Category Archives: documentary

Emmy Season: Audio post for Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country

By Jennifer Walden

A community based on peace and love, acceptance and non-judgment, where everyone has a job and a purpose. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that, right? Or, is there a part of you that thinks this all sounds a bit utopian and is dubious?

Wild Wild Country, the six-part docu-series created by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way — its executive producers include two more sets of brothers: Mark and Jay Duplass and Josh and Dan Braun — tells the true story of what happened to a small town in Oregon after a religious cult set up their “utopian” city on a nearby ranch. This seven-hour documentary premiered in its entirety at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available to stream on Netflix. It was also nominated for five Emmy Awards, including for Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Series.

The Unbridled sound team at Sundance.

Wild Wild Country is a mix of archival news footage from the ‘80s — when the Rajneesh cult’s influence was on the rise in Oregon — and footage shot by the Rajneeshees, particularly in their own camp. It also draws from other documentaries and news specials on the Rajneesh movement that was created over the years. The Way brothers conduct extensive interviews with former Rajneeshees — including Ma Anand Sheela, who was personal secretary to cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They also interview a list of other interesting characters, from FBI agents who helped to bring down the cult to Oregonians (including the former mayor of Antelope) who lived near the cult’s camp.

The result is a story that’s almost too twisted to be true. “This could’ve been a narrative feature that someone scripted and produced… a film that’s well thought out and well played instead of a story that was stumbled upon,” says Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor Brent Kiser of LA’s Unbridled Sound. He and his sound editing team are recipients of one of the show’s five Emmy noms for their work on Wild Wild Country.

“Creatively, we didn’t see Wild Wild Country as a documentary per se,” explains Kiser. “We wanted it to be cinematic so that, in a way, you couldn’t believe this was real life because it was too crazy. The sound needed to reflect that.”

The Dialog
One way they achieved a feature film feel was by processing the interview dialog so that it didn’t sound like a stereotypical talking-head documentary. “We didn’t want the dialog to have that very dry, close sound you get with lavalier microphones,” says Kiser.

Years ago, while working on a documentary called Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013), dialog editor Elliot Thompson discovered that stripping all the noise from the production dialog also stripped out all the character and nuances of a location. It made the dialog feel impersonal, as though it was talking at the audience instead of to them.

“That worked well on Tiny because you’re in small, close spaces, but on Wild Wild Country we wanted to do the opposite,” says Kiser. “We wanted to give the interview dialog a little bit of life, so we added in reverb using Audio Ease’s Altiverb. This gave the dialog a smoother, softer feel that helps the audience to feel the room to feel the environment and to feel like they’re there. Subsequently, this polish gave the dialog a cinematic feel. It felt more like a story being told and less like news.”

For the news footage from the ‘80s, which includes segments by former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Kiser went for an unpolished approach. “The material hadn’t been maintained, and there were these weird VHS bleeds; the audio had a huge hum. Initially, we tried to clean it up a bit, but in the end we decided to just let it roll because that’s how it is,” he says.

Replacing Some Sound
The sound of the news footage set the tone for the rest of the archival material. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound for the B-roll shots that didn’t have someone talking on-camera. They did the same for footage from the Rajneeshees, who shot tons of footage for their promotional videos. “Every footstep, every gunshot, we covered all that. We basically replaced it all.”

For example, there’s footage of the Rajneeshees all dressed in red, walking through the town of Antelope, Oregon. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound there, adding in wind, footsteps and other elements you’d expect to hear. “We wanted to keep those moments feeling very real and very voyeuristic,” says Kiser. “By ‘real,’ I mean our idea of what archival material should sound like.”

In order for the sound to feel “real” it had to sound dirty, just like the archival news footage. Sound effects editors Jacob Flack and Danielle Price mined the libraries at Unbridled Sound in search of effects that were old, noisy and poorly recorded — effects that wouldn’t normally be useful today. Kiser says, “The old Hollywood Edge and BBC libraries were perfect! The wind sounds that are rumbly and distorted — those were just perfect.”

They also recorded new sounds when needed, but those fresh, clean recordings had to match the gritty archival material. Kiser tried adding futz processing via Audio Ease’s Speakerphone, but ultimately it wasn’t giving him the desired result. “So we tried cranking the Pro Tools SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in on it, and we also used the Waves Cobalt Saphira harmonic shaper plug-in. This helped the new recordings to feel warm and analog in the right way. We would bus all the ‘archival’ sound through an AUX channel with those two plug-ins for overall processing.

Some sounds couldn’t be replaced, specifically the Rajneeshee chants and singing. Those were pulled from already-published sources, like other documentaries, due to rights issues. Kiser explains, “That was important because the Rajneeshees, a.k.a. sannyasins, are still around. You can still go to India and find them. And Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) is the yoga guy. If you dive into any hardcore yoga philosophy or theology, he’s written all about it and he’s quoted all the time.”

