OWC 12.4

Category Archives: Emmy Awards

NAB NY Panel: Working in 4K HDR for Netflix’s Russian Doll

Goldcrest Post senior colorist Nat Jencks will take part in a discussion about the technology and creativity behind the Netflix series Russian Doll at NAB Show New York. Joining Jencks will be post supervisor Lisa Melodia in a session moderated by our own postPerspective editor-in-chief Randi Altman.

Nat Jencks

The session will take place on Thursday, October 17 at 3:30pm at the Javits Convention Center. Those wishing to attend this event may do so for free by entering the code EP06 when registering for NAB Show New York.

Nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series and Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series, Russian Doll has won critical acclaim and popular embrace for its story of a young New York City woman, Nadia Vulvokov (Natasha Lyonne), who, after being killed in a traffic accident, finds herself continuously reliving a birthday party held in her honor the same night. Think of Groundhog’s Day, but darker.

In this session, Jencks and Melodia will discuss how they balance art and tech, taking advantage of the latest technologies in depicting a highly cinematic version of New York’s East Village while still prioritizing creativity in storytelling. They will also discuss the intricacies of working in 4K HDR.

Goldcrest’s Jencks collaborated once again with cinematographer Chris Teague to finalize the look of Russian Doll. A colorist with 10 years of experience in this aspect of the job, Jencks’ work ranges from studio features to indies and includes episodic series, commercials and music videos. Jencks has worked in post for two decades total, including in the fields of VFX, title design and editorial. 

Melodia is a post supervisor working in New York City. Prior to Russian Doll, she worked on comedies such as The Jim Gaffigan Show for TV Land and The Detour for TBS, as well as movies for HBO. Currently, she is the post supervisor on Darren Star’s new show, Emily in Paris.

 

Mavericks VFX provides effects for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Randi Altman

Season 3 episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale are available for streaming, and if you had any illusions that things would lighten up a bit for June (Elizabeth Moss) and the ladies of Gilead, I’m sorry to say you will be disappointed. What’s not disappointing is that, in addition to the amazing acting and storylines, the show’s visual effects once again play a heavy role.

Brendan Taylor

Toronto’s Mavericks VFX has created visual effects for all three seasons of the show, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian view of the not-too-distant future. Its work has earned two Emmy nominations.

We recently reached out to Maverick’s founder and visual effects supervisor, Brendan Taylor, to talk about the new season and his workflow.

How early did you get involved in each season? What sort of input did you have regarding the shots?
The Handmaid’s Tale production is great because they involve us as early as possible. Back in Season 2, when we had to do the Fenway Park scene, for example, we were in talks in August but didn’t shoot until November. For this season, they called us in August for the big fire sequence in Episode 1, and the scene was shot in December.

There’s a lot of nice leadup and planning that goes into it. Our opinions are sought after and we’re able to provide input on what’s the best methodology to use to achieve a shot. Showrunner Bruce Miller, along with the directors, have a way of how they’d like to see it, and they’re great at taking in our recommendations. It was very collaborative and we all approach the process with “what’s best for the show” in mind.

What are some things that the showrunners asked of you in terms of VFX? How did they describe what they wanted?
Each person has a different approach. Bruce speaks in story terms, providing a broader sense of what he’s looking for. He gave us the overarching direction of where he wants to go with the season. Mike Barker, who directed a lot of the big episodes, speaks in more specific terms. He really gets into the details, determining the moods of the scene and communicating how each part should feel.

What types of effects did you provide? Can you give examples?
Some standout effects were the CG smoke in the burning fire sequence and the aftermath of the house being burned down. For the smoke, we had to make it snake around corners in a believable yet magical way. We had a lot of fire going on set, and we couldn’t have any actors or stunt person near it due to the size, so we had to line up multiple shots and composite it together to make everything look realistic. We then had to recreate the whole house in 3D in order to create the aftermath of the fire, with the house being completely burned down.

We also went to Washington, and since we obviously couldn’t destroy the Lincoln Memorial, we recreated it all in 3D. That was a lot of back and forth between Bruce, the director and our team. Different parts of Lincoln being chipped away means different things, and Bruce definitely wanted the head to be off. It was really fun because we got to provide a lot of suggestions. On top of that, we also had to create CGI handmaids and all the details that came with it. We had to get the robes right and did cloth simulation to match what was shot on set. There were about a hundred handmaids on set, but we had to make it look like there were thousands.

Were you able to reuse assets from last season for this one?
We were able to use a handmaids asset from last season, but it needed a lot of upgrades for this season. Because there were closer shots of the handmaids, we had to tweak it and made sure little things like the texture, shaders and different cloth simulations were right for this season.

Were you on set? How did that help?
Yes, I was on set, especially for the fire sequences. We spent a lot of time talking about what’s possible and testing different ways to make it happen. We want it to be as perfect as possible, so I had to make sure it was all done properly from the start. We sent another visual effects supervisor, Leo Bovell, down to Washington to supervise out there as well.

Can you talk about a scene or scenes where being on set played a part in doing something either practical or knowing you could do it in CG?
The fire sequence with the smoke going around the corner took a lot of on-set collaboration. We had tried doing it practically, but the smoke was moving too fast for what we wanted, and there was no way we could physically slow it down.

Having the special effects coordinator, John MacGillivray, there to give us real smoke that we could then match to was invaluable. In most cases on this show, very few audible were called. They want to go into the show knowing exactly what to expect so we were prepared and ready.

Can you talk about turnaround time? Typically, series have short ones. How did that affect how you worked?
The average turnaround time was eight weeks. We began discussions in August, before shooting, and had to delivery by January. We worked with Mike to simplify things without diminishing the impact. We just wanted to make sure we had the chance to do it well given the time we had. Mike was very receptive in asking what we needed to do to make it the best it could be in the timeframe that we had. Take the fire sequence, for example. We could have done full-CGI fire but that would have taken six months. So we did our research and testing to find the most efficient way to merge practical effects with CGI and presented the best version in a shorter period of time.

What tools were used?
We used Foundry Nuke for compositing. We used Autodesk Maya to build all the 3D houses, including the burned-down house, and to destroy the Lincoln Memorial. Then we used Side Effects Houdini to do all the simulations, which can range from the smoke and fire to crowd and cloth.

Is there a shot that you are most proud of or that was very challenging?
The shot where we reveal the crowd over June when we’re in Washington was incredibly challenging. The actual Lincoln Memorial, where we shot, is an active public park, so we couldn’t prevent people from visiting the site. The most we could do was hold them off for a few minutes. We ended up having to clean out all of the tourists, which is difficult with moving camera and moving people. We had to reconstruct about 50% of the plate. Then, in order to get the CG people to be standing there, we had to create a replica of the ground they’re standing on in CG. There were some models we got from the US Geological Society, but they didn’t completely line up, so we had to make a lot of decisions on the fly.

The cloth simulation in that scene was perfect. We had to match the dampening and the movement of all the robes. Stephen Wagner, who is our effects lead on it, nailed it. It looked perfect, and it was really exciting to see it all come together. It looked seamless, and when you saw it in the show, nobody believed that the foreground handmaids were all CG. We’re very proud.

What other projects are you working on?
We’re working on a movie called Queen & Slim by Melina Matsoukas with Universal. It’s really great. We’re also doing YouTube Premium’s Impulse and Netflix’s series Madam C.J. Walker.


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

OWC 12.4

True Detective’s quiet, tense Emmy-nominated sound

By Jennifer Walden

When there’s nothing around, there’s no place to hide. That’s why quiet soundtracks can be the most challenging to create. Every flaw in the dialogue — every hiss, every off-mic head turn, every cloth rustle against the body mic — stands out. Every incidental ambient sound — bugs, birds, cars, airplanes — stands out. Even the noise-reduction processing to remove those flaws can stand out, particularly when there’s a minimalist approach to sound effects and score.

That is the reason why the sound editing and mixing on Season 3 of HBO’s True Detective has been recognized with Emmy nominations. The sound team put together a quiet, tense soundtrack that perfectly matched the tone of the show.

L to R: Micah Loken, Tateum Kohut, Mandell Winter, David Esparza and Greg Orloff.

We reached out to the team at Sony Pictures Post Production Services to talk about the work — supervising sound editor Mandell Winter; sound designer David Esparza, MPSE; dialogue editor Micah Loken; as well as re-recording mixers Tateum Kohut and Greg Orloff (who mixed the show in 5.1 surround on an Avid S6 console at Deluxe Hollywood Stage 5.)

Of all the episodes in Season 3 of True Detective, why did you choose “The Great War and Modern Memory” for award consideration for sound editing?
Mandell Winter: This episode had a little bit of everything. We felt it represented the season pretty well.

David Esparza: It also sets the overall tone of the season.

Why this episode for sound mixing?
Tateum Kohut: The episode had very creative transitions, and it set up the emotion of our main characters. It establishes the three timelines that the season takes place in. Even though it didn’t have the most sound or the most dynamic sound, we chose it because, overall, we were pleased with the soundtrack, as was HBO. We were all pleased with the outcome.

Greg Orloff: We looked at Episode 5 too, “If You Have Ghosts,” which had a great seven-minute set piece with great action and cool transitions. But overall, Episode 1 was more interesting sonically. As an episode, it had great transitions and tension all throughout, right from the beginning.

Let’s talk about the amazing dialogue on this show. How did you get it so clean while still retaining all the quality and character?
Winter: Geoffrey Patterson was our production sound mixer, and he did a great job capturing the tracks. We didn’t do a ton of ADR because our dialogue editor, Micah Loken, was able to do quite a bit with the dialogue edit.

Micah Loken: Both the recordings and acting were great. That’s one of the most crucial steps to a good dialogue edit. The lead actors — Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff — had beautiful and engaging performances and excellent resonance to their voices. Even at a low-level whisper, the character and quality of the voice was always there; it was never too thin. By using the boom, the lav, or a special combination of both, I was able to dig out the timbre while minimizing noise in the recordings.

What helped me most was Mandell and I had the opportunity to watch the first two episodes before we started really digging in, which provided a macro view into the content. Immediately, some things stood out, like the fact that it was wall-to-wall dialogue on each episode, and that became our focus. I noticed that on-set it was hot; the exterior shots were full of bugs and the actors would get dry mouths, which caused them to smack their lips — which is commonly over-accentuated in recordings. It was important to minimize anything that wasn’t dialogue while being mindful to maintain the quality and level of the voice. Plus, the story was so well-written that it became a personal endeavor to bring my A game to the team. After completion, I would hand off the episode to Mandell and our dialogue mixer, Tateum.

Kohut: I agree. Geoffrey Patterson did an amazing job. I know he was faced with some challenges and environmental issues there in northwest Arkansas, especially on the exteriors, but his tracks were superbly recorded.

Mandell and Micah did an awesome job with the prep, so it made my job very pleasurable. Like Micah said, the deep booming voices of our two main actors were just amazing. We didn’t want to go too far with noise reduction in order to preserve that quality, and it did stand out. I did do more d-essing and d-ticking using iZotope RX 7 and FabFilter Pro-Q 2 to knock down some syllables and consonants that were too sharp, just because we had so much close-up, full-frame face dialogue that we didn’t want to distract from the story and the great performances that they were giving. But very little noise reduction was needed due to the well-recorded tracks. So my job was an absolute pleasure on the dialogue side.

Their editing work gave me more time to focus on the creative mixing, like weaving in the music just the way that series creator Nic Pizzolatto and composer T Bone Burnett wanted, and working with Greg Orloff on all these cool transitions.

We’re all very happy with the dialogue on the show and very proud of our work on it.

Loken: One thing that I wanted to remain cognizant of throughout the dialogue edit was making sure that Tateum had a smooth transition from line to line on each of the tracks in Pro Tools. Some lines might have had more intrinsic bug sounds or unwanted ambience but, in general, during the moments of pause, I knew the background ambience of the show was probably going to be fairly mild and sparse.

Mandell, how does your approach to the dialogue on True Detective compare to Deadwood: The Movie, which also earned Emmy nominations this year for sound editing and mixing?
Winter: Amazingly enough, we had the same production sound mixer on both — Geoffrey Patterson. That helps a lot.

We had more time on True Detective than on Deadwood. Deadwood was just “go.” We did the whole film in about five or six weeks. For True Detective, we had 10 days of prep time before we hit a five-day mix. We also had less material to get through on an episode of True Detective within that time frame.

Going back to the mix on the dialogue, how did you get the whispering to sound so clear?
Kohut: It all boils down to how well the dialogue was recorded. We were able to preserve that whispering and get a great balance around it. We didn’t have to force anything through. So, it was well-recorded, well-prepped and it just fit right in.

Let’s talk about the space around the dialogue. What was your approach to world building for “The Great War And Modern Memory?” You’re dealing with three different timelines from three different eras: 1980, 1990, and 2015. What went into the sound of each timeline?
Orloff: It was tough in a way because the different timelines overlapped sometimes. We’d have a transition happening, but with the same dialogue. So the challenge became how to change the environments on each of those cuts. One thing that we did was to make the show as sparse as possible, particularly after the discovery of the body of the young boy Will Purcell (Phoenix Elkin). After that, everything in the town becomes quiet. We tried to take out as many birds and bugs as possible, as though the town had died along with the boy. From that point on, anytime we were in that town in the original timeline, it was dead-quiet. As we went on later, we were able to play different sounds for that location, as though the town is recovering.

The use of sound on True Detective is very restrained. Were the decisions on where to have sound and how much sound happening during editorial? Or were those decisions mostly made on the dub stage when all the elements were together? What were some factors that helped you determine what should play?
Esparza: Editorially, the material was definitely prepared with a minimalistic aesthetic in mind. I’m sure it got paired down even more once it got to the mix stage. The aesthetic of the True Detective series in general tends to be fairly minimalistic and atmospheric, and we continued with that in this third season.

Orloff: That’s purposeful, from the filmmakers on down. It’s all about creating tension. Sometimes the silence helps more to create tension than having a sound would. Between music and sound effects, this show is all about tension. From the very beginning, from the first frame, it starts and it never really lets up. That was our mission all along, to keep that tension. I hope that we achieved that.

That first episode — “The Great War And Modern Memory” — was intense even the first time we played it back, and I’ve seen it numerous times since, and it still elicits the same feeling. That’s the mark of great filmmaking and storytelling and hopefully we helped to support that. The tension starts there and stays throughout the season.

What was the most challenging scene for sound editorial in “The Great War And Modern Memory?” Why?
Winter: I would say it was the opening sequence with the kids riding the bikes.

Esparza: It was a challenge to get the bike spokes ticking and deciding what was going to play and what wasn’t going to play and how it was going to be presented. That scene went through a lot of work on the mix stage, but editorially, that scene took the most time to get right.

What was the most challenging scene to mix in that episode? Why?
Orloff: For the effects side of the mix, the most challenging part was the opening scene. We worked on that longer than any other scene in that episode. That first scene is really setting the tone for the whole season. It was about getting that right.

We had brilliant sound design for the bike spokes ticking that transitions into a watch ticking that transitions into a clock ticking. Even though there’s dialogue that breaks it up, you’re continuing with different transitions of the ticking. We worked on that both editorially and on the mix stage for a long time. And it’s a scene I’m proud of.

Kohut: That first scene sets up the whole season — the flashback, the memories. It was important to the filmmakers that we got that right. It turned out great, and I think it really sets up the rest of the season and the intensity that our actors have.

What are you most proud of in terms of sound this season on True Detective?
Winter: I’m most proud of the team. The entire team elevated each other and brought their A-game all the way around. It all came together this season.

Orloff: I agree. I think this season was something we could all be proud of. I can’t be complimentary enough about the work of Mandell, David and their whole crew. Everyone on the crew was fantastic and we had a great time. It couldn’t have been a better experience.

Esparza: I agree. And I’m very thankful to HBO for giving us the time to do it right and spend the time, like Mandell said. It really was an intense emotional project, and I think that extra time really paid off. We’re all very happy.

Winter: One thing we haven’t talked about was T Bone and his music. It really brought a whole other level to this show. It brought a haunting mood, and he always brings such unique tracks to the stage. When Tateum would mix them in, the whole scene would take on a different mood. The music at times danced that thin line, where you weren’t sure if it was sound design or music. It was very cool.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.


ADR, loop groups, ad-libs: Veep‘s Emmy-nominated audio team

By Jennifer Walden

HBO wrapped up its seventh and final season of Veep back in May, so sadly, we had to say goodbye to Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ morally flexible and potty-mouthed Selina Meyer. And while Selina’s political career was a bit rocky at times, the series was rock-solid — as evidenced by its 17 Emmy wins and 68 nominations over show’s seven-year run.

For re-recording mixers William Freesh and John W. Cook II, this is their third Emmy nomination for Sound Mixing on Veep. This year, they entered the series finale — Season 7, Episode 7 “Veep” — for award consideration.

L-R: William Freesh, Sue Cahill, John W. Cook, II

Veep post sound editing and mixing was handled at NBCUniversal Studio Post in Los Angeles. In the midst of Emmy fever, we caught up with re-recording mixer Cook (who won a past Emmy for the mix on Scrubs) and Veep supervising sound editor Sue Cahill (winner of two past Emmys for her work on Black Sails).

Here, Cook and Cahill talk about how Veep’s sound has grown over the years, how they made the rapid-fire jokes crystal clear, and the challenges they faced in crafting the series’ final episode — like building the responsive convention crowds, mixing the transitions to and from the TV broadcasts, and cutting that epic three-way argument between Selina, Uncle Jeff and Jonah.

You’ve been with Veep since 2016? How has your approach to the show changed over the years?
John W. Cook II: Yes, we started when the series came to the states (having previously been posted in England with series creator Armando Iannucci).

Sue Cahill: Dave Mandel became the showrunner, starting with Season 5, and that’s when we started.

Cook: When we started mixing the show, production sound mixer Bill MacPherson and I talked a lot about how together we might improve the sound of the show. He made some tweaks, like trying out different body mics and negotiating with our producers to allow for more boom miking. Notwithstanding all the great work Bill did before Season 5, my job got consistently easier over Seasons 5 through 7 because of his well-recorded tracks.

Also, some of our tools have changed in the last three years. We installed the Avid S6 console. This, along with a handful of new plugins, has helped us work a little faster.

Cahill: In the dialogue editing process this season, we started using a tool called Auto-Align Post from Sound Radix. It’s a great tool that allowed us to cut both the boom and the ISO mics for every clip throughout the show and put them in perfect phase. This allowed John the flexibility to mix both together to give it a warmer, richer sound throughout. We lean heavily on the ISO mics, but being able to mix in the boom more helped the overall sound.

Cook: You get a bit more depth. Body mics tend to be more flat, so you have to add a little bit of reverb and a lot of EQing to get it to sound as bright and punchy as the boom mic. When you can mix them together, you get a natural reverb on the sound that gives the dialogue more depth. It makes it feel like it’s in the space more. And it requires a little less EQing on the ISO mic because you’re not relying on it 100%. When the Auto-Align Post technology came out, I was able to use both mics together more often. Before Auto-Align, I would shy away from doing that if it was too much work to make them sound in-phase. The plugin makes it easier to use both, and I find myself using the boom and ISO mics together more often.

The dialogue on the show has always been rapid-fire, and you really want to hear every joke. Any tools or techniques you use to help the dialogue cut through?
Cook: In my chain, I’m using FabFilter Pro-Q 2 a lot, EQing pretty much every single line in the show. FabFilter’s built-in spectrum analyzer helps get at that target EQ that I’m going for, for every single line in the show.

In terms of compression, I’m doing a lot of gain staging. I have five different points in the chain where I use compression. I’m never trying to slam it too much, just trying to tap it at different stages. It’s a music technique that helps the dialogue to never sound squashed. Gain staging allows me to get a little more punch and a little more volume after each stage of compression.

Cahill: On the editing side, it starts with digging through the production mic tracks to find the cleanest sound. The dialogue assembly on this show is huge. It’s 13 tracks wide for each clip, and there are literally thousands of clips. The show is very cutty, and there are tons of overlaps. Weeding through all the material to find the best lav mics, in addition to the boom, really takes time. It’s not necessarily the character’s lav mic that’s the best for a line. They might be speaking more clearly into the mic of the person that is right across from them. So, listening to every mic choice and finding the best lav mics requires a couple days of work before we even start editing.

Also, we do a lot of iZotope RX work in editing before the dialogue reaches John’s hands. That helps to improve intelligibility and clear up the tracks before John works his magic on it.

Is it hard to find alternate production takes due to the amount of ad-libbing on the show? Do you find you do a lot of ADR?
Cahill: Exactly, it’s really hard to find production alts in the show because there is so much improv. So, yeah, it takes extra time to find the cleanest version of the desired lines. There is a significant amount of ADR in the show. In this episode in particular, we had 144 lines of principal ADR. And, we had 250 cues of group. It’s pretty massive.

There must’ve been so much loop group in the “Veep” episode. Every time they’re in the convention center, it’s packed with people!
Cook: There was the larger convention floor to consider, and the people that were 10 to 15 feet away from whatever character was talking on camera. We tried to balance that big space with the immediate space around the characters.

This particular Veep episode has a chaotic vibe. The main location is the nomination convention. There are huge crowds, TV interviews (both in the convention hall and also playing on Selina’s TV in her skybox suite and hotel room) and a big celebration at the end. Editorially, how did you approach the design of this hectic atmosphere?
Cahill: Our sound effects editor Jonathan Golodner had a lot of recordings from prior national conventions. So those recordings are used throughout this episode. It really gives the convention center that authenticity. It gave us the feeling of those enormous crowds. It really helped to sell the space, both when they are on the convention floor and from the skyboxes.

The loop group we talked about was a huge part of the sound design. There were layers and layers of crafted walla. We listened to a lot of footage from past conventions and found that there is always a speaker on the floor giving a speech to ignite the crowd, so we tried to recreate that in loop group. We did some speeches that we played in the background so we would have these swells of the crowd and crowd reactions that gave the crowd some movement so that it didn’t sound static. I felt like it gave it a lot more life.

We recreated chanting in loop group. There was a chant for Tom James (Hugh Laurie), which was part of production. They were saying, “Run Tom Run!” We augmented that with group. We changed the start of that chant from where it was in production. We used the loop group to start that chant sooner.

Cook: The Tom James chant was one instance where we did have production crowd. But most of the time, Sue was building the crowds with the loop group.

Cahill: I used casting director Barbara Harris for loop group, and throughout the season we had so many different crowds and rallies — both interior and exterior — that we built with loop group because there wasn’t enough from production. We had to hit on all the points that they are talking about in the story. Jonah (Timothy Simons) had some fun rallies this season.

Cook: Those moments of Jonah’s were always more of a “call-and-response”-type treatment.

The convention location offered plenty of opportunity for creative mixing. For example, the episode starts with Congressman Furlong (Dan Bakkedahl) addressing the crowd from the podium. The shot cuts to a CBSN TV broadcast of him addressing the crowd. Next the shot cuts to Selina’s skybox, where they’re watching him on TV. Then it’s quickly back to Furlong in the convention hall, then back to the TV broadcast, and back to Selina’s room — all in the span of seconds. Can you tell me about your mix on that sequence?
Cook: It was about deciding on the right reverb for the convention center and the right reverbs for all the loop group and the crowds and how wide to be (how much of the surrounds we used) in the convention space. Cutting to the skybox, all of that sound was mixed to mono, for the most part, and EQ’d a little bit. The producers didn’t want to futz it too much. They wanted to keep the energy, so mixing it to mono was the primary way of dealing with it.

Whenever there was a graphic on the lower third, we talked about treating that sound like it was news footage. But we decided we liked the energy of it being full fidelity for all of those moments we’re on the convention floor.

Another interesting thing was the way that Bill Freesh and I worked together. Bill was handling all of the big cut crowds, and I was handling the loop group on my side. We were trying to walk the line between a general crowd din on the convention floor, where you always felt like it was busy and crowded and huge, along with specific reactions from the loop group reacting to something that Furlong would say, or later in the show, reacting to Selina’s acceptance speech. We always wanted to play reactions to the specifics, but on the convention floor it never seems to get quiet. There was a lot of discussion about that.

Even though we cut from the convention center into the skybox, those considerations about crowd were still in play — whether we were on the convention floor or watching the convention through a TV monitor.

You did an amazing job on all those transitions — from the podium to the TV broadcast to the skybox. It felt very real, very natural.
Cook: Thank you! That was important to us, and certainly important to the producers. All the while, we tried to maintain as much energy as we could. Once we got the sound of it right, we made sure that the volume was kept up enough so that you always felt that energy.

It feels like the backgrounds never stop when they’re in the convention hall. In Selina’s skybox, when someone opens the door to the hallway, you hear the crowd as though the sound is traveling down the hallway. Such a great detail.
Cook and Cahill: Thank you!

For the background TV broadcasts feeding Selina info about the race — like Buddy Calhoun (Matt Oberg) talking about the transgender bathrooms — what was your approach to mixing those in this episode? How did you decide when to really push them forward in the mix and when to pull back?
Cook: We thought about panning. For the most part, our main storyline is in the center. When you have a TV running in the background, you can pan it off to the side a bit. It’s amazing how you can keep the volume up a little more without it getting in the way and masking the primary characters’ dialogue.

It’s also about finding the right EQ so that the TV broadcast isn’t sharing the same EQ bandwidth as the characters in the room.

Compression plays a role too, whether that’s via a plugin or me riding the fader. I can manually do what a side-chained compressor can do by just riding the fader and pulling the sound down when necessary or boosting it when there’s a space between dialogue lines from the main characters. The challenge is that there is constant talking on this show.

Going back to what has changed over the last three years, one of the things that has changed is that we have more time per episode to mix the show. We got more and more time from the first mix to the last mix. We have twice as much time to mix the show.

Even with all the backgrounds happening in Veep, you never miss the dialogue lines. Except, there’s a great argument that happens when Selina tells Jonah he’s going to be vice president. His Uncle Jeff (Peter MacNicol) starts yelling at him, and then Selina joins in. And Jonah is yelling back at them. It’s a great cacophony of insults. Can you tell me about that scene?
Cahill: Those 15 seconds of screen time took us several hours of work in editorial. Dave (Mandel) said he couldn’t understand Selina clearly enough, but he didn’t want to loop the whole argument. Of course, all three characters are overlapped — you can hear all of them on each other’s mics — so how do you just loop Selina?

We started with an extensive production alt search that went back and forth through the cutting room a few times. We decided that we did need to ADR Selina. So we ended up using a combination of mostly ADR for Selina’s side with a little bit of production.

For the other two characters, we wanted to save their production lines, so our dialogue editor Jane Boegel (she’s the best!) did an amazing job using iZotope RX’s De-bleed feature to clear Selina’s voice out of their mics, so we could preserve their performances.

We didn’t loop any of Uncle Jeff, and it was all because of Jane’s work cleaning out Selina. We were able to save all of Uncle Jeff. It’s mostly production for Jonah, but we did have to loop a few words for him. So it was ADR for Selina, all of Uncle Jeff and nearly all of Jonah from set. Then, it was up to John to make it match.

Cook: For me, in moments like those, it’s about trying to get equal volumes for all the characters involved. I tried to make Selina’s yelling and Uncle Jeff’s yelling at the exact same level so the listener’s ear can decide what it wants to focus on rather than my mix telling you what to focus on.

Another great mix sequence was Selina’s nomination for president. There’s a promo video of her talking about horses that’s playing back in the convention hall. There are multiple layers of processing happening — the TV filter, the PA distortion and the convention hall reverb. Can you tell me about the processing on that scene?
Cook: Oftentimes, when I do that PA sound, it’s a little bit of futzing, like rolling off the lows and highs, almost like you would do for a small TV. But then you put a big reverb on it, with some pre-delay on it as well, so you hear it bouncing off the walls. Once you find the right reverb, you’re also hearing it reflecting off the walls a little bit. Sometimes I’ll add a little bit of distortion as well, as if it’s coming out of the PA.

