen O stuff. I’m also a bit obsessed with an artist from Mali called Oumou Sangaré. I was introduced to her by a late-night Lyft driver recently, and she’s been helping set the mood for this Q&A right now.

I should add, I work in an open-plan studio and access to the Bluetooth speaker takes a certain restraint and responsibility to prevent arguments — I’m not necessarily the right guy for that. I usually try and turn the place into Horse Meat Disco.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I recently joined a dodgeball league. I had no idea how to play at first, and I’m actually very bad at it. I’m treating it as a personal challenge — learning to embrace being a laughable failure. I’m sure it’ll do me good.

Quick Chat: M&C Saatchi LA’s Dan Roman on Time Scouts campaign

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another place and time? To walk the Roman ruins before they were, well, ruined? If so, you might want to join the Time Scouts.

What is Time Scouts? Well, according to the website, it is a “multiverse-spanning organization dedicated to the growth of its members through the travel of space and time. It seeks to document the past, cultivate the present and build a better future through the empowerment of Scouts young and old.” In essence, it’s the name of a program created by 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students and teachers across Los Angeles through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school programs and more. The Time Scouts program helps people explore their imaginations. Being a Time Scout comes with very real perks, like an actual handbook, membership cards and badges (a la Boy Scouts, but with an absurdist time travel twist).

Dan Roman

Inspired by 826LA’s Time Travel Mart storefronts — actual stores that lead to the organization’s drop-in education centers — the campaign is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi LA’s associate creative director, Stephen Reidmiller, and a team of the agency’s content creators, producers, writers and artists. Previously, M&C Saatchi LA collaborated with 826LA and its students on a series of Time Travel Mart product posters. This time, the agency is back to highlight the wide-reaching, future-changing effect of 826LA with a fundraising campaign that includes a promo video directed and edited by Dan Roman. The agency also created the website, handbook, all of the swag — print promotion images, and give aways like the badges — and the video.

We talked with M&C Saatchi LA director/editor Dan Roman about that video, which is a centerpiece of the project that explains what Time Scouts may or may not make possible, and how anyone can join the organization via Kickstarter

We assume this isn’t your typical M&C Saatchi LA project Can you give us a little background on the film and the campaign as a whole?
M&C Saatchi LA has been working with 826LA for a number of years now in different capacities, but this was the first time we really got to blow out a whole campaign for them. Our creative director for this project, Stephen Reidmiller, came up with the idea for Time Scouts as a way to engage students at 826LA and give them a fun way to create and expand their imagination. He and his lovely wife Beth wrote and illustrated the book, then asked if I would be interested in directing the video. The agency built out an entire website for Time Scouts as well. Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation) makes the perfect Time Scouts host.

How did his participation come about, and what was it like to direct him in this piece?
Marc was incredible to work with on the piece. He’s actually been involved with 826LA for a long time as well and I believe was one of the co-hosts of their early vaudeville shows, starring as Mr. Barnacle. So when we were thinking of who would fit the Time Scouts aura the best, he immediately sprang to mind.

Marc graciously signed on, and once we were able to tailor aspects of the script around his voice and mannerisms, he really bought in. He even brought his own space blazer the day of the shoot. It’s always really fun to work with people who are invested because they end up adding a lot of personal touches, like the dab at the end…all him. It makes it that much more fun.

In the end, we got in a really great groove with Marc and he had the whole set laughing. We took it pretty easy and tried our best to keep it fun, and he was a joy to direct in the piece. He brought a little extra to every line, even cracking himself up from time to time. Can’t think of a better time traveler.

Who wrote the script? Was any of it improvised? What was the biggest creative challenge?
Our illustrious creative director Stephen Reidmiller not only wrote the entire Time Scouts Handbook, but the script for this video as well. He’s a wonderful creative and I can’t say enough about his vision to bring this whole thing together. Marc is, of course, an amazing improviser, and I think we put his talents to good use. My favorite moment from set is when we were trying to figure out what city would sound the silliest if it were a fictitious location.

Originally we had the Time Scouts from New Jersey, but we thought we could beat it. We tried everything from Philadelphia (too many syllables) to the Inland Empire (too local). Marc came up with “Even in made-up places, like Orlando.” And the way he sounded out each syllable was too perfect. Had to go with that.

As far as creative challenges went, we tried to keep things relatively small given the nature of our day. However, we spent nearly two hours art directing the shelves behind Marc, and it’s safe to say that every piece of Time Travel Mart merch is intentionally placed. The Roman helmet gave us the hardest time though. We must have placed that unsuccessfully in about eight different spots. We all feel pretty good about where it ended up.

What tools were used on this project?
My favorite question! I almost wish this was a bit more exciting, but we had to keep it pretty down and dirty, so we shot this on my Sony FS7 with Zeiss CP.2s and a bit of glimmer glass. It’s lit very simply with daylight and bounce/fill, a bit of kick from quasar tubes, and more than a healthy amount of haze. We cut in Adobe Premiere and colored in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

The video was shot with a Sony FS7.

Increasingly, agencies have in-house content creators. Describe what you do for and with M&C Saatchi LA.
At M&C Saatchi LA, I’m the lead director and DP. Our director of content Tara Poynter and I have been working our way through building out a production arm for the agency. We work largely like any production company would work: concepting, prepping and leading shoots, end-to-end editorial and finishing.

However, we also have a full-service agency at our back with access to great creative and strategic minds. The hope is to build an arm of this company that can mold quickly to clients’ needs and scale creative, production and editorial without any lapse in quality.

We obviously play in a giant sandbox here in LA, and we want to make sure that what we put out is up to snuff with the rest of our industry, especially if it’s got talent like Marc Evan Jackson in it. Overall, It’s just been fun trying to forge some new ground in the agency world.

What’s your background, and how did you become a director/editor/content creator?
I came up in production in Boston. About 10 years ago, I left film school to work as an editor for an animation company, eventually finding my way into indie films, music videos and documentaries. I freelanced my way into more commercial productions and ended up working as a senior producer and editor at Weber Shandwick.

There, I really got the space to hone what I do as a director and DP, working on longer-form branded content, commercials and documentaries while getting the chance to help build a successful production department from the ground floor. About a year ago, I decided that I was ready for the jump to LA and packed up the camera, the car, and our ridiculously fat cat and headed out this way. It’s been a fun ride so far.

Director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull signs with 1stAvenueMachine, Gotham Group

London-based director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull is now being repped by 1stAveMachine and The Gotham Group. Dulull recently directed the pilot for Disney’s action comedy miniseries Fast Layne, was also credited as creative consultant on the entire series and directed three additional episodes when he wowed Disney Channel executives with his vision for the eight-part series. See our interview with him here.

Dulull is known for his breakout sci-fi indie feature film The Beyond, which was released by Gravitas Ventures, and premiered at #2 on the iTunes charts before trending on Netflix. His second feature film 2036: Origin Unknown, which starred Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) earned a theatrical release in the US.

Dulull began his career as a VFX artist on films such as The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2, as well as shows like America: The Story of the US.

Dulull is also repped by APA and Darren Trattner at Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein, and is the co-founder of production company Haz Film.

Behind the Title: Partizan director Jonathan Klein

Name: Jonathan Klein

Company: Partizan

Can you describe your company?
Partizan is a production company with a collective of content creators. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I like awesome alliteration apparently.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title of director?
People think of directing as barking orders at people, bending people to your will, to your vision. That’s not how I operate. What I try to do is maybe counterintuitive, but it’s about finding ways to maximize everyone’s potential, eliminating barriers for them and doing things to earn their trust and respect. For me, it’s probably more akin to Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership.

Steve Sabol tribute

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Working with skilled, motivated people to transfer the sight and sound from the mind into reality. Well, that and craft services, assuming they have beef jerky (teriyaki flavor, preferably).

What’s your least favorite?
How fast time seems to elapse when you’re shooting — it’s like the clock moves at 20 times normal speed. I have to stop and count to 10 a few times during the day while looking at a watch just to make sure the space-time continuum hasn’t been irrevocably altered. Wouldn’t that suck if I accidentally accelerated time for everyone just because I was having fun?

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Trying to get this job! Hey, I get to do what I love. Or maybe volunteering at a local animal shelter?! Wait, does that sound too Miss America?

Why did you choose this profession? 
It’s probably corny, but Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Actually, that’s not corny at all. You can’t beat that, right?

My father was a photographer. My brother and I made little movies with him as kids, and he’d even let us get behind and operate the cameras. That showed me that you could take people with you on emotional journeys anywhere your imagination could go.

What was it about directing that attracted you?
I always really liked the chair. Even though I rarely (if ever) sit on shoot day. You have to admit those director’s chairs with their canvas slip-on backs and elegant fold-up engineering are cool.

