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Category Archives: Director

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.

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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.

Director Lee J. Ford joins Interrogate

Director Lee J. Ford has joined LA/NY/Sydney-based production house Interrogate. A British native, Ford worked as a creative in the advertising industry for years before pivoting to directing. Ford’s agency experience allows him to “understand the politics and daily struggles the creatives are facing throughout the process and will continue to face” long after he’s done directing the piece.

Ford’s interest in film started early. He grew up next to a video store and would stay up late re-watching The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, Exterminator and other banned-in-the-UK movies until he failed his classes. This led him to drop out and go to art school to study graphic design. Studying at The University of Brighton and the Central Saint Martins school of art helped inform Ford’s preferred minimalist aesthetic, and gave him his first hands-on experience with art direction.

After graduation, Ford worked his way through the advertising industry as a creative, with stints at various ad agencies, including 180 Amsterdam, Ogilvy London, TBWA London and Saatchi & Saatchi London, to name a few. While he ended up as a creative director, Ford never forgot his dream of directing, so when the opportunity to direct Top Gear came his way while working at an agency in Amsterdam, Ford jumped at the chance.

His work includes a New African Icons for SportsPesa, a spot for Audi, and a short film for fashion designer Roland Mouret based on Mouret’s childhood memories of watching his father, who was a butcher.

Ford, who was previously repped by Prettybird in the US and UK, knew Interrogate was the right home for him when he met executive producers and partners George Meeker and Jeff Miller. Their first project together was a spot for Blizzard Games’ Diablo III out of Omelet LA.

Steve McQueen on directing Widows

By Iain Blair

British director/writer/producer Steve McQueen burst onto the international scene in 2013 when his harrowing 12 Years a Slave dominated awards season, winning as Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and a host of others. His directing was also recognized with many nominations and awards.

Now McQueen, who also helmed the 2011 feature Shame (Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan) is back with the film Widows.

A taut thriller, 20th Century Fox’s Widows is set in contemporary Chicago in a time of political and societal turmoil. When four armed robbers are killed in a botched heist, their widows — with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities — take fate into their own hands to forge a future on their own terms.

With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen himself — and based on the old UK television miniseries of the same name — the film stars, among others, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

The production team includes Academy Award-nominated editor Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave), Academy Award-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and director of photography Sean Bobbit (12 Years a Slave).

I spoke with McQueen, whose credits also include 2008’s Hunger, about making the film and his love of post.

This isn’t just a simple heist movie, is it?
No, it isn’t. I wanted to make an all-encompassing movie, an epic in a way, about how we live our daily lives and how they’re affected by politics, race, gender, religion and corruption, and do it through this story. I remember watching the TV series as a kid and how it affected me — how strong all these women were — and I decided to change the location from London to Chicago, which is really an under-used city in movies, and make it a more contemporary view of all these issues.

You assembled a great cast, led by Oscar-winner Viola Davis. What did she bring to the table?
So much weight and gravitas. She’s like an iceberg. There’s so much hidden depth in everything she does, and there’s this well of meaning and emotion she brings to the role, and then everyone has to step up to that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big one was logistics and dealing with all the Chicago locations. We had over 60 locations, all over the city, and 81 speaking parts. So there was a lot of planning, and if one thing got stuck it threw off the whole schedule. It would have been almost impossible to reschedule some of the scenes.

How tough was the shoot?
Pretty tough. They’re always grueling, and when you’re writing a script you don’t always think about how many night shoots you’re going to face, and you forget about this big machine you have to bring with you to all the locations. Trying to make any quick change or adjustment is like trying to turn the Titanic. It takes a while.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
From day one. You have to when you have a big production with a set release date, so we began cutting and assembling while I shot.

Where did you post?
In Amsterdam, where I live, and then we finished it off in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s my favorite part as you have civilized hours — 9 till 5 or whatever —and you’re in total control. You’re not having to deal with 40 or 50 people. It’s just you and the editor in a dark room, actually making the film.

Joe Walker has cut all of your films, including Hunger and Shame, as well Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario. Can you talk about working with him?
He wasn’t on set, and we had someone else assembling stuff as Joe was still finishing up Blade Runner. He came in when I got back to Amsterdam. Joe and I go way back to 2007, when we did Hunger, and we always work very closely together. I sit right next to him, and I’m there for every single cut, dissolve, whatever. I’m very present. I’m not one of those directors who comes in, gives some notes and then disappears. I don’t know how you do that. I love editing and finding the pace and rhythm. What makes Joes such a great editor is that he started off in music, so he has a great sense of how to work with sound.

What were the big editing challenges?
There are all these intertwined stories and characters, so it’s about finding the right balance and tone and rhythm. The whole opening sequence is all about pulling the audience in and then grabbing them with a caress and then a slap — and another caress and slap — as we set up the story and the main characters. Then there are so many parts to the story that it’s like this big Swiss watch: all these moving parts and different functions. But you always go back to the widows. A script isn’t a film, it’s a guide, so you’re feeling your way in the edit, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. The whole thing has to be cohesive, one thing. That’s your goal.

What about the visual effects?
They were all done by One Of Us and Outpost VFX (both in the UK), but the VFX were all about enhancing stuff, not dazzling the audience. The aim was always for realism, not fantasy.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
They’re huge for me, and it’s interesting as a lot of the movie has no sound or music. At the beginning, there’s just this one chord on a violin when we get to the title card, and that’s it. There’s no sound for 2/3 of the movie, and then we only have some ambient music and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and a Van Morrison song. That’s why all the sound design is so important. When the women lose their husbands, I didn’t want it to be hammy and tug at your heartstrings. I wanted you to feel that pain and that grief and that journey. When they start to act and take control of their lives, that’s when the music and sound kick in, almost like this muscular drive. Our supervising sound editor James Harrison did a great job with all that. We did all the mixing in Atmos at De Lane Lea in London.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at Company 3 London with colorist Tom Poole, and it’s very important. We shot on film, and our DP Sean and I spent a lot of time just talking about the palette and the look. When you’re shooting in over 60 locations, it’s not so much about putting your own stamp and look on them, but about embracing what they offer you visually and then tweaking it.

For the warehouse scenes, there was a certain mood and it had crappy tungsten lighting, so we changed it a bit to feel more tactile, and it was the same with most of the locations. We’d play with the palette and the visual mood, which the DI allows you to do so well.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
(Laughs) I always hope it turns out better than I hoped or imagined, as your imagination can only take you so far. What’s great is when you go beyond that and come up with something cooler than you could have imagined. That’s what I always want.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things cooking on the stove, and I should finish writing something in the next few months and then start it next year.

All Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Merrick Morton


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

First Man: Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

He talks about his most recent film, First Man

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DevinSuperTramp: The making of a YouTube filmmaker

Devin Graham, aka DevinSuperTramp, made the unlikely journey from BYU dropout to a viral YouTube sensation who has over five million followers. After leaving school, Graham went to Hawaii to work on a documentary. The project soon ran out of money and he was stuck on the island… feeling very much a dropout and a failure. He started making fun videos with his friends to pass the time, and DevinSuperTramp was born. Now he travels, filming his view of the world, taking on daring adventures to get his next shot, and risking life and limb.