When Selina is backstage talking with Gary (Tony Hale), I rolled off a lot more of the highs on the reverb return on the promo video. Then, in the same way I’d approach levels with a TV in the room, I was riding the level on the promo video to fit around the main characters’ dialogue. I tried to push it in between little breaks in the conversation, pulling it down lower when we needed to focus on the main characters.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix?
Cook: I would say the Tom James chanting was challenging because we wanted to hear the chant from inside the skybox to the balcony of the skybox and then down on the convention floor. There was a lot of conversation about the microphones from Mike McLintock’s (Matt Walsh) interview. The producers decided that since there was a little bit of bleed in the production already, they wanted Mike’s microphone to be going out to the PA speakers in the convention hall. You hear a big reverb on Tom James as well. Then, the level of all the loop group specifics and chanting — from the ramp up of the chanting from zero to full volume — we negotiated with the producers. That was one of the more challenging scenes.

The acceptance speech was challenging too, because of all of the cutaways. There is that moment with Gary getting arrested by the FBI; we had to decide how much of that we wanted to hear.
There was the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” that played over all the characters’ banter following Selina’s acceptance speech. We had to balance the dialogue with the desire to crank up that track as much as we could.

There were so many great moments this season. How did you decide on the series finale episode, “Veep,” for Emmy consideration for Sound Mixing?
Cook: It was mostly about story. This is the end of a seven-year run (a three-year run for Sue and I), but the fact that every character gets a moment — a wrap-up on their character — makes me nostalgic about this episode in that way.

It also had some great sound challenges that came together nicely, like all the different crowds and the use of loop group. We’ve been using a lot of loop group on the show for the past three years, but this episode had a particularly massive amount of loop group.

The producers were also huge fans of this episode. When I talked to Dave Mandel about which episode we should put up, he recommended this one as well.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add on the sound of Veep?
Cook: I’m going to miss Veep a lot. The people on it, like Dave Mandel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Morgan Sackett … everyone behind the credenza. They were always working to create an even better show. It was a thrill to be a team member. They always treated us like we were in it together to make something great. It was a pleasure to work with people that recognize and appreciate the time and the heart that we contribute. I’ll miss working with them.

Cahill: I agree with John. On that last playback, no one wanted to leave the stage. Dave brought champagne, and Julia brought chocolates. It was really hard to say goodbye.


Game of Thrones’ Emmy-nominated visual effects

By Iain Blair

Once upon a time, only glamorous movies could afford the time and money it took to create truly imaginative and spectacular visual effects. Meanwhile, television shows either tried to avoid them altogether or had to rely on hand-me-downs. But the digital revolution changed all that with its technological advances, and new tools quickly leveling the playing field. Today, television is giving the movies a run for their money when it comes to sophisticated visual effects, as evidenced by HBO’s blockbuster series, Game of Thrones.

Mohsen Mousavi

This fantasy series was recently Emmy-nominated a record-busting 32 times for its eighth and final season — including one for its visually ambitious VFX in the penultimate episode, “The Bells.”

The epic mass destruction presented Scanline’s VFX supervisor, Mohsen Mousavi, and his team many challenges. But his expertise in high-end visual effects, and his reputation for constant innovation in advanced methodology, made him a perfect fit to oversee Scanline’s VFX for the crucial last three episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones.

Mousavi started his VFX career in the field of artificial intelligence and advanced-physics-based simulations. He spearheaded designing and developing many different proprietary toolsets and pipelines for doing crowd, fluid and rigid body simulation, including FluidIT, BehaveIT and CardIT, a node-based crowd choreography toolset.

Prior to joining Scanline VFX Vancouver, Mousavi rose through the ranks of top visual effects houses, working in jobs that ranged from lead effects technical director to CG supervisor and, ultimately, VFX supervisor. He’s been involved in such high-profile projects as Hugo, The Amazing Spider-Man and Sucker Punch.

In 2012, he began working with Scanline, acting as digital effects supervisor on 300: Rise of an Empire, for which Scanline handled almost 700 water-based sea battle shots. He then served as VFX supervisor on San Andreas, helping develop the company’s proprietary city-generation software. That software and pipeline were further developed and enhanced for scenes of destruction in director Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence. In 2017, he served as the lead VFX supervisor for Scanline on the Warner Bros. shark thriller, The Meg.

I spoke with Mousavi about creating the VFX and their pipeline.

Congratulations on being Emmy-nominated for “The Bells,” which showcased so many impressive VFX. How did all your work on Season 4 prepare you for the big finale?
We were heavily involved in the finale of Season 4, however the scope was far smaller. What we learned was the collaboration and the nature of the show, and what the expectations were in terms of the quality of the work and what HBO wanted.

You were brought onto the project by lead VFX supervisor Joe Bauer, correct?
Right. Joe was the “client VFX supervisor” on the HBO side and was involved since Season 3. Together with my producer, Marcus Goodwin, we also worked closely with HBO’s lead visual effects producer, Steve Kullback, who I’d worked with before on a different show and in a different capacity. We all had daily sessions and conversations, a lot of back and forth, and Joe would review the entire work, give us feedback and manage everything between us and other vendors, like Weta, Image Engine and Pixomondo. This was done both technically and creatively, so no one stepped on each other’s toes if we were sharing a shot and assets. But it was so well-planned that there wasn’t much overlap.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the full list of those nominated for their VFX work on Game of Thrones — Joe Bauer, lead visual effects supervisor; Steve Kullback, lead visual effects producer; Adam Chazen, visual effects associate producer; Sam Conway, special effects supervisor; Mohsen Mousavi, visual effects supervisor; Martin Hill, visual effects supervisor; Ted Rae, visual effects plate supervisor; Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, previz lead; and Thomas Schelesny, visual effects and animation supervisor.]

What were you tasked with doing on Season 8?
We were involved as one of the lead vendors on the last three episodes and covered a variety of sequences. In episode four, “The Last of the Starks,” we worked on the confrontation between Daenerys and Cersei in front of the King’s Landing’s gate, which included a full CG environment of the city gate and the landscape around it, as well as Missandei’s death sequence, which featured a full CG Missandei. We also did the animated Drogon outside the gate while the negotiations took place.

Then for “The Bells” we were responsible for most of the Battle of King’s Landing, which included full digital city, Daenerys’ army camp site outside the walls of King’s Landing, the gathering of soldiers in front of the King’s Landing walls, Danny’s attack on the scorpions, the city gate, streets and the Red Keep, which had some very close-up set extensions, close-up fire and destruction simulations and full CG crowd of various different factions — armies and civilians. We also did the iconic Cleaganebowl fight between The Hound and The Mountain and Jamie Lannister’s fight with Euron at the beach underneath the Red Keep. In Episode 5, we received raw animation caches of the dragon from Image Engine and did the full look-dev, lighting and rendering of the final dragon in our composites.

For the final episode, “The Iron Throne, we were responsible for the entire Deanerys speech sequence, which included a full 360 digital environment of the city aftermath and the Red Keep plaza filled with digital unsullied Dothrakies and CG horses leading into the majestic confrontation between Jon and Drogon, where it revealed itself from underneath a huge pile of snow outside Red Keep. We were also responsible for the iconic throne melt sequence, which included some advance simulation of high viscous fluid and destruction of the area around the throne and finishing the dramatic sequence with Drogon carrying Danny out of the throne room and away from King’s Landing into the unknown.

Where was all this work done?
The majority of the work was done here in Vancouver, which is the biggest Scanline office. Additionally we had teams working in our Munich, Montreal and LA offices. We’re a 100% connected company, all working under the same infrastructure in the same pipeline. So if I work with the team in Munich, it’s like they’re sitting in the next room. That allows us to set up and attack the project with a larger crew and get the benefit of the 24/7 scenario; as we go home, they can continue working, and it makes us far more productive.

How many VFX did you have to create for the final season?
We worked on over 600 shots across the final three episodes which gave us approximately over an hour of screen time of high-end consistent visual effects.

Isn’t that hour length unusual for 600 shots?
Yes, but we had a number of shots that were really long, including some ground coverage shots of Arya in the streets of King’s Landing that were over four or five minutes long. So we had the complexity along with the long duration.

How many people were on your team?
At the height, we had about 350 artists on the project, and we began in March 2018 and didn’t wrap till nearly the end of April 2019 — so it took us over a year of very intense work.

Tell us about the pipeline specific to Game of Thrones.
Scanline has an industry-wide reputation for delivering very complex, full CG environments combined with complex simulation scenarios of all sort of fluid dynamics and destruction based on our simulation framework “Flowline.” We had a high-end digital character and hero creature pipeline that gave the final three episodes a boost up front. What was new were the additions to our procedural city generation pipeline for the recreation of King’s Landing, making sure it can deliver both in wide angle shots as well as some extreme close-up set extensions.

How did you do that?
We used a framework we developed back for Independence Day: Resurgence, which is a module-based procedural city generation leveraging some incredible scans of the historical city of Dubrovnik as a blueprint and foundation of King’s Landing. Instead of doing the modeling conventionally, you model a lot of small modules, kind of like Lego blocks. You create various windows, stones, doors, shingles and so on, and once it’s encoded in the system, you can semi-automatically generate variations of buildings on the fly. That also goes for texturing. We had procedurally generated layers of façade textures, which gave us a lot of flexibility on texturing the entire city, with full control over the level of aging and damage. We could decide to make a block look older easily without going back to square one. That’s how we could create King’s Landing with its hundreds of thousands of unique buildings.

The same technology was applied to the aftermath of the city in Episode 6. We took the intact King’s Landing and ran a number of procedural collapsing simulations on the buildings to get the correct weight based on references from the bombed city of Dresden during WWII, and then we added procedurally created CG snow on the entire city.

It didn’t look like the usual matte paintings were used at all.
You’re right, and there were a lot of shots that normally would be done that way, but to Joe’s credit, he wanted to make sure the environments weren’t cheated in any way. That was a big challenge, to keep everything consistent and accurate. Even if we used traditional painting methods, it was all done on top of an accurate 3D representation with correct lighting and composition.

What other tools did you use?
We use Autodesk Maya for all our front-end departments, including modeling, layout, animation, rigging and creature effects, and we bridge the results to Autodesk 3ds Max, which encapsulates our look-dev/FX and rendering departments, powered by Flowline and Chaos Group’s V-Ray as our primary render engine, followed by Foundry’s Nuke as our main compositing package.

At the heart of our crowd pipeline, we use Massive and our creature department is driven with Ziva muscles which was a collaboration we started with Ziva Dynamics back for the creation of the hero Megalodon in The Meg.

Fair to say that your work on Game of Thrones was truly cutting-edge?
Game of Thrones has pushed the limit above and beyond and has effectively erased the TV/feature line. In terms of environment and effects and the creature work, this is what you’d do for a high-end blockbuster for the big screen. No difference at all.


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


The Umbrella Academy‘s Emmy-nominated VFX supe Everett Burrell

By Iain Blair

If all ambitious TV shows with a ton of visual effects aspire to be cinematic, then Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has to be the gold standard. The acclaimed sci-fi, superhero, adventure mash-up was just Emmy-nominated for its season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased a full range of spectacular VFX. This included everything from the fully-CG Dr. Pogo to blowing up the moon and a mansion to the characters’ varied superpowers. Those VFX, mainly created by movie powerhouse Weta Digital in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto, indeed rival anything in cinema. This is partly thanks to Netflix’s 4K pipeline.

The Umbrella Academy is based on the popular, Eisner Award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (“My Chemical Romance”), illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story starts when, on the same day in 1989, 43 infants are born to unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who creates The Umbrella Academy and prepares his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now, six of the surviving members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves’ death. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya and Number Five work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death. But the estranged family once again begins to come apart due to divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse.

The live-action series stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige. It is produced by Universal Content Productions for Netflix. Steve Blackman (Fargo, Altered Carbon) is the executive producer and showrunner, with additional executive producers Jeff F. King, Bluegrass Television, and Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg from Dark Horse Entertainment.

Everett Burrell

I spoke with senior visual effects supervisor and co-producer Everett Burrell (Pan’s Labyrinth, Altered Carbon), who has an Emmy for his work on Babylon 5, about creating the VFX and the 4K pipeline.

Congratulations on being nominated for the first season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased so many impressive visual effects.
Thanks. We’re all really proud of the work.

Have you started season two?
Yes, and we’re already knee-deep in the shooting up in Canada. We shoot in Toronto, where we’re based, as well as Hamilton, which has this great period look. So we’re up there quite a bit. We’re just back here in LA for a couple of weeks working on editorial with Steve Blackman, the executive producer and showrunner. Our offices are in Encino, in a merchant bank building. I’m a co-producer as well, so I also deal a lot with editorial — more than normal.

Have you planned out all the VFX for the new season?
To a certain extent. We’re working on the scripts and have a good jump on them. We definitely plan to blow the first season out of the water in terms of what we come up with.

What are the biggest challenges of creating all the VFX on the show?
The big one is the sheer variety of VFX, which are all over the map in terms of the various types. They go from a completely animated talking CG chimpanzee Dr. Pogo to creating a very unusual apocalyptic world, with scenes like blowing up the moon and, of course, all the superpowers. One of the hardest things we had to do — which no one will ever know just watching it — was a ton of leaf replacement on trees.

Digital leaves via Montreal’s Folks.

When we began shooting, it was winter and there were no leaves on the trees. When we got to editorial we realized that the story spans just eight days, so it wouldn’t make any sense if in one scene we had no leaves and in the next we had leaves. So we had to add every single leaf to the trees for all of the first five episodes, which was a huge amount of work. The way we did it was to go back to all the locations and re-shoot all the trees from the same angles once they were in bloom. Then we had to composite all that in. Folks in Montreal did all of it, and it was very complicated. Lola did a lot of great work on Hargreeves, getting his young look for the early 1900s and cleaning up the hair and wrinkles and making it all look totally realistic. That was very tricky too.

Netflix is ahead of the curve thanks to its 4K policy. Tell us about the pipeline.
For a start, we shoot with the ARRI Alexa 65, which is a very robust cinema camera that was used on The Revenant. With its 65mm sensor, it’s meant for big-scope, epic movies, and we decided to go with it to give our show that great cinema look. The depth of field is like film, and it can also emulate film grain for this fantastic look. That camera shoots natively at 5K — it won’t go any lower. That means we’re at a much higher resolution than any other show out there.

And you’re right, Netflix requires a 4K master as future-proofing for streaming and so on. Those very high standards then trickle down to us and all the VFX. We also use a very unique system developed by Deluxe and Efilm called Portal, which basically stores the entire show in the cloud on a server somewhere, and we can get background plates to the vendors within 10 minutes. It’s amazing. Back in the old days, you’d have to make a request and maybe within 24 or 48 hours, you’d get those plates. So this system makes it almost instantaneous, and that’s a lifesaver.

   
Method blows up the moon.

How closely do you work with Steve Blackman and the editors?
I think Steve said it best:”There’s no daylight between the two of us” We’re linked at the hip pretty much all the time. He comes to my office if he has issues, and I go to his if we have complications; we resolve all of it together in probably the best creative relationship I’ve ever had. He relies on me and counts on me, and I trust him completely. Bottom line, if we need to write ourselves out of a sticky situation, he’s also the head writer, so he’ll just go off and rewrite a scene to help us out.

How many VFX do you average for each show?
We average between 150 and 200 per episode. Last season we did nearly 2,000 in total, so it’s a huge amount for a TV show, and there’s a lot of data being pushed. Luckily, I have an amazing team, including my production manager Misato Shinohara. She’s just the best and really takes care of all the databases, and manages all the shot data, reference, slates and so on. All that stuff we take on set has to go into this massive database, and just maintaining that is a huge job.

Who are the main VFX vendors?
The VFX are mainly created by Weta in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto. Weta did all the Pogo stuff. Then we have Folks, Lola, Marz, Deluxe Toronto, DigitalFilm Tree in LA… and then Method Studios in Vancouver did great work on our end-of-the-world apocalyptic sequence. They blew up the moon and had a chunk of it hitting the Earth, along with all the surrounding imagery. We started R&D on that pretty early to get a jump on it. We gave them storyboards and they did previz. We used that as a cut to get iterations of it all. There were a lot of particle simulations, which was pretty intense.

Weta created Dr. Pogo

What have been the most difficult VFX sequences to create?
Just dealing with Pogo is obviously very demanding, and we had to come up with a fast shortcut to dealing with the photo-real look as we just don’t have the time or budget they have for the Planet of the Apes movies. The big thing is integrating him in the room as an actor with the live actors, and that was a huge challenge. We used just two witness cameras to capture our Pogo body performer. All the apocalyptic scenes were also very challenging because of the scale, and then those leaves were very hard to do and make look real. That alone took us a couple of months. And we might have the same problem this year, as we’re shooting in the summer through fall, and I’m praying that the leaves don’t start falling before we wrap.

What have been the main advances in technology that have really helped you pull off some of the show’s VFX?
I think the rendering and the graphics cards are the big ones, and the hardware talks together much more efficiently now. Even just a few years ago, and it might have taken weeks and weeks to render a Pogo. Now we can do it in a day. Weta developed new software for creating the texture and fabric of Pogo’s clothes. They also refined their hair programs.

 

I assume as co-producer that you’re very involved with the DI?
I am… and keeping track of all that and making sure we keep pushing the envelope. We do the DI at Company 3 with colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who’s a partner in all of this. She brings so much to the show, and her work is a big part of why it looks so good. I love the DI. It’s where all the magic happens, and I get in there early with Jill and take care of the VFX tweaks. Then Steve comes in and works on contrast and color tweaks.By the time Steve gets there, we’re probably 80% of the way there already.

What can fans expect from season two?
Bigger, better visual effects. We definitely pay attention to the fans. They love the graphic novel, so we’re getting more of that into the show.


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.


Creating and mixing authentic sounds for HBO’s Deadwood movie

By Jennifer Walden

HBO’s award-winning series Deadwood might have aired its final episode 13 years ago, but it’s recently found new life as a movie. Set in 1889 — a decade after the series finale — Deadwood: The Movie picks up the threads of many of the main characters’ stories and weaves them together as the town of Deadwood celebrates the statehood of South Dakota.

Deadwood: The Movie

The Deadwood: The Movie sound team.

The film, which aired on HBO and is available on Amazon, picked up eight 2019 Emmy nominations including in the categories of sound editing, sound mixing and  best television movie.

Series creator David Milch has returned as writer on the film. So has director Daniel Minahan, who helmed several episodes of the series. The film’s cast is populated by returning members, as is much of the crew. On the sound side, there are freelance production sound mixer Geoffrey Patterson; 424 Post’s sound designer, Benjamin Cook; NBCUniversal StudioPost’s re-recording mixer, William Freesh; and Mind Meld Arts’ music editor, Micha Liberman. “Series composers Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek — who haven’t been a composing team in many years — have reunited just to do this film. A lot of people came back for this opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to go back to Deadwood?” says Liberman.

Freelance supervising sound editor Mandell Winter adds, “The loop group used on the series was also used on the film. It was like a reunion. People came out of retirement to do this. The richness of voices they brought to the stage was amazing. We shot two days of group for the film, covering a lot of material in that limited time to populate Deadwood.”

Deadwood (the film and series) was shot on a dedicated film ranch called Melody Ranch Motion Picture Studio in Newhall, California. The streets, buildings and “districts” are consistently laid out the same way. This allowed the sound team to use a map of the town to orient sounds to match each specific location and direction that the camera is facing.

For example, there’s a scene in which the town bell is ringing. As the picture cuts to different locations, the ringing sound is panned to show where the bell is in relation to that location on screen. “We did that for everything,” says co-supervising sound editor Daniel Colman, who along with Freesh and re-recording mixer John Cook, works at NBCUniversal StudioPost. “You hear the sounds of the blacksmith’s place coming from where it would be.”

“Or, if you’re close to the Chinese section of the town, then you hear that. If you were near the saloons, that’s what you hear. They all had different sounds that were pulled forward from the series into the film,” adds re-recording mixer Freesh.

Many of the exterior and interior sounds on set were captured by Benjamin Cook, who was sound effects editor on the original Deadwood series. Since it’s a practical location, they had real horses and carriages that Cook recorded. He captured every door and many of the props. Colman says, “We weren’t guessing at what something sounded like; we were putting in the actual sounds.”

The street sounds were an active part of the ambience in the series, both day and night. There were numerous extras playing vendors plying their wares and practicing their crafts. Inside the saloons and out in front of them, patrons talked and laughed. Their voices — performed by the loop group in post — helped to bring Deadwood alive. “The loop group we had was more than just sound effects. We had to populate the town with people,” says Winter, who scripted lines for the loopers because they were played more prominently in the mix than what you’d typically hear. “Having the group play so far forward in a show is very rare. It had to make sense and feel timely and not modern.”

In the movie, the street ambience isn’t as strong a sonic component. “The town had calmed down a little bit as it’s going about its business. It’s not quite as bustling as it was in the series. So that left room for a different approach,” says Freesh.

The attenuation of street ambience was conducive to the cinematic approach that director Minahan wanted to take on Deadwood: The Movie. He used music to help the film feel bigger and more dramatic than the series, notes Liberman. Re-recording mixer John Cook adds, “We experimented a lot with music cues. We saw scenes take on different qualities, depending on whether the music was in or out. We worked hard with Dan [Minahan] to end up with the appropriate amount of music in the film.”

Minahan even introduced music on set by way of a piano player inside the Gem Saloon. Production sound mixer Patterson says, “Dan was very active on the set in creating a mood with that music for everyone that was there. It was part and parcel of the place at that time.”

Authenticity was a major driving force behind Deadwood’s aesthetics. Each location on set was carefully dressed with era-specific props, and the characters were dressed with equal care, right down to their accessories, tools and weapons. “The sound of Seth Bullock’s gun is an actual 1889 Remington revolver, and Calamity Jane’s gun is an 1860’s Colt Army cavalry gun. We’ve made every detail as real and authentic as possible, including the train whistle that opens the film. I wasn’t going to just put in any train whistle. It’s the 1880s Black Hills steam engine that actually went through Deadwood,” reports Colman.

The set’s wooden structures and elevated boardwalk that runs in front of the establishments in the heart of town lent an authentic character to the production sound. The creaky wooden doors and thumpiness of footsteps across the raised wooden floors are natural sounds the audience would expect to hear from that environment. “The set for Deadwood was practical and beautiful and amazing. You want to make sure that you preserve that realness and let the 1800s noises come through. You don’t want to over sterilize the tracks. You want them to feel organic,” says Patterson.

Freesh adds, “These places were creaky and noisy. Wind whistled through the windows. You just embrace it. You enhance it. That was part of the original series sound, and it followed through in the movie as well.”

The location was challenging due to its proximity to real-world civilization and all of our modern-day sonic intrusions, like traffic, airplanes and landscaping equipment from a nearby neighborhood. Those sounds have no place in the 1880s world of Deadwood, but “if we always waited for the moment to be perfect, we would never make a day’s work,” says Patterson. “My mantra was always to protect every precious word of David Milch’s script and to preserve the performances of that incredible cast.”

In the end, the modern-day noises at the location weren’t enough to require excessive ADR. John Cook says, “Geoffrey [Patterson] did a great job of capturing the dialogue. Then, between the choices the picture editors made for different takes and the work that Mandell [Winter] did, there were only one or two scenes in the whole movie that required extra attention for dialogue.”

Winter adds, “Even denoising the tracks, I didn’t take much out. The tracks sounded really good when they got to us. I just used iZotope RX 7 and did our normal pass with it.”

Any fan of Deadwood knows just how important dialogue clarity is since the show’s writing is like Shakespeare for the American West — with prolific profanity, of course. The word choices and their flow aren’t standard TV script fare. To help each word come through clearly, Winter notes they often cut in both the boom and lav mic tracks. This created nice, rich dialogue for John Cook to mix.

On the stage, John Cook used the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 to work each syllable, making sure the dialogue sounded bright and punchy and not too muddy or tubby. “I wanted the audience to hear every word without losing the dynamics of a given monologue or delivery. I wanted to maintain the dynamics, but make sure that the quieter moments were just as intelligible as the louder moments,” he says.

In the film, several main characters experience flashback moments in which they remember events from the series. For example, Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) recalls the death of Jen (Jennifer Lutheran) from the Season 3 finale. These flashbacks — or hauntings, as the post team refers to them — went through several iterations before the team decided on the most effective way to play each one. “We experimented with how to treat them. Do we go into the actor’s head and become completely immersed in the past? Or, do we stay in the present — wherever we are — and give it a slight treatment? Or, should there not be any sounds in the haunting? In the end, we decided they weren’t all going to be handled the same,” says Freesh.

Before coming together for the final mix on Mix 6 at NBCUniversal StudioPost on the Universal Studios Lot in Los Angeles, John Cook and Freesh pre-dubbed Deadwood: The Movie in separate rooms as they’d do on a typical film — with Freesh pre-dubbing the backgrounds, effects, and Foley while Cook pre-dubbed the dialogue and music.

The pre-dubbing process gave Freesh and John Cook time to get the tracks into great shape before meeting up for the final mix. Freesh concludes, “We were able to, with all the people involved, listen to the film in real good condition from the first pass down and make intelligent decisions based on what we were hearing. It really made a big difference in making this feel like Deadwood.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.


Quick Chat: Robert Ryang on editing Netflix’s Zion doc

Back in May, Cut+Run’s Robert Ryang took home a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Editing category for the short film Zion. The documentary, which premiered at Sundance and was released on Netflix, tells the story of Zion Clark, a young man who was born without legs, grew up in foster care and found community and hope in wrestling.

Robert Ryang and his Emmy for his work on Zion.

Clark began wrestling in second grade against his able-bodied peers. The physical challenge became a therapeutic outlet and gave him a sense of family. Moving from foster home to foster home, wrestling became the one constant in his childhood.

Editor Ryang and Zion’s director, Floyd Russ, had worked together previously — on the Ad Council’s Fans of Love and SK-II’s Marriage Market Takeover, among other projects — and developed a creative shorthand that helped tell this compelling, feel-good story.

We spoke with Ryang about the film, his process and working with the director

How and when did you become involved in this project?
In the spring of 2017, my good friend director Floyd Russ asked me to edit his passion project. Initially, I was hesitant, since it was just after the birth of my second child. Two years later, both the film and my kid have turned out great.

You’ve worked him before. What defines the way you work together?
I think Floyd and I work really well together because we’re such good friends; we don’t have to be polite. He’ll text me ideas any time of day, and I feel comfortable enough to tell him if I don’t like something. He wins most of the fights, but I think this dialectic probably makes the work better.

How did you approach the edit on the film? How did you hone the story structure?
At first, Floyd had a basic outline that I followed just to get something on the timeline. But from there, it was a pretty intense process of shuffling and reshaping. At one point, we tried to map the beats onto a whiteboard, and it looked like a Richter scale. Editor Adam Bazadona helped cut some of these iterations while I was on paternity leave.

How does working on a short film like this differ — hats worn, people involved, etc. — from advertising projects?
The editing process was a lot different from most commercial projects in that it was only Floyd and me in the room. Friends floated a few thoughts here and there, but we were only working toward a director’s cut.

What tools did you use?
Avid Media Composer for editing, some Adobe After Effects for rough comps.

What are the biggest creative and technical challenges you faced in the process?
With docs, there are usually infinite ways to put it together, so we did a lot of exploration. Floyd definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in prescribing the more abstract scenes, but I think those touches ultimately made the film stand out.

From Sundance, to Netflix, to Sports Emmy awards. Did you ever imagine it would take this journey?
There wasn’t much precedent for a studio or network acquiring a 10-minute short, so our biggest hope was that it would get into Sundance then live on Vimeo. It really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I would have never imagined receiving an Emm, but am really honored I did.


Editing for Episodics

By Karen Moltenbrey

Consistency is important when editing series. Initially, the editor may collaborate with the director and DP on the style of the show, and once it is set, the focus is on supporting that direction, reflecting the essence and feel of the show and the performance of the characters.

However, not every series is the same, and editors adapt their editing pattern and pacing based on the project’s genre. For instance, the pacing of a comedy should elevate the punchline, not detract from it, whereas with a drama, choosing the best performance that fits the story is paramount. Additionally, the use of music and sound design can heighten the emotion or tension far more than, say, in a comedy.

Here we look at two very different series — a comedy and a drama — and examine how the editors approached the cut on their respective shows.

Insecure
Life is complicated, especially for the main characters of HBO’s Insecure, which focuses on two African American women as they navigate modern-day life in Los Angeles. Best friends since college and now in their late 20s, they are trying to find their footing both personally and professionally, with Issa Dee working at a nonprofit school and living with her longtime boyfriend, and Molly Carter finding success as a lawyer but less so in her dating life.