Ok! Well, what is it about directing that continues to keep you interested?
It’s always new. Every day, there are new techniques and shots to try, new crew to meet and learn from, new toys and new ways of playing with them.

How do you pick the people you work with on a particular project?
I was never the smartest one at the dinner table, but that’s been by choice — I want to be surrounded by brilliant people who inspire with their ideas. The notion of sharing a meal with someone is actually a great filter for choosing collaborators: Is this a person whose input I value and who will have lasting appeal through our time together? Of course, they are certainly entitled to ask themselves the same questions about me!

How do you work with your DP?
Before we shoot, we talk. Usually, we talk on the phone, but I prefer that it’s in-person or on video chat. We exchange ideas and references. I tend not to refer to other movies (or music videos or commercials) because I don’t want things to be too prescriptive or derivative. I ask them if there’s anything they want to try.

On each project, I try to do one or two things that I haven’t done before. On-set, my domain is the frame; their domain is how we achieve it, so I don’t demand they use a 21mm lens or anything. Instead, I explain how I think the particular shot should feel. If it feels off, I’ll suggest that maybe we should be a little looser, and it’s up to them if that means they want to back up or if they want to swap to a wider lens. Yet, I’m also open to them challenging me… about the shot, not in Scrabble. DPs are scandalously good at Scrabble.

Do you get involved with the post at all?
Yes. To paraphrase the famous quote, “Every time you make a movie, you actually make three movies: the one you see in your head when you read the script, the one you shoot and the one you edit. The only one other people ever judge you on is the last one,” so, naturally, I want to be involved in the edit.

Hyundai

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I shot some killer driving footage for Hyundai’s new Palisade on the Pacific Coast Highway. I did a crazy ode to the sports fan for William Hill with Anomaly. Travis Kelce told me that he couldn’t believe how well we’d recreated Arrowhead Stadium in LA when I shot him for McDonald’s with We Are Unlimited.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I directed the NFL’s tribute video to Steve Sabol, the trailblazing leader of NFL Films and one of my heroes. It was a oner, a single take that watched Steve’s actual film camera roll its final frames before a lone star in the night sky brightened. I believe Steve would have liked it.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Contact lenses, matches and lighters. My distance vision is weak, and I’m not great with flint.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I listen to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. I also have a limited edition Big Box of 96 Crayola crayons and some good coloring books. I find coloring to be surprisingly soul-soothing (couldn’t resist one last alliteration).

Duo teams up to shoot, post Upside Down music video

The Gracie and Rachel music video Upside Down, a collaboration between the grand prize-winners of Silver Sound Showdown, was written, directed and edited by Ace Salisbury and Adam Khan. Showdown is one-part music video film festival, one-part battle of the bands. In a rare occurrence, Salisbury and Khan, both directors in competition, tied for grand prize with their music videos (RhodoraStairwell My Love). Showdown is held annually at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley and venue in Brooklyn, New York.

Ace Salisbury

We reached out to the directors and the band to find out more about this Silver Sound-produced four-minute offering about a girl slowly unraveling emotionally, which was shot with a Red camera.

What did you actually win? What resources were available to you?
Salisbury: Winning the grand prize got me teamed up with the winning band Gracie and Rachel, and with Adam, to make a music video, with Silver Sound stepping in to offer their team to help shoot and edit, and giving time at their partner’s studio space at Parlay Studios in New Jersey.

Khan: Silver Sound offered a DP, editor and colorist, but Ace and I decided to do of all that ourselves. Parlay Studios graced us with three days in one of their spaces, as well as access to any equipment available. I was a kid in a candy store.

What was it like collaborating with a co-director and a band you had never met before?
Salisbury: Working with a co-director can be great — you can balance the workload, benefit from your differing skillsets and shake up your usual comfort zone for how you go about making work.

It’s important to stop being precious about your vision for the project, and be game to compromise on every idea you bring, but you learn a lot. Having never met Adam before made the whole experience more exciting. I had no ability to predict what he would bring to the project in terms of personality and work style from looking at his reel.

Adam Khan

Making a video with a production company is like having a well-connected producer on your project; once you get them onboard with your idea, all of the resources at their disposal come out of the woodwork, and things like studio space and high-power DPs come into the mix if you want them.

Pitching a music video to a band you’ve never met is interesting. You look at their music, aesthetics and previous music videos and try to predict what direction they’ll want to move in. You want to make them something they’ll embrace and want to promote the hell out of, not sweep under the rug. With Gracie and Rachel, they have such an established aesthetic, the key was figuring out how to take what they had and make it look polished.

Khan: At first I was wary of co-directing, I was concerned our ideas/egos would clash. But after meeting with Ace all worry vanished. Sure both of us had to compromise but there was never any friction; ideas and concepts flowed. Working with a new band requires looking back at their previous work and getting a feel for the aesthetic.

Gracie and Rachel: Collaborating with people you haven’t yet worked with is always a unique experience. You really get to hone your skills when it comes to thinking on your feet and practicing the art of give-and-take. Compromise is important, and so is staying true to your artistic values. If you can learn from others how to expand on what you already know, you’re gaining something powerful.

What is Upside Down about?
Salisbury: Upside Down is a video about emotional unraveling. Gracie portrays a girl whose world literally turns upside down as her mental state deteriorates. She is attached via a long rope to her shadow self, portrayed by Rachel, who takes control of her, pulling her across the floor and suspending her in the air. I co-authored the concept, co-directed and co-edited the video with Adam.

The original concept involved the fabrication of a complicated camera rig that would rotate both the actor and camera together. Imagine a giant rotisserie with the actor strapped in on one side and the camera on another, all rotating together. Just three days before our shoot date, the machine fabricator let us know that there were safety and liability issues which meant they couldn’t give us a finished rig. Adam and I scrambled to put together a modified concept using rope rigging in place of this ill-fated machine.

Khan: Upside Down is abstract; it was our job to make it tangible.

Gracie, you actually performed in upside down. What was that like, and what did you learn from that experience?
Yes, I really was suspended upside down! I trained for that for only about an hour or two prior to the actual shoot with some really lovely aerialist professionals. It was surprising to learn what your body feels like after doing dozens of takes upside down!

Can you talk about the digital glitches in the video?
Salisbury: On set, one of the monitors was seriously glitching out. I took a video of the glitched monitor with my phone and showed it to Adam, saying, “This is what our video needs to look like!”

We tried to match the footage of the glitching monitor on set, manipulating our footage in After Effects. We developed a scrambling technique for randomly generating white blocks on screen. As much as we liked those effects, the original phone video of the glitched monitor ended up making it into the final video.

People might be surprised by how much animation goes into a live-action project that they would never notice. For a project like Upside Down, a lot of invisible animation goes into it, like matting the edges of the spotlight’s spill on the stage floor. Not all animation jobs look like Steamboat Willie.

This video had a few invisible animated elements, like removing stunt wire, removing a spot on the stage, and cleaning up the black portions of the frame.

What did you shoot on?
Khan: This video was shot with a Red Epic Dragon rocking the Fujinon 19-90.

What tools were used for post?
Salisbury: The software used on this video was Adobe Premiere and After Effects—Premiere for the basic assembly of the footage, and After Effects for the heavy graphical lifting and color correct. Everything looks better coming out of After Effects.

Are there tools that you wish you had access to?
Salisbury: Personally, I was pretty happy with the tools we had access to. For this concept, we had everything we needed, tool-wise.

Khan: Faster computers.

How much of what you do is music video work? Do you work differently depending on the genre?
Khan: My focus is music videos, though you can find me working on all types of projects. From the production standpoint, things are the same. The real difference comes from what can be done in front of the camera. In a music video, one does not need to follow the rules. In fact, it is encouraged to break the rules.

Salisbury: I get hired to direct music videos every so often. The budget tends to be what dictates the experience, whether it’s going to be a video of a band rocking out shot on a DSLR or a high-intensity animated spectacle. Music videos can be a chance to establish wild aesthetics without the burden of having to justify them in your film’s world. You can go nuts. It’s a music video!

Where do you find inspiration?
Khan: Inspiration comes from past filmmakers and artists alike. I also pay close attention to my peers, there is some incredible stuff coming out. For this project, we pulled from Gracie and Rachel’s previous songs and visuals.

Salisbury: I find that I’m usually most influenced by old video games, but that wasn’t going to be a good fit for this band. My initial intention was to combine Gracie and Rachel’s aesthetic with a Quay Brothers aesthetic, but things shifted a bit by the end of the project.

Disney Channel’s Fast Layne director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull

By Randi Altman

London-based Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a man with a rich industry background. He started out in this business as a visual effects artist (The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2) and VFX supervisor (America: The Story of the US), and has expanded his resume in recent years to include producer, screenwriter and feature film director of his own projects (The Beyond, 2036 Origin Unknown).