Shooting while snowboarding behind a trackhoe with a bunch of friends for a new video.

We recently had the chance to sit down with Graham to hear firsthand what lessons he’s learned along his journey, and how he’s developed into the filmmaker he is today.

Why extreme adventure content?
I grew up in the outdoors — always hiking and camping with my dad, and snowboarding. I’ve always been intrigued by pushing human limits. One thing I love about the extreme thing is that everyone we work with is the best at what they do. Like, we had the world’s best scooter riders. I love working with people who devote their entire lives to this one skillset. You get to see that passion come through. To me, it’s super inspiring to show off their talents to the world.

How did you get DevinSuperTramp off the ground? Pun intended.
I’ve made movies ever since I can remember. I was a little kid shooting Legos and stop-motion with my siblings. In high school, I took photography classes, and after I saw the movie Jurassic Park, I was like, “I want to make movies for a living. I want to do the next Jurassic Park.” So, I went to film school. Actually, I got rejected from the film program the first time I applied, which made me volunteer for every film thing going on at the college — craft service, carrying lights, whatever I could do. One day, my roommate was like, “YouTube is going to be the next big thing for videos. You should get on that.”

And you did.
Well, I started making videos just kind of for fun, not expecting anything to happen. But it blew up. Eight years later, it’s become the YouTube channel we have now, with five million subscribers. And we get to travel around the world creating content that we love creating.

Working on a promo video for Recoil – all the effects were done practically.

And you got to bring it full circle when you worked with Universal on promoting Fallen Kingdom.
I did! That was so fun and exciting. But yeah, I was always making content. I didn’t wait ‘til after I graduated. I was constantly looking for opportunities and networking with people from the film program. I think that was a big part of (succeeding at that time), just looking for every opportunity to milk it for everything I could.

In the early days, how did you promote your work?
I was creating all my stuff on YouTube, which, at that time, had hardly any solid, quality content. There was a lot of content, but it was mostly shot on whatever smartphone people had, or it was just people blogging. There wasn’t really anything cinematic, so right away our stuff stood out. One of the first videos I ever posted ended up getting like a million views right away, and people all around the world started contacting me, saying, “Hey, Devin, I’d love for you to shoot a commercial for us.” I had these big opportunities right from the start, just by creating content with my friends and putting it out on YouTube.

Where did you get the money for equipment?
In the beginning, I didn’t even own a camera. I just borrowed some from friends. We didn’t have any fancy stuff. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon T2i, which are fairly cheap cameras compared to what we’re using now. But I was just creating the best content I could with the resources I had, and I was able to build a company from that.

If you had to start from scratch today, do you think you could do it again?
I definitely think it’s 100 percent doable, but I would have to play the game differently. Even now we are having to play the game differently than we did six months ago. Social media is hard because it’s constantly evolving. The algorithms keep changing.

Filming in Iceland for an upcoming documentary.

What are you doing today that’s different from before?
One thing is just using trends and popular things that are going on. For example, a year and a half ago, Pokémon Go was very popular, so we did a video on Pokémon and it got 20 million views within a couple weeks. We have to be very smart about what content we put out — not just putting out content to put out content.

One thing that’s always stayed true since the beginning is consistent content. When we don’t put out a video weekly, it actually hurts our content being seen. The famous people on YouTube now are the ones putting out daily content. For what we’re doing, that’s impossible, so we’ve sort of shifted platforms from YouTube, which was our bread and butter. Facebook is where we push our main content now, because Facebook doesn’t favor daily content. It just favors good-quality content.

Teens will be the first to say that grown-ups struggle with knowing what’s cool. How do you chase after topics likely to blow up?
A big one is going on YouTube and seeing what videos are trending. Also, if you go to Google Trends, it shows you the top things that were searched that day, that week, that month. So, it’s being on top of that. Or, maybe, Taylor Swift is coming out with a new album; we know that’s going to be really popular. Just staying current with all that stuff. You can also use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get an idea of what people are really excited about.

Can you tell us about some of the equipment you use, and the demands that your workflow puts on your storage needs?
We shoot so much content. We own two Red 8K cameras that we film everything with, and we’re shooting daily for the most part. On an average week, we’re shooting about eight terabytes, and then backing that up — so 16 terabytes a week. Obviously, we need a lot of storage, and we need storage that we can access quickly. We’re not putting it on tape. We need to pull stuff up right there and start editing on it right away.

So, we need the biggest drives that are as fast as possible. That’s why we use G-Tech’s 96TB G-Speed Shuttle XL towers. We have around 10 of those, and we’ve been shooting with those for the last three to four years. We needed something super reliable. Some of these shoots involve forking out a lot of money. I can’t take a hard drive and just hope it doesn’t fail. I need something that never fails on me — like ever. It’s just not worth taking that risk. I need a drive I can completely trust and is also super-fast.

What’s the one piece of advice that you wish somebody had given you when you were starting out?
In my early days, I didn’t have much of a budget, so I would never back up any of my footage. I was working on two really important projects and had them all on one drive. My roommate knocked that drive off the table, and I lost all that footage. It wasn’t backed up. I only had little bits and pieces still saved on the card — enough to release it, but a lot of people wanted to buy the stock footage and I didn’t have most of the original content. I lost out on a huge opportunity.

Today, we back up every single thing we do, no matter how big or how small it is. So, if I could do my early days over again, even if I didn’t have all the money to fund it, I’d figure out a way to have backup drives. That was something I had to learn the hard way.

Tamara Jenkins talks writing, directing the Netflix film Private Life

By Iain Blair

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

Tamara Jenkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tamara Jenkins on set.

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

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

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


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

The Hate U Give director George Tillman, Jr.

By Iain Blair

The Hate U Give, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, has immediately generated big Oscar buzz. This ripped-from-the-headlines story — which scored 100% on Rotten Tomatoes — is a work of fiction based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name by Angie Thomas. It stars Amandla Stenberg in a breakout performance as Starr, a 16-year-old who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer.

Starr lives in a working-class community with her close-knit family. Her father, Maverick (Russell Hornsby), is a reformed ex-gang member who once served time in prison. Now, a family man and valued member of the community, Maverick owns the community grocery store. Starr’s mother Lisa (Regina Hall) is a nurse, and half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright) complete the family.

Dismayed by the academic shortcomings of schools in their community, and wanting to give their children better opportunities, Lisa and Maverick enroll Starr and her siblings in a predominantly white school. The kids then find themselves having to juggle two very different worlds.

Starr, whose two best school friends and boyfriend are white, seems able to compartmentalize her life until everything changes when she witnesses the shooting death of her friend Khalil during a traffic stop. As the sole witness, Starr must choose between speaking up for her friend or remaining silent. Telling the truth could also endanger herself and her family by implicating the violent local drug lord whom Khalil worked for.

The Hate U Give is deftly and intelligently directed by George Tillman, Jr., whose credits include Soul Food, Notorious and Men of Honor. The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Mihai Malaimare Jr. (The Master), production designer William Arnold (Magnolia), editors Craig Hayes (Django Unchained) and Alex Blatt (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and composer Dustin O’Halloran (Lion).