Knowing Wild Wild Country was going to play theatrically at Sundance, Kiser and his team were able to work with the 5.1 surround field — a rare opportunity in the documentary world. They chose to keep the sound on the front wall to maintain that archival feel, but when they wanted to kick up the excitement — for example, during the helicopter flyovers of Rajneeshpuram — they pulled the sound into the surrounds. “We used whooshes and sound design elements to make that feel bigger, more cinematic than the other archival material.”

The Music
Another prominent feature in the soundtrack was the music, composed by musician Brocker Way (brother to the filmmakers). “It’s basically wall-to-wall, and it’s amazing. You can watch all seven hours and not be annoyed by the music,” says Kiser. Interestingly, the music wasn’t composed to picture. Brocker Way wrote four- to five-minute cues that were later edited to picture. “We’d get the edited music tracks and make some adjustments, too. The result was a soundtrack that was perfect for this project.”

The biggest thing Kiser was worried about (knowing the film festival audience was going to watch a seven-hour documentary in its entirety) was boredom. That turned out to be a non-issue. The story itself is exciting. “And as far as the sound goes, the dialog feels warm and accessible through the whole film, so it feels like a story. A lot of times you’ll hear the sound design and music ramping up towards the end of each part, so that it would tease and build into the next one. It worked. At Sundance, they kept the theater at 40 to 50 people for all seven hours,” reports Kiser.

What’s most amazing about the post sound process on Wild Wild Country is that Unbridled Sound had just three weeks to get it all done, from edit to final mix. “We’re only a five-person crew here,” says Kiser. “Not only were we working on Wild Wild Country, but we had another Sundance film too, called An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. And we were working on a series for Adult Swim called Dream Corp, LLC. So, it was intense.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

Hobo’s Chris Stangroom on providing Quest doc’s sonic treatment

Following a successful film fest run that included winning a 2018 Independent Spirit Award, and being named a 2017 official selection at Sundance, the documentary Quest is having its broadcast premiere on PBS this month as part of their POV series.

Chris Stangroom

Filmed with vérité intimacy for nearly a decade, Quest follows the Rainey family who live in North Philadelphia. The story begins at the start of the Obama presidency with Christopher “Quest” Rainey, and his wife Christine (“Ma Quest”) raising a family, while also nurturing a community of hip-hop artists in their home music studio. It’s a safe space where all are welcome, but as the doc shows, this creative sanctuary can’t always shield them from the strife that grips their neighborhood.

New York-based audio post house Hobo, which is no stranger to indie documentary work (Weiner, Amanda Knox, Voyeur), lent its sonic skills to the film, including the entire sound edit (dialogue, effects and music), sound design, 5.1 theatrical and broadcast mixes.

We spoke with Hobo’s Chris Stangroom, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer on the project about the challenges he and the Hobo team faced in their quest on this film.

Broadly speaking what did you and Hobo do on this project? How did you get involved?
We handled every aspect of the audio post on Quest for its Sundance Premiere, theatrical run and broadcast release of the film on POV.

This was my first time working with director Jonathan Olshefski and I loved every minute of it, The entire team on Quest was focused on making this film better with every decision, and he had to be the final voice on everything. We were connected through my friend producer Sabrina Gordon, who I had previously worked with on the film Undocumented. It was a pretty quick turn of events, as I think I got the first call about the film Thanksgiving weekend of 2016. We started working on the film the day after Christmas that year and were finished mix two weeks later with the entire sound edit and mix for the 2017 Sundance film festival.

How important is the audio mix/sound design in the overall cinematic experience of Quest? What was most important to Olshefski?
The sound of a film is half of the experience. I know it sounds cliché, but after years of working with clients on improving their films, the importance of a good sound mix and edit can’t be understated. I have seen films come to life by simply adding Foley to a few intimate moments in a scene. It seems like such a small detail in the grand scheme of a film’s soundtrack, but feeling that intimacy with a character connects us to them in a visceral way.

Since Quest was a film not only about the Rainey family but also their neighborhood of North Philly, I spent a lot of time researching the sounds of Philadelphia. I gathered a lot of great references and insight from friends who had grown up in Philly, like the sounds of “ghetto birds” (helicopters), the motorbikes that are driven around constantly and the SEPTA buses. As Jon and I spoke about the film’s soundtrack, those kinds of sounds and ideas were exactly what he was looking for when we were out on the streets of North Philly. It created an energy to the film that made it vivid and alive.

The film was shot over a 10-year period. How did that prolonged production affect the audio post? Were there format issues or other technical issues you needed to overcome?
It presented some challenges, but luckily Jon always recorded with a lav or a boom on his camera for the interviews, so matching their sound qualities was easier than if he had just been using a camera mic. There are probably half a dozen “narrated” scenes in Quest that are built from interview sound bites, so bouncing around from interviews 10 years apart was tricky and required a lot of attention to detail.