HaZ (left) on set directing Disney’s Fast Layne.

Even more recently, he added television series director to that long list, thanks to his work on Disney Channel’s action-comedy miniseries Fast Layne, where he directed Episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8. He is currently developing a slate of feature and TV projects with his next film being a sci-fi/horror offering called Lunar, which is scheduled to start shooting later in the year.

Fast Layne focuses on a very bright 12-year-old girl named Layne and her eccentric neighbor, who find V.I.N., a self-driving and talking car in an abandoned shed. The car, the girls and a classmate with experience fixing cars embark on high-speed adventures while trying to figure out why V.I.N. was created, all the while tangling with bad guys and secret agents. You can watch Fast Layne on Sundays at 7:00pm ET/PT on Disney Channel.

We reached out to Dulull to find out more about establishing the look of the show, as well as his process, and how he uses his post background to inform his directing.

As the pilot director, what was your process in establishing the look for the show?
My process was very similar to how I worked on my feature films, since I come from a filmmaking-style that is very visually driven and hands-on. As a director, I would usually do lots of look development on my end anyway, which for Fast Layne involved creating style frames in Photoshop with direction notes and ideas. These eventually became a look bible for the show.

I worked closely with the Disney Channel’s development team and the showrunners Matt Dearborn, Tom Burkhard and Travis Braun (the creator of the show). We would discuss the ideas from the early style frames I had created and developed further, along with a set of rules of what the color palette should be, the graphics and even the style of framing with the key sequences.

By the end of the process, we firmly set the tone and mood of the show as having a saturated and punchy look, while feeling slick and cinematic with a lot of energy. Since we were shooting in Vancouver during the time of year that it gets overcast/grey very quickly, we made sure the art department had many colorful objects in the environment/sets to help — including the cast’s wardrobes.

How did you work with the DP and colorist? Who did the color, and do you know the tools they used?
We had a great DP — Neil Cervin and his team of camera ninjas! They are super-fast and so collaborative in pushing the shots further.

During the prep stage, I worked closely with Neil on the look of the show, and he was really into what we wanted to do something punchy, so he made sure we retained that throughout.

Our A camera was always the ARRI Alexa during the pilot shoot. We had a DIT, Jay Rego, who would quickly apply looks on the frames we had shot using DaVinci Resolve. During this on-set color process, we would see how far we could push it with the grade and what additional lighting we would need to achieve the look we were after. This really helped us nail the look very quickly and get it approved by the showrunners and the Disney Channel team on set before we continued shooting.

We then saved those looks as DPX frames along with CDLs (color decision lists) and sent those over to colorist Lionel Barton over at Vancouver’s OmniFilm Entertainment to work from in Blackmagic Resolve. This saved time in the grading process since that was done early during the shoot. Larry and his team at Omnifilm were taking the look we had set and pushing it further with each shot across all the episodes.

Colorist Lionel Barton during grading session.

Can you talk about the car sequences? They are fun!
On the first days of prepping the show, I cut a mood reel of car chase action scenes, making clear that I love well-designed car chases and that we need to give the kids that cinematic experience they get in movies. Plus, Travis came from a NASCAR racing family, so he backed this up.

We designed the car action scenes to be fun and energetic with cool camera angles — not violent and frenetic (like the Bourne films). We were not doing crazy camera shake and motion blur action scenes; this is slick and cool action — we want the kids to experience those key action moments and go “wow.”

You are known for directing your own feature films. What was it like to direct your first TV series for a studio as big as Disney Channel?
Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful for Disney Channel giving me the opportunity to be on this journey. I have to thank Rafael Garcia at Disney Channel, who lobbied hard for me early in the process.

The first thing I quickly picked up and made sure stayed in my mind is that feature film is a director’s medium, whereas TV is a writer’s medium. So with that in mind, I ensured I collaborated very closely with Matt, Tom, and Travis on everything. Those guys were such a bundle of joy to work with. They were continually pushing the show with additional writing, and they supported me and the other directors (Joe Menendez, Rachel Leiterman) on our episodes throughout, making sure we hit those essential comedy and drama moments they wanted for the show. In fact, I would be in the same car as Matt (some days with Tom) to the shoot location every morning and back to our hotel every evening, going through things on the script, the shoot, etc. — this was a very tight collaboration, and I loved it.

The big difference between the feature films I had done and this TV series is the sheer amount of people involved from an executive and creative level. We had the writing team/execs/showrunners, then we had the executives at the Disney Channel, and we also had the team from the production company Omnifilm.

Therefore, we all had to be in sync with the vision and decisions taken. So once a decision was made, it was tough to go back and retract, so that ensured we were all making the right decisions throughout. I have to say the Fast Layne team were all very collaborative and respectful to each other, which made the “network studio” experience a very pleasant and creative one.

You are also credited as creative consultant on all the episodes? What did that entail?
I fell into that role almost automatically after shooting my first block (Episodes 1 and 2). I think it’s due to my filmmaking nature — being so hands-on technically and creatively and having that know-how from my previous projects on creating high-concept content (which usually involves a lot of visual effects) on a tight budget and schedule.

I had also done a lot of work in advance regarding how we would shoot stuff fast to allow things to be taken further in VFX. The network wanted to have someone that knew the show intimately to oversee that during the post production stage. So once production wrapped, I flew back home to London and continued working on the show by reviewing dailies, cuts and VFX shots and providing notes and creative solutions and being on conference calls with Disney and Omnifilm.

What tools were used for review and approval?
I used Evernote to keep all my notes neat and organized, and we would use Aspera for transferring files securely while Pix was the primary platform for reviewing cuts and shots.

Most of the time I would provide my notes visually rather than writing long emails, so a screen grab of the shot and then lots of arrows and annotations. I was in this role (while doing other stuff) right up to the end of the show’s post, so at the time of answering these questions I just signed off on the last episode grade (Episode 8) last week. I am now officially off the show.

You mostly shoot on Alexa, can you talk about what else you used during production?
Yes, we shot on Alexa with a variety of lenses at 3K to allow us to pan and scan later for HD deliverable. We also used GoPro and DJI Osmo’s (4K) for V.I.N.’s POV, and some DJI Drone shots too.

The biggest camera tech toy we had on the show was the Russian Arm! (It didn’t help that I keep quoting Micheal Bay during the prep of the car chase scenes). So somehow the production team managed to get us a Russian Arm for the day, and what we achieved with that was phenomenal.

We got so much bang for our buck. The team operating it, along with the stunt driving team, worked on films like Deadpool 2, so there was a moment during second unit when we almost forgot this was a kids’ show because it had the energy of an action feature film.

Russian Arm

Stylistically, we always kept the camera moving, even during drama scenes — a slow move helped give perspective and depth. All the camera moves had to be slick; there was no handheld-style in this show.

For earlier scenes in Episode 1 with Layne, we used the idea of a single camera move/take, which was choreographed slickly and timed with precision. This was to reflect the perfect nature of Layne’s character being super-organized like a planner. Most of these camera moves were simply achieved with a dolly/track and slider. Later on in the the show, as Layne’s character breaks out of her comfort zone of being safe and organized, she begins to be more spontaneous, so the camera language reflected that too with more loose shots and whip pans.

You are a post/VFX guy at heart, how did that affect the way you directed Fast Layne?
Oh yes, it had a massive influence on the way I directed my episodes, but only from a technical side of things, not creatively in the way I worked with the actors.

With my VFX background, I had the instinct to be sensible with things, such as how to frame the shots to make VFX life smoother, where to stage my actors to avoid them crossing over tracing markers (to save money on paint-outs) and, of course, to use minimal green/blue screen for the car scenes.

I knew the spill coming from the greenscreens would be a nightmare in VFX, so to avoid that as much as I could, we shot driving plates and then used a lot of rear/side projections playing them back.

Previs

The decision to go that route was partly based on my experience as a compositor back in the day, crying in the late hours de-spilling greenscreen on reflection and dealing with horrible hair mattes. The only time we shot greenscreen was for scenes where the camera was moving around areas we didn’t have screen projection space for. We did shoot car greenscreen for some generic interior plates to allow us to do things later in post if we needed to create an insert shot with a new background.

Did you use previs?
As you know from our conversations about my previous projects, I love previs and find that previs can save so much money later on in production if used right.

So the car chase sequences, along with a big action scene in the series finale, had to be prevised, mainly because we had to end big but only had limited time to shoot. The previs was also instrumental with getting first VFX budgets in for the sequences and helping the 1st AD create the schedule.

Vancouver’s Atmosphere VFX was kind enough to let me come in and work closely with one of the previs artists to map out these key scenes in 3D, while I also did some previs myself using the assets they generated for me. The previs also dictated what lens we needed and how much real estate we needed on the location.