I spoke with Tillman about making the film, his process and the upcoming awards season.

This is based on a celebrated novel and translating any novel to cinema is always tricky. How difficult was it?
It was a little tricky as it has so many layers, so many great characters — a lot of good stuff, and we wanted to make sure we got it all into 120 pages. Well, you can’t fit it all in. But it was very helpful that Angie was so involved as I wanted to be true to her spirit and the book. So I flew her to LA and we sat down and talked through every character, every viewpoint, and then I realized, ‘Maybe I don’t need this character’ and ‘we can lose this bit,’ and it took four to five weeks to really nail down what we needed.

The film is quite a mixture of genres, tones and themes. Is that what you had in mind from the very beginning?
Yes, a film that really shows what an African-American working-class family goes through. There are a lot of obstacles, a lot of struggles and a lot of the money’s going to the private schools, so there’s not much left. It’s a tough neighborhood, but you push through and find humor, sadness, warmth and loyalty in all the ups and downs. That’s the tone I wanted, where it can change in a second, from grief and sadness to a happy emotion and glee. And with a film like this, which deals with such serious issues, you don’t want it to be just heavy and coming at you. You need the humor.

Obviously, casting the right actor to play Starr was crucial. What did Amandla bring to the role?
She brought a lot of her own experience since she also went to a private school but still lives in her old neighborhood in LA. So she knows those two worlds. She also came with her own dedication since it was an important story for her. She’d read the book and we spent months and months talking and breaking down all the details of her character and how you can go from one strong emotion to another in an instant. So by the time we shot she was just free to be Starr.

We did a couple of weeks of rehearsal, which was invaluable. We improvised and experimented, and everyone got into the whole family vibe. I think that’s a very important part of being a director, getting all the actors together and really digging deep together. You build all these memories, bit by bit.

Why did you shoot in Atlanta rather than Mississippi, where it’s set?
It was down to the tax breaks. At the start, I wanted to check out a ton of different cities, but when you get down to it, it’s all about getting the most out of the budget, and we didn’t have a huge budget. So it’s a matter of putting more on screen, and I really liked shooting there. They have a great pool of background actors that we used for the protest scenes. We shot a lot of stuff like that at night, so we had to work fast. They were great.

Where did you post?
All on the Fox lot in LA. We did the DI at Company 3 with colorist Siggy Ferstl.

Do you like the post process?
It’s the best part of filmmaking and my favorite bit, as you get to see everything you shot, and it’s like rewriting the whole film. You get to focus the film, work on music and sound, and it’s the least stressful part. And on this, we felt like we had everything we needed – great performances, good coverage — to make the film.

You used two editors. Can you tell us about that relationship and how it worked?
I asked for two editors because I shoot a lot of film, a lot of different takes and adjustments to performances and dialogue. So I needed two guys just to deal with all the footage. They were in Atlanta cutting while we shot, but I don’t like to look at footage while I’m shooting. I saw a couple of scenes early on, but then I just focused on the shoot. Then back in LA we really got into it, and they’d trade off scenes. I like to get through a cut as fast as possible so it still feels fresh to me.

Craig and Alex did a great job. There are scenes they cut right at the start that were so good I wouldn’t even touch them, like the diner scene with the family when the cops arrive. I think it’s because they were so in tune with the material.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film, and crafting a soundscape that was so naturalistic and realistic? And how you worked with BAFTA-winning sound editing supervisor Don Sylvester (Walk the Line), Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Andy Nelson (Les Miserables) and Oscar-nominated re-recording mixer David Giammarco (Moneyball).
I’m so glad you said that, because that was exactly how we approached it. I’ve worked with those guys on so many projects, and it’s hard to over-estimate the role sound and music play, and I didn’t want it to sound too Hollywood, too big.

We did all the mixing on the Howard Hawks stage on the Fox lot, and a lot of the scenes were specifically designed to have Starr’s point of view. The sound didn’t get big until the riots, but then we took it way down once she gets on the car. And a lot of times we took sound away. We spent a lot of time getting all the little details and touches just right. The music was key too, for her inner world, her inner emotions, and we had about 40 or 50 minutes of music — a lot.

I loved what composer Dustin O’Halloran did on Lion, which is why I hired him.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
To be honest, I don’t think about it too much. I’m still so close to the film. I just want people to see it and remember it. And if it wins something, that’s like icing on the cake.


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

The Little Stranger director Lenny Abrahamson

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

I spoke with Abrahamson about making the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Behind the Title: WIG director/DP Daniel Hall

NAME: Daniel Hall

COMPANY: LA-based Where It’s Greater (@whereitsgreater)

Dan on set for Flyknit Hyperdunk project.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Where It’s Greater is a nimble creative studio. We sit somewhere between the traditional production company and age-old advertising agency, meaning we are a small team of creatives who are able to work with brands and other agencies alike. It doesn’t matter where they are in the spectrum of their campaign; we help bring their projects to life from concept to camera to final delivery. We like getting our hands dirty. We have a physical studio space with various production capabilities and in-house equipment that affords us some unique opportunities from both and efficiency and creative standpoint.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Along with being the founder, I am director and lead cinematographer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
That entails pretty much everything and then some. Where It’s Greater is my baby, so everything from physically lighting and capturing the photos on shoots to making sure we’re headed in the right direction as a company to securing new clients and jobs on a consistent basis. I take out the trash sometimes, too.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think what may surprise people the most is that we work mostly client-direct. A lot of agencies or cinematographers have agents or reps that go out and get them work, but I’ve been fortunate enough to personally establish long-lasting, fruitful relationships with clients like Nike and Beats By Dre and MeUndies.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
By far, my favorite part is creating beautiful advertising work for great brands. It’s really special when you get to connect with clients who not only share the same values as you, but also align and speak the same language in terms of taste and preferences. Those projects always come out memorable.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
All the other mundane tasks I take on during a day-to-day basis solely so that I can create some truly great work every now and then. But it’s apart of the process; you can’t have one without the other.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Anytime a client calls me with an exciting new opportunity (smiles).

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I could see myself doing a few different things, but they are all in the creative/production field. So I would most likely be doing what I’m doing, but just not for myself.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always remember having a creative eye from a young age. I get that naturally from my dad who was a camera operator, but it wasn’t until my cousin put a camera in my hand around 18 or 19 that I really fell in love with photography. But even then I didn’t exactly know what to do with it. I just followed the flow of life. I took advantage of the opportunities in front of me and worked my ass off to maximize them and, in turn, set myself for the next opportunity.

After 10 years, I have a 4,000-square-foot studio space in Los Angeles with a bunch of toys and equipment that I love to use on projects with some of the top brands in the world. I’m very grateful and fortunate in that way. I’m excited to look up again in the next 10 years.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We most recently worked with Beats By Dre on their global ‘Made Defiant’ campaign. We were commissioned to direct and produce a series of product films and still-life imagery to showcase their product line of headphones and earbuds in new colors that resemble their original headphone in order to pay homage and celebrate the brand’s 10-year anniversary. We took advantage of this opportunity to use our six-axis robotic arm, which we own and operate in-house. The arm gave us the ability to capture a series of beauty shots in motion that wouldn’t be possible with any other tech on the market. I think that is what made this job special.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really loved what we did last summer for Nike Basketball and Dick’s Sporting Goods. We directed and produced a 30-second live-action spot centered around one of the most popular basketball shoes of the summer, the Flyknit Hyperdunk. Again, we were able to produce this completely in-house, building out a stylize basketball court in our studio space and harnessing our six-axis robot yet again to make a simple yet compelling advert for the sportswear giant.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Chemex — I’m by no means a coffee snob, but I definitely have to have a cup to start my day. There is something therapeutic about it.