In addition, Quest‘s phenomenal editor Lindsay Utz was cutting scenes up until the last day of our sound mix. So even once we got an entire scene sounding clean and balanced, it would then change and we’d have to add a new line from some other interview during that decade-long period. She definitely kept me on my toes, but it was all to make the film better.

Music is a big part of the family’s lives. Did the fact that they run a recording studio out of their home affect your work?
Yes. The first thing I did once we started on the film was to go down to Quest’s studio in Philly and record “impulse responses” (IRs) of the space, essentially recording the “sound” of a room or space. I wanted to bring that feeling of the natural reverbs in his studio and home to the film. I captured the live room where the artists would be recording, his control room in the studio and even the hallway leading to the studio with doors opened and closed, because sound changes and becomes more muffled as more doors are shut between the microphone and the sound source. The IRs helped me add incredible depth and the feeling that you were there with them when I was mixing the freestyle rap sessions and any scenes that took place in the home and studio.

Jon and I also grabbed dozens of tracks that Quest had produced over the years, so that we could add them into the film in subtle ways, like when a car drives by or from someone’s headphones. It’s those kinds of little details that I love adding, like Easter eggs that only a handful of us know about. They make me smile whenever I watch a film.

Any particular scene or section or aspect of Quest that you found most challenging or interesting to work on?
The scenes involving Quest’s daughter PJ’s injury through her stay in the hospital and her return back home had a lot of challenges that came along with them. We used sound design and the score from the amazing composer T. Griffin to create the emotional arc that something dangerous and life-changing was about to happen.

Once we were in the hospital, we wanted the sound of everything to be very, very quiet. There is a scene in which Quest is whispering to PJ while she is in pain and trying to recover. The actual audio from that moment had a few nurses and women in the background having a loud conversation and occasionally laughing. It took the viewer immediately away from the emotions that we were trying to connect with, so we ended up scrapping that entire audio track and recreated the scene from scratch. Jon actually ended up getting in the sound booth and did some very low and quiet whispering of the kinds of phrases Quest said to his daughter. It took a couple hours to finesse that scene.

Lastly, the scene when PJ gets out of the hospital and is returning back into a world that didn’t stop while she was recovering. We spent a lot of time shifting back and forth between the reality of what happened, and the emotional journey PJ was going through trying to regain normalcy in her life. There was a lot of attention to detail in the mix on that scene because it had to be delivered correctly in order to not break the momentum that had been created.

What was the key technology you used on the project?
Avid Pro Tools, Izotope RX 5 Advanced, Audio Ease Altiverb, Zoom H4N; and a matched stereo pair of sE Electronics sE1a condenser mics.

Who else at Hobo was involved in Quest?
The entire Hobo team really stepped up on this project — namely our sound effects editors Stephen Davies, Diego Jimenez and Julian Angel; Foley artist Oscar Convers; and dialogue editor Jesse Peterson.

DG 7.9.18

LACPUG hosting FCP and Premiere creator Randy Ubillos

The Los Angeles Creative Pro User Group (LACPUG) is celebrating its 18th anniversary on June 27 by presenting the official debut of Bradley Olsen’s Off the Tracks, a documentary about Final Cut Pro X. Also on the night’s agenda is a trip down memory lane with Randy Ubillos, the creator of Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, Aperture, iMovie 08 and Final Cut Pro X.

The event will take place at the Gallery Theater in Hollywood. Start time is 6:45pm. Scheduled to be in the audience and perhaps on stage, depending on availability, will be members of the original FCP team: Michael Wohl, Tim Serda and Paul Saccone. Also on hand will be Ramy Katrib of DigitalFilm Tree and editor and digital consultant Dan Fort. “Many other invites to the ‘superstars’ of the digital revolution and FCP have been sent out,” says Michael Horton, founder and head of LACPUG.

The night will also include food and drinks, time for questions and the group’s “World Famous Raffle.”
Tickets are on sale now on the LACPUG website for $10 each, plus a ticket fee of $2.24.

The Los Angeles Creative Pro User Group, formerly the LA Final Cut Pro User Group, was established in June of 2000 and hosts a membership of over 6,000 worldwide.


Carla Gutierrez on editing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc, RBG

By Amy Leland

We live in very interesting times. Specifically, when an 85-year-old Supreme Court justice has become a viral sensation. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious RBG, the queen of the dissent, is the subject of memes, t-shirts and coffee mugs. She has earned the ardent following of a younger generation that sees her as a somewhat-unlikely pop icon and an inspirational figure.

