Category Archives: Emmy Awards

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.

DG 7.9.18

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.

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.”

In Season 7, Episode 6, “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.

—————-

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.