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Category Archives: on-set

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri director Martin McDonagh

By Iain Blair

Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for Six Shooter, his first foray into film, and followed that project with his feature film debut In Bruges. Starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson, that gangster action/comedy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and won McDonagh a BAFTA Award and an Oscar nom for Best Original Screenplay.

He followed that up with Seven Psychopaths, another twisted tale about some incompetent dognappers and vengeful mobsters that reunited him with Farrell, along with a stellar cast that included Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Tom Waits.

Now McDonagh is back with his latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This darkly comedic drama stars Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a grieving, no-holds-barred vengeful mother. After months have passed without any progress in her daughter’s murder case, she takes matters into her own hands and commissions three signs leading into town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s respected chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

The Fox Searchlight Pictures release also features an impressive team of collaborators behind the camera: director of photography Ben Davis, BSC, production designer Inbal Weinberg, film editor Jon Gregory and composer Carter Burwell.

I recently spoke with McDonagh about making the film, which was nominated for a Oscar for for Best Picture. McDormand and Rockwell also received Oscar nominattions. Ok, let’s find out more…

L-R: Martin McDonagh and Woody Harrelson on set.

This film starts off like a simple tale of revenge, but it then becomes apparent that there’s a lot more going on.
Exactly. I never wrote it as a simple revenge piece. It was always going to be a dark comedy, and the main thing I wanted was to have a very strong woman in the lead — and a shockingly outrageous one at that. I wanted to write the character as real and human in her grief as possible.

Is it true you wrote the role with Frances in mind?
It is. I immediately thought of her as Mildred as I felt she had all the elements that Mildred needed. She had to have a kind of working class sensibility and also not sentimentalize the character. And I knew she had the range and could play the anguish and darkness of Mildred but also deal with the humor, while staying true to who Mildred is as a character.

So what would have happened if she’d turned down the role?
I probably wouldn’t have done the film. I’m so glad she wanted to do it and I didn’t have to worry about it. It definitely wouldn’t have been the film it is without her.

What did she bring to the role?
First, she’s the best actor of her generation, I think, and she brought a lot of integrity and honesty, and I knew she’d play it truthfully and not just go for laughs, and not patronize Mildred and try and make her more lovable — because she isn’t very lovable. She was completely fearless about taking it on.

What about Woody?
He has less time to play with his character, but again he brought a lot of integrity, and he is very lovable — a guy you instantly like, a decent good guy.

You also reunited with Sam Rockwell, whose character ultimately takes the biggest journey.
Like with Frances, I specifically wrote the part for him, as I always have his voice in my mind when I write these dark but slightly comedic characters. And again, there’s something inherently lovable about Sam, so while Dixon seems to be everything you would despise in a man — he’s a racist, he’s violent, he’s obnoxious — Sam also makes him redeemable, and gives him this slightly child-like quality. By the end, he doesn’t do a 180-degree turn, but Sam gives him enough of an inner change that should come as a surprise.

Ebbing is a fictional place. Where did you shoot?
In a little town called Sylva, near Asheville, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a nice place that doesn’t hint at anything dark, and it had all the locations we needed, all close by. It was a really joyful shoot, just under two months, and it had a great family feel as I’d worked with several of the actors before — and the DP, 1st AD and some others. All of the locals were very helpful.

How do you feel about the post process?
I really enjoy it, especially the editing and looking through every single take and making notes and then going through all the performances and crafting and sculpting a scene with editor Jon Gregory. I love all that, and watching actors do what they do. That’s the biggest joy for me, and what’s so interesting about post is that scenes I felt could never be cut out when I wrote them or shot them may turn out to be unnecessary in the edit, and I was happy to lose them. I find editing very relaxing and you have time to explore all the material as you piece it together. The parts of post that I find a bit tedious are dealing with CGI and VFX, and all the waiting around for them.

Where did you edit and post this?
We did it all in Soho, London, at Goldcrest and various places.

Tell us about working with the editor. Was he on the set?
Jon came out to North Carolina a week before the shoot so he could see the place and we could talk about stuff. And as it’s a small, walkable place, I could wander over and see what he was up to while we were shooting. Jon’s great in that if he felt we’d missed a shot or moment, he’d let me know and we could do a pick-up, which is no problem when you have all the actors there. That happened a couple of times.