The comedy has been renewed for a fourth season, which will be released sometime in 2019. The series debuted in 2016 and is created by Issa Rae — who plays the main character Issa Dee — and Larry Wilmore. A number of people have directed and served as DP, and there have been four editors, including Nena Erb, ACE, who came aboard during Season 3.

“The series is built around [Issa’s and Molly’s] experiences as they try to find their place in the world. When I approach a scene, I do so from their point of view,” says Erb. “South LA is also portrayed as a character in the series; we do our best to incorporate shots of the various neighborhoods in each episode so viewers get a flavor of the city.”

According to Erb, the composition for the series is cinematic and unconventional from the typical television series. “The editing pattern is also not the typical start with a master, go to medium shots, close-up and so forth,” she says. “Having unique composition and coming up with interesting ways to transition in and out of a scene give this series a distinct visual style that’s unlike other television shows out right now.”

Nena Erb

Scenes wherein Issa is the focus are shot mostly handheld. The shots have more movement and convey a sense of uncertainty and flux, which is in keeping with the character, who is trying to find herself when it comes to her career. On the other hand, Molly’s scenes are typically locked-off to convey steadiness, as she is a little more settled in her career as an attorney. For example, in “Fresh-Like” (Season 3 Episode 4), Molly has a difficult time establishing herself after taking a job at a new law firm, and things are not going as smoothly as she had hoped. When she discusses her frustrations with her therapist, the scene was shot with locked-off cameras since it focuses on Molly, but camera moves were then added in the edit to give it a handheld look to convey she was on unsteady ground at that moment.

Erb edits the series on an Avid Media Composer, and temp effects are done in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

Erb’s workflow for Insecure is similar to other series she has edited. She reads the script a few times, and before starting dailies, will re-read the scene she is working on that day, paying particular attention to the screen direction. “That is extremely helpful in letting me know the tone of the scene. I like having that fresh in my mind when I watch the dailies,” says Erb. She also reviews all the circle as well as non-circle takes — a step that is time-consuming but ensures she is using all the best performances. “And sometimes there are hidden gems in the non-circle takes that make all the difference, so I feel it’s worth the time to watch them all,” she adds.

While watching the dailies, Erb often jots down notes while cutting it in her head. Then she sits down and starts putting the scene together in the actual edit.

When Erb signed on to do the series, the style and tone were already established, and the crew had been together since the beginning. “It’s never easy to come into a show like that,” she says. “I was the new kid on the block who had to figure out team dynamics in addition to learning the style of the show. My biggest challenge was to make sure my work was in the language of the series, while still maintaining my own sense of style.”

Insofar as social media has become a big part of everyone’s life, it is now turning up in series such as Insecure, where it has become a recurring character — although in the episode titled “Obsessed-Like,” it is much more. As Erb explains, Insecure uses social media graphics as elements that play on the screen next to the person texting or tweeting. But in that episode, the editor wanted the audience alongside Issa as she checks on her new love interest Nathan and used social media graphics in a completely different way than had been done previously on the show.

“I told my assistant editor, Lynarion Hubbard, that I wanted her to create all these graphics in a way that they could be edited as if they were dailies. Doing so enabled me to use them full-screen, and I could animate them so they could crash-zoom into the shot of this woman kissing Nathan and then tilt down to the caption, which is when you realize the woman is his mom, as she delivers the punchline, ‘Oh, it’s your mom. She looks young for 50,’” says Erb.

“I felt the graphics made me more invested and allowed me to experience the emotional roller coaster with Issa as she obsesses over being ghosted. It was a risk to use them that way because it wasn’t in the language of the show. Fortunately for me, the producers loved it, and that episode was nominated for an ACE Eddie Award earlier this year.”

Erb might be new to Insecure, but she feels a personal connection to the series: When she and her family first immigrated to the US, they settled in Ladera Heights, and she attended school in Inglewood. “I remember this awkward girl who didn’t speak a word of English, and yet the neighbors welcomed us with open arms,” she recalls. “That community will always be special to me. The series pokes fun at Ladera Heights, but I think it’s great that they are highlighting a part of South LA that was my first connection in the US.”

Erb predominantly edits television series, but she has also edited feature films and documentaries. “I’d say I am drawn to powerful stories and captivating characters rather than a genre or format. Performance is paramount. Everything is in service of the story and the characters, regardless of whether it’s a series or a film,” she states.

On a series, “it’s a sprint to the finish, especially if it’s a series that has started airing while you’re still shooting and editing the later episodes. You’ll have anywhere from one to three days after the last day of dailies to do your editor’s cut, and then it’s off to the director, producers, the studio and so forth,” Erb explains. Conversely, with the features she has done, the schedule has offered more wiggle room – more time to do the editor’s cut and more time for the directors’ involvement. “And you have the luxury to experiment and sit with the cut to make sure it is working.”

In addition to Insecure, Erb has worked on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Being Mary Jane and Project Greenlight, to name a few. And each has its own recipe. For instance, Crazy Ex has music videos in each episode that run the gamut from the ’50s to present day, from a Fosse-inspired number to ’80s rock, ’90s hip-hop and three decades of the Beach Boys. “In an industry where it is easy to get pigeonholed, being able to work on a show that allows you to challenge yourself with different genres is rare, and I loved the experience.”

Ozark
At first glance, the Ozarks seem to be a tranquil place, a wholesome, idyllic location to raise a family. But, looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to the Netflix family crime drama Ozark, which will be starting its third season sometime this year.

The series follows financial planner Marty Byrde, who relocates with his family from Chicago to the summer resort area of Osage Beach, Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains. The move is not voluntary. To make amends for a scheme that went awry, he must launder millions of dollars belonging to a Mexican drug cartel through the Ozarks. Soon he becomes entangled with local criminals.

Jason Bateman, who plays Marty, directed some of the episodes in Season 1 and 2, with other directors filling that role as well. Editing the series since it began is Cindy Mollo, ACE, and Heather Goodwin Floyd, who have a longtime working relationship. Goodwin Floyd, who was Mollo’s assistant editor for many years, started on both seasons of Ozark in the assistant role but also edited and co-edited episodes in each season.

Cindy Mollo

When Mollo first met with Bateman to talk about the project, they discussed the series as being akin to a 10-hour feature. “He wanted to spend time in moments, giving time to the performances, and not be too ‘cutty’ or too manipulative,” she says. “There’s a tendency with someone like Bateman to always be looking for the comedy and to cut for comedy, but ours is a dramatic show where sometimes things just happen to be funny; we don’t cut for that.”

The show has a naturalistic feel, and many scenes are shot outdoors, but there is always a lingering sense of threat, played up with heavy shadows. The look, as the humor, is dark, in a figurative and literal way. And the editors play into the suspense. “By letting moments play out, it helps put you in the head of the character, figuring things out as you go along. So, you’re not ever letting the audience get ahead of the character by showing them something that the character doesn’t see,” explains Mollo. “There’s a little bit of a remoteness in that, so you’re not really spoon-feeding the audience.”

On Ozark, the editors make sure they do not get in the way of the material. The writing is so solid, says Mollo, and the performances are so good, “the challenge is to resist the temptation to impose too much on the material and to just achieve the goals of the scene. Doing things simply and elegantly, that is how I approach this series.”

Goodwin Floyd agrees. “We support the material and let it speak for itself, and tell the story in the most authentic way possible,” she adds.

The series is set in the Ozarks but is filmed outside Atlanta, where the dailies are processed before they are sent to editorial. Assistants pull all the media into a Media Composer, where the cut is done.

Heather Goodwin Floyd

According to Mollo, she and Goodwin Floyd have four days to work on their cut. Then the directors have four days per episode to work with them. “We’re cross-boarded, so that ends up being eight days with the director for two episodes, for the most part,” she says. After that, the producers are brought in, and as Mollo points out, Bateman is very involved in the edit. Once the producers sign off, the final cut is sent to producer Media Rights Capital (MRC) and Netflix.

The first two seasons of Ozark were shot at 4K; this season, it is shot at nearly 6K, though delivery to Netflix is still at 4K.

Both editors have a range of experience in terms of genres. Goodwin Floyd started out in features and now primarily edits TV dramas. Mollo got her start in commercials and then migrated to dramatic series, with some TV movies and features, as well. “I love the mix. Honestly, I love doing both [series and films]. I have fun when I’m on a series, and then it seems like every two years or so I get to do a feature. With everyone editing digitally, the feature process has become very similar to the television process,” she says. “It’s just a little more director-focused rather than producer/writer-focused.”

For Goodwin Floyd, she’s drawn more to the content as opposed to the format. “I started in features and at the time thought I wanted to stay in features, but the quality of series on television has evolved and gotten so great that I love working in TV as much as in features,” she says.

With the rise of cable, then premium movie channels and now streaming services, Mollo says there is a feeling that the material can be trusted more, that there is no longer the need to feel like you have to be cutting every couple of seconds to keep the audience excited and engaged. For instance, when she worked on House of Cards, the MRC and Netflix executives were very hands-off — they wanted to have a fantastic opening episode every season and a really compelling cliffhanger, and for everything in between, they trusted the filmmakers to take care of it.

“I really gravitated toward that trend of trusting the filmmakers, and it is resulting in some really great television,” says Mollo.

In as much as we are in a golden age of television, Mollo also believes we are in a golden age of editing, where people understand more of what an editor does and appreciates the results more. Editing is basically a final rewrite of the script, she says. “You’re the last line of defense; sometimes you need to guide the story back to its original direction [if it veers off course].”


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer/editor covering VFX and post production.

Idris Elba and Gary Reich talk about creating Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie

By Iain Blair

Idris Elba has always excelled at playing uber-cool, uber-controlled characters — often villains and troubled souls, such as drug lord Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire, detective John Luther on the BBC’s Luther, and the war lord in the harrowing feature film Beasts of No Nation. No wonder everyone thinks he’d be perfect as the next uber-sexy Bond.

But there’s another, hidden side to the charismatic star. The actor has long been heavily involved in post production. Additionally, he moonlights as a DJ, the inspiration for his new Netflix show Turn Up Charlie. He trashes his super-cool image by starring as the titular Charlie, a decidedly uncool, struggling DJ and eternal bachelor, who finally gets a shot at success when he reluctantly becomes a “manny” to his famous best friend’s problem-child daughter.

The show also serves as a showcase for Elba’s self-described “nerdy” side behind the camera, his love of producing and his hands-on involvement in every aspect of post. The eight-part series is co-produced by Elba’s Green Door Pictures and Gary Reich’s Brown Eyed Boy Productions, with Elba and Reich serving as executive producers alongside Tristram Shapeero, who directs the series with Matt Lipsey.

And in a serious show of support for the show and its star, Netflix (which for the first time beat HBO in Emmy noms last year) officially launched an Emmy “For Your Consideration” campaign, with a screening and panel discussion featuring Elba.

Prior to the event, I spoke with the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated Elba (whose credits also include the Avengers and Thor franchises, American Gangster, Star Trek Beyond, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Office and The Jungle Book) about his latest project, his real-life moonlighting gig as a DJ, his love of post and his upcoming role in Cats. We also spoke with his Turn Up Charlie co-creator Reich.

Let’s talk about post production on the show. How involved are you, considering you’re also starring and co-producing?
Idris Elba: We did it at The Farm in London, and I’m pretty involved in every aspect of post, though I’m not sitting in the edit suite all day long looking at every frame. But I really love the whole process, especially editing and, of course, the sound and music because of my background as a DJ. So I’ll be there checking the edits and how it’s being put together.

Then I’ll be there for all the sound mix stuff and also for the final grade, which I love too. I’m super-nerdy in that way, and I find it very satisfying to be involved in post. For most actors, post is this whole hidden, secret world that you never see or get involved in, but I’ve always been fascinated by how it all comes together… how you can manipulate a performance or the sound to totally change a scene and how it works and affects the audience. It’s really the most creative part of making a TV show or a movie, and hopefully I’ll be more and more involved in it all.

People think of you as an actor first and foremost, but you’ve been involved in producing and post for quite a while.
Elba: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in it, learning stuff as I go, and watching directors and how post works. When I directed my first film, Yardie, a couple of years ago, it was a real education, and I loved every minute of it — being involved in all the editing and working on all the elements that go into the sound mix and music. I’ve been involved in production with a lot of the shows I’ve done, like Luther and Five by Five and now this one, and I really enjoy it.

Gary, any surprises working with Idris? And what was the schedule like?
Gary Reich: For someone so busy across so many different mediums, it was amazing how he was always able to give 100% in the moment. He’s like a powerful lighthouse — when he shines on you and your production, you get a dazzling 150% of him. As a co-executive producer, he was involved across many surprisingly small details, as well as the larger picture. We edited at The Farm, and the offline was what you’d expect — a week for each half-hour episode. The music was extremely complex, so once the pictures were locked, there was a long process of auditioning tracks.

Who edited, and what were the main challenges?
Reich: Gary Dollner edited block 1 (Episodes 1-4) with the block 1 director, Tristram Shapeero. Pete Drinkwater edited block 2 (Episodes 5-8) with the block 2 director, Matt Lipsey. The main challenges were that Idris wanted us to approach the edit like a DJ, where the rhythm of each episode’s scene-to-scene transitions would be similar to what a DJ achieves mixing between tracks. Luckily, our editors more than rose to that challenge.

Talk about the importance of sound and music for you and Idris on this. Where did you mix?
Reich: We also mixed at The Farm. Sound and music were extremely key to the show as it is, after all, a show about, created by and scored by a DJ. The score was composed by DJ James Lavelle, so Idris and he had various meetings in the edit where it was clear they spoke the same language. It was important to Idris that the character themes were all electronic rather than acoustic, even the very emotional beats. James and his team adapted accordingly, and we have some amazing new sounds in the show.

Also, one of the key series arcs was a track that Idris’ character Charlie had had a big one-off hit with in the ’90s, that then gets remixed across three episodes by our female Calvin Harris character, played by Piper Perabo, and then gets dropped at the Latitude Festival. It was key that we were authentic, as we showed the track coming together at different stages across different scenes. The mix was all done at The Farm.

I noticed some VFX credits. What was involved, who did them?
Reich: We had a lot of mobile phone and some Skype screens that needed shots compositing in, and some posters too, as well as needing to build a nightclub onto the back of a beach bar. They were all done by The Farm.

Who was the colorist and what was involved?
Reich: Perry Gibbs was the colorist. Because we shot on anamorphic lenses, but also had to use the Red cameras in order to meet certain Netflix technical requirements, there were challenges in the grade, but they were worth it, as the end result was particularly deep.

Idris, Charlie is a major U-turn from your usual self-assured characters. You co-created this show with Gary for yourself, so is this actually the real you?
Elba: (Laughs). Yeah, it is the closest to the real me. I’m not anything like Luther or the other characters I’m best known for. I’m closer to Charlie than anything else. I really wanted to show what the real world of DJs is like, and we spent a lot of time in post working on the music. But the truth is, no one really cares about what DJs go through as long as the music’s good, so I needed to add some heart and other elements to it, and it gradually became more about parenting and all those challenges. I’m a parent, so I brought all those experiences and stories to it and merged the two worlds. It ended up being a bit about the world of music and a lot about people.

Many people probably don’t know that you actually started out as a DJ in London before you got into acting.
Elba: Right, and partly thanks to this, I seem to be getting a lot more exposure for my DJ’ing these days, especially after doing “the wedding” [Elba was asked by Prince Harry to DJ at his wedding to Meghan Markle], and now I’ll be DJ’ing at Coachella, and then I’m doing the Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas and some other gigs. So if the acting thing falls apart, I’m all set!

DJ’ing was really my first love, and by the time I was 13, 14, I was DJ’ing for house parties and whatnot, and then I met my drama teacher, and DJ’ing went out the window. But the truth is, I kept DJ’ing alongside my acting career, and I just love doing it. It grounds me, and I love music. What I chose not to do is market my DJ’ing as part of my acting career, but recently it’s become this crazy crossroads of all this stuff happening, what with this show and Coachella and so on. It all looks like a brilliant marketing plan, but it’s not. I’m just not that clever!

When you get back to London, you’ll keep filming Tom Hooper’s movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, which is due out later this year. What can you tell us about it?
Elba: I can’t reveal too much, but it’s going great. I get to play another villain, Macavity, which is always fun for me. Tom’s got a really interesting look and take on it, and he’s assembled this amazing cast: Taylor Swift, who I got on great with, and Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. He’s so funny. And Ian McKellen. It’s going to be pretty special.

Aren’t you playing another villain in Hobbs & Shaw, the Fast & Furious spinoff due out in August?
Elba: Yeah, I play Brixton Lore, this cyber-enhanced criminal mastermind who’s going at it with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Director David Leitch did Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, and we did some really wild stuff. I’m really excited about it. It’s been a busy year.


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

The Kominsky Method‘s post brain trust: Ross Cavanaugh and Ethan Henderson

By Iain Blair

As Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” But Netflix’s The Kominsky Method proves that in the hands of veteran sitcom creator Chuck Lorre — The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and many others — there’s plenty of laughs to be mined from old age… and disease, loneliness and incontinence.

The show stars Michael Douglas as divorced, has-been actor and respected acting coach Sandy Kominsky and Alan Arkin as his longtime agent Norman Newlander. The story follows these bickering best friends as they tackle life’s inevitable curveballs while navigating their later years in Los Angeles, a city that values youth and beauty above all. Both comedic and emotional, The Kominsky Method won Douglas a Golden Globe.

Ethan Henderson and Ross Cavanaugh

The single-camera show is written by Al Higgins, David Javerbaum and Lorre, who also directed the first episode. Lorre, Higgins and Douglas executive produce the series, which is produced by Chuck Lorre Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television.

I recently spoke with associate producer Ross Cavanaugh and post coordinator Ethan Henderson about posting the show.

You are currently working on Season 2?
Ross Cavanaugh: Yes, and we’re moving along quite quickly. We’re already about three-quarters of the way through the season shooting-wise, out of the eight-show arc.

Where do you shoot, and what’s the schedule like?
Cavanaugh: We shoot mainly on the lot at Warner Bros. and then at various locations around LA. We start prepping each show one week before we start shooting, and then we get dailies the day after the first shooting day.

Our dailies lab is Picture Shop, which is right up the street in Burbank and very convenient for us. So getting footage from the set to them is quick, and they’re very fast at turning the dailies around. We usually get them by midnight the same day we drop them off,  then our editors start cutting fairly quickly after that.

Where do you do all the post?
Cavanaugh: Mainly at Picture Shop, who are very experienced in TV post work. They do all the post finishing and some of the VFX stuff — usually the smaller things, like beauty fixes and cleanup. They also do all the final color correction since DP Anette Haellmigk really wanted to work with colorist George Manno. They’ve been really great.

Ethan Henderson: We’re back and forth from the lot to Picture Shop, and once we get more heavily involved in all the post, I spend a lot of time there while we are onlining the show, coloring and doing the VFX drop-ins, and when we start the final deliverables process, since everything for Netflix comes out of there.

What are the big challenges of post production on this show, and how closely do you work with Chuck Lorre?
Cavanaugh: As with any TV show, you’re always on a very tight deadline, and there are a lot of moving parts to deal with very quickly. While our prolific showrunner Chuck Lorre is busy with all the projects he has going — especially with all the writing — he always makes time for us. He’s very passionate about the cut and is extremely on top of things.

I’d say the challenges on this show are actually fairly minimal. Basically, we ran a pretty tight ship on the first season, and now I’d say it’s a well-oiled machine. We haven’t had any big problems or surprises in post, which can happen.

Let’s talk about editing. You had two editors for Season 1 in Matthew Barbato and Gina Sansom. I assume that’s because of the time factor. How does that work?
Cavanaugh: Each editor has their own assistant editor — that was true in Season One (Matthew with Jack Cunningham and Gina with Barb Steele) and in Season two (Steven Lang with Romeo Rubio and Gina with Rahul Das). They cut separately and work on an odds-and-evens schedule, each doing every other episode. We all get together to watch screenings of the Director’s Cut, usually in the editorial bay.

What are the big editing challenges?
Cavanaugh: We have a pretty big cast, and there’s a ton of jokes and stuff going on all the time. In addition to Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, the actors are so experienced. They give such great performances — there’s a lot of material for the editors to cut from. To be honest, the scripts are all so tight that I think one of the challenges is knowing when to cut out a joke, to serve the pacing of an episode.

This isn’t a VFX-driven show, but there are some visual effects shots. Can you explain?
Cavanaugh: We do a lot of driving scenes and use 24frame.com, who have this really good wraparound HD projection technology, so we pretty much shoot all our car scenes on the stage.

Henderson: Once in a while, we’ll pick up some exterior or establishing shots on a freeway using doubles in the cars. All the plates are picked ahead of time. Occasionally, for the sake of continuity, we’ll have to replace a plate in the background and put a different section of the plate in because too many cars ran by, and it didn’t match up in the edit.

That’s one of the things that comes up every so often. The other big thing is that both of the leads wear glasses, so reflections of crew and equipment can become an issue; we have to deal with all that and clean it up.

Cavanaugh: We don’t use many big VFX shots, and we can’t reveal much about what happens in the new season, but sometimes there’s stuff like the scene in season one where one of the characters threw some firecrackers at Michael Douglas’ feet. We obviously weren’t going to throw real ones at Michael Douglas, although I think he’d have sucked it up if we’d done it that way! We were shooting in a residential neighborhood at night and we couldn’t set off real ones because they are very loud, so we ended up doing it all with VFX. FuseFx handled the workload for the heavier VFX work.

Henderson: There was a big shot in the pilot where we did a lot of shot extensions in a restaurant where Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and Nancy Travis’ character are having coffee. It was this big sweeping pan down over the city.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
Cavanaugh: They both play a key role, and we have a great team that includes music editor Joe Deveau, supervising sound editor Lou Thomas, and sound mixers Yuri Reese and Bill Smith. The sound recording quality we get on set is always great, so that means we only need very minimal ADR. The whole sound mix is done here on the lot at Warners.

Our composer, Jeff Cardoni, worked with Chuck on Young Sheldon, and he’s really on top of getting all the new cues for the show. We basically have two versions of our main title sequence music cues — one is very bombastic and in-your-face, and the other is a bit more subtle — and it’s funny how it broke down in the first season. The guy who cut the pilot and the odd episodes went with the more bombastic version, while the second editor on the even episodes preferred the softer cues, so I’ll be curious to see how all that breaks down in the new season.

How important is all the coloring on this?
Cavanaugh: Very important. After we do all the online, we ship it over to George at Picture Shop and spend about a day and a half on it. The DP either comes in or gets a file, and she gives her notes. Then we’ll play it for Chuck. We’re in the HDR world with Dolby Vision, and it makes it look so beautiful — but then we have to do the standard pass on it as well.

I know you can’t reveal too much about the new season, but what can fans expect?
Henderson: They’re getting a continuation of these two characters’ journey together — growing old and everything that comes with that. I think it feels like a very natural extension of the first season.

Cavanaugh: In terms of the post process, I feel like we’re a Swiss watch now. We’re ticking along very smoothly. Sometimes post can be a nightmare and full of problems, so it’s great to have it all under control.


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 Tom Curran on Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

By Iain Blair

Forget all the trendy shows about updating your home décor or renovating your house. What you really need to do is declutter. And the guru of decluttering is Marie Kondo, the Japanese star of the hot Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

The organizational expert became a global star when her first book, 2014’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” was translated into English, becoming a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up was 2016’s “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.”

Tom Curran

Clearly, people everywhere need to declutter, and Kondo’s KonMari Method is the answer for those who have too much stuff. As she herself puts it, “My mission is to organize the world and spark joy in people’s lives. Through this partnership with Netflix, I am excited to spread the KonMari Method to as many people as possible.”

I recently spoke with Tom Curran, the cinematographer of the Kondo show. His extensive credits include Ugly Delicious for Netflix, Fish My City for National Geographic and 9 Months for Facebook, which is hosted by Courteney Cox. Curran has an Emmy on his mantle for ABC Sports’ Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Let’s start with the really important stuff. Do you have too much clutter? Has Marie’s philosophy helped you?
(Laughs). It has! I think we all have too much stuff. To be honest, I was a little skeptical at first about all this. But as I spent time with her and educated myself, I began to realize just how much there is to it. I think that it particularly applies to the US, where we all have so much and move so quickly.

In her world, you come to a pause and evaluate all of that, and it’s really quite powerful. And if you follow all of her steps, you can’t do it quickly. It forces you to slow down and take stock. My wife is an editor, and we’re both always so busy, but now we take little pockets of time to attack different parts of the house and the clutter we have. It’s been really powerful and helpful to us.

Why do you think her method and this show have resonated so much with people everywhere?
Americans tend to get so busy and locked into routines, and Japan’s culture is very different. I’ve worked there quite a bit, and she brings this whole other quality to the show. She’s very thoughtful and kind. I think the show does a good job of showing that, and you really feel it. An awful lot of current TV can be a little sharp and mean, and there’s something old-fashioned about this, and audiences really respond. She doesn’t pass judgment on people’s messy houses — she just wants to help.

You’re well-known for shooting in extreme conditions and locations all over the world. How did this compare?
It was radically different in some ways. Instead of vast and bleak landscapes, like Antarctica, you’re shooting the interiors of people’s homes in LA. Working with EP Hend Baghdady and showrunner Bianca Barnes-Williams, we set out to redefine how to showcase these homes. We used some of the same principles, like how to incorporate these characters into their environment and weave the house into the storyline. That was our main goal.

What were the challenges of shooting this show?
A big one was keeping ourselves out of the shot, which isn’t so easy in a small space. Also, keeping Marie central to all the storytelling. I’ve done several series before, shooting in people’s homes, like Little People, Big World, where we stayed in one family’s home for many years. With this show the crew was walking into their homes for a far shorter time, and none of them were actors. The were baring their souls.

Cleaning up all their clutter before we arrived was contrary to what the show’s all about, so you’re seeing all the ugly. My background’s in cinéma vérité, and a lot of this was stripping back the way these types of unscripted shows are usually done — with multiple cameras. We did use multiple cameras, but often it was just one, as you’re in a tiny room, where there’s no space for another, and we’re shooting wide since the main character in most stories was the home.

As well as being a DP you’re also the owner of Curran Camera, Inc. Did you supply all the camera gear for this through your company?
Sometimes I supply equipment for a series, sometimes not. It all depends on what the project needs. On this, when Hend, Bianca and I began discussing different camera options, I felt it wasn’t a series we could shoot on prime lenses, but we wanted the look that primes would bring. We ended up working with Fujinon Cabrio Cine Zooms and Canon cameras, which gave us a really filmic look, and we got most of our gear from T-stop Camera Rentals in LA. In fact, the Fujinon Cabrio 14-35mm became the centerpiece of the storytelling in the homes because of its wide lens capture — which was crucial for scenes with closets and small rooms and so on.

I assume all the lighting was a big challenge?
You’re right. It was a massive undertaking because we wanted to follow all the progress in each home. And we didn’t want it to be a dingy, rough-looking show, especially since Marie represented this bright light that’d come into people’s homes and then it would get brighter and brighter. We ended up bringing in all the lighting from the east coast, which was the only place I could source what I needed.

For Marie’s Zen house we had a different lighting package with dozens of small fresnels because it was so calm and stood still. For the homes and all the movement, we used about 80 Flex lights — paper-thin LED lights that are easily dimmable and quick to install and take down. Even though we had a pretty small crew, we were able to achieve a pretty consistent look.

How did the workflow operate? How did you deal with dailies?
Our post supervisor Joe Eckardt was pretty terrific, and I’d spend a lot of time going through all the dailies and then give a big download to the crew once a week. We had six to eight camera operators and three crews with two cameras and additional people some days. We had so much footage, and what ended up on screen is just a fraction of what we shot. We had a lot of cards at the end of every day, and they’d be loaded into the post system, and then a team of 16 editors would start going through it all.  Since this was the first season, we were kind of doing it on the fly and trying different techniques to see what worked best.

