Audionamix – 7.1.20

Category Archives: on-set

VFX supervisor Jay Worth talks Season 2 of Netflix’s Altered Carbon

By Barry Goch

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is now streaming Season 2, with a new lead in Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs in a new skin. He’s the only surviving soldier of a group of elite interstellar warriors, continuing his centuries-old quest to find his lost love, Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry). After decades of planet-hopping and searching the galaxy, Kovacs finds himself recruited back to his home planet of Harlan’s World with the promise of finding Quell. In this world of Altered Carbon, lives can be continued after death by taking on a new skin and using the person’s stack — or brain.

Jay Worth — Credit: Rob Flate

As you can imagine, there are a ton of visual effects used to tell Takeshi’s story. To find out more, we reached out to Jay Worth, an Emmy Award-winning VFX supervisor with 15 years of experience working in visual effects. His credits include Fringe, Person of Interest and Westworld, for which he won the Emmy for Outstanding Special Visual Effects in 2017.

How did you get involved in Altered Carbon?
I have a relationship with showrunner Alison Schapker. We go way back to the good old days of Fringe and a few other things. I had worked with the head of visual effects and post for Skydance, Dieter Ismagil, and then I had just come off of working on a Netflix show. It worked out for all three of those parties to come together and have me join the team. It was a fun bit of a reunion for us to get back together.

At what point did you come on board for Season 2?
I came in after it was shot in order to usher things through post and the final creative push through the final delivery. VFX producer Tony Meagher and I were able to keep the ball rolling and push it through to the final. The VFX team at Double Negative and the other vendors that we had were really able to carry it through from the beginning to the end as well.

Tell us about your review process. Where were you based?
We were in Los Angeles — the showrunners, Tony Meagher and I — but the rest of the team was in Toronto: our VFX coordinator, VFX editor, post team and DI facility (Deluxe Toronto). The VFX vendors were spread across Canada. The interesting thing for us was how to set up the review process while being in Los Angeles. We relied really completely on ClearView and that amazing technology. We were able to do editorial reviews and full-range color UHD review sessions for final VFX shots. It was a beautiful process. Being able to review many things in the edit and make a checklist was useful. Then we needed to look at this one in color, so being able to go downstairs and just flip a switch in our bay and have our beautifully calibrated setup was amazing. That afforded us the ability to work seamlessly even though we weren’t all in the same place.

This was the first time I had done a show that was so remote. I’ve done many shows where editorial is in one place and the VFX team is in another, but this was the first time I’d done something this ambitious. We did everything remotely, from editorial reviews to effects reviews to color and even the sound, and it was really an amazing, far more seamless process than I thought it would be when we started. The team at Skydance, the production team and the post team really had all the variables dialed in, and it was really painless considering we were spread out. The editorial team and the VFX team on the show side were just phenomenal in terms of how they were able to coordinate with everybody.

       
Before and After

This production predates the COVID-19 restrictions. Do you think that would have impacted your production?
It would have been a challenge, but not impossible. We would have probably ended up having more ClearView boxes for the team in order to work remotely. I’ve worked recently on other shows that have the colorists working from home, and they’re all tapping into the same box; it just happens to be a pipeline issue. It was doable before, but now there’s just a little bit more back and forth to set up the pipeline.

What was the hardest sequence on “Broken Angels,” the last episode of the season, and why?
One of the larger challenges in visual effects is how to convey something visually from a story perspective and still have it feel real and organic. A lot of times, it ends up being a more challenging hurdle to get over from a visual standpoint when the storytellers are trusting you to help convey these different story points. That’s really where visual effects shine: When you are willing to take on that risk and that narrative responsibility, that’s really where the fun lies.

For the finale, it was telling the story of Angelfire. People kind of understand the overarching idea of satellites and weapons from space, but we had to help people understand the communication between them. We also needed them to understand how it connects to the older technology and what that’s going to mean for our characters. That was by far the biggest challenge for that episode and for the season.

Tell us about the look development of the Angelfire.
It was definitely a journey, but it started with the page and trying to visualize it. Alison Schapker and EP James Middleton had written up what these moments were going to be: a communication tower and a force field around a planet they didn’t quite understand. That was part of the mystery for the viewers and the characters as they were going through the season.

Our goal, from a visual effects standpoint, was to show this ancient-yet-modern communication and to figure out how to visually tell the story of how these things are communicating … that they’re all kind of like-minded and they’re protective. We key that up when Danica fires off the rocket with the rebels attached to them so we can see firsthand what these orbitals can do. Then we see Angelfire come down on the soldiers in the forest.

We’re starting to understand more and more what this thing does so that we can understand what the sacrifice really means … to figure out what the orbitals are and how they could look and feel organic and threatening as well as benign and ultimately destructive. I feel like we ended at a point where it makes sense and it all works together, but at the beginning, when you have a blank canvas, it’s a rather daunting task to figure out what it all should look like.

We had so many conversations about how to depict Angelfire. Should it be more like glass breaking? Should it be like lightning? Should it be like a wave? Should it just crackle? Should it splash in? We had so many iterations of things that just didn’t feel or look quite right. It didn’t convey what we wanted it to convey. “It looks too digital; it looks fake.” To end up with something that felt integrated into the environment and the sky was a testament not only to the team’s perseverance but to Alison’s and James’ patience, leadership and ability to explain creatively what they were going for. I’m really happy with where we finally landed.

How did you lock in the final look?
We wanted it to feel organic and real for the audience. We had a lot of different meetings to talk about what perspective we were going to take — how high up we need to be, how close we need to be to understand that they were communicating with each other and still firing — and whether those different perspectives should be down on the ground or up in the sky. We figured it out with editorial while we were locking episodes, which is a fairly normal process when you’re dealing with full CG shots mixed with pieces that we shot on the day.

We obviously had numerous versions of animatics, and we had to figure out how it was going to work in the edit before we could lock down animation and timing. Honestly, for the final moments when Kovacs sacrificed himself and Angelfire was going off, we were tweaking those with editorial, and our editorial team did a phenomenal job of helping us realize the moment.

Any people or companies that you want to give a shout-out to?
Bob Munroe (a production-side VFX supervisor) and Tony Meagher. All the work they did was groundwork for everything that ended up on the screen. And all the vendors, like Double Negative, Mavericks, Spin, Switch and Krow. Also our VFX coordinating team and everybody up in Toronto. They were the backbone of everything we did this season. And it was just so much fun to work with Alison and James and the team.

Any advice for people wanting to work in visual effects?
From my standpoint, there are not enough people on the show side of things, and if they have a passion for it, there’s a lot of opportunity to get into that.

I would say try to find your lane. Is it on the artist side? Is it on the coordinating and producing side? There are so many resources out there now. And now that the technology is available for everybody, it’s an amazing opportunity for creatives to get together and collaborate and to make things that that are compelling.

When I’m on a show or in the office, I can tell which PA or assistant has a fascination with VFX, and I always encourage them to come along. I have hired from within many times. It’s about trying to educate yourself and figure out what your passion is, and realizing there’s space for almost any role when it comes to visual effects. That’s the exciting thing about it.


Barry Goch is senior finishing artist at The Foundation and an instructor in post production at UCLA Extension.

AJA upgrades Ki Pro Go H.264 recorder/player

In response to user requests, AJA Video Systems has released Ki Pro Go v2.0  firmware for its portable multi-channel H.264 recorder and player. The update introduces enhancements for improved H.264 recording quality and reliability, including recording support for up to 25Mb/s, 10-bit and 4:2:2 color space, in addition to new expanded timecode capabilities with LTC, enhanced super out and front-panel audio monitoring, in-system drive formatting, network file downloads and gang recording support.

Ki Pro Go offers up to four channels of simultaneous HD or SD recording from HDMI or SDI sources direct to off-the-shelf USB drives. The new firmware also provides 4:2:2 color space and 10-bit options for capturing richer imagery. Ki Pro Go now offers five bit rate speeds — 5Mb/s (Low), 10Mb/s (Med-Low), 15 (Medium), 20 (Med-High) and 25 (High) — providing users with increased flexibility to choose their desired bit rate for production needs.

New enhanced super out and front-panel audio monitoring also display the remaining media percentage and audio meters for all four video channels for improved user monitoring. Ki Pro Go v2.0 further expands timecode choices by offering a new option for LTC on one of the analog audio inputs, enabling the second analog audio input channel to function as a mono input.

Additionally, the firmware introduces new in-system media formatting, eliminating the need for a separate PC. Network file downloading allows for more streamlined use in critical live production environments, giving the user the option to move recorded files to a central server on the LAN.

Gang support has also been added so that users can connect multiple Ki Pro Go devices together via easy-to-use Ethernet and control the entire group of devices using one unit via Ki Pro Go’s web-based UI or front-panel button controls.

Ki Pro Go v2.0 firmware is available now as a free download from the AJA website. Ki Pro Go is available through AJA’s reseller network for $3,995.

Audionamix – 7.1.20

Hulu’s The Great: Creator and showrunner Tony McNamara

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director Tony McNamara is the creator, showrunner and executive producer of Hulu’s The Great, the new 10-episode series starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great and Nicholas Hoult as Russian Emperor Peter III. The Great is a comedy-drama about the rise of Catherine the Great — from German outsider to the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history (from 1762 until 1796).

Season 1 is a fictionalized and anachronistic story of an idealistic, romantic young girl who arrives in Russia for an arranged marriage to Emperor Peter. Hoping for love and sunshine, she finds instead a dangerous, depraved, backward world that she resolves to change. All she has to do is kill her husband, beat the church, baffle the military and get the court on her side. A very modern story about the past, which incorporates historical facts occasionally, it encompasses the many roles she played over her lifetime — as lover, teacher, ruler, friend and fighter.

L-R: Tony McNamara and cinematographer John Brawley

McNamara most recently wrote the Oscar-winning film The Favourite, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His other feature film credits include The Rage in Placid Lake, which he wrote and directed, and Ashby.

McNamara has writen some Australia’s most memorable television series, including The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Doctor Doctor and Spirited. He also served as showrunner of the popular series Puberty Blues.

I recently spoke with McNamara, who was deep in post, about making the show and his love of editing and post.

When you wrote the stage play this is based on, did you also envision it as a future TV series?
Not at all. I was just a playwright and I’d worked a bit in TV but I never thought of adapting it. But then Marian Macgowan, my co-producer on this, saw it and suggested making a movie of it, and I began thinking about that

What did the stage version teach you?
That it worked for an audience, that the characters were funny, and that it was just too big a story for a play or a film.

It’s like a Dickensian novel with so many periods and great characters and multiple storylines.
Exactly, and as I worked more and more in TV, it seemed like the perfect medium for this massive story with so many periods and great characters. So once the penny dropped about TV, it all went very fast. I wrote the pilot and off we went.

I hear you’re not a fan of period pieces, despite this and all the success you had with The Favourite. So what was the appeal of Catherine and what sort of show did you set out to make?
I love period films like Amadeus and Barry Lyndon, but I don’t like the dry, polite, historically accurate, by-the-numbers ones. So I write my things thinking, “What would I want to watch?” And Catherine’s life and story are so amazing, and anything but polite.

What did Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult bring to their roles?
They’re both great actors and really funny, and that was important. The show’s a drama in terms of narrative, but it also feels like a comedy, but then it also gets very dark in places. So they had to be able to do both — bring a comic force to it but also be able to put emotional boots on the ground… and move between the two very easily, and they can do that. They just got it and knew the show I wanted to make before we even got going. I spent time with them discussing it all, and they were great partners.

Where do you shoot?
We did a lot of it on stages at 3 Mills Studios in London and shot some exteriors around London. We then went to this amazing palace near Naples, Italy, where we shot exteriors and interiors for a couple of weeks. We really tried to give the show a bit more of a cinematic feel and look than most TV shows, and I think the production design is really strong. We all worked very hard to not make it feel at all like sets. We planned it out so we could move between a lot of rooms so you didn’t feel trapped by four walls in just one set. So even though it’s a very character-driven story, we also wanted to give it that big epic sweep and scope.

Do you like being a showrunner?
(Laughs) It depends what day it is. It’s a massive job and very demanding.

What are the best parts of the job and the worst?
I love the writing and working with the actors and the director. Then I love all the editing and all the post — that’s really my favorite thing in the whole process after the writing. I’ve always loved editing, as it’s just another version of writing. And I love editors, and ours are fun to hang out with, and it’s fun to try and solve problems. The worst parts are having to deal with all the scheduling and the nuts and bolts of production. That’s not much fun.

Where do you post?
We do it all in London, with all the editing at Hireworks and all the sound at Encore. When we’re shooting at the studios we set up an edit suite on site, so we start working on it all right away. You have to really, as the TV schedule doesn’t allow much time for post compared with film.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We had three editors, who are all so creative and inventive. I love getting all the material and then editing and tweaking things, particularly in comedy. There’s often a very fine line in how you make something funny and how you give the audience permission to laugh.

I think the main editing challenges were usually the actual storytelling, as we tell a lot of stories really fast, so it’s managing how much story you tell and how quickly. It’s a 10-hour story; you’re also picking off moments in an early episode that will pay off far later in the series. Plus you’re dealing with the comedy factor, which can take a while to get up and running in terms of tone and pace. And if there’s a darker episode, you still want to keep some comedy to warm it up a bit.

But I don’t micro-manage the editors. I watch cuts, give some notes and we’ll chat if there are big issues. That way I keep fresh with the material. And the editors don’t like coming on set, so they keep fresh too.

How involved are you with the sound?
I’m pretty involved, especially with the pre-mix. We’ll do a couple of sessions with our sound designer, Joe Fletcher, and Marian will come in and listen, and we’ll discuss stuff and then they do the fixes. The sound team really knows the style of the soundscape we want, and they’ll try various things, like using tones instead of anything naturalistic. They’re very creative.

Tony McNamara and Elle Fanning on set

There’s quite a lot of VFX. 
BlueBolt and Dneg did them all — and there are a lot, as period pieces always need a ton of small fixes. Then in the second half, we had a lot of stuff like dogs getting thrown off roofs, carriages in studios that had to be running through forests, and we have a lot of animals — bears, butterflies and so on. There’s also a fair whack of violence, and all of it needed VFX.

Where do you do the DI?
We did the grading at Encore, and we spent a lot of time with DP John Brawley setting the basic look early on when we did the pilot, so everyone got it. We had the macro look early, and then we’d work on specific scenes and the micro stuff.

Are you already planning Season 2?
I have a few ideas and a rough arc worked out, but with the pandemic we’re not sure when we’ll even be able to shoot again.


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.


Unit9 signs trilingual director Maya Albanese  

Production studio Unit9 has signed director Maya Albanese to its roster. She specializes in emotional and comedic stories that highlight diverse characters and under-represented social themes. Albanese brings experience in filmmaking, branded entertainment and screenwriting.

As a trilingual director, she has crafted work in English, Spanish and French for brands including Disney, Warner Bros, Chevrolet, L’Oréal, IBM, Visa and Google. Albanese is fresh off directing a series of magical-realism spots for Bic and comedy spots for Visa, all of which combine her expertise in directing talent, visual effects and animation.

Earlier this year, she finished a dark surrealist comedy called Freeze, which she wrote and directed about women’s fertility. It stars Chris Parnell, Adrian Grenier, Mindy Sterling, Nora Zehetner, Rick Overton, Kel Mitchell and Queen Jazzmun.  “Freeze” is an official selection of the Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase at the 73rd Cannes Film Festival.

Albanese has shot and directed three documentaries: Cuba’s Violin (2014), which screened at festivals worldwide; Blind Date (2015), which premiered at Doc NYC; and Bigger Than Us (2020), which is an intimate behind-the-scenes story of the first-ever, SAG-registered feature film made made by a cast and crew, more than half of whom have a disability.

Albanese found her way to Unit9 through the Commercial Directors Diversity Program fellowship. In 2018, she was one of six directors chosen by the Directors Guild of America and Association of Independent Commercial Producers for the competitive fellowship.

“Telling moving stories that create more inclusivity in front of and behind the camera, whether that’s about women, minorities or people with disabilities, is what drives me,” says Albanese. “I believe we need to continue pushing for this now more than ever. I’m really looking forward to working with the Unit9 team to make bold new stories come to life on screen. Together, I believe we can make sure that all kinds of people get to see themselves reflected in media and advertising.”

Caption: Maya Albanese is pictured left, on set.


DP Chat: Jeffrey Waldron on Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere

By Randi Altman

Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere stars Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as, well, frenemies? Maybe? It’s hard to describe their relationship, other than a powderkeg covered with a fake smile. From the minute Washington’s Mia, a wandering artist and single mom, pulls into the upper-class Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights and meets Witherspoon’s Elena, an uptight and OCD mother of four, you know the close-knit town won’t ever be the same.

Jeffrey Waldron

Set in the 1990s, this limited series, based on Celeste Ng’s book of the same name, puts a microscope on just-under-the-surface racism combined with your everyday, run-of-the-mill mother’s remorse.

We reached out to DP Jeffrey Waldron to find out about the look of the show and how he worked with his alternating DP Trevor Forrest, the directors and the EPs.

How early did you get involved on the show?
I was brought on with the other DP Trevor Forrest several weeks before principal photography began. We hit it off in an initial meeting that included the pilot director and the executive producers.

Can you talk about the look they wanted for the show?
My initial instincts for the show, based on the book and the first two scripts, turned out to be really in sync with what they’d been discussing. In the early stages we were all bringing visual references to the table and deciding on the overall visual arc of the eight episodes.

Ultimately, the visual ideas we landed on held that the character of Elena represented a sense of order — tight control of her life and family — and that Mia represented chaos. She’s a strong mother and a wandering artist, but there’s a lot we don’t know about her, and that’s where much of the early tension comes from.

Can you talk about the different looks?
Sure. The other key visual idea was the changing of the seasons, from August to December — which we represented through color in lighting and LUTs — warmer to cooler. In the late summer we see warmer highlights and maintain a bit of cyan in the shadows. But as the days grow shorter, they also grow bluer in the shadows, and the lighting becomes darker and more edgy, and the camerawork starts to loosen and become more reactive.

You mentioned the novel earlier. Did the look described in the book translate to the show?
There’s nothing super-specific to the novel that plays a big role in our approach to the look. But I have now done a couple of book adaptations as limited series and I do try to absorb the author’s prose style to see if there is a visual equivalent. The “voice” of the dialogue is most easily brought to life in a script, but the descriptive style of the novel is an interesting place for the cinematographer to look for tonal cues. What’s the tense? Who’s point of view? Is the narrator omniscient? Is it told loosely? Formally? Beautifully? Gritty? I feel that we did bring a sense of this voice to the show’s look — even if subconsciously.

It takes place in the 1990s. How did that affect how you shot it?
The ‘90s played into every aspect inside of the frames — the amazing production design, cars, costumes, hair and makeup — so there wasn’t a huge responsibility for the look of the show to scream 1990s.

That said, the combination of all of these elements and a more neutral, soft, formal style for Elena — especially in the first couple of episodes — does result in an overwhelmingly ‘90s vibe that we start to undo as her life gets tangled up with Mia’s. You’ll start to see darker, moodier, bluer lighting and a more handheld sense in the camera work as the plot thickens!

Where was it shot?
The show is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but we shot in Los Angeles. This brought the challenge of finding locations that looked right for the written scene, but also for the 1990s, and Ohio. As mentioned, the story begins in August but ends in December, so this meant bringing in rain and snow and giant silks to create overcast-feeling skies.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
The DP for Episode 1, Trevor Forrest, and Panavision magician Dan Sasaki had customized a few versions of Panavision’s Sphero 65 primes to differing strengths of flare, veiling glare and diffusion characteristics.

We tested them on the Alexa LF and ended up really loving the heaviest strength — tasking Panavision to create us an extended set. As we ventured into flashback sequences and ultimately the sixth episode, we brought on a mix of Panavision T and C series anamorphic primes to establish a different feel for seeing “memory.”

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of, or ones that you found more challenging?
Every day is truly a challenge on a television schedule — even scenes that don’t look technically difficult can be Herculean to pull off when you see what else has to be shot on the same day.

All of the homecoming dance scenes in the third episode had to be shot in one day. When you consider the size of the space, the amount of extras and the limited hours of the minor actors, it was quite a task. We built two giant soft boxes that we could control on the lighting board allowing us to create contrast by turning sides of the boxes on and off as we moved the camera around the gymnasium. We had a Technocrane that allowed us to move the camera around the gym quite easily. Even if we weren’t using it for a high-angle crane-style shot, we’d use it like a Steadicam for moving masters. These tools definitely help to make the day.

Who did the color grade on the show?
Company 3’s Stefan Sonnenfeld using Blackmagic Resolve.

Now, moving away from the show, how did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid I was obsessed with animation and wanted to be a hand-drawn animator. In fifth grade I joined an animation club. My mom would drop me off at their studio, you’d pay like $20 a month and you could use their 16mm camera and everything. This got me wanting to know more about film, which led me to still photography and ultimately to live-action film cinematography. I still love animation!

What inspires you artistically?
The work of other great cinematographers in the episodic realm really does inspire me. I know we share limitations of budget and time, and when I see incredibly beautiful and consistent imagery across a show, I’m excited to learn from them. Right now in episodic, it’s Igor Martinovic’s work on The Outsider. I’m also always excited to see whatever Christian Sprenger or Tim Ives is up to.

What about keeping up with new technology?
I’m not the most camera tech-y DP — my world is generally more affected by advances in the lighting realm. A new set of lenses is always interesting to me, but how it affects my work? A super-versatile new lighting instrument is far more likely to help my craft.

What new technology has changed the way you work over the past few years?
The cameras have obviously changed a bit, but these advances don’t usually change the way I work. The Sony Venice has to some extent — the ability to swap NDs so quickly and the dual native ISO, allowing a 2500 base ISO, have impacted how I put scenes together on set.

Lighting instruments like LiteMats, Astera tubes and SkyPanels have probably had the bigger effect on how I work, making it easier (and cooler) to create soft sources, choose colors without the need for gel and dim without affecting color. The ability to dim everything alone is such a game changer versus Kinos and hot lights.

Jeffrey Waldron on set

Care to share some of your best practices?
I have an ever-growing personal list of best practices — many super-specific to situations I’ve found a good solution for in the past or things to avoid. But the big thing for me is starting the day with some personal time at home to journal about the previous day’s work and the work ahead, and taking some deep breaths and thinking about the challenges coming up.

A film set can be a stressful place, so I try to set a calm and fun vibe and let people know I appreciate them. I honestly have so much fun on a film set; it’s long hours, but the time just flies for me. I love my crews, and I love creating with them.

Does your process change at all when working on a film versus an episodic or vice versa?
On a show like Little Fires Everywhere, with alternating DPs, my process is exactly the same as it would be on a feature. You intimately prep with your director, visiting locations together, craft your specific approach; work with your AD to assure the timing makes sense and meet with the production designer to look at plans.

On a show without an alternating DP, it’s quite different. You treat the first episode or episode block like a feature, but then you start shooting… and you’re juggling future episodes as you shoot. You’re generally not visiting locations with the director, instead relying on your crew to help relay the pertinent information. It’s different, it requires a bit more improvisation to pull things together on the day, but I actually love it too.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
The ideal collaboration is one where it quickly becomes apparent that you have similar instincts — this allows you to run with your best and most ambitious ideas, knowing that they’ll be met with a sense of co-ownership and excitement.

With solid pre-production, shared instincts give way to a shorthand on set that just makes things come together more easily and more beautifully. It’s a lot harder when you’re not on the same page. You may read the same scene and have opposite ideas for what it should look like or how the blocking might look or what focal lengths might feel right. In these situations, it’s all about remaining flexible. I’ve had great collaborations with wonderful directors where we weren’t in sync visually, and we did wonderful work by finding a balance, but it’s harder.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I don’t have any go-tos really. I love prime lenses of all sorts — getting to know their inherent strengths and flaws and exploiting them to tell the story is an exciting part of the job. I love ARRI cameras, and I’m also a big fan of Sony’s Venice camera. There isn’t anything I can’t live without camera-wise — I really feel that amazing images can be made on any of the common cameras and lenses that people are using.

I feel there are lighting tools I can’t live without: LiteMats, Astera tubes, SkyPanels — easy tweaks of color, everything is dimmable. It’s truly amazing the extra trouble we used to go through in lighting. I wouldn’t want to go back.


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


Production begins again on New Zealand’s Shortland Street series

By Katie Hinsen

The current global pandemic has shut down production all over the world. Those who can have moved to working from home, and there’s speculation about how and when we’ll get back to work again.

New Zealand, a country with a significant production economy, has announced that it will soon reopen for shoots. The most popular local television show, Shortland Street, was the first to resume production after an almost six-week break. It’s produced by Auckland’s South Pacific Pictures.

Dylan Reeve

I am a native New Zealander who has worked in post there on and off over the years. Currently I live in Los Angeles, where I am an EP for dailies and DI at Nice Shoes, so taking a look at how New Zealand is rolling things out interests me. With that in mind, I reached out to Dylan Reeve, head of post production at Shortland Street, to find out how it looked the week they went back to work under Level 3 social distancing restrictions.

Shortland Street is a half-hour soap that runs five nights a week on prime-time television. It has been on air for around 28 years and has been consistently among the highest-rated shows in the nation. It’s a cultural phenomenon. While the cast and crew take a single three-week annual break from production during the Christmas holiday season, the show has never really stopped production … until the pandemic hit.

Shortland Street’s production crew is typically made up of about 100 people; the post department consists of two editors, two assistants, a composer and Reeve, who is also the online editor. Sound mixes and complex VFX are done elsewhere, but everything else for the production is done at the studio.

New Zealand responded to COVID-19 early, instituting one of the harshest lockdowns in the world. Reeve told me that they went from alert Level 1 — basic social distancing, more frequent handwashing — to Level 3 as soon as the first signs of community transmission were detected. They stayed at this level for just two days before going to Level 4: complete lockdown. New Zealanders had 48 hours to get home to their families, shop for supplies and make sure they were ready.

“On a Monday afternoon at about 1:30pm, the studio emptied out,” explains Reeve. “We were shut down, but we were still on air, and we had about five or six weeks’ worth of episodes in various stages of production and post. I then had two days to figure out and prepare for how we were going to finish all of those and make sure they got delivered so that the show could continue to be on air.”

Shortland Street’s main production building dressed as the exterior of the hospital where the show is set, with COVID workplace safety materials on the doors.

The nature of the show’s existing workflow meant that Reeve had to copy all the media to drives and send Avids and drives home with the editors. The assistant editors logged in remotely for any work they needed to do, and Reeve took what he needed home as well to finish onlining, prepping and delivering those already-shot episodes to the broadcaster. They used Frame.io for review and approval with the audio team and with the directors, producers and network.

“Once we knew we were coming back into Level 3, and the government put out more refined guidelines about what that required, we had a number of HoD meetings — figuring out how we could produce the show while maintaining the restrictions necessary.”

I asked Reeve whether he and his crew felt safe going back to work. He reminded me that New Zealand only went back down to Level 3 once there had been a period with no remaining evidence of community transmission. Infection rates in New Zealand had spent two weeks in single digits, including two days when no new cases had been reported.

Starting Up With Restrictions
My conversation with Reeve took place on May 4, right after his first few days back at work. I asked him to explain some of the conditions under which the production was working while the rest of the country was still in isolation. Level 3 in New Zealand is almost identical to the lockdown restrictions put in place in US cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“One of the key things that has changed in terms of how we’re producing the show is that we physically have way less crew in the building. We’re working slower, and everyone’s having to do a bit more, maybe, than they would normally.

Shortland Street director Ian Hughes and camera operator Connagh Heath discussing blocking with a one-metre guide.

“When crew are in a controlled workspace where we know who everyone is,” he continues, “that allows us to keep track of them properly — they’re allowed to work within a meter of one another physically (three feet). Our policy is that we want staff to stay two meters (six feet) apart from one another as much as possible. But when we’re shooting, when it’s necessary, they can be a meter from one another.”

Reeve says the virus has certainly changed the nature of what can be shot. There are no love scenes, no kissing and no hugs. “We’re shooting to compensate for that; staging people to make them seem closer than they are.

Additionally, everything stays within the production environment. Parts of our office have been dressed; parts of our building have been dressed. We’ll do a very low-profile exterior shoot for scenes that take place outside, but we’re not leaving the lot.”

Under Level 3, everyone is still under isolation at home. This is why, explains Reeve, social distancing has to continue at work. That way any infection that comes into the team can be easily traced and contained and affect as few others as possible. Every department maintains what they call a “bubble,” and very few individuals are allowed to cross between them.

Actors are doing their own hair and makeup, and there are no kitchen or craft services available. The production is using and reusing a small number of regular extras, with crew stepping in occasionally as well. Reeve noted that Australia was also resuming production on Neighbours, with crew members acting as extras.

“Right now in our studio, our full technical complement consists of three camera operators at the moment, just one boom operator and one multi-skilled person who can be the camera assist, the lighting assist and the second boom op if necessary. I don’t know how a US production would get away with that. There’s no chance that someone who touches lights on a union production can also touch a boom.”

Post Production
Shortland Street’s post department is still working from home. Now that they are back in production, they are starting to look at more efficient ways to work remotely. While there are a lot of great tools out there for remote post workflows, Reeve notes that for them it’s not that easy, especially when hardware and support are halfway across the world, borders are closed and supply chains are disrupted.

There are collaboration tools that exist, but they haven’t been used “simply because the pace and volume of our production means it’s often hard to adapt for those kinds of products,” he says. “Every time we roll camera, we’re rolling four streams of DNxHD 185, so nearly 800Mb/s each time we roll. We record that media directly into the server to be edited within hours, so putting that in the cloud or doing anything like that was never the best workflow solution. When we wanted feedback, we just grabbed people from the building and dragged them into the edit suite when we wanted them to look at something.”

Ideally, he says, they would have tested and invested in these tools six months ago. “We are in what I call a duct tape stage. We’re taking things that exist, that look useful, and we’re trying to tape them together to make a solution that works for us. Coming out of this, I’m going to have to look at the things we’ve learned and the opportunities that exist and decide whether or not there might be some ways we can change our future production. But at the moment, we’re just trying to make it through.”

Because Shortland Street has only just resumed shooting, they haven’t reached the point yet where they need to do what Reeve calls “the first collaborative director/editor thing” from start to finish. “But there are two plans that we’re working toward. The easy, we-know-it-works plan is that we do an output, we stick it on Frame.io, the director watches it, puts notes on it, sends it back to us. We know that works, and we do that sometimes with directors anyway.

“The more exciting idea is that we have the directors join us on a remote link and watch the episodes as they would if they were in the room. We’ve experimented with a few things and haven’t found a solution that makes us super-happy. It’s tricky because we don’t have an existing hardware solution in place that’s designed specifically for streaming a broadcast output signal over an internet connection. We can do a screen-share, and we’ve experimented with Zoom and AnyDesk, but in both those cases, I’ve found that sometimes the picture will break up unacceptably, or sync will drift — especially using desktop-sharing software that’s not really designed to share full-screen video.”

Reeve and crew are just about to experiment with a tool used for gaming called Parsec. It’s designed to share low-latency, in-sync, high-frame-rate video. “This would allow us to share an entire desktop at, theoretically, 60fps with half-second latency or less. Very brief tests looked good. Plan A is to get the directors to join us on Parsec and screen-share a full-screen output off Avid. They can watch it down and discuss with the editor in real time or just make their own notes and work through it interactively. If that experience isn’t great, or if the directors aren’t enjoying it, or if it’s just not working for some reason, we’ll fall back to outputting a video, uploading it to Frame.io and waiting for notes.

What’s Next?
What are the next steps for other productions returning to work? Shortland Street is the only production that chose to resume under Level 3. The New Zealand Film Commission has said that filming will resume eventually under Level 2, which is being rolled out in several stages beginning this week. Shortland Street’s production company has several other shows, but none have plans to resume yet.

“I think it’s a lot harder for them to stay contained because they can’t shoot everything in the studio,” explains Reeve. “Our production has an added advantage because it is constantly shooting and the core cast and crew are mostly the same every day. I think these types of productions will find it easiest to come back.”

Reeve says that anyone coming into their building has to sign in and deliver a health declaration — recent travel, contact with any sick person, other work they’ve been engaged in. “I think if you can do some of that reasonable contact tracing with the people in your production, it will be easier to start again. The more contained you can keep it, the better. It’s going to be hard for productions that are on location, have high turnover or a large number of extras — anything where they can’t keep within a bubble.

“From a post point of view, I think we’re going to get a lot more comfortable working remotely,” he continues. “And there are lots of editors who already do that, especially in New Zealand. If that can become the norm, and if there are tools and workflows that are well established to support that, it could be really good for post production. It offers a lot of great opportunities for people to essentially broaden their client essentially or the geographic regions in which they can work.

Productions are going to have to make their own sort of health and safety liability decisions, according to Reeve. “All of the things we are doing are effectively responding to New Zealand government regulation, but that won’t be the case for everyone else.”

He sees some types of production finding an equilibrium. “Love Island might be the sort of reality show you can make. You can quarantine everyone going into that show for 14 days, make sure they’re all healthy, and then shoot the show because you’re basically isolated from the world. Survivor as well, things like that. But a reality show where people are running around the streets isn’t happening anymore. There’s no Amazing Race, that’s for sure.”


After a 20-year career talent-side, Katie Hinsen turned her attention to building, developing and running post facilities with a focus on talent, unique business structures and innovative use of technology. She has worked on over 90 major feature and episodic productions, founded the Blue Collar Post Collective, and currently leads the dailies & DI department at Nice Shoes.


Assimilate intros live grading, video monitoring and dailies tools

Assimilate has launched Live Looks and Live Assist, production tools that give pros speed and specialized features for on-set live grading, look creation, advanced video monitoring and recording.

Live Looks provides an easy-to-set-up environment for video monitoring and live grading that supports any resolution, from standard HD up to 8K workflows. Featuring professional grading and FX/greenscreen tools, it is straightforward to operate and offers a seamless connection into dailies and post workflows. With Live Looks being available on both macOS and Windows, users are, for the first time, free to use the platform and hardware of their choice. You can see their intro video here.

“I interact regularly with DITs to get their direct input about tools that will help them be more efficient and productive on set, and Live Looks and Live Assist are a result of that,” says Mazze Aderhold, product marketing manager at Assimilate. “We’ve bundled unique and essential features with the needed speed to boost their capabilities, and enabling them to contribute to time savings and lower costs in the filmmaking workflow.”

Users can run this on a variety of places — from a  laptop to a full-blown on-set DIT rig. Live Looks provides LUT-box control over Flanders, Teradek and TVLogic devices. It also supports video I/O from AJA, Bluefish444 and Blackmagic for image and full-camera metadata capture. There is also now direct reference recording to Apple ProRes on macOS and Windows.

Live Looks goes beyond LUT-box control. Users can process the live camera feed via video I/O, making it possible to do advanced grading, compare looks, manage all metadata, annotate camera input and generate production reports. Its fully color-managed environment ensures the created looks will come out the same in dailies and post. Live Looks provides a seamless path into dailies and post with look-matching in Scratch and CDL-EDL transfer to DaVinci Resolve.

With Live Looks, Assimilate takes its high-end grading tool set beyond Lift, Gamma, Gain and CDL by adding Powerful Curves and an easy-to-use Color Remapper. On-set previews can encompass not just color but realtime texture effects, like Grain, Highlight Glow, Diffusion and Vignette — all GPU-accelerated.

Advanced chroma keying lets users replace greenscreen backgrounds with two clicks. This allows for proper camera angles, greenscreen tracking/anchor point locations and lighting. As with all Assimilate software, users can load and play back any camera format, including raw formats such as Red raw and Apple ProRes raw.

Live Assist has all of the features of Live Looks but also handles basic video-assist tasks, and like Live Assist, it is available on both macOS and Windows. It provides multicam recording and instant playback of all recorded channels and seamlessly combines live grading with video-assist tasks in an easy-to-use UI. Live Assist automatically records camera inputs to file based on the Rec-flag inside the SDI signal, including all live camera metadata. It also extends the range of supported “edit-ready” capture formats: Apple ProRes (Mov), H264 (MP4) and Avid DNxHD/HR (MXF). Operators can then choose whether they want to record the clean signal or record with the grade baked in.

Both Live Looks and Live Assist are available now. Live Looks starts at $89 per month, and Live Assist starts at $325 per month. Both products and free trials are available on the Assimilate site.


Colorist Chat: Keith Shaw on Showtime’s Homeland and the process

By Randi Altman

The long wait for the final season of Showtime’s Homeland seemed to last an eternity, but thankfully the series is now airing, and we here at postPerspective are pretty jazzed about it. Our favorite spies, Carrie and Saul, are back at it, with this season being set in Afghanistan.

Keith Shaw

Year after year, the writing, production and post values on Homeland have been outstanding. One of those post folks is colorist Keith Shaw from FotoKem’s Keep Me Posted, which focuses on finishing services to television.

Shaw’s credits are impressive. In addition to Homeland, his work can be seen on Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom and many others. We reached out to Shaw to find out more about working on Homeland from the first episode to the last. Shaw shares his workflow and what inspires him.

You’ve been on Homeland since the beginning. Can you describe the look of the show and how you’ve worked with DPs David Klein, ASC, and Giorgio Scali, ASC, as well as producer Katie O’Hara?
Working on Homeland from Episode 1 has been a truly amazing experience. Katie, Dave, Giorgio and I are an extremely collaborative group.

One consistent factor of all eight seasons has been the need for the show to look “real.” We don’t have any drastic or aggressively stylized looks, so the goal is to subtly manipulate the color and mood yet make it distinct enough to help support the storyline.

When you first started on the show, how would you describe the look?
The first two seasons were shot by Nelson Cragg, ASC. For those early episodes, the show was a bit grittier and more desaturated. It had a darker, heavier feel to it. There was not as much detail in the dark areas of the image, and the light fell off more quickly on the edges.

Although the locations and looks have changed over the years, what’s been the common thread?
As I mentioned earlier, the show has a realism to it. It’s not super-stylized and affected.

Do the DPs come to the color suite? What kind of notes do you typically get from them?
They do when they are able (which is not often). They are generally on the other side of the world. As far as notes, it depends on the episode. When I’m lucky, I get none. Generally, there are not a lot of notes. That’s the advantage of collaborating on a show from the beginning. You and the DP can “mold” the look of the show together.

You’ve worked on many episodics at Keep Me Posted. Prior to that you were working on features at Warner Bros. Can you talk about how that process differs for you?
In remastering and restoration of feature films, the production stage is complete. It’s not happening simultaneously, and that means the timeline and deadlines aren’t as stressful.

Digital intermediates on original productions, on the other hand, are similar to television because multiple things are happening all at once. There is an overlap between production and post. During color, the cut can be changing, and new effects could be added or updated, but with much tighter deadlines. DI was a great stepping stone for me to move from feature films to television.

Now let’s talk about some more general aspects of the job…

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
First of all, most people don’t have a clear understanding of what a colorist is or does. Even after 25 years and multiple explanations, my father-in-law still tells everyone I’m an editor.

Being a colorist means you wear many hats — confidante, mediator, therapist, VFX supervisor, scheduler and data manager — in addition to that color thing. For me, it boils down to three main attributes. One, you need to be artistic/creative. Two, you need to be technical. Finally, you need to mediate the decision-making processes. Sometimes that can be the hardest part of all, when there are competing viewpoints and visions between all the parties involved.

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Digital Vision’s Nucoda.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Today’s color correctors are incredibly powerful and versatile. In addition to color, I can do light VFX, beauty work, editing or technical fixes when necessary. The clients appreciate the value of saving time and money by taking care of last-minute issues in the color suite.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Building relationships with clients, earning their trust and helping them bring their vision to the screen. I love that special moment when you and the DP are completely in sync — you’re reaching for the knobs before they even ask for a change, and you are finishing each other’s sentences.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Deadlines. However, they are actually helpful in my case because otherwise I would tweak and re-tweak the smallest details endlessly.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Ray Donovan, Shameless, Animal Kingdom, Single Parents and Bless This Mess are my current shows.

ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A PROJECT FROM A COLOR PERSPECTIVE?
Become a part of the process as early as possible. Establishing looks, LUTs and good communication with the cinematographer are essential.

HOW DO YOU PREFER THE DP OR DIRECTOR TO DESCRIBE THE LOOK THEY WANT?
Each client has a different source of inspiration and way of conveying their vision. I’ve worked from fabric and paint samples, YouTube videos, photographs, magazine ads, movie or television show references, previous work (theirs and/or mine) and so on.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I can’t pick just one, so I’ll pick two. From my feature mastering work, The Shawshank Redemption. From television, Homeland.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Definitely in photography. My father was a professional photographer and we had our own darkroom. As a kid, I spent countless hours after school and on weekends learning how to plan, take and create great photographs. It is still a favorite hobby of mine to this day.


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


Review: Litra Pro’s Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle

By Brady Betzel

With LED lights showing up everywhere these days, it’s not always easy to find the balance between affordability, power output and size. I have previously reviewed itty bitty-LED lights like the Litra Torch, which for its size is amazing. Litra has now expanded its LED offerings, adding the Litra Pro and the Litra Studio.

Litra Studio ($650) is at the top of the Litra mountain with not only varying color temperatures — from 2,000 to 10,000 kelvin with adjustable green/magenta settings — but also RGBWW (RGB + cool white + warm white), CCT (kelvin adjustments), HSL (hue + saturation + lightness), color gel presets, flash effects and more.

But for today’s review, I am wanted to focus on the Litra Pro LED, which comes to the Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle, complete with light stands, lights, soft boxes, and carrying case. I had reached out to Litra about reviewing this bundle because I am tired of having to lug around big clunky lights for quick interviews or smaller setup product shots. And to be honest, it was right before I was heading to Sundance to shoot some interviews for postPerspective, I and didn’t want to check a bag at the airport. (Check out my interviews with editors at Sundance here.)

For the trip, I wanted to bring lights, a Blackmagic 6K Pocket cinema camera, my Canon L series zoom lens, a small tripod and some hard drives all stuffed into my backpack. I knew I’d be in the snow, so I needed lights that could potentially withstand all types of precipitation. Also, I would be throwing these lights around, so I needed them to be durable. The Litra Pro lights fit the bill. They measure 2.75in x 2in x 1.2in  — smaller than a phone, weigh 6oz and have upwards of a 10-hour battery life if set to 5% power. Each Litra Pro costs just under $220 but can be purchased in different bundle assortments. Individually, each Litra Pro comes with a rubberized diffuser, USB-A to Micro-USB charging cable (very short, maybe 3-4inches in length), DSLR mount (to be mounted in a hot/cold shoe), GoPro mount and a little zipper bag.

I wish Litra would package not only the GoPro mount to ¼”-20 but also the female ¼”-20 to GoPro mount adapter to be mounted to something like a tripod. If you don’t already them them, you’d need to purchase the GoPro mounts. Alternatively, it would be nice to have a mini-ball head mount like they sell on the site separately.

I was sent the Litra Pro Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle. This essentially gives you everything you need for a standard three-point lighting setup — key light, fill light and back light. In addition, you get three light stands with carrying bags, three soft boxes, a customizable foam-insert carrying case and the standard accessories. This package retails for $779.95, which is a pretty good discount. If bought separately, the package would add up to about $820 not including the light stands, which aren’t available on Litra site and cost around $26 for two on Amazon. That means with the bundle you are essentially getting a free carrying case and light stands. The carrying case fits most of the products, except for the light stands. I had some trouble fitting all of the soft boxes along with the original accessories into the carrying case, but with a little force, I got it zipped up.

Do Specs Live Up to Output?
The Litra Pro lights are amazing lights packed into a small package, but with a kind of expensive price tag — Think of the saying, “Better, faster, cheaper: Pick two because you can’t have all three.” They have a CRI (Color Rendering Index) of greater than 95, which on the surface means they will show accurate colors. They can output up to 1200 lumens (increasing from 0-100% in 5% increments) either by app or on the light itself; have a 70-degree beam angle; can be adjusted from 3000k to 6000k color temperature in 100k increments; and have zero flicker, no matter the shutter speed (a.k.a. shutter angle). The top OLED screen displays battery info, Bluetooth connection info, kelvin temperature and brightness values.

One of my two favorite features of the Litra Pro lights are the rugged exterior and the impact they can withstand, based on MIL-STD-810 testing. The Litra Pros can withstand a lot of punishment, typically more than any filmmaker will dish out. For me, I need lights that can be in a pocket, a backpack, or mounted on a lighting stand in the rain, and these lights will withstand all of the elements.

They stood up to my practical production abuse: dropping, water, snow, rain, general throwing around in my backpack on an airplane, and my three sons — all under 10 — throwing them around. In fact, they are waterproofed up to 30 meters (90 feet).

My second favorite feature is the ability to control color temperature and brightness among a group of lights simultaneously or individually through the Litra app. When purchasing the 3 Point Lighting Bundle, this makes a lot of sense. Controlling all of the lights from one app simultaneously can allow you to watch your output image on the camera without moving around the room adjusting each light.

When I first started writing this review, the Litra app was one of the most important factors. When I was at Sundance, I needed to change lighting temperatures or brightness levels without leaving my interview position. I wasn’t able to bring an external monitor, so I only had the monitor on the back of the BMPCC6K camera to judge my lighting decisions. But with the updated Litra app, I was able to quickly add the three Litra Pro lights into a group and adjust the temperature and brightness easily. I tested the app on both Android and iOS devices, and as of mid-February, they both worked.

There can be a little lag when adjusting the brightness and temperature of the lights in a group, but they quickly catch up. The Litra app also has “CTO” (Color Temperature Orange) common preset temperatures of Daylight 5600, ⅛ CTO 4900K, ¼ CTO 4500K, ½ CTO 3800K and ¾ CTO 3200K to quickly jump to the more common color temperatures. If those don’t work, you can also set your favorites. An interesting function is to flash the lights — you can set a brightness minimum/maximum, color temperature and strobe per second in Hz.

When shooting product and interview photography or videography, I like to use diffusion. As I mentioned earlier, the light comes with a rubberized diffusion cover that sits right on the camera. But if you need a little more distance between the light and your diffusion to draw out the softness of the light, the Litra 3 Point Lighting Bundle includes soft boxes that snap together and snap onto the Litra Pro. At first, I was a little thrown off by the soft boxes because you have to build them and break them down if you want to travel with them — I guess I was hoping for more of a collapsible setup. But they come with a padded, zippered pouch for transport, and they lay very flat when broken down. They actually work pretty well when snapped together and are pretty durable. The soft boxes are indispensable for interviews. Without the soft boxes, it is hard to get an even light; add the rubberized diffusion and you will almost get there, but the soft boxes really spread the light nicely.

Over Christmas, I helped out at an event for a pediatric cancer-based foundation called The Bumblebee Foundation, which supports families with kids going through pediatric cancer treatments. They needed someone to take pictures, so I grabbed my camera and mounted one of the Litra Pro lights with a soft box onto the hot shoe of my Canon 5D Mark II with the included mount. The Litra Pro was easy to use, and it didn’t startle people like a flash might. It was a really key item to have in that environment.

I also do some product photography/videography for my wife, who sews and makes hair bows, tutus and more. I needed to light a few Girl Scout Cookie hair bows she had made, so I mounted two of the lights using the lighting stands and soft boxes and just stood one of the Litra Pros behind the products. You can see the video here.

What was interesting is that I wanted more light vertically, and because the Litra Pros have 2-¼”-20 mounts (one on the bottom and one on the side), I could quickly mount the lights vertically. I never really realized how helpful mounting the Litra Pros vertically would be until I actually needed it. At the same time, I had left the lights on at 60-80% power, and after a few minutes, I felt the heat the Litra Pros can put out. It isn’t quite burning, but the Litra Pros do get hot to the touch if left on for a while… just something to keep in mind.

Summing Up
From the military-grade-feeling exterior aluminum construction to the CRI color accuracy, the Litra Pro lights are truly amazing. Whether you use them to light interviews at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival (like I did), add one to a GoPro shoot to take the load off of the sensor with a high ISO, or use them to light product photography, the Litra Pro 3 Point Lighting Bundle is worth your money. They can fit into your pocket and withstand being dropped on the ground or in water.

All in all, this is a great bundle. The Litra Pros are not cheap, but the peace of mind you get knowing they will still work if you drop them or get them wet is worth every penny. When flying to Sundance, I had no fear throwing them around. I was setting up the lighting for my interviews and noticed a water ring on the table from a glass of water. I didn’t think twice and put the Litra Pro right in the water. In fact, when I was shooting some videos for this review, I put the Litra Pros in a vase of water. At first I was nervous, but then I went for it, and they worked flawlessly.

If you are looking for super-compact lighting that is bright enough to use outdoors, light interviews indoors, film underwater, and even double as photography lighting, the Litra Pros are for you. If you are like me and need to do a lot of product videography and interview lighting quickly, the Litra Pro Premium 3 Point Lighting Bundle is where you should look.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Krista Liney directs Ghost-inspired promo for ABC’s The Bachelor

Remember the Ghost-inspired promo for ABC’s The Bachelor, which first aired during the 92nd Academy Awards telecast? ABC Entertainment Marketing developed the concept and wrote the script, which features current Bachelor lead Peter Weber in a send-up of the iconic pottery scene in Ghost between Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. It even includes the Righteous Brothers song, Unchained Melody, which played over that scene in the film.

ABC Entertainment Marketing tapped Canyon Road Films to produce and Krista Liney to direct. Liney captured Peter taking off his shirt, sitting down at the pottery wheel and “getting messy” — a metaphor for how messy his journey to love has been. As he starts to mold the clay, he is joined by one set of hands, then another and another. As the clay collapses, Whoopi Goldberg appears to say, “Peter, you in danger, boy” – a take-off of the line she delivers to Moore’s character in the film.

This marks Liney’s first shoot as a newly signed director coming on board at Canyon Road Films, a Los Angeles-based creative production company that specializes in television promos and entertainment content.

Liney has a perspective from the side of the client and the production house, having previously served as a marketing executive on the network side. “With promos, I aim to create pieces that will cut through the clutter and command attention,” she explains. “For me, it’s all about how I can best build the anticipation and excitement within the viewer.”

The piece was shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini with Primes and Optimo lenses. ABC finished the spot in-house.

Other credits include EP Lara Wickes and DP Eric Schmidt.

DP Chat: Carnival Row cinematographer Chris Seager

By Randi Altman

For British DP Chris Seager, BSC, his path to movies and television began at film school. After graduation, he found his way to BBC Television’s film department, working on docs and TV movies, including John Schlesinger’s Cold Comfort Farm, starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellen and Rufus Sewell. Soon after, he left the BBC and started his career as a freelance cinematographer.

Chris Seager

Seager’s CV is long, and includes the films A Kind of Murder, Retreat and New in Town and series such as The Alienist, Watchmen and most recently Amazon Prime’s Carnival Row. In fact, Seager, who has been working on Season 2 of the series, received an ASC Award nomination in the non-commercial TV series category for his work on Episode 5, “Grieve No More.”

The show, which stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne, follows a variety of mythical creatures who had to flee their homeland for the big city during what looks very much like a fantastical Victorian era. As you can imagine, tensions grow between the local humans and these magical immigrants, who are forced to live in a ghetto known as Carnival Row.

We reached out to DP Seager to find out more about the show’s look, his workflow and what inspires him.

Can you talk about the look of the show?
There had been many discussions — between the producers, writers, Legendary, Amazon, the production designer, costume designer, etc. — before I came on board. The production design team had produced some very fine concept drawings that firmly put the show in a, shall we say, “Victorian period.”

That decision led everyone to research that period, so shape, color and design of buildings, sets, costumes and practical lights. For me, that meant the use of candles, oil and gas lamps and the warmth they generated in terms of color and quality of the emitted light from each of those sources. The variety of locations — from The Row exteriors to government buildings, a brothel, bars, upper class establishments and more — gave me many opportunities to use light sources to full effect.

The nighttime streets in The Row showed dark seedy corners and alleyways intermixed with orange dancing flames from braziers, with the street people warming their hands. The streets were awash with rain and mud, horses and carriages, humans, faes and pucks, all fighting their way through the smoke from the fires. It was backlit with a sultry greenish moonlight that gave the cinematic images that brought the viewer into the period. Daylight was slightly cold and threatening and was mixed with the oil lamp warmth on interiors.

How did the showrunners/producers tell you what they wanted for the look?
It all starts with the scripts. I’m a firm believer that it is the words that conjure up the emotions within the script, and in turn they are echoed in the cinematography. And not only the cinematography but the production design, the costumes the makeup, the visual effects, the editing.

In prep, I really like to spend time with the director and production designer going through the script page by page. It’s those first conversations that begin to bring life to the script, the mood of the actors in a scene, their emotions, their fear or anger, are they happy or sad. Just gaining that information from the director plants a suggestion of the feel of that particular scene, whether it’s hard shafts of light, high sun, moody sunset, soft silky light or dark dingy light.

A mood begins to be set and a discussion will take place about the use of the camera — whether it’s still, fast-moving, reflective or perhaps angry. Then comes the choice of the lens package. There are many choices and collectively — through the collaboration with the director — a mood and style emerges, which the team can take on board.

How early do you get involved in a production?
The cheeky answer to that is, probably never early enough. In truth, it does depend on the complexity of the production. You nearly always think you need more prep time, but invariably you just about get enough. Most departments in the filmmaking process would say the same.

Certainly, prep time is very important. It’s when you formulate the style, look and feeling of the piece. It’s also when you have time to meet, discuss, ask questions and get the answers that start to put shape to the project. Then you begin to plan scenes with the director and all the relevant departments that make up the team. On Carnival Row’s first season, I got six weeks of prep before we started shooting.

Can you talk about working with the show’s other departments?
One of the joys of being a cinematographer on a production is working with the other creative departments. Collectively, we are all responsible for giving the show a look. My first contact with other departments is usually the locations team and the production designer. Typically, these two teams have been busy before I arrive on the show, so some locations and set designs have already been looked at or even chosen.

During the first few days of my prep, I get up to speed quickly with their ideas and plans. This is often done with meetings with the showrunner, director, production designer, locations, 1st AD and visual effects to talk through the show’s concepts and journey. Then we discuss script requirements regarding locations or set builds and set extensions (CGI).

Do you enjoy working with the design team?
I love it. Lots of sets had to be built during the shooting of Carnival Row. Some were the mainstay sets, like the Constabulary, Spurnrose House, Balefire, Parliament and the boarding house. Then, of course, the backlot street set and numerous location sets, as well as real locations. Six stages were used at Prague’s Barrandov Studio. Discussions with the production designer were mostly about the size of a set, number of windows, entrances and ceilings, or whether to have them or not. And if you do have them, what’s their height, the set texture, color and darkness, etc. Not a day would go by without a discussion with the design team.

I would also talk the with costume and makeup departments about the colors of the costumes and hair styles, all important aspects of the show. There would be lots of “show and tell” with costumes and props. The makeup effects department was a fun place to visit. It was here where the wings of the fae were designed and built, along with the pucks’ horns and numerous dead bodies.

Can you talk about your camera team?
My A camera operator, Jakub Dvorsky, was a dream to work with. He somehow seemed to instantly understand what I would require with a shot. My gaffer, Enzo Cermak, was also exceptional, as was his team of talented friendly electricians. Thanks to Enzo’s help, I was able to effectively paint a scene.

Earlier you mentioned using candles, oil and gas lamps for lighting. Can you dive into that a bit further?
I liked the idea that the poorer streets of The Row had a cold daylight look to them, interspersed with firelight used for roasting chestnuts, cooking food or just for warmth. That, along with smoke from the fires, gave it a particular look. This cold light was used for the interiors scenes as well. For the Burgue, or well-off areas, we used warmer light with more contrast, and windows on sets were larger. This allowed more light in.

What about the nights?
Night shoots on The Row backlot were backlit or cross-lit with a blue/green moonlight, as referenced earlier. I used ¼ or ½ or sometimes full Wendy lights (tungsten) depending on distance from the set, with ½ blue and ¼ plus green gels. Invariably, if I used a ½ Wendy, one section would have ¼ or ½ diffusion filter as well as the moonlight gels. This gave me options to have a softer moonlight if needed, and I also had the ability to switch off sections of the Wendy lights to get the exposure levels that I wanted.

I would also use an LED tube balloon from a crane over the mid sections of the street set to allow a soft top moonlight. On the busy Row streets, I made use of brazier fires where street sellers cooked food. This gave me the warm light that contrasted with the moonlight. I would then add smoke and the scene would be set.

For interiors, I used a mixture of candles and oil lamps and, occasionally, gas lamps. Candles were used in the Haruspex set to great effect, and also the brothel set. Oil lamps were used in houses and the Constabulary.

Real oil lamps?
Some were real oil lamps and others were look-alike oil lamps. For these I used 650W lighting bulbs dimmed down to around 18% and then a slight flicker was added; the result was a very convincing warm glowing oil lamp look.

You mentioned that the show was shot in Prague?
Yes, Carnival Row was shot in the Czech Republic. The production base was at the historically built Barrandov Studio in Prague. Locations in and around Prague were also used.

You shot on the ARRI Alexa Mini. How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses this project?
Our frame size was a wide-screen format 1: 2.40. and the lens package was the ARRI Master Primes. The cameras gave us 3.2K upscaled to 4K picture quality. The wide-screen format gave us the ability to use the wonderful width of the frame to our advantage. The Master Primes give us the solid look that they are known for, with solid frames with little to no distortion and with good contrast.

Why the Alexa Mini?
I’m a fan of the ARRI Alexa range of digital cameras. I was always keen to use ARRI film cameras when film was at its height. When digital cameras started to become the vogue, ARRI brought out the D21 camera. It was a heavy, rather large camera with what would be described today as having limited digital prowess. Strangely, I liked the “look” this D21 gave me and used it on quite a few TV shows up until the ARRI Alexa hit the scene.

The Alexa was a game changer for cinematographers. I believe that the Alexa Mini was designed to be used as its name suggests: as a compact camera to be used in tight corners or on weight-limited camera rigs, like Steadicam and stabilized rigs. However, it was soon being used as the studio camera on many productions, and thanks to upgrades over time, it has become my “must-have” camera. It has a wonderful look, and when used in low light, it seems to have a different life. You can push it and pull it into different exciting looks. It’s my friend.

Any scenes that you are particularly proud?
There are many, but here is an example of one such scene. It’s in Season 1, Episode 5, directed by Andy Goddard. Philo (Orlando Bloom) revisits his childhood orphanage to investigate a murder. Between me and Andy, we set up a series of shots following Philo into his old dormitory as memories of his childhood come flooding back.

With no words spoken, we tracked with him through the numerous beds in this grey stone room, with haze-filled soft light coming through tall soulless windows. This gave the room a monochrome feel — a going-back-in-time look. We then devised a camera dolly shot that tracks and pans with Philo on the dolly and moving with the camera as if he is floating. As we tracked, we panned the camera along with Philo, and that developed into a flashback of him as a child with his friends. We then cut out to a wider shot to reveal just Philo standing alone, and the flashback has disappeared. We used this technique a couple of times within those scenes and they were both telling and subtle.

 

Is this like any other project you’ve worked on?
A short answer to that is no. Working on Game of Thrones (Season 3)is probably the nearest it gets, but Carnival Row is a very different beast. Each episode had a wonderment about it and is very magical in some way. The whole series was written as a fantasy world, set in a supposedly Victorian age, with humans, pucks and fae all thrown together. It was dark, mysterious, dangerous, intriguing and exciting.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
It all started when I was 11 years old. The family TV, one late September night, suddenly went bang, with a cloud of blue smoke and a flash. I was somehow fascinated by this event, and on my 12th birthday, my parents bought me a wonderfully illustrated book on how television worked from the television studio to the home. I was then on a mission to be involved somehow in the TV/film business. Art was one of my favorite subjects at school and my art teacher encouraged me to take up photography alongside my painting.

At 18 years old, off I went to art school to study photography. I enjoyed my first year, but I somehow became more interested in the team-oriented film and TV crowd. I moved from photography to cinematography, and the rest is history.

What inspires you artistically?
The obvious answer to that is art. Paintings inspire me. They always have. The way an artist uses light, shape, form, darkness, color, technique, composition, aspect ratio and sheer size or smallness of a canvas, how depth is created, senses of emotion, fear, happiness. Photography equally inspires me. Black and white versus color and that “decisive moment” when the shot is taken, a magnificent moment.

How do you stay on top of new technology?
Advancing technology comes at you from seemingly every direction today. The speed of that advancement during the 20th and 21st centuries is outstanding. I started shooting film at school with a clockwork wind-up 16mm Bolex camera with just two lenses, and look where we are now. I love the technical revolution. It’s important to embrace it, otherwise it overtakes you.

I seem to always be reading trade magazines to see the new developments. It’s also important to talk with other cinematographers to discuss their views and experiences on new technology.

Looking back, what technology has changed the way you work?
I suppose the biggest game changer, apart from digital cameras, is the advancement in LED light fixtures. For me, to be able to use light fixtures like the ARRI SkyPanel LED range — it offers low power and low-output heat, bi-color capabilities, dimming and effects… plus it has firmware that lets you produce gel colors across the spectrum — is just awesome. Camera and grip technology have also changed. The use of high-quality/small-footprint drones are an example, along with telescopic cranes with stabilized heads and cable camera systems.

Digital cameras have advanced over the last few years too, with 4K and 6K capability along with ISO changes from the base ISO of 800 to 2500 and 5000. There’s also the on-set color grading facility that enables the cinematographer to put his/her “look” on to the dailies.

What are some of your best practices you try to follow on each job?
For me, being well prepped and turning up on set early every day is a must for me. I have that nervous adrenaline hit within me at the start of the shooting day. A mixture of excitement and just nerves, which is the way I am. As soon as the rehearsal starts, I’m calm… well, mostly.

Getting into the director’s head [so to speak] is also important for me. Finding out what they like or dislike. We have to be a team and that includes the 1st AD, production designer, operator and many more. It’s important to remember that filmmaking is a team effort and I,  for one, encourage input from my team.


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

The Call of the Wild director Chris Sanders on combining live-action, VFX

By Iain Blair

The Fox family film The Call of the Wild, based on the Jack London tale, tells the story of  a big-hearted dog named Buck whose is stolen from his California home and transported to the Canadian Yukon during the Gold Rush. Director Chris Sanders called on the latest visual effects and animation technology to bring the animals in the film to life. The film stars Harrison Ford and is based on a screenplay by Michael Green.

Sanders’ crew included two-time Oscar–winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski; production designer Stefan Dechant; editors William Hoy, ACE, and David Heinz; composer John Powell; and visual effects supervisor Erik Nash.

I spoke with Sanders — who has helmed the animated films Lilo & Stitch, The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon — about making the film, which features a ton of visual effects.

You’ve had a very successful career in animation but wasn’t this a very ambitious project to take on for your live-action debut?
It was. It’s a big story, but I felt comfortable because it has such a huge animated element, and I felt I could bring a lot to the party. I also felt up to the task of learning — and having such an amazing crew made all of that as easy as it could possibly be.

Chris Sanders on set.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
As true a version as we could tell in a family-friendly way. No one’s ever tried to do the whole story. This is the first time. Before, people just focused on the last 30 pages of the novel and focused on the relationship between Buck and John Thornton, played by Harrison. And that makes perfect sense, but what you miss is the whole origin story of how they end up together — how Buck has to learn to become a sled dog, how he meets the wolves and joins their world. I loved all that, and also all the animation needed to bring it all alive.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the visual effects?
Right away, and we began with previs.

Your animation background must have helped with all the previs needed on this. Did you do a lot of previs, and what was the most demanding sequence?
We did a ton. In animation it’s called layout, a rough version, and on this we didn’t arrive on set without having explored the sequence many times in previs. It helped us place the cameras and block it all, and we also improvised and invented on set. But previs was a huge help with any heavy VFX element, like when Thornton’s going down river. We had real canoes in a river in Canada with inertial measurement devices and inertial recorders, and that was the most extensive recording we had to do. Later in post, we had to replace the stuntman in the canoe with Thornton and Buck in an identical canoe with identical movements. That was so intensive.

 

How was it working with Harrison Ford?
The devotion to his craft and professionalism… he really made me understand what “preparing for a role” really means, and he really focused on Thornton’s back story. The scene where he writes the letter to his wife? Harrison dictated all of that to me and I just wrote it down on top of the script. He invented all that. He did that quite a few times. He made the whole experience exciting and easy.

The film has a sort of retro look. Talk about working with DP Janusz Kaminski.
We talked about the look a lot, and we both wanted to evoke those old Disney films we saw as kids —something very rich with a magical storybook feel to it. We storyboarded a lot of the film, and I used all the skills I’d learned in animation. I’d see sequences a certain way, draw it out, and sometimes we’d keep them and cut them into editorial, which is exactly what you do in animation.

How tough was the shoot? It must have been quite a change of pace for you.
You’re right. It was about 50 days, and it was extremely arduous. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically, and I was not fully prepared for how exhausted you get — and there’s no time to rest. I’d be driving to set by 4:30am every day, and we’d be shooting by 6am. And we weren’t even in the Yukon — we shot here in California, a mixture of locations doubling for the Yukon and stage work.

 

Where did you post?
All on the Fox lot, and MPC Montreal did all the VFX. We cut it in relatively small offices. I’m so used to post, as all animation is basically post. I wish it was faster, but you can’t rush it.

You had two editors — William Hoy and David Heinz. How did that work?
We sent them dailies and they divided up the work since we had so much material. Having two great voices is great, as long as everyone’s making the same movie.

What were the big editing challenges?
The creative process in editorial is very different from animation, and I was floored by how malleable this thing was. I wasn’t prepared for that. You could change a scene completely in editorial, and I was blown away at what they could accomplish. It took a long time because we came back with over three hours of material in the first assembly, and we had to crush that down to 90 minutes. So we had to lose a huge amount, and what we kept had to be really condensed, and the narrative would shift a lot. We’d take comedic bits and make them more serious and vice versa.

Visual effects play a key role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Erik Nash.
I love working with VFX, and they were huge in this. I believe there are less than 30 shots in the whole film that don’t have some VFX. And apart from creating Buck and most of the other dogs and animals, we had some very complex visual effects scenes, like the avalanche and the sledding sequence.

L-R: Director Chris Sanders and writer Iain Blair

We had VFX people on set at all times. Erik was always there supervising the reference. He’d also advise us on camera angles now and then, and we’d work very closely with him all the time. The cameras were hooked up to send data to our recording units so that we always knew what lens was on what camera at what focal length and aperture, so later the VFX team knew exactly how to lens the scenes with all the set extensions and how to light them.

The music and sound also play a key role, especially for Buck, right?
Yes, because music becomes Buck’s voice. The dogs don’t talk like they do in Lion King, so it was critical. John Powell wrote a beautiful score that we recorded on the Newman Stage at Fox, and then we mixed at 5 Cat Studios.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Technicolor with colorist Mike Hatzer, and I’m pretty involved. Janusz did the first pass and set the table, and then we fine-tuned it, and I’m very happy with the rich look we got.

Do you want to direct another live-action film?
Yes. I’m much more comfortable with the idea now that I know what goes into it. It’s a challenge, but a welcome one.

What’s next?
I’m looking at all sorts of projects, and I love the idea of doing another hybrid like this.


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

DP Chat: Watchmen cinematographer Greg Middleton

By Randi Altman

HBO’s Watchmen takes us to new dimensions in this recent interpretation of the popular graphic novel. In this iteration, we spend a lot of our time in Tulsa, Oklahoma, getting to know Regina King’s policewoman Angela Abar, her unconventional family and a shadowy organization steeped in racism called the Seventh Kavalry. We also get a look back — beautiful in black and white — at Abar’s tragic family back story. It was created and written for TV by Lost veteran Damon Lindelof.

Greg Middleton

Greg Middleton, ASC, CSC, who also worked on Game of Thrones and The Killing, was the series cinematographer. We reached out to him to find out about his process, workflow and where he gets inspiration.

When were you brought on to Watchmen, and what type of looks did the showrunner want from the show?
I joined Watchmen after the pilot for Episode 2. A lot of my early prep was devoted to discussions with the showrunner and producing directors on how to develop the look from the pilot going forward. This included some pilot reshoots due to changes in casting and the designing and building of new sets, like the police precinct.

Nicole Kassell (director of Episodes 1, 2 and 8) and series production designer Kristian Milstead and I spent a lot of time breaking down the possibilities of how we could define the various worlds through color and style.

How was the look described to you? What references were you given?
We based the evolution of the look of the show on the scripts, the needs of the structure within the various worlds and on the graphic novel, which we commonly referred to as “the Old Testament.”

As you mention, it’s based on a graphic novel. Did the look give a nod to that? If so, how? Was that part of the discussion?
We attempted to break down the elements of the graphic novel that might translate well and those that would not. It’s an interesting bit of detective work because a lot of the visual cues in the comic are actually a commentary on the style of comics at the time it was published in 1985.

Those cues, if taken literally, would not necessarily work for us, as their context would not be clear. Things like color were very referential to other comics of the time. For example, they used only secondary color instead of primaries as was the norm. The graphic novel is also a film noir in many ways, so we got some of our ideas based on that.

What did translate well were compositional elements — tricks of transition like match cuts and the details of story in props, costumes and sets within each frame. We used some split diopters and swing shift lenses to give us some deep focus effects for large foreground objects. In the graphic novel, of course, everything is in focus, so those type of compositions are common!

This must have been fun because of the variety of looks the series has — the black-and-white flashbacks, the stylized version of Tulsa, the look of the mansion in Wales (Europa), Vietnam in modern day. Can you talk about each of the different looks?
Yes, there were so many looks! When we began prep on the series with the second episode, we were also simultaneously beginning to film the scenes in Wales for the “blond man” scenes. We knew that that storyline would have its own particular feel because of the location and its very separateness from the rest of the world.

A more classic traditional proscenium-like framing and style seemed very appropriate. Part of that intent was designed to both confuse and to make very apparent to the audience that we were definitely in another world. Cinematographer Chris Seager, BSC, was filming those scenes as I was still doing tests for the other looks and the rest of our show in Atlanta.

We discussed lenses, camera format, etc. The three major looks we had to design that we knew would go together initially were our “Watchmen” world, the “American hero story” show within the show, and the various flashbacks to 1921 Tulsa and World War I. I was determined to make sure that the main world of the show did not feel overly processed and colorized photographically. We shot many tests and developed a LUT that was mostly film-like. The other important aspects to creating a look are, of course, art direction and production design, and I had a great partner in Kristian Milstead, the production designer who joined the show after the pilot.

This was a new series. Do you enjoy developing the look of a show versus coming on board after the look was established?
I enjoy helping to figure out how to tell the story. For series, helping develop the look photographically in the visual strategy is a big part of that. Even if some of those are established, you still do similar decision-making for shooting individual scenes. However, I much prefer being engaged from the beginning.

So even when you weren’t in Wales, you were providing direction?
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Seager and I spoke and emailed regarding lenses and those choices. It was still early for us in Atlanta, but there were preliminary decisions to be made on how the “blond man” (our code name for Jeremy Irons) world would be compared to our Watchmen world. What I did was consult with my director, Nicole Kassell, on her storyboards for her sequences in Wales.

Were there any scenes or looks that stood out as more challenging than others? Can you describe?
Episode 106 was a huge challenge. We have a lot of long takes involving complex camera moves and dimmer cues as a camera would circle or travel between rooms. Also, we developed the black-and-white look to feel like older black-and-white film.
One scene in June’s apartment involved using the camera on a small Scorpio 10-foot crane and a mini libre head to accomplish a slow move around the room. Then we had to push between her two actors toward the wall as an in-camera queue of a projected image of the black-and-white movie Trust in the Law reveals itself with a manual iris.

This kind of shot ends up being a dance with at least six people, not including the cast. The entire “nostalgia” part of the episode was done this way. And none of this would’ve been possible without incredible cast being able to hit these incredibly long takes and choreograph themselves with the camera. Jovan Adepo and Danielle Deadwyler were incredible throughout the episode.

I assume you did camera tests. Why did you choose the ARRI Alexa? Why was it right for this? What about lenses, etc.?
I have been working with the Alexa for many years now, so I was aware of what I could do with the camera. I tested a couple of others, but in the end the Alexa Mini was the right choice for us. I also needed a camera that was small so I could go on and off of a gimbal or fit into small places.

How did you work with the colorist? Who was that on this show? Were you in the suite with them?
Todd Bochner was our final colorist at Sim in LA. I shot several camera tests and worked with him in the suite to help develop viewing LUTs for the various worlds of the show. We did the same procedure for the black and white. In the end, we mimicked some techniques similar to black-and-white film (like red filters), except for us, it was adjusting the channels accordingly.

Do you know what they used on the color?
Yes, it was Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 16.

How did you get interested in cinematography?
I was always making films as a kid, and then in school and then in university. In film school, at some point splitting apart the various jobs, I seemed to have some aptitude for the cinematography, so after school I decided to try making my focus. I came to it more out of a love of storytelling and filmmaking and less about photography.

Greg Middleton

What inspires you? Other films?
Films that move me emotionally.

What’s next for you?
A short break! I’ve been very fortunate to have been working a lot lately. A film I shot just before Watchmen called American Woman, directed by Semi Chellas, should be coming out this year.

And what haven’t I asked that’s important?
I think the question all filmmakers should ask themselves is, “Why am I telling this story, and what is unique about the way in which I’m telling it?”


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

Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Noah Baumbach first made a name for himself with The Squid and the Whale, his 2005 semi-autobiographical, bittersweet story about his childhood and his parents’ divorce. It launched his career, scoring him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Noah Baumbach

His latest film, Marriage Story, is also about the disintegration of a marriage — and the ugly mechanics of divorce. Detailed and emotionally complex, the film stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as the doomed couple.

In all, Marriage Story scooped up six Oscar nominations — Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score. Laura Dern walked away with a statue for her supporting role.

The film co-stars Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta. The behind-the-scenes team includes director of photography Robbie Ryan, editor Jennifer Lame and composer Randy Newman.

Just a few days before the Oscars, Baumbach — whose credits also include The Meyerwitz Stories, Frances Ha and Margot at the Wedding — talked to me about making the film and his workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
It’s obviously about a marriage and divorce, but I never really think about a project in specific terms, like a genre or a tone. In the past, I may have started a project thinking it was a comedy but then it morphs into something else. With this, I just tried to tell the story as I initially conceived it, and then as I discovered it along the way. While I didn’t think about tone in any general sense, I became aware as I worked on it that it had all these different tones and genre elements. It had this flexibility, and I just stayed open to all those and followed them.

I heard that you were discussing this with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as you wrote the script. Is that true?
Yes, but it wasn’t daily. I’d reached out to both of them before I began writing it, and luckily they were both enthusiastic and wanted to do it, so I had them as an inspiration and guide as I wrote. Periodically, we’d get together and discuss it and I’d show them some pages to keep them in the loop. They were very generous with conversations about their own lives, their characters. My hope was that when I gave them the finished script it would feel both new and familiar.

What did they bring to the roles?
They were so prepared and helped push for the truth in every scene. Their involvement from the very start did influence how I wrote their roles. Nicole has that long monologue and I don’t know if I’d have written it without Scarlett’s input and knowing it was her. Adam singing “Being Alive” came out of some conversations with him. They’re very specific elements that come from knowing them as people.

You reunited with Irish DP Robbie Ryan, who shot The Meyerowitz Stories. Talk about how you collaborated on the look and why you shot on film?
I grew up with film and feel it’s just the right medium for me. We shot The Meyerowitz Stories on Super 16, and we shot this on 35mm, and we had to deal with all these office spaces and white rooms, so we knew there’d be all these variations on white. So there was a lot of discussion about shades and the palette, along with the production and costume designers, and also how we were going to shoot these confined spaces, because it was what the story required.

You shot on location in New York and LA. How tough was the shoot?
It was challenging, but mainly because of the sheer length of many of the scenes. There’s a lot of choreography in them, and some are quite emotional, so everyone had to really be up for the day, every day. There was no taking it easy one day. Every day felt important for the movie.

Where did you do the post?
All in New York. I have an office in the Village where I cut my last two films, and we edited there again. We mixed on the Warner stage, where I’ve mixed most of my movies. We recorded the music and orchestra in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it. It’s the most fun and the most civilized part of the whole process. You go to work and work on the film all day, have dinner and go home. Writing is always a big challenge, as you’re making it up as you go along, and it can be quite agonizing. Shooting can be fun, but it’s also very stressful trying to get everything you need. I love working with the actors and crew, but you need a high level of energy and endurance to get through it. So then post is where you can finally relax, and while problems and challenges always arise, you can take time to solve them. I love editing, the whole rhythm of it, the logic of it.

_DSC4795.arw

Talk about editing with Jennifer Lame. How did that work?
We work so well together, and our process really starts in the script stage. I’ll give her an early draft to get her feedback and, basically, we start editing the script. We’ll go through it and take out anything we know we’re not going to use. Then during the shoot she’ll sometimes come to the set, and we’ll also talk twice a day. We’ll discuss the day’s work before I start, and then at lunch we’ll go over the previous day’s dailies. So by the time we sit down to edit, we’re really in sync about the whole movie. I don’t work off an assembly, so she’ll put together stuff for herself to let me know a scene is working the way we designed it. If there’s a problem, she’ll let me know what we need.

What were the big editing challenges?
Besides the general challenges of getting a scene right, I think for some of the longer ones it was all about finding the right rhythm and pacing. And it was particularly true of this film that the pace of something early on could really affect something later. Then you have to fix the earlier bit first, and sometimes it’s the scene right before. For instance, the scene where Charlie and Nicole have a big argument that turns into a very emotional fight is really informed by the courtroom scene right before it. So we couldn’t get it right until we’d got the courtroom scene right.

A lot of directors do test screenings. Do you?
No, I have people I show it to and get feedback, but I’ve never felt the need for testing.

VFX play a role. What was involved?
The Artery did them. For instance, when Adam cuts his arm we used VFX in addition to the practical effects, and then there’s always cleanup.

Talk about the importance of sound to you as a filmmaker, as it often gets overlooked in this kind of film.
I’m glad you said that because that’s so true, and this doesn’t have obvious sound effects. But the sound design is quite intricate, and Chris Scarabosio (working out of Skywalker Sound), who did Star Wars, did the sound design and mix; he was terrific.

A lot of it was taking the real-world environments in New York and LA and building on that, and maybe taking some sounds out and playing around with all the elements. We spent a lot of time on it, as both the sound and image should be unnoticed in this. If you start thinking, “That’s a cool shot or sound effect,” it takes you out of the movie. Both have to be emotionally correct at all times.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at New York’s Harbor Post with colorist Marcy Robinson, who’s done several of my films. It’s very important, but we didn’t do anything too extreme, as there’s not a lot of leeway for changing the look that much. I’m very happy with the look and the way it all turned out.

Congratulations on all the Oscar noms. How important is that for a film like this?
It’s a great honor. We’re all still the kids who grew up watching movies and the Oscars, so it’s a very cool thing. I’m thrilled.

What’s next?
I don’t know. I just started writing, but nothing specific yet.


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

Director James Mangold on Oscar-nominated Ford v Ferrari

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker James Mangold has been screenwriting, producing and directing for years. He has made films about country legends (Walk the Line), cowboys (3:10 to Yuma), superheroes (Logan) and cops (Cop Land), and has tackled mental illness (Girl Interrupted) as well.

Now he’s turned his attention to race car drivers and Formula 1 with his movie Ford v Ferrari, which has earned Mangold an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The film also received nods for its editing, sound editing and sound mixing.

James Mangold (beard) on set.

The high-octane drama was inspired by a true-life friendship that forever changed racing history. In 1959, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is on top of the world after winning the most difficult race in all of motorsports, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But his greatest triumph is followed quickly by a crushing blow — the fearless Texan is told by doctors that a grave heart condition will prevent him from ever racing again.

Endlessly resourceful, Shelby reinvents himself as a car designer and salesman working out of a warehouse space in Venice Beach with a team of engineers and mechanics that includes hot-tempered test driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). A champion British race car driver and a devoted family man, Miles is brilliant behind the wheel, but he’s also blunt, arrogant and unwilling to compromise.

After Shelby’s vehicles make a strong showing at Le Mans against Italy’s venerable Enzo Ferrari, Ford Motor Company recruits the firebrand visionary to design the ultimate race car, a machine that can beat even Ferrari on the unforgiving French track. Determined to succeed against overwhelming odds, Shelby, Miles and their ragtag crew battle corporate interference, the laws of physics and their own personal demons to develop a revolutionary vehicle that will outshine every competitor. The film culminates in the historic showdown between the US and Italy at the grueling 1966 24 hour Le Mans race.

Mangold’s below-the-line talent, many of whom have collaborated with the director before, includes Academy Award-nominated director of photography Phedon Papamichael; film editors Michael McCusker, ACE, and Andrew Buckland; visual effects supervisor Olivier Dumont; and composers Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and Director James Mangold

I spoke with Mangold — whose other films include Logan, The Wolverine and Knight and Day — about making the film and his workflow.

You obviously love exploring very different subject matter in every film you make.
Yes, and I do every movie like a sci-fi film — meaning inventing a new world that has its own rules, customs, language, laws of physics and so on, and you need to set it up so the audience understands and they get it all. It’s like being a world-builder, and I feel every film should have that, as you’re entering this new world, whether it’s Walk the Line or The French Connection. And the rules and behavior are different from our own universe, and that’s what makes the story and characters interesting to me.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Well, given all that, I wanted to make an exciting racing movie about that whole world, but it’s also that it was a moment when racing was free of all things that now turn me off about it. The cars were more beautiful then, and free of all the branding. Today, the cars are littered with all the advertising and trademarks — and it’s all nauseating to me. I don’t even feel like I’m watching a sport anymore.

When this story took place, it was also a time when all the new technology was just exploding. Racing hasn’t changed that much over the past 20 years. It’s just refining and tweaking to get that tiny edge, but back in the ‘60s they were still inventing the modern race car, and discovering aerodynamics and alternate building materials and methods. It was a brand-new world, so there was this great sense of discovery and charm along with all that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
Trying to do what I felt all the other racing movies hadn’t really done — taking the driving out of the CG world and putting it back in the real world, so you could feel the raw power and the romanticism of racing. A lot of that’s down to the particulates in the air, the vibrations of the camera, the way light moves around the drivers — and the reality of behavior when you’re dealing with incredibly powerful machines. So right from the start, I decided we had to build all the race cars; that was a huge challenge right there.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Day one. I wanted to use real cars and shoot the Le Mans and other races in camera rather than using CGI. But this is a period piece, so we did use a lot of CGI for set extensions and all the crowds. We couldn’t afford 50,000 extras, so just the first six rows or so were people in the stands; the rest were digital.

Did you do a lot of previz?

A lot, especially for Le Mans, as it was such a big, three-act sequence with so many moving parts. We used far less for Daytona. We did a few storyboards and then me and my second unit director, Darrin Prescott — who has choreographed car chases and races in such movies as Drive, Deadpool 2, Baby Driver and The Bourne Ultimatum — planned it out using matchbox cars.

I didn’t want that “previzy” feeling. Even when I do a lot of previz, whether it’s a Marvel movie or like this, I always tell my previz team “Don’t put the camera anywhere it can’t go.” One of the things that often happens when you have the ability to make your movie like a cartoon in a laboratory — which is what previz is — is that you start doing a lot of gimmicky shots and flying the camera through keyholes and floating like a drone, because it invites you to do all that crazy shit. It’s all very show-offy as a director — “Look at me!” — and a turnoff to me. It takes me out of the story, and it’s also not built off the subjective experience of your characters.

This marks your fifth collaboration with DP Phedon Papamichael, and I noticed there’s no big swooping camera moves or the beauty shot approach you see in all the car commercials.
Yes, we wanted it to look beautiful, but in a real way. There’s so much technology available now, like gyroscopic setups and arms that let you chase the cars in high-speed vehicles down tracks. You can do so much, so why do you need to do more? I’m conservative that way. My goal isn’t to brand myself through my storytelling tricks.

How tough was the shoot?
It was one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever had, with my regular crew and a great cast. But it was also very grueling, as we were outside a lot, often in 115-degree heat in the desert on blacktop. And locations were big challenges. The original Le Mans course doesn’t exist anymore like it used to be, so we used several locations in Georgia to double for it. We shot the races wide-angle anamorphic with a team of a dozen professional drivers, and with anamorphic you can shoot the cars right up into the lens — just inches away from camera, while they’d be doing 150 mph or 160 mph.

Where did you post?
All on the Fox lot at my offices. We scored at Capitol Records and mixed the score in Malibu at my composer’s home studio. I really love the post, and for me it’s all part of the same process — the same cutting and pasting I do when I’m writing, and even when I’m directing. You’re manipulating all these elements and watching it take form — and particularly in this film, where all the sound design and music and dialogue are all playing off one another and are so key. Take the races. By themselves, they look like nothing. It’s just a car whipping by. The power of it all only happens with the editing.

You had two editors — Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland. How did that work?
Mike’s been with me for 20 years, so he’s kind of the lead. Mike and Drew take and trade scenes, and they’re good friends so they work closely together. I move back and forth between them, which also gives them each some space. It’s very collaborative. We all want it to look beautiful and elegant and well-designed, but no one’s a slave to any pre-existing ideas about structure or pace. (Check out postPerspective‘s interview with the editing duo here.)

What were the big editing challenges?
It’s a car racing movie with drama, so we had to hit you with adrenalin and then hold you with what’s a fairly procedural and process-oriented film about these guys scaling the corporate wall to get this car built and on the track. Most of that’s dramatic scenes. The flashiest editing is the races, which was a huge, year-long effort. Mike was cutting the previz before we shot a foot, and initially we just had car footage, without the actors, so that was a challenge. It all transformed once we added the actors.

Can you talk about working on the visual effects with Method’s VFX supervisor Olivier Dumont?
He did an incredible job, as no one thinks there are so many. They’re really invisible, and that’s what I love — the film feels 100% analog, but of course it isn’t. It’s impossible to build giant race tracks as they were in the ‘60s. But having real foregrounds really helped. We had very few scenes where actors were wandering around in a green void like on so many movies now. So you’re always anchored in the real world, and then all the set extensions were in softer focus or backlit.

This film really lends itself to sound.
Absolutely, as every car has its own signature sound, and as we cut rapidly from interiors to exteriors, from cars to pits and so on. The perspective aural shifts are exciting, but we also tried to keep it simple and not lose the dramatic identity of the story. We even removed sounds in the mix if they weren’t important, so we could focus on what was important.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Efilm with Skip Kimball (working on Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve), and it was huge on this, especially dealing with the 24-hour race, the changing light, rain and night scenes, and having to match five different locations was a nightmare. So we worked on all that and the overall look from early on in the edit.

What’s next?
Don’t know. I’ve got two projects I’m working on. We’ll see.


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

DP Chat: The Grudge’s Zachary Galler

By Randi Altman

Being on set is like coming home for New York-based cinematographer Zachary Galler, who as a child would tag along with his father while he directed television and film projects. The younger Galler started in the industry as a lighting technician and quickly worked his way up to shooting various features and series.

His first feature as a cinematographer, The Sleepwalker, premiered at the in 2014 and was later distributed by IFC. His second feature, She’s Lost Control, was awarded the C.I.C.A.E. Award at the Berlin International Film Festival later that year. Other television credits include all eight episodes of Discovery’s scripted series Manhunt: Unabomber, Hulu’s The Act and USA’s Briarpatch (coming in February). He recently completed the feature Nicolas Pesce-directed thriller The Grudge, which stars John Cho and Betty Gilpin and is in theaters now.

Tell us about The Grudge. How early did you get involved in planning, and what direction were you given by the director about the look he wanted?
Nick and I worked together on a movie he directed called Piercing. That was our first collaboration, but we discovered that we had very similar ideas and working styles and we formed a special relationship. Shortly after that project, we started talking about The Grudge, and about a year later we were shooting. We talked a lot about how this movie should feel, and how we could achieve something new and different from something neither of us had done before. We used a lot of look-books and movie references to communicate, so when it came time to shoot we had the visual language down fluently and that allowed us keep each other consistent in execution.

How would you describe the look?
Nick really liked the bleach-bypass look from David Fincher’s Se7en, and I thought about a mix of that and (photographer) Bill Henson. We also knew that we had to differentiate between the different storyline threads in the movie, so we had lots to figure out. One of the threads is darker and looks very yellow, while another is warmer and more classic. Another is slightly more desaturated and darker. We did keep the same bleach-bypass look throughout, but adjusted our color temperature, contrast and saturation accordingly. For a horror movie like this, I really wanted to be able to control where the shadow detail turned into black, because some of our scare scenes relied on that so we made sure to light accordingly, and were able to fine-tune most of that in-camera.

How did you work with the director and colorist to achieve that look?
We worked with FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou (who used Blackmagic Resolve). I was shooting a TV show during the main color pass, so I only got to check in to set looks and approve final color, but Nick and Kostas did a beautiful job. Kostas is a master of contrast control and very tastefully helped us ride that line of where there should be detail and where it should not be detail. He was definitely an important part of the collaboration and helped make the movie better.

Where was it shot and how long was the shoot?
We shot the movie in 35 days in Winnipeg, Canada.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project and why these tools?
Nick decided early on that he wanted to shoot this film anamorphic. Panavision has been an important partner for me on most of my projects, and I knew that I loved their glass. We got a range of different lenses from Panavision Toronto to help us differentiate our storylines — we shot one on T Series, one on Primo anamorphics and one on G Series anamorphics. The Alexa Mini was the camera of choice because of its low light sensitivity and more natural feel.

Now more general questions…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
My father was a director, so I would visit him on set a lot when I was growing up. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do when I was young but I knew that it was being on set. After dropping out of film school, I got a job working in a lighting rental warehouse and started driving trucks and delivering lights to sets in New York. I had always loved taking pictures as a kid and as I worked more and learned more, I realized that what I wanted to do was be a DP. I was very lucky in that I found some great collaborators early on in my career that both pushed me and allowed me to fail. This is the greatest job in the world.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
Artistically, I am inspired by painters, photographers and other DPs. There are so many people doing such amazing work right now. As far as technology is concerned, I’m a bit slow with adopting, as I need to hold something in my hands or see what it does before I adopt it. I have been very lucky to get to work with some great crews, and often a camera assistant, gaffer or key grip will bring something new to the table. I love that type of collaboration.

 

DP Zachary Galler (right) and director Nicolas Pesce on the set of Screen Gems’ The Grudge.

What new technology has changed the way you works?
For some reason, I was resistant to using LUTs for a long time. The Grudge was actually the first time I relied on something that wasn’t close to just plain Rec 709. I always figured that if I could get the 709 feeling good when I got into color I’d be in great shape. Now, I realize how helpful they can be, and that you can push much further. I also think that the Astera LED tubes are amazing. They allow you to do so much so fast and put light in places that would be very hard to do with other traditional lighting units.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I try to be pretty laid back on set, and I can only do that because I’m very picky about who I hire in prep. I try and let people run their departments as much as possible and give them as much information as possible — it’s like cooking, where you try and get the best ingredients and don’t do much to them. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some great crews over the years.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I really try and keep an open mind about gear. I don’t feel romantically attached to anything, so that I can make the right choices for each project.


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

Atomos Shogun 7 updated to 10.4, offers multicam switching

Atomos has updated its Shogun 7 HDR monitor-recorder/switcher designed to make multicamera filmmaking available to a variety of content creators. The update adds touch-controlled switching, quad monitoring and ISO recording functionality to the Shogun 7. This allows users to accurately switch back and forth between four live HD SDI video streams up to 1080p/60fps.

Tapping on an input stream’s window in the quad-view will switch to that source as the program feed — which is then output via HDMI, SDI or both simultaneously. You can record all four streams, with the switched program output as a fifth stream. This is done asynchronously, without the need for genlocked sources.

The streams are all recorded to the same high-performance SSD drive and can be ready to edit right after the shoot ends. Each is recorded as a separate ISO in either Apple ProRes or Avid DNx. This helps post production with the convenience of having multiple, synchronized camera angles when they are in the edit suite.

All input switches are recorded in metadata with a choice of transition type. Once users have finished capturing the streams, they can import the resulting Apple Final Cut XML file, along with the ISOs, into an NLE and the timeline automatically populates with all the transitions in place.

In terms of audio, every ISO can record the two-channel embedded digital audio from each source, as well as analog stereo channels coming into the Shogun 7 (via optional XLR breakout cable). The program stream always records the analog feed and can switch between audio inputs for the on-camera audio to match the switched feed.

On-screen, you can choose to view the four input streams at once in a quad-view or a full-screen view of any one of the four input streams. In full-screen you can access tools like waveforms, magnify or engage peaking check focus for each angle and make any adjustments to get the perfect HDR or SDR shots.

“This latest update takes the Shogun 7 — a product that costs less than $1,500 — to a whole new level by giving a new storytelling tool to our customers,” says Jeromy Young, CEO of Atomos. “With live switching now available to any filmmaker, on a simple-to-use, touchscreen device, we’re taking multicamera video out of the purely professional domain and giving every content creator access.”

Atomos 10.4 is available now as a free download from the Atomos website. This replaces the earlier limited beta and users of that version should update to Atomos 10.4.

Colorfront’s Express Dailies 2020 for Mac Pro, new rental model

Coinciding with Apple’s launch of the latest Mac Pro workstation, Colorfront announced a new, annual rental model for Colorfront Express Dailies.

Launching in Q1 2020, Colorfront’s subscription service allows users to rent Express Dailies 2020 for an annual fee of $5,000, including maintenance support, updates and upgrades. Additionally, the availability of Apple’s brand-new Pro Display XDR, designed for use with the new Mac Pro, makes on-set HDR monitoring, enabled by Colorfront systems, more cost effective.

Express Dailies 2020 supports 6K HDR/SDR workflow along with the very latest camera and editorial formats, including Apple ProRes and Apple ProRes RAW, ARRI MXF-wrapped ProRes, ARRI Alexa LF and Alexa Mini LF ARRIRAW, Sony Venice 5.0, Blackmagic RAW 1.5, and Codex HDE (High Density Encoding).

Express Dailies 2020 is optimized for 6K HDR/SDR dailies processing on the new Mac Pro running MacOS Catalina, leveraging the performance of the Mac Pro’s Intel Xeon 28 core CPU processor and multi-GPU rendering.

“With the launch of the new Mac Pro and Apple Pro Display XDR, we identified a new opportunity to empower top-end DITs and dailies facilities to adopt HDR workflows on a wide range of high-end TV ad motion picture productions,” says Aron Jaszberenyi, managing director of Colorfront. “When combined with the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR, Express Dailies 2020 subscription model gives new and cost-effective options for filmmakers wanting to take full advantage of 6K HDR/SDR workflows and HDR on-set.”

 

Quick Chat: The Rebel Fleet’s Michael Urban talks on-set workflows

When shooting major motion pictures and episodic television with multiple crews in multiple locations, production teams need a workflow that gives them fast access and complete control of the footage across the entire production, from the first day of the shoot to the last day of post. This is Wellington, New Zealand-based The Rebel Fleet’s reason for being.

What exactly do they do? Well we reached out to managing director Michael Urban to find out.

Can you talk more about what you do and what types of workflows you supply?
The Rebel Fleet supplies complete workflow solutions, from on-set Qtake video assist and DIT to dailies, QC, archive and delivery to post. By managing the entire workflow, we can provide consistency and certainty around the color pipeline, monitor calibration, crew expertise and communication, and production can rely on one team to take care of that part of the workflow.

We have worked closely with Moxion many times and use its Immediates workflow, which enables automated uploads direct from video assist into its secure dailies platform. Anyone with access to the project can view rushes and metadata from set moments after the video is shot. This also enables different shooting units to automatically and securely share media. Two units shooting in different countries can see what each other has shot, including all camera and scene/take metadata. This is then available and catalogued directly into the video assist system. We have a lot of experience working alongside camera and VFX on-set as well as delivering to post, making sure we are delivering exactly what’s needed in the right formats.

You recently worked on a film that was shot in New Zealand and China, and you sent crews to China. Can you talk about that workflow a bit and name the film?
I can’t name the film yet, but I can tell you that it’s in the adventure genre and is coming out in the second half of 2020. The main pieces of software are Colorfront On-Set Dailies for processing all the media and Yoyotta for downloading and verifying media. We also use Avid for some edit prep before handing over to editorial.

How did you work with the DP and director? Can you talk about those relationships on this particular film?
On this shoot the DP and director had rushes screenings each night to go over the main unit and second unit rushes and make sure the dailies grade was exactly what they wanted. This was the last finesse before handing over dailies to editorial, so it had to be right. As rushes were being signed off, we would send them off to the background render engine, which would create four different outputs in multiple resolutions and framing. This meant that moments after the last camera mag was signed off, the media was ready for Avid prep and delivery. Our data team worked hard to automate as many processes as possible so there would be no long nights sorting reports and sheets. That work happened as we went throughout the day instead of leaving a multitude of tasks for the end of the day.

How do your workflows vary from project to project?
Every shoot is approached with a clean slate, and we work with the producers, DP and post to make sure we create a workflow that suits the logistical, budgetary and technical needs of that shoot. We have a tool kit that we rely on and use it to select the correct components required. We are always looking for ways to innovate and provide more value for the bottom line.

You mentioned using Colorfront tools, what does that offer you? And what about storage? Seems like working on location means you need a solid way to back up.
Colorfront On-Set Dailies takes care of QC, grade, sound sync and metadata. All of our shared storage is built around Quantum Xcellis, plus the Quantum QXS hybrid storage systems for online and nearline. We create the right SAN for the job depending on the amount of storage and clients required for that shoot.

Can you name projects you’ve worked on in the past as well as some recent work?
Warner Bros.’ The Meg, DreamWorks’ Ghost in the Shell, Sonar’s The Shannara Chronicles, STX Entertainment’s Adrift, Netflix’s The New Legends of Monkey and The Letter for the King and Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island.

Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller

By Iain Blair

He said he’d be back, and he meant it. Thirty-five years after he first arrived to menace the world in the 1984 classic The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned as the implacable killing machine in Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest installment of the long-running franchise.

And he’s not alone in his return. Terminator: Dark Fate also reunites the film’s producer and co-writer James Cameron with original franchise star Linda Hamilton for the first time in 28 years in a new sequel that picks up where Terminator 2: Judgment Day left off.

When the film begins, more than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor (Hamilton) prevented Judgment Day, changed the future and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Now, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother (Diego Boneta) and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator — a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) — travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) from Sarah’s past that might be their last best hope.

To helm all the on-screen mayhem, black humor and visual effects, Cameron handpicked Tim Miller, whose credits include the global blockbuster Deadpool, one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time (it grossed close to $800 million). Miller then assembled a close-knit team of collaborators that included director of photography Ken Seng (Deadpool, Project X), editor Julian Clarke (Deadpool, District 9) and visual effects supervisor Eric Barba (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Oblivion).

Tim Miller on set

I recently talked to Miller about making the film, its cutting-edge VFX, the workflow and his love of editing and post.

How daunting was it when James Cameron picked you to direct this?
I think there’s something wrong with me because I don’t really feel fear as normal people do. It just manifests as a sense of responsibility, and with this I knew I’d never measure up to Jim’s movies but felt I could do a good job. Jim was never going to tell this story, and I wanted to see it, so it just became more about the weight of that sense of responsibility, but not in a debilitating way. I felt pretty confident I could carry this off. But later, the big anxiety was not to let down Linda Hamilton. Before I knew her, it wasn’t a thing, but later, once I got to know her I really felt I couldn’t mess it up (laughs).

This is still Cameron’s baby even though he handed over the directing to you. How hands-on was he?
He was busy with Avatar, but he was there for a lot of the early meetings and was very involved with the writing and ideas, which was very helpful thematically. But he wasn’t overbearing on all that. Then later when we shot, he wanted to write a few of the key scenes, which he did, and then in the edit he was in and out, but he never came into my edit room. He’d give notes and let us get on with it.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A continuation of Sarah’s story. I never felt it was John’s story to me. It was always about a mother’s love for a son, and I felt like there was a real opportunity here. And that that story hadn’t been told — partly because the other sequels never had Linda. Once she wanted to come back, it was always the best possible story. No one else could be her or Arnold’s character.

Any surprises working with them?
Before we shot, people were telling me, “You got to be ready, we can’t mess around. When Arnold walks on set you’d better be rolling!” Sure enough, when he walked on he’d go, “And…” (Laughs) He really likes to joke around. With Linda — and the other actors — it was a love-fest. They’re both such nice, down-to-earth people, and I like a collegial atmosphere. I’m not a screamer. I’m very prepared, and I feel if you just show up on time, you’re already ahead of the game as a director.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
They were all different for each big action set piece, and fitting it all into a schedule was tough, as we had a crazy amount of VFX. The C-5 plane sequence was far and away the biggest challenge to do and [SFX supervisor] Neil Corbould and his team designed and constructed all the effects rigs for the movie. The C-5 set was incredible, with two revolving sets, one vertical and one horizontal. It was so big you could put a bus in it, and it was able to rotate 360 degrees and tilt in either direction at the same time.

You just can’t simulate that reality of zero gravity on the actors. And then after we got it all in camera, which took weeks, our VFX guy Eric Barba finished it off. The other big one was the whole underwater scene, where the Humvee falls over the top of a dam and goes underwater as it’s swept down a river. For that, we put the Humvee on a giant scissor lift that could take it all the way under, so the water rushes in and fills it up. It’s really safe to do, but it feels frighteningly realistic for the actors.

This is only my second movie, so I’m still learning, but the advantage is I’m really willing to listen to any advice from the smart people around me on set on how best to do all this stuff.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right from the start. I use previz a lot, as I come from that environment and I’m very comfortable with it, and that becomes the template for all of production to work from. Sometimes it’s too much of a template and treated like a bible, but I’m like, “Please keep thinking. Is there a better idea?” But it’s great to get everyone on the same page, so very early on you see what’s VFX, what’s live-action only, what’s a combination, and you can really plan your shoot. We did over 45 minutes of previz, along with storyboards. We did tons of postviz. My director’s cut had no blue/green at all. It was all postviz for every shot.

Tim Miller and Linda Hamilton

DP Ken Seng, who did Deadpool with you, shot it. Talk about how you collaborated on the look.
We didn’t really have time to plan shot lists that much since we moved so much and packed so much into every day. A lot of it was just instinctive run-and-gun, as the shoot was pretty grueling. We shot in Madrid and [other parts of] Spain, which doubled for Mexico. Then we did studio work in Budapest. The script was in flux a lot, and Jim wrote a few scenes that came in late, and I was constantly re-writing and tweaking dialogue and adjusting to the locations because there’s the location you think you’ll get and then the one you actually get.

Where did you post?
All at Blur, my company where we did Deadpool. The edit bays weren’t big enough for this though, so we spilled over into another building next door. That became Terminator HQ with the main edit bay and several assistant bays, plus all the VFX and compositing post teams. Blur also helped out with postviz and previz.

Do you like the post process?
I love post! I was an animator and VFX guy first, so it’s very natural to me, and I had a lot of the same team from Deadpool, which was great.

Talk about editing with Julian Clarke who cut Deadpool. How did that work?
It was the same set up. He’d be back here in LA cutting while we shot. He’s so fast; he’d be just one day behind me — I’ve never met anyone who works as hard. Then after the shoot, we’d edit all day and then I’d deal with VFX reviews for hours.

Can you talk about how Adobe Creative Cloud helped the post and VFX teams achieve their creative and technical goals?
I’m a big fan, and that started back on Deadpool as David Fincher was working closely with Adobe to make Premiere something that could beat Avid. We’re good friends — we’re doing our animated Netflix show Love, Death & Robots together — and he was like, “Dude, you gotta use this tool,” so we used it on Deadpool. It was still a little rocky on that one, but overall it was a great experience, and we knew we’d use it on this one. Adobe really helped refine it and the workflow, and it was a huge leap.

What were the big editing challenges?
(Laughs) We just shot too much movie. We had many discussions about cutting one or more of the action scenes, but in the end, we just took out some of the action from all of them, instead of cutting a particular set piece. But it’s tricky cutting stuff and still making it seamless, especially in a very heavily choreographed sequence like the C-5.

VFX plays a big role. How many were there?
Over 2,500 — a huge amount. The VFX on this were so huge it became a bit of a problem, to be honest.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and director Tim Miller

How did you work with VFX supervisor Eric Barba.
He did a great job and oversaw all the vendors, including ILM, who did most of them. We tried to have them do all the character-based stuff, to keep it in one place, but in the end, we also had Digital Domain, Method, Blur, UPP, Cantina, and some others. We also brought on Jeff White from ILM since it was more than Eric could handle.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
Tom Holkenborg, who scored Deadpool, did another great job. We also reteamed with sound design and mixer Craig Henighan and we did the mix at Fox. They’re both crucial in a film like this, but I’m the first to admit music’s not my strength. Luckily, Julian Clarke is excellent with that and very focused. He worked hard at pulling it all together. I love sound design and we talked about all the spotting, and Julian managed a lot of that too for me because I was so busy with the VFX.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
It’s huge, and we did it at Company 3 with Tim Stipan, who did Deadpool. I like to do a lot of reframing, adding camera shake and so on. It has a subtle but important effect on the overall film.


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.

Atomos acquires Timecode Systems, makers of onset sync tools

Atomos has acquired wireless sync technology company Timecode Systems. Together, the companies are building tightly integrated multicamera workflow solutions that unify all recording devices on set, allowing these devices to work together more cohesively. This will allow production teams to experience the full impact of truly collaborative video and audio content creation across all types of workflows.

With demand for video bigger than ever, content creators are using more devices separately to add angles and be creative. But they are limited by the time it takes to edit, align and finish videos that combine multiple sources of video and audio, especially when using prosumer and consumer devices to film alongside professional cameras.

“Right now, this disconnect between recording devices is holding back multicamera content creation. To truly shoot collaboratively, everything needs to work in perfect, frame-accurate sync — there has to be a robust wireless connection,” says Jeromy Young, CEO/founder of Atomos. “The Timecode Systems RF protocol is this bulletproof link. Working together, we now have the glue to create a truly connected multicamera solution.”

Timecode Systems, which develops wireless sync technology, entered the market in 2012. The company first launched WiFi-enabled digislates, then created a timecode sync solution for GoPro cameras and pioneered and patented a timecode-over-Bluetooth timing protocol.

The Timecode Systems wireless sync standard will not only feature across the next generations of the entire Atomos product range but will also be packaged as a free SDK for third-party manufacturers. As a result, existing Timecode Systems and Atomos customers can expect to unlock even greater value from their current systems from this collaboration.

The AtomX Sync module for the Ninja V and the Neon series of monitors will be the first Atomos products to feature integrated Timecode Systems technology.

Jacki Sextro opens commercial production company Kin

Founder and executive producer Jacki Sextro has launched LA-based production company Kin. For over a decade, Sextro has been part of award-winning teams at production companies including Hungry Man, Biscuit and The Directors Bureau. In making the leap from executive producer to business owner, Sextro, says, “I had a list of goals — a commitment to diversity, green practices and creating memorable original content. I looked around for a company that shared these goals but didn’t see it. I knew that if I felt that way, directors must be searching for it too.”

Kin’s directorial lineup includes Ric Cantor, a D&AD, British Arrow and Cannes Lions-winning director who is known industry wide for elevating lifestyle, auto and comedy campaigns with a cinematic eye; Jeff Baena, a Lions-winning comedy filmmaker whose features have starred Alison Brie, Thomas Middleditch and Aubrey Plaza; Minhal Baig, a writer (BoJack Horseman, Dune: The Sisterhood) and director whose feature, Hala, about a Muslim teenager coping with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own, will be released by Apple TV+; JD Dillard, who weaves genre with emotional, character-driven stories as showcased in his Sundance-premiering features Sleight and Sweetheart; Liza Mandelup, an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has explored what it means to be a mom, athlete, coder and fangirl; and Ryan Reichenfeld, who connects viewers with dynamic subjects, from skaters to footballers, by creating vivid scenes in everyday moments.

As for the directors she’s drawn to Sextro says they are makers “whose ideas and work surprise me. The biggest error you can make is to be forgettable or average.

“I love that we’re in an era where there is a spectrum of tone in advertising,” she continues. “Ultimately, my role is to help the directors shape ideas in a way where creative teams walk away with an elevated finished product.”

Main Image: (top L to R) Minhal Baig, Ric Cantor, JD Dillard
(Bottom L to R) Ryan Reichenfeld, Jeff Baena, Liza Mandelup

AJA adds HDR Image Analyzer 12G and more at IBC

AJA will soon offer the new HDR Image Analyzer 12G, bringing 12G-SDI connectivity to its realtime HDR monitoring and analysis platform developed in partnership with Colorfront. The new product streamlines 4K/Ultra HD HDR monitoring and analysis workflows by supporting the latest high-bandwidth 12G-SDI connectivity. The HDR Image Analyzer 12G will be available this fall for $19,995.

HDR Image Analyzer 12G offers waveform, histogram and vectorscope monitoring and analysis of 4K/Ultra HD/2K/HD, HDR and WCG content for broadcast and OTT production, post, QC and mastering. It also features HDR-capable monitor outputs that not only go beyond HD resolutions and offer color accuracy but make it possible to configure layouts to place the preferred tool where needed.

“Since its release, HDR Image Analyzer has powered HDR monitoring and analysis for a number of feature and episodic projects around the world. In listening to our customers and the industry, it became clear that a 12G version would streamline that work, so we developed the HDR Image Analyzer 12G,” says Nick Rashby, president of AJA.

AJA’s video I/O technology integrates with HDR analysis tools from Colorfront in a compact 1-RU chassis to bring HDR Image Analyzer 12G users a comprehensive toolset to monitor and analyze HDR formats, including PQ (Perceptual Quantizer) and hybrid log gamma (HLG). Additional feature highlights include:

● Up to 4K/Ultra HD 60p over 12G-SDI inputs, with loop-through outputs
● Ultra HD UI for native resolution picture display over DisplayPort
● Remote configuration, updates, logging and screenshot transfers via an integrated web UI
● Remote Desktop support
● Support for display referred SDR (Rec.709), HDR ST 2084/PQ and HLG analysis
● Support for scene referred ARRI, Canon, Panasonic, Red and Sony camera color spaces
● Display and color processing lookup table (LUT) support
● Nit levels and phase metering
● False color mode to easily spot pixels out of gamut or brightness
● Advanced out-of-gamut and out-of-brightness detection with error intolerance
● Data analyzer with pixel picker
● Line mode to focus a region of interest onto a single horizontal or vertical line
● File-based error logging with timecode
● Reference still store

At IBC 2019, AJA also showed new products and updates designed to advance broadcast, production, post and pro AV workflows. On the stand were the Kumo 6464-12G for routing and the newly shipping Corvid 44 12G developer I/O models. AJA has also introduced the FS-Mini utility frame sync Mini-Converter and three new OpenGear-compatible cards: OG-FS-Mini, OG-ROI-DVI and OG-ROI-HDMI. Additionally, the company previewed Desktop Software updates for Kona, Io and T-Tap; Ultra HD support for IPR Mini-Converter receivers; and FS4 frame synchronizer enhancements.

Behind the Title: Mission’s head of digital imaging, Pablo Garcia Soriano

NAME: Pablo Garcia Soriano (@pablo.garcia.soriano)

COMPANY: UK-based Mission (@missiondigital)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Mission is a provider of DIT and digital lab services based in London, with additional offices in Cardiff, Rome, Prague and Madrid. We process and manage media and metadata, producing rich deliverables with as much captured metadata as possible — delivering consistency and creating efficiencies in VFX and post production.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of Digital Imaging

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work with cinematographers to preserve their vision from the point of capture until the final deliverable. This means supporting productions through camera tests, pre-production and look design. I also work with manufacturers, which often means I get an early look at new products.

Mission

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
It sounds like a very technical job, but it’s so much more than engineering — it’s creative engineering. It’s problem solving and making technical complexities seem easy to a creative person.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love working with cinematographers to help them achieve their vision and make sure it is preserved through post. I also enjoy being able to experiment with the latest technology and have an influence on products. Recently, I’ve been involved with growing Mission’s international presence with our Madrid office, which is particularly close to my heart.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sometimes I get to spend hours in a dark room with a probe calibrating monitors. It’s dull but necessary!

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
In the early to mid-morning after two coffees. Also at the end of the day when the office is quieter.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Gardening… or motor racing.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I feel like it chose me. I’m an architect by training, but was a working musician until around the age of 28 when I stepped down from the stage and started as a freelancer doing music promos. I was doing a bit of everything on those, director, editor, finishing, etc. Then I was asked to be the assistant editor on two films by a colleague whom I was sharing and office with.

After this experience (and due to the changes the music industry was going through), I decided to focus fully on editing several documentaries, short films. I then ended up on a weekly TV show where I was in charge of the final assembly. This is where I started paying attention to continuity and the overall look. I was using Apple Final Cut and Apple Color, which I loved. All of this happened in a very organic way and I was always self-taught.

I didn’t take studying seriously until I met the DP Rafa Roche, AEC, on our first film together around the age of 31. Rafa mentored me, teaching me all about cameras, lenses, filters and filled my brain with curiosity about all the technical stuff (signal, codecs, workflows). From there to now it all has been a bit of a rollercoaster with some moments of real vertigo caused by how fast it all has developed.

Downton Abby

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We work on a lot of features and television in the UK and Europe — recent projects include Cats, Downton Abbey, Cursed and Criminal.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
In 2018, I was the HDR image supervisor for the World Cup in Moscow. Knowing the popularity of football and working on a project that would be seen by so many people around the world was truly an honor, despite the pressure!

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A good reference monitor, a good set of speakers and Spotify.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Yes, music is a huge part of my life. I have very varied taste. For example, I enjoy Wilco, REM and Black Sabbath.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to walk by the River Thames in Hammersmith, London, near where I live.

Rocketman director Dexter Fletcher on Elton John musical

By Iain Blair

The past year has been huge for British director Dexter Fletcher. He was instrumental in getting Bohemian Rhapsody across the finish line when he was brought in to direct the latter part of the production after Bryan Singer was fired. The result? A $903 million global smash that Hollywood never saw coming.

L-R: Dexter Fletcher and Iain Blair

Now he’s back with Rocketman, another film about another legendary performer and musician, Elton John. But while the Freddie Mercury film was more of a conventional, family-friendly biopic that opted for a PG-13 rating and approach that sidestepped a lot of the darker elements of the singer’s life, Rocketman fully embraces its R-rating and dives headfirst into the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll circus that was Elton’s life at the time — hardly surprisingly, the gay sex scenes have already been censored in Russia.

Conceived as an epic musical fantasy about Elton’s breakthrough years, the film follows the transformation of shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. It’s set to Elton’s most beloved songs — performed by star Taron Egerton — and tells the story of how a small-town boy became one of the most iconic figures in pop culture.

Rocketman also stars Jamie Bell as Elton’s longtime lyricist and writing partner, Bernie Taupin; Richard Madden as Elton’s first manager John Reid; and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother Sheila Farebrother.

Fletcher started as a child actor, appearing in such films as Bugsy Malone, The Elephant Man and The Bounty before graduating to adult roles in film (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and TV (Band of Brothers). He made his directing debut with 2012’s Wild Bill and has since made a diverse slate of films, including Eddie the Eagle.

I recently met up with him to talk about making the film and his workflow.

When you took this on, were you worried you’d now be seen as the go-to director for films about gay British glam rockers?
(Laughs) No, and I never set out to create this specific cinematic universe about gay British glam rockers. I don’t know how many more of them there are left that people want to see films about — maybe Marc Bolan. That would be the next obvious one.

Dexter Fletcher and Taron Egerton on the set of Rocketman.

What happened was that I was attached early on to direct Bohemian Rhapsody, but then Rocketman came up. While I was preparing that, Bohemian Rhapsody folks came back (after director Bryan Singer was fired during the shoot) and said they needed some help to get it done, so it was more of a coincidence, and Elton’s music is so different from Queen’s.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
Definitely an epic musical, and something that was different and imaginative. The first idea that came up was “based on a true fantasy,” and having done biopics before, like Eddie the Eagle, I know you can’t do them accurately. You simply can’t fit a life into two hours, and there’s always people who nitpick it and go, “He’s wearing the wrong shoes, and it missed this bit” and so on. A biopic isn’t a documentary, and you have to breathe creative life into it. The truth/fantasy element of this was far more important to me in telling Elton’s story than doing a by-the-numbers recreation of his career and life.

Casting was obviously crucial. What did Taron bring to the mix?
A great voice, a great performance, and Elton encouraged him to really make the performance his own. He kept saying, “Do your own thing, don’t just copy me. If they wanted just a copy of my music, they can just buy it. So make it original.”

Taron has this great innate ability of being vulnerable and confident at the same time, and that’s a great gift. He’s able to be very driven and focused and yet retain that inner vulnerability and able to show you both sides clashing, which I felt was very true of Elton.

So Elton gave you a pretty free hand?
Yeah, he did. He sat us down right at the start and said to Taron, “Don’t do an impression of me. No one wants that. Do you, honestly, and that’s what will convince an audience and draw them in.” He was right, and he was extremely giving and generous with us. He’s had this incredible life, and he’s putting it all out there on the big screen, which is pretty brave.

In Bohemian Rhapsody, Rami lipsynced, partly because Freddie Mercury famously had this amazing range that’s so hard to replicate. Taron sang all his vocals?
He did, every note. It was prerequisite for the role, and he wanted to anyway. A musical is very different from a biopic.

You took an imaginative visual approach to the story, especially with all the fantasy elements. How did you collaborate on the look with DP George Richmond, who has shot all your films, whose credits include Tomb Raider and the Kingsman franchise.
He’s got a great eye, and we looked at a lot of the great ‘70s musicals, like The Rose, All That Jazz and Stardust, and there’s this dusty, raw, grainy quality to them. I really wanted to get that feel and texture as this is a period piece and I didn’t want it to look too modern.

So we studied the camera moves and lighting, and it was the same with all the costumes by Julian Day. Elton’s outrageous outfits were the starting point, but we pushed it a little further. So it’s about emotion and how you felt more than just recreating a look or costume or a chronological retelling, and I elaborated as much as possible.

How tough was the shoot?
Fairly grueling. We shot mainly at Bray Studios, outside London, where they shot all the old Hammer Film Productions horror films, and then did some stuff in London.

Where did you post?
We did it at Hireworks in London, which is above this beautiful old cinema, right in the heart of London. It was really conducive for the editing and what we were creating. Then we did all the sound and the mixing round the corner at Goldcrest.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I love it more and more now. It’s this whole side of filmmaking that I never really appreciated as an actor, as I didn’t have much to do with it. But now I can’t wait to get in the edit, and I’m there every day, and I’m very involved with every aspect of post.

Talk about editing with Chris Dickens. What were the big editing challenges?
I’d never worked with him before, though we’d met for another project. He was on the set with us at Bray where he had edit rooms set up, so that was very convenient. He’d start assembling and I could just walk over and check on it all. We had a rough assembly just two weeks after we finished shooting, and as I said, I’m very involved.

We’d discuss stuff, especially all the big musical numbers. Those were the big challenges, as you have to make the music and visuals all work together, and you’re working to a playback track. You’re also very exposed when it comes to changing the tempo or rhythm of a scene. You can’t just cut a few words, as you’re locked into the track. And everyone knows the songs. Songs like “Your Song” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” were done totally live, so it was pretty complicated. But Chris is very experienced with all that, as he cut Slumdog Millionaire. That end musical number there is a total triumph of editing.

Talk about the importance of sound and music. I assume Elton was quite involved and listened to everything?
He was very interested, of course, but he let us all do our own thing. Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin, was in charge of the music. He’s an amazing producer in his own right, and he also has a long history with Elton, who stayed at his house when Giles was young. So there’s a very strong relationship there, and that was key in terms of dealing with Elton’s music legacy.

Giles was the custodian of all that and was instrumental in re-imagining all of Elton’s songs in the most interesting ways, and Elton would listen to them and love it. For instance, at first we thought “Crocodile Rock” wouldn’t fit, but we re-did it in this elevated, really hard rock way, and it worked out so well. We recorded at various places, including Abbey Road and Air Studios and, of course, we spent a lot of time and detail on all the music and sound. Just like with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ if you don’t get that right, the film’s not going to work.

Visual effects play a big role. What was involved?
Cinesite in Montreal did them all, with a few by Atomic Arts, and we had a lot of artists and VFX guys working on them. We had so many, from fireworks to scenes with people floating and all the crowd scenes at stadiums, where we had to recreate fans in the ‘70s. So some of that stuff was fairly standard, but they did a brilliant job. I quite like working with VFX, as it allows you to do so much more with a period piece like this.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Goldcrest with colorist Rob Pizzey, and it’s very important to myself and my DP George Richmond. As I said, we wanted to get a very particular look and texture to it, and George and I worked closely on that from the very outset. Then in the DI, Rob and George worked very closely on it. In fact, George was shooting in Boston at the time, but he flew back to do it and finalize the look. I’m learning so much from him about the DI, and I give my notes and they make all the changes and adjustments. I love the DI.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely. I’m really happy with it. In fact, it’s turned out better than I hoped.

What’s next?
I don’t have anything lined up. I’m out of work!


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

DP Chat: Brandon Trost on the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked

By Randi Altman

To say that cinematographer Brandon Trost was born to work in the entertainment industry might not be hyperbole. This fourth-generation Angeleno has family roots in the industry — from his dad who did visual/physical effects, to his great uncle, actor Victor French (Little House on the Prairie).

Channeling his innate creativity, Trost studied cinematography at The Los Angeles Film School. His career kicked into high gear after winning the Best Cinematography award at the Newport Beach Film Festival for He Was a Quiet Man.

He has collaborated with Seth Rogen on several films, including The Interview, Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Night Before and This Is the End. Additional credits include The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Disaster Artist and Can You Ever Forgive Me? His most recent project — now streaming on Netflix — Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story of serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) but this time told from his girlfriend’s perspective.

We reached out to Trost to find out about his process and his work on Extremely Wicked.

You’ve worked on a range of interesting projects from different genres. What attracts you to a story?
A movie can be told 100 different ways, so I ask myself where a movie can go — what’s the potential for doing something different? Especially if it is a genre I haven’t done. I really love jumping around.

And, of course, it all starts with the script and who the filmmakers are on a project — and synergy among us all during the interview process.

Tell us about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. How would you describe the general look of the film?
It’s a period movie first and foremost, but we wanted to elevate the production value as much as possible – on a tight budget. The director, Joe Berlinger, is a prolific documentarian. He really wanted to preserve his documentary sensibilities but with a cinematic, nostalgic quality to our approach. A lot of the film is shot handheld because we wanted to create an intimate portrait of the scenario, as horrifying as it is!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
I chose Alexa Mini because of its size — I knew I’d be operating a lot, and Joe wanted a lot handheld. I also wanted to be able to make decisions on the fly and follow the actors as they tell this story. We had two cameras and mounted them with Panavision C Series anamorphics. I love these lenses. Each one has a specific characteristic. Plus, they are the same lenses of the era (made in 1968 and upgraded for today’s cameras), which matches the 1970s period we are depicting on screen.

Is there a challenging scene that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
There is an extensive sequence covering the Miami trial, which was the first one ever televised. It was a phenomenon back then, and we wanted to capture some of that energy. We were strapped for time and lighting was built into a courtroom set. We also used a courtroom location that was augmented to mimic set. We had so many pages to shoot, so I chose not to bring in any additional lights.

Plus, the execution was challenging. With so many long courtroom scenes back to back, we didn’t want it to feel monotonous. With the cameras and lighting set up, I could stand in the courtroom with the freedom to follow a character. I was like an invisible fly on the wall. That helped get us through all the material and infused some energy into the shots.

The sequence ends with Ted Bundy’s statement after firing all his lawyers and ultimately representing himself. We did that shot as a slow zoom, capturing this emotional, impactful speech — even though he’s lying! We zoomed all the way to just Zac’s eyes. His performance was so great, and the results are very satisfying, knowing we could have used twice as many days to shoot these scenes.

I’m glad I had the freedom to make bold choices, and that closing zoom is the only time we broke from shooting handheld. It has a very ‘70s, voyeuristic feel.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid, I always thought I’d do effects like my dad, but he saw my creative side and encouraged me to explore it. When I went to film school, I learned I had a knack for cinematography. I loved movies, and coming from a family who has worked in all sectors of the industry for four generations, I grew up with film.
Finding a frame feels innate to me, but it’s taken a lot of practice to get to where I am now.

What inspires you artistically?
I love the challenge of finding the right image to tell the story and using the right light to achieve that image. As a crew, we all have a different job, but we are all building the same house. We all bring a piece of ourselves to what we do, and it becomes like solving a puzzle to tell the director’s story and create it collaboratively with everyone. Imagery can be so powerful; you can use it to push a scene and evoke a feeling, whether it’s loneliness, strength, optimism or sadness. Camera and lens choices, movement, lighting… it all feeds into completing the puzzle.

I also find cinematography to be very instinctive. If I design a rulebook with the director early on a film, I know it’s just the foundation, something to build from. I like to be reactive – and lean into what feels right in the moment.

How do you stay on top of advancing tools that serve your vision?
I read industry mags, but also through the DITs on set, or the camera houses. I get shown new things and how they work. Or I’ll ask if they have heard about something. This builds my awareness for understanding fundamentals of the tool in case I want to use it.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I’m a big lens guy. For me, the lenses make the movie, and I’m loving using vintage glass. Cameras are being designed with more and more resolution, and I’m always trying to add an analog softness. With every advancement in sharpness and noise reduction, I’m usually trying to take the electric edge off. I rely on lenses to help do that — or I’ll “stress” the camera at a higher ISO or do something in post with texture and grain. I’m usually trying to tear the image apart a little bit.

Panavision has even taken old lenses and customized them optically for me to create a more “shattered” look when it was right for the story.

And everything could go out the window if it serves the purpose of the story. It’s important as a DP to leave your artistic baggage behind if the story guides you to do something different. The story dictates how I work, and as a DP. I have to be flexible in my approaches. That’s what makes this work fun!

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The tool I use the most is my iPhone. I’ve got the Artemis app with the Director’s Viewfinder and the Cinescope app for adjusting aspect ratios, etc. I haven’t held a light meter in years.


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

Review: Polaroid 320 RGB LED light for controlled environments

By Brady Betzel

If you read a lot of reviews and articles like I do, sometimes you can get overwhelmed by how many products are out there. Lighting is one of those categories where the availability of products seems never ending. From ARRI Fresnels that can go for over $5,000 to the Kino Flo Diva-Lite at over $1,300, lights cover the entire spectrum of prices. But sometimes I don’t have the power, room or even money to buy these lights and need something cheaper — way cheaper. Portable lights like the Litra Torch are usually focused around tiny action-cam users are pretty great and go for around $100 but are tiny and may serve a better purpose such as a hair light or a tiny spot light. For those wanting a cheap but larger surface area, Polaroid has come to the rescue. For $99 you can buy the Polaroid RGB LED Light.

The Polaroid 320 RGB is a multi-color RGB LED light that runs off of a rechargeable Sony-style NP battery and can be controlled by an iOS or Android app via Bluetooth. The light also comes with a carrying case, a cold-shoe swivel head adapter to mount on top of a camera, a DC adapter with international adapters, a diffuser, battery and battery charger. The case itself is actually pretty nice — it will protect the light and hold all the accessories. I left the battery to charge overnight after I used the light so I can’t tell you exactly how long it took, but I can tell you it isn’t fast. Maybe a couple of hours. However, if you had a Sony camera from a long time ago you may have some leftover batteries you can use with the Polaroid light if you don’t have your DC adapter around.

The LED light is made up of 320 LED lamps: 144-3200K LEDS, 144-5600K LEDs and 32-RGB LEDs. The light can either be used in the RGB color mode or standard mode. To create the array of colors, Polaroid uses the 32 RGB LEDs to shine almost any color you can imagine. RGB lamps have three colors: red, green and blue, which can be turned off and on in multiple combinations to achieve almost any color. From cyan to magenta to yellow or purple, you can adjust the hue on the Polaroid RGB LED light by pushing the H/S button and turning the knob to the desired color. Oddly enough, it tells you which color you are on with a number between 0-199. I would think 360 would be the RGB designation since a color wheel is a circle.

If you hit the H/S button again you can access the saturation value of the light, which can be adjusted from 0-100. There is a Bluetooth light to tell you when the app is controlling the light… it will turn blue. Next to that is the Bat button, which will tell you how much power is left if using the battery. Underneath that is the Bri, or brightness, button and the Temp button. The Temp button is used when in the “white” mode to change color temperature values from 3200K-5600K, although the LED readout only displays three digits, so you won’t be getting the full Kelvin temperature read out.

But really the beauty of this light is using it through the Fi Light app you can find in both the App Store as well as the Google Play Store for Android. I have to admit, it was difficult finding the app in the Google Play Store, but if you look for the white lightbulb with blue background by “tek-q” you have the correct app. What’s even stranger is that to connect to the Polaroid light you don’t need to connect your Bluetooth to the light, the app will connect on its own. Something I couldn’t get through my head for some reason. But once the light is on and the app is up, start adjusting the hue, saturation and brightness, or even mess with the different modes like Rapid Rainbow Transition or Pulsating Red/Blue for a police light-type effect. While I couldn’t test more than one, there is a group settings dialogue that could presumably join forces of multiple lights to control them at once. The “Blu” light on the back of the light will light up, appropriately in blue when it is connected to your phone.

Summing Up
This light isn’t the strongest, especially when used in conjunction with the sunlight, but if you are photographing or filming products in a controlled environment like a garage, it will do just fine. Ideally, you would need two with a reflector, or three to light something. That being said, for $100 this Polaroid light may just fit your needs for product lighting, or even washing a wall with color behind an interview. It definitely won’t beat out any of the high-end LED lights, but it will do the job in a smaller space with controlled lighting. And because it can mount on a cold shoe of a camera it can even be a great run-and-gun light when working with subjects close to camera.

Check out www.polaroid.com for more products from Polaroid or on Amazon.com where you can search for this light and many more filmmaking-focused products from them.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Hobo Films’ Howard Bowler on new series The System

By Randi Altman

Howard Bowler, the founder of New York City-based audio post house Hobo
Audio, has launched Hobo Films, a long-form original content development company.

Howard Bowler’s many faces

Bowler is also the founder and president of Green Point Creative, a marijuana-advocacy branding agency focused on the war on drugs and changing drug laws. And it is this topic that inspired Hobo Films’ first project, a dramatic series called The System. It features actress Lolita Foster from Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black.

Bowler has his hand in many things these days, and with those paths colliding, what better time to reach out to find out more?

After years working in audio post, what led you to want to start an original long-form production arm?
I’ve always wanted to do original scripted content and have been collecting story ideas for years. As our audio post business has grown, it’s provided us a platform to develop this related, exciting and creative business.

You are president/founder of Green Point Creative. Can you tell us more about that initiative?
Green Point Creative is an advocacy platform that was born out of personal experience. After an arrest followed by release (not me), I researched the history of marijuana prohibition. What I found was shocking. Hobo VP Chris Stangroom and I started to produce PSAs through Green Point to share what we had learned. We brought in Jon Mackey to aid in this mission, and he’s since moved up the ranks of Hobo into production management. The deeper we explored this topic, the more we realized there was a much larger story to tell and one that couldn’t be told through PSAs alone.

You wrote the script for the show The System? Can you tell our readers what the show is about?
The show’s storyline plots the experiences of a white father raising his bi-racial son, set against the backdrop of the war on drugs. The tone of the series is a cross between Marvel Comics and Schindler’s List. What happens to these kids in the face of a nefarious system that has them in its grips, how they get out, fight back, etc.

What about the shoot? How involved were you on set? What cameras were used? Who was your DP?
I was very involved the whole time working with the director Michael Cruz. We had to change lines of the script on set if we felt they weren’t working, so everyone had to be flexible. Our DP was David Brick, an incredible talent, driven and dedicated. He shot on the Red camera and the footage is stunning.

Can you talk about working with the director?
I met Michael Cruz when we worked together at Grey, a global advertising agency headquartered in NYC. I told him back then that he was born to direct original content. At the time he didn’t believe me, but he does now.

L-R: DP David Brick and director Mike Cruz on set

Mike’s directing style is subtle but powerful; he knows how to frame a shot and get the performance. He also knows how to build a formidable crew. You’ve got to have a dedicated team in place to pull these things off.

What about the edit and the post? Where was that done? What gear was used?
Hobo is a natural fit for this type of creative project and is handling all the audio post as well as the music score that is being composed by Hobo staffer and musician Oscar Convers.

Mike Cruz tapped the resources of his company, Drum Agency to handle the first phase of editing and they pulled together the rough cuts. For final edit, we connected with Oliver Parker. Ollie was just coming off two seasons of London Kills, a police thriller that’s been released to great reviews. Oliver’s extraordinary editing elevated the story in ways I hadn’t predicted. All editing was done on an Avid Media Composer. Music was composed by Hobo staffer Oscar Convers.

The color grade via Juan Salvo at TheColourSpace using Blackmagic Resolve. [Editor’s Note: We reached out to Salvo to find out more. “We got the original 8K Red files from editorial and conformed that on our end. The look was really all about realism. There’s a little bit of stylized lighting in some scenes, and some mixed-temperature lights as well. Mostly, the look was about finding a balance between some of the more stylistic elements and the very naturalist, almost cinéma vérité tone of the series.

“I think ultimately we tried to make it true-to-life with a little bit of oomph. A lot of it was about respecting and leaning into the lighting that DP Dave Brick developed on the shoot. So during the dialogue scenes, we tend to have more diffuse light that feels really naturalist and just lets the performances take center stage, and in some of the more visual scenes we have some great set piece lighting — police lights and flashlights — that really drive the style of those shots.”]

Where can people see The System?
Click here view the first five minutes of the pilot and learn more about the series.

Any other shows in the works?
Yes, we have several properties in development and to help move these projects forward, we’ve brought on Tiffany Jackman to lead these efforts. She’s a gifted producer who spent 10 years honing her craft at various agencies, as well as working on various films. With her aboard, we can now create an ecosystem that connects all the stories.

Showrunner: Eric Newman of Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico

By Iain Blair

Much like the drugs that form the dark heart of Narcos: Mexico, the hit Netflix crime drama is full of danger, chills and thrills — and is highly addictive. It explores the origins of the modern, ultra-violent drug war by going back to its roots, beginning at a time when the Mexican trafficking world was a loose and disorganized confederation of independent growers and dealers. But that all changed with the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s as Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) — the real-life former Sinaloan police-officer-turned-drug lord — takes the helm, unifying traffickers in order to build an empire.

L-R: Director José Padilha and producer Chris Brancato bookend Eric Newman on the set of Narcos, Season 1.

The show also follows DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña), who moves his wife and young son from California to Guadalajara to take on a new post. He quickly learns that his assignment will be more challenging than he ever could have imagined. As Kiki garners intelligence on Félix and becomes more entangled in his mission, a tragic chain of events unfold, affecting the drug trade and the war against it for years to come.

Narcos showrunner, writer and executive producer Eric Newman is a film and television veteran whose resume includes the Academy Award-nominated Children of Men, as well as The Dawn of the Dead, The Last Exorcism and Bright. After over 20 years in the movie industry, Newman transitioned into television as an executive producer on Hemlock Grove for Netflix. It was his curiosity about the international drug trade that led him to develop and executive produce his passion project Narcos, and Newman assumed showrunning responsibilities at the end of its first season. Narcos: Mexico initially started out as the fourth season of Narcos before Netflix decided to make it a stand-alone series.

I recently spoke with Newman about making the show, his involvement in post and another war that’s grabbed a lot of headlines — the one between streaming platforms and traditional cinema.

Do you like being a showrunner?
Yeah! There are aspects of it I really love. I began toward the end of the first season and there was this brief period where I tried not to be the showrunner, even though it was my show. I wasn’t really a writer — I wasn’t in the WGA — so I had a lot of collaborators, but I still felt alone in the driver’s seat. It’s a huge amount of work, from the writing to the shoot and then post, and it never really ends. It’s exhausting but incredibly rewarding.

What are the big challenges of running this show?
If I’d known more about TV at the time, I might have been far more frightened than I was (laughs).The big one is dealing with all the people and personalities involved. We have anywhere between 200 and 400 people working on the show at any given time, so it’s tricky. But I love working with actors, I think I’m a good listener, and any major problems are usually human-oriented. And then there’s all the logistics and moving parts. We began the series shooting in Colombia and then moved the whole thing to Mexico, so that was a big challenge. But the cast and crew are so great, we’re like a big family at this point, and it runs pretty smoothly now.

How far along are you with the second season of Narcos: Mexico?
We’re well into it, and while it’s called Season Two, the reality for us is that it’s the fifth season of a long, hard slog.

This show obviously deals with a lot of locations. How difficult is it when you shoot in Mexico?
It can be hard and grueling. We’re shooting entirely in Mexico — nothing in the States. We shot in Colombia for three years and we went to Panama once, and now we’re all over Mexico — from Mexico City to Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Durango and so on.

It’s also very dangerous subject matter, and one of your location scouts was murdered. Do you worry about your safety?
That was a terrible incident, and I’m not sure whoever shot him even knew he was a location scout on our show. The reality is that a number of incredibly brave journalists, who had nowhere near the protection we have, had already shared these stories — and many were killed for it. So in many ways we’re late to the party.

Of course, you have to be careful anywhere you go, but that’s true of every city. You can find trouble in LA or New York if you are in the wrong place. I don’t worry about the traffickers we depict, as they’re mainly all dead now or in jail, and they seem OK with the way they’re depicted… that it’s pretty truthful. I worry a little bit more about the police and politicians.

Where do you post and do you like the post process?
I absolutely love post, and I think it’s a deeply underrated and under-appreciated aspect of the show. We’ve pulled off far more miracles in post than in any of the writing and shooting. We do all the post at Lantana in LA with the same great team that we’ve had from the start, including post producer Tim King and associate post producer Tanner King.

When we began the series in Colombia, we were told that Netflix didn’t feel comfortable having the footage down there for editing because of piracy issues, and that worked for me. I like coming back to edit and then going back down to Mexico to shoot. We shoot two episodes at a time and cut two at a time. I’m in the middle of doing fixes on Episode 2 and we’re about to lock Episode 3.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have four full-time editors — Iain Erskine, Garret Donnelly, Monty DeGraff and Jon Otazua — who each take separate episodes, plus we have one editor dedicated to the archival package, which is a big part of the show. We’ve also promoted two assistant editors, which I’m very proud of. That’s a nice part of being on a show that’s run for five years; you can watch people grow and move them up the ladder.

You have a huge cast and a lot of moving pieces in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
We have a fair amount of coverage to sort through, and it’s always about telling the story and the pacing — finding the right rhythm for each scene.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Where do you mix, and can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
We do all the mixing at Technicolor, and we have a great team that includes supervising sound editor Randle Akerson and supervising ADR editor Thomas Whiting. (The team also includes sound effects editors Dino R. DiMuro and Troy Prehmus, dialogue editor David Padilla, music editor Chris Tergesen, re-recording mixers Pete Elia and Kevin Roache and ADR mixer Judah Getz.)

It’s all so crucial. All you have to do is look at a rough edit without any sound of music and it’s just so depressing. I come from a family of composers, so I really appreciate this part of post, and composer Gustavo Santaolalla has done a fantastic job, and the music’s changed a bit since we moved to Mexico. I’m fairly involved with all of it. I get a final playback and maybe I’ll have a few notes, but generally the team has got it right.

In 2017, you formed Screen Arcade with producer Bryan Unkeless, a production company based at Netflix with deals for features and television. I heard you have a new movie you’re producing for Netflix, PWR with Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
It’s all shot, and we’re just headed into the Director’s Cut. We’re posting in New York and have our editorial offices there. Netflix is so great to partner with. They care as much about the quality of image and sound as any studio I’ve ever worked with — and I’ve worked with everyone. In terms of the whole process and deliverables, there’s no difference.

It’s interesting because there’s been a lot of pushback against Netflix and other streaming platforms from the studios, purists and directors like Steven Spielberg. Where do you see the war for cinema’s future going?
I think it’ll be driven entirely by audience viewing habits, as it should be. Some of my all-time favorite movies — The Bridge on the River Kwai, Taxi Driver, Sunset Boulevard, Barry Lyndon — weren’t viewed in a movie house.

Cinema exhibition is a business. They want Black Panther and Star Wars, so it’s a commerce argument not a creative one. With all due respect to Spielberg, no one can dictate viewing habits, and maybe for now they can deny Netflix and streaming platforms Academy awards, but not forever.


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

DP Chat: The Man in the High Castle’s Gonzalo Amat

By Randi Altman

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is based on the 1962 Phillip K. Dick novel, which asks the question: “What would it look like if the Germans and Japanese won World War II?” It takes a look at the Nazi and Japanese occupation of portions of the United States and the world. But it’s a Philip K. Dick story, so you know there is more to it than that… like an alternate reality.

The series will premiere its fourth and final season this fall on the streaming service. We recently reached out to cinematographer Gonzalo Amat, who was kind enough to talk to us about workflow and more.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
Since I was very young, I had a strong interest in photography and was shooting stills as long as I can remember. Then, when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, I discovered that movies also had a photographic aspect. I didn’t think about doing it until I was already in college studying communications, and that is when I decided to make it my career.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology?
Artistically, I get inspiration from a lot of sources, such as photography, film, literature, painting or any visual medium. I try to curate what I consume, though. I believe that everything we feed our brain somehow shows up in the work we do, so I am very careful about consuming films, books and photography that feed the story that I will be working on. I think any creation is inspiration. It can be all the way from a film masterpiece to a picture drawn by a kid, music, performance art, historical photographs or testimonies, too.

About staying on top: I read trade magazines and stay educated through seminars and courses, but at some point, it’s also about using those tools. So I try to test the tools instead of reading about them. Almost any rental place or equipment company will let you try newer tools. If I’m shooting, we try to schedule a test for a particular piece of equipment we want to use, during a light day.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
The main new technology would be the migration of most projects to digital. That has changed the way we work on set and collaborate with the directors, since everyone can now see, on monitors, something closely resembling the final look of the project.

A lot of people think this is a bad thing that has happened, but for me, it actually allows more clear communication about the concrete aspects of a sometimes very personal vision. Terms like dark, bright, or colorful are very subjective, so having a reference is a good point to continue the conversation.

Also, digital technology has helped use more available light on interiors and use less light on exterior nights. Still, it hasn’t reached the latitude of film, where you could just let the windows burn. It’s trickier for exterior day shots, where I think you end up needing more control. I would also say that the evolution of visual effects as a more invisible tool has helped us achieve a lot more from a storytelling perspective and has affected the way we shoot scenes in general.

What are some of your best practices, or rules you try to follow on each job?
Each project is different, so I try to learn how that particular project will be. But there are some time-tested rules that I try to implement. The main line is to always go for the story; every answer is always in the script. Another main rule is communication. So being open about questions, even if they seem silly. It’s always good to ask.

Another rule is listening to ideas. People that end up being part of my team are very experienced and sometimes have solutions to problems that come up. If you are open to ideas, more ideas will come, and people will do their jobs with more intention and commitment. Gratitude, respect, collaboration, communication and being conscious about safety is important and part of my process.

Gonzalo Amat on set

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
Every director is different, so I look at each new project as an opportunity to learn. As a DP, you have to learn and adapt, since through your career you will be asked for different levels of involvement. Because of my interest in storytelling, I personally prefer a bit more of a hands-off approach from directors; talking more about story and concepts, where we collaborate setting up the shoots for covering a scene, and same with lighting: talking moods and concepts that get polished as we are on set. Some directors will be very specific, and that is a challenge because you have to deliver what is inside their heads and hopefully make it better. I still enjoy this challenge, because it also makes you work for someone’s vision.

Ideally, developing the look of a project comes from reading the script together and watching movies and references together. This is when you can say “dark like this” or “moody like this” because visual concepts are very subjective, and so is color. From then on, it’s all about breaking up the script and the visual tone and arc of the story, and subsequently all the equipment and tools for executing the ideas. Lots of meetings as well as walking the locations with just the director and DP are very useful.

How would you describe the overarching look of the show?
Basically, the main visual concept of this project is based in film noir, and our main references were The Conformist and Blade Runner. As we went along, we added some more character-based visual ideas inspired by projects like In the Mood for Love and The Insider for framing.

The main idea is to visually portray the worlds of the characters through framing and lighting. Sometimes, we play it the way the script tells us; sometimes we counterpoint visually what it says, so we can make the audience respond in an emotional way. I see cinematography as the visual music that makes people respond emotionally to different moods. Sometimes it’s more subtle and sometimes more obvious. We prefer to not be very intrusive, even though it’s not a “realist” project.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I start four or five weeks before the season. Even if I’m not doing the first episode, I will still be there to prepare new sets and do some tests for new equipment or characters. Preparation is key in a project like this, because once we start with the production the time is very limited.

Did you start out on the pilot? Did the look change from season to season at all?
James Hawkinson did the pilot, and I came in when the series got picked up. He set up the main visual concepts, and when it came to series I adapted some of the requirements from the studio and the notes from Ridley Scott into the style we see now.

The look has been evolving from season to season, as we feel we can be bolder with the visual language of the show. If you look at the pilot all the way to the end of Season 3, or Season 4, which is filming, you can definitely see a change, even though it still feels like the same project — the language has been polished and distilled. I think we have reached the sweet spot.

Does the look change at all when the timelines shift?
Yes, all of the timelines require a different look and approach with lighting and camera use. Also, the art design and wardrobe changes, so we combine all those subtle changes to give each world, place and timeline a different feel. We have lots of conceptual meetings, and we develop the look and feel of each timeline and place. Once these concepts are established, the team gets to work constructing the sets and needed visual elements, and then we go from there.

This is a period piece. How did that affect the look, if at all?
We have tried to give it a specific and unique look that still feels tied to the time period so, yes, the fact that this happens in our own version of the ‘60s has determined the look, feeling and language of the series. We base our aesthetics in what the real world was in 1945, which our story diverges from to form this alternate world.

The 1960s of the story are not the real 1960s because there is no USA and no free Europe, so that means most of the music and wardrobe doesn’t look like the 1960s we know. There are many Nazi and Japanese visual elements on the visuals that distinguish us from a regular 1960s look, but it still feels period.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
Because we had a studio mandate to finish in 4K, the Red One with Zeiss Master Prime lenses was chosen in the pilot, so when I came on we inherited that tech. We stuck with all this for the first season, but after a few months of shooting we adapted the list and filters and lighting. On Season 2, we pushed to change to an ARRI Alexa camera, so we ended up adjusting all the equipment around this new camera and it’s characteristics — such as needing less light, so we ended up with less lighting equipment.

We also added classic Mitchell Diffusion Filters and some zooms. Lighting and grip equipment have been evolving toward less and less equipment since we light less and less. It’s a constant evolution. We also looked at some different lens options in the season breaks, but we haven’t added them because we don’t want to change our budget too much from season to season, and we use them as required.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of in Season 3?
I think the most challenging scene was the one in the Nebenwelt tunnel set. We had to have numerous meetings about what this tunnel was as a concept and then, based on the concept, find a way to execute it in a visual way. We wanted to make sure that the look of the scene matched the concepts of quantum physics within the story.

I wanted to achieve lighting that felt almost like plasma. We decided to put a mirror at the end of the tunnel with circle lighting right above it. We then created the effect of the space travel by using a blast of light — using lighting strikes with an elaborate setup that collectively used more than a million watts. It was a complex setup, but fortunately we had a lot of very talented people come together to execute it.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories) — things you can’t live without?
On this project, I’d say it’s the 40mm lens. I don’t think this project would have the same vibe without this lens. Then, of course, I love the Technocrane, but we don’t use it every day, for budgetary and logistical reasons.

For other projects, I would say the ARRI Alexa camera and the 40mm and handheld accessories. You can do a whole movie with just those two; I have done it, and it’s liberating. But if I had an unlimited budget, I would love to use a Technocrane every day with a stabilized remote head.


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

Star Wars: Ep. VII DP Dan Mindel: Cinematographer-in-Residence at UCLA TFT

Director of photography Dan Mindel, ASC, BSC, SASC, has been named the 2019 Kodak Cinematographer-in-Residence at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT). In a career spanning more than 25 years, Mindel has worked with many high-level directors, including Ridley Scott, Tony Scott and J.J. Abrams. He is best known for his work on such blockbuster action films as Enemy of the State, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek (2009) and Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens. Mindel’s unique artistic approach to his cinematography, as well as his use of real film, are responsible for the signature look of the films to which he lends his talents.

The residency began Monday, April 29, 2019 with hands-on student workshops and a special screening of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015), followed by a Q&A with Mindel, at the James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus. The residency will continue for the remainder of the 2019 academic year.

This is the 19th year of the residency program at UCLA TFT, which is sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company. Mindel joins a distinguished group of cinematographers who have received this honor, including Michael Goi, ASC, (American Horror Story), John Bailey, ASC, (American Gigolo, In the Line of Fire); Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, (Brokeback Mountain, Argo, Silence); Dean Cundey, ASC, (Back to the Future, Jurassic Park); Roger Deakins, BSC, ASC, (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall); Guillermo Navarro ASC, AMC, (From Dusk Till Dawn, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, (Hercules, Tower Heist, Public Enemies), among many others.

The Kodak Cinematographer-in-Residence Program was established in 2000 by UCLA TFT professor William McDonald to bring together the worlds of professional and academic cinematography, exposing theater, film and television students to critically acclaimed industry veterans who have attained the highest levels of achievement within the filmmaking industry. Students study with these experts for an entire academic year through a series of workshops and screenings.

“Dan Mindel’s body of work as a cinematographer is an impressive representation of his technical skill and artistic talent,” McDonald says. “He is a supreme visual storyteller, and our students will learn so much from his extensive experience as a premier director of photography. He has a generous spirit, and we are grateful for his enthusiastic willingness to share his knowledge with this generation of young filmmakers and those still to come.”

 

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.

Colorfront at NAB with 8K HDR, product updates

Colorfront, which makes on-set dailies and transcoding systems, has rolled out new 8K HDR capabilities and updates across its product lines. The company has also deepened its technology partnership with AJA and entered into a new collaboration with Pomfort to bring more efficient color and HDR management on-set.

Colorfront Transkoder is a post workflow tool for handling UHD, HDR camera, color and editorial/deliverables formats, with recent customers such as Sky, Pixelogic, The Picture Shop and Hulu. With a new HDR GUI, Colorfront’s Transkoder 2019 performs the realtime decompression/de-Bayer/playback of Red and Panavision DXL2 8K R3D material displayed on a Samsung 82-inch Q900R QLED 8K Smart TV in HDR and in full 8K resolution (7680 X 4320). The de-Bayering process is optimized through Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics cards with Turing GPU architecture (also available on Colorfront On-Set Dailies 2019), with 8K video output (up to 60p) using AJA Kona 5 video cards.

“8K TV sets are becoming bigger, as well as more affordable, and people are genuinely awestruck when they see 8K camera footage presented on an 8K HDR display,” said Aron Jaszberenyi, managing director, Colorfront. “We are actively working with several companies around the world originating 8K HDR content. Transkoder’s new 8K capabilities — across on-set, post and mastering — demonstrate that 8K HDR is perfectly accessible to an even wider range of content creators.”

Powered by a re-engineered version of Colorfront Engine and featuring the HDR GUI and 8K HDR workflow, Transkoder 2019 supports camera/editorial formats including Apple ProRes RAW, Blackmagic RAW, ARRI Alexa LF/Alexa Mini LF and Codex HDE (High Density Encoding).

Transkoder 2019’s mastering toolset has been further expanded to support Dolby Vision 4.0 as well as Dolby Atmos for the home with IMF and Immersive Audio Bitstream capabilities. The new Subtitle Engine 2.0 supports CineCanvas and IMSC 1.1 rendering for preservation of content, timing, layout and styling. Transkoder can now also package multiple subtitle language tracks into the timeline of an IMP. Further features support fast and efficient audio QC, including solo/mute of individual tracks on the timeline, and a new render strategy for IMF packages enabling independent audio and video rendering.

Colorfront also showed the latest versions of its On-Set Dailies and Express Dailies products for motion pictures and episodic TV production. On-Set Dailies and Express Dailies both now support ProRes RAW, Blackmagic RAW, ARRI Alexa LF/Alexa Mini LF and Codex HDE. As with Transkoder 2019, the new version of On-Set Dailies supports real-time 8K HDR workflows to support a set-to-post pipeline from HDR playback through QC and rendering of HDR deliverables.

In addition, AJA Video Systems has released v3.0 firmware for its FS-HDR realtime HDR/WCG converter and frame synchronizer. The update introduces enhanced coloring tools together with several other improvements for broadcast, on-set, post and pro AV HDR production developed by Colorfront.

A new, integrated Colorfront Engine Film Mode offers an ACES-based grading and look creation toolset with ASC Color Decision List (CDL) controls, built-in LOOK selection including film emulation looks, and variable Output Mastering Nit Levels for PQ, HLG Extended and P3 colorspace clamp.

Since launching in 2018, FS-HDR has been used on a wide range of TV and live outside broadcast productions, as well as motion pictures including Paramount Pictures’ Top Gun: Maverick, shot by Claudio Miranda, ASC.

Colorfront licensed its HDR Image Analyzer software to AJA for AJA’s HDR Image Analyzer in 2018. A new version of AJA HDR Image Analyzer is set for release during Q3 2019.

Finally, Colorfront and Pomfort have teamed up to integrate their respective HDR-capable on-set systems. This collaboration, harnessing Colorfront Engine, will include live CDL reading in ACES pipelines between Colorfront On-Set/Express Dailies and Pomfort LiveGrade Pro, giving motion picture productions better control of HDR images while simplifying their on-set color workflows and dailies processes.

Atomos’ new Shogun 7: HDR monitor, recorder, switcher

The new Atomos Shogun 7 is a seven-inch HDR monitor, recorder and switcher that offers an all-new 1500-nit, daylight-viewable, 1920×1200 panel with a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 15+ stops of dynamic range displayed. It also offers ProRes RAW recording and realtime Dolby Vision output. Shogun 7 will be available in June 2019, priced at $1,499.

The Atomos screen uses a combination of advanced LED and LCD technologies which together offer deeper, better blacks the company says rivals OLED screens, “but with the much higher brightness and vivid color performance of top-end LCDs.”

A new 360-zone backlight is combined with this new screen technology and controlled by the Dynamic AtomHDR engine to show millions of shades of brightness and color. It allows Shogun 7 to display 15+ stops of real dynamic range on-screen. The panel, says Atomos, is also incredibly accurate, with ultra-wide color and 105% of DCI-P3 covered, allowing for the same on-screen dynamic range, palette of colors and shades that your camera sensor sees.

Atomos and Dolby have teamed up to create Dolby Vision HDR “live” — a tool that allows you to see HDR live on-set and carry your creative intent from the camera through into HDR post. Dolby have optimized their target display HDR processing algorithm which Atomos has running inside the Shogun 7. It brings realtime automatic frame-by-frame analysis of the Log or RAW video and processes it for optimal HDR viewing on a Dolby Vision-capable TV or monitor over HDMI. Connect Shogun 7 to the Dolby Vision TV and AtomOS 10 automatically analyzes the image, queries the TV and applies the right color and brightness profiles for the maximum HDR experience on the display.

Shogun 7 records images up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 or 2kp240 slow motion from compatible cameras, in RAW/Log or HLG/PQ over SDI/HDMI. Footage is stored directly to AtomX SSDmini or approved off-the-shelf SATA SSD drives. There are recording options for Apple ProRes RAW and ProRes, Avid DNx and Adobe CinemaDNG RAW codecs. Shogun 7 has four SDI inputs plus a HDMI 2.0 input, with both 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 outputs. It can record ProRes RAW in up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 DCI/UHD and 2kp240 DCI/HD, depending on the camera’s capabilities. Also, 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHR recording is available up to 4Kp60 or 2Kp240. The four SDI inputs enable the connection of most quad-link, dual-link or single-link SDI cinema cameras. Pixels are preserved with data rates of up to 1.8Gb/s.

In terms of audio, Shogun 7 eliminates the need for a separate audio recorder. Users can add 48V stereo mics via an optional balanced XLR breakout cable, or select mic or line input levels, plus record up to 12 channels of 24/96 digital audio from HDMI or SDI. Monitoring selected stereo tracks is via the 3.5mm headphone jack. There are dedicated audio meters, gain controls and adjustments for frame delay.

Shogun 7 features the latest version of the AtomOS 10 touchscreen interface, first seen on the Ninja V.  The new body of Shogun 7 has a Ninja V-like exterior with ARRI anti-rotation mounting points on the top and bottom of the unit to ensure secure mounting.

AtomOS 10 on Shogun 7 has the full range of monitoring tools, including Waveform, Vectorscope, False Color, Zebras, RGB parade, Focus peaking, Pixel-to-pixel magnification, Audio level meters and Blue only for noise analysis.

Shogun 7 can also be used as a portable touchscreen-controlled multi-camera switcher with asynchronous quad-ISO recording. Users can switch up to four 1080p60 SDI streams, record each plus the program output as a separate ISO, then deliver ready-for-edit recordings with marked cut-points in XML metadata straight to your NLE. The current Sumo19 HDR production monitor-recorder will also gain the same functionality in a free firmware update.

There is asynchronous switching, plus use genlock in and out to connect to existing AV infrastructure. Once the recording is over, users can import the XML file into an NLE and the timeline populates with all the edits in place. XLR audio from a separate mixer or audio board is recorded within each ISO, alongside two embedded channels of digital audio from the original source. The program stream always records the analog audio feed as well as a second track that switches between the digital audio inputs to match the switched feed.

DP Chat: The Village cinematographer William Rexer

By Randi Altman

William Rexer is a cinematographer who has worked on documentaries, music videos, commercials and narratives — both comedies and dramas. He’s frequently collaborated with writer/director Ed Burns (Friends With Kids, Newlyweds, Summertime). Recently, he’s directed photography on several series including The Get Down, The Tick, Sneaky Pete and the new NBC drama The Village.

He sat down with us to answer some questions about his love of cinematography, his process and The Village, which follow a diverse group of people living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn.

The set of The Village. Photo: Peter Kramer

How did you become interested in cinematography?
When I was a kid, my mother had a theater company and my father was an agent/producer. I grew up sleeping backstage. When I was a teen, I was running a followspot (light) for Cab Calloway. I guess there was no escaping some job in this crazy business!

My father would check out 16mm movies from the New York City public library — Chaplin, Keaton — and that would be our weekend night entertainment. When I was in 8th grade, an art cinema started in my hometown; it is now called the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, New York. It showed cinema from all over the world, including Bergman, Fellini, Jasny. I began to see the world through films and fell in love.

What inspires you artistically?
I love going to the movies, the theater and art galleries. Films like Roma and Cold War make me have faith in the world. What mostly inspires me is checking out what my peers are up to. Tim Ives, ASC, and Tod Campbell are two friends that I love to watch. Very impressive guys. David Mullen, ASC, and Eric Moynier are doing great work on Mrs. Maisel. I guess I would say watching my peers and their work inspires me.

NBC’s The Village

How do you stay on top of advancing technology tools for achieving your vision on set or in post?
The cameras and post workflow change every few months. I check in with the rental houses to stay on top of gear. Panavision, Arri Rental, TCS, Keslow and Abel are great resources. I also stay in touch with post houses. My friends at Harbor and Technicolor are always willing to help create LUTs, evaluate cameras and lenses.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The introduction of the Red One MX and the ARRI D-20 changed a lot of things. They made shooting high-quality images affordable and cleaner for the environment. It put 35mm size sensors out there and gave a lot of young people a chance to create.

The introduction of large-format cameras, the Red Monstro 8K VV, the ARRI LF and 65, and the Sony Venice have made my life more interesting. All these sensors are fantastic, and the new color spaces we get to work with like Red’s IPP2 are truly astounding. I like having control of depth of field and controlling where the audience looks.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I try my best to shoot tests, create a LUT in the test phase and take the footage through the entire process and see how it holds up. I make sure that all my monitors are calibrated at the post house to match; that gets us all on the same page. Then, I’ll adjust the LUT after a few days of shooting in the field, using the LUT as a film stock and light to it. I watch dailies, give notes and try to get in with colorist/timer and work with them.

Will Rexer (center) with showrunner Mike Daniels and director Minkie Spiro. Photo: Jennifer Rhoades

Tell us about The Village. How would you describe the general look of the show?
The look of The Village is somewhere between romantic realism and magical realism. It is a world that could be. Our approach was to thread that line between real and the potential — warm and inviting and full of potential.

Can you talk about your collaboration with the showrunner when setting the look of a project?
Mike Daniels, Minkie Spiro, Jessica Rhoades and I looked at a ton of photographs and films to find our look. The pilot designer Ola Maslik and the series designer Neil Patel created warm environments for me.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I had three weeks of prep for the pilot, and I worked with Minkie and Ola finding locations and refining the look.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
The show required a decent amount of small gimbal work, so we chose the Red Monstro 8K VV using Red’s IPP2 color space. I love the camera, great look, great functionality and my team has customized the accessories to make our work on set effortless.

We used the Sigma Cine PL Primes with 180mm Leica R, Nikon 200 T2, Nikkor Zero Optik 58mm T1.2, Angenieux HR 25-250mm and some other special optics. I looked at other full-frame lenses but really liked the Sigma lenses and their character. These lenses are a nice mix of roundness and warmth and consistency.

What was your involvement with post? Who supported your vision from dailies through final grade? Have you worked with this facility and/or colorists on past projects?
Dailies were through Harbor Picture Company. I love these guys. I have worked with Harbor since they started, and they are total pros. They have helped me create LUTs for many projects, including Public Morals.

The final post for The Village was done in LA at NBC/Universal. Craig Budrick has done a great job coloring the show. I do wish that I could be in the room, but that’s not always possible.

What’s most satisfying to you about this show?
I am very proud of the show and its message. It’s a romantic vision of the world. TV and cinema often go to the dark side. I like going there, but I do think we need to be reminded of our better selves and our potential.


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

Veteran VFX supervisor Lindy De Quattro joins MPC Film

Long-time visual effects supervisor Lindy De Quattro has joined MPC Film in Los Angeles. Over the last two and a half decades, which included 21 years at ILM, De Quattro has worked with directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Alexander Payne and Brad Bird. She also currently serves on the Executive Committee for the VFX branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

De Quattro’s VFX credits include Iron Man 2, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Downsizing and Pacific Rim, for which she won a VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects. In addition to supervising visual effects teams, she has also provided on-set supervision.

De Quattro says she was attracted to MPC because of “their long history of exceptional high-quality visual effects, but I made the decision to come on board because of their global commitment to inclusion and diversity in the VFX industry. I want to be an active part of the change that I see beginning to happen all around me, and MPC is giving me the opportunity to do just that. They say, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’ Girls need role models, and women and other underrepresented groups in the industry need mentors. In my new role at MPC I will strive to be both while contributing to MPC’s legacy of outstanding visual effects.”

The studio’s other VFX supervisors include Richard Stammers (Dumbo, The Martian, X-Men: Days of Future Past), Erik Nash (Avengers Assemble, Titanic), Nick Davis (The Dark Knight, Edge of Tomorrow) and Adam Valdez (The Lion King, Maleficent, The Jungle Book).

MPC Film is currently working on The Lion King, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Detective Pikachu, Call of the Wild and The New Mutants.

Atomos offering Shinobi SDI camera-top monitor

On the heels of its successful Shinobi launch in March, Atomos has introduced Atomos Shinobi SDI, a
super-lightweight, 5-inch HD-SDI and 4K HDMI camera-top monitor. Its color-accurate calibrated display makes makes it suitable compact HDR and SDR reference monitor. It targets the professional video creator who uses or owns a variety of cameras and camcorders and needs the flexibility of SDI or HDMI, accurate high bright and HDR, while not requiring external recording capability.

Shinobi SDI features a compact, durable body combined with an ultra-clear, ultra-bright, daylight viewable 1000-nit display. The anti-reflection, anti-fingerprint screen has a pixel density of 427PPI (pixels per inch) and is factory calibrated for color accuracy, with the option for in-field calibration providing ongoing accuracy. Thanks to the
HD-SDI input and output, plus a 4K HDMI input, it can be used in most productions.

This makes Shinobi SDI a useful companion for high-end cinema and production cameras, ENG cameras, handheld camcorders and any other
HD-SDI equipped source.

“Our most requested product in recent times has been a stand-alone SDI monitor. We are thrilled to be bringing the Atomos Shinobi SDI to market for professional video and film creators,” says Jeromy Young, CEO of Atomos.

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.

DP Chat: Madam Secretary’s Learan Kahanov

By Randi Altman

Cinematographer Learan Kahanov’s love of photography started at an early age, when he would stage sequences and scenes with his Polaroid camera, lining up the photos to create a story.

He took that love of photography and turned it into a thriving career, working in television, features and commercials. He currently works on the CBS drama Madam Secretary — where he was initially  hired to be the A-camera operator and additional DP. He shot 12 episodes and tandem units, then he took over the show fully in Season 3. The New York-shot, Washington, DC-set show stars Téa Leoni as the US Secretary of State, following her struggle to balance her work and personal life.

We recently reached out to Kahanov to find out more about his path, as well as his workflow, on Madam Secretary.

Learan Kahanov on set with director Rob Greenlea.

Can you talk about your path to cinematography?
My mother is a sculptor and printmaker, and when I was in middle school, she went back to get a degree in fine arts with a minor in photography. This essentially meant I was in tow, on many a weeknight, to the darkroom so she could do her printing and, in turn, I learned as well.

I shot mostly black and white all through middle school and high school. I would often use my mother’s art studio to shoot the models who posed for the drawing class she taught. Around the same time, I developed a growing fascination with animal behavior and strove to become a wildlife photographer, until I realized I didn’t have the patience to sit in a tree for days to get the perfect shot.

I soon turned my attention to videography while working at a children’s museum, teaching kids how to use the cameras and how to make short movies. I decided to pursue cinematography officially in high school. I eventually found myself at NYU film school, based off my photography portfolio. As soon as I got to New York City, I started working on indie films, as an electrician and gaffer, shooting every student film and indie project I could.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I could list artists or filmmakers whose work I gravitate to, but the main thing I learned from my mother about art is that it’s about a feeling. Whether it’s being affected by a beautifully photographed image of a woman in a commercial or getting sucked into the visuals in a wildlife documentary, if you can invoke a feeling and or create an emotion you have made art.

Madam Secretary

I am always looking at things around me, and I’m always aware of how light falls on the world around me. Or how the shape of everyday objects and places change depending on the time, the weather or just my mood at the moment.

My vision of a project is always born out of the story, so the key for me is to always use technology (new or old) to support that story. Sometimes the latest in LED technology is the right tool for the job, sometimes it’s a bare light bulb attached to the underside of a white, five-gallon paint bucket (a trick Gaffer Jack Coffin and I use quite often). I think the balance between vision and technology is a two-way street — the key is to recognize when the technology serves your vision or the other way around.

What new technology has changed the way you work?
In the area of lighting, I have found that no matter what new tools come onto the scene, I still hold true to my go-to lighting techniques that I have preferred for years.

A perfect example would be my love for book lights — a book light is a bounced light that then goes through another layer of diffusion, which is perfect for lighting faces. Whether I am using an old Mole Richardson 5K tungsten unit or the newer ARRI S60 SkyPanels, the concept and end result are basically the same.

That being said, for location work the ARRI LED SkyPanels have become one of the go-to units on my current show, Madam Secretary. The lights’ high-output, low-power consumption, ease for matching existing location color sources and quick effects make them an easy choice for dealing with the faster-paced TV production schedule.

On-set setup

One other piece of gear that I have found myself calling for on a daily basis, since my key grip Ted Lehane introduced me to. It’s a diffusion material called Magic Cloth, which is produced by The Rag Place. This material can work as a bounce, as well as a diffusion, and you can directly light through. It produces a very soft light, as it’s fairly thick, but it does not change the color temperature of the source light. This new material, in conjunction with new LED technology, has created some interesting opportunities for my team.

Many DPs talk about the latest digital sensor, camera support (drone/gimbals, etc.) or LED lighting, but sometimes it’s something very simple, like finding a new diffusion material that can really change the look and the way I work. In fact, I think gripology in general often gets overlooked in the current affairs of filmmaking where everything seems to need to be “state of the art.”

What are some of your best practices or rules that you try to follow on each job?
I have one hard and fast rule in any project I shoot: support the story! I like to think of myself as a filmmaker first, using cinematography as a way to contribute to the filmmaking process. That being said, we can create lots of “rules” and have all the “go-to practices” to create beautiful images, but if what you are doing doesn’t advance the story, or at the very least create the right mood for the scene, then you are just taking a picture.

There are definite things I do because I simply prefer how it looks, but if it doesn’t make sense for the scene/move (based on the directors and my vision), I will then adjust what I do to make sure I am always supporting the story. There are definitely times where a balance is needed. We don’t create in a bubble, as there are all the other factors to consider, like budget, time, shooting conditions, etc. It’s this need/ability to be both technician and artisan that excites me the most about my job.

Can you explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
When working in episodic TV, every episode — essentially every eight days — there is a different director. Even when I have a repeat director, I have to adapt quickly between each director’s style. This goes beyond just being a chameleon from a creative standpoint — I need to quickly establish trust and a short hand to help the director put their stamp on their episode, all while staying within the already established look of the show.

Madam Secretary

I have always considered myself not an “idea man” but rather a “make-the-idea-better” man. I say this because being able to collaborate with a director and not just see their vision, but also enhance it and take it a step further (and see their excitement in the process), is completely fulfilling.

Tell us about Madam Secretary. How would you describe the overarching look of the show? How early did you get involved in the production?
I have been a part of Madam Secretary since the beginning, minus the pilot. I was hired as the A camera operator and as an additional DP. Jonathan Brown, ASC, shot the pilot and was the DP for the first two seasons. He was also one of our directors for the first three seasons. In addition to shooting tandem/2nd unit days and filling on scout days, I was the DP whenever Jonathan directed. So while I didn’t create the initial look of the show, I worked closely with Jonathan as the seasons went on until I officially took over in the third season.

Since I took over (and during my episodes), I felt an obligation to hold true to the original look and the intent of the show, while also adding my personal touch and allowing the show’s look to evolve with the series. The show does give us opportunities every week to create something new. While the reoccurring sets/locations do have a relatively set look, every episode takes us to new parts of the world and to new events.

It gives the director, production team and me an opportunity to create different looks and aesthetics to differentiate it from Madam Secretary’s life in DC. While it’s a quick schedule to prep,  research and create new looks for convincing foreign locations every episode (we shoot 99% of the show in New York), it is a challenge that brings a creativity and excitement to the job that I really enjoy.

Learan Kahanov on set with Hillary Clinton for the episode E Pluribus Unum.

Can you talk about what you shoot on and what lenses you use, etc.?
The show is currently shooting on Alexa SXTs with Leica Summicron Prime lenses and Fujinon Cabrio zooms. One of the main things I did when I officially took over the show was to switch to Lecia Primes. We did some testing with Tèa Leoni and Tim Daly on our sets to see how the lenses treated skin tones.

Additionally, we wanted to see how they reacted to the heavy backlight and to the blown out windows we have on many of our sets. We all agreed that the lenses were sharp, but also realized that they created a softer feel on our actors faces, had a nice focus fall-off and they handled the highlights really well. They are flexible enough to help me create different looks while still retaining a consistency for the show. The lenses have an interesting flare characteristic that sometimes makes controlling them difficult, but it all adds to the current look of the show and has yet to be limiting.

You used a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera for some specialized shots. Can you describe those?
The show has many scenes that entail some specialized shots that need a small but high-res camera that has an inherently different feel from the Alexa. These shots include webcam and security camera footage. There are also many times when we need to create body/helmet cam footage to emulate images recorded from military/police missions that then were played back in the president’s situation room. That lightweight, high-quality camera allows for a lot of flexibility. We also employ other small cameras like GoPro and DJI Osmo, as well as the Sony A7RII with PL mount.

Madam Secretary

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
I don’t think there is an episode that goes by without some type of challenge, but one in particular that I was really happy with took place on a refugee boat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

The scene was set at night where refugees were making a harrowing trip from the north coast of Libya to France. Since we couldn’t shoot on the ocean at night, we brought the boat and a storm into the studio.

Our production designer and art department cut a real boat in half and brought it onto the stage. Drew Jiritano and his special effects team then placed the boat on a gimbal and waterproofed the stage floor so we could place rain towers and air cannons to simulate a storm in the middle of the sea.

Using a technocrane, handheld cameras and interactive lighting, we created a great scene that immersed the audience in a realistic depiction of the dramatic journey that happens more often than most Americans realize.


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

Lowepost offering Scratch training for DITs, post pros

Oslo, Norway-based Lowepost, which offers an online learning platform for post production, has launched an Assimilate Scratch Training Channel targeting DITs and post pros. This training includes an extensive series of tutorials that help guide a post pro or DIT through the features of an entire Scratch workflow. Scratch products offer dailies to conform, color grading, visual effects, compositing, finishing, VR and live streaming.

“We’re offering in-depth training of Scratch via comprehensive tutorials developed by Lowepost and Assimilate,” says Stig Olsen, manager of Lowepost. “Our primary goal is to make Scratch training easily accessible to all users and post artists for building their skills in high-end tools that will advance their expertise and careers. It’s also ideal for DaVinci Resolve colorists who want to add another excellent conform, finishing and VR tool to their tool kit.”

Lowepost is offering three-month free access to the Scratch training. The first tutorial, Scratch Essential Training, is also available now. A free 30-day trial offer of Scratch is available via their website.

Lowepost’s Scratch Training Channel is available for an annual fee of $59 (US).

Cold War’s Oscar-nominated director Pawel Pawlikowski

By Iain Blair

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski is a BAFTA-winning writer and director whose film Ida won the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Pawlikowski, who left Poland at age 14 and currently resides in the UK, is Oscar nominated again — as Best Director for his latest film, Cold War. Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Cold War earned cinematographer Lukasz Zal an Oscar nomination, as well as an ASC Award win.

Pawel Pawlikowski                            Credit: Magda Wunsche and Aga Samsel

Cold War traces the passionate love story between Wiktor and Zula, a couple who meet in the ruins of post-war Poland. With vastly different backgrounds and temperaments, they are fatefully mismatched and yet condemned to each other. Set against the background of the Cold War in 1950s Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris, it’s the tale of a couple separated by politics, character flaws and unfortunate twists of fate — an impossible love story in impossible times.

I spoke with Pawlikowski, whose credits include The Woman in the Fifth, which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, about making the film, the Oscars and his workflow.

How surprised are you by the Oscar nominations, including the one for Best Director?
I’m pleasantly surprised as it’s very unusual for a small film like this — and it’s in B&W — to cut through all the noise of the big films, especially as it’s an American competition and there’s so much money and PR involved.

Your Ida cinematographer Lukasz Zal also got an Oscar nomination for his beautiful B&W work. It’s interesting that Roma is also semi-autobiographical and in B&W.
I’m so happy for him, and yes, it is a bit of a coincidence. Someone told me that having two foreign-language film directors both nominated in the same year has only happened once before, and I feel we were both trying to reconnect with the past through something personal and timeless. But they’re very different films and very different in their use of B&W. In Roma you can see everything, it’s all in focus and lit very evenly, while ours is far more contrast-y, shot with a lot of very different lenses — some very wide, some very long.

You won the Oscar for Ida. How important are the Oscars to a film like this?
Very, I think. This was made totally as we wanted. There wasn’t an ounce of compromise, and it’s not formulaic, yet it’s getting all this attention. This, of course, means a wider audience — and that’s so important when there’s so much stuff out there vying for attention. It’s very encouraging.

What sort of film did you set out to make, as the story is so elliptical and leaves a lot unsaid?
That’s true, and I think it’s a great pleasure for audiences to work things out for themselves, and to not spell every single thing out. When you work by suggestion, I think it stays in your imagination much longer, and leaving certain types of gaps in the narrative makes the audience fill them in with their own imagination and own experience of life. As a film lover and audience member myself, I feel that approach lets you enter the space of a film much more, and it stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema. When a film ties up every loose end and crosses every “T” and dots every “I” you tend to forget it quite quickly, and I think not showing everything is the essence of art.

Is it true that the two main characters of Wiktor and Zula are based on your own parents?
Yes, but very loosely. They have the same names and share a lot of the same traits. They had a very tempestuous, complicated relationship — they couldn’t live with each other and couldn’t live without each other. That was the starting point, but then it took on its own life, like all films do.

The film looks very beautiful in B&W, but I heard you originally planned to shoot it in color?
No. Not at all. It’s been like this Chinese whisper, where people got it all wrong. When the DP and I first started discussing it, we immediately knew it’d be a B&W film for this world, this time period, this story, especially as Poland wasn’t very colorful back then. So whatever colors we could have come up with would have been so arbitrary anyway. And we knew it’d be very high contrast and very dramatic. Lukasz did say, “Maybe we shouldn’t do two films in a row in B&W,” but we never seriously considered color. If it had been set in the ‘70s or ‘80s I would have shot it in color, but B&W was just visually perfect for this.

Where did you post?
All in Poland, at various places in Warsaw, and it took over six months. It was very tricky and very hard to get it right because we had a lot of greenscreen work, and it wasn’t straightforward. People would say, “That’s good enough,” but it wasn’t for me, and I kept pushing and pushing to get it all as nearly perfect as we could. That was quite nerve-wracking.

Do you like the post process?
Very much, and I especially love the editing and the grading. I’m basically an editor in my approach to filmmaking, and I usually do all the editing while I shoot, so by the time we get to post it’s practically all edited.

Talk about editing with Jaroslaw Kaminski, who cut Ida for you. What were the big editing challenges?
We sit down after the shoot and go through it all, but there’s not that much to tweak because of the coverage. I like to do one shot from one angle, with a simple, square composition, but I do quite a lot of takes, so it’s more about finding the best one, and he’s very used to the way I work.

This spans some 15 years, and all period films use some VFX. What was involved?
Quite a lot, like the whole transition in Berlin when he crosses the border. We don’t have all the ruins, so we had to use enormous greenscreens and VFX. West Berlin is far brighter and more colorful, which is both symbolic and also realistic. We shot all the Paris interiors in Poland, so everything that happens outside the windows is greenscreen, and that was very hard to get right. I didn’t want it to feel like it was done in post. We scoured Poland for locations, so we could use real elements to build on with the VFX, and the story also takes place in Split, Yugoslavia, so the level of realism had to be very high.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
It was so important, and it took a long time to do as it’s really a silent movie when there’s no music, and as it’s not an action film, it was really critical that we didn’t overdo it or under-do it. I took a very long time working with my sound mixer — over four months. Before we shot, I went around Poland with my casting director to lots of folk music festivals and selected various faces, voices and tunes for the first part of the film. That took over half a year. Then I chose three tunes performed by Mazowsze, a real ensemble founded after the war and still performing today. A tune could be used in different ways — as a simple folk song at the start of the film, but then also later as a haunting jazz number in the Paris scenes. For me, all this was like the glue holding it all together. Then I chose a lot of other music, like the Russian piece, Gershwin and also a song like “Rock Around The Clock,” which really drives a wedge between Wiktor and Zula. The film ends with Bach, which gives it a whole different feel and perspective.

The grading must have also been very important for the look?
Yes. Michal Herman was the colorist and we spent a long time getting the contrast and grain just right. I love that process.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s more or less everything I felt and imagined about my parents and their story, even though it’s a work of fiction.


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

Red intros LCD touch monitor for DSMC2 cameras

Red Digital Cinema has introduced the DSMC2 Touch 7-inch Ultra-Brite LCD monitor to its line of camera accessories. It offers an optically-bonded touchscreen with Gorilla Glass that allows for what the company calls “intuitive ways to navigate menus, adjust camera parameters and review .R3D clips directly out of the camera.”

The monitor offers a brighter high-definition viewing experience for recording and viewing footage on DSMC2 camera systems, even in direct sunlight. A 1920×1200 resolution display panel provides 2,200 nits of brightness to overcome viewing difficulties in bright outdoor environments as well as a high-pixel density (at 323ppi) and a 1200:1 contrast ratio.

The Ultra-Brite display mounts to Red’s DSMC2 Brain or other 1/4-20 mounting surfaces, and provides a LEMO connection to the camera, making it an ideal monitoring option for gimbals, cranes, and cabled remote viewing. Shooters can use a DSMC2 LEMO Adaptor A in conjunction with the Ultra-Brite display for convenient mounting options away from the DSMC2 camera Brain.

Check out a demo of the new monitor, priced at $3,750, here.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty busy.


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

Making audio pop for Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns

By Jennifer Walden

As the song says, “It’s a jolly holiday with Mary.” And just in time for the holidays, there’s a new Mary Poppins musical to make the season bright. In theaters now, Disney’s Mary Poppins Returns is directed by Rob Marshall, who with Chicago, Nine and Into the Woods on his resume, has become the master of modern musicals.

Renée Tondelli

In this sequel, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) comes back to help the now-grown up Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) by attending to Michael’s three children: Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathanael Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). It’s a much-needed reunion for the family as Michael is struggling with the loss of his wife.

Mary Poppins Returns is another family reunion of sorts. According to Renée Tondelli, who along with Eugene Gearty, supervised and co-designed the sound, director Marshall likes to use the same crews on all his films. “Rob creates families in each phase of the film, so we all have a shorthand with each other. It’s really the most wonderful experience you can have in a filmmaking process,” says Tondelli, who has worked with Marshall on five films, three of which were his musicals. “In the many years of working in this business, I have never worked with a more collaborative, wonderful, creative team than I have on Mary Poppins Returns. That goes for everyone involved, from the picture editor down to all of our assistants.”

Sound editorial took place in New York at Sixteen 19, the facility where the picture was being edited. Sound mixing was also done in New York, at Warner Bros. Sound.

In his musicals, Marshall weaves songs into scenes in a way that feels organic. The songs are coaxed from the emotional quotient of the story. That’s not only true for how the dialogue transitions into the singing, but also for how the music is derived from what’s happening in the scene. “Everything with Rob is incredibly rhythmic,” she says. “He has an impeccable sense of timing. Every breath, every footstep, every movement has a rhythmic cadence to it that relates to and works within the song. He does this with every artform in the production — with choreography, production design and sound design.”

From a sound perspective, Tondelli and her team worked to integrate the songs by blending the pre-recorded vocals with the production dialogue and the ADR. “We combined all of those in a micro editing process, often syllable by syllable, to create a very seamless approach so that you can’t really tell where they stop talking and start singing,” she says.

The Conversation
For example, near the beginning of the film, Michael is looking through the attic of their home on Cherry Tree Lane as he speaks to the spirit of his deceased wife, telling her how much he misses her in a song called “The Conversation.” Tondelli explains, “It’s a very delicate scene, and it’s a song that Michael was speaking/singing. We constantly cut between his pre-records and his production dialogue. It was an amazing collaboration between me, the supervising music editor Jennifer Dunnington and re-recording mixer Mike Prestwood Smith. We all worked together to create this delicate balance so you really feel that he is singing his song in that scene in that moment.”

Since Michael is moving around the attic as he’s performing the song, the environment affects the quality of the production sound. As he gets closer to the window, the sound bounces off the glass. “Mike [Prestwood Smith] really had his work cut out for him on that song. We were taking impulse responses from the end of the slates and feeding them into Audio Ease’s Altiverb to get the right room reverb on the pre-records. We did a lot of impulse responses and reverbs, and EQs to make that scene all flow, but it was worth it. It was so beautiful.”

The Bowl
They also captured impulse responses for another sequence, which takes place inside a ceramic bowl. The sequence begins with the three Banks children arguing over their mother’s bowl. They accidentally drop it and it breaks. Mary and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda) notice the bowl’s painted scenery has changed. The horse-drawn carriage now has a broken wheel that must be fixed. Mary spins the bowl and a gust of wind pulls them into the ceramic bowl’s world, which is presented in 2D animation. According to Tondelli, the sequence was hand-drawn, frame by frame, as an homage to the original Mary Poppins. “They actually brought some animators out of retirement to work on this film,” she says.

Tondelli and co-supervising sound editor/co-sound designer Eugene Gearty placed mics inside porcelain bowls, in a porcelain sink, and near marble tiles, which they thumped with rubber mallets, broken pieces of ceramic and other materials. The resulting ring-out was used to create reverbs that were applied to every element in the ceramic bowl sequence, from the dialogue to the Foley. “Everything they said, every step they took had to have this ceramic feel to it, so as they are speaking and walking it sounds like it’s all happening inside a bowl,” Tondelli says.

She first started working on this hand-drawn animation sequence when it showed little more than the actors against a greenscreen with a few pencil drawings. “The fastest and easiest way to make a scene like that come alive is through sound. The horse, which was possibly the first thing that was drawn, is pullling the carriage. It dances in this syncopated rhythm with the music so it provides a rhythmic base. That was the first thing that we tackled.”

After the carriage is fixed, Mary and her troupe walk to the Royal Doulton Music Hall where, ultimately, Jack and Mary are going to perform. Traditionally, a music hall in London is very rowdy and boisterous. The audience is involved in the show and there’s an air of playfulness. “Rob said to me, ‘I want this to be an English music hall, Renée. You really have to make that happen.’ So I researched what music halls were like and how they sounded.”

Since the animation wasn’t complete, Tondelli consulted with the animators to find out who — or rather what — was going to be in the audience. “There were going to be giraffes dressed up in suits with hats and Indian elephants in beautiful saris, penguins on the stage dancing with Jack and Mary, flamingos, giant moose and rabbits, baby hippos and other animals. The only way I thought I could do this was to go to London and hire actors of all ages who could do animal voices.”

But there were some specific parameters that had to be met. Tondelli defines the world of Mary Poppins Returns as being “magical realism,” so the animals couldn’t sound too cartoony. They had to sound believably like animal versions of British citizens. Also, the actors had to be able to sing in their animal voices.

According to Tondelli, they recorded 15 actors at a time for a period of five days. “I would call out, ‘Who can do an orangutan?’ And then the actors would all do voices and we’d choose one. Then they would do the whole song and sing out and call out. We had all different accents — Cockney, Welsh and Scottish,” she says. “All the British Isles came together on this and, of course, they all loved Mary and knew all the songs so they sang along with her.”

On the Dolby Atmos mix, the music hall scene really comes alive. The audience’s voices are coming from the rafters and all around the walls and the music is reverberating into the space — which, by the way, no longer sounds like it’s in a ceramic bowl even though the music hall is in the ceramic bowl world. In addition to the animal voices, there are hooves and paws for the animals’ clapping. “We had to create the clapping in Foley because it wasn’t normal clapping,” explains Tondelli. “The music hall was possibly the most challenging, but also the funnest scene to do. We just loved it. All of us had a great time on it.”

The Foley
The Foley elements in Mary Poppins Returns often had to be performed in perfect sync with the music. On the big dance numbers, like “Trip the Light Fantastic,” the Foley was an essential musical element since the dances were reconstructed sonically in post. “Everything for this scene was wiped away, even the vocals. We ended up using a lot of the records for this one and a lot less production sound,” says Tondelli.

In “Trip the Light Fantastic,” Jack is bringing the kids back home through the park, and they emerge from a tunnel to see nearly 50 lamplighters on lampposts. Marshall and John DeLuca (choreographer/producer/screen story writer) arranged the dance to happen in multiple layers, with each layer doing something different. “The background dancers were doing hand slaps and leg swipes, and another layer was stepping on and off of these slate surfaces. Every time the dancers would jump up on the lampposts, they’d hit it and each would ring out in a different pitch,” explains Tondelli.

All those complex rhythms were performed in Foley in time to the music. It’s a pretty tall order to ask of any Foley artist but Tondelli has the perfect solution for that dilemma. “I hire the co-choreographers (for this film, Joey Pizzi and Tara Hughes) or dancers that actually worked on the film to do the Foley. It’s something that I always do for Rob’s films. There’s such a difference in the performance,” she says.

Tondelli worked with the Foley team of Marko Costanzo and George Lara at c5 Sound in New York, who helped to build custom surfaces — like a slate-on-sand surface for the lamplighter dance — and arrange multi-surface layouts to optimally suit the Foley performer’s needs.