Being a former VFX supervisor certainly helped when communicating with the show’s on-set VFX supervisors Andrew Karr and Greg Behrens. We had a shorthand with each other, which sped things up massively on set with decisions made quickly regarding shooting plates to work with VFX later.

Before and After

On set I would show the actors, via mockups and previs on my iPad, what was going to happen, why I wanted them to be staged in a certain way, and why they should look at this reference, etc. So I think that gave the actors (both the kids and adults) confidence in the scenes that involved VFX.

My personal approach to VFX is that it’s part of the arsenal of tools required to tell the story and, if possible, its best used in combination with the other crafts as opposed to just relying on it solely to achieve things.

Atmosphere created the visual effects?
Yes. I have been a fan of their work from the first season of The Expanse. They were the only main VFX house on the show and handled the CG V.I.N. shots, steering wheel transformation, and V.I.N.’s front grill, as well as other shots involving digital cloth, a robotic arm and a helicopter that appears in later episodes.

We also had a team of internal VFX artists (Mike Jackson and Richard Mintak) working for Omnifilm who were on throughout the post schedule. They handled the smaller VFX, compositing and graphics type shots, such as the windshield graphics, V.I.N.’s internal visual screen and other screen graphics as well as Layne’s Alonzo watch graphics.

How many VFX in total?
There were 1,197 VFX shots delivered, with Atmosphere VFX providing the main bulk of around 600, while the rest were graphics VFX shots done by our internal VFX team at Omnifilm.

Most of the visual effects involving CGI in the show involved V.I.N. doing cool things and his front grill communicating his emotion.

During my pitch for getting the job, I referenced my film 2036 Origin Unknown as an example of visual communication I had explored when it came to AI and characters.

From that we explored further and knew we wanted something with personality, but not with a face. We were very clear at the start that this was not going to be cartoony or gimmicky; it had to feel technologically cool, yet fresh and unique. We didn’t want to have the typical LED screen displaying graphics or emoji. Instead, we went for something resembling a pushpin cushion to give it a little organic touch — it showing that this was advanced tech, but used simple arrangements of pins moving in and out to create the shape of the eyes to communicate emotion.

It was important we went with a visual approach, which was simple to communicate with our core audience, for V.I.N. to come across visually as a personality with comedy beats. I remember being in my hotel room, drawing up emotive sketches on paper to see how simple we could get V.I.N. to be and then emailing them across to the writers for their thoughts.

Atmosphere spent some time developing R&D in Maya and Python scripting to create a system that could feed off the sound files to help generate the animation of the pins. The passes were rendered out of Maya and Vray and then composited with the final look established in Foundry Nuke.

To ensure we didn’t end up with a show where all the shots needed VFX, V.I.N.’s emotive visuals on the front grill can pop on and off when required. That meant that during the car chase sequences, V.I.N.’s face would only pop up when needed (like when it was angry as it was being chased or to show its competitive face during a race). Having this rule in place allowed us to stick with our budget and schedule as closely as possible without extreme overages (which tends to happen after editorial).

For the scenes that involved a CGI V.I.N., we shot the live-action plates with a special buggy developed exclusively for the show. This allowed our stunt driver to do cool car maneuvers and tricks, while also providing a body frame that had lots of space for rigging cameras to capturing the HDRI of the environment. It also had tracking markers across it to allow for full object tracking. (See before and after image of the buddy and CGI VIN).

The other big bulk of the VFX was all the UI/heads up display graphics on V.I.N.’s windshield, which was the way the car’s system displayed information. During Transformed mode, the windshield became a navigation system to help support Layne. It couldn’t be too crazy since we were dealing with pop-up windows overlaid so we can still see the driving action outside.

Most of those graphics were done by our internal team at Omnifilm, by graphic designers and compositors using Adobe After Effects with render passes such as wireframes of V.I.N. provided by Atmosphere. We wanted to show that the car was technologically cool without having to use any tech speak in the script. So we researched a lot into what automated cars are doing and what the developments are for the future and depicted this in the show.

Before and After

Can you provide an example?
In Episode 1, when the windshield presents a trajectory of the jump across the construction bridge, a wireframe of the bridge based on its LIDAR scan capabilities was shown as a safe jump option. Another example was during the first big motorway chase sequence. V.I.N. recognized the bad guys chasing them in the SUV, so we featured facial recognition tracking technology to show how V.I.N. was able to read their vitals from this scan as being hostile.

We used this same grounded-tech approach to create the POV of the car, using the graphics style we had created for the windshield, to show what V.I.N. was seeing and thinking and that it was essentially a sentient being. This also helped, editorially, to mix things up visually during the drama scenes inside the car.

The show was shot in Vancouver, what was that like?
I love Vancouver!! There is such a buzz in that city, and that’s because you can feel the filmmaking vibe every day, due to the fact there were like 30 other shows happening at the same time we were shooting Fast Layne! I can’t wait to go back and shoot there again.


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

Posting director Darren Lynn Bousman’s horror film, St. Agatha

Atlanta’s Moonshine Post helped create a total post production pipeline — from dailies to finishing — for the film St. Agatha, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Repo the Genetic Opera). 

The project, from producers Seth and Sara Michaels, was co-edited by Moonshine’s Gerhardt Slawitschka and Patrick Perry and colored by Moonshine’s John Peterson.

St. Agatha is a horror film that shot in the town of Madison, Georgia. “The house we needed for the convent was perfect, as the area was one of the few places that had not burned down during the Civil War,” explains Seth Michaels. “It was our first time shooting in Atlanta, and the number one reason was because of the tax incentive. But we also knew Georgia had an infrastructure that could handle our production.”

What the producers didn’t know during production was that Moonshine Post could handle all aspects of post, and were initially brought in only for dailies. With the opportunity to do a producer’s cut, they returned to Moonshine Post.

Time and budget dictated everything, and Moonshine Post was able to offer two editors working in tandem to edit a final cut. “Why not cut in collaboration?” suggested Drew Sawyer, founder of Moonshine Post and executive producer. “It will cut the time in half, and you can explore different ideas faster.”

“We quite literally split the movie in half,” reports Perry, who, along with Slawitschka, cut on Adobe Premiere “It’s a 90-minute film, and there was a clear break. It’s a little unusual, I will admit, but almost always when we are working on something, we don’t have a lot of time, so splitting it in half works.”

Patrick Perry

Gerhardt Slawitschka

“Since it was a producer’s cut, when it came to us it was in Premiere, and it didn’t make sense to switch over to Avid,” adds Slawitschka. “Patrick and I can use both interchangeably, but prefer Premiere; it offers a lot of flexibility.”

“The editors, Patrick and Gerhardt, were great,” says Sara Michaels. “They watched every single second of footage we had, so when we recut the movie, they knew exactly what we had and how to use it.”

“We have the same sensibilities,” explains Gerhardt. “On long-form projects we take a feature in tandem, maybe split it in half or in reels. Or, on a TV series, each of us take a few episodes, compare notes, and arrive at a ‘group mind,’ which is our language of how a project is working. On St. Agatha, Patrick and I took a bit of a risk and generated a four-page document of proposed thoughts and changes. Some very macro, some very micro.”

Colorist John Peterson, a partner at Moonshine Post, worked closely with the director on final color using Blackmagic’s Resolve. “From day one, the first looks we got from camera raw were beautiful.” Typically, projects shot in Atlanta ship back to a post house in a bigger city, “and maybe you see it and maybe you don’t. This one became a local win, we processed dailies, and it came back to us for a chance to finish it here,” he says.

Peterson liked working directly with the director on this film. “I enjoyed having him in session because he’s an artist. He knew what he was looking for. On the flashbacks, we played with a variety of looks to define which one we liked. We added a certain amount of film grain and stylistically for some scenes, we used heavy vignetting, and heavy keys with isolation windows. Darren is a director, but he also knows the terminology, which gave me the opportunity to take his words and put them on the screen for him. At the end of the week, we had a successful film.”

John Peterson

The recent expansion of Moonshine Post, which included a partnership with the audio company Bare Knuckles Creative and a visual effects company Crafty Apes, “was necessary, so we could take on the kind of movies and series we wanted to work with,” explains Sawyer. “But we were very careful about what we took and how we expanded.”

They recently secured two AMC series, along with projects from Netflix. “We are not trying to do all the post in town, but we want to foster and grow the post production scene here so that we can continue to win people’s trust and solidify the Atlanta market,” he says.

Uncork’d Entertainment’s St. Agatha was in theaters and became available on-demand starting February 8. Look for it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Xbox, Dish Network and local cable providers.

Free Solo: The filmmakers behind the Oscar-winning documentary

By Iain Blair

Do you suffer from vertigo? Are you deathly afraid of heights? Does the thought of hanging by your fingertips over the void make you feel like throwing up? Then the new, nail-biting climbing film Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary feature, might not be for you.