The main challenge was keeping the right balance between all the dark stuff and the comedy so that it flowed and wasn’t jarring. Tone and pacing are always key for me in the edit, and finding the moments of tenderness — that look in someone’s eyes as the rage and anger take care of themselves. I think the film’s more about loss and pain and hope than dark anger.

Who did the visual effects work, and how many visual effects shots were there?
There are a few, mainly taking stuff out and clean up. All of the fire sequences were done with real fire, but then we added VFX flames to enhance the look. And the whole Molotov cocktail scene was done with VFX. The scene where Sam goes across the street, up the stairs and then throws the guy out the window was all real — and done in one unbroken shot.

L-R: Martin McDonagh and writer Iain Blair.

How important are sound and music to you?
Hugely important. It’s half the film, at least, and I’ve loved Carter Burwell’s work ever since I saw Blood Simple. He’ll always do the opposite of what you’d expect and play against convention, which is partly why he’s so good. But he also comes up with beautiful melodies. I went over to see him in New York in the middle of the edit, and he played me a few ideas, which I loved as it had this great mix of Americana and Spaghetti Western. The score he wrote works perfectly for the characters and the themes. I love doing the sound mix and hearing how it elevates all the visuals so much. (Burwell received one of the film’s six Golden Globe nominations.)

Who did the DI?
Colorist Adam Glasman (at Goldcrest Post), who did my other films. I’m very involved, and pop in and give notes, but I really trust Adam and the DP to get the look I want.

The film’s getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz. How important is that to you?
It’s a small film with a small budget — obviously not one of the huge blockbusters like Star Wars and so on, so it’s great to be included in the conversation. It’s helped give it a lot of momentum, and I kind of like all the attention!


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.

On Hold: Making an indie web series

By John Parenteau

On Hold is an eight-episode web series, created and co-written by myself and Craig Kuehne, about a couple of guys working at a satellite company for an India-based technology firm. They have little going for themselves except each other, and that’s not saying much. Season 1 is available now, and we are in prepro on Season 2.

While I personally identify as a filmmaker, I’ve worn a wide range of hats in the entertainment industry since graduating from USC School of Cinematic Arts in the late ‘80s. As a visual effects supervisor, I’ve been involved in projects as diverse as Star Trek: Voyager and Hunger Games. I have also filled management roles at companies such as Amblin Entertainment, Ascent Media, Pixomondo and Shade VFX.

That’s me in the chair, conferring on setup.

It was with my filmmaker hat on that I recently partnered with Craig, a long-time veteran of visual effects, whose credits include Westworld and Game of Thrones. We thought it might be interesting to share our experiences as we ventured into live-action production.

It’s not unique that Craig and I want to be filmmakers. I think most industry professionals, who are not already working as directors or producers, strive to eventually reach that goal. It’s usually the reason people like us get into the business in the first place, and what many of us continue to pursue. Often we’ve become successful in another aspect of entertainment and found it difficult to break out of those “golden handcuffs.” I know Craig and I have both felt that way for years, despite having led fairly successful lives as visual effects pros.

But regardless of our successes in other roles, we still identify ourselves as filmmakers, and at some point, you just have to make the big push or let the dream go. I decided to live by my own mantra that “filmmakers make film.” Thus, On Hold was born.

Why the web series format, you might ask? With so many streaming and online platforms focused on episodic material, doing a series would show we are comfortable with the format, even if ours was a micro-version of a full series. We had, for years, talked about doing a feature film, but that type of project takes so many resources and so much coordination. It just seemed daunting in a no-budget scenario. The web series concept allows us to produce something that resembles a marketable project, essentially on little or no budget. In addition, the format is easily recreated for an equally low budget, so we knew we could do a second season of the show once we had done the first.

This is Craig, pondering a shot.

The Story
We have been friends for years, and the idea for the series came from both our friendship and  our own lives. Who hasn’t felt, as they were getting older, that maybe some of the life choices they made might not have been the best? That can be a serious topic, but we took a comedic angle, looking for the extremes. Our main characters, Jeff (Jimmy Blakeney) and Larry (Paul Vaillancourt), are subtle reflections of us (Craig is Jeff, the somewhat over-thinking, obsessive nerd, and I’m Larry, a bit of a curmudgeon, who can take himself way too seriously), but they quickly took a life of their own, as did the rest of the cast. We added in Katy (Brittney Bertier), their over-energetic intern, Connie (Kelly Keaton), Jeff’s bigger-than-life sister, and Brandon (Scott Rognlien), the creepy and not-very- bright boss. The chemistry just clicked. They say casting is key, and we certainly discovered that on this project. We were very lucky to find the actors we did, and  played off of each other perfectly.