Color correction and the mix was handled by Margarita Mix. How involved were you in post and the look of the show?
I was very involved, especially early on. Even in the first month or so we started to work on the grade a bit to get some patterns in place; that helped carry us through. We set out to capture a really naturalistic look, and a lot of the homes were very cramped, so we had to keep the wrong lighting look looking wrong, so to speak. I’m pretty happy with what we were able to do. (Margarita Mix’s Troy Smith was the colorist.)

How important is post to you as a DP?
It’s hard to overstate. I’d say it’s not just a big piece of the process, it is the process. When we’re shooting, I only really think about three things; One, what is the story we’re trying to tell? Two, how can we best capture that, particularly with non-actors. How do you create an environment of complete trust where they basically just forget about you? How do we capture Marie doing her thing and not break the flow, since she’s this standup performer? Three, how do we give post what they need? If we’re not giving editorial the right coverage, we’re not doing our job. That last one is the most important to me — since I’m married to an editor, I’m always so aware of post.

The first eight shows aired in January. When is the next season?
We’ve had some light talks about it, and I assume since it’s so popular we’ll do more, but nothing’s finalized yet. I hope we do more.  I love this show.


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

The Emmy-nominated sound editing team’s process on HBO’s Vice Principals

By Jennifer Walden

HBO’s comedy series Vice Principals — starring Danny McBride and Walton Goggins as two rival vice principals of North Jackson High School — really went wild for the Season 2 finale. Since the school’s mascot is a tiger, they hired an actual tiger for graduation day, which wreaked havoc inside the school. (The tiger was part real and part VFX, but you’d never know thanks to the convincing visuals and sound.)

The tiger wasn’t the only source of mayhem. There was gunfire and hostages, a car crash and someone locked in a cage — all in the name of comedy.

George Haddad

Through all the bedlam, it was vital to have clean and clear dialogue. The show’s comedy comes from the jokes that are often ad-libbed and subtle.

Here, Warner Bros. Sound supervising sound editor George Haddad, MPSE, and dialogue/ADR editor Karyn Foster talk about what went into the Emmy-nominated sound editing on the Vice Principals Season 2 finale, “The Union Of The Wizard & The Warrior.”

Of all the episodes in Season 2, why did you choose “The Union of the Wizard & The Warrior” for award consideration?
George Haddad: Personally, this was the funniest episode — whether that’s good for sound or not. They just let loose on this one. For a comedy, it had so many great opportunities for sound effects, walla, loop group, etc. It was the perfect match for award consideration. Even the picture editor said beforehand that this could be the one. Of course, we don’t pay too much attention to its award-potential; we focus on the sound first. But, sure enough, as we went through it, we all agreed that this could be it.

Karyn Foster: This episode was pretty dang large, with the tiger and the chaos that the tiger causes.

In terms of sound, what was your favorite moment in this episode? Why?
Haddad: It was during the middle of the show when the tiger got loose from the cage and created havoc. It’s always great for sound when an animal gets loose. And it was particularly fun because of the great actors involved. This had comedy written all over it. You know no one is going to die, just because the nature of the show. (Actually, the tiger did eat the animal handler, but he kind of deserved it.)

Karyn Foster

I had a lot of fun with the tiger and we definitely cheated reality there. That was a good sound design sequence. We added a lot of kids screaming and adults screaming. The reaction of the teachers was even more scared than the students, so it was funny. It was a perfect storm for sound effects and dialogue.

Foster: My favorite scene was when Lee [Goggins] is on the ground after the tiger mauls his hand and he’s trying to get Neal [McBride] to say, “I love you.” That scene was hysterical.

What was your approach to the tiger sounds?
Haddad: We didn’t have production sound for the tiger, as the handler on-set kept a close watch on the real animal. Then in the VFX, we have the tiger jumping, scratching with its paws, roaring…

I looked into realistic tiger sounds, and they’re not the type of animal you’d think would roar or snarl — sounds we are used to having for a lion. We took some creative license and blended sounds together to make the tiger a little more ferocious, but not too scary. Because, again, it’s a comedy so we needed to find the right balance.

What was the most challenging scene for sound?
Haddad: The entire cast was in this episode, during the graduation ceremony. So you had 500 students and a dozen of the lead cast members. That was pretty full, in terms of sound. We had to make it feel like everyone is panicking at the same time while focusing on the tiger. We had to keep the tension going, but it couldn’t be scary. We had to keep the tone of the comedy going. That’s where the balance was tricky and the mixers did a great job with all the material we gave them. I think they found the right tone for the episode.

Foster: For dialogue, the most challenging scene was when they are in the cafeteria with the tiger. That was a little tough because there are a lot of people talking and there were overlapping lines. Also, it was shot in a practical location, so there was room reflection on the production dialogue.

A comedy series is all about getting a laugh. How do you use sound to enhance the comedy in this series?
Haddad: We take the lead off of Danny McBride. Whatever his character is doing, we’re not going to try to go over the top just because he and his co-stars are brilliant at it. But, we want to add to the comedy. We don’t go cartoonish. We try to keep the sounds in reality but add a little bit of a twist on top of what the characters are already doing so brilliantly on the screen.

Quite frankly, they do most of the work for us and we just sweeten what is going on in the scene. We stay away from any of the classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon sound effects. It’s not that kind of comedy, but at the same time we will throw a little bit of slapstick in there — whether it’s a character falling or slipping or it’s a gun going off. For the gunshots, I’ll have the bullet ricochet and hit a tree just to add to the comedy that’s already there.

A comedy series is all about the dialogue and the jokes. What are some things you do to help the dialogue come through?
Haddad: The production dialogue was clean overall, and the producers don’t want to change any of the performances, even if a line is a bit noisy. The mixers did a great job in making sure that clarity was king for dialogue. Every single word and every single joke was heard perfectly. Comedy is all about timing.

We were fortunate because we get clean dialogue and we found the right balance of all the students screaming and the sounds of panicking when the tiger created havoc. We wanted to make sure that Danny and his co-stars were heard loud and clear because the comedy starts with them. Vice Principals is a great and natural sounding show for dialogue.

Foster: Vice Principals was a pleasure to work on because the dialogue was in good shape. The editing on this episode wasn’t difficult. The lines went together pretty evenly.

We basically work with what we’ve been given. It’s all been chosen for us and our job is to make it sound smooth. There’s very minimal ADR on the show.

In terms of clarification, we make sure that any lines that really need to be heard are completely separate, so when it gets to the mix stage the mixer can push that line through without having to push everything else.

As far as timing, we don’t make any changes. That’s a big fat no-no for us. The picture editor and showrunners have already decided what they want and where, and we don’t mess with that.

There were a large number of actors present for the graduation ceremony. Was the production sound mixer able to record those people in that environment? Or, was that sound covered in loop?
Haddad: There are so many people in the scene. and that can be challenging to do solely in loop group. We did multiple passes with the actors we had in loop. We also had the excellent sound library here at Warner Bros. Sound. I also captured recordings at my kids’ high school. So we had a lot of resource material to pull from and we were able to build out that scene nicely. What we see on-camera, with the number of students and adults, we were able to represent that through sound.

As for recording at my kids’ high school, I got permission from the principal but, of course, my kids were embarrassed to have their dad at school with his sound equipment. So I tried to stay covert. The microphones were placed up high, in inconspicuous places. I didn’t ask any students to do anything. We were like chameleons — we came and set up our equipment and hit record. I had Røde microphones because they were easy to mount on the wall and easy to hide. One was a Røde VideoMic and the other was their NTG1 microphone. I used a Roland R-26 recorder because it’s portable and I love the quality. It’s great for exterior sounds too because you don’t get a lot of hiss.

We spent a couple hours recording and we were lucky enough to get material to use in the show. I just wanted to catch the natural sound of the school. There are 2,700 students, so it’s an unusually high student population and we were able to capture that. We got lucky when kids walked by laughing or screaming or running to the next class. That was really useful material.

Foster: There was production crowd recorded. For most of the episodes when they had pep rallies and events, there was production crowd recorded. They took the time to record some specific takes. When you’re shooting group on the stage, you’re limited to the number of people you have. You have to do multiple takes to try and mimic that many people.

Can you talk about the tools you couldn’t have done without?
Haddad: This show has a natural sound, so we didn’t use pitch shifting or reverb or other processing like we’d use on a show like Gotham, where we do character vocal treatments.

Foster: I would have to say iZotope RX 6. That tool for a dialogue editor is one that you can’t live without. There were some challenging scenes on Vice Principals, and the production sound mixer Christof Gebert did a really good job of getting the mics in there. The iso-mics were really clean, and that’s unusual these days. The dialogue on the show was pleasant to work on because of that.

What makes this show challenging in terms of dialogue is that it’s a comedy, so there’s a lot of ad-libbing. With ad-libbing, there’s no other takes to choose from. So if there’s a big clunk on a line, you have to make that work. With RX 6, you can minimize the clunk on a line or get rid of it. If those lines are ad-libs, they don’t want to have to loop those. The ad-libbing makes the show great but it also makes the dialogue editing a bit more complicated.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share on Vice Principals?
Haddad: We had a big crew because the show was so busy. I was lucky to get some of the best here at Warner Bros. Sound. They helped to make the show sound great, and we’re all very proud of it. We appreciate our peers selecting Vice Principals for Emmy nomination. That to us was a great feeling, to have all of our hard work pay off with an Emmy nomination.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.

Crafting sound for Emmy-winning Atlanta

By Jennifer Walden

FX Network’s dramedy series Atlanta, which recently won an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour)tells the story of three friends from, well, Atlanta — a local rapper named Paper Boi whose star is on the rise (although the universe seems to be holding him down), his cousin/manager Earn and their head-in-the-clouds friend Darius.

Trevor Gates

Told through vignettes, each episode shows their lives from different perspectives instead of through a running narrative. This provides endless possibilities for creativity. One episode flows through different rooms at a swanky New Year’s party at Drake’s house; another ventures deep into the creepy woods where real animals (not party animals) make things tense.

It’s a playground for sound each week, and MPSE-award-winning supervising sound editor Trevor Gates of Formosa Group and his sound editorial team on Season 2 (aka, Robbin’ Season) got their 2018 Emmy based on the work they did on Episode 6 “Teddy Perkins,” in which Darius goes to pick up a piano from the home of an eccentric recluse but finds there’s more to the transaction than he bargained for.

Here, Gates discusses the episode’s precise use of sound and how the quiet environment was meticulously crafted to reinforce the tension in the story and to add to the awkwardness of the interactions between Darius and Teddy.

There’s very little music in “Teddy Perkins.” The soundtrack is mainly different ambiences and practical effects and Foley. Since the backgrounds play such an important role, can you tell me about the creation of these different ambiences?
Overall, Atlanta doesn’t really have a score. Music is pretty minimal and the only music that you hear is mainly source music — music coming from radios, cell phones or laptops. I think it’s an interesting creative choice by producers Hiro Murai and Donald Glover. In cases like the “Teddy Perkins” episode, we have to be careful with the sounds we choose because we don’t have a big score to hide behind. We have to be articulate with those ambient sounds and with the production dialogue.

Going into “Teddy Perkins,” Hiro (who directed the episode) and I talked about his goals for the sound. We wanted a quiet soundscape and for the house to feel cold and open. So, when we were crafting the sounds that most audience members will perceive as silence or quietness, we had very specific choices to make. We had to craft this moody air inside the house. We had to craft a few sounds for the outside world too because the house is located in a rural area.

There are a few birds but nothing overt, so that it’s not intrusive to the relationship between Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) and Teddy (Donald Glover). We had to be very careful in articulating our sound choices, to hold that quietness that was void of any music while also supporting the creepy, weird, tense dialogue between the two.

Inside the Perkins residence, the first ambience felt cold and almost oppressive. How did you create that tone?
That rumbly, oppressive air was the cold tone we were going for. It wasn’t a layer of tones; it was actually just one sound that I manipulated to be the exact frequency that I wanted for that space. There was a vastness and a claustrophobia to that space, although that sounds contradictory. That cold tone was kind of the hero sound of this episode. It was just one sound, articulately crafted, and supported by sounds from the environment.

There’s a tonal shift from the entryway into the parlor, where Darius and Teddy sit down to discuss the piano (and Teddy is eating that huge, weird egg). In there we have the sound of a clock ticking. I really enjoy using clocks. I like the meter that clocks add to a room.

In Ouija: Origin of Evil, we used the sound of a clock to hold the pace of some scenes. I slowed the clock down to just a tad over a second, and it really makes you lean in to the scene and hold what you perceive as silence. I took a page from that book for Atlanta. As you leave the cold air of the entryway, you enter into this room with a clock ticking and Teddy and Darius are sitting there looking at each other awkwardly over this weird/gross ostrich egg. The sound isn’t distracting or obtrusive; it just makes you lean into the awkwardness.

It was important for us to get the mix for the episode right, to get the right level for the ambiences and tones, so that they are present but not distracting. It had to feel natural. It’s our responsibility to craft things that show the audience what we want them to see, and at the same time we have to suspend their disbelief. That’s what we do as filmmakers; we present the sonic spaces and visual images that traverse that fine line between creativity and realism.

That cold tone plays a more prominent role near the end of the episode, during the murder-suicide scene. It builds the tension until right before Benny pulls the trigger. But there’s another element too there, a musical stinger. Why did you choose to use music at that moment?
What’s important about this season of Atlanta is that Hiro and Donald have a real talent for surrounding themselves with exceptional people — from the picture department to the sound department to the music department and everyone on-set. Through the season it was apparent that this team of exceptional people functioned with extreme togetherness. We had a homogeny about us. It was a bunch of really creative and smart people getting together in a room, creating something amazing.

We had a music department and although there isn’t much music and score, every once in a while we would break a rule that we set for ourselves on Season 2. The picture editor will be in the room with the music department and Hiro, and we’ll all make decisions together. That musical stinger wasn’t my idea exactly; it was a collective decision to use a stinger to drive the moment, to have it build and release at a specific time. I can’t attribute that sound to me only, but to this exceptional team on the show. We would bounce creative ideas off of each other and make decisions as a collective.

The effects in the murder-suicide scene do a great job of tension building. For example, when Teddy leans in on Darius, there’s that great, long floor creak.
Yeah, that was a good creak. It was important for us, throughout this episode, to make specific sound choices in many different areas. There are other episodes in the season that have a lot more sound than this episode, like “Woods,” where Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) is getting chased through the woods after he was robbed. Or “Alligator Man,” with the shootout in the cold open. But that wasn’t the case with “Teddy Perkins.”

On this one, we had to make specific choices, like when Teddy leans over and there’s that long, slow creak. We tried to encompass the pace of the scene in one very specific sound, like the sound of the shackles being tightened onto Darius or the movement of the shotgun.

There’s another scene when Darius goes down into the basement, and he’s traveling through this area that he hasn’t been in before. We decided to create a world where he would hear sounds traveling through the space. He walks past a fan and then a water heater kicks on and there is some water gurgling through pipes and the clinking sound of the water heater cooling down. Then we hear Benny’s wheelchair squeak. For me, it’s about finding that one perfect sound that makes that moment. That’s hard to do because it’s not a composition of many sounds. You have one choice to make, and that’s what is going to make that moment special. It’s exciting to find that one sound. Sometimes you go through many choices until you find the right one.

There were great diegetic effects, like Darius spinning the globe, and the sound of the piano going onto the elevator, and the floor needle and the buttons and dings. Did those come from Foley? Custom recordings? Library sounds?
I had a great Foley team on this entire season, led by Foley supervisor Geordy Sincavage. The sounds like the globe spinning came from the Foley team, so that was all custom recorded. The elevator needle moving down was a custom recording from Foley. All of the shackles and handcuffs and gun movements were from Foley.

The piano moving onto the elevator was something that we created from a combination of library effects and Foley sounds. I had sound effects editor David Barbee helping me out on this episode. He gave me some library sounds for the piano and I went in and gave it a little extra love. I accentuated the movement of the piano strings. It was like piano string vocalizations as Darius is moving the piano into the elevator and it goes over the little bumps. I wanted to play up the movements that would add some realism to that moment.

Creating a precise soundtrack is harder than creating a big action soundtrack. Well, there are different sets of challenges for both, but it’s all about being able to tell a story by subtraction. When there’s too much going on, people can feel the details if you start taking things away. “Teddy Perkins” is the case of having an extremely precise soundtrack, and that was successful thanks to the work of the Foley team, my effects editor, and the dialogue editor.

The dialogue editor Jason Dotts is the unsung hero in this because we had to be so careful with the production dialogue track. When you have a big set — this old, creaky house and lots of equipment and crew noise — you have to remove all the extraneous noise that can take you out of the tension between Darius and Teddy. Jason had to go in with a fine-tooth comb and do surgery on the production dialogue just to remove every single small sound in order to get the track super quiet. That production track had to be razor-sharp and presented with extreme care. Then, with extreme care, we had to build the ambiences around it and add great Foley sounds for all the little nuances. Then we had to bake the cake together and have a great mix, a very articulate balance of sounds.

When we were all done, I remember Hiro saying to us that we realized his dream 100%. He alluded to the fact that this was an important episode going into it. I feel like I am a man of my craft and my fingerprint is very important to me, so I am always mindful of how I show my craft to the world. I will always take extreme care and go the extra mile no matter what, but it felt good to have something that was important to Hiro have such a great outcome for our team. The world responded. There were lots of Emmy nominations this year for Atlanta and that was an incredible thing.

Did you have a favorite scene for sound? Why?
It was cool to have something that we needed to craft and present in its entirety. We had to build a motif and there had to be consistency within that motif. It was awesome to build the episode as a whole. Some scenes were a bit different, like down in the basement. That had a different vibe. Then there were fun scenes like moving the piano onto the elevator. Some scenes had production challenges, like the scene with the film projector. Hiro had to shoot that scene with the projector running and that created a lot of extra noise on the production dialogue. So that was challenging from a dialogue editing standpoint and a mix standpoint.

Another challenging scene was when Darius and Teddy are in the “Father Room” of the museum. That was shot early on in the process and Donald wasn’t quite happy with his voice performance in that scene. Overall, Atlanta uses very minimal ADR because we feel that re-recorded performances can really take the magic out of a scene, but Donald wanted to redo that whole scene, and it came out great. It felt natural and I don’t think people realize that Donald’s voice was re-recorded in its entirety for that scene. That was a fun ADR session.

Donald came into the studio and once he got into the recording booth and got into the Teddy Perkins voice he didn’t get out of it until we were completely finished. So as Hiro and Donald are interacting about ideas on the performance, Donald stayed in the Teddy voice completely. He didn’t get out of it for three hours. That was an interesting experience to see Donald’s face as himself and hear Teddy’s voice.

Where there any audio tools that you couldn’t have lived without on this episode?
Not necessarily. This was an organic build and the tools that we used in this were really basic. We used some library sounds and recorded some custom sounds. We just wanted to make sure that we could make this as real and organic as possible. Our tool was to pick the best organic sounds that we could, whether we used source recordings or new recordings.

Of all the episodes in Season 2 of Atlanta, why did you choose “Teddy Perkins” for Emmy consideration?
Each episode had its different challenges. There were lots of different ways to tell the stories since each episode is different. I think that is something that is magical about Atlanta. Some of the episodes that stood out from a sound standpoint were Episode 1 “Alligator Man” with the shootout, and Episode 8 “Woods.” I had considered submitting “Woods” because it’s so surreal once Paper Boi gets into the woods. We created this submergence of sound, like the woods were alive. We took it to another level with the wildlife and used specific wildlife sounds to draw some feelings of anxiety and claustrophobia.

Even an episode like “Champagne Papi,” which seems like one of the most basic from a sound editorial perspective, was actually quite varied. They’re going between different rooms at a party and we had to build spaces of people that felt different but the same in each room. It had to feel like a real space with lots of people, and the different spaces had to feel like it belonged at the same party.

But when it came down to it, I feel like “Teddy Perkins” was special because there wasn’t music to hide behind. We had to do specific and articulate work, and make sharp choices. So it’s not the episode with the most sound but it’s the episode that has the most articulate sound. And we are very proud of how it turned out.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.com.

Digging into the dailies workflow for HBO’s Sharp Objects

By Randi Altman

If you have been watching HBO’s new series Sharp Objects, you might have some theories about who is murdering teenage girls in a small Missouri town, but at this point they are only theories.

Sharp Objects revolves around Amy Adams’ character, Camille, a journalist living in St. Louis, who returns to her dysfunctional hometown armed with a deadline from her editor, a drinking problem and some really horrific childhood memories.

Drew Dale

The show is shot in Atlanta and Los Angeles, with dailies out of Santa Monica’s Local Hero and post out of its sister company, Montreal’s Real by Fake. Real by Fake did all the post on the HBO series Big Little Lies.

Local Hero’s VP of workflows, Drew Dale, managed the dailies workflow on Sharp Objects, coming up against the challenges of building a duplicate dailies set up in Atlanta as well as dealing with HBO’s strict delivery requirements — not just for transcoding, but for labeling files and more. Local Hero co-owner Steve Bannerman calls it “the most detailed and specific dailies workflow we’ve ever designed.”

To help cope with such a high level of complexity, Dale turned to Assimilate’s Scratch as the technical heart of his workflow. Since Scratch is a very open system, it was able to integrate seamlessly with all the software and hardware tools that were needed to meet the requirements.

Local Hero’s DI workflow is something that Dale and the studio have been developing for about five or six years and adjusting for each show or film they work on. We recently reached out to Dale to talk about that workflow and their process on Sharp Objects, which was created by Marti Noxon and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

Can you describe your workflow with the footage?
Basically, the DIT hands a shuttle RAID (we use either OWC or Areca RAIDs) to a PA, and they’ll take it to our operator. Our operators tend to start as soon as wrap hits, or as soon as lunch breaks, depending on whether or not you’re doing one or two breaks a day.

We’ll ingest into Scratch and apply the show LUT. The LUT is typically designed by our lead colorist and is based on a node stack in Blackmagic Resolve that we can use on the back end as the first pass of the DI process. Once the LUT is loaded, we’ll do our grades using the CDL protocol, though we didn’t do the grade on Sharp Objects. Then we’ll go through, sync all the audio, QC the footage and make our LTO back-ups.

What are you looking for in the QC?
Things like crew in the shot, hot pixels, corrupt footage, lens flares, just weird stuff that’s going to cost money on the backend. Since we’re working in conjunction with production a lot of the time, we can catch those things reasonably early; a lot earlier than if you were waiting until editorial. We flag those and say, “This scene that you shot yesterday is out of focus. You should probably re-shoot.” This allows them adjust more quickly to that sort of thing.

After the QC we do a metadata pass, where we take the embedded information from the WAV files provided by the sound mixer, as well as custom metadata entered by our operator and apply that throughout the footage. Then we’ll render out editorial media — typically Avid but sometimes Premiere or Final Cut — which will then get transferred to the editors either via online connection or shipped shuttle drives. Or, if we’re right next to them, we’ll just push it to their system from our computer using a fiber or Ethernet intranet.

We’ll also create web dailies. Web dailies are typically H.264s, and those will either get loaded onto an iPad for the director, uploaded to pix or Frame.io for web review, or both.

You didn’t grade the dailies on Sharp Objects?
No, they wanted a specific LUT applied; one that was used on the first season of Big Little Lies, and is being used on the second season as well. So they have a more generic look applied, but they do have very specific needs for metadata, which is really important. For example, a lot of the things they require are the input of shoot date and shoot day information, so you can track things.

We also ingest track information from WAV files, so when the editor is cutting the footage you can see the individual audio channel names in the edit, which makes cutting audio a lot easier. It also helps sync things up on the backend with the audio mix. As per HBO’s requests, a lot of extra information in the footage goes to the editor.

The show started in LA and then moved to Atlanta, so you had to build your workflow for a second time? Can you talk about that?
The tricky part of working on location is making sure the Internet is set up properly and getting a mobile version of our rig to wherever it needs to go. Then it’s dealing with the hassle of being on location. I came up in the production world in the camera department, so it reminds me of being back on set and being in the middle of nowhere with a lot less infrastructure than you’re used to when sitting at a post house in Los Angeles. Most of the challenge of being on location is finding creative ways to implement the same workflow in the face of these hurdles.

Let’s get back to working with HBO’s specific specs. Can you talk about different tools you had to call on to make sure it was all labeled and structured correctly?
A typical scene identifier for us is something like “35B-01” 35 signifies the scene, “B” signifies the shot and “01” signifies the take.

The way that HBO structured things on Sharp Objects was more by setup, so it was a much more fluid way of shooting. It would be like “Episode 1, setup 32, take one, two, three, four, five.” But each of those takes individually was more like a setup and less like a take itself. A lot of the takes were 20 minutes long, 15 minutes long, where they would come in, reset the actors, reset the shot, that kind of thing.

In addition to that, there was a specific naming convention and a lot of specific metadata requirements required by the editors. For example, the aforementioned WAV track names. There are a lot of ways to process dailies, but most software doesn’t provide the same kind of flexibility with metadata as Scratch.

For this show it was these sorts of things, as well as very specific LTO naming conventions and structure, which took a lot of effort on our part to get used to. Typically, with a smaller production or smaller movie, the LTO backups they require are basically just to make sure that the footage is placed somewhere other than our hard drives, so we can store it for a long period of time. But with HBO, very specific manifests are required with naming conventions on each tape as well as episode numbers, scene and take info, which is designed to make it easier for un-archiving footage later for restoration, or for use in later seasons of a show. Without that metadata, it becomes a much more labor-intensive job to track down specific shots and scenes.

HBO also requires us to use multiple LTO brands in case one brand suddenly ceases to support the medium, or if a company goes under, they can un-archive the footage 30 years from now. I think a lot of the companies are starting to move toward future-proofing their footage in case you need to go back and remaster it.

Does that make your job harder? Easier?
It makes it harder in some ways, and easier in others. Harder because there is a lot of material being generated. I think the total count for the show was something like 120TB of footage, which is not an excessive amount for a show this big, but it’s definitely a lot of data to manage over the course of a show.

Could name some of the tools that you used?
As I mentioned, the heartbeat of all our dailies workflows is Scratch. I really love Scratch for three reasons. First, I can use it to do fully color graded, fully animated dailies with power windows, ramping curves — everything. Second, it handles metadata very well. This was crucial for Sharp Objects. And finally, it’s pretty affordable.

Beyond Scratch, the software that we tend to use most for copying footage is Silverstack. We use that for transferring files to and from the RAID to make sure everything’s verified. We use Scratch for processing the footage; that’s sort of the big nexus of everything. We use YoYottaID for LTO creations; that’s what HBO suggests we use to handle their specific LTO requirements. One of the things I love is the ability to export ALEs directly out of Scratch and into YoYattID. This saves us time and errors. We use Aspera for transferring files back and forth between HBO and ourselves. We use Pix for web daily distributions. Pix access was specifically provided to us by HBO.

Hardware wise, we’re mostly working on either Mac Pros or Silverdraft Demon PCs for dailies. We used to use mostly Mac Pros, but we find that they aren’t quite robust enough for larger projects, though they can be useful for mid-range or smaller jobs.

We typically use Flanders monitors for our on-set grading, but we’ve also used Sony’s and JVC’s, depending on the budget level and what’s available on hand. We tend to use the G-Speed Shuttle XLs for the main on-set RAIDs, and we like to use OWC Thunderbays or Areca thunderbolt RAIDS for our transfer drives.

What haven’t I asked that is important?
For me it’s important to have tools, operators and infrastructure that are reliable so we can generate trust with our clients. Trust is the biggest thing for me, and the reason we vetted all the software… we know what works. We know it does what we need it to do to be flexible for everybody’s needs. It’s really about just showing the clients that we’ve got their back.

Breathing life into The Walking Dead with VFX

By Karen Moltenbrey

Zombies used to have a short life span, awakening sometime during October, just in time for Halloween, before once again stumbling back into obscurity for another year. But thanks to the hit series The Walking Dead and its spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, the popularity of these monsters is infectious, turning them — and the shows — into cult phenomenon.

The Walking Dead’s rise in popularity started almost immediately with the series’ US debut, on October 31, 2010, on AMC. The storyline began when Rick Grimes, a sheriff deputy, awakens from a coma to find the world overrun by zombies. He and other survivors in the Atlanta area then band together to fight off these so-called “walkers,” as well as other tribes of survivors intent on ensuring their own survival in this post-apocalyptic world, no matter the cost.