Color meter — I can live without my light meter. I rarely, if ever, shoot film for commercial jobs, at least at this phase in my career, but I love my Sekonic C-700R color meter. It allows me to balance all my images and films to taste.

Hyperice foam roller — In the last year I’ve been a lot more active and more into health and fitness. It’s really changed my life in a lot of ways for the better. This vibrating foam roller is a major key to keeping my muscles loose and stretched so I can recover a lot faster.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Of course. I got my start growing up in Atlanta directing music videos for some pretty noteworthy artists, so there is frequently some form of southern hip-hop playing throughout the studio. From the iconic duo of Outkast to the newer generation of artists like Future and 2 Chainz, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I always have something playing in the background.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I do some of the typical things on a regular basis: exercise, massage therapy, vacation time. Nothing special really as of yet, but if I crack the code and find a new technique I’ll be sure to share!

Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

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

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

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

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frame.io Masters launches with director Mark Toia

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

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

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

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

The Darkest Minds director Jennifer Yuh Nelson

By Iain Blair

Jennifer Yuh Nelson has been an acclaimed — and highly bankable — director in animation for years, thanks to her work on the billion-dollar-grossing Kung Fu Panda franchise.

Now she’s taken on her first live-action film with Fox’s The Darkest Minds. Adapted from the best-selling book by Alexandra Bracken, the first in a YA trilogy, the film stars Amandla Stenberg in the lead as Ruby, along with Harris Dickinson, Miya Cech and Skylan Brooks.

The Darkest Minds also features adults, including Mandy Moore and Bradley Whitford, and revolves around a group of teens who mysteriously develop powerful new abilities and who are then declared a threat by the government and detained. It’s essentially a genre mash-up — a road movie with some sci-fi elements and lots of kinetic action. It was written by Chad Hodge, best known for his work as the creator and executive producer of TNT’s Good Behavior and Fox’s Wayward Pines.

Nelson’s creative team included DP Kramer Morgenthau (Terminator Genisys, Thor: The Dark World), editors Maryann Brandon (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dean Zimmerman (Stranger Things), and visual effects supervisor Björn Mayer (Oblivion). Fox-based 21 Laps’ (Stranger Things, Arrival) Shawn Levy and Dan Levine produced.

I recently spoke with Nelson about making the film.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
To start off with, I wanted a great emotional core, and as this was based off a book, it already had that built in… even in early versions of the script. It had great characters with strong relationships, and I wanted to do some action stuff.

Any big surprises making the move to a major live-action film, or were you pretty prepared in terms of prep thanks to your background in animation?
I was pretty prepared, and the prep’s essentially the same as in animation. But, of course, production is utterly different, along with the experience of being on location. I had a really great crew and a fantastic DP, which helped me a lot. The big difference is suddenly you have the luxury of coverage, which you don’t get in animation. There you need to know exactly what you want, as it’s so expensive to create. Being outside all day on location, and dealing with the elements and crew and cast all at once — that was a big learning curve, but I really loved it. I had a fantastic time!

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
There were a lot of moving parts, and the main one was probably all the VFX involved. It’s a very reality-based book. It’s not set in outer space, and it’s supposed to look very grounded and seamless with reality. So you have these characters with superpowers that are meant to be very believable, but then we had fire, flamethrowers, 300 extras running around, wind machines and so on. Then all the post fire stuff we had to add later.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right at the start, and my VFX super Björn Mayer was so smart about it and figuring out ways to get really cool looks. We tried out a ton of visual approaches. Some were done in camera, most were done in post or augmented in post – especially all the fire effects. It was intense reality, not complete reality, that we aimed for, so we had some flexibility.

I assume you did a lot of previs?
Quite a lot, and that was also a big help. We did full-3D previs, like we do in animation, so I was pretty used to that. We also storyboarded a big chunk of the movie, including scenes that normally you wouldn’t have to storyboard because I wanted to make completely sure we were covered on everything.

Didn’t you start off as a storyboard artist?
I did, and my husband’s one too, so I roped him in and we did the whole thing ourselves. It’s just an invaluable tool for showing people what’s going on in a director’s head, and when they’ve seen the pictures they can then offer creative ideas as everyone knows what you’re trying to achieve.

How tough was the shoot?
We shot in Atlanta, and it went smoothly considering there’s always unexpected things. We had freak thunderstorms and a lot of rain that made some sets sink and so on, but it’s how you respond to all that that counts. Everyone was calm and organized.

Where did you post?
Here in LA. We rented some offices near my home and just set up editorial and all our VFX there. It was very convenient.

In a sense, animation is all post, so you must love the post process?
You’re right – animation is like a long-running post for the whole production. I love post because it’s so transformative, and it’s beautiful to see all the VFX get layered in and see the movie suddenly come to life.

Talk about editing this with two editors. How did that work?
Maryann was on the set with us, working as we shot, and then Dean came on later in post, so we had a great team.

What were the big editing challenges?
I think the big one was making all the relationships believable over the course of the film, and so much of it is very subtle. It can come down to just a look or a moment, and we had to carefully plot the gradations and work hard to make it all feel real.

All the VFX play a big role. How many were there?
Well over 2,000 I think, and MPC and Crafty Apes did most of them. I loved working on them with my VFX supervisor. It’s very similar to working with them in animation, which is essentially one big VFX show. So I was very familiar with the process, although integrating them into live action instead of a virtual world is quite different. I loved seeing how it all got integrated so seamlessly.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
It was so important to me, and we had quite a few songs in the film because it’s partly a road trip. There’s the big dance scene where we found a great song and then were able to shoot to the track. We mixed all the sound on the Fox lot.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Technicolor, and I’m pretty involved, although I don’t micro-manage. I’d give notes, and we’d make some stuff pop a bit more and play around with the palette, but basically it went pretty quickly as what we shot already looked really sweet.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did, and I can’t wait to do another live-action film. I adore animation, but live action’s like this new shiny toy.

You’re that Hollywood rarity — a successful female director. What advice would you give to young women who want to direct?
Do what makes you happy. Don’t do it just because someone says “you can” or “you can’t.” You’ve got to have that personal desire to do this job, and it’s not easy and I don’t expect change to come very quickly to Hollywood. But it is coming.


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.

Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT. Director Chris McQuarrie.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie

By Iain Blair

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 22 years since Tom Cruise first launched the Mission: Impossible franchise. Since then, it’s become a global cultural phenomenon that’s grossed more than $2.8 billion, making it one of the most successful series in movie history.

With Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise reprises his role of Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team leader Ethan Hunt for the sixth time. And writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the series’ previous film Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, also returns. That makes him the first filmmaker ever to return to direct a second film in a franchise where one of its signature elements is that there’s been a different director for every movie.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Director Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie

In the latest twisty adventure, Hunt and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames), along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan), find themselves in a race against time to stop a nuclear bomb disaster after a mission gone wrong. The film, which also stars Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris and Vanessa Kirby, features a stellar team behind the camera as well, including director of photography Rob Hardy, production designer Peter Wenham, editor Eddie Hamilton, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson and composer Lorne Balfe.

In 1995, McQuarrie got his start writing the script for The Usual Suspects, which won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. In 2000, he made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun. Then in 2008 he reteamed with Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, co-writing the WWII film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. He followed that up with his 2010 script for The Tourist, then two years later, he worked with Cruise again on Jack Reacher, which he wrote and directed.

I recently talked with the director about making the film, dealing with all the visual effects and the workflow.

How did you feel when Tom asked for you to come back and do another MI film?
I thought, “Oh no!” In fact, when he asked me to do Rogue Nation, I was very hesitant because I’d been on the set of Ghost Protocol, and I saw just how complicated and challenging these films are. I was terrified. So after I’d finished Rogue, I said to myself, “I feel really sorry for the poor son-of-a-bitch who does the next one.” After five movies, I didn’t think there was anything left to do, but the joke turned out to be on me!

Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible - FalloutWhat’s the secret of its continuing appeal?
First off, Tom himself. He’s always pushing himself and entertaining the audience with stuff they’ve never seen before. Then it’s all about character and story. The emphasis is always on that and the humanity of these characters. On every film, and with the last two we’ve done together, he’s learned how much deeper you can go with that and refined the process. You’re always learning from the audience as well. What they want.

How do you top yourself and make this different from the last one?
To make it different, I replaced my core crew — new DP, new composer and so on — and went for a different visual language. My intention on both films was not to even try to top the previous one. So when we started this I told Tom, “I just want to place somewhere in the Top 6 of Mission: Impossible films. I’m not trying to make the greatest action film ever.”

You say that, but it’s stuffed full of nail-biting car chases and really ambitious action sequences.
(Laughs) Well, at the same time you’re always trying to do something different from the other films in the franchise, so in Rogue I had this idea for a female counterpart for Tom — Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) was a more dynamic love interest. I looked at the other five films and realized that the biggest action scene of any of those films had not come in the third act. So it was a chance to create the biggest and most climactic third act — a huge team sequence that involved everyone. That was the big goal. But we didn’t set out to make this giant movie, and it wasn’t till we began editing that we realized just how much action there is.

Women seem to have far larger roles this time out.
That was very intentional from the start. In my earliest talks with Tom, we discussed the need to resolve the Julia (Michelle Monaghan) character and find closure to that story. So we had her and Rebecca, and then Angela Bassett came on board to replace Alec Baldwin’s character at the CIA after he moves to IMF, and it grew from there. I had an idea for the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) character, and we just stayed open to all possibilities and the idea that these strong women, who own all the scenes they’re in, throw Ethan off balance all the time.

How early did you integrate post into the shoot?
Right at the start, since we had so many visual effects. We also had a major post challenge as Tom broke his ankle doing a rooftop chase stunt in London. So we had to shut down totally for six weeks and re-arrange the whole schedule to accommodate his recovery, and even when he got back on the movie his ankle wasn’t really healed enough.

We then had to shoot a lot of stuff piecemeal, and I knew, in order to make the release date, we had to start cutting right away when we had to stop for six weeks. But that also gave me a chance to re-evaluate it all, since you don’t really know the film you’ve shot until you get in the edit room, and that let me do course corrections I couldn’t have done otherwise. So, I essentially ended up doing re-shoots while still shooting the film. I was able to rewrite the second act, and it also meant that we had a finished cut done just six days after we wrapped. And we were able to test that movie four times and keep fine-tuning it.

Where did you do the post?Mission: Impossible: Fallout Tom Cruise
All in London, around Soho, and we did the sound at De Lane Lea.

Like Rogue, this was edited by Eddie Hamilton. Was he on the set?
Yes, and he’s invaluable because he’s got a very good eye, is a great storyteller and has a great sense of the continuity. He can also course-correct very quickly and let me know when we need to grab another shot. On Rogue Nation, he also did a lot of 2nd unit stuff, and he has great skills with the crew. We didn’t really have a 2nd unit on this one, which I think is better because it can get really chaotic with one. Basically, I love the edit, and I love being in the editing room and working hand in hand with my editor, shot for shot, and communicating all the time during production. It was a great collaboration.

There’s obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
I’d say well over 3,000, and our VFX supervisor Jody Johnson at Double Negative did an amazing job. DNeg, Lola, One of Us, Bluebolt and Cheap Shot all worked on them. There was a lot of rig removal and cleanup along with the big set pieces.

Mission: Impossible Fallout

What was the most difficult VFX sequence/shot to do and why?
The big “High Altitude Low Opening,” or HALO sequence, where Tom jumps out of a Boeing Globemaster at 25,000 feet was far and away the most difficult one. We shot part of it at an RAF base in England, but then with Tom’s broken ankle and the changed schedule, we ended up shooting some of it in Abu Dhabi. Then we had to add in the Paris backdrop and the lightning for the storm, and to maintain the reality we had to keep the horizon in the shot. As the actors were falling at 160 MPH toward the Paris skyline, all of those shots had to be tracked by hand. No computer could do it, and that alone took hundreds of people working on it for three months to complete. It was exhausting.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
It’s so vital, and for me it’s always a three-pronged approach — music, sound and silence, and then the combination of all three elements. It’s very important to maintain the franchise aesthetic, but I wanted to have a fresh approach, so I brought in composer Lorne Balfe, and he did a great job.

The DI must have been vital. How did that process help?
We did it at Molinare in London with colorist Asa Shoul, who is just so good. I’m fairly hands on, especially as the DP was off on another project by the time we did the DI, although he worked on it with Asa as well. We had a big job dealing with all the stuff we shot in New Zealand, bringing it up to the other footage. I actually try to get the film as close as possible to what I want on the day, and then use the DI as a way of enhancing and shaping that, but I don’t actually like to manipulate things too much, although we gave all the Paris stuff this sort of hazy, sweaty look and feel which I love.

What’s next?
A very long nap.


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

The Handmaiden‘s colorist walks us through scenes

The Handmaiden, directed by Chan-Wook Park and inspired by Sarah Waters’s 2002’s novel Fingersmith, is set in 1930s colonial Korea and Japan. In the film, Park presents a tale of a young Japanese lady living on a secluded estate, and a Korean woman who is hired to serve as her new handmaiden, but who is secretly involved in a con-man’s plot to defraud her of her large inheritance.

Park Jin-Ho

The film, which is the first Korean film ever to win a BAFTA award for best foreign language film, was graded by Park Jin-Ho, senior colorist at Cinemate in Korea. He completed the color grade in two weeks.