But if you enjoy an edge-of-your-seat thriller that allows you — thanks to truly awesome cinematography — to virtually “free solo” (climb a rock face without any safety gear) from the comfort of your own armchair, then you should rush to see this inspiring portrait of an athlete who challenges both his body and his beliefs on a quest to triumph over the impossible.

Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi

Made by the award-winning husband-and-wife team of documentary filmmakers E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (a renowned photographer and mountaineer), it follows daredevil climber Alex Honnold as he prepares to tackle the greatest challenge of his career: a death-defying ascent of Yosemite’s famous 3,200-foot sheer rock face El Capitan — without any ropes, safety harness or assistance in a “free solo” climb. His meticulous preparation is complicated by his falling in love with a new girlfriend, Sanni.

I spoke with the filmmaking couple, whose credits include the acclaimed 2015 climbing epic Meru, about making the Nat Geo film, their love of post, and the Oscars.

Congratulations on your Oscar win. How important are Oscars to a film like this?
E. Chai Vasarhelyi (ECV): Incredibly important, as they bring so much attention to it and get it to a far wider audience than it might otherwise get. But, of course, we didn’t make this with awards in mind. You can’t think like that when you’re doing it, but we’re so grateful for the nomination.

This is not your typical climbing movie. Jimmy, you’re also an elite climber. What drives someone to do this, and what sort of film did you set out to make?
Jimmy Chin (JC): I think it’s the same thing as what makes us want to go to the moon, or why someone pushes themselves to the edge for their calling or passion: to see how far you can take it. That’s at the heart of this and the sort of film we set out to make, and what’s amazing about Alex and his story is just how far he’s come.

He was this very shy, sort of awkward kid who was scared of all kinds of things, and through his determination to face all his fears — whether it was simply hugging people or his dislike of vegetables — he’s gone through this huge transformation. Climbing like this was, I think, ultimately easier for him to conquer than some other stuff in his life. So we wanted to capture all of that, but also all the raw emotional moments that really engage an audience. It’s a film about this amazing climb, but it’s not just a climbing movie. That’s how we approached it.

Alex is also a friend of yours. How do you film a potentially fatal climb like this without exploiting it?
ECV: It was a big ethical question, even if a more extreme case of it than comes with every documentary. Did we even want to make this film? And, if so, how did we honor Alex and what he was trying to do without making it at all sensational. There are so many different ways to tell a story, and Alex had to trust us. Then there’s that existential ethical question at the center of it all — is he more likely to fall because we’re there filming it? That’s something we really had to wrestle with.

Alex thought more about his own mortality than anyone else, and he chooses every day to live a certain way and we were going to do everything in our power to mitigate the risk. So it was all about doing justice to the story and respecting Alex and every decision he makes, including the way he prepared so carefully for the climb.

How tough was the shoot?
ECV: It was very hard, even though we had a big team of elite climbers who were also great cameramen and trained for two years to do this.

JC: We had over 30 people on El Cap alone, including four cameramen on the wall, including myself, and most of us were very up high — around 2,000 feet. We used some very long lens cameras on the ground, as well as some remote rigs and drones and other equipment. But we knew that we were in situations where a simple mistake could be catastrophic. There were a lot of potential hazards, and the big thing for the crew was to never get distracted, which is so easy when you’re watching someone free solo up 3,000 feet in front of you. It was grueling and exhausting for everyone involved — super-intense, both physically and mentally. It’s hard to overstate what everyone went through to make this film.

Talk about re-teaming with Meru editor Bob Eisenhardt, who just won the ACE Eddie for this film. He told me it took over a year to edit.
ECV: It actually took over 18 months, partly because we had so much footage to look at and sort through. But I don’t think the sheer volume of footage was the main editing challenge. We were attracted to his story because there’s so much more to it than just the climb itself, and while we were all so prepared for that, we never anticipated him and Sanni falling in love. When that happened, you have to just go with it. We spent a lot of time trying stuff and figuring out how to marry that with the climb so that it played authentically to people very familiar with climbing as well as to people like me, who aren’t. It was all about a negotiation.

Where did you post?
ECV: All in New York, at our own post place called Little Monster Films, and then we did our sound work and mixing at Soundtrack with re-recording mixer Tommy Fleischman, and we also did some ADR work at C5 Inc.

Do you like the post process?
ECV: We love it, because you finally start pulling in all the layers — like the music and sound and VFX — and you see the film come to life and change as you go along. We also had the luxury of a long post schedule to play around with the material, and it’s so much fun.

Obviously, sound is very important, especially when Alex was out of range of wireless mics.
ECV: Having made a few films, we know just how important the sound is and we had a great sound recordist in the field and a great sound team. When you don’t climb with ropes, all the sounds are very subtle.

What VFX were involved?
JC: One of the big ones was trying to give you a sense of El Cap’s true scale. It’s so hard to get across just how big it is. We tried a lot of things and finally ended up getting access to Google Earth high-res satellite imagery, and we were able to 3D map that and then build out those moving, contextual shots, and all that stuff was done by Big Star.

Where did you do the DI, and how important was it to you?
JC: We did the DI at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld. It was very important as one of the big challenges was that we shot using a lot of different cameras, and so we had to work to get a consistent look and feel the whole way through, so you don’t pull people out of it at key moments. But we also didn’t want to create a stylized look to the footage. We wanted to keep it fairly naturalistic, and we worked hard on that.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
ECV: Yes, as we’d planned it so carefully — how to treat the climb, how you get to know Alex. This whole project took about four years, from start to finish. But Sanni was the big surprise.

What’s your view of Alex today?
JC: He’s an incredible person who did something no one else has ever done. It’s still hard to comprehend just how amazing this feat was.

What’s next? Another climbing film?
ECV: (Laughs) No. No more climbing for a while. It’s a documentary about conservation.

Cold War’s Oscar-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski

By Iain Blair

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is a BAFTA-winning writer and director whose film Ida won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Pawlikowski, who left Poland at age 14 and currently resides in the UK, is Oscar nominated again — as Best Director for his latest film, Cold War. Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War earned cinematographer Lukasz Zal an Oscar nomination, as well as an ASC Award win.

Pawel Pawlikowski                            Credit: Magda Wunsche and Aga Samsel

Cold War traces the passionate love story between Wiktor and Zula, a couple who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, it’s the tale of a couple separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate — an impossible love story in impossible times.

I spoke with Pawlikowski, whose credits include The Woman in the Fifth, which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, about making the film, the Oscars and his workflow.

How surprised are you by the Oscar nominations, including the one for Best Director?
I’m pleasantly surprised as it’s very unusual for a small film like this — and it’s in B&W — to cut through all the noise of the big films, especially as it’s an American competition and there’s so much money and PR involved.

Your Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal also got an Oscar nomination for his beautiful B&W work. It’s interesting that Roma is also semi-autobiographical and in B&W.
I’m so happy for him, and yes, it is a bit of a coincidence. Someone told me that having two foreign-language film directors both nominated in the same year has only happened once before, and I feel we were both trying to reconnect with the past through something personal and timeless. But they’re very different films and very different in their use of B&W. In Roma you can see everything, it’s all in focus and lit very evenly, while ours is far more contrast-y, shot with a lot of very different lenses — some very wide, some very long.

You won the Oscar for Ida. How important are the Oscars to a film like this?
Very, I think. This was made totally as we wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of compromise, and it’s not formulaic, yet it’s getting all this attention. This, of course, means a wider audience — and that’s so important when there’s so much stuff out there vying for attention. It’s very encouraging.

What sort of film did you set out to make, as the story is so elliptical and leaves a lot unsaid?
That’s true, and I think it’s a great pleasure for audiences to work things out for themselves, and to not spell every single thing out. When you work by suggestion, I think it stays in your imagination much longer, and leaving certain types of gaps in the narrative makes the audience fill them in with their own imagination and own experience of life. As a film lover and audience member myself, I feel that approach lets you enter the space of a film much more, and it stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema. When a film ties up every loose end and crosses every “T” and dots every “I” you tend to forget it quite quickly, and I think not showing everything is the essence of art.

Is it true that the two main characters of Wiktor and Zula are based on your own parents?
Yes, but very loosely. They have the same names and share a lot of the same traits. They had a very tempestuous, complicated relationship — they couldn’t live with each other and couldn’t live without each other. That was the starting point, but then it took on its own life, like all films do.

The film looks very beautiful in B&W, but I heard you originally planned to shoot it in color?
No. Not at all. It’s been like this Chinese whisper, where people got it all wrong. When the DP and I first started discussing it, we immediately knew it’d be a B&W film for this world, this time period, this story, especially as Poland wasn’t very colorful back then. So whatever colors we could have come up with would have been so arbitrary anyway. And we knew it’d be very high contrast and very dramatic. Lukasz did say, “Maybe we shouldn’t do two films in a row in B&W,” but we never seriously considered color. If it had been set in the ‘70s or ‘80s I would have shot it in color, but B&W was just visually perfect for this.