So what does it take to do a web series? First off, writing was key. We spent a few months working out the overall storyline of the first season and then honed in on the basic outlines of each episode. We actually worked out a rough overall arc of the show itself, deciding on a four-season project, which gave us a target to aim for. It was just some basic imagery for an ultimate ending of the show, but it helped keep us focused and helped drive the structure of the early episodes. We split up writing duties, each working on alternate episodes and then sharing scripts with each other. We tried to be brutally honest; It was important that the show reflect both of our views. We spent many nights arguing over certain moments in each episode, both very passionate about the storyline.

In the end we could see we had something good, we just needed to add our talented actors to make it great.

On Hold

The Production
We shot on a Blackmagic Cinema camera, which was fairly new at that point. I wanted the flexibility of different lenses but a high-resolution and high-quality picture. I had never been thrilled with standard DSLR cameras, so I thought the Blackmagic camera would be a good option. To top it off, I could get one for free — always a deciding factor at our budget level. We ended up shooting with a single Canon zoom lens that Craig had, and for the most part it worked fine. I can’t tell you how important the “glass” you shoot with can be. If we had the budget I would have rented some nice Zeiss lenses or something equally professional, and the quality of the image reflects the lack of budget. But the beauty of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is that it shoots such a nice image already, and at such a high resolution, that we knew we would have some flexibility in post. We recorded in Apple ProRes.

As a DP, I have shot everything from PBS documentaries to music videos, commercials and EPKs (a.k.a. behind the scenes projects), and have had the luxury of working with a load of gear, sometimes with a single light. At USC Film School, my alma mater, you learn to work with what you have, so I learned early to adapt my style to the gear on hand. I ended up using a single lighting kit (a Lowell DP 3 head kit) which worked fine. Shooting comedy is always more about static angles and higher key lighting, and my limited kit made that easily accessible. I would usually lift the ambience in the room by bouncing a light off a wall or ceiling area off camera, then use bounce cards on C-stands to give some source light from the top/side, complementing but not competing with the existing fluorescents in the office. The bigger challenges were when we shot toward the windows. The bright sunlight outside, even with the blinds closed, was a challenge, but we creatively scheduled those shots for early or late in the day.

Low-budget projects are always an exercise in inventiveness and flexibility, mostly by the crew. We had a few people helping off and on, but ultimately it came down to the two of us wearing most of the hats and our associate producer, Maggie Jones, filling in the gaps. She handled the SAG paperwork, some AD tasks, ordered lunch and even operated the boom microphone. That left me shooting all but one episode, while we alternated directing episodes. We shot an episode a day, using a friend’s office on the weekends for free. We made sure we created shot lists ahead of time, so I could see what he had in mind when I shot Craig’s episodes, but also so he could act as a backup check on my list when I was directing.

The Blackmagic camera at work.

One thing about SAG — we decided to go with the guild’s new media contract for our actors. Most of them were already SAG, and while they most likely would have been fine shooting such a small project non-union, we wanted them to be comfortable with the work. We also wanted to respect the guild. Many people complain that working under SAG, especially at this level, is a hassle, but we found it to be exactly the opposite. The key is keeping up with the paperwork each day you shoot. Unless you are working incredibly long hours, or plan to abuse your talent (not a good idea regardless), it’s fairly easy to remain compliant. Maggie managed the daily paperwork and ensured we broke for lunch as per the requirements. Other than that, it was a non-issue.

The Post
Much like our writing and directing, Craig and I split editorial tasks. We both cut on Apple Final Cut Pro X (he with pleasure, me begrudgingly), and shared edits with each other. It was interesting to note differences in style. I tended to cut long, letting scenes breathe. Craig, a much better editor than I, had snappier cuts that moved quicker. This isn’t to say my way didn’t work at times, but it was a nice balance as we made comments on each other’s work. You can tell my episodes are a bit longer than his, but I learned from the experience and managed to shorten my episodes significantly.

I did learn another lesson, one called “killing your darlings.” In one episode, we had as scene where Jeff enjoyed a box of donuts, fishing through them to find the fruit-filled one he craved. The process of him licking each one and putting them back, or biting into a few and spitting out pieces, was hilarious onset, but in editorial I soon learned that too much of a good thing can be bad. Craig persuaded me to trim the scene, and I realized quickly that having one strong beat is just as good as several.