Carla Gutierrez

She is also now the subject of an equally surprising documentary, called RBG. When one thinks of a film about a Supreme Court justice, it would be easy to assume the result would be something mostly academic and serious. But RBG is delightfully entertaining and funny, and unexpectedly emotional and touching.

After seeing the movie, I had the additional pleasure of speaking with the film’s editor, Carla Gutierrez, about the story and how she and the rest of the creative team brought it to life.

How did you become an editor?
I went to grad school to study film. I had a big interest in the production of art and social issue stuff, and I was watching on a lot of documentaries after college. I applied to grad school, and I quickly realized that the stress of producing wasn’t for me. I started gravitating toward the craft of editing, and I just loved it so much.

It’s interesting because there are a lot of editors that ultimately want to jump into the director’s role, but I never had the desire to do that. I love the collaboration that happens in the edit. I feel really lucky to be doing this kind of work, and to get a project like this… I’m incredibly lucky.

How did you end up focused on documentary work?
Before getting into film, I knew I wanted to focus on documentaries. I knew that a very structured educational setup always worked best for me. There are a lot more now that focus on non-fiction, but at the time there were fewer. So I went to the Stanford graduate documentary program, which is a very small program. And we were taught to be a one-person band: produce, develop and do everything on your own.

Before I got into actual filmmaking, I didn’t really have any experience. The biggest lessons I learned, and that I still learn, are from watching all the films. Whenever I need to get inspired or to be shaken up a little bit, or think about things in a different way, I go back to film.

How did you end up involved in RBG?
Somebody at CNN Films recommended me to the directors, Julie Cohen and Betsy West. We met, and from the first email exchange, I knew I really wanted this job. I was lucky because I was working on another film that also had a lot of interview and archival material. They seemed to like it, and they hired me.

The film is surprisingly funny, both because of how much everyone talks about how funny her husband is, but also how witty she is. When I see a job for something that’s comedic, they almost always say editors must have experience working in comedy. Did you find that it required a different skill set?
You do have to think about rhythm — to give people time to actually react to things. But I think it’s very similar to the way I tackle all the work that I do. I pay attention when I’m watching the footage early on. I pay attention to what makes me laugh, and to the things that make me feel something. Then I build around those moments.

That was the same with this film. I remember watching the Saturday Night Live imitation of her — I don’t know how many times that day — because it was so incredibly funny. RBG cracked up when she watched Kate McKinnon’s impression for the first time. We played her laughing at it in a loop for a whole day. It makes me so happy, and you have to laugh. When we watched the interview with her high school classmates, it was really clear that these moments made us giggle.

I’m as aware as I can be when I am watching the dailies for whatever touches me — whether it’s a sad moment, an emotional moment or funny moment — and I try really hard to make room for that in the film.

I’m happy her husband was such an important part of the story. The way you kept weaving him throughout showed the important role he played in supporting her through everything — it was really beautiful.
Again, you just have to remember what moves you when you see the dailies. There is a moment in the confirmation hearing, his reaction when she’s speaking about him, and he’s smiling and just kind of looking down. That was the moment where it felt like he needed to be completely central to the story. We had a very clear idea that we had a great love story, so that needed to be very present in the film. When I saw that, and when he touches her hair when she got confirmed, I thought, “Okay, its not only the love story, its not only something that we have to touch on, but its something we can beautifully see in the footage.”

Did you feel a sense of responsibility making a film about a person who’s still alive, and also someone who is such an important person in the world right now?
It was an interesting time. They started shooting the film before the election, so people in the interviews were aware, and they were reflecting on what was going on.

Also we were leading to the first days of the #metoo movement when we were editing the film. So there was definitely a sense of responsibility. But with every story you do, you have to have a focus. And when they shot this film, they had a very sharp focus on her work toward the advancement of women’s rights. She has been involved in so many more cases, and there’s so much more about her life that just didn’t make sense to put in this particular story.

As I was working on the film, I found a new, deeper understanding of what women were going through, only about 50, 40 or even 30 years ago. I hope that shines through in the story that we told. Academically, I understood the women’s movement, and I understood the kind of inequality that people experienced, but working on this film really made me feel emotionally close to that reality. I hope that we’re doing that for the audience.

The sense of responsibility was very strong throughout the entire process. When we were getting close to the premiere, it was the first time that the Justice was going to see the film. We were very nervous about how she was going to react. It was like we had an audience of one in that theater that first time, and we were all looking at her while she was watching the film. She really loved it. I think we did justice to the Justice, as Betsy West likes to say. I think that we portrayed her life the way that she would have liked it to be told.

Not only is this a film about a pioneer of women’s rights, but you also had a creative team that was entirely female. How did that affect the experience of making this particular film?
I think that we all came with immense amounts of respect for the subject matter, because the subject matter has to do with our lives. I knew her as Notorious RBG and The Dissenter. Then I discovered what she had done for all of us in the ‘70s. So there was a special sense of responsibility, but also respect toward the subject matter that we were working on.