In mid-2015, the show gave rise to the companion series Fear the Walking Dead. Fear, a prequel to The Walking Dead, takes place at the start of the zombie apocalypse and follows a different set of characters as they struggle to survive on the West Coast.

And the series’ visual effects are, well, to die for. Literally.

Burbank’s Picture Shop began creating the effects for Walk starting last season and is now in the midst of Season 9 (The studio splits the lion’s share of the work on the show with Goodbye Kansas Studios). Picture Shop provides visual effects for Fear, as well (Season 4, Episodes 1 through 8).

According to Christian Cardona, senior visual effects supervisor at Picture Shop, the crux of the work for both series includes character “kill” effects and environment augmentations. “We do a lot of what we call ‘walker kills.’ What that usually requires is weapon extensions, whereby the weapon gets inserted into the walkers, and then the ensuing wounds. We have to track the wounds onto the practical walkers and then also do blood sims during those kills,” he explains. “That accounts for probably 50 to 60 percent of the work.”

The only way to kill a walker is to damage its brain or destroy its body. Therefore, each episode contains its fair share of bodily damage to the zombies (and, sometimes, to the humans trying to keep them and the adversarial tribes at bay).

Cardona notes that it took the group a few episodes to nail down the blood aesthetic the producers were looking for — the look of the blood as well as how it should flow from a walker’s mouth. “Throughout the season, we’ve definitely zeroed in on that and have really gotten a good system down, where now it takes us just a fraction of the time,” he says.

Nevertheless, the work has to be exact. “The client wants everything to be photoreal; they don’t want it to look like anything was added. With that said, they scrutinize every shot, frame by frame and pixel by pixel, so we definitely have to do our due diligence and make sure our work adheres to their standard,” Cardona says. “And they will art direct every drop of blood. They know what they want, and we make sure we deliver that.”

The Walking Dead

There is indeed consistency in the overall look of the blood and wounds, as well as the walkers themselves in each of the shows, although there was one scene in Walk whereby the walkers were stuck in a toxic sludge. As a result, their skin was more pale and saggy. “It was a unique scenario where we could change their appearance and the look of the blood for that episode to illustrate that these walkers were different,” recalls Cardona.

The Walking Dead
In Walk, the majority of the hero walkers — either individuals or those in small groups – are actors with prosthetic makeup, or in some cases, practical models. But when there are more than two dozen or so walkers in a shot, they are CG creations.

Whether a practical or digital walker is used for the show often depends on the action in the scene. Walker kills are prevalent throughout the series, as it is in Fear, and often this involves a decapitation or a scalping, “because in order to kill the walkers, they have to be either shot in the head or stabbed,” Cardona points out. “Oftentimes when that happens, we have to cut from the person with the makeup and prosthetics and replace the entire head digitally before chopping it off for the scene.”

Season 8 Episode 14 featured a practical walker with a broken body strapped to a dolly cart, its head locked in position on the cart. As a form of torture, the cart was wheeled close enough for the walker to bite a victim. Initially, the walker was practical, but Picture Shop artists ended up replacing it with a CG model.

“The client wasn’t really happy with the practical version on set. It looked rubbery, like an animatronic walker, which it was. It needed to be fleshier, a little more real,” says Cardona. “The blood and wounds felt too dry, and the muscles had to contract.”

Fear the Walking Dead

In fact, Cardona describes that sequence as one of the more challenging from Season 8. “It was close to the camera and had to be photoreal. It wasn’t just one shot, either; there were over a dozen shots in the scene, with multiple angles and long takes.”

The team used the practical cart walker’s head in the shots but replaced the body and arms, which also had been locked to the cart, requiring intricate match-moving. “We had to be spot on and tight, so there was a lot of soft tracking as well, since the camera was moving everywhere,” recalls Cardona. “And then we had to get that walker to look photoreal.”

Compounding this scene even more was the fact that the main character shoots the cart walker, requiring the addition of bullet hits and resulting wounds.

Zombie Nation
For the upcoming Season 9 (premiering October 7), Picture Shop began using a new system for generating large crowds of walkers. According to Cardona, the animators introduced Golaem’s population tool into the pipeline to help with the mass crowd simulations for the walker herds that will appear during the season. Previously, the artists used the particle system in Autodesk’s Maya for this task, “but we needed something that was more robust, something created specifically to do this kind of effect, especially on a TV schedule and with a TV pipeline and workflow,” he adds.

During this past off-season, the artists began establishing a system that would source the walker assets the group had created for Season 8 and in the off-season to prepare for Season 9. “We were modeling walkers and using some of the walkers from Season 8, and standardizing them all with the same T-pose so we could easily swap out rigs and customize and create a lot of variations with textures, changing their clothes, skin color and hair,” explains Cardona. “So when we have to create walker herds, we can easily get five or six variations from a single walker. We end up with a lot of variations in our herd sims without having to create a brand-new walker every time.”

And make no mistake, there will be more herds of walkers in Season 9 than viewers have seen in previous seasons.

The Walking Dead

Other VFX
On average, Picture Shop created 40 to 50 VFX shots per episode during Season 8 of The Walking Dead, with a typical turnaround time of two to three weeks. In addition to the kills and their associated effects, the group also built set extensions. For instance, most of Season 8 (and 7) revolved around what is called “the Sanctuary,” an old factory that is now home to The Saviors, with whom Grimes and his group must interact. The first two floors were practically built, and then Picture Shop extended the structure digitally by another 12 stories. At one point, a gun fight ensues, which called for the CG artists to break out all the windows — another visual effect.

“The group didn’t move far from their location in Season 8, so the need for additional set extensions wasn’t as high as it had been in earlier seasons,” adds Cardona.

Episode 8 of Walk — which has the tribes fighting each other more so than the walkers — did start off with a bang, however. In the first episode of the season, Daryl, Grimes’ trusted lieutenant, shoots a box of explosives, ripping a CG walker in half — work that Cardona describes as “challenging.” In another shot, an RPG blows up another tribe member; in it, the actor had to be swapped out for a digital double that had been projection modeled.

Cardona has seen an evolution in the effects Picture Shop is providing for Walk in particular. Some of the more interesting effects will be coming in Season 9, he teases. “We’ve been working on some of the stuff over the summer and have spent time in R&D on one effect in particular — something new that the audience hasn’t seen before,” he says.

In the upcoming season, nature is taking over, and there will be overgrown vegetation on all the buildings and structures. “With that said, we are doing an effect whereby we take a murder of crows and have them swarm similar to the murmuration of starlings, which wheel and dart through the sky in tight, fluid formations,” says Cardona. “This is something you will see through the course of the season.”

 

The Walking Dead

For this work, the artists built and rigged a crow in Maya and generated various animation cycles, which were cached out and used as a particle simulation within Side Effects’ Houdini.

While creating this effect was not nearly as time-consuming as setting up the crowd simulation in Golaem, “it was something unique, and we had to figure out an approach that gave us the flexibility to art direct and change [the results] quickly,” Cardona notes. “And, it’s an effect that has nothing to do with walkers, but it tells a big part of the story of what is happening to the world around them.”

In terms of the other overall effects in Walk and Fear, the Picture Shop artists use primarily Autodesk’s 3ds Max, although Maya is also used, albeit mainly for the Golaem crowd work. Yet once the sim is complete, the artists cache the results and bake out all the animation within Maya, then export it into Max. Rendering is done in Chaos’ V-Ray for 3ds Max.

In addition, the artists use Pixologic’s ZBrush for a lot of the organic modeling, mostly for the walkers. For effects, the crew usually turns to Houdini.

The effects that Picture Shop delivers for The Walking Dead are unique — in terms of the blood and gore — from other shows the studio works on, such as Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver, which call for more traditional VFX, like muzzle flashes and explosions, as well as set extensions. “It’s more hard-surface modeling stuff, whereas Walk, for the most part, is a lot more organic,” Cardona adds. “And the tone is completely different, obviously.”

Monster Mash
Picture Shop performs the same type of work for Fear as it does for Walk — mostly weapon extensions and walker kills. Cardona notes there is a cohesiveness in the effects between the two shows, especially now that the timeline of both stories is nearly the same. Fear started at the beginning of the apocalypse, when the walkers were “fresher, and the blood kills were a little bigger, because the thinking was that there would be more blood present in the walkers at that point,” he explains.

Insofar as the general walker kills are concerned, the actors never really make a physical impact with their stabbing motions, so oftentimes their hands are not in the right positions or the reaction time of the walker is off. In these instances, it is up to the VFX artists to digitally rectify the action and reaction — for instance, separating and repositioning the actor’s arm, stabilizing it, then tracking on the weapon that is placed in their hand, as well as stabilizing the walker, adding the wound, and then adding the weapon extension. This holds true for both series.

“Sometimes this can be challenging because the camera is also moving, so it requires significant roto work, and we have to deconstruct the shot and reconstruct it back again,” says Cardona. “There are plenty of these types of shots we have to do for both Walk and Fear.”

For the tracking on this and other work, the studio uses Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes; for the planar tracking, Boris FX’s Mocha, formerly from Imagineer Systems.

According to Cardona, the overall look of the walkers has changed throughout the course of the Fear seasons. In Walk, they are more decayed, whereas in Fear, they still look like humans for the most part, not as skeletal. But, that has now changed, and with a more cohesive look between the walkers is a more cohesive look with some of the VFX, particularly the blood effects going forward.

However, there is one big difference between the two shows. Walk is still shot on film, 16mm, while Fear is shot digitally, so the graininess is quite heavy with Walk. “It affects our tracking because there is so much noise. Often we would de-grain [the footage] to do the tracking, and then add the grain back in. Also, any time we have a bluescreen shot where we have to pull keys, it’s a problem,” says Cardona.

Indeed, honing the effects on The Walking Dead gives the artists a leg up when it comes to Fear. Another advantage: Picture Shop performs the color and finishing for both shows, as well, which can result in some emergency VFX work for the crew, especially during a time crunch. In fact, the colorists at the facility created the custom 16mm grain pattern that the artists use now during the tracking process. It was generated by the colorists when the client was considering migrating Walk to digital format but then decided to retain the current structure.

Another plus: The Walking Dead executives are also located in the same building as Picture Shop, several floors up. “They just moved here, and it’s convenient for everyone. We can do spot sessions with VFX producer Jason Sax or showrunner Angela Kang (who recently took over that role from Scott Gimple).”

At Comic-Con San Diego a few weeks ago, the series was a fan favorite, and online there is talk about plans for upcoming seasons. So, it appears these walkers still have a lot of life left in them, if fans — and the digital artists — have their way.


Karen Moltenbrey is a longtime writer and editor in the CG and post industries.

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, winning in the category of 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.

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kari Skogland on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DP Patrick Stewart’s path and workflow on Netflix’s Arrested Development

With its handheld doc-style camerawork, voiceover narration and quirky humor, Arrested Development helped revolutionize the look of TV sitcoms. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, with Ron Howard serving as one of its executive producers, the half-hour comedy series follows the once-rich Bluth family, that continues to live beyond their means in Southern California. At the center of the family is the mostly sane Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who does his best to keep his dysfunctional family intact.

Patrick Stewart

The series first aired for three seasons on the Fox TV network (2003-2006) but was canceled due to low ratings. Because the series was so beloved, in 2013, Netflix brought it back to life with its original cast in place. In May 2018, the fifth season began streaming, shot by cinematographer Patrick Stewart (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The League, Flight of the Conchords). He called on VariCam LT cinema cameras.

Stewart’s path to becoming a cinematographer wasn’t traditional. Growing up in Los Angeles and graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Santa Clara, he got his start in the industry when a friend called him up and asked if he’d work on a commercial as a dolly grip. “I did it well enough where they called me for more and more jobs,” explains Stewart. “I started as a dolly grip but then I did sound, worked as a tape op and then started in the camera department. I also worked with the best gaffers in San Francisco, who showed me how to look at the light, understand it and either augment it or recreate it. It was the best practical film school I could have ever attended.”

Not wanting to stay “in a small pond with big fish” Stewart decided to move back to LA and started working for MTV, which brought him into the low-budget handheld world. It also introduced him to “interview lighting” where he lit celebrities like Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. “At that point I got to light every single amazing musician, actor, famous person you could imagine,” he says. “This practice afforded me the opportunity to understand how to light people who were getting older, and how to make them look their best on camera.”

In 1999, Stewart received an offer to shoot Mike Figgis’ film Time Code (2000), which was one of the landmark films of the DV/film revolution. “It was groundbreaking not only in the digital realm but the fact that Time Code was shot with four cameras from beginning to end, 93 minutes, without stopping, shown in a quad split with no edits — all handheld,” explains Stewart. “It was an amazingly difficult project, because having no edits meant you couldn’t make mistakes. I was very fortunate to work with a brilliant renegade director like Mike Figgis.”

Triple Coverage
When hired for Arrested Development, the first request Stewart approached Hurwitz with was to add a third camera. Shooting with three cameras with multiple characters can be a logistical challenge, but Stewart felt he could get through scenes more quickly and effectively, in order to get the actors out on time. “I call the C camera the center camera and the A and the B are screen left and screen right,” Stewart explains. “C covers the center POV, while A and B cover the scene from their left and right side POV, which usually starts with overs. As we continue to shoot the scene, each camera will get tighter and tighter. If there are three or more actors in the scene, C will get tighter on whoever is in the center. After that, C camera might cover the scene following the dialogue with ‘swinging’ singles. If no swinging singles are appropriate, then the center camera can move over and help out coverage on the right or left side.

“I’m on a walkie — either adjusting the shots during a scene for either of their framing or exposure, or I’m planning ahead,” he continues. “You give me three cameras and I’ll shoot a show really well for you and get it done efficiently, and with cinematic style.”

Because it is primarily a handheld show, Stewart needed lenses that would not weigh down his operators during long takes. He employed Fujinon Cabrio zooms (15-35mm, 19-90mm, and 85-300mm), which are all f/2.8 lenses.

For camera settings, Stewart captures 10-bit 422 UHD (3840×2160) AVC Intra files at 23.98-fps. He also captures in V-Log but uses the V-709 LUT. “To me, you can create all the LUTs you want,” he says, “but more than likely you get to color correction and end up changing things. I think the basic 709 LUT is really nice and gentle on all the colors.”

Light from Above
Much of Arrested Development is shot on a stage, so lighting can get complicated, especially when there are multiple characters in a scene. To makes things less complicated, Stewart provided a gentle soft light from softboxes covering the top of each stage set, using 4-by-8 wooden frames with Tungsten-balanced Quasar tubes dimmed down to 50%. His motivated lighting explanation is that the unseen source could basically be a skylight. If characters are close to windows, he uses HMIs creating “natural sunlight” punching through to light the scene. “The nice thing about the VariCam is that you don’t need as many photons, and I did pretty extensive tests during pre-production on how to do it.”

On stage, Stewart sets his ISO to 5000 base and dials down to 2500 and generally shoots at an f/2.8 and ½. He even uses one level of ND on top of that. “You can imagine 27-foot candles at one level of ND at a 2.8 and 1/2 — that’s a pretty sensitive camera, and I noticed very little noise. My biggest concern was mid-tones, so I did a lot of testing — shooting at 5000, shooting at 2500, 800, 800 pushed up to 1600 and 2500.

“Sometimes with certain cameras, you can develop this mid-tone noise that you don’t really notice until you’re in post. I felt like shooting at 5000 knocked down to 2500 was giving me the benefit of lighting the stage at these beautifully low-lit levels where we would never be hot. I could also easily put 5Ks outside the windows to have enough sunlight to make it look like it’s overexposed a bit. I felt that the 5000 base knocked down to 2500, the noise level was negligible. At native 5000 ISO, there was a little bit more mid-tone noise, even though it was still acceptable. For daytime exteriors, we usually shot at ISO 800, dialing down to 500 or below.”

Stewart and Arrested Development director Troy Miller have known each other for many years since working together on the HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. “There was a shorthand between director and DP that really came in handy,” says Stewart. “Troy knows that I know what I’m doing, and I know on his end that he’s trying to figure out this really complicated script and have us shoot it. Hand in hand, we were really able to support Mitch.”

Netflix’s Lost in Space: mastering for Dolby Vision HDR, Rec.709

There is a world of difference between Netflix’s ambitious science-fiction series Lost in Space (recently renewed for another 10 episodes) and the beloved but rather low-tech, tongue-in-cheek 1960s show most fondly remembered for the repartee between persnickety Dr. Smith and the rather tinny-looking Robot. This series, starring Molly Parker, Toby Stevens and Parker Posey (in a very different take on Dr. Smith), is a very modern, VFX-intensive adventure show with more deeply wrought characters and elaborate action sequences.

Siggy Ferstl

Colorist Siggy Ferstl of Company 3 devoted a significant amount of his time and creative energy to the 10-episode release over the five-and-a-half-month period the group of 10 episodes was in the facility. While Netflix’s approach to dropping all 10 episodes at once, rather than the traditional series schedule of an episode a week, fuels excitement and binge-watching among viewers, it also requires a different kind of workflow, with cross-boarded shoots across multiple episodes and different parts of episodes coming out of editorial for color grading throughout the story arc. “We started on episode one,” Ferstl explains, “but then we’d get three and portions of six and back to four, and so on.”

Additionally, the series was mastered both for Dolby Vision HDR and Rec.709, which added additional facets to the grading process over shows delivered exclusively for Rec.709.

Ferstl’s grading theater also served as a hub where the filmmakers, including co-producer Scott Schofield, executive producer Zack Estrin and VFX supervisor Jabbar Raisani could see iterations of the many effects sequences as they came in from vendors (Cinesite, Important Looking Pirates and Image Engine, among others).

Ferstl himself made use of some new tools within Resolve to create a number of effects that might once have been sent out of house or completed during the online conform. “The process was layered and very collaborative,” says Ferstl. “That is always a positive thing when it happens but it was particularly important because of this series’ complexity.”

The Look
Shot by Sam McCurdy, the show’s aesthetic was designed, “to have a richness and realness to the look,” Ferstl explains. “It’s a family show but it doesn’t have that vibrant and saturated style you might associate with that. It has a more sophisticated kind of look.”

One significant alteration to the look involves changes to the environment of the planet onto which the characters crash land. The filmmakers wanted the exteriors to look less Earthlike with foliage a bit reddish, less verdant than the actual locations. The visual effects companies handled some of the more pronounced changes, especially as the look becomes more extreme in later episodes, but for a significant amount of this work, Ferstl was able to affect the look in his grading sessions — something that until recently would likely not have been achievable.

Ferstl, who has always sought out and embraced new technology to help him do his job, made use of some features that were then brand new to Resolve 14. In the case of the planet’s foliage, he made use of the Color Compressor tool within the OpenFX tab on the color corrector. “This allowed me take a range of colors and collapse that into a single vector of color,” he explains. “This lets you take your selected range of colors, say yellows and greens in this case, and compress them in terms of hue, saturation and luminance.” Sometimes touted as a tool to give colorists more ability to even out flesh tones, Ferstl applied the tool to the foliage and compressed the many shades of green into a narrower range prior to shifting the resulting colors to the more orange look.

“With foliage you have light greens and darker greens and many different ranges within the color green,” Ferstl explains. “If we’d just isolated those ranges and turned them orange individually, it wouldn’t give us the same feel. But by limiting the range and latitude of those greens in the Color Compressor and then changing the hue we were able to get much more desirable results.” Of course, Ferstl also used multiple keys and windows to isolate the foliage that needed to change from the elements of the scenes that didn’t.

He also made use of the Camera Shake function, which was particularly useful in a scene in the second episode in which an extremely heavy storm of sharp hail-like objects hits the planet, endangering many characters. The storm itself was created at the VFX houses, but the additional effect of camera shake on top of that was introduced and fine-tuned in the grade. “I suggested that we could add the vibration, and it worked very well,” he recalls. By doing the work during color grading sessions, Ferstl and the filmmakers in the session could see that effect as it was being created, in context and on the big screen, and could fine-tune the “camera movement” right then and there.

Fortunately, the colorist notes, the production afforded the time to go back and revise color decisions as more episodes came into Company 3. “The environment of the planet changes throughout. But we weren’t coloring episodes one after the other. It was really like working on a 10-hour feature.

“If we start at episode one and jump to episode six,” Ferstl notes, “exactly how much should the environment have changed in-between? So it was a process of estimating where the look should land but knowing we could go back and refine those decisions if it proved necessary once we had the surrounding episodes for context.”

Dolby Vision Workflow
As most people reading this know, mastering in high dynamic range (Dolby Vision in this case) opens up the possibility of working within a significantly expanded contrast range and wider color gamut over Rec.709 standard for traditional HD. Lost in Space was mastered concurrently for both, which required Ferstl to use Dolby’s workflow. And this involves making all corrections for the HDR version and then allowing the Dolby hardware/software to analyze the images to bring them into the Rec.709 space for the colorist to do a standard-def pass.

Ferstl, who worked with two Sony X-300 monitors, one calibrated for Rec.709 and the other for HDR, explains, “Everyone is used to looking at Rec. 709. Most viewers today will see the show in Rec.709 and that’s really what the clients are most concerned with. At some point, if HDR becomes the dominant way people watch television, then that will probably change. But we had to make corrections in HDR and then wait for the analysis to show us what the revised image looked like for standard dynamic range.”

He elaborates that while the Dolby Vision spec allows the brightest whites to read at 4000 nits, he and the filmmakers preferred to limit that to 1000 nits. “If you let highlights go much further than we did,” he says, “some things can become hard to watch. They become so bright that visual fatigue sets in after too long. So we’d sometimes take the brightest portions of the frame and slightly clamp them,” he says of the technique of holding the brightest areas of the frame to levels below the maximum the spec allows.

“Sometimes HDR can be challenging to work with and sometimes it can be amazing,” he allows. Take the vast vistas and snowcapped mountains we first see when the family starts exploring the planet. “You have so much more detail in the snow and an amazing range in the highlights than you could ever display in Rec.709,” he says.

“In HDR, the show conveys the power and majesty of these vast spaces beyond what viewers are used to seeing. There are quite a few sections that lend themselves to HDR,” he continues. But as with all such tools, it’s not always appropriate to the story to use the extremes of that dynamic range. Some highlights in HDR can pull the viewer’s attention to a portion of the frame in a way that simply can’t be replicated in Rec. 709 and, likewise, a bright highlight from a practical or a reflection in HDR can completely overpower an image that tells the story perfectly in standard dynamic range. “The tools can re-map an image mathematically,” Ferstl notes, “but it still requires artists to interpret an image’s meaning and feel from one space to the other.”

That brings up another question: How close do you want the HDR and the Rec.709 to look to each other when they can look very different? Overall, the conclusion of all involved on the series was to constrain the levels in the HDR pass a bit in order to keep the two versions in the same ballpark aesthetically. “The more you let the highlights go in HDR,” he explains, “the harder it is to compress all that information for the 100-nit version. If you look at scenes with the characters in space suits, for example, they have these small lights that are part of their helmets and if you just let those go in HDR, those lights become so distracting that it becomes hard to look at the people’s faces.”

Such decisions were made in the grading theater on a case by case basis. “It’s not like we looked at a waveform monitor and just said, ‘let’s clamp everything above this level,’” he explains, “it was ultimately about the feeling we’d get from each shot.”

Creator Justin Simien talks Netflix’s Dear White People

By Iain Blair

The TV graveyard is bursting at the seams with failed adaptations of hit movies. But there are rare exceptions, such as Netflix’s acclaimed hit comedy Dear White People, which creator Justin Simien adapted from his 2014 indie movie of the same name. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. Simien went on to also win Best First Screenplay and a nomination for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Justin Simien (Photo by Rick Proctor).

Now a series on Netflix and enjoying its second season (it was just picked up for its third!), this college dramedy is set at Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League college, where racial tensions bubble just below the surface. It stars a large, charismatic ensemble cast (most of whom appeared in the film) that includes Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Marque Richardson and Giancarlo Esposito (as the narrator), dealing with such timely and timeless issues as racism, inclusion, social injustice, politics, abortion, body image, cultural bias, political correctness (or lack thereof), activism and, of course, romance in the millennial age.

Through an absurdist lens, Dear White People uses sharp, quick-fire dialogue, biting irony, self-deprecation and brutal honesty to hold up a mirror to some of the problems plaguing society today. It also makes the medicine go down easy by leading with big laughs.

The show is also a master class in how to successfully make that tricky transition from the big to small screen, and tellingly it has retained a coveted and rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for both seasons (take note, Emmy voters!).

I recently spoke with Simien about making the show, the changing TV landscape, the Emmys and his next movie.

The TV landscape is full of the corpses of failed movie adaptations. How did you avoid that fate when you adapted your film for TV?
(Laughs) You’re so right. Movies often don’t translate very well to TV, but I felt my film was in the great tradition of multi-protagonist ensemble films I love so much. I also felt that in the confines of 90 minutes or so, you can never really truly get into the hearts of all the characters. By the end, the audience wanted more from them, so it lent itself to the longer format. And I felt it would be much more interesting than the typical show if we [borrowed] a bit of that cinematic tradition — like films by Robert Altman and Spike Lee — where you really get a strong point-of-view and multiple stories are carefully woven together, and then apply it to TV.

It seems that in many ways, the film’s concerns and issues work even better in an extended TV series. What were the big themes you wanted to explore?
As with the film, it’s really a conversation about identity and self, and the roles that you play in society. We all do it in order to navigate society, but for people of color, those identities have been chosen for them, so it often takes us a lot longer to get to the heart of who we really are and what the self is. We’re taught from a very early age to always be aware that you’re different, and that people see you differently. We deal with all that through comedy and satire. It has a lot on its mind.

Where do you shoot?
All in LA. Most of the interiors are done at Tamarack Studios in Sun Valley, and then we shoot our exteriors at UCLA and at a former school in Alhambra.

Do you direct a lot of the episodes?
I direct some. I did three in the first season, and four in the second, but since I run the show along with Yvette Lee Bowser, I’m just too busy to direct them all. So I handpick other directors who come in, such as Barry Jenkins, Charlie McDowell, Tina Mabry and others. But they don’t come into this world to paint by numbers. It’s more a case of them riffing off of what I did, like a jazz musician. It’s a very cohesive and collaborative process, and I’m very involved in all the episodes.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, but to be honest I like directing and writing more. The storytelling is the part of the gig that I’m in it for. But it is satisfying to run the larger operation and work closely with all these fantastic writers, directors and actors, and creating this environment where they can all do their best work.

Where do you post?
All at Tamarack, and it’s very convenient since it’s important for me to be able to bounce between the set and the edit bay on each episode. We did all the sound at Warners, and the DI at Universal with colorist Scott Gregory.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because it’s where you figure out if what you shot really works, and it’s your last chance to write the show. It’s the final rewrite, and a chance to fix the things that don’t work, so it’s scary and challenging. Post is also where you get to see the arc of the whole season and see all the episodes as like a five-hour movie. It’s where I get to apply all my final ideas. When I’m writing the show, we’re in a process of discovery, and it’s not until post that you really get a sense of how the beginning fits with the end, and that what you’re trying to say is there and working.

Justin Simien

Can you talk about the editing? You have several editors on the show, yes?
We use two editors per season. Phil Bartell, who cut the film for me, is always one of them. Steve Edwards was the other one on Season 1, and Omar Hassan-Reep was on Season 2. Post schedules are so jammed in TV that using two editors helps speed it all up. We allot a certain amount of time for each episode, so I can spend time with it. Same with the director and the editor.

You have a big cast and a lot of storylines. What are the big editing challenges?
The big one is that none of the show is turnkey. Directors don’t paint by numbers and the scripts are not written to any kind of format or formula — other than we stay with one point of view at a time. So that means that editing each episode is like editing its own mini-movie. One episode is film noir, another’s about mushrooms and hallucinations, so each one requires different styles, techniques, and different approaches work for different points of view. Each time we have to reinvent the wheel.

VFX play a big role in some episodes. Can you talk about working on them?
There’s far more than normal for a show like this, and mostly because social media is such an integral part of the characters’ lives. So we really try and use all that in a cinematic way and give you the feeling of what they’re going through instead of just cutting to the cell phone or computer every time. We really work hard to integrate all that.

Ingenuity does all the overlay VFX and it can take a while to figure it all out and get it right.