We had a variety of issues with other areas of post, but with no budget we could do little about them. Our “mix” consisted of adjusting levels in our timeline. Our DI amounted to a little color correction. While we were happy with the end result, we realized quickly that we want to make season two even better.

On Hold

The Lessons
A few things pop out as areas needing improvement. First of all, shooting a comedy series with a great group of improv comedians mandates at least two cameras. Both Craig and I, as directors, would do improv takes with the actors after getting the “scripted version,” but some of it was not usable since cutting between different improv takes from a single camera shoot is nearly impossible. We also realized the importance of a real sound mixer on set. Our single mic, mono tracks, run by our unprofessional hands, definitely needed some serious fixing in post. Simply having more experienced hands would have made our day more efficient as well.

For post, I certainly wanted to use newer tools, and we called in some favors for finishing. A confident color correction really makes the image cohesive, and even a rudimentary audio mix can remove many sound issues.

All in all, we are very proud of our first season of On Hold. Despite the technical issues and challenges, what really came together was the performances, and, ultimately, that is what people are watching. We’ve already started development on Season 2, which we will start shooting in January 2018, and we couldn’t be more excited.

The ultimate lesson we’ve learned is that producing a project like On Hold is not as hard as you might think. Sure it has its challenges, but what part of entertainment isn’t a challenge? As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it.” Well, this time, the hard work was worth it, and has inspired us to continue on. Ultimately, isn’t that the point of it all? Whether making films for millions of dollars, or no-budget web series, the point is making stuff. That’s what makes us filmmakers.

 

 

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Timecode Systems intros SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6

Not long after GoPro introduced its latest offering, Timecode Systems released a customized SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black cameras, a timecode-sync solution for the newest generation of action cameras.

By allowing the Hero6 to generate its own frame-accurate timecode, the SyncBac Pro creates the capability to timecode-sync multiple GoPro cameras wirelessly over long-range RF. If GoPro cameras are being used as part of a wider multicamera shoot, SyncBac Pro also allows GoPro cameras to timecode-sync with pro cameras and audio devices. At the end of a shoot, the edit team receives SD cards with frame-accurate timecode embedded into the MP4 file. According to Timecode Systems, using SyncBac Pro for timecode saves around 85 percent in post.

“With the Hero6, GoPro has added features that advance camera performance and image quality, which increases the appeal of using GoPro cameras for professional filming for television and film,” says Ashok Savdharia, CTO at Timecode Systems. “SyncBac Pro further enhances the camera’s compatibility with professional production methods by adding the ability to integrate footage into a multicamera film and broadcast workflow in the same way as larger-scale professional cameras.”

The new SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black will start shipping this winter, and it is now available for preorder.


Kevin Tent, ACE, on directorial debut Crash Pad and editing Downsizing

By Randi Altman

To say that Kevin Tent, ACE, is a prolific editor is in no way hyperbole. He has cut some of the most celebrated films of the last few years as a frequent collaborator of director Alexander Payne. They worked together on seven films, including Paramount’s upcoming Downsizing, as well as About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska (for which Tent earned an Oscar nom). Other editing credits include Blow, Girl Interrupted and The Golden Compass.

Not long ago, Tent left his dark editing room to step behind the camera for his directorial debut — the indie comedy Crash Pad, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Hayden Church, Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrev. Not too shabby a cast. Oh, and it’s funny. Even when not laughing, I found myself smiling.

Kevin Tent (left) on set.

While Tent isn’t going to shut down his Avid Media Composer anytime soon, he did enjoy the challenge and experience of taking the helm of a film. Crash Pad had a run of about a half dozen film festivals, was in theaters for a limited release and is available for digital rental. It comes out on DVD December 5, just in time to be a stocking stuffer.

Ok, let’s dig in with Tent, first about Crash Pad and then about editing Alexander Payne’s latest, Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig and Christoph Waltz, among othersOh, and when you are done with this piece, check out our interview with Tent about cutting Nebraska.

Is directing something you always wanted to do, and how did you decide on this film to direct?
It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a few years, but I’ve been so busy editing that I put it on the back burner. Finally, I just decided if I was going to try to do it, I should do it sooner than later, because I’m not getting any younger (laughs). I looked around for a comedy script, and I found Jeremy Catalino’s Crash Pad, which was really funny and kind of a backwards-romantic comedy. It took us a few years, but we finally got it made.