There was a special sense of pride when you’re working next to women who have achieved so much already. It was a great learning opportunity for me to work with Julie and Betsy. I gained so much from that collaboration and seeing how they work and how they carry themselves. Being on an all-female team, doing a female-centered film… yeah, it was a really rewarding and special experience.

To get a little more technical, what software did you use to cut the film?
We edited in Adobe Premiere Pro. This was a film with a lot of archival material, and it was like a puzzle, with lots of tiny pieces. We had a large amount of material, and the way my mind works, I throw a lot of clips in my timeline. I find Premiere to be incredibly simple, but it also has a lot of complexity — you can do a lot with it. With a film like this, which is kind of massive, it also opens up a lot of simplicity to be able to navigate that… placing the material really quickly and easily.

Also, I work with an amazing associate editor — Grace Mendenhall. I like to be very organized at the beginning because that speeds up the process as you keep going. We were very, very careful at the beginning with our media organization and our workflow.

In the credits, you had an online assistant listed, but no assistant editor. Instead, you worked with an associate editor? Was that relationship different than the traditional editor/assistant editor one?
Grace actually set up the project as our assistant editor. She was doing all of the organizing of the media at the very beginning. I started like that. I actually started as a translator for a film that had an incredibly generous and experienced editor. To me it’s really important to be able to give opportunities to people who are serious, and people who really want to learn about the process.

From the moment we met, that’s something that we talked about. Grace really wanted to be in the room and learn from the process, so she quickly moved from doing only assistant editing work to handling scenes. She would also give me notes on the work that I was doing. Just like the film’s all-female team of collaborators, we had that with the post process, but with the two of us.

What would be your advice to somebody who wanted to get started in the world of documentary editing?
Find a mentor. I think tenacity is the main thing. It’s asking to be present in the room. That is really important for people who are just starting out. If they have a lot of technical knowledge, that’s really great, but I’ve heard a lot of people get stuck in the assistant editor position. Yes, you need to know how to use the program, but you really need to understand the decisions you are making with all of these technical resources that you have. And that comes from learning about storytelling. Long-form documentary storytelling is a bit of a beast; you’re talking about hours and hours of footage, and you’re writing the film for the first time in the edit room. There can be numerous films within that footage.

I learned editing by being around all the time, by being quiet and respectful. Then they would ask for my opinion, and I would give my opinion, and I could see how people think about structure and long-form story telling.

The worst thing that you can get from asking to be in the room is a “no,” but if you get in the room, you can learn and absorb so much from just being present during the process.


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.


First-time director of Beyond Transport calls on AlphaDogs for post

The new documentary Beyond Transport, directed and produced by Ched Lohr, focuses on technology and how it’s brought people together while at the same time creating a huge disconnect in personal relationships. In this doc, this topic is examined from the perspective of cab drivers. Shot on all seven continents of the world, the film includes interviews with drivers who share their accounts of how socializing has changed dramatically in the 21st Century.

Eighteen months in the making, Beyond Transport was shot intermittently due to an extensive travel schedule to countries that included, Ireland, Cambodia, Tanzania and Australia. An unexpected conversation with a cab driver in Cairns, Australia, and a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef were initially what inspired Lohr to make the film. “I noticed all the divers were using their personal devices in between dives,” says Lohr. “It seemed like meeting new people and connecting with others has become less of a priority. I thought it would be interesting to interview cab drivers because they have a very unique perspective of people’s behaviors.”

A physician by trade, Lohr had a vision for the documentary, but no idea on how to go about creating it. With no background in producing, writing or even how to use editing systems, Lohr assembled a team of pros to help guide him through the process, including hiring the team at Burbank’s AlphaDogs to complete post for the film.

AlphaDogs colorist Sean Stack distinguished differences in climate between the various locations by choosing specific color palettes. This helped bring the audiences into the story with a feel and vibe on what it might feel like to actually be there in person. “The filmmaker talks to cab drivers from a variety of climates, ranging from the searing heat of Tanzania, to the frigid temperatures of Antarctica,” describes Stack. “With that in mind, I navigated through the documentary looking for ways to help define the surroundings.”

To accomplish this, Stack added saturated warm colors, such as yellow, tan and brown to locations in South Africa and South America, making even the dirt, cars and buildings radiate a sense of intense heat. In contrast, less saturation was given to the harsher climate of Antarctica, using a series of blue tones for both the sky and the water, which added depth, and also gave a more frigid and crisp appearance. Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Power Windows were used to fix problems with uncontrolled lighting situations present in the interviews with cab drivers. Hand-held footage was also stabilized, with a final touch of film grain added to take away from a videotape feel and give a more inviting texture to the documentary.