Unlike movies, sound in television has arguably always played second fiddle to the images, but this has a great score by Kris Bowers and great sound design. Please talk about the importance of sound and music to you.
Sound in movies has always gotten more attention, but TV’s changing and getting more cinematic. Music is so important to me, and I make sure the score isn’t just filler or interstitial — it has to be able to operate independently of the visuals, like it does with the movies of my favorite filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick. It’s not just supplemental, and Kris is brilliant — just as adept at jazz as classical — and we have recurring themes and motifs and thematic hooks, and it’s very multi-layered.

How important are the Emmys to a show like this?
Very. We live in a world where there’s so much to watch now, and I don’t think there’s anything like it out there. But it can take effort to get people to watch and give the show and the characters a shot. So the Emmys can really help shine a light.

What’s next?
I’ll be directing my second film, which I wrote and is titled Bad Hair. It’s a horror satire that’s set in the late ‘80s about an ambitious young woman who wants to be a DJ but who doesn’t have the right look, so she gets a weave that may or may not have a mind of its own. I’m casting right now and hope to start shooting this 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.

Showtime’s Homeland: Producer/director Lesli Linka Glatter

By Iain Blair

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

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

Lesli Linka Glatter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

JoJo Whilden/Hulu

Color and audio post for Hulu’s The Looming Tower

Hulu’s limited series, The Looming Tower, explores the rivalries and missed opportunities that beset US law enforcement and intelligence communities in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Lawrence Wright, who also shares credit as executive producer with Dan Futterman and Alex Gibney, the show’s 10 episodes paint an absorbing, if troubling, portrait of the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and offer fresh insight into the complex people who were at the center of the fight against terrorism.

For The Looming Tower’s sound and picture post team, the show’s sensitive subject matter and blend of dramatizations and archival media posed significant technical and creative challenges. Colorist Jack Lewars and online editor Jeff Cornell of Technicolor PostWorks New York, were tasked with integrating grainy, run-and-gun news footage dating back to 1998 with crisply shot, high-resolution original cinematography. Supervising sound designer/effects mixer Ruy García and re-recording mixer Martin Czembor from PostWorks, along with a Foley team from Alchemy Post Sound, were charged with helping to bring disparate environments and action to life, but without sensationalizing or straying from historical accuracy.

L-R: colorist Jack Lewars and editor Jeff Cornell

Lewars and Cornell mastered the series in Dolby Vision HDR, working from the production’s camera original 2K and 3.4K ArriRaw files. Most of the color grading and conforming work was done with a light touch, according to Lewars, as the objective was to adhere to a look that appeared real and unadulterated. The goal was for viewers to feel they are behind the scenes, watching events as they happened.

Where more specific grades were applied, it was done to support the narrative. “We developed different look sets for the FBI and CIA headquarters, so people weren’t confused about where we were,” Lewars explains. “The CIA was working out of the basement floors of a building, so it’s dark and cool — the light is generated by fluorescent fixtures in the room. The FBI is in an older office building — its drop ceiling also has fluorescent lighting, but there is a lot of exterior light, so its greener, warmer.”

The show adds to the sense of realism by mixing actual news footage and other archival media with dramatic recreations of those same events. Lewars and Cornell help to cement the effect by manipulating imagery to cut together seamlessly. “In one episode, we matched an interview with Osama bin Laden from the late ‘90s with new material shot with an Arri Alexa,” recalls Lewars. “We used color correction and editorial effects to blend the two worlds.”

Cornell degraded some scenes to make them match older, real-world media. “I took the Alexa material and ‘muddied’ it up by exporting it to compressed SD files and then cutting it back into the master timeline,” he notes. “We also added little digital hits to make it feel like the archival footage.”

While the color grade was subtle and adhered closely to reality, it still packed an emotional punch. That is most apparent in a later episode that includes the attack on the Twin Towers. “The episode starts off in New York early in the morning,” says Lewars. “We have a series of beauty shots of the city and it’s a glorious day. It’s a big contrast to what follows — archival footage after the towers have fallen where everything is a white haze of dust and debris.”

Audio Post
The sound team also strove to remain faithful to real events. García recalls his first conversations about the show’s sound needs during pre-production spotting sessions with executive producer Futterman and editor Daniel A. Valverde. “It was clear that we didn’t want to glamorize anything,” he says. “Still, we wanted to create an impact. We wanted people to feel like they were right in the middle of it, experiencing things as they happened.”

García says that his sound team approached the project as if it were a documentary, protecting the performances and relying on sound effects that were authentic in terms of time and place. “With the news footage, we stuck with archival sounds matching the original production footage and accentuating whatever sounds were in there that would connect emotionally to the characters,” he explains. “When we moved to the narrative side with the actors, we’d take more creative liberties and add detail and texture to draw you into the space and focus on the story.”

He notes that the drive for authenticity extended to crowd scenes, where native speakers were used as voice actors. Crowd sounds set in the Middle East, for example, were from original recordings from those regions to ensure local accents were correct.

Much like Lewars approach to color, García and his crew used sound to underscore environmental and psychological differences between CIA and FBI headquarters. “We did subtle things,” he notes. “The CIA has more advanced technology, so everything there sounds sharper and newer versus the FBI where you hear older phones and computers.”

The Foley provided by artists and mixers from Alchemy Post Sound further enhanced differences between the two environments. “It’s all about the story, and sound played a very important role in adding tension between characters,” says Leslie Bloome, Alchemy’s lead Foley artist. “A good example is the scene where CIA station chief Diane Marsh is berating an FBI agent while casually applying her makeup. Her vicious attitude toward the FBI agent combined with the subtle sounds of her makeup created a very interesting juxtaposition that added to the story.”

In addition to footsteps, the Foley team created incidental sounds used to enhance or add dimension to explosions, action and environments. For a scene where FBI agents are inspecting a warehouse filled with debris from the embassy bombings in Africa, artists recorded brick and metal sounds on a Foley stage designed to capture natural ambience. “Normally, a post mixer will apply reverb to place Foley in an environment,” says Foley artist Joanna Fang. “But we recorded the effects in our live room to get the perspective just right as people are walking around the warehouse. You can hear the mayhem as the FBI agents are documenting evidence.”

“Much of the story is about what went wrong, about the miscommunication between the CIA and FBI,” adds Foley mixer Ryan Collison, “and we wanted to help get that point across.”

The soundtrack to the series assumed its final form on a mix stage at PostWorks. Czembor spent weeks mixing dialogue, sound and music elements into what he described as a cinematic soundtrack.

L-R: Martin Czember and Ruy Garcia

Czembor notes that the sound team provided a wealth of material, but for certain emotionally charged scenes, such as the attack on the USS Cole, the producers felt that less was more. “Danny Futterman’s conceptual approach was to go with almost no sound and let the music and the story speak for themselves,” he says. “That was super challenging, because while you want to build tension, you are stripping it down so there’s less and less and less.”

Czembor adds that music, from composer Will Bates, is used with great effect throughout the series, even though it might go by unnoticed by viewers. “There is actually a lot more music in the series than you might realize,” he says. “That’s because it’s not so ‘musical;’ there aren’t a lot of melodies or harmonies. It’s more textural…soundscapes in a way. It blends in.”

Czembor says that as a longtime New Yorker, working on the show held special resonance for him, and he was impressed with the powerful, yet measured way it brings history back to life. “The performances by the cast are so strong,” he says. “That made it a pleasure to work on. It inspires you to add to the texture and do your job really well.”

Showrunner Dan Pyne — Amazon Studios’ Bosch

By Iain Blair

How popular is Amazon’s Emmy-nominated detective show Bosch? So popular that the streaming service ordered up Season 5 before Season 4 even debuted in April. This critically acclaimed hour-long series is Amazon’s longest-running Prime Original.

Based on the best-selling novels by Michael Connelly, the show stars Titus Welliver (Lost) as LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, alongside a large ensemble cast that includes James Hector (The Wire), Amy Aquino (Being Human), Madison Lintz (The Walking Dead) and Lance Reddick (The Wire).

Dan Pyne

Season 4 kicked off with the murder of a high-profile attorney on the eve of his civil rights trial against the LAPD. Bosch is assigned to lead a task force — that suspects fellow cops — to solve the crime before the city erupts in a riot. Bosch must pursue every lead, even if it turns the spotlight back on his own department. One murder intertwines with another, and Bosch must reconcile his not-so-simple past to find a justice that has long eluded him.

Bosch was developed for television by Eric Overmyer (Treme, The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Streets) and is executive produced by Dan Pyne, whose film credits include The Manchurian Candidate, Pacific Heights, Sum of All Fears and Fracture. He also co-created and co-produced The Street, a syndicated police procedural starring Stanley Tucci.

I recently spoke with Pyne about making the show, the Emmys, production and post.

Eric Overmyer, who took a break to work on another Amazon production, The Man in the High Castle, is coming back to act as co-showrunner with you on Season 5. How will you split duties?
Good question! We’re making it up as we go along. I’d never worked with him before, but I did have a longtime partner before. Basically, we talk a lot and come to an agreement about any issues. The great thing about this show is that every season is its own entity, with its own rhythm and voice.

Have you started on Season 5?
We have, and we have almost six episodes plotted out and we start shooting in early August.

Where do you shoot?
We’re based at Red Studios in Hollywood, which isn’t far from the local police station, and we recreated that interior on a set, and it’s so uncannily similar — apart from a few details — that it’s hard to tell them apart. We shoot a lot in Hollywood and then locations all over the city and further afield.

Bosch has a very cinematic feel and look.
Yes, and that’s in part due to our producer, Pieter Jan Brugge, who comes from film and who’s worked a lot with Michael Mann on movies like Heat and Miami Vice — this is his first TV show.  I come from a film background too, so we take more of a film approach and discuss stuff like the sound and visuals and what they should be like and how a scene should play before we even start shooting

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, and I was well-trained. I came up intending to write movies and then fell into TV and got lucky with the show Hard Copy. I became a specialist in 10-episode arcs (like Bosch). I got to work with several legendary showrunners, including Richard Levinson and William Link, who created such classic TV shows as Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, and William Sackheim who did Gidget and The Flying Nun. I haven’t done showrunning that much, but I always ran my own shows. And it’s the closest thing to being a film director because you have control and get to collaborate with everyone else, including post, which is so much fun.

Where do you post?
At Red Studios. We have a great team, including post producer Mark Douglas and post supervisor Tayah Geist, and we do color correction at Warner Bros. with colorist Scott Klein. He works closely with Pieter and the DPs, and sometimes we’ll make an entire season cooler or warmer. We’ll get inspiration from movies — maybe Japanese films or Blade Runner and so on — to help us with the color palette.

Do you like the post process?
Very much. It’s so true when people say, like with movies, there are three TV shows — the one you write, the one you shoot and the one you make in post. It’s in post where you start all over again each time, see what you’ve got, what works and doesn’t. I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with editors and all the sound people. I love what they bring to storytelling: the way they can help say things and elevate the material and help make stuff clear for the audience, and show or hide emotionality.

Let’s talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Yes, it’s the tight schedule, and in order to get it done we rotate three editors. One does four shows, and the other two do three, and we alternate. That way they have enough time to cut a show and pretty much finish it before moving to the next one. If you only have two editors, the workload’s overwhelming, so we use three — Steve Cohen, Jacque Toberen and Kevin Casey. There are three assistant editors — Rafael Nur, Judy Guerrero and Knar Kitabjian.

You have a big cast, and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
We have two big ones. As it’s an investigative show it can be very detailed, so clarity is always a priority — making sure that all the story and plot points get pulled in the right way and land correctly. Mike’s books are very twisty, and they have a lot of tiny clues, so as detectives walk through scenes they’ll see things. There’s a lot of visual foreshadowing of things that come back later. The other one is making sure the episodes have pace. Police procedurals tend to fall into a pattern of walk-and-talk, and we try and avoid that.

Who does the VFX, and what’s involved?
Moving Target, and their Alan Munro is our VFX supervisor. We use a lot more VFX than you would imagine. One of the show’s hallmarks is making it all as real as possible, so when we recently did a show with scenes in tunnels we used a lot of masking and CGI as we were limited in the way we could light and shoot the actual tunnels. I find that visual effects really make TV a lot easier. We do some plates depending on the situation, but often it’s really small stuff and cleanup to make it all even more realistic.

This show has a great score by Jesse Voccia and great sound design. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
Sound is always difficult because it’s TV. It’s the nature of the beast. TV often shoots so fast that the production sound can be problematic, what with traffic noise and so on, and you have to fix all that. But I love playing with sound and working with the sound designers and ADR guys. We do all the mixing at Technicolor at Paramount, and we have a great crew. There’s not a lot of music in the show, but we try to make it all count and not use short little stingers like TV usually does, or score a chase. We’ll use sound design or natural sound instead.

How important are the Emmys to a show like this, which seems a little underrated?
It would be great to be nominated, although maybe the fans don’t care that much. We do fly under the radar a bit, I think, so more recognition would be very welcome.

Thanks to the ongoing source material, the show could easily run for many more years. Will you do more seasons of the show?
I’d love to. What’s so great is that every season is brand new and different, with its own beginning, middle and end. It plays like a book, so we can really work on the tone and feel.


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

The challenges of dialogue and ice in Game of Thrones ‘Beyond the Wall’

By Jennifer Walden

Fire-breathing dragons and hordes of battle-ready White Walkers are big attention grabbers on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but they’re not the sole draw for audiences. The stunning visual effects and sound design are just the gravy on the meat and potatoes of a story that has audiences asking for more.

Every line of dialogue is essential for following the tangled web of storylines. It’s also important to take in the emotional nuances of the actors’ performances. Striking the balance between clarity and dynamic delivery isn’t an easy feat. When a character speaks in a gruff whisper because, emotionally, it’s right for the scene, it’s the job of the production sound crew and the post sound crew to make that delivery work.

At Formosa Group’s Hollywood location, an Emmy-winning post sound team works together to put as much of the on-set performances on the screen as possible. They are supervising sound editor Tim Kimmel, supervising dialogue editor Paul Bercovitch and dialogue/music re-recording mixer Onnalee Blank.

Blank and the show’s mixing team picked up a 2018 Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing For a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) for their work on Season 7’s sixth episode, “Beyond the Wall.”

Tim Kimmel and Onnalee Blank

“The production sound crew does such a phenomenal job on the show,” says Kimmel. “They have to face so many issues on set, between the elements and the costumes. Even though we have to do some ADR, it would be a whole lot more if we didn’t have such a great sound crew on-set.”

On “Beyond the Wall,” the sound team faced a number of challenges. Starting at the beginning of this episode, Jon Snow [Kit Harington] and his band of fighters trek beyond the wall to capture a White Walker. As they walk across a frozen, windy landscape, they pass the time by getting to know each other more. Here the threads of their individual stories from past seasons start to weave together. Important connections are being made in each line of dialogue.

Those snowy scenes were shot in Iceland and the actors wore metal spikes on their shoes to help them navigate the icy ground. Unfortunately, the spikes also made their footsteps sound loud and crunchy, and that got recorded onto the production tracks.

Another challenge came from their costumes. They wore thick coats of leather and fur, which muffled their dialogue at times or pressed against the mic and created a scratchy sound. Wind was also a factor, sometimes buffeting across the mic and causing a low rumble on the tracks.

“What’s funny is that parts of the scene would be really tough to get cleaned up because the wind is blowing and you hear the spikes on their shoes — you hear costume movements. Then all of a sudden they stop and talk for a minute and the wind stops and it’s the most pristine, quiet, perfect recording you can think of,” explains Kimmel. “It almost sounded like it was shot on a soundstage. In Iceland, when the wind isn’t blowing and the actors aren’t moving, it’s completely quiet and still. So it was tough to get those two to match.”

As supervising sound editor, Kimmel is the first to assess the production dialogue tracks. He goes through an episode and marks priority sections for supervising dialogue editor Bercovitch to tackle first. He says, “That helps Tim [Kimmel] put together his ADR plan. He wants to try to pare down that list as much as possible. For Beyond the Wall, he wanted me to start with the brotherhood’s walk-and-talk north of the wall.”

Bercovitch began his edit by trying to clean up the existing dialogue. For that opening sequence, he used iZotope RX 6’s Spectral Repair to clean up the crunchy footsteps and the rumble of heavy winds. Next, he searched for usable alt takes from the lav and boom tracks, looking for a clean syllable or a full line to cut in as needed. Once Bercovitch was done editing, Kimmel could determine what still needed to be covered in ADR. “For the walk-and-talk beyond the wall, the production sound crew really did a phenomenal job. We didn’t have to loop that scene in its entirety. How they got as good of recordings as they did is honestly beyond me.”

Since most of the principle actors are UK and Ireland-based, the ADR is shot in London at Boom Post with ADR supervisor Tim Hands. “Tim [Hands] records 90% of the ADR for each season. Occasionally, we’ll shoot it here if the actor is in LA,” notes Kimmel.

Hands had more lines than usual to cover on Beyond the Wall because of the battle sequence between the brotherhood and the army of the dead. The principle actors came in to record grunts, efforts and breaths, which were then cut to picture. The battle also included Bercovitch’s selects of usable production sound from that sequence.

Re-recording mixer Blank went through all of those elements on dub Stage 1 at Formosa Hollywood using an Avid S6 console to control the Pro Tools 12 session. She chose vocalizations that weren’t “too breathy, or sound like it’s too much effort because it just sounds like a whole bunch of grunts happening,” she says. “I try to make the ADR sound the same as the production dialogue choices by using EQ, and I only play sounds for whoever is on screen because otherwise it just creates too much confusion.”

One scene that required extensive ADR was for Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) on the catwalk at Winterfell. In the seemingly peaceful scene, the sisters share an intimate conversation about their father as snow lightly falls from the sky. Only it wasn’t so peaceful. The snow was created by a loud snow machine that permeated the production sound, which meant the dialogue on the entire scene needed to be replaced. “That is the only dialogue scene that I had no hand in and I’ve been working on the show for three seasons now,” says Bercovitch.

For Bercovitch, his most challenging scenes to edit were ones that might seem like they’d be fairly straightforward. On Dragonstone, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) are in the map room having a pointed discussion on succession for the Iron Throne. It’s a talk between two people in an interior environment, but Bercovitch points out that the change of camera perspective can change the sound of the mics. “On this particular scene and on a lot of scenes in the show, you have the characters moving around within the scene. You get a lot of switching between close-ups and longer shots, so you’re going between angles with a usable boom to angles where the boom is not usable.”

There’s a similar setup with Sansa and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) at Winterfell. The two characters discuss Brienne’s journey to parley with Cersei (Lena Headey) in Sansa’s stead. Here, Bercovitch faced the same challenge of matching mic perspectives, and also had the added challenge of working around sounds from the fireplace. “I have to fish around in the alt takes — and there were a lot of alts — to try to get those scenes sounding a little more consistent. I always try to keep the mic angles sounding consistent even before the dialogue gets to Onnalee (Blank). A big part of her job is dealing with those disparate sound sources and trying to make them sound the same. But my job, as I see it, is to make those sound sources a little less disparate before they get to her.”

One tool that’s helped Bercovitch achieve great dialogue edits is iZotope’s RX 6. “It doesn’t necessarily make cleaning dialogue faster,”he says. “It doesn’t save me a ton of time, but it allows me to do so much more with my time. There is so much more that you can do with iZotope RX 6 that you couldn’t previously do. It still takes nitpicking and detailed work to get the dialogue to where you want it, but iZotope is such an incredibly powerful tool that you can get the result that you want,” he says.

On the dub stage, Blank says one of her most challenging scenes was the opening walk-and-talk sequence beyond the wall. “Half of that was ADR, half was production, and to make it all sound the same was really challenging. Those scenes took me four days to mix.”

Her other challenge was the ADR scene with Arya and Sansa in Winterfell, since every line there was looped. To help the ADR sound natural, as if it’s coming from the scene, Blank processes and renders multiple tracks of fill and backgrounds with the ADR lines and then re-records that back into Avid Pro Tools. “That really helps it sit back into the screen a little more. Playing the Foley like it’s another character helps too. That really makes the scene come alive.”

Bercovitch explains that the final dialogue you hear in a series doesn’t start out that way. It takes a lot of work to get the dialogue to sound like it would in reality. “That’s the thing about dialogue. People hear dialogue all day, every day. We talk to other people and it doesn’t take any work for us to understand when other people speak. Since it doesn’t take any work in one’s life why would it require a lot of work when putting a film together? There’s a big difference between the sound you hear in the world and recorded sound. Once it has been recorded you have to take a lot of care to get those recordings back to a place where your brain reads it as intelligible. And when you’re switching from angle to angle and changing mic placement and perspective, all those recordings sound different. You have to stitch those together and make them sound consistent so it sounds like dialogue you’d hear in reality.”

Achieving great sounding dialogue is a team effort — from production through post. “Our post work on the dialogue is definitely a team effort, from Paul’s editing and Tim Hands’ shooting the ADR so well to Onnalee getting the ADR to match with the production,” explains Kimmel. “We figure out what production we can use and what we have to go to ADR for. It’s definitely a team effort and I am blessed to be working with such an amazing group of people.”


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

Broadway Video’s Sue Pelino and team win Emmy

Sue Pelino and the sound mixing team at New York City’s Broadway Video have won the Emmy for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series Or Special for their work on the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony that aired on HBO in April. Pelino served as re-recording mixer on the project.

Says Pelino, who is VP of audio post production at Broadway Video, “Our goal in preparing the televised package was to capture the true essence of the night. We wanted viewers to experience the energy and feel as if they were sitting in the tenth row of the Barclays Center. It’s a remarkable feeling to know that we have achieved that goal.”

Pelino is already the proud owner of two Emmy awards and has nine nominations under her belt. Her career as an audio post production engineer rests on her early years playing guitar in rock bands and recording original songs in her home studio.

Additional members of the winning sound team for the 2017 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony — produced by HBO entertainment in association with Playtone, Line by Line Productions, Alex Coletti Productions and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation — include Al Centrella, John Harris, Dave Natale, Jay Vicari, Erik Von Ranson and Simon Welch.

Emmy Awards: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Re-recording mixer Brian Bracken and supervising sound editor Benny Mouthon

By Jennifer Walden

CNN’s Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is an award-winning travel series about food and politics. Or is it a food series about travel and politics? Perhaps it’s best described as a three-course mind-meal of food, travel and regional political/economic commentary with a dash of history. Whatever it is, it’s addicting, and Bourdain’s candor is refreshing. And if even some of the dishes that Bourdain consumes seem less than appetizing, the show itself is totally binge-worthy. Now on Netflix, all nine season are available for mass consumption.

Benny Mouthon

From its inception, String & Can in New York City has handled the post sound on Parts Unknown. Sound designers/re-recording mixers Benny Mouthon and Brian Bracken have amassed a total of nine Emmy nominations for their sound work on the show. This year Mouthon is nominated for Outstanding Sound Editing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8, Episode 1 “Hanoi,” and Bracken is nominated for Outstanding Sound Mixing For A Nonfiction Program on Season 8’s finale, Episode 9 “Rome.”

Even though their nominations are specifically for sound editing and sound mixing, Mouthon and Bracken handle all the audio post needs for each episode they work on, from dialogue editing and sound design to final mix. It’s a substantial amount of work per episode considering Bourdain generally doesn’t use a production sound mixer. Sound-wise, it’s often just a case of catch what you can on the busy streets and crowded eateries.

Here, Mouthon and Bracken share details about what went into their Emmy-nominated episodes.

You’re nine seasons into Parts Unknown and the show just gets better and better. Sound-wise, how has the show grown? What’s changed over the years?
Benny Mouthon: We usually don’t have a location sound mixer on the show, but I feel that the camera crew has been paying more attention to mic placements. Also, the converters on the cameras have gotten better as the cameras have evolved. They can record much better quality sound than a few years ago, though still not as good as a high-end field sound recorder.

The bulk of the dialogue that we get is a lavaliere on Tony Bourdain and his guest or guests. Then they have Sanken shotgun mics on the cameras. As they move around the subjects in the frame, the shotguns tend to not be very usable so we rely on the lav mics a lot. Since the producers are the only ones that spend time both in the field and in the mix, we have had many discussions after the screenings over the years as to what works, what doesn’t and how things can be done better next time. Thanks to this dialogue I can definitely say that the quality of the audio has gotten better with time.

On the post side, we have more powerful tools than we did when the series first started. With the iZotope RX tools we’ve been able to clean up tracks that would have been unusable before. We often have to deal with distortion, or clothing rustle, or wind noise, and now all of those issues are easier to deal with.

Editors will often send us problematic audio scenes during the edit to see if they can be salvaged. In the past we used to turn down many, but in the last couple of years our “success rate” has gotten much better.

Brian Bracken

Brian Bracken: The cinematic landscape lends itself to us being able to enhance the show more by using the production audio. For instance, in the “Rome” episode, there’s a highway scene with fast “car-bys.” Those were very well recorded, and the cars sound very powerful when they pass by. That wasn’t really how it was delivered to us back in the earlier seasons. Like Benny said, with the equipment getting better the recordings get better and the attention to detail in terms of sound has really paid off.

Mouthon: As the show evolves, the cameramen get to play with nicer toys, and they’re also recording more b-roll. They started to use the Canon D5 early on for this, with better lenses — lenses that gave the show a much more filmic look. Tony also likes to pay homage to films quite a lot, Brian’s “Rome” episode is just one great example.

As this “cinema-style” became more the norm, I think they realized that the edits can be limited if they don’t have very specific sounds that were recorded while they were in a particular place. So they have grown more aware of what will make for a better edit and therefore a better soundscape afterwards for us.

Talking about soundscapes, let’s look at the “Hanoi” episode. You start with a rural soundscape of wind in grass, chickens and bugs, and then it changes to urban sounds like motorbikes and horns. How much sound was taken from production?
Mouthon: A fair amount was taken from production, and I have to give a big credit to Hunter Gross, the picture editor on that episode. He’s very good at laying out a lot of the B-roll and complementing that with sound effects so that I have a great starting point. The huge advantage I had was that I was in Hanoi about 10 years ago on a personal holiday and I had a little Zoom recorder with me. I was able to use a lot of my own recordings of Hanoi, which included a lot of great stereo street sounds.

The downside to not having a location sound mixer is that the camera crew gets everything they can but it’s in mono. They don’t have the time to go back to a location with a stereo recorder or an X/Y mic configuration on a camera to record that way. There’s just no time. So I was able to use a lot of my own recordings to complement what they had gotten in mono, along with my memory of how absolutely insane traffic is in Hanoi.

It’s busy even on the smaller side streets. I remember just standing on the curb on my first day and not knowing how to cross the street. It is just completely flooded with scooters everywhere. There was an old lady standing next to me who looked at me pitifully and she just walked right out into the street, staring straight ahead to where she was going. I decided to just follow her and miraculously the scooters just avoid you and you just trust that you won’t be hit.

Sound-wise, I remember that everyone honks, and they go pretty fast. So I was given a lot of B-roll from Hunter to complement the scenes. I really like to pan the sound and follow an individual scooter from left to right. I also put in a lot of my stereo recordings to complement their sound a bit better and I was able to add a lot of Italian scooter sounds, as well as some Honda bikes. I try to stay as true as possible to what I am seeing but the idea was to make the sound feel a little bit claustrophobic.

What sounds would you say are characteristic of Hanoi’s soundscape? What sounds make that city sound like that city?
Mouthon: The two-stroke engine. There are a lot of scooters, very whiney and mid-ranged. The sound of motorbikes is relentless, and it’s coming from everywhere — left, right, up, down — you are constantly making sure that you’re not getting in the way of someone who is driving very fast.

The scooter sounds were useful in another way. We could take you out of one scene and bring you into a completely different situation, one that is much more present. It can be loud, fill the space and give your senses a shock.

For the first half of the episode, Bourdain is eating outside on the street and there’s traffic and crowds. Tell me about the principle dialog for those locations. It seems like it would have been quite a challenge to clean and edit the dialog there.
Mouthon: There was a lot of street noise, but that’s kind of the charm — having Bourdain sitting on a plastic stool on the pavement, eating a bowl of soup. Thankfully, the camera work is such that they do pan over into the street and you see a bunch of scooters going back and forth.