Why that long?
I’d be editing a film and that would take nine months or so, and then I’d have a month off, and think, “Oh, now I’ll try to get this movie made,” but it doesn’t work that way. It takes a long, concerted effort. When Downsizing got pushed for a year to wait for Matt Damon’s availability I thought… this was my chance. I was fortunate enough to get Bill Horberg on as a producer, and once that happened he got the ball rolling.

You have a pretty fantastic cast, including Thomas Hayden Church, who was in Sideways, which you edited. How did all of that come about?
The first character we wanted to cast was Stensland, and we were so lucky because we really wanted Domhnall Gleeson. He hadn’t done very many comedies but I had seen him in About Time and thought he’d be great. Lucky for us he said yes. Once he joined us, then we had to get the character of Grady. Because I knew Thomas from Sideways, he did us a favor and joined the team. He and Domhnall got along great; their chemistry worked both on screen and off-screen.

Then fortunately the beautiful and talented Nina Dobrev, who was looking to do something comedic, joined us. The last person to join was Christina Applegate. We were incredibly lucky to get this great cast on a very small movie, and for a first-time director.

What did you shoot on?
We used an Arri Alexa with old Panavision anamorphic “B” and “D” series lenses. Seamus Tierney our DP was so excited about our camera package. He promised the film would look great and beautiful, and he was right. I think the Alexa worked really well with our 23-day schedule, and how fast we had to move.

As you were directing, were you able to take off your editor’s cap, or were you editing in your head during the shoot?
I did know I needed to get coverage, and I was always thinking, “If this scene is terrible or doesn’t work, I can cut out there, or come in here.” Editors are good at figuring a way out of something if you’re in a jam. There was comfort in knowing if this scene doesn’t work at all, we’ll figure out some way around it.

Franco Ponte was my editor, and he was editing scenes and the movie while we were shooting. He was phenomenal.

L-R: Kevin Tent and Crash Pad editor Franco Ponte.

Did you learn how to direct by editing?
It didn’t really work that way. Directing requires a bunch of different skill sets — I was amazed at how different and difficult it was, how much I didn’t know and how much I learned. If I ever get a chance to do it again, I think I would be much better at it.

The film set is all pretty hectic. A cutting room is nice and quiet. You’ve got your footage, and you watch a take a number of times and then make your decisions. On the set, there’s a sort of controlled mayhem. You do a take, and then 20 people turn around and ask, “Well, what do you think? Good?” And you’re like, “I have no idea. I’m not quite sure, let’s go again.” It’s all-pretty crazy.

It must have been a little intimidating for your editor, Franco Ponte. How did you choose him, and how did that relationship work?
He was my assistant editor more than 10 years ago on a film I did up in Canada, and he has since become an editor. He’s very smart, articulate and was always very supportive. We approached the film in a traditional way. He did an assembly and then we started recutting scenes and the whole movie. I did a little cutting on my own; we would trade scenes back and forth till we were both happy with them.

He did some of my favorite cuts in the movie — things that I would have never thought of. I was very lucky to have him.

How did you work together to enhance the comedy with the edit?
It was always my intent — and I told the actors, too — to think of it as a kind of 1940’s screwball comedy. Comedies back then were not only smart and well written but also seemed loose and free. Never taking themselves too seriously. We cut it that way, too. The pace is pretty quick. There’s not a lot of air between jokes; we didn’t wait for laughs. We just kept cutting to the next line or joke.

What about the DI? How involved were you in that part of the process?
I was involved. It was done up at Encore in Vancouver. Our colorist was Thor Roos who did a terrific job. Seamus got to chime in and make adjustments from down here in LA. He’s always so busy shooting, but we were able to get him for an afternoon.

What kind of directive did you give to Seamus, initially, and to those working on the DI in terms of the look?
We wanted it to look rich, colorful and poppy. That was something we had talked about in pre-production since a lot of it takes place in a dingy apartment. So whenever given the chance — when we were outside or in a club or someplace — we tried to give it some visual dynamics with color and that kind of thing. I think it looks pretty good, especially considering our short shooting schedule.

It almost felt like it was taking place in a different time.
I’ve heard that before. I actually think the reason for that, possibly, is because ofthe lenses we used. Those are old and very cool lenses, so maybe they added more to the quality of it feeling dated. That wasn’t our intent, but it didn’t seem to hurt!