In addition, Stack created an end credits section by pulling shots of the cab drivers looking into the camera and smiling. “This accomplished the goal of the filmmaker to have pictures accompany the end credits,” explains Stack. “It also added another element of connection to the drivers who are telling the story. Seeing them one last time reminds the viewer of some of the best moments in the documentary and hopefully taking those memorable moments away with them.”

AlphaDogs audio engineer Curtis Fritsch completed audio on the film that included clean up on noisy audio files, since most all of the interviews take place inside of a cab. To keep the audio from sounding over processed, Fritsch used a very specific combination of Cedar and Izotope plugins. “We were able to find a really good balance in making the dialogue sound much clearer and pronounced,” he says. “This was of particular importance in the scene where a muezzin is reciting the adhan (call to prayer). I was able to remove the wind noise so you not only heard the prayer in this dreamlike sequence but also to keep the focus on the music, rather than the VFX.”


BestFriend adds director Thomas Hefferon

BestFriend, an LA and NY-based production studio headed up by executive producer Zak Thornborough, has brought on director Thomas Hefferon.

Dublin-born Hefferon has a long history making in short-form emotional narratives. His first short film “The Confession” screened at over 40 festivals around the world (including Tribeca, Palms Springs, and Sundance) and had a national cinema release in Ireland. It aired on dozens of TV stations across the world, and it garnered over one million hits on YouTube.

Since then he’s made three more shorts (The Pool, Switch and The Heist), all of which received funding by the Irish Film Board.

Hefferon also works on spots and branding projects. He was nominated in the Best New Director category at the 2009 Kinsale Shark Awards. This led to him working with Jaguar and Land Rover, and a move to London. There he worked with a range of brands, including Panasonic, Infinity, Jameson, Armstrong International and Johnson & Johnson.

Hefferon’s first project out of BestFriend is a two-spot campaign for Massachusetts Financial Services via FCB Chicago. These spots showcase Hefferon’s ability to show the human side of a company. Mirroring mutual investments with the work that musicians do, Hefferon somehow makes financial services empathetic, entertaining, and cool.

Centralized around a collaborative approach, BestFriend provides clients access to world-class talent at any stage of production, from writing and creative development through execution and delivery. BestFriend lives at the intersection of advertising, art, film, fashion, music, and technology, and thrives on its proximity to the fringe of possibility.


My Passion Project: We Call Her Yolanda

By Anthony Bari Jr.

For the past couple years, I’ve been producing a documentary called We Call Her Yolanda. After volunteering on disaster relief in the Philippines in the aftermath of 2013’s super typhoon, I was taken with the people’s positivity and resiliency even though they had lost everything, including loved ones and livelihoods. I was inspired to go back and start filming a documentary, the shooting for which just wrapped.

While the rest of the world knew the devastating storm as Typhoon Haiyan, Filipinos had their own name for it — Super Typhoon Yolanda. As such, We Call Her Yolanda was an apt title for the film.

Production
For We Call Her Yolanda, we completed four shoots over two years on a mix of cameras and formats. We used two GoPro Hero4 Black cameras (one was mounted on a drone and the other was first-person view), two Canon C300s, a Sony FS7 and a Canon 5D Mark II. We always travelled with at least two laptops for transcoding and media management. We also carried G-Technology hard drives in our backpacks. I relied heavily on software presets for this project, setting up a bunch of them before we left for the Philippines so we could bag and tag all files during the trip.

Just one of Bari’s shooting setups.

For those who are still dragging and dropping hundreds of gigabytes of media from card to drive, beware. That method is wide open to error. ShotPut Pro, Imagine Products’ offloading app, is my go-to tool for safely offloading media. Computers and technology aren’t perfect, so offloading camera cards and making multiple backups is incredibly important. Version 6 has a new interface that looks just like the Finder window on my Mac.

The software’s checksumming capability verifies the integrity of every data transfer and raises a flag if things don’t add up. This feature is not only important for ensuring complete backups, but it also helps pinpoint problems with hardware or systems — and gives me the visual tools to explain the problems to clients.

Rather than just sticking a camera in people’s faces and asking them for their stories during the Yolanda shoots, we spent a lot of time getting to know people and making them comfortable with our team and the technology. Meanwhile, we shot lots of B-roll. Between the relationship building, the filming, the travel and other rigors of the shoot, it was a busy project that kept our whole team going nonstop — which meant I couldn’t always take care of media management myself like I would prefer.

Another critical tool in my data-wrangling workflow also happens to be from Imagine Products — ProxyMill transcoding software, which they recently revamped into PrimeTranscoder. I use this software’s presets a lot. By digging into the tools on the preset menu, flipping switches, or checking/unchecking boxes in the interface, I can program all sorts of functionality and even map certain functions to specific scenarios. For example, I can merge multiple interviews into a single low-res file and program the tool to apply timecode and/or a LUT file to it before sending to a producer or client for review. The fact that I can kick out a low-resolution, color corrected clip that has everything on it and send it off immediately is a big deal. I just dial it in, save it, and it’s ready to go.