Where did you post?
All in Poland, at various places in Warsaw, and it took over six months. It was very tricky and very hard to get it right because we had a lot of greenscreen work, and it wasn’t straightforward. People would say, “That’s good enough,” but it wasn’t for me, and I kept pushing and pushing to get it all as nearly perfect as we could. That was quite nerve-wracking.

Do you like the post process?
Very much, and I especially love the editing and the grading. I’m basically an editor in my approach to filmmaking, and I usually do all the editing while I shoot, so by the time we get to post it’s practically all edited.

Talk about editing with Jaroslaw Kaminski, who cut Ida for you. What were the big editing challenges?
We sit down after the shoot and go through it all, but there’s not that much to tweak because of the coverage. I like to do one shot from one angle, with a simple, square composition, but I do quite a lot of takes, so it’s more about finding the best one, and he’s very used to the way I work.

This spans some 15 years, and all period films use some VFX. What was involved?
Quite a lot, like the whole transition in Berlin when he crosses the border. We don’t have all the ruins, so we had to use enormous greenscreens and VFX. West Berlin is far brighter and more colorful, which is both symbolic and also realistic. We shot all the Paris interiors in Poland, so everything that happens outside the windows is greenscreen, and that was very hard to get right. I didn’t want it to feel like it was done in post. We scoured Poland for locations, so we could use real elements to build on with the VFX, and the story also takes place in Split, Yugoslavia, so the level of realism had to be very high.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It was so important, and it took a long time to do as it’s really a silent movie when there’s no music, and as it’s not an action film, it was really critical that we didn’t overdo it or under-do it. I took a very long time working with my sound mixer — over four months. Before we shot, I went around Poland with my casting director to lots of folk music festivals and selected various faces, voices and tunes for the first part of the film. That took over half a year. Then I chose three tunes performed by Mazowsze, a real ensemble founded after the war and still performing today. A tune could be used in different ways — as a simple folk song at the start of the film, but then also later as a haunting jazz number in the Paris scenes. For me, all this was like the glue holding it all together. Then I chose a lot of other music, like the Russian piece, Gershwin and also a song like “Rock Around The Clock,” which really drives a wedge between Wiktor and Zula. The film ends with Bach, which gives it a whole different feel and perspective.

The grading must have also been very important for the look?
Yes. Michal Herman was the colorist and we spent a long time getting the contrast and grain just right. I love that process.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s more or less everything I felt and imagined about my parents and their story, even though it’s a work of fiction.


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.

Big Block adds live-action director Rylee Jean Ebsen

LA’s Big Block, part design studio, part production studio and part post house, has added live-action commercial director Rylee Jean Ebsen. As an early Snapchat employee and its most recent director of creative media, Ebsen brings experience producing alternative content to Big Block, including AR, VR, AI, 360-video, vertical video and live-streaming across social and broadcast.

Ebsen ran Snapchat’s in-house creative agency for seven years, hiring and leading a team of 15 while reporting directly to CEO Evan Spiegel. Ebsen debuted Snap’s first vertical original content series on the Discover Platform, co-directed Snap’s very first broadcast TV spot and earned an official patent for her work creating Snapchat’s AR Geofilters. Ebsen was the lead creative artist behind the debuts of the Jeff Koons augmented reality project, Snappables, World Lenses, Custom Stories and Spectacles.

Rylee Ebsen on set.

“What drew me to Big Block is that they weren’t just another production company making commercials, they’re a go-to partner for brands and agencies to turn to for innovative ideas, unique activations and incredible artistic interpretations,” she says.

Big Block’s involvement with “Free the Bid” was another draw for Ebsen, as she’s an active member and passionate about encouraging other female creatives. She’s also an executive member of Women in Film and has spoken at USC’s “Own It” women’s leadership summit and “It’s Our Turn,” Brentwood School’s Young Women’s Conference.

At only 28 years old, she has already spent over 1,200 hours directing on set with equipment ranging from vertical rigs to high-end Alexa cameras. Ebsen has storytelling in her blood, growing up as the granddaughter of actor Buddy Ebsen and advertising creative director Stan Freberg, and later graduating from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Beautiful Boy director Felix Van Groeningen

By Iain Blair

Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen — director of Amazon’s Beautiful Boy — may not be a household name in America, yet, but among cineastes he’s already a force to be reckoned with. His last film, Belgica, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where he won the Directing Award (Dramatic World Cinema). His The Broken Circle Breakdown earned a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and a César for Best Foreign Film.

L-R: Felix van Groeningen and Timothée Chalamet on set.

For his first English language film, Van Groeningen jumped right into the deep end when he took on Beautiful Boy, a harrowing family drama about drug addiction. Based on two memoirs — one from journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and one from his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet) — it unsparingly chronicles the repeated relapses and the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time.

To tell the story, Van Groeningen reunited with his longtime collaborators, cinematographer Ruben Impens and editor Nico Leunen. It marks their fifth film with the director.

I spoke with Van Groeningen about making the film and his process.

Why did you choose this for your first English language film?
It just sort of happened. I’d been thinking about making an English language film for quite a while but took my time in choosing the right project. After The Broken Circle Breakdown got an Oscar nomination, I got a lot of offers but never found the right one. I read some scripts that were very good, but I always asked myself, ‘Am I the best director for this?’ And I never felt I was, until  Beautiful Boy.

I read both books and immediately fell in love with the family. I could really relate to the father figure and to Nic, and all their struggles. It was also a big plus that Plan B — Brad Pitt’s company with producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who did Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave — would be producing it. So it all came together.

So it all resonated with you?
It had a lot of elements and themes that really interest me, such as the passage of time, family dynamics and loss, as well as the illusion that we can control things. I’d explored these in my previous films, and I’d also dealt with addiction and substance abuse. Plus, the whole father-son element was also something I could really relate to — I lost my father when I was in my ‘20s, and in a way he still lives on in me through my movies.

So even though my family was very different, I knew this was the perfect project for me to spend several years on, which is what it took, since this was an epic journey. It’s a father trying to understand his son, and I knew right away it would be a big challenge. I also knew it would take a lot of work to combine the two books into one story and one film. I learned just how easy it is to relapse and about the whole cycle of shame that pulls you down.

Do you feel there’s far more responsibility as a filmmaker when a film is based on real people and real events?
I do, and I don’t. I really love the Sheffs, and that first love is genuine and everything comes from that. I met them very early on and really liked them, and they got involved and it happened very organically. They were both very open and honest and let me into their lives. We became friends, they met with the actors and really trusted me. But I had to make this film my own. This is my sixth film, and I’ve learned that at some point you always have to betray the original story and material in order to get a grip on it. You can’t be afraid of that.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Timothee and Steve bring to the roles?
Steve has this great Everyman relatability and sincerity, and while people tend to see him mainly as a comedic actor, he has this huge range. This role needed all that — from rage to despair to laughter. And Timothee is so charming and open, and you needed that so you could follow him on this very dark journey. He was always true to the character.

Where did you shoot?
We did some of the exteriors in the real locations in Northern California, along with bits in LA. We shot around Marin County and San Francisco, and at the real beach where David and Nic surfed, as well in and around Inverness, where they lived. And then we used sets for the interiors and shot them on stages in Hollywood. I don’t usually like to shoot on stages, but it worked out really well as we designed the rooms so we could take them apart and then put them back together in different ways.

Where did you post?
All in LA at The Post Group Production Suites. We did all the editing there. Nico was busy on another project when we began, so we started with another editor on location but not on set. It makes me feel a little insecure to look at what I’ve done, as I don’t do reshoots, and I like to go with my gut.  Nico came on board a bit later.

Do you like the post process?
I love post, but it’s also really the hardest part of any project since it’s where it all comes together. There’s always a phase where you’re really happy and super-excited about it, and then there’s always a phase where you panic and start re-thinking things and feeling that nothing is working. You have to let go. For years you’ve dreamed about what the movie could be, and now you have to realize, “This is it.” That’s scary.

As they say, you make a movie three times, and I really embrace post and all that goes with it, but sometimes you just can’t let go and you’re just too close to the movie. This is when you have to step back and leave for a week or two, then come back.

What were the big editing challenges?
You have to find the right balance between the two stories and points of view, and that was the big one — and in the script too. How long do you spend with each character separately? How much time together? It was tricky, finding the right rhythm and the balance.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both vital. Nico lays stuff out and helps me shape ideas, and then we finish it all together with the sound editor and sound designer Elmo Weber, and the mixers. Elmo and the sound effects editor Marc Glassman recorded a lot of material at all the locations — things like insects and birds and the wind in the trees and the sound of waves, so it was very naturalistic and very detailed.