As a viewer, it’s easier to accept the sound of the scooters and the noise when you get to see how dense the traffic is. But it was still tricky. There were a lot of scooter sounds and traffic noises that had to be finessed out of sentences because the noise sounded cut off. Often I had to grab B-roll sound to help match that sentence into the upcoming sentence that they decided to use.

In general, the rain was more problematic than the traffic noise. There is a scene where he is outside late in the evening and it’s pouring rain. That was harder to deal with. I used a little bit of EQ and compression to control it a little but the sound overall is pretty true to what it sounded like there.

President Obama shows up in Hanoi. How cool is that? Sound-wise, was there anything to note about that sequence?
Mouthon: The scene was shot in a restaurant and they asked people not to speak too loudly but, as is often the case in those smaller restaurants, the walls are very straight and parallel, and the floor is made of tile and the sound just echoes. There isn’t much in there to absorb the sound, so it was a little bit echoey, a little live, but not unmanageable.

I did add a little bit of stereo rain as former President Obama was coming out of the limousine because he was holding an umbrella. I also added in a little bit of crowd sounds just to enhance it a bit overall. At the end of act four, we see Tony walking through the rain and I complemented that with stereo ambience of growling thunder.

The “Hanoi” episode wraps up on an emotional note. The music does a lot to carry the emotion. Did you do anything sound-wise to help support that?
Mouthon: Hunter and the producer Tom Vitale often like to end on an emotional note. They like it to be a little poetic, and I agree with that. There were just a couple little hints of B-roll sound there, but I kept it very low because it’s the music that’s supposed to take the show out. Also, ending on music was a great way to tie it back to the beginning.

For “Rome,” the mood is very tongue-in-cheek. The episode opens with a street performer singing a spirited song, and the lyrics are about killing her lover. From a mix standpoint Brian, were you able to enhance the playfulness of this episode?
Bracken: Hunter did this episode as well. He was the one who really sold that tongue-in-cheek aspect of the episode, and I just tried to enhance it. I was there to support that performance in the mix. During that scene you have two performers in the market, and the market sounds were getting in the way of their guitars, and it wasn’t an easy task to make it sound as clean as it did.

In terms of the mix, what were some creative opportunities you had on the “Rome” episode?
Bracken: There were some cool things during the Mussolini section where they showed archival footage. Recreating the sound for that, making it feel as real as possible was fun. I like doing all of that marching stuff, with the very militant crowds. That was fun to do.

I also really liked doing that car scene — where the cars are whizzing by on the highway. It starts out far back and you hear this gentle rumble, then all of a sudden when that first car passes it’s like a punch in the face. The power continues throughout that whole little section until it is over-the-top loud. It’s almost like you’re standing on the side of the road. I was able to take their production audio and enhance that with other car-bys to really give it that sweeping stereo image. When a car goes by it just doesn’t cut away — you hear it decay a lot longer as the next car comes by.

The boxing scene was fun too because there were those hits. When they punch each other, I basically wanted it to sound the way Bourdain describes it: as a slap of leather against wet skin. When you hear him say that you have this picture in your head of what it should sound like and hopefully it matches everybody’s expectations when they hear those punches being thrown and landing.

What was the most challenging scene for you to mix in this episode, and how did you handle it?
Bracken: There’s a scene where Bourdain is talking with a group of people and they are in a café right on the side of the road. There are cars driving by, but I didn’t have that camera pan-over to show that there was traffic. I had to cut out all the stuff in between but not have gaps in the ambience. That’s a challenge you face all the time with any restaurant scene. So I cut out what I didn’t like.

I cut out the sound between words and layered in a nice crowd bed in mono. Then I did a separate bed in stereo. I find that when I only do the bed in stereo it sounds too wide. So I need something to marry the wide aspect of the scene and the narrow aspect of the voices. So between the mono bed, the dialogue, and the stereo bed I can do fader movements to make it sound smooth.

Of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the mix on “Rome” for Emmy consideration?
Bracken: The episode really had great production audio. I had a lot to work with. They did a great job out there in the field.

Also, the episode is very cinematic. I love how Hunter and Tom end on a low note. They do that for this episode as well. I love the echoey footsteps that are leading you through the Palazzo Del Congressi. To me, the “Rome” episode sounded the best, and it was the most artistic one that I worked on this season.

Benny, of all the episodes in Season 8, why did you choose the sound editing on “Hanoi” for Emmy consideration?
Mouthon: For me, it was a mixture of having enjoyed playing around with all of the sounds of the scooters and knowing that they were almost a secondary character in the episode. But it was also a very nostalgic episode for me since it reminded me of the week I spent there and so maybe it was a bit more present in my head than the other episodes. No offense to the other episodes of course!


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @audiojeney.

Emmy Awards: OJ: Made in America composer Gary Lionelli

By Jennifer Walden

The aftermath of a tragic event plays out in front of the eyes of the nation. OJ Simpson, wanted for the gruesome murder of his wife and her friend, fails to turn himself in to the authorities. News helicopters follow the police chase that follows Simpson back to his Rockingham residence where they plan to take him into custody. Decades later, three-time Emmy-winning composer Gary Lionelli is presented with the opportunity to score that iconic Bronco chase.

Here, Lionelli talks about his approach to scoring ESPN’s massive documentary OJ: Made in America. His score on Part 3 is currently up for Emmy consideration for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series. The entire OJ: Made in America score is available digitally through Lakeshore Records.

Gary Lionelli

Scoring OJ: Made in America seems like such a huge undertaking. It’s a five-part series, and each part is over 90 minutes long. How did you tackle this beast?
I’d never scored anything that long within such a short timeframe. Because each part was so long, it wasn’t like doing a TV series but more like scoring five 90-minute films back-to-back. I just focused on one cue at a time, putting one foot in front of the other so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the full scope of the work and could relax enough to write the score! I knew I’d get to the finish line at some point, but it seemed so far away most of the time that I just didn’t want to dwell on that.

When you got this project, did they deliver it as one crazy, long piece? Or did they give it to you in its separate parts?
I got everything at once, which was totally mind-boggling. When you get any project, you need to watch it before you start working on it. For this one, it meant watching a seven-and-a-half-hour film, which was a feat in and of itself. The scale was just huge on this. Looking back, my eyelids still twitch.

It was a pretty nerve-racking time because the schedule was really tight. That was one of the most challenging parts of doing this project. I could have used a year to write this music, because five films are ordinarily what I‘d do in a year, not six months. But all of us who write music for film know that you have to work within extreme deadlines as a matter of course. So you say yes, and you find a way to do it.

So you basically locked yourself up for 14 hours a day, and just plugged away at it?
Right, except it was actually about 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no breaks. I finished the score 11 days before its theatrical release, which is insane. But, hey, that part is all in the past now, and it’s great to see the film out there getting such attention. One thing that made it worthwhile to me in the end was the quality of the filmmaking — I was riveted by the film the whole time I was working on it.

When composing, you worked only on one part at a time and not with an overall story arc in mind?
I watched all five parts over the course of four days. Once I’d watched the first two parts, I couldn’t wait to start writing so I did that for a bit and then went back to watch the rest.

The director Ezra Edelman wanted me to first score the infamous Bronco chase, which is in Part 3. It’s a 30-minute segment of that particular episode. It was a long sequence of events, all having to do with the chase itself, the events leading up to it and the aftermath of it. So that is what I scored first. It’s kind of strange to dive into a film by first scoring such a pivotal, iconic event. But it worked out — what I wrote for that segment stuck.

It was strange to be writing music for something I had seen on television 20 years before – just to think that there I was, watching the Bronco chase on TV along with everyone else, not having the remotest idea that 20 years down the line I was going to be writing music for this real-life event. It’s just a very odd thing.

The Bronco chase wasn’t a high-speed chase. It was a long police escort back to OJ’s house. The music you wrote for this segment was so brooding and it fit perfectly…
I loved when Zoe Tur, the helicopter pilot, said they were giving OJ a police motorcade. That’s exactly what he got. So I didn’t want to score the sequence by commenting literally on what was happening — what people were doing, or the fact that this was a “chase.” What I tried to do was focus on the subtext, which was the tragedy of the circumstances, and have that direct the course of the music, supplying an overarching musical commentary.

For your instrumentation, did the director let you be carried away by your own muse? Or did he request specific instruments?
He was specific about two things: one, that there would be a trumpet in the score, and two, he wanted an oboe. Other than those two instruments, it was up to me. I have a trumpet player, Jeff Bunnell, who I’ve worked with before. It’s a great partnership because he’s a gifted improviser, and sometimes he knows what I want even when I don’t. He did a fantastic job on the score.

I also had a 40-piece string section recorded at the Eastman Scoring Stage at Warner Bros. Studios. We used players here in town and they added a lot, really bringing the score to life.

Were you conducting the orchestra? Or did you stay close to the engineer in the booth?
I wanted to be next to the recording engineer so I could hear everything as it was being recorded. I had a conductor instead. Besides, I’m a terrible conductor.

What instruments did you choose for the Bronco chase score?
For one of the scenes, I used layers of distorted electric guitars. Another element of the score was musical sound manipulation of acoustic instruments through electronics. It’s a time-consuming way to conjure up sounds, with all the trial and error involved, but the results can sometimes give a film an identity beyond what you can do with an orchestra alone.

So you recorded real instruments and then processed them? Can you share an example of your processing chain?
Sometimes I will get my guitar out and play a phrase. I’ll take that phrase and play it backwards, drop it two octaves, put it through a ring modulator, and then I’ll chop it up into short segments and use that to create a rhythmic pattern. The result is nothing like a real guitar. I didn’t necessarily know what I was going for at the start, but then I’d end up with this cool beat. Then I’d build a cue around that.

The original sound could be anything. I could tap a pencil on a desk and then drop that three octaves, time compress it and do all sorts of other processing. The result is a weird drum sound that no one’s ever heard before. It’s all sorts of experimentation, with the end result being a sound that has some originality and that piques the interest of the person watching the film.

To break that down a little further, what program do you work in?
I work in Pro Tools. I went from Digital Performer to Logic — I think most film composers use Logic or Cubase, but there are a growing number who actually use Pro Tools. I don’t need MIDI to jump through a lot of hoops. I just need to record basic lines because most of that stuff gets replaced by real players anyhow.

When you work in Pro Tools, it’s already the delivery format for the orchestra, so you eliminate a conversion step. I’ve been using Pro Tools for the past four years, and so far it’s been working out great. It has some limitations in MIDI, but not that many and nothing that I can’t work around.

What are some of your favorite processing plug-ins?
For pitching, I use Melodyne by Celemony and Serato’s Pitch ‘n’ Time. There’s a new pitch shifter in Pro Tools called X-Form that’s also good. I also use Waves SoundShifter — whatever seems to do a better job for what I’m working on. I always experiment to see which one works the best to give me the sound I’m looking for.

Besides pitch shifters, I use GRM Tools by Ina-GRM. They make weird plug-ins, like one called Shift, that really convolute sound to the point where you can take a drum or rhythmic guitar and turn it into a high-hat sound. It doesn’t sound like a real high-hat. It sounds like a weird high-hat, not a real one. You never know what you’re going to get from this plug-in, and that’s why I like it so much.

I also use a lot of Soundtoys plug-ins, like Crystallizer, which can really change sounds in unexpected ways. Soundtoys has great distortion plug-ins too. I’m always on the hunt for something new.

A lot of times I use hardware, like guitar pedals. It’s great to turn real knobs and get results and ideas from that. Sometimes the hardware will have a punchier sound, and maybe you can do more extreme things with it. It’s all about experimentation.

You’ve talked before about using a Guitarviol. Was that how you created the long, suspended bass notes in the Bronco chase score?
Yes, I did use the Guitarviol in that and in other places in the score, too. It’s a very weird instrument, because it looks like a cello but doesn’t sound like one, and it definitely doesn’t sound like a guitar. It has a weird, almost Middle Eastern sound to it, and that makes you want to play in that scale sometimes. Sometimes I’ll use it to write an idea, and then I’ll have my cellist play the same thing on cello.

The Guitarviol is built by Jonathan Wilson, who lives in Los Angeles. He had no idea when he invented this thing that it was going to get adopted by the film composer community here in town. But it has, and he can’t make them fast enough.

Do you end up layering the Guitarviol and the cello in the mix? Or do you just go with straight cello?
It’s usually just straight cello. There are a couple of cellists I use who are great. I don’t want to dilute their performance by having mine in the background. The Guitarviol is an inspiration to write something for the cellists to hear, and then I’ll just have them take over from there.

The overall sound of Part 3 is very brooding, and the percussion choices have complementary deep tones. Can you tell me about some of the choices you made there?
Those are all real drums. I don’t use any samples. I love playing real drums. I have a real timpani, a big Brazilian Surdo drum, a gigantic steel bass drum that sounds like a Caribbean steel drum but only two octaves lower (it has a really odd sound), and I have a classic Ludwig Beatles drum kit. I have a marimba and a collection of small percussion instruments. I use them all.

Sometimes I will pitch the recordings down to make them sound bigger. The Surdo by itself sounds huge, and when you pitch that down half an octave it’s even bigger. So I used all of those instruments and I played them. I don’t think I used a single drum sample on the entire score.

When you use percussion samples, you have to hunt around in your entire hard drive for a great tom-tom or a Taiko drum. It’s so much easier to run over to one in your studio and just play it. You never know how it’s going to sound, depending on how you mic it that day. And it’s more inspiring to play the real thing. You get great variation. Every time you hit the drum it sounds different, but a sample sound pretty much sounds the same every time you trigger it.

For striking, did you choose mallets, brushes, sticks, your hands, or other objects?
For the Surdo, I used my hands. I use marimba mallets and timpani mallets for the other instruments. For example, I’ll use timpani mallets for the big steel bass drum. Sometimes I’ll use timpani mallets on my drum kit’s bass drum, because it gives a different sound. It has a more orchestral sound, not like a kick drum from a rock band.

I’m always experimenting. I use brushes a lot on cymbals, and I use the brushes on the steel drum because it gives it a weird sound. You can even use brushes on the timpani, and that creates a strange sound. There are definitely no rules. Whatever you think or can imagine having an effect on the drum, you just try it out. You never know what you’ll get — it’s always good to give it a chance.

In addition to the Bronco chase scene, are there any other tracks that stood out for you in Part 3?
When you score something this long, at a certain point everything starts to run together in your mind. You don’t remember what cue belongs to what scene. But there are many that I can remember. During the jury section of that episode, I used an oboe for Johnny Cochran speaking to the jury. That was an interesting pairing, the oboe and Johnny Cochran. In a way, the oboe became an extension of his voice during his closing argument. I can’t really explain why it worked, but somehow it was the right match.

For the beginning of Part 3, when the police arrive because there was a phone call from Nicole Brown Simpson saying she was afraid of OJ, the cue there was very understated. It had a lot of strange, low sounds to it. That one comes to mind.

At the end of Part 3, they go to OJ’s Rockingham residence, and his lawyers had staged the setting. I did a cue there that was sort of quizzical in a way, just to show the ridiculousness of the whole thing. It was like a farce, the way they set up his residence. So I made the score take a right turn into a different area for that part. It gets away from the dark, brooding undercurrent that the rest of Part 3’s score had.

Of all the parts you could have submitted for Emmy consideration, why did you choose Part 3?
It was a toss-up between Part 2 and Part 3. Part 2 had some of the more major trumpet themes, more of the signature sound with the trumpet and the orchestra. But there were a few examples of that in Part 3, too.

I just felt the Bronco chase, score-wise, had a lot of variation to it, and that it moved in a way that was unpredictable. I ultimately thought that was the way to go, though it was a close race between Part 2 and Part 3.

I found out later that ESPN had submitted Part 3 for Emmy consideration in other categories, so there is a bit of synergy there.

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

Dailies and post for IFC’s Brockmire

By Randi Altman

When the name Brockmire first entered my vocabulary, it was thanks to a very naughty and extremely funny short video that I saw on YouTube, starring Hank Azaria. It made me laugh-cry.

Fast forward about seven years and the tale of the plaid-jacket-wearing, old-school baseball play-by-play man — who discovers his beloved wife’s infidelity and melts down in an incredibly dirty and curse-fueled way on air — is picked up by IFC, in the series aptly named Brockmire. It stars Azaria, Amanda Peet and features cameos from sportscasters like Joe Buck and Tim Kurkjian.

The Sim Group was called on to provide multiple services for Brockmire: Sim provided camera rentals, Bling Digital provided dailies and workflow services, and Chainsaw provided offline editorial facilities, post finishing services, and deliverables.

We reached out to Chainsaw’s VP of business development, Michael Levy, and Bling Digital’s workflow producer, James Koon, with some questions about workflow. First up is Levy.

Michael Levy

How early did you get involved on Brockmire?
Our role with Brockmire started from the very beginning stages of the project. This was through a working relationship I had with Elizabeth Baquet, who is a production executive at Funny or Die (which produces the show).

What challenges did you have to overcome?
One of the biggest challenges was related to scaling a short to a multi-episode series and having multiple episodes in both production and in post at the same time. However, all the companies that make up Sim Group have worked on many episodic series over the years, so we were in a really good position to offer advice in terms of how to plan a workflow strategy, how to document things properly and how to coordinate getting their camera and dailies offline media from Atlanta to Post Editorial in Los Angeles.

What tools did they need for post and how involved was Chainsaw?
Chainsaw worked very hard with our Sim Group colleagues in Atlanta to provide a level of coordination that I believe made life much simpler for the Brockmire production/editorial team.

Offline editing for the series was done on our Avid Media composer systems in cutting rooms here in the Chainsaw/SIM Group studio in Los Angeles at the Las Palmas Building.

The Avid dailies media created by Bling-Atlanta, our partner company in the SimGroup, was piped over the Internet each day to Chainsaw. When the Brockmire editorial crew walked into their cutting rooms, their offline dailies media was ready to edit with on their Avid Isis server workspace. Whenever needed, they were also able to access their Arri Alexa full-rez dailies media that had been shipped on Bling drives from Atlanta.

Bling-Atlanta’s workflow supervisor for Brockmire, James Koon, remained fully involved, and was able to supervise the pulling of any clips needed for VFX, or respond to any other dailies related needs.

Deb Wolfe, Funny or Die’s post producer for Brockmire, also had an office here at Chainsaw. She consulted regularly with Annalise Kurinsky (Chainsaw’s in-house producer for Brockmire) and I as they moved along locking cuts and getting ready for post finishing.

In preparation for the finishing work, we were able to set-up color tests with Chainsaw senior colorist Andy Lichtstein, who handled final color for the series in one of our FilmLight Baselight color suites. I should note that all of our Chainsaw finishing rooms were right downstairs on the second floor of the same Sim Group Las Palmas Building.

How closely did you work with Deb Wolfe?
Very closely, especially in dealing with an unexpected production problem. Co-star Amanda Peet was accidentally hit in the head by a thrown beer can (how Brockmire! as they would say in the series). We quickly called in Boyd Stepan, Chainsaw’s Senior VFX artist, and came up with a game plan to do Flame paint fixes on all of the affected Amanda Peet shots. We also provided additional VFX compositing for other planned VFX shots in several of their episodes.

What about the HD online finish?
That was done on Avid Symphony and Baselight by staff online editor Jon Pehlke, making full use of Chainsaw’s Avid/Baselight clip-based AAF workflow.

The last stop in the post process was the Chainsaw Deliverables Department, which took care of QC and requested videotape dubs and creation and digital upload of specified delivery files.

James Koon

Now for James Koon…

James, what challenges did you have to overcome if any?
I would say that the biggest challenge overall with Brockmire was the timeframe. Twenty-four days to shoot eight episodes is ambitious. While in general this doesn’t pose a specific problem in dailies, the tight shooting schedule meant that certain elements of the workflow were going to need more attention. The color workflow, in particular, was one that created a fair amount of discussion — with the tight schedules on set, the DP (Jeffrey Waldron) wanted to get his look, but wasn’t going to have much time, if any, on-set coloring. So we worked with the DP to set up looks before they started shooting that could be stored in the camera and monitored on set and would be applied and tweaked as needed back at the dailies lab with notes from the DP.

Episode information from set to editorial was also an important consideration as they were shooting material from all eight episodes at once. Making sure to cross reference and double check which episode a shot was for was important to make sure that editorial could quickly find what they needed.

Can you walk us through the workflow, and how you worked with the producers?
They shot with the Arri’s Amira and Alexa Mini, monitoring with the LUTs created before production. This material was offloaded to an on-set back-up and a shuttle drive  — we generally use G-Tech G-RAID 4TB Thunderbolt or USB3 and  for local storage a Promise Pegasus drive and a back up on our Facilis Terrablock SAN — that was sent to the lab along with camera notes and any notes from the DP and/or the DIT regarding the look for the material. Once received at the lab we would offload the footage to our local storage and process the footage in the dailies software, syncing the material to the audio mixers recording and logging the episode, scene and take information for every take, using camera notes, script notes and audio logs to make sure that the information was correct and consistent.

We also applied the correct LUT based on camera reports and tweaked color as needed to match cameras and make any adjustments needed from the DPs notes. Once all of that was completed, we would render Avid materials for editorial, create Internet streaming files for IFC’s Box service, as well as creating DVDs.

We would bring in the Avid files and organize them into bins per the editorial specs, and upload the files and bins to the editorial location in LA. These files were delivered directly to a dailies partition on their Isis, so once editorial arrived in the morning, everything was waiting for them.

Once dailies were completed, LTO backups of the media and dailies were written as well as additional temporary backups of the source material as a safety. These final backups were completed and verified by the following morning, and editorial and production were both notified, allowing production to clear cards from the previous day if needed.

What tools did you use for dailies?
We used DaVinci Resolve to set original looks with the DP before the show began shooting, Colorfront Express Dailies for dailies processing, Media Composer for Avid editorial prep and bin organization and Imagine’s PreRoll Post for LTO writing and verification.

A chat with Emmy-winning comedy editor Sue Federman

This sitcom vet talks about cutting Man With A Plan and How I Met Your Mother.

By Dayna McCallum

The art of sitcom editing is overly enjoyed and underappreciated. While millions of people literally laugh out loud every day enjoying their favorite situation comedies, very few give credit to the maestro behind the scenes, the sitcom editor.

Sue Federman is one of the best in the business. Her work on the comedy How I Met Your Mother earned three Emmy wins and six nominations. Now the editor of CBS’ new series, Man With A Plan, Federman is working with comedy legends Matt LeBlanc and James Burrows to create another classic sitcom.

However, Federman’s career in entertainment didn’t start in the cutting room; it started in the orchestra pit! After working as a professional violinist with orchestras in Honolulu and San Francisco, she traded in her bow for an Avid.

We sat down to talk with Federman about the ins and outs of sitcom editing, that pesky studio audience, and her journey from musician to editor.

When did you get involved with your show, and what is your workflow like?
I came onto Man With A Plan (MWAP) after the original pilot had been picked up. They recast one of the leads, so there was a reshoot of about 75 percent of the pilot with our new Andi, Liza Snyder. My job was to integrate the new scenes with the old. It was interesting to preserve the pace and feel of the original and to be free to bring my own spin to the show.

The workflow of the show is pretty fast since there’s only one editor on a traditional audience sitcom. I usually put a show together in two to three days, then work with the producers for one to two days, and then send a pretty finished cut to the studio/network.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an editor on a traditional half-hour comedy?
One big challenge is managing two to three episodes at a time — assembling one show while doing producer or studio/network notes on another, as well as having to cut preshot playbacks for show night, which can be anywhere from three to eight minutes of material that has to be cut pretty quickly.

Another challenge is the live audience laughter. It’s definitely a unique part of this kind of show. I worked on How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM) for nine years without an audience, so I could completely control the pacing. I added fake laughs that fit the performances and things like that. When I came back to a live audience show, I realized the audience is a big part of the way the performances are shaped. I’ve learned all kinds of ways to manipulate the laughs and, hopefully, still preserve the spontaneous live energy of the show.

How would you compare cutting comedy to drama?
I haven’t done much drama, but I feel like the pace of comedy is faster in every regard, and I really enjoy working at a fast pace. Also, as opposed to a drama or anything shot single-camera, the coverage on a multi-cam show is pretty straightforward, so it’s really all about performance and pacing. There’s not a lot of music in a multi-cam, but you spend a lot of time working with the audience tracks.

What role would you say an editor has in helping to make a “bit” land in a half-hour comedy?
It’s performance, timing and camera choices — and when it works, it feels great. I’m always amazed at how changing an edit by a frame or two can make something pop. Same goes for playing something wider or closer depending on the situation.

MWAP is shot before a live studio audience. How does that affect your rhythm?
The audience definitely affects the rhythm of the show. I try to preserve the feeling of the laughs and still keep the show moving. A really long laugh is great on show night, but usually we cut it down a bit and play off more reactions. The actors on MWAP are great because they really know how to “ride” the laughs and not break character. I love watching great comedic actors, like the cast of I Love Lucy, for example, who were incredible at holding for laughs. It’s a real asset and very helpful to the editor.

Can you describe your process? And what system do you edit the show on?
I’ve always used the Avid Media Composer. Dabbled with Final Cut, but prefer Avid. I assemble the whole show in one sequence and go scene by scene. I watch all of the takes of a scene and make choices for each section or sometimes for each line. Then I chunk the scene together, sometimes putting in two choices for a line or area. I then cut into the big pieces to select the cameras for each shot. After that, I go back and find the rhythm of the scene — tightening the pace, cutting into the laughs and smoothing them.

After the show is put together, I go back and watch the whole thing again, pretending that I’ve never seen it, which is a challenge. That makes me adjust it even more. I try to send out a pretty polished first cut, without cutting any dialogue to show the producers everything, which seems to make the whole process go faster. I’m lucky that the directors on MWAP are very seasoned and don’t really give me many notes. Jimmy Burrows and Pam Fryman have directed almost all of the episodes, and I don’t send out a separate cut to either of them. Particularly with Pam, as I’ve worked with her for about 11 years, so we have a nice shorthand.

How do assistant editors work into the mix?
My assistant, Dan “Steely” Esparza, is incredible! He allows me to show up to work every day and not think about anything other than cutting the show. He’s told me, even though I always ask, that he prefers not to be an editor, so I don’t push him in that direction. He is excellent at visual effects and enjoys them, so I always have him do those. On HIMYM, we had quite a lot of visual effects, so he was pretty busy there. But on MWAP, it’s mostly rough composites for blue/greenscreen scenes and painting out errant boom shadows, boom mics and parts of people.

Your work on HIMYM was highly lauded. What are some of your favorite “editing” moments from that show and what were some of the biggest challenges they threw at you?
I really loved working on that show — every episode was unique, and it really gave me opportunities to grow as an editor. Carter Bays and Craig Thomas were amazing problem solvers. They were able to look at the footage and make something completely different out of it if need be. I remember times when a scene wasn’t working or was too long, and they would write some narration, record the temp themselves, and then we’d throw some music over it and make it into a montage.

Some of the biggest editing challenges were the music videos/sequences that were incorporated into episodes. There were three complete Robin Sparkles videos and many, many other musical pieces, almost always written by Carter and Craig. In “P.S. I Love You,” they incorporated her last video into kind of a Canadian Behind the Music about the demise of Robin Sparkles, and that was pretty epic for a sitcom. The gigantic “Subway Wars” was another big challenge, in that it had 85 “scenelets.” It was a five-way race around Manhattan to see who could get to a restaurant where Woody Allen was supposedly eating first, with each person using a different mode of transportation. Crazy fun and also extremely challenging to fit into a sitcom schedule.

You started in the business as a classical musician. How does your experience as a professional violinist influence your work as an editor?
I think the biggest thing is having a good feeling for the rhythm of whatever I’m working on. I love to be able to change the tempo and to make something really pop. And when asked to change the pacing or cut sections out, when doing various people’s notes, being able to embrace that too. Collaborating is a big part of being a musician, and I think that’s helped me a lot in working with the different personalities. It’s not unlike responding to a conductor or playing chamber music. Also having an understanding of phrasing and the overall structure of a piece is valuable, even though it was musical phrasing and structure, it’s not all that different.

Obviously, whenever there’s actual music involved, I feel pretty comfortable handling it or choosing the right piece for a scene. If classical music’s involved, I have a great deal of knowledge that can be helpful. For example, in HIMYM, we needed something to be a theme for Barney’s Playbook antics. I tried a few things, and we landed on the Mozart Rondo Alla Turca, which I’ve been hearing lately in the Progresso Soup commercials.

How did you make the transition from the concert hall to the editing room?
It’s a long story! I was playing in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and was feeling stuck. I was lucky enough to find an amazing career counseling organization that helped me open my mind to all kinds of possibilities, and they helped me to discover the perfect job for me. It was quite a journey, but the main thing was to be open to anything and identify the things about myself that I wanted to use. I learned that I loved music (but not playing the violin), puzzles, stories and organizing — so editing!

I sold a bow, took the summer off from playing and enrolled in a summer production workshop at USC. I wasn’t quite ready to move to LA, so I went back to San Francisco and began interning at a small commercial editing house. I was answering phones, emptying the dishwasher, getting coffees and watching the editing, all while continuing to play in the Ballet Orchestra. The people were great and gave me opportunities to learn whenever possible. Luckily for me, they were using the Avid before it came to TV and features. Eventually, there was a very rough documentary that one of the editors wanted to cut, but it wasn’t organized. They gave me the key to the office and said, “You want to be an editor? Organize this!” So I did, and they started offering me assistant work on commercials. But I wanted to cut features, so I started to make little trips to LA to meet anybody I could.

Bill Steinberg, an editor working in the Universal Syndication department who I met at USC, got me hooked up with an editor who was to be one of Roger Corman’s first Avid editors. The Avids didn’t arrive right away, but he helped me put my name in the hat to be an assistant the next time. It happened, and I was on my way! I took a sabbatical from the orchestra, went down to LA, and worked my tail off for $400 a week on three low-budget features. I was in heaven. I had enough hours to join the union as an assistant, but I needed money to pay the admission fee. So I went back to San Francisco and played one month of Nutcrackers to cover the fee, and then I took another year sabbatical. Bill offered me a month position in the syndication department to fill in for him, and show the film editors what I knew about the Avid.

Eventually Andy Chulack, the editor of Coach, was looking for an Avid assistant, and I was recommended because I knew it. Andy hired me and took me under his wing, and I absolutely loved it. I guess the upshot is, I was fearlessly naive and knew the Avid!

What do you love most about being an editor?
I love the variation of material and people that I get to work with, and I like being able to take time to refine things. I don’t have to play it live anymore!

Bates Motel’s Emmy-nominated composer Chris Bacon

By Jennifer Walden

The creators of A&E’s Bates Motel series have proven that it is possible to successfully rework a classic film for the small screen. The series, returning for Season 5 in 2017, is a contemporary prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. It tells the story of how a young Norman Bates becomes the Norman Bates of film legend.

Understandably, when the words “contemporary” and “prequel” are combined, it may induce a cringe or two, as LA-based composer Chris Bacon admits. “When I first heard about the series, I thought, ‘That sounds like a terrible idea.’ Usually when you mess with an iconic film, the project can go south pretty quick, but then I heard who was involved — writers/producers Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin. I’m a huge fan of their work on Lost and Friday Night Lights, so the idea sounded much more appealing. I went from feeling like ‘this is a terrible idea’ to ‘how do I get involved in this!’”

Chris Bacon

Bacon, who has been the Bates Motel composer since Season 1, says their goal from the start was to make a series that wasn’t a Psycho knock-off. “It was not our goal to tip our hats in obvious ways to Psycho. We weren’t trying to make it an homage. We weren’t trying to inhabit the universe that was so masterfully created by Alfred Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann,” he explains.

Borrowing Some Strings
Having a long-established love of Herrmann’s music, it was hard for Bacon not to follow the composer’s lead, particularly when it came to instrumentation. Bates Motel’s score strongly features — you guessed it — strings. “One reason Herrmann stuck solely to strings was because the film was black and white,” explains Bacon. “He chose a monochromatic palette, as far as sound goes, without having woodwind and percussion. On the series, I take it farther. I use percussion and synth effects, but it is mostly string driven.”

Since the strings are the core of the score, Bacon felt the expressive qualities that live musicians add to the music would be more emotionally impactful than what he could get from virtual instruments. “I did the first three episodes using all virtual instruments. They sounded good and they did their job dramatically, but in talking further to the people involved who handle the purse strings, I was able to convince them to try an episode with a real string section.”

Once Bacon was able to A/B the virtual strings against the real strings, there was no denying the benefit of a live string section. “They could hear what real musicians can bring to the music —the kind of homogenous imperfection that comes when you have that many people who are all outstanding but with each of them treating the music just a little bit differently. It brings new life to it. There’s a lot of depth to it. I feel very fortunate and appreciative that the account team on the show has been supportive of this.”

Tools & Workflow
For the score each week, Bacon composes in Steinberg Cubase and runs Ableton Live via ReWire by Propellerhead. His samples are hosted in Vienna Ensemble Pro on a separate computer while all audio is monitored and processed through Avid Pro Tools on a separate rig. Since his compositions start with virBates Motel -- "Forever" -- Cate Cameron/A&E Networks -- © 2016 A&E Networks, LLC. All Rights Reservedtual instruments, Bacon has an extensive collection of sample libraries. He uses string libraries from Cinesamples, 8Dio and Spitfire Audio. “I have lots of custom stuff,” he says. “I love the Vintage Steinway D Piano from Galaxy.”

Once he’s completed the cues, he hands his MIDI tracks over to orchestrator Robert Litton, who determines the note assignments for each member of the 18-piece string section. The group is recorded at The Bridge Recording studio in Glendale, California, owned by Greg Curtis. There, Bacon joins recording engineer James Hill in the control room. “I enjoy conducting if I can, but on this series it makes more sense for me to be in the control room because we often have only three hours to record roughly 35 minutes of music. Also, the music always sounds different in the control room. Ultimately, when you are doing this kind of work, what matters is what is coming out of the speakers because that’s what you’re actually going to hear in the soundtrack.”

After the live strings are recorded, engineer Hill mixes those against the virtual instrument stems of the woodwinds, percussion and synth elements. He creates a stem of the live strings to replace the virtual strings stem.

“We don’t do an in-depth mix like you would typically do for film,” says Bacon. “At this point, I’m able to leave Jim [Hill] the demo song as a reference and let him do a quick mix. Then, he creates a live string stem and all of those stems are sent over to the dub stage.”

In Season 4, Ep. 9 “Forever,” the moment arrived when young Norman (Freddie Highmore) did what he was destined to do— kill his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga). That’s not much of a spoiler if you’re familiar with the film Psycho, but what wasn’t known was just how Norman would do it. “This death scene was something I had been thinking about for four years. The way they did it — and I think they got it right — was that they made the death a very personal, emotional, thoughtful and, in a very twisted way, probably the most considerate way you can kill your mother,” laughs Bacon. “But really it was the only way that he and his mother, these two damaged broken people, could find peace together… and that was in death.”

The Norma/Norman Theme
In the four-and-a half-minute scene that reveals Norma and Norman’s lifeless bodies, Bacon portrays tension, fear and sadness by weaving a theme that he wrote for Norma with a theme he wrote for Norman and Norma. Norma’s theme in the death scene plays on a large section of violins as her new husband Alex (Nestor Carbonell) tries to resuscitate her.

“The foundation for her song has been laid over the course of two seasons, starting in Season 2, where we look at her family background, like her parents and her brother, and discover how she became her,” explains Bacon. “I didn’t really know which of her themes I was going to use for her death scene, but it seemed to feel, as we’re looking at Norma, that this is a moment about her, so I went back to that theme.”

As Norman wakes up, Bacon’s theme for Norman and Norma plays on sparse piano. In comparison to Norma’s theme on soaring strings, this theme feels small, and lost, highlighting Norman’s shock and sadness that he’s survived but now she’s gone. “The score had to convey a lot of emotions,” describes Bacon. “I tried to keep it relatively simple but as we went bigger it seemed to fit the enormity of the moment. This is a big moment that we all knew was coming and kind of dreaded. The piece feels different than the rest of the show, and rightfully so, while still being a part of the same sonicBates Motel -- "Norman" -- Cate Cameron/A&E Networks -- © 2016 A&E Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved landscape.”

His original dramatic score on the “Forever” episode has been nominated for a 2016 Emmy award. Bacon says he chose this episode, above all the others in Season 4, because of the emotionally visceral death scene. It’s a big moment for the story and the score.

“During the whole death sequence there are barely any words. Alex is saying, ‘Stay with me,’ to Norma. Then you have Norman wake up and say, ‘Mother?’ at the very end. But that’s it. That section is like a silent movie in a lot of ways. It’s very reliant on the score.”

The sounds ‘Inside Amy Schumer’

By Jennifer Walden

After four seasons of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer, it’s hard to imagine still being shocked by the comic’s particular brand of comedy. Somehow Schumer still manages to make jokes that leave you uncomfortable — jokes that are so, so wrong, but so, so funny that you can’t help but laugh. Like the image-building pop song that Schumer and her three friends belt out karaoke-style in the show opener for episode 407, “Psychopath Test.”

The empowering lyrics, provided by Schumer’s writing team, proclaim, “Just be strong cause haters gonna hate. So falsely accuse a college lacrosse team of rape. Go ahead, girl, you a hero. Selfie sticks bitch take pics at Ground Zero. You’re a perfect 10, between nine and eleven. Never forget, you are beautiful.”

The variety-show approach to the half-hour series only adds fuel to Schumer’s creative fire. There are on-set scripted skits, man-on-the-street interviews, comedy club performances and random music videos like Milk Milk Lemonade — with music created by composers Chris Maxwell and Phil Hernandez of Elegant Too in New York City. The duo also created the catchy music for episode 407’s “You are Beautiful” karaoke song.

Great City Post
Chief audio engineer Ian Stynes at Great City Post in NYC has been handling the show’s sound post since the pilot episode with additional mixing by Jay Culliton. He says that although the show’s budget is not quite what people would expect, everybody involved with Inside Amy Schumer has high expectations for it. “We’re always asking, ‘Is this the best we can do?’ The process can be a little down and dirty sometimes, but working with the producers and editors at Running Man Post is amazing. They’ve really fine tuned things at this point. They’re very good at prepping it for sound post,” Stynes shares.

Stynes and Culliton typically spend four days cleaning, doing the edit, the sound design and pre-mix of an episode using Avid Pro Tools 12. Then Stynes is joined at Great City Post by show creator/executive producer Dan Powell, producer Ryan Cunningham from Running Man, executive producer Kevin Kane, executive producer/head writer Jessi Klein and Amy Schumer for a half-day of final playback and edits. “Amy has been in for almost every mix session this season. She is very hands-on and really fun to work with,” says Stynes.

While the production tracks, provided by sound mixer Matt McLarty, are always well recorded, Stynes admits there was a sketch in episode 408, “Everyone for Themselves,” that was particularly challenging from a production sound standpoint. In the sketch, 16 people are in a Lamaze class voicing their concerns over their kids being assholes. “There was no boom and it’s a wide shot, so there were 16 lav mics, some of which were cutting in and out,” says Stynes, who has years of experience in cutting dialogue for narrative features.

In terms of tools, in addition to Pro Tools, he uses iZotope RX5 for cleaning, Avid’s EQ III for frequency management,and various Waves compressors (including his new favorite — Kramer PIE) to help the scene play smoothly. “You spend a lot of time and effort to put something together and hope that no one will think twice about the fact that you did anything at all with the dialogue edit.”

Another interesting sound-driven scene is Bridget Everett’s closing performance in episode 408. She performs a call-to-action song called “Eat It, Eat It” on stage at a comedy club. She’s singing along live to a backing track. In post, Stynes had tracks with Everett’s handheld mic and boom mics, plus the vocal splits and other stems from the composed tracks. “There were pretty good options to work with in the mix,” says Stynes.

Coming from a music background, Stynes is not shy about diving into the music stems to do different treatments on the vocals, or even significantly altering the tracks. In the first season, for a 1920s-era sketch called “A Porn Star is Born,” Amy and her friend discover cocaine. Stynes says, “Composer Chris Anderson wrote an awesome old-timey song for a montage in it. It came to me split out into 30 tracks of stems because the showrunners wanted to make a part of it sound vintage. I ended up speeding up a whole section and edited in different things. Sometimes the music editing can get pretty complicated on this show.”

The show’s format offers plenty of opportunity on the sound design side as well. Last season, in episode 303, “80s Ladies,” there is a sketch where Schumer is in a bar with her friends and she decides to ride a mechanical bull to look sexy. Instead, she ends up failing, hurting herself badly and not looking sexy at all.

“There can be so many layers that we get to create and mix in. The show is very cinematic at times,” says Stynes. “For this scene there was score, and source music. There were a bunch of production tracks to clean up. There was a DJ in the room that we recorded ADR lines for, so we had to match his production lines. There was bar ambience and background walla. There were sounds for Amy getting knocked about on the bull. We added a whole layer for the mechanical bull speeding up and slowing down. That was a fun scene.”

He recalls another fun sound design scene, from Season 2, “Schumerenka vs. Everett,” in which Schumer and Everett compete in a tennis match. Schumer distracts the judges and fools the commentators into thinking she is better than she is by being a sexy tennis player. “Once again, it can be very similar to working on a full-length narrative feature film. We added in all of the ambiences, reactions for the crowds, the footsteps on the tennis court, the ball and body movements, and so on.”

Jay and Ian at work.

There is no Foley on the show, so footsteps, touches and clothing movements are cut in when necessary from Great City Post’s extensive collection of sound effects, which, luckily for the Schumer team, includes hundreds of farts sounds. “There was a really great skit where a murderer comes into Amy’s house. The thing is, when she gets scared… she farts. So she is unsuccessfully hiding from the murderer in the closet and farting. We spent 20 minutes going through every fart we had in our library, analyzing them, like, ‘Oh no, it should be juicer. It’s a weird way to spend your time,” says Stynes, “but all things considered, it’s not such a bad way to earn your paycheck.”

Post sound editing and mixing is done in Pro Tools 12. Stynes likes the upgrade to this version specifically for the offline bounce feature, which is a real time-saver when generating the significant amount of deliverables that Comedy Central requires. “They want a 5.1 mix, stereo mix, a version without VO fully mixed, bleeped mono, non-bleeped mono, dual mono, all sorts of stems for everything,” says Stynes.

Now instead of spending a half hour on every single split bounce, each bounce only takes a minute. Still, Stynes says, “It takes a few hours to version it out, and bounce it down, and put together all the different deliverables Comedy Central requires for the show.”

“The best part about working on Inside Amy Schumer really is that everyone sincerely wants it to be the best show it can be and do their best to follow through with that sentiment. From the showrunners and producers to the team at Running Man to all the folks here at Great City — right up to the top with Amy Schumer actually coming in to the mix sessions and getting involved. Really, it’s very rewarding and a lot of fun,” Stynes concludes.

AMC’s ‘Preacher’: Creating a sound path for the series

By Jennifer Walden

When I heard that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg developed a TV series for AMC based on the comic book series penned by Garth Ennis, I was immediately hooked. Would Preacher be like Pineapple Express? Or more like This Is The End?

Turns out it’s more like This is the End meets Breaking Bad, thanks to Preacher co-writer/executive producer Sam Catlin, who held those same titles on the long-running Breaking Bad series. But Catlin isn’t the only Breaking Bad alum involved in Preacher; composer Dave Porter and picture editor Kelley Dixon (editor on Preacher’s pilot) also had a hand in the series.

Michael Babcock

Michael Babcock

Handling the pilot’s sound was supervising sound editor/sound designer Michael Babcock at Warner Bros. in Burbank — a surprising name to find attached to a TV series, because these days he regularly works on feature films. But when you hear that those films include the Rogen/Goldberg offerings The Interview, This is the End and Neighbors, you understand the jump to TV for this series.

“Seth and Evan are really fun to work with because they come up with original storylines,” explains Babcock. “One reason I wanted to dip my toe back into the TV world was because they were developing this series. It was an excuse for me to make cool sounds for them.”

Although Babcock’s schedule only allowed him to supervise the pilot’s sound, he is still able to contribute sound design on episodes. Richard Yawn took over as supervising sound editor for the rest of the season.

In The Beginning
Preacher’s pilot opens on bold, block type of the words “Outer Space” superimposed over a retro representation of our solar system through which a ball of light flies. This ball eventually crashes on Earth, in the heart of Africa, into the body of a preacher. Sound-wise, the outer-space scene is carried by sound design, with no music or voiceover. Air raid sirens, awash in reverb, act as an underscore while sand-sprinkled sci-fi whooshes accompany the supernatural entity’s flight through the ether.

Rogen and Goldberg were very involved in the sound, says Babcock. “The sound all came out of their heads. They had all of these ideas and themes of what they envisioned these things would sound like.”

Babcock based his sound palette on the themes that Rogen and Goldberg described, like baby sounds, water and heartbeats. “I kept trying to build on their themes. It helps me as a sound designer when a director asks for a specific emotion or sound as their direction,” he says. “For example, if the scene was in a dark room and we needed a dark tone, then I’d stick with slowing down heartbeats or underwater ambience and rumbling. I just tried to stick with those themes.”

The concept for the supernatural entity — which came from Rogen and Goldberg — was that it was like a baby being born. So Babcock designed its sound using baby-related elements, like an ultrasound heartbeat, layered with reversed or manipulated baby vocalizations. When the entity possesses a host, like that first preacher in Africa, it exists inside that person. Using that idea, Babcock worked with womb related sounds, like underwater ambiences that he slowed and pitched.

Throughout the pilot, the entity is searching for the perfect host. It’s tries out different religious figures, including Tom Cruise, and then explodes them if they’re not a match. It eventually ends up inside Preacher’s protagonist, Jesse (Dominic Cooper), a small-town preacher who has possessed a dark side long before the entity possesses him.

“The entity is not just this evil demon thing; there’s more to it. It’s basically growing up as the season goes along, so that’s why Seth and Evan decided to use baby sounds,” explains Babcock. (Those that watched the Directors Commentary version of the pilot will remember that Rogen and Goldberg noted the entity’s sound as a clue for the season.)

Babcock describes the scene in which Jesse is in the church at night, right before the entity finds him. It blows open the doors and knocks the church pews aside as it moves down the aisle. As the entity slams into Jesse, he’s thrown across the room and into the wall. In keeping with the water theme, Babcock says, “I used depth charge sounds for the pews being forced aside. That scene was actually a lot of fun because that’s where I got a chance to really hone-in on what had become the entity heartbeat sound.”

God-Like Sound Design
Following his work on the pilot, Babcock’s main focus for sound design on the other episodes relates to the preacher Jesse, and, in particular, his voice. “Jesse goes into the voice of God mode where he’s channeling this entity,” explains Babcock. To create the vocal effect, Babcock starts with the production dialogue in his Avid Pro Tools 12 session. He runs it through the Waves Renaissance Bass (RBass) plug-in to create a richer low end sound by adding a bit of chorusing. Then, if the lines need more of a rumble, Babcock runs them through Avid’s Pro Subharmonic plug-in. Next, he adds in shaking and wave rumbling sound effects to hit each syllable, the amount depending on how intense or aggressive Jesse needs to be. “It’s a process we are calling ‘the kitchen sink,’ so they’ll say, ‘on this one it needs the kitchen sink.’”

The pilot offered Babcock numerous sound design opportunities. There is blood and gore for the African preacher blowing up, and for the cow that gets rapidly devoured by the vampire, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun). There’s even a subtle cow death that occurs off-screen in the slaughterhouse scene when Jesse visits Betsy Schenck (Jamie Anne Allman). “In that scene, there is a door opening, and in the time it takes for the door to open and close there is a cow moo and then a gun shot. I don’t know if people have picked up on it because it only happens in one place, but that is the humor of Seth and Evan,” comments Babcock.

There was hand-to-hand combat to design, like for Cassidy’s confrontation on the plane, which he also manages to set on fire. Then there is the Tarantino-esque fight scene where Tulip (Ruth Negga) neutralizes her assailants as her car plows through a cornfield. “We had a bunch of recordings that we did for Interstellar where they wiped out a bunch of cornfields in the film. Sound designer Richard King literally drove a truck through a farmer’s cornfield, after they had harvested the crop, and recorded all of that corn being mowed down. I borrowed those recordings to use for the car fight, to go all around in the surrounds,” says Babcock.

Much of Babcock’s sound design sets the tone for the rest of the season. An example of a reoccurring sound is the church ambience. Babcock used wooden boat creaks and placed them around the room in the 5.1 environment. “They are slowed down so it has this creaking, breathing feel to it. That’s the sound they’re using at night when the church is empty,” he says.

Final Mix
Preacher’s final 5.1 mix was done at Sony Pictures Studios by Deb Adair handling music/dialogue and Ian Herzon taking on sound effects/Foley/backgrounds. As directors for the feature film industry, it’s no surprise that Rogen and Goldberg wanted the Preacher pilot to sound as dynamic and impactful as a theatrical release. That can be difficult to achieve when dealing with television sound specs.

“This is the kind of show where the story needs to be supported by some pretty heavy dynamics to be quiet and loud. I think of all the things that you have to deal with on a creative level… dealing with broadcast spec is just as challenging because Seth and Evan want the show to look theatrical, and they want it to sound theatrical, too,” concludes Babcock.

If you haven’t already, you can check out Preacher on AMC, Sundays at 9/8c.

Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney

Kabir Akhtar: Editing The CW series ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

By Randi Altman

When Kabir Akhtar, ACE, who cut season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, got the itch to start editing, he didn’t even know that what he was doing was actually editing… he was just having some fun. In high school, Akhtar would use his computer, multiple tape decks and stereos to record and mix different songs, creating mash-ups, remixes and even musical voicemail messages. An editor was born!

After moving out to LA and paying his dues working on unscripted and music video shows, Akhtar went on to earn one Emmy nomination for editing the Billy Crystal opening sequence from the 2012 Academy Awards broadcast and another (along with frequent collaborator AJ Dickerson) for his work on Netflix’s Arrested Development in 2013.

With an editing resume that now also includes New Girl, The Daily Show and Behind the Music, Akhtar took on directing (the pilot episode of the MTV series 8th & Ocean, Unsolved Mysteries, the Billy Crystal/Melissa McCarthy opening for the 2012 Oscars, and the TV Diaries pilot for Fox) and garnered an associate producer title on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This Penn graduate, who went on to film school at the University of Miami, knew all along that he wanted to work in scripted television. “I moved out here to get involved in narrative filmmaking and storytelling, and I felt very strongly that until I got a job doing that, I wasn’t going to stay at another job very long.”

Akhtar also knew he didn’t want to do the same job for years at a time. He was young and wanted to have different experiences that allowed him to meet different people. “I think I intentionally avoided having a steady gig for a very long time because as I moved from one job to another, I continued to build a network of contacts and people that I liked working with. I got more experience and more credits, which I think served me well in those early years. Others like the financial security that comes with having a steady job. I know my path is not for everybody.”

Akhtar still works freelance, too. In fact, while on hiatus from The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he cut the pilot for Speechless for ABC, which just got picked up.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Akhtar and find out more about what led him to this quirky TV series, which is a one-hour musical comedy.

When did you get involved on the show, and what’s your workflow like?
I edited the pilot, which was a half-hour show, in the fall of 2014. We thought we made a great show, but Showtime passed. The good news was it was shopped around to other networks and got a pick-up at The CW. They turned it into a one-hour show, which was such a unique thing because nobody was making a one-hour musical comedy.

You have cut traditional half-hour comedies in the past, how was this different?
When the show became a one-hour, it gave us the opportunity to do more dramatic storytelling in addition to the comedy. In half-hours, you’re moving really fast to try to tell a story and land jokes, but with a one-hour you have time to dig into supporting characters’ stories and have more built-out emotional scenes. We can take the time to land emotions instead of just being in a race to get X number of jokes out every minute.

How does that affect the way that you edit? Do you let a reaction go a little bit longer? Do you let a joke sit longer?
The thing that helps the most is that our writers don’t overwrite the show. My first cut will usually only be a few minutes over, and at the end we’re rarely stuck with a show that’s more than a minute over, which is great. It’s the worst when you get a show down to the end, to a deadline, and you’re still 30 seconds over and you have to take out a joke that everybody likes.

Doing Arrested Development for Netflix, we didn’t have those parameters. With a network show, you have to deliver a show exactly to time, but for Netflix (like some cable networks), we didn’t have to hit a specific runtime per episode, so we never had to lose a joke or a story point “for time.”

Kabir Akhtar and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom the day after she won her Golden Globe.

How much footage do you have for one episode?
For each one-hour episode, we shoot seven days. That includes two or three musical numbers, which are essentially music videos. Like all scripted shows, we have one day of editing for every day of footage that comes in, plus another two or three days to get a first cut together (but with us it’s typically been two).

Because we’re a one-hour show, the directors come in after my first cut, and they get four days. We work with our producers, and then we go to the studio, then to the network, then we lock the show.

What about cutting the musical numbers?
I switched to a standing desk a few years ago, and that makes it a lot easier to cut music, because I will inevitably end up dancing along as I’m cutting. I’m convinced that it helps. I started my career cutting so much music, so I’ve always loved doing it. To have the opportunity to be cutting musical numbers, comedy scenes and some dramatic scenes for one show is so much fun.

Would you like to share your philosophy of editing?
Attitude-wise, it’s about protecting the show, I really believe that’s job one.

What about technically?
I have a workflow that I believe is different than most editors. I think many editors do a first cut of each scene as it comes in. Then, at the end of dailies, they glue the show together. I am not good at that at all.

What’s your process?
When I get a scene, my assistant editor Kyla Plewes and I will work with the Script Windows in Avid Media Composer — it allows you to very quickly pick through takes and performances, and it’s opened up the amount of options you have in the limited time that you have. I’ll go through a scene left to right and start to frame it out to get it shaped right. As I’m going through, I feel like I’m too close to it. My eyes are right up against every detail in the frame, like continuity issues and the smallest nuances of performance.

I’ll start with a clean take for line one and then have a different take for the second line, and then I’ll realize it didn’t work so I’ll try that first take again and try another take for that second line — I’m intentionally making mistakes over and over to stay open to finding something great by riffing, and I just keep making copies in a sequence. I don’t delete any of the stuff I’m doing, I keep making a giant mess, like putting all the Legos together, except I have a copy of each Lego. Eventually, I find pieces that click together a way that feels right and work my way across the whole scene that way.

When I get to the end, I’ve figured out the connective tissue and I have many copies of all of the individual pieces, but I’ve no idea how they go together. I have piles of connected Legos, alt versions of selected takes, but not a finished sequence. Again, because I feel I’m too close to it, having just done it, I put it away and start the next scene. Then I come back to it at the end of dailies, about a week later, and it all makes perfect sense… the pieces that want to be in the show flow and stand out immediately. By then I’ve seen all the footage for the whole show and I can gauge accurately how best to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Can you talk about assistant editors and how they fit into the mix?
When you have a good AE, it’s really important to give them opportunities to get better at cutting or at working with people. I don’t know how you’re going to learn otherwise. I think everyone is looking for someone above us to give us an opportunity. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes working on a show when you’ve got a great assistant. I think I had years of working on shows with no AEs at all.

Our lead assistant editor on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kyla, works on the side editing online content, which I think is the way to go these days in terms of growing your editing skills.

If you want to keep learning your craft you have to find things to edit, right?
Yeah, I went the path of editing, editing, editing, editing. The only two jobs I’ve ever had are editing and directing. Going the AE route, you might get an episode to edit on a show that you’ve been working on. But that can also be tough, because the people you’re working for still see you as an assistant editor. It can be difficult to change people’s perceptions of you if you’re staying at one job for a long time. Also, if that’s your first editing credit, it can be a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room to fail without consequences.

I feel pretty fortunate that my first jobs were lower profile projects. I certainly made large mistakes, like delivering a show out of phase once. But I was working for such a small company, luckily I didn’t get fired.

You have to make mistakes to learn as you go, I imagine?
You work your way up to these bigger things. It’s bad to deliver a show out of phase, but it’s way worse to do that if your first one of those is on a big multi-million-dollar episode. Everybody fails; you have to fail to grow. I’m still doing both — but hopefully more growing than failing.

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Main Image: Kabir Akhtar and Rachel Bloom after hearing about her Golden Globe nomination for her performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.