Street view of San Joaquin.

The best part about this is that I don’t have to man the station the whole time. I’m ultimately responsible for the data, and I get very nervous when I don’t have control over it, but this workflow lets me delegate the media management duties when needed and trust that it will be done right, even by people with no post experience.

I like to work with native formats whenever possible, but sometimes you have to rely on proxies, especially when some of the footage is shot in data-heavy 4K. With this project, I used Imagine Products’ HD-VU2. This quality-check tool allowed me to preview footage in its native format after a shoot and decide which footage to pull. Then we’d apply ProxyMill to color correct it or add timecode as needed, and then transcode it into one massive ProRes clip using the clip-stitch feature. This capability came in handy when merging all interviews into one file for the translator and when selecting and stabilizing “best-of” drone footage to get it ready for editing later in Adobe Premiere.

Upon returning from the Philippines after each shoot, I made a strict practice of cloning the data from the portable drives onto multiple 4TB G-Technology desktop drives that are more suitable for editing. (We aim never to edit from the portable drives!) During the shoot, there were a handful of moments when we were literally sitting under a coconut tree with a long cable connected to a generator. That made for very unconventional (and nerve-wracking) media management, so I always go for gear with a dedicated power source whenever possible.

Post
Back in Los Angeles working on post for Yolanda, I turned my home into a post production studio. I worked with a carefully chosen team of eight pro editors who operated in rotation at my house, often late into the night. I supplied the food and drinks (you’ve got to keep up morale!), and they showed up and got to work. Some editors brought their own laptops, while others used my two spare MacBook Pros. All computers were equipped with Adobe Premiere CC.

The G-Technology desktop drives each contained the same set of footage, so whenever someone picked up a project, they simply ripped away at the footage from one of those drives. There were also two smaller G-Technology drives floating around with a total of about 600GB of extra footage (such as 4K drone footage) that people could select as needed. I used Basecamp to track the project and assign the work, and CalDigit Thunderbolt stations helped with connectivity.


Anthony Bari is a director/engineer/editor/post consultant. In addition to his freelance and consulting roles, he has worked on major sporting events, TV shows, reality shows and documentaries. He earned an Emmy Award as part of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup on FS1 technical team.

 


The long, strange trip of Amir Bar-Lev’s new Dead doc

Deadheads take note — Long Strange Trip, director Amir Bar-Lev’s four-hour documentary on rock’s original jam band, the Grateful Dead, is now available for viewing. While the film had a theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on May 26, the doc was made available on Amazon Video as a six-episode series.

L-R: Jack Lewars and Keith Jenson.

Encompassing the band’s rise and decades-long career, the film, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, was itself 14 years in the making. That included three months of final post at Technicolor PostWorks New York, where colorist Jack Lewars and online editor Keith Jenson worked with Bar-Lev to finalize the film’s form and look.

The documentary features scores of interviews conducted by Bar-Lev with band members and their associates, as well as a mountain of concert footage and other archival media. All that made editorial conforming complex as Jenson (using Autodesk Flame) had to keep the diverse source material organized and make it fit properly into a single timeline. “We had conversions that were made from old analog tapes, archival band footage, DPX scans from film and everything in between,” he recalls. “There was a lot of cool stuff, which was great, but it required attention to detail to ensure it came out nice and smooth.”

The process was further complicated as creative editorial was ongoing throughout post. New material was arriving constantly. “We do a lot of documentary work here, so that’s something we’re used to,” Jenson says. “We have workflows and failsafes in place for all formats and know how to translate them for the Lustre platform Jack uses. Other than the sheer amount, nothing took us by surprise.”

Lewars faced a similar challenge during grading as he was tasked with bringing consistency to material produced over a long period of time by varying means. The overall visual style, he says, recalls the band’s origins in the psychedelic culture of the 1960s. “It’s a Grateful Dead movie, so there are a lot of references to their experiments with drugs,” he explains. “Some sections have a trippy feel where the visuals go in and out of different formats. It almost gives the viewer the sense of being on acid.”

The color palette, too, has a psychedelic feel, reflecting the free-spirited essence of the band and its co-founder. “Jerry Garcia’s life, his intention and his outlook, was to have fun,” Lewars observes. “And that’s the look we embraced. It’s very saturated, very colorful and very bright. We tried to make the movie as fun as possible.”

The narrative is frequently punctuated by animated sequences where still photographs, archival media and other elements are blended together in kaleidoscopic patterns. Finalizing those sequences required a few extra steps. “For the animation sequences, we had to cut in the plates and get them to Jack to grade,” explains Jenson. “We’d then send the color-corrected plates to the VFX and animation department for treatment. They’d come back as completed elements that we’d cut into the conform.”

