Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: Director

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. 

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

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.