We actually had a whole score for the film, but the songs were always so important to the story and a key part of the movie, as David and Nic loved music, but the score just wasn’t working. So Nico suggested having no score and using songs instead, and that worked far better. So we ended up using a mix of weird electronic music, sort of half-way between sound design and music. The songs were great, like the scene where Steve is singing to Nic and it breaks away into John Lennon singing. We also used tracks by Nirvana, Neil Young and Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós.

Felix van Groeningen and Steve Carell on set.

Were there any VFX?
Not many. Shade VFX did them, and it was mainly clean up. I really don’t know much about VFX since I’m far more interested in actors.

Where did you do the DI?
At Efilm with colorist Tim Stipan, who’s fantastic. I love the DI. I was there with Tim and our DP Ruben. It’s so fascinating to see your film get to the next level, and being able to refine the look.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s been a long journey and I still need time to digest it.

What’s next?
I’ve got several projects I’m developing but I’ll take my time. I just became a father and I like to focus on one thing at a time.


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.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty busy.


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.

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.

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.

Josie Rourke on her feature directorial debut, Mary Queen of Scots

By Iain Blair

Given all the recent talk about the lack of opportunity for women in Hollywood, it’s apt that for her feature film directorial debut, Josie Rourke took on the story of Mary Queen of Scots, the period drama about two of the most famous women in history.

It’s also apt that this retelling of the turbulent life of Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) and that of her English cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) has all the deeply emotional interpersonal drama of an intense play since Rourke is the artistic director of London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse, where she’s staged acclaimed and groundbreaking productions.

Josie Rourke on set.

Based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” the film offers a fresh take on the two strong women who occupy center stage in what was very much a man’s world. Queen of France at age 16, widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry and instead returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. By birth, Mary had a rival claim to the English throne. Contrary to earlier accounts and based on the latest research, she was a capable politician and leader who wanted an alliance with her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary fights to govern her unruly kingdom at a time when female monarchs are reviled as monstrous. To secure their thrones, the two queens make very different choices about marriage and children. Mary’s reputation is under continual attack from her enemies, who construct lies about her sexual conduct. Betrayal, rebellion and conspiracies within each court imperil both queens, driving them apart as each woman experiences the bitter cost of power.

The film co-stars Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Martin Compston, Brendan Coyle, David Tennant and Guy Pearce. Behind the scenes, Rourke assembled a team that included writer Beau Willimon, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, production designer James Merifield, editor Chris Dickens, composer Max Richter and director of photography John Mathieson.

I spoke with Rourke about making the film, the Oscar buzz and her workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I love historical dramas and have done tons of Shakespeare in the theater. I always think that they’re so relevant to the present and that they can often give you a clearer picture and understanding of “now” than of the past. So my aim was to really create something relevant, and to also right a wrong about Mary and how she’s been portrayed through history.

This film is based on historian Dr. John Guy’s biography “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” which explored Mary’s life and her claim to the throne. It’s a very vivid book. He got back into the archives and discovered that she’s really been besmirched, in a fake news way. Her enemies not only made sure she met her end, but they also destroyed her reputation by portraying her as a woman totally driven by emotion, not intelligence, and someone too sexual and unable to govern properly. So I wanted to tell the truth about her.

In a way, the film is a battle of will and wits between these two queens — Mary and Elizabeth. What did Saoirse and Margot bring to the roles?
Well, I needed two of the greatest actresses of this generation — young women since they’re two young queens. Katherine Hepburn, Judy Dench, Cate Blanchett and others have gone before, so there were big shoes to fill. And the roles demand great range, emotional complexity and that power where they can command men and the room. Saoirse was already attached, and I passionately went after Margot, who was initially unsure about taking on such an iconic character. The were both amazing. They both totally inhabit the roles.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
We didn’t have a big budget, although compared with theater it was huge. We had ambitions to shoot a lot of it on location in Scotland and England, so we could show the soft, poetic beauty of the English countryside and the extreme majesty of Scotland and its rugged landscapes.

Two very different looks.
Exactly, and those contrasting visuals really helped tell their two stories. We basically see Elizabeth’s life as a very interior one; always in court and very formal. But Mary’s often out in the wilds, on horseback, and far more earthy. We shot in pretty remote locations in Scotland, where the weather changes every hour, so I just decided we’d shoot in the rain when it rained. But then suddenly, the skies would clear and you’d get these beautiful views and vistas, which was magical. I think that made everyone — the cast and crew — just bond even more over the project. You can’t fake that sort of thing — real locations, real weather. All that in turn affected their clothes and costumes, and I think Alex Byrne did a brilliant job with that.

The film looks very beautiful, and two-time Oscar-nominee John Mathieson (Gladiator, Hannibal, Matchstick Men, The Phantom of the Opera) shot it. Can you talk about how you collaborated on the look?
I’d seen his work, particularly in Logan, which had such incredible tonal control. John has great discipline with tone and color, and the other great thing is that he has a background in music, so he can improvise.

There’s a scene by a dead tree where John Knox is giving one of his rabble-rousing speeches, and it had been raining so hard that where we’d originally scouted and decided to shoot was totally inaccessible on the day. Instead we found this amazing tree in the same glen, and John quickly lit it and it turned out so well. We went for a very painterly look with a lot of the interior scenes, so some scenes are like Rembrandt paintings with great shadow play and highlights.

Where did you post?
We did most of it at Pinewood and Abbey Road in London, and did a Dolby Atmos mix at the new mix stage there. I was beside myself to be mixing there, where The Beatles and everyone else has worked. Post took about nine months, mainly because I’m also running a theater as well as my day job — or night job, to be more accurate. We did the DI at Company 3 with Paul Ensby.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it, especially the editing, which for me is very similar to being in a room rehearsing with actors. You’re basically getting a series of different performances from them. You’re trying out different things and trying to find the rhythm of a scene.

Talk about editing with Chris Dickens, who won the Oscar and BAFTA for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. What were the big editing challenges?
He’s brilliant and thought I was completely bonkers as I’d talk out loud to the actors while we cut, just like I would do in rehearsal. He was on set with us a little bit, but he far prefers to get all the material cold without any preconceptions about how we got it, or what the actors are actually like as people. He tries to preserve impartiality, and that’s great.

The big challenge was balancing the two stories and two women, and we tried various ways but in the end we largely followed the screenplay. One of Chris’ great skills is the way he cut between the two. He would hone in on the psychology and find those moments when one woman is thinking about the other.

All period films use some visual effects. What was involved?
You’re right, and the biggest challenge was the battle sequence where all the Highland cattle block the bridge. On that day we got far fewer than we’d booked, so we had to add a bunch, and London’s Bluebolt did an absolutely seamless job. Then we had shots of Edinburgh Castle in the distance, and we had a fair amount of clean up, but it was all very subtle.

Talk about the importance of sound and music,
Working on the sound mix was one of the most creative experiences I’ve ever had. In theater, sound is important in that one of a director’s most basic functions is telling whether or not an actor on stage can be heard. Are they loud enough? Was that line clear? It’s the least glamorous part of the job, but really important. To do that, we spend a lot of time thinking about the acoustics of a room or space, how reflective surfaces might be, where the ideal spot on stage is for a certain speech or line. So to then get into a post process where you’re discussing the atmospherics and sound dynamics of the room you’re working in was so exciting to me. Normally, you’re tuning the actors to the room, but now I could tune the room to the actors, and that was so cool.

Josie Rourke and Iain Blair

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did, and I can’t wait to direct another film. I don’t have anything lined up yet, but I’m looking.

We’re heading into awards season, and this is getting a lot of attention. How important is all that?
It’s all very new to me, a bit like a dream in a way. I’d love to see everyone recognized for all their hard work. Everyone was so willing to share their knowledge and experience with a first-timer. I’m just so grateful.


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: Aardman director/designer Gavin Strange

NAME: Gavin Strange

COMPANY: Bristol, England-based Aardman. They also have an office in NYC under the banner Aardman Nathan Love

CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOUR CAREER AT AARDMAN BEGAN?
I can indeed! I started 10 years ago as a freelancer, joining the fledgling Interactive department (or Aardman Online as it was known back then). They needed a digital designer for a six-month project for the UK’s Channel 4.

I was a freelancer in Bristol at the time and I made it my business to be quite vocal on all the online platforms, always updating those platforms and my own website with my latest work — whether that be client work or self-initiated projects. Luckily for me, the creative director of Aardman Online, Dan Efergan, saw my work when he was searching for a designer and got in touch (it was the most exciting email ever, with the subject of “Hello from Aardman!”

The short version of this story is that I got Dan’s email, popped in for a cup of tea and a chat, and 10 years later I’m still here! Ha!

The slightly longer but still truncated version is that after the six-month freelance project was done, the role of senior designer for the online team became open and I gave up the freelance life and, very excitedly, joined the team as an official Aardmanite!

Thing is, I was never shy about sharing with my new colleagues the other work I did. My role in the beginning was primarily digital/graphic design, but in my own time, under the banner of JamFactory (my own artist alter-ego name) I put out all sorts of work that was purely passion projects; films, characters, toys, clothing, art.

Gavin Strange directed this Christmas spot for the luxury brand Fortnum & Mason .

Filmmaking was a huge passion of mine and even at the earliest stages in my career when I first started out (I didn’t go to university so I got my first role as a junior designer when I was 17) I’d always be blending graphic design and film together.

Over those 10 years at Aardman I continued to make films of all kinds and share them with my colleagues. Because of that more opportunities arose to develop my film work within my existing design role. I had the unique advantage of having a lot of brilliant mentors who guided me and helped me with my moving image projects.

Those opportunities continued to grow and happen more frequently. I was doing more and more directing here, finally becoming officially represented by Aardman and added to their roster of directors. It’s a dream come true for me, because, not only do I get to work at the place I’ve admired growing up, but I’ve been mentored and shaped by the very individuals who make this place so special — that’s a real privilege.

What I really love is that my role is so varied — I’m both a director and a senior designer. I float between projects, and I love that variety. Sometimes I’m directing a commercial, sometimes I’m illustrating icons, other times I’m animating motion graphics. To me though, I don’t see a difference — it’s all creating something engaging, beautiful and entertaining — whatever the final format or medium!

So that’s my Aardman story. Ten years in, and I just feel like I’m getting started. I love this place.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE OF DIRECTOR?
Hmm, it’s tricky, as I actually think that most people’s perception of being a director is true: it’s that person’s responsibility to bring the creative vision to life.

Maybe what people don’t know is how flexible the role is, depending on the project. I love smaller projects where I get to board, design and animate, but then I love larger jobs with a whole crew of people. It’s always hands-on, but in many different ways.

Perhaps what would surprise a lot of people is that it’s every directors responsibility to clean the toilets at the end of the day. That’s what Aardman has always told me and, of course, I honor that tradition. I mean, I haven’t actually ever seen anyone else do it, but that’s because everyone else just gets on with it quietly, right? Right!?

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Oh man, can I say everything!? I really, really enjoy the job as a whole — having that creative vision, working with yourself, your colleagues and your clients to bring it to life. Adapting and adjusting to changes and ensuring something great pops out the other end.

I really, genuinely, get a thrill seeing something on screen. I love concentrating on every single frame — it’s a win-win situation. You get to make a lovely image each frame, but when you stitch them together and play them really fast one after another, then you get a lovely movie — how great is that?

In short, I really love the sum total of the job. All those different exciting elements that all come together for the finished piece.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I pride myself on being an optimist and being a right positive pain in the bum, so I don’t know if there’s any part I don’t enjoy — if anything is tricky I try and see it as a challenge and something that will only improve my skillset.

I know that sounds super annoying doesn’t it? I know that can seem all floaty and idealistic, but I pride myself on being a “realistic’ idealist” — recognizing the reality of a tricky situation, but seeing it through an idealistic lens.

If I’m being honest, then probably that really early stage is my least favorite — when the project is properly kicking off and you’ve got that gap between what the treatment/script/vision says it will be and the huge gulf in between that and the finished thing. That’s also the most exciting too, the not knowing how it will turn out. It’s terrifying and thrilling, in all good measure. It surprises me every single time, but I think that panic is an essential part of any creative process.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
In an alternate world, I’d be a photographer, traveling the world, documenting everything I see, living the nomadic life. But that’s still a creative role, and I still class it as the same job, really. I love my graphic design roots too — print and digital design — but, again, I see it as all the same role really.

So that means, if I didn’t have this job, I’d be roaming the lands, offering to draw/paint/film/make for anyone that wanted it! (Is that a mercenary? Is there such a thing as a visual mercenary? I don’t really have the physique for that I don’t think.)

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
This profession chose me. I’m just kidding, that’s ridiculous, I just always wanted to say that.

I think, like most folks, I fell into it in a series of natural choices. Art, design, graphics and games always stole my attention as a kid, and I just followed the natural path into that, which turned into my career. I’m lucky enough that I didn’t feel the need to single out any one passion, and kept them all bubbling along even as I made my career choices as designer to director. I still did and still do indulge my passion for all types of mediums in my own time.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’m not sure. I wasn’t particularly driven or focused as a kid. I knew I loved design and art, but I didn’t know of the many, many different roles out there that existed. I like that though, I see that as a positive, and also as an achievable way to progress through a career path. I speak to a lot of students and young professionals and I think it can be so overwhelming to plot a big ‘X’ on a career map and then feel all confused about how to get there. I’m an advocate of taking it one step at a time, and make more manageable advances forward — as things always get in the way and change anyway.

I love the idea of a meandering, surprising path. Who knows where it will lead!? I think as long as your aim is to make great work, then you’ll surprise yourself where you end up.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
I’ve always obsessed over films, and obsessed over the creation of them. I’ll watch a behind-the-scenes on any film or bit of moving image. I just love the fact that the role is to bring something to life — it’s to oversee and create something from nothing, ensuring every frame is right. The way it makes you feel, the way it looks, the way it sounds.

It’s just such an exciting role. There’s a lot of unknowns too, on every project. I think that’s where the good stuff lies. Trusting in the process and moving forwards, embracing it.

HOW DOES DIRECTING FOR ANIMATION DIFFER FROM DIRECTING FOR LIVE ACTION — OR DOES IT?
Technically it’s different — with animation your choices are pretty much made all up front, with the storyboards and animatic as your guides, and then they’re brought to life with animation. Whereas, for me, the excitement in live action is not really knowing what you’ll get until there’s a lens on it. And even then, it can come together in a totally new way in the edit.

I don’t try to differentiate myself as an “animation director” or “live-action” director. They’re just different tools for the job. Whatever tells the best story and connects with audiences!

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
Their skillset is paramount, but equally as important is their passion and their kindness. There are so many great people out there, but I think it’s so important to work with people who are great and kind. Too many people get a free pass for being brilliant and feel that celebration of their work means it’s okay to mistreat others. It’s not okay… ever. I’m lucky that Aardman is a place full of excited, passionate and engaged folk who are a pleasure to work with, because you can tell they love what they do.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’ve been lucky enough to work on a real variety of projects recently. I directed an ident for the rebrand of BBC2, a celebratory Christmas spot for the luxury brand Fortnum & Mason and an autobiographical motion graphics short film about Maya Angelou for BBC Radio 4.

Maya Angelou short film for BBC Radio 4

I love the variety of them; just those three projects alone were so different. The BBC2 ident was live-action in-camera effects with a great crew of people, whereas the Maya Angelou film was just me on design, direction and animation. I love hopping between projects of all types and sizes!

I’m working on development of a stop-frame short at the moment, which is all I can say for now, but just the process alone going from idea to a scribble in a notebook to a script is so exciting. Who knows what 2019 holds!?

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Oh man, that’s a tough one! A few years back I co-directed a title sequence for a creative festival called OFFF, which happens every year in Barcelona. I worked with Aardman legend Merlin Crossingham to bring this thing to life, and it’s a proper celebration of what we both love — it ended up being what we lovingly refer to as our “stop-frame live-action motion-graphics rap-video title-sequence.” It really was all those things.

That was really special as not only did we have a great crew, I got to work with one of my favorite rappers, P.O.S., who kindly provided the beats and the raps for the film.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
– My iPhone. It’s my music player, Internet checker, email giver, tweet maker, picture capturer.
– My Leica M6 35mm camera. It’s my absolute pride and joy. I love the images it makes.
– My Screens. At work I have a 27-inch iMac and then two 25-inch monitors on either side. I just love screens. If I could have more, I would!

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I genuinely love what I do, so I rarely feel like I “need to get away from it all.” But I do enjoy life outside of work. I’m a drummer and that really helps with any and all stress really. Even just practicing on a practice pad is cathartic, but nothing compares to smashing away on a real kit.

I like to run, and I sometimes do a street dance class, which is both great fun and excruciatingly frustrating because I’m not very good.

I’m a big gamer, even though I don’t have much time for it anymore. A blast on the PS4 is a treat. In fact, after this I’m going to have a little session on God of War before bedtime.

I love hanging with my family. My wife Jane, our young son Sullivan and our dog Peggy. Just hanging out, being a dad and being a husband is the best for de-stressing. Unless Sullivan gets up at 3am, then I change my answer back to the PS4.

I’m kidding, I love my family, I wouldn’t be anything or be anywhere without them.