The documentary climaxes with the death of Garcia and its aftermath. The guitarist suffered a heart attack in 1995 after years of struggling with diabetes and drug addiction. As those events unfold, the story undergoes a mood change that is mirrored in shifts in the color treatment. “There is a four-minute animated sequence in the last reel where Jerry has just passed and they are recapping the film,” Lewars says. “Images are overlaid on top of images. We colored those plates in hyper saturation, pushing it almost to the breaking point.

“It’s a very emotional moment,” he adds. “The earlier animated sequences introduced characters and were funny. But it’s tied together at the end in a way that’s sad. It’s a whiplash effect.”

Despite the length of the project and the complexity of its parts, it came together with few bumps. “Supervising producer Stuart Macphee and his team were amazing,” says Jenson. “They were very well organized, incredibly so. With so many formats and conversions coming from various sources, it could have snowballed quickly, but with this team it was a breeze.”

Lewars concurs. Long Strange Trip is an unusual documentary both in its narrative style and its looks, and that’s what makes it fascinating for Deadheads and non-fans alike. “It’s not a typical history doc,” Lewars notes. “A lot of documentaries go with a cold, bleach by-pass look and gritty feel. This was the opposite. We were bumping the saturation in parts where it felt unnatural, but, in the end, it was completely the right thing to do. It’s like candy.”

You can binge it now on Amazon Video.


Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

By Dayna McCallum

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.

ACE Eddie nominees include Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Better Call Saul

The American Cinema Editors (ACE) have named the nominees for the 67th ACE Eddie Award, which recognize editing in 10 categories of film, television and documentaries.

Winners will be announced during ACE’s annual awards ceremony on January 27 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. In addition to the regular editing awards, J.J. Abrams will receive the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year award.

Check out the nominees:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC)
Arrival
Joe Walker, ACE

Hacksaw Ridge
John Gilbert, ACE

Hell or High Water
Jake Roberts

Manchester by the Sea
Jennifer Lame
 
Moonlight
Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY)
Deadpool
Julian Clarke, ACE

Hail, Caesar!
Roderick Jaynes

The Jungle Book
Mark Livolsi, ACE

La La Land
Tom Cross, ACE

The Lobster
Yorgos Mavropsaridis

BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Kubo and the Two Strings
Christopher Murrie, ACE

Moana
Jeff Draheim, ACE

Zootopia
Fabienne Rawley and Jeremy Milton

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

13th
Spencer Averick

Amanda Knox
Matthew Hamachek

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week — The Touring Years
Paul Crowder

OJ: Made in America
Bret Granato, Maya Mumma and Ben Sozanski

Weiner
Eli B. Despres

BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY (TELEVISION)
The Choice 2016
Steve Audette, ACE

Everything Is Copy
Bob Eisenhardt, ACE

We Will Rise: Michelle Obama’s Mission to Educate Girls Around the World
Oliver Lief

BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES
Silicon Valley: “The Uptick”
Brian Merken, ACE

Veep: “Morning After”
Steven Rasch, ACE

Veep: “Mother”
Shawn Paper

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES — COMMERCIAL
Better Call Saul: “Fifi”
Skip Macdonald, ACE

Better Call Saul: “Klick”
Skip Macdonald, ACE & Curtis Thurber

Better Call Saul: “Nailed”
Kelley Dixon, ACE and Chris McCaleb

Mr. Robot: “eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes”
Philip Harrison

This is Us: “Pilot”
David L. Bertman, ACE

BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES – NON-COMMERCIAL
The Crown: “Assassins”
Yan Miles, ACE

Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards”
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things: “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Dean Zimmerman

Stranger Things: “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Kevin D. Ross

Westworld: “The Original”
Stephen Semel, ACE and Marc Jozefowicz

BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE (NON-THEATRICAL)
All the Way
Carol Littleton, ACE

The Night Of: “The Beach”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

The People V. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Adam Penn, Stewart Schill, ACE and C. Chi-yoon Chung

BEST EDITED NON-SCRIPTED SERIES:
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: “Manila” 
Hunter Gross, ACE

Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown: Senegal
Mustafa Bhagat

Deadliest Catch: “Fire at Sea: Part 2”
Josh Earl, ACE and Alexander Rubinow, ACE

Final ballots will be mailed on January 6, and voting ends on January 17. The Blue Ribbon screenings, where judging for all television categories and the documentary categories take place, will be on January 15. Projects in the aforementioned categories are viewed and judged by committees comprised of professional editors (all ACE members). All 850-plus ACE members vote during the final balloting of the ACE Eddies, including active members, life members, affiliate members and honorary members.

Main Image: Tilt Photo