What was your favorite part of directing?
Watching a scene with an audience and hearing them laugh. That’s when you know it all worked. It was also a lot of fun to be on the set with the actors and the crew. Thomas and Domhnall had the crew laughing all the time. It was really hard, but it was really great to work closely with these people who came in and kicked ass for a couple of weeks on this movie.

You have such a great relationship with Alexander Payne, did you ask him for any directing tips?
He’s the best. He was so supportive, and it wasn’t so much the technical stuff, like, “Don’t forget to do this or that.” He never really said too much about that, but he always wanted to see how the days were going. It was great to know that some of the things he goes through I was going through as well, and that I wasn’t alone. That was really comforting. He was always there for me, and, of course, he was there looking at cuts and stuff like that.

Will you try it again?
I would try it again if I could find the right project, because it is a huge commitment. It’s going to take a couple of years of your life, and you’ve got to make sure that’s something you really want to do. I’m starting to think about it now that Crash Pad is running its course and coming out.

CUTTING DOWNSIZING
Let’s switch gears and talk about editing Downsizing for Alexander Payne.

This is your seventh film with Alexander. How does that relationship work, and do you typically keep up with camera?
Yes, I was cutting as they were shooting. I also had an overlap while finishing Crash Pad, so Joe Bini helped with assembling some of the movie. But our typical process now is that when Alexander comes back from shooting we basically start from scratch on the movie. We watch dailies together and do a first-pass director’s cut. Then, we’ll go back and look at things from my first assembly and compare the cuts.

That’s basically how we have been working since the end of About Schmidt, where he didn’t really want to watch an editor’s assembly. He wanted to just start cutting.

What are the benefits of that? Just a clean slate kind of thing?
Yes, it’s a clean slate, and it’s also a long enough period of time where he has some perspective on the footage and he remembers what they shot on the set. He remembers what he liked then, but he likes to look at it all again fresh. Our first pass together is almost like an editor’s assembly, but it’s a really good one.

Also, we get right in that stage where we start dropping lines, we start talking about maybe we should move this here, or we should come into the scene at this point. We start talking about what we’ll do on future passes of the movie as well.

This process takes a little more time, but Alexander is established enough where he can get a few extra weeks on his director’s cut if he needs it. We take it from there, and then we get into the real nitty-gritty of editing. It’s slightly unorthodox compared to how other people cut, but that’s how we’ve been doing it for the last few years.

Well, it seems to have worked.
Yeah, I think our first cuts are pretty good. Even if the first cut’s not great, we already know what we’re going to do on subsequent passes.

I’m assuming you worked with Media Composer on this one as well?
We did. Don’t leave home without it is what I always say.

Do any scenes stand out as your favorite?
There is a big sequence where the downsizing happens, and that is one of my favorites. It’s choreographed beautifully. The acting is great. The photography is great. The production design is great. It cuts like butter. We originally cut it to Bolero, which was in the movie until the very end, and it worked great. The long, long build-up climaxed at the reveal of the downsized patients. Composer Rolfe Kent’s greatest challenge was to beat Bolero, and he did. He totally nailed it.

I also love the scene with Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. We called it “The Tiny House” scene while in the cutting room. Those two are terrific in it.

Anything else about Downsizing that you would like to add?
I think it’s a pretty wild and crazy movie, funny, unexpected and original. Alexander really pushed himself to make something different, unique and unusual. but, it still has the same themes and sentiment that a lot of his other movies have. I think it asks us – what are we doing here on this planet? What does it mean to be human? What is this human experience all about? And it does all this through humor and pathos. It really is an Alexander Payne movie in the end.

I hope that people see Downsizing and they like it. I hope that people see Crash Pad and they like it. I think … it’s all I could hope for.


The A-List: LBJ director Rob Reiner

By Iain Blair

Director/producer/actor Rob Reiner has long been one of Hollywood’s most reliable, successful and versatile talents. Over the past three decades he’s created a beloved body of work in a diverse mixture of styles and genres that includes comedy (When Harry Met Sally, The American President), fantasy-adventure (The Princess Bride), satire (This Is Spinal Tap), suspense (Misery) and drama (Stand By Me, A Few Good Men).

Writer Iain Blair and director Rob Reiner.

Now the co-founder of Castle Rock Entertainment, who first found fame as one of the stars of the long-running hit series All in the Family, has taken on the timely subjects of political in-fighting and civil rights in LBJ. After powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of vice president. That all changes on November 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency.