For instance, in the music hall sequence, the dance on stage incorporates books, so they needed three different surfaces: wood, leather and a papery-sounding surface set up in a logical, easily accessible way. “I wanted the dancer performing the Foley to go through the entire number while jumping off and on these different surfaces so you felt like it was a complete dance and not pieced together,” she says.

For the lamplighter dance, they had a big, thick pig iron pipe next to the slate floor so that the dancer performing the Foley could hit it every time the dancers on-screen jumped up on the lampposts. “So the performer would dance on the slate floor, then hit the pipe and then jump over to the wood floor. It was an amazingly syncopated rhythmic soundtrack,” says Tondelli.

“It was an orchestration, a beautiful sound orchestra, a Foley orchestra that we created and it had to be impeccably in sync. If there was a step out of place you’d hear it,” she continues. “It was really a process to keep it in sync through all the edit conforms and the changes in the movie. We had to be very careful doing the conforms and making the adjustments because even one small mistake and you would hear it.”

The Wind
Wind plays a prominent role in the story. Mary Poppins descends into London on a gust of wind. Later, they’re transported into the ceramic bowl world via a whirlwind. “It’s everywhere, from a tiny leaf blowing across the sidewalk to the huge gale in the park,” attests Tondelli. “Each one of those winds has a personality that Eugene [Gearty] spent a lot of time working on. He did amazing work.”

As far as the on-set fans and wind machines wreaking havoc on the production dialogue, Tondelli says there were two huge saving graces. First was production sound mixer Simon Hayes, who did a great job of capturing the dialogue despite the practical effects obstacles. Second was dialogue editor Alexa Zimmerman, who was a master at iZotope RX. All told, about 85% of the production dialogue made it into the film.

“My goal — and my unspoken order from Rob — was to not replace anything that we didn’t have to. He’s so performance-oriented. He arduously goes over every single take to make sure it’s perfect,” says Tondelli, who also points out that Marshall isn’t afraid of using ADR. “He will pick words from a take and he doesn’t care if it’s coming from a pre-record and then back to ADR and then back to production. Whichever has the best performance is what wins. Our job then is to make all of that happen for him.”


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

Josie Rourke on her feature directorial debut, Mary Queen of Scots

By Iain Blair

Given all the recent talk about the lack of opportunity for women in Hollywood, it’s apt that for her feature film directorial debut, Josie Rourke took on the story of Mary Queen of Scots, the period drama about two of the most famous women in history.

It’s also apt that this retelling of the turbulent life of Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan) and that of her English cousin Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) has all the deeply emotional interpersonal drama of an intense play since Rourke is the artistic director of London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse, where she’s staged acclaimed and groundbreaking productions.

Josie Rourke on set.

Based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” the film offers a fresh take on the two strong women who occupy center stage in what was very much a man’s world. Queen of France at age 16, widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry and instead returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. By birth, Mary had a rival claim to the English throne. Contrary to earlier accounts and based on the latest research, she was a capable politician and leader who wanted an alliance with her cousin Elizabeth.

Mary fights to govern her unruly kingdom at a time when female monarchs are reviled as monstrous. To secure their thrones, the two queens make very different choices about marriage and children. Mary’s reputation is under continual attack from her enemies, who construct lies about her sexual conduct. Betrayal, rebellion and conspiracies within each court imperil both queens, driving them apart as each woman experiences the bitter cost of power.

The film co-stars Jack Lowden, Joe Alwyn, Martin Compston, Brendan Coyle, David Tennant and Guy Pearce. Behind the scenes, Rourke assembled a team that included writer Beau Willimon, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, production designer James Merifield, editor Chris Dickens, composer Max Richter and director of photography John Mathieson.

I spoke with Rourke about making the film, the Oscar buzz and her workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I love historical dramas and have done tons of Shakespeare in the theater. I always think that they’re so relevant to the present and that they can often give you a clearer picture and understanding of “now” than of the past. So my aim was to really create something relevant, and to also right a wrong about Mary and how she’s been portrayed through history.

This film is based on historian Dr. John Guy’s biography “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart,” which explored Mary’s life and her claim to the throne. It’s a very vivid book. He got back into the archives and discovered that she’s really been besmirched, in a fake news way. Her enemies not only made sure she met her end, but they also destroyed her reputation by portraying her as a woman totally driven by emotion, not intelligence, and someone too sexual and unable to govern properly. So I wanted to tell the truth about her.

In a way, the film is a battle of will and wits between these two queens — Mary and Elizabeth. What did Saoirse and Margot bring to the roles?
Well, I needed two of the greatest actresses of this generation — young women since they’re two young queens. Katherine Hepburn, Judy Dench, Cate Blanchett and others have gone before, so there were big shoes to fill. And the roles demand great range, emotional complexity and that power where they can command men and the room. Saoirse was already attached, and I passionately went after Margot, who was initially unsure about taking on such an iconic character. The were both amazing. They both totally inhabit the roles.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
We didn’t have a big budget, although compared with theater it was huge. We had ambitions to shoot a lot of it on location in Scotland and England, so we could show the soft, poetic beauty of the English countryside and the extreme majesty of Scotland and its rugged landscapes.

Two very different looks.
Exactly, and those contrasting visuals really helped tell their two stories. We basically see Elizabeth’s life as a very interior one; always in court and very formal. But Mary’s often out in the wilds, on horseback, and far more earthy. We shot in pretty remote locations in Scotland, where the weather changes every hour, so I just decided we’d shoot in the rain when it rained. But then suddenly, the skies would clear and you’d get these beautiful views and vistas, which was magical. I think that made everyone — the cast and crew — just bond even more over the project. You can’t fake that sort of thing — real locations, real weather. All that in turn affected their clothes and costumes, and I think Alex Byrne did a brilliant job with that.

The film looks very beautiful, and two-time Oscar-nominee John Mathieson (Gladiator, Hannibal, Matchstick Men, The Phantom of the Opera) shot it. Can you talk about how you collaborated on the look?
I’d seen his work, particularly in Logan, which had such incredible tonal control. John has great discipline with tone and color, and the other great thing is that he has a background in music, so he can improvise.

There’s a scene by a dead tree where John Knox is giving one of his rabble-rousing speeches, and it had been raining so hard that where we’d originally scouted and decided to shoot was totally inaccessible on the day. Instead we found this amazing tree in the same glen, and John quickly lit it and it turned out so well. We went for a very painterly look with a lot of the interior scenes, so some scenes are like Rembrandt paintings with great shadow play and highlights.

Where did you post?
We did most of it at Pinewood and Abbey Road in London, and did a Dolby Atmos mix at the new mix stage there. I was beside myself to be mixing there, where The Beatles and everyone else has worked. Post took about nine months, mainly because I’m also running a theater as well as my day job — or night job, to be more accurate. We did the DI at Company 3 with Paul Ensby.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it, especially the editing, which for me is very similar to being in a room rehearsing with actors. You’re basically getting a series of different performances from them. You’re trying out different things and trying to find the rhythm of a scene.

Talk about editing with Chris Dickens, who won the Oscar and BAFTA for his work on Slumdog Millionaire. What were the big editing challenges?
He’s brilliant and thought I was completely bonkers as I’d talk out loud to the actors while we cut, just like I would do in rehearsal. He was on set with us a little bit, but he far prefers to get all the material cold without any preconceptions about how we got it, or what the actors are actually like as people. He tries to preserve impartiality, and that’s great.

The big challenge was balancing the two stories and two women, and we tried various ways but in the end we largely followed the screenplay. One of Chris’ great skills is the way he cut between the two. He would hone in on the psychology and find those moments when one woman is thinking about the other.

All period films use some visual effects. What was involved?
You’re right, and the biggest challenge was the battle sequence where all the Highland cattle block the bridge. On that day we got far fewer than we’d booked, so we had to add a bunch, and London’s Bluebolt did an absolutely seamless job. Then we had shots of Edinburgh Castle in the distance, and we had a fair amount of clean up, but it was all very subtle.

Talk about the importance of sound and music,
Working on the sound mix was one of the most creative experiences I’ve ever had. In theater, sound is important in that one of a director’s most basic functions is telling whether or not an actor on stage can be heard. Are they loud enough? Was that line clear? It’s the least glamorous part of the job, but really important. To do that, we spend a lot of time thinking about the acoustics of a room or space, how reflective surfaces might be, where the ideal spot on stage is for a certain speech or line. So to then get into a post process where you’re discussing the atmospherics and sound dynamics of the room you’re working in was so exciting to me. Normally, you’re tuning the actors to the room, but now I could tune the room to the actors, and that was so cool.

Josie Rourke and Iain Blair

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did, and I can’t wait to direct another film. I don’t have anything lined up yet, but I’m looking.

We’re heading into awards season, and this is getting a lot of attention. How important is all that?
It’s all very new to me, a bit like a dream in a way. I’d love to see everyone recognized for all their hard work. Everyone was so willing to share their knowledge and experience with a first-timer. I’m just so grateful.


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

Director Peter Farrelly gets serious with Green Book

By Iain Blair

Director, producer and writer Peter Farrelly is best known for the classic comedies he made with his brother Bob: Dumb and Dumber; There’s Something About Mary; Shallow Hal; Me, Myself & Irene; The Three Stooges; and Fever Pitch. But for all their over-the-top, raunchy and boundary-pushing comedy, those movies were always sweet-natured at heart.

Peter Farrelly

Now Farrelly has taken his gift for heartfelt comedy and put his stamp on a very different kind of film, Green Book, a racially charged feel-good drama inspired by a true friendship that transcended race, class and the 1962 Mason-Dixon line.

Starring Oscar-nominee Viggo Mortensen and Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali, it tells the fact-based story of the ultimate odd couple: Tony Lip, a bouncer from The Bronx and Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class black pianist. Lip is hired to drive and protect the worldly and sophisticated Shirley during a 1962 concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, where they must rely on the titular “Green Book” — a travel guide to safe lodging, dining and business options for African-Americans during the segregation era.

Set against the backdrop of a country grappling with the valor and volatility of the civil rights movement, the two men are confronted with racism and danger as they challenge long-held assumptions, push past their seemingly insurmountable differences and embrace their shared humanity.

The film also features Linda Cardellini as Tony Vallelonga’s wife, Dolores, along with Dimiter D. Marinov and Mike Hatton as two-thirds of The Don Shirley Trio. The film was co-written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga and Brian Currie and reunites Farrelly with editor Patrick J. Don Vito, with whom he worked on the Movie 43 segment “The Pitch.” Farrelly also collaborated for the first-time with cinematographer Sean Porter (read our interview with him), production designer Tim Galvin and composer Kris Bowers.

I spoke with Farrelly about making the film, his workflow and the upcoming awards season. After its Toronto People’s Choice win and Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Mortensen, Best Supporting Actor for Ali), Green Book looks like a very strong Oscar contender.

You told me years ago that you’d love to do a more dramatic film at some point. Was this a big stretch for you?
Not so much, to be honest. People have said to me, “It must have been hard,” but the hardest film I ever made was The Three Stooges… for a bunch of reasons. True, this was a bit of a departure for me in terms of tone, and I definitely didn’t want it to get too jokey — I tend to get jokey so it could easily have gone like that.  But right from the start we were very clear that the comedy would come naturally from the characters and how they interacted and spoke and moved, and so on, not from jokes.

So a lot of the comedy is quite nuanced, and in the scene where Tony starts talking about “the orphans” and Don explains that it’s actually about the opera Orpheus, Viggo has this great reaction and look that wasn’t in the script, and it’s much funnier than any joke we could have made there.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A drama about race and race relations set in a time when it was very fraught, with light moments and a hopeful, uplifting ending.

It has some very timely themes. Was that part of the appeal?
Absolutely. I knew that it would resonate today, although I wish it didn’t. What really hooked me was their common ground. They really are this odd couple who couldn’t be more different — an uneducated, somewhat racist Italian bouncer, and this refined, highly educated, highly cultured doctor and classically trained pianist. They end up spending all this time together in a car on tour, and teach each other so much along the way. And at the end, you know they’ll be friends for life.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Viggo and Mahershala bring to the roles?
Well, for a start they’re two of the greatest actors in the world, and when we were shooting this I felt like an observer. Usually, I can see a lot of the actor in the role, but they both disappeared totally into these characters — but not in some method-y way where they were staying in character all the time, on and off the set. They just became these people, and Viggo couldn’t be less like Tony Lip in real life, and the same with Mahershala and Don. They both worked so hard behind the scenes, and I got a call from Steven Spielberg when he first saw it, and he told me, “This is the best buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” and he’s right.

It’s a road picture, but didn’t you end up shooting it all in and around New Orleans?
Yes, we did everything there apart from one day in northern New Jersey to get the fall foliage, and a day of exteriors in New York City with Viggo for all the street scenes. Louisiana has everything, from rolling hills to flats. We also found all the venues and clubs they play in, along with mansions and different looks that could double for places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as Carolinas and the Deep South.

We shot for just 35 days, and Louisiana has great and very experienced crews, so we were able to work pretty fast. Then for scenes like Carnegie Hall, we used CGI in post, done by Pixel Magic, and we were also amazingly lucky when it came to the snow scenes set in Maryland at the end. We were all ready to use fake snow when it actually started snowing and sticking. We got a good three, four inches, which they told us hadn’t happened in a decade or two down there.

Where did you post?
We did most of the editing at my home in Ojai, and the sound at Fotokem, where we also did the DI with colorist Walter Volpatto.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. My favorite part of filmmaking is the editing. Writing is the hardest part, pulling the script together. And I always have fun on the shoot, but you’re always having to make sure you don’t screw up the script. So when you get to the edit and post, all the hard work is done in that sense, and you have the joy of watching the movie find its shape as you cut and add in the sound and music.

What were the big editing challenges, given there’s such a mix of comedy and drama?
Finding that balance was the key, but this film actually came together so easily in the edit compared with some of the movies I’ve done. I’ll never forget seeing the first assembly of There’s Something About Mary, which I thought was so bad it made me want to vomit! But this just flowed, and Patrick did a beautiful job.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It was a huge part of the film and we had a really amazing pianist and composer in Kris Bowers, who worked a lot with Mahershala to make his performance as a musician as authentic as possible. And it wasn’t just the piano playing — Mahershala told me right at the start, “I want to know just how a pianist sits at the piano, how he moves.” So he was totally committed to all the details of the role. Then there’s all the radio music, and I didn’t want to use all the obvious, usual stuff for the period, so we searched out other great, but lesser-known songs. We had great music supervisors, Tom Wolfe and Manish Raval, and a great sound team.

We’re already heading into the awards season. How important are awards to you and this film?
Very important. I love the buzz about it because that gets people out to see it. When we first tested it, we got 100%, and the studio didn’t quite believe it. So we tested again, with “a tougher” audience, and got 98%. But it’s a small film. Everyone took pay cuts to make it, as the budget was so low, but I’m very proud of the way it turned out.


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.

Capturing realistic dialogue for The Front Runner

By Mel Lambert

Early on in his process, The Front Runner director Jason Reitman asked frequent collaborator and production sound mixer Steve Morrow, CAS, to join the production. “It was maybe inevitable that Jason would ask me to join the crew,” says Morrow, who has worked with the director on Labor Day, Up in the Air and Thank You for Smoking. “I have been part of Jason’s extended family for at least 10 years — having worked with his father Ivan Reitman on Draft Day — and know how he likes to work.”

Steve Morrow

This Sony Pictures film was co-written by Reitman, Matt Bai and Jay Carson, and based on Bai’s book, “All the Truth Is Out.” The Front Runner follows the rise and fall of Senator Gary Hart, set during his unsuccessful presidential campaign in 1988 when he was famously caught having an affair with the much younger Donna Rice. Despite capturing the imagination of young voters, and being considered the overwhelming front runner for the Democratic nomination, Hart’s campaign was sidelined by the affair.

It stars Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, Vera Farmiga as his wife Lee, J.K. Simmons as campaign manager Bill Dixon and Alfred Molina as the Washington Post’s managing editor, Ben Bradlee.

“From the first read-through of the script, I knew that we would be faced with some production challenges,” recalls Morrow, a 20-year industry veteran. “There were a lot of ensemble scenes with the cast talking over one another, and I knew from previous experience that Jason doesn’t like to rely on ADR. Not only is he really concerned about the quality of the sound we secure from the set — and gives the actors space to prepare — but Jason’s scripts are always so well-written that they shouldn’t need replacement lines in post.”

Ear Candy Post’s Perry Robertson and Scott Sanders, MPSE, served as co-supervising sound editors on the project, which was re-recorded on Deluxe Stage 2 — the former Glen Glenn Sound facility — by Chris Jenkins handling dialogue and music and Jeremy Peirson, CAS, overseeing sound effects. Sebastian Sheehan Visconti was sound effects editor.

With as many as two dozen actors in a busy scene, Morrow soon realized that he would have to mic all of the key campaign team members. “I knew that we were shooting a political film like Robert Altman’s All the President’s Men or [Michael Ritchie’s] The Candidate, so I referred back to the multichannel techniques pioneered by Jim Webb and his high-quality dialogue recordings. I elected to use up to 18 radio mics for those ensemble scenes,” including Reitman’s long opening sequence in which the audience learns who the key participants are on the campaign trail. I did this “while recording each actor on a separate track, together with a guide mono mix of the key participants for the picture editor Stefan Grube.”

Reitman is well known for his films’ elaborate opening title sequences and often highly subjective narration from a main character. His motion pictures typically revolve around characters that are brashly self-confident, but then begin to rethink their lives and responsibilities. He is also reported to be a fan of ‘70s-style cinema verite, which uses a meandering camera and overlapping dialogue to draw the audience into an immersive reality. The Front Runner’s soundtrack is layered with dialogue, together with a constant hum of conversation — from the principals to the press and campaign staff. Since Bai and Carson have written political speeches, Reitman had them on set to ensure that conversations sounded authentic.

Even though there might be four or so key participants speaking in a scene, “Jason wants to capture all of the background dialogue between working press and campaign staff, for example,” Morrow continues.

“He briefed all of the other actors on what the scene was about so they could develop appropriate conversations and background dialogue while the camera roamed around the room. In other words, if somebody was on set they got a mic — one track per actor. In addition to capturing everything, Jason wanted me to have fun with the scene; he likes a solid mix for the crew, dailies and picture editorial, so I gave him the best I could get. And we always had the ability to modify it later in post production from the iso mic channels.”

Morrow recorded the pre-fader individual tracks at between 10dB and 15dB lower than the main mix, “which I rode hot, knowing that we could go back and correct it in post. Levels on that main mix were within ±5 dB most of the time,” he says. Assisting Morrow during the 40-day shoot, which took place in and around Atlanta and Savannah, were Collin Heath and Craig Dollinger, who also served as the boom operator on a handful of scenes.

The mono production mix was also useful for the camera crew, says Morrow. “They sometimes had problems understanding the dramatic focus of a particular scene. In other words, ‘Where does my eye go?’ When I fed my mix to their headphones they came to understand which actors we were spotlighting from the script. This allowed them to follow that overview.”

Production Tools
Morrow used a Behringer Midas Model M32R digital console that features 16 rear-channel inputs and 16 more inputs via a stage box that connects to the M32R via a Cat-5 cable. The console provided pre-fader and mixed outputs to Morrow’s pair of 64-track Sound Devices 970 hard-disk recorders — a main and a parallel backup — via Audinate Dante digital ports. “I also carried my second M32R mixer as a spare,” Morrow says. “I turned over the Compact Flash media at the end of each day’s shooting and retained the contents of the 970’s internal 1TB SSDs and external back-up drives until the end of post, just in case. We created maybe 30GB of data per recorder per day.”

Color coding helps Morrow mix dialogue more accurately.

For easy level checking, the two recorders with front-panel displays were mounted on Morrow’s production sound cart directly above his mixing console. “When I can, I color code the script to highlight the dialogue of key characters in specific scenes,” he says. “It helps me mix more accurately.”

RF transmitters comprised two dozen Lectrosonics SSM Micro belt-pack units — Morrow bought six or seven more for the film — linked to a bank of Lectrosonics Venue2 modular four-channel and three-channel VR receivers. “I used my collection of Sanken COS-11D miniature lavalier microphones for the belt packs. They are my go-to lavs with clean audio output and excellent performance. I also have some DPA lavaliers, if needed.”

With 20+ RF channels simultaneously in use within metropolitan centers, frequency coordination was an essential chore to ensure consistent operation for all radio systems. “The Lectrosonics Venue receivers can auto-assign radio-mic frequencies,” Morrow explains. “The best way to do this is to have everything turned off, and then one by one let the system scan the frequency spectrum. When it finds a good channel, you assign it to the first microphone and then repeat that process for the next radio transmitters. I try to keep up with FCC deliberations [on diminishing RF spectrum space], but realize that companies who manufacture this equipment also need to be more involved. So, together, I feel good that we’ll have the separation we all need for successful shoots.”

Morrow’s setup.

Morrow also made several location recordings on set. “I mounted a couple of lavaliers on bumpers to secure car-byes and other sounds for supervising sound editor Perry Robertson, as well as backgrounds in the house during a Labor Day gathering. We also recorded Vera Farmiga playing the piano during one scene — she is actually a classically-trained pianist — using a DPA Model 5099 microphone (which I also used while working on A Star is Born). But we didn’t record much room tone, because we didn’t find it necessary.”

During scenes at a campaign rally, Morrow provided a small PA system that comprised a couple of loudspeakers mounted on a balcony and a vocal microphone on the podium. “We ran the system at medium-levels, simply to capture the reverb and ambiance of the auditorium,” he explains, “but not so much that it caused problems in post production.”

Summarizing his experience on The Front Runner, Morrow offers that Reitman, and his production partner Helen Estabrook, bring a team spirit to their films. “The set is a highly collaborative environment. We all hang out with one another and share birthdays together. In my experience, Jason’s films are always from the heart. We love working with him 120%. The low point of the shoot is going home!”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production and post on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a Los Angeles-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. He is also a long-time member of the UK’s National Union of Journalists.

DP Chat: Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC

Cinematographer Polly Morgan, who became an active member of the ASC in July, had always been fascinated with films, but she got the bug for filmmaking as a teenager growing up in Great Britain. A film crew shot at her family’s farmhouse.

“I was fixated by the camera and cranes that were being used, and my journey toward becoming a cinematographer began.”

We reached out to Morgan recently to talk about her process and about working on the FX show Legion.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
I am inspired by the world around me. As a cinematographer you learn to look at life in a unique way, noticing elements that you might not have been aware of before. Reflections, bouncing light, colors, atmosphere and so many more. When I have time off, I love to travel and experience different cultures and environments.

I spend my free time reading various periodicals to stay of top of the latest developments in technology. Various publications, such as the ASC’s magazine, help to not only highlight new tools but also people’s experiences with them. The filmmaking community is united by this exploration, and there are many events where we are able to get together and share our thoughts on a new piece of equipment. I also try to visit different vendors to see demos of new advances in technology.

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
Live on-set grading has given me more control over the final image when I am not available for the final DI. Over the last two years, I have worked more on episodic television, and I am often unable to go and sit with the colorist to do the final grade, as I am working on another project. Live grading enables me to get specific with adjustments on the set, and I feel confident that with good communication, these adjustments will be part of the final look of the project.

How do you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the right look for a story?
I like to vary my choice of camera and lenses depending on what story I am telling.
When it comes to cameras, resolution is an important factor depending on how the project is going to be broadcast and if there are specific requirements to be met from the distributor, or if we are planning to do any unique framing that might require a crop into the sensor.

Also, ergonomics play a part. Am I doing a handheld show, or mainly one in studio mode? Or are there any specifications that make the camera unique that will be useful for that particular project? For example, I used the Panasonic VariCam when I needed an extremely sensitive sensor for night driving around downtown Los Angeles. Lenses are chosen for contrast and resolution and speed. Also, sometimes size and weight play a part, especially if we are working in tight locations or doing lots of handheld.

What are some best practices, or rules, you try to follow on each job?
Every job is different, but I always try to root my work in naturalism to keep it grounded. I feel like a relatable story can have the most impact on its viewer, so I want to make images that the audience can connect with and be drawn into emotionally. As a cinematographer, we want our work to be invisible but yet always support and enhance the narrative.

On set, I always ensure a calm and pleasant working environment. We work long and bizarre hours, and the work is demanding so I always strive to make it an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone,

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is always my aim to get a clear idea of what the director is imagining when they describe a certain approach. As we are all so different, it is really about establishing a language that can be a shorthand on set and help me to deliver exactly what they want. It is invaluable to look at references together, whether that is art, movies, photography or whatever.

As well as the “look,” I feel it is important to talk about pace and rhythm and how we will choose to represent that visually. The ebb and flow of the narrative needs to be photographed, and sometimes directors want to do that in the edit, or sometimes we express it through camera movement and length of shots. Ideally, I will always aim to have a strong collaboration with a director during prep and build a solid relationship before production begins.

How do you typically work with a colorist?
This really varies from project to project, depending if I am available to sit in during the final DI. Ideally, I would work with the colorist from pre-production to establish and build the look of the show. I would take my camera tests to the post house and work on building a LUT together that would be the base look that we work off while shooting.

I like to have an open dialogue with them during the production stage so they are aware and involved in the evolution of the images.

During post, this dialogue continues as VFX work starts to come in and we start to bounce the work between the colorist and the VFX house. Then in the final grade, I would ideally be in the room with both the colorist and the director so we can implement and adjust the look we have established from the start of the show.

Tell us about FX’s Legion. How would you describe the general look of the show?
Legion is a love letter to art. It is inspired by anything from modernist pop art to old Renaissance masters. The material is very cerebral, and there are many mental planes or periods of time to express visually, so it is a very imaginative show. It is a true exploration of color and light and is a very exciting show to be a part of.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I got involved with Legion starting in Season 2. I work alongside Dana Gonzales, ASC, who established the look of the show in Season one with creator Noah Hawley. My work begins during the production stage when I worked with various directors both prepping and shooting their individual episodes.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
Most of the scenes in Legion take a lot of thought to figure out… contextually as well as practically. In Season 2, Episode 2, a lot of the action takes place out in the desert. After a full day, we still had a night shoot to complete with very little time. Instead of taking time to try to light the whole desert, I used one big soft overhead and then lit the scene with flashlights on the character’s guns and headlights of the trucks. I added blue streak filters to create multiple horizontal blue flares from each on-camera source (headlights and flashlights) that provided a very striking lighting approach.

FX’s Legion, Season 2, Episode 2

With the limited hours available, we didn’t have enough time to complete all the coverage we had planned so, instead, we created one very dynamic camera move that started overhead looking down at the trucks and then swooped down as the characters ran out to approach the mysterious object in the scene. We followed the characters in the one move, ending in a wide group shot. With this one master, we only ended up needing a quick reverse POV to complete the scene. The finished product was an inventive and exciting scene that was a product of limitations.

What’s your go-to gear (camera, lens, mount/accessories you can’t live without)?
I don’t really have any go-to gear except a light meter. I vary the equipment I use depending on what story I am telling. LED lights are becoming more and more useful, especially when they are color- and intensity-controllable and battery-operated. When you need just a little more light, these lights are quick to throw in and often save the day!

The Hate U Give director George Tillman, Jr.

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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