One of the key challenges for Park was to express the wet and humid weather after the rain. “It was difficult to recreate the sense of a wet and muggy scene on the screen,” he explained. “I found it really useful to mix several grades in one stack. It meant I could catch a thought and grade immediately before the idea disappeared, then blend it into the overall grade.”

Park has worked on several movie projects with director Chan-Wook Park since his time as a junior colorist and he also has plenty of experience working alongside Chan-Wook Park’s partner, DP Chung Chung-hoon. This close relationship meant that when The Handmaiden project started, he was able to join in discussions at the pre-production stage, which gave him time to test and adjust the camera and lens characteristics that had been chosen by the DP in advance.

Chung Chung-hoon used the Arri Alexa camera and vintage lenses to try to create the feeling of Joseon during the Japanese occupation of the 1930s.

Park Jin-Ho takes us through some of his work on various scenes in the movie, accompanied by a selection of before and after images. He worked on FilmLight Baselight.

Rain at BoYoungDang
The first scene is a very cloudy day. CG storm clouds were added to the sky. Then, in the DI, I removed the warm tone of the original footage to better express the cloudy day. To make the tone of the characters colder, I removed the yellow color and added blue that is close to white.

Before

After

Wide View of Kouzuki’s Countryside Palace
At the start of part one, we see a wide view of Kouzuki’s countryside palace. CG was used to add a little bit of cloud, and I added a little sunset mode to create the two different tones in the sky.

Before

After

Annex Road
The main lens used is the Hawk Vintage 74 anamorphic. The combination of camera and lens clearly differentiated The Handmaiden from other movies in terms of texture. I thought it might be just one specific look, but it was a good combination and the best reflection of the texture of film in the digital age as I have ever seen.

It was also impressive to create images while zooming in and out deeply with the anamorphic camera showing the depth of field and image texture.

One disadvantage of this lens, however, is that in a wide zoom shot the focus is distorted on the edges and in the corners. In the mask area shown below, blurring is strongly applied everywhere except for the center of the frame, and the focus is soft. I tried to give the images sharpness by using the fast tracking and keyframe together around the eyes of an actor. However, in such a wide view shot, it just wasn’t possible to focus on the upper part of the heroine, even when raising the sharpness value of the whole image.

Despite these disadvantages though, the filmic texture is fascinating.

Before

Improved Sharpness

Annex
This scene was in an annex of Kouzuki’s library. The characteristic of this library is that it is located in the shade and rarely experiences sunlight. So for this shot, I decreased saturation as well as the brightness of the light part of the scene.

Before

After

Leading Actors Skin Tone
The skin tones of the actors were rather pale. Typically, I graded the face of Lady Hideko to be expressed in pure whiteness throughout the movie, because she was trapped in the palace. On the contrary, I raised the skin tone of the maid Sook-hee a little, because she lived more freely than Hideko. The Count’s skin tone was desaturated because the actor’s original skin tone is strong already.

Before

After

Weather Change
In this scene, Hideko and Sook-hee are talking about their mothers. In the middle of their stories, the sun was covered by dark cloud. Before and after the dark clouds cover the sun, I showed the weather change on the two heroines through brightness and color tone.

Before

After

Palace’s Back Garden
This is where the Count is angry with Sook-hee. I reduced the brightness of the tree-lined garden to concentrate on the two characters.

Before

After

Hideko and Sook-hee Run Away
Here Hideko and Sook-hee run away from the palace for freedom. These cuts, arranged in Part 1 and Part 2, have a temporal change from the moment they run away over the wall to the moment they run across a wide field. Hideko and Sook-hee keep running toward freedom from the dark night to the coming of the dawn. The grade involved adding the feeling of the sunshine by separating the key of the characters and the field.

Before

After

Soul Asylum (psychiatric hospital)
The soul asylum scene needed a lot of hard work from the CG team because the director wanted to change the red brick wall into an achromatic wall. When I graded it on the big screen, I worked with mattes from CG as it was difficult to make a key to separate the wall and the actors.

Before

After

Library Basement
My work on the scene of the library basement involved showing when the Count did and did not smoke while in conversation with Kouzuki. The CG team added the smoke source, and I then added the green color to it and gradually revealed the cigarette-smoky basement.

Before

After

For those of you who would like to watch The Handmaiden, it’s available on Amazon Prime in the UK, and Blu-ray and DVD in US.

Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mars Williamson

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

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

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

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

John Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka

 

Kari Skogland — Emmy-nominated director of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Iain Blair

From day one, the stark images of pure white bonnets and blood-red cloaks in The Handmaid’s Tale have come to symbolize one thing — the oppression of women. The Hulu hit series has also come to symbolize that rare moment in pop culture where difficult subject matter and massive artistic ambition cross over into impressive ratings.

In fact, the show — based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian and prescient 1985 novel of the same name — just received 20 Emmy nominations, including eight acting noms and a second nod for best drama series. It reportedly doubled its audience for the Season 2 premiere (as compared to the first season), after becoming the first show from a streaming service to win best drama at the 2017 Emmys.

Many of the most searing episodes, including “Night,” the finale to Season 1, and “Other Women” in Season 2, were directed by the award-winning Kari Skogland. As CEO of Mad Rabbit, which launched in 2016, Skogland produces one-hour dramas for the international market while she continues her work as a director on The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming pilot for Starz’s The Rook. Skogland was included in the 2018 Emmy nominations with recognition of her directing work on the Season 2 episode “After.”

A prolific female director of TV and film, Skogland’s television credits include episodes for the premiere season of Condor (Audience), and such shows as The Borgias and Penny Dreadful (Showtime), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), The Killing, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead (AMC), Under the Dome (CBS), Vikings (History Channel), Power-Starring 50 Cent (Starz), The Americans (FX) and House of Cards and The Punisher (Netflix). Skogland also directed Sons of Liberty (History), a six-part event miniseries for which she won the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) award for Best Director of a Television Miniseries.

As a feature film writer, director and producer, Skogland’s film Fifty Dead Men Walking, starring Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for another six awards, including Best Film.  Additionally, Skogland was recognized by the DGC as Best Director. Her previous film as director, writer and producer was The Stone Angel, starring Ellen Burstyn and Ellen Page. It was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer by WGC as well as Best Screenplay and Best Actress. It also won a Best Film award from the DGC.

I recently spoke with Skogland — the only female nominated in the best directing drama category at this year’s Emmys — about the show, her workflow and mentoring other women.

Why do you think the show’s caught the public’s imagination so much?
I think it’s rooted in many things, one of them being a cautionary tale. Another would be these compelling performances that engage you in the story in an emotional context and a narrative that has the possibility of actually coming true, especially given what we’re seeing on the news all the time now. It’s a weird perfect storm where today’s political climate and this show sort of merge.

I recently read something where Margaret Atwood, who wrote it over 30 years ago, says that everything has happened. It was fiction, but it has happened somewhere in the world since she wrote it, and it’s happening today. So I think the authenticity of the characters and the performances, even more than the events, is what really drives it even further into being so incredibly watchable.

Every character is so complex.
Exactly. You love to hate Serena Joy, but then there are moments where you really feel for her in ways you can’t predict. So your emotional barometer is going up and down.

Fair to say that Atwood’s book and its themes seem more timely than ever?
Definitely. Not only is it very timely now, but it was probably very timely when it first came out too, which makes it even more interesting when you think about progress. Are we really on a treadmill? Have we really moved the political needle at all? It doesn’t seem that different from when she wrote it, when Reagan and the rise of conservatism in America were making headlines.

Have you started Season 3?
Not yet. It’ll probably start filming in September. They’ve asked me to come back, but they don’t have a schedule yet.

Kari Skogland on set

What are the big challenges of directing this show?
First of all, you have to be very aware of all of it. When I did the Season 1 finale, I had to watch everything very carefully up until that point so I could continue the emotional story. It was the same thing for Season 2. They’re very challenging performance pieces for everyone, and you have to maintain that sense of continuity and trust. You have to really plan for the season’s arc for each character, and someone like Lizzie [Moss] is so collaborative. But it’s also this path of discovery, where you want to capture the inspiration of the moment.

Where do you post?
We shoot in Toronto and do all the post at Take 5 Productions there. I’ve known and worked with them for years — they’ve won so many awards for their great work. They do all the editing and finishing.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and with a show like this it’s where you can combine the plan you went into post with, along with those happy accidents and inspired moments, and see the scene or episode come alive in ways you didn’t expect. I always think of it as a way to re-direct the episode. Post is always full of surprises.

Talk about editing. Didn’t you start off as an editor?
Yes, and I am really involved in the edit. I always want to have two options in post. I don’t want to be handcuffed by any decisions made on the set. I need to be able to re-sculpt the footage and rediscover stuff as we go.

You have a big cast, and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the things I really like to avoid is what I call “ping-pong” editing, and doing lazy coverage of a scene where it’s so predictable — there’s the closeup, there’s the wide shot, there’s another closeup!  I always want coverage that actually eliminates edits. The goal is to not interrupt the flow by jumping all over the place. With that in mind, I try and shoot with the idea of “the elegant accident,” and that means you sometimes shoot a lot of extra footage so you can find the gold and the gems as you re-sculpt in post. It’s like documentary filmmaking in that sense, and those gems happen in the oddest of moments.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music.
The show’s creator, Bruce Miller, is very really instrumental in all that, but we’re all involved too. For episode eight, Joe Fiennes came up with the idea of a record player, and then we built this whole storyline around the record player. The wonderful thing about Bruce’s writing and his aesthetic is that it’s so spare, so it leaves such great opportunities for performance. The actors can convey a lot without any words.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
It’s incredibly important! When your peers nominate you it’s a real nod from industry professionals, and it indicates tremendous appreciation.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I’ve been advocating for women for years, and the truth is, nothing’s really changed that much. There’s been so much talk recently, and it was the same thing 20 years ago. One female director had a big hit with Wonder Woman, but real change will only come when half the superhero movies are directed by women.

What advice would you give young women who would like to direct and run shows like this?
Not only can you do it — just do it! Obviously, it’s hard and there are many sacrifices you have to make, but don’t take “no” for an answer.


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 Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

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

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

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

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

Now and Then

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party of One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Hacohen joins Tool as managing director, live action

Tool of North America has hired executive producer Nancy Hacohen as managing director of live action. In this position, Hacohen will oversee all aspects of Tool’s live action work and represent the company’s directorial talent. She will also work alongside Dustin Callif, managing partner of innovation, to manage Tool’s day-to-day operations, which range from live action to experiential, VR and AI.

Hacohen joins Tool from Moxie Pictures, where she served as executive producer for the past year. Prior to Moxie, she executive produced for Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment, Hungry Man and House of Usher on campaigns for Apple, Google, Mercedes and Nike.

Hacohen also previously worked with Tool, having served as EP on several projects for the company including the Emmy-nominated Fans of Love for the Ad Council’s Love Has No Labels campaign and the female-empowerment It Was You campaign for the Grammys.

 

Eli Rotholz joins Alkemy X as VP of biz dev

Creative content company Alkemy X has added Eli Rotholz as VP of business development,. He will be based in the company’s New York headquarters.

Rotholz brings more than 12 years of sales/business development, strategy and production experience, having begun his career as an independent sales rep for Ziegler/Jakubowicz and Moustache NYC. From there, he worked in his first in-house position at Click3X, where he built and managed a diverse roster of directorial talent, as well as the company’s first integrated production offering focusing on live-action, VFX/design/animation and editorial.

Rotholz then founded Honor Society Films. He later joined Hone Production, a brand-direct-focused production company and consultancy, as director of business development/content EP.

“Very few companies in the industry can boast the strong directorial roster and VFX capabilities as Alkemy X,” says Rotholz. “In addition to the amazing entertainment work that Alkemy does, there’s definitely a trend in high-end ‘package’ productions where one company can do both live-action shoots with their directors, as well as editorial and VFX.”

Dive: Matthias Hoene, Adidas x Parley put focus on ocean pollution

In an effort to raise awareness about the issue of polluted oceans, Miniac Films, director Matthias Hoene and German cliff diver Anna Bader teamed on the three-minute film called Dive.

Hoene came up with the original idea and looked for a way to tell Bader’s story. He approached Adidas x Parley with the concept. Given Parley’s initiative to create high-performance products made from waste that has been intercepted from beaches and coastal communities, they were the perfect brand partners to assist in delivering the message of a sustainable and clean future.

Shot in Hawaii, Hoene’s film takes the viewer into Bader’s beautiful — and at times frightening — world as she sets out to perform the ultimate cliff dive at Kahekili’s Leap on the south shore of Hawaii. Bader is one of the world’s leading cliff divers, a pioneer in the sport. When she entered cliff diving in 2005, there were virtually no other women for her to compete against. That’s changed over the last decade-plus.

With Dive, Hoene highlights the connection between cliff divers and the natural environment. A fierce tension defines the build up and backstory, as the director chronicles the intense training that goes into Bader’s four-second leap. Her narration is intercut with close-ups of her training regime and sweeping shots of the cliff sides and surrounding nature, adding to the atmosphere and suspense.

Hoene employed several techniques to dramatize the act of diving off an impossibly high cliff by oneself, shooting over two days with a variety of hardware, including underwater and drone (an Inspire Pro2 with Zenmuse X5S)cameras. His main camera was a Red Epic with Cooke Anamorphic SF lenses and for underwater shots, a Red Epic with Nikon lenses in underwater housing. Using the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera, his crew was able to achieve what Hoene calls “a Roadrunner moment” — when time slows to a standstill mid-air and the body processes what is about to happen. His DP was Matthew Chavez.

Overall, Hoene captured 12 separate takes of Anna’s climactic cliff dive — she had to scale back up the cliffs by hand each time. “The kind of jumps Anna did, having to clear three meters of deadly rock with a triple somersault, or needing to hit really specific points in the water to avoid hitting the ground, definitely made my heart miss a beat a few times,” he explains. “It’s humbling to work with athletes of her caliber. It makes me want to work harder at everything I do.”

Hoene re-entered the world of short form after directing his debut feature Cockneys vs Zombies, followed by the action/adventure film Enter the Warriors Gate. Recently he helmed The Living Hostel, an #EUandME short film for the European Commission. Other soon-to-be released projects include a campaign for Lenovo and a music video for the long-awaited return of indie rock band Eels.

Other credits on the film include EP Stephen Roesler, producer Sarah Key and editor Niles Howard, who cut on Adobe’s Premiere Pro. LA- and London-based Electric Theatre Collective colored and finished the film. The colorist was Kaitlyn Battistelli was colorist and Sara Gbadamosi produced for ETC. Christopher Carmichael created the score, while LA and London’s Vaudeville provided the sound.

Director Natalia Leite joins Humble’s roster

Bi-coastal production studio Humble has signed director Natalia Leite to its roster. Humble is Leite’s commercial representation, but she brings her rich experience as a writer and director for features, indie films and Vice documentaries.

Her MFA, a psychological thriller about rape crimes at a university, premiered at SXSW 2017 and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. She also worked on Every Woman, a Vice documentary about traditionally female-held jobs that are often looked down upon. It garnered over 12 million views.

Leite believes in weaving social commentary into her work, especially when it comes to female empowerment.

Her first work with Humble included two docu-style brand films for Vans Off the Wall brand titled Girls Skate India, and Vision Walk, which featured young women building a community and encouraging others to seek and live their passions. Girls Skate India was shortlisted for the 2018 AICP Awards and the AICP Next Awards.

Leite also teamed up with agency Sid Lee to direct a new campaign for The North Face, Move Mountains, that highlights the inspiring stories of female creators, athletes, educators and innovators who are moving mountains in their fields.

“For me, joining Humble was a perfect marriage,” says Leite. “Humble is a collaborative and supportive team that has embraced my passion and personal directing style. There, I will be able to continue telling stories about causes I care about, while branching out more into branded content work.”

Most recently, Leite wrote and directed a short film for a Condé Nast series on LGBT perspectives, which premiered during Pride Week in New York in June. Leite’s project, Kiki and the Mxfits, follows one trans girl whose high school popularity skyrockets when she rebels and uses the girl’s bathroom.

Showtime’s Homeland: Producer/director Lesli Linka Glatter

By Iain Blair

Since it first premiered back in 2011, the provocative, edgy and timely spy thriller Homeland has been a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It has also racked up dozens of awards, including Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes.

The show, which features an impressive cast — namely Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin — is Showtime’s number one drama series is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios and was developed for American television by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. Homeland is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War from Gideon Raff.

Lesli Linka Glatter

Producer Lesli Linka Glatter is an award-winning director of film and episodic dramas. Her TV work includes The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, Justified, Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, Nashville, True Blood, Mad Men, The Good Wife, House, The West Wing, NYPD Blue, ER and Freaks and Geeks, just to name a few. Most recently, she directed the first two episodes of Dick Wolf’s limited series Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders for NBC.

Glatter was nominated for a fifth Emmy for directing the Homeland episode “America First,” and in 2015 and 2016 she was also among the producers acknowledged when Homeland received back-to-back Emmy nominations for Best Drama. 

Glatter began her directing career through American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, and her short film Tales of the Meeting and Parting was nominated for an Academy Award. Her first series was Amazing Stories, followed by Twin Peaks, for which she received her first Directors Guild Award nomination. She made her feature film directorial debut with Now and Then, followed by The Proposition. For HBO she directed State of Emergency, Into the Homeland and The Promise.

To say her career has been prolific is an understatement. I recently spoke with Glatter about making Homeland, the Emmys, her love of post and mentoring other women.

Have you started Season 8?
Not yet. We’re not even prepping yet since we just finished Season 7. The first thing that happens is the writers, myself, Claire, Mandy and the DP go to DC to meet with the intelligence community, and what we find out from talking to these people then becomes the next season.

Is it definitely the final one?
I think that’s unclear yet. It might go on.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I love it. As a producing director I love being involved with the whole novel, the whole big picture of the season, as well as the individual chapters. There’s an overall look and feel and tone to each season, and I also get to direct four of the 12 episodes. We have other amazing directors who come in, and that creates energy and brings in a different point of view, yet it fits into the whole, overall storyline and feel of the season. We have this wonderful working environment on the show where the best idea wins, so it’s very creative. Then every year we reinvent the wheel, with a new look and feel for the show.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
A complex show like this is filled with all sorts of challenges and joys, in equal parts. Obviously, everything starts with the material and the script, then I have my partners in crime — Claire and Mandy — who’re so creative and collaborative. The big challenge is that we try to make each season new and fresh. People might look at one of Season 7’s shows and think we have it all dialed in with the same sets, the same crew in place and so on, but we’re always going to a new place with a new crew and new sets, and we shoot for 11 days, but nine of those are usually on location, so we have very few on stage. In terms of logistics, that is really challenging. Every episode’s different, but that’s generally how it works. Then we’re exploring very relevant and timely issues. We just dealt with “a nation divided” and Russian meddling, and these are things that everyone’s talking about right now.

As mentioned, you direct a lot of shows. Do you prefer doing that?
It’s more that I see myself as a director first and foremost, although I love showrunning and producing as well. I want to be the producer that every director would love to have, since I try to give them whatever they need to tell their best stories. I have a great line producer/partner named Michael Klick. He’s the magic man who makes it all happen. The key in TV is to have great partners, and our core creative team — DPs David Klein and Giorgio Scali, our editors, production designers, costume designers — are all so talented. You want the smartest team you can get, and then let the best idea win, and we always aim for a very cinematic look.

Where do you post?
We did all the editing on the Fox lot and all the sound mixing at Universal. Encore does the VFX.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s where it all comes together, and you get to look at everything you’ve done and re-shape it and make it the best it can be. Along with everyone else, I have my idea of what each episode will be, and then we have our editing team and they bring all their ideas to it, so it’s very exciting to watch it evolve.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have three editors — Jordan Goldman, Harvey Rosenstock and Philip Carr Neel — because of the tight schedule, and they each handle different episodes and focus solely on those… unless we run into a problem.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
Telling the best possible story and staying true to the theme and subtext and intent of that story. The show really lives in shades of gray with a lot of ambiguity. A classic Homeland scene will feature two characters on completely opposing sides of an issue, and they’re both right and both wrong. So maybe that makes you think more about that issue and question your beliefs, and I love that about the show.

This show has a great score by Sean Callery, as well as great sound design. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music.
Sean’s an amazing storyteller and brilliant at what he does, as the show has a huge amount of anxiety in it, and he captures that and helps amplify it — but without making it obvious. He’s been on the show since the start, and we’ve also worked with the same sound team for a long time, and sound design’s such a key element in our show. We spend a lot of time on all the little details that you may not notice in a scene.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
You can’t ever think about awards while you’re working. You just focus on trying to tell the best possible story, but in this golden age of TV it’s great to be recognized by your peers. It’s huge!

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
Things are changing and improving. I’ve been involved with mentoring women directors for many, many years, and I hope we soon get to a point where gender is no longer an issue. If you’d asked me back when I began directing over 20 years ago if we’d still be discussing all this today, I’d have said, “Absolutely not!” But here we still are. The truth is, showrunning and directing are hard and challenging jobs, but women should have the same opportunities as men. Simple as 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.