As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to an all-star cast that also includes Bill Pullman, Reiner assembled the below-the-line team of DP Barry Markowitz, editor Bob Joyce and composer Marc Shaiman.

I spoke with Reiner about making the film, which is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz — particularly for Harrelson’s performance — and his love of working quickly.

You don’t seem like someone who would jump at the chance to direct a film about LBJ. So what was the appeal of making this?
You’re right. I didn’t initially think I’d ever make a film about Johnson because I was draft age during Vietnam, and I hated LBJ. He was my enemy and could send me to my death. But I’m older now, and I’ve spent a lot of time in politics and crafting policy, and it’s given me a far greater understanding of what he was able to accomplish — domestically, at least, because his domestic policies and accomplishments are only second to FDR’s. You can’t ignore Vietnam of course, but had it not been for the war, he’d have gone down as one of the greatest presidents of all time.

So I thought, let’s take a look at him and really examine the man. I always thought of him as this bully, and a bull in a china shop, boorish and holding meetings while he’s using the toilet, and so on, but I did a lot of research, read a lot of books and got a much fuller picture of this complicated man. And two things struck me; he had a recurring nightmare where he was paralyzed, which I thought was very strange, and there was his relationship

with his mother, who withheld her love to him. It was very conditional, and he often felt unloved by her, which is also very interesting. So I wanted to use this narrow sliver of time, when he was facing his most challenging moments, to examine the man and his true nature.

Casting the right actor as LBJ is obviously crucial, but what made you choose Woody — who’s brilliant and a revelation — as Johnson?
No one thought it made sense when I told them Woody was starring. It was like, ‘Really?’ But first of all, he’s a Texan, and he’s a great actor, so I knew he could deliver the whole range needed, as he also has this very sensitive side. He also has this humanity and great sense of humor — so it was this all-in-one package.

Were you surprised by just how timely it’s become?
Completely, especially since we shot this way before Trump became president. It’s now become a different film, which is bizarre. I’ve never had a situation before like this, where I finished it, it was the film I set out to make, and then a few months later I’m looking at a totally different film — and I haven’t changed a frame. It’s so weird.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
We did most of it in New Orleans, some in DC, and some in Dallas, which was the biggest challenge logistically. They only gave us six hours to shoot the motorcade assassination scenes in Dealey Plaza, so I planned it out very carefully and we used four cameras and 12 different angles. Period pieces are always tough, getting rid of modern stuff especially, so going in we knew all the problem areas with our locations and we had all the CGI stuff and post integrated into the budget and schedule from the start.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love shooting, but pulling together all the material with your editor and doing all the post is where you really make your movie.

Where did you post?
We did it in a couple of different places. Bob Joyce and I did the cutting at our Castle Rock offices, and then we did some other stuff and the DI at Local Hero, and I’m very involved in the DI. We spent a lot of time going through every shot. And I love working digital, as you can manipulate every frame if you want. (Local Hero’s Leandro Marini used Assimilate Scratch on a Silverdraft Demon workstation for the DI.)

Joyce cut your last feature film, Being Charlie. Tell us about that relationship, and the editing challenges.
He wasn’t on the set. We sent him dailies back here in LA, and he knows what I want. I don’t even talk to him. He did a rough assembly and then we start cutting when I got back. I don’t even look at dailies because I know exactly what I’m shooting. I start editing in my head as I go, but Bob might suggest getting an extra shot, and I’ll do that. I shoot very quickly, and we did this in just 27 days.

That’s amazingly fast for a film of this size and scope. Is it true you also edit quickly?
You won’t believe this, but we actually edited this in just one week. There’s a lot of interlocking pieces, but I’m a puzzle guy. I love crossword puzzles, all that stuff, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So we had our first cut in a week, then you show it and make changes. But they were all minor. We didn’t do any reshoots. Sometimes we’d add CGI and some archival footage. There was a whole section with civil rights protests on TV, and we also added a scene at a lunch counter, to add some flavor.

Period films always have a lot of VFX. Can you talk about them?
We built a certain amount, like the whole White House interior set, and then one of my favorite VFX shots is the whole motorcade coming out of the White House at the end. We shot that on a parking lot in New Orleans, and Pixel Magic composited in all the background, the White House, the gates and so on. Then the opening shot of Air Force One was a composite — we had nothing there. Same with the big scene at the Lockheed plant. Most of the planes there were VFX, and they also extended the hangar where we shot.There’s a lot of clean-up, changing store fronts, and we added crowd people to the extras in various scenes.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
I’ve done nearly every film with composer Marc Shaiman, who’s brilliant and so versatile. He wrote a great score, and then (supervising sound editor) Lon Bender has worked with me for a very long time. They’d build more tracks than I need, and then I would start weeding stuff out because I don’t want it too busy. My big thing is get the birds out of there. Too many birds!

What’s next?
I’ve got this idea for a 12-part streaming historical drama series, but it’s still a secret.


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 Todd Haynes on making Wonderstruck

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Todd Haynes is a supreme visual stylist with a deep affection for period pieces and a masterly touch when it comes to dealing with such adult themes as desire, repression and regret. Now Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — brings those gifts and his sense of wonder and imagination to his new film Wonderstruck, which is based on an illustrated children’s novel by Brian Selznick. Selznick also wrote and drew “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret,” which became Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Set in the 1920s and the 1970s, Wonderstruck tells the story of Ben and Rose, two deaf children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerizing symmetry.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its young stars’ performances — opposite co-stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams — and for Haynes, whose credits include Carol, the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine, Safe and Mildred Pierce.

I spoke with Haynes about making the film.

What was the appeal of making this movie?
I wanted to make something adults hadn’t seen before and that I didn’t think kids had ever seen before. I wanted them to feel like someone believed in their ability to have their minds blown, and to look back to the past — all these things we think kids don’t do anymore, like turning off their phones and watching a black and white film with little dialogue, and dealing with a weird structure to the movie. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think kids are capable of all kinds of things and maybe we forget that.

This is your first film with kids in the leads. Was it something you always wanted to do?
Yes. I’ve worked with kids in a lot of my films, and I made a short, Dottie Gets Spanked, back in ’93 with kids as the main characters, but I’d never done anything like this… with two deaf kids as the leads.

The theme of deafness must have opened up a lot of possibilities, as the whole B&W section plays like a silent film.
Exactly, and the B&W bit was just the beginning. The deafness was there in Brian’s book and screenplay but to a degree I just didn’t appreciate when I first read his script, and then even after I’d shot it; I didn’t initially realize just how silent the movie is, and how little dialogue there is. There’s whole stretches without any talking, and then a character says something and it hits you. But I feel that if you’re into the movie, you don’t miss the talking in those sections.

The film was shot by your usual DP, Ed Lachman. What look were you going for?
It was a lot of fun bouncing between the different eras, and getting the B&W look and then New York City, which was a very different, look — but it’s kind of fun afterwards (laughs). That’s what challenges are. They’re not so much fun when you’re in the throes of dealing with them, but it was creatively tantalizing finding the textures and contrasts between the different eras, and we did a lot of planning and preproduction, focusing on all the detail.

Why do you love doing period pieces so much?
I think they make you ask, “Why are we watching this movie? Why is the director doing this or that?” So you set up a frame that makes you think about what the movie’s telling you about, so you have choices being made all the time. And looking at the past through a frame means you’re invariably also looking at where you stand now, and then you think about the relevance of the past and what it means today. It’s never about making today disappear. It’s about a conscious role in comparing the past and present.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it, because after all the craziness and time and money pressures of the shoot. You’re back in a small dark room, and you’re also down to a far lower overhead and the fewest number of people around, so it feels very cozy and intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in downtown New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI.

Todd Haynes and writer Iain Blair

The film was edited by Affonso Goncaves, who worked with you on Carol and Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship and the editing challenges.
So much of post was about editorial, and he was key to it all: the editorial language and how the film would ultimately work and connect with people. I really relish working closely with my editor, and he’s a great partner and very smart and knowledgeable. Our big challenge was figuring out how to deal with the two different stories and the time spent on each. Brian’s script marked all the intercutting very specifically, and it was all infused with a very cinematic quality that was very infectious. But I also knew it was something you have to wait and see how it actually works. And, ultimately, we learned that we had to spend more time with one story before cutting to the next.

You have to develop enough attachment to one character and to what they’re doing before you cut to the other. Then you have to pace it so you want to come back again. It was continually about finding the right balance. Then we actually screened a lot of cuts of the movie for kids, and that helped us so much and completely informed what we did. They reacted encouragingly — and maybe they misled us (laughs) — but they were remarkably specific with their comments.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Can you talk about that, and working with VFX supervisor Louis Morin?
Louis worked a lot with Denis Villeneuve and did Arrival and Sicario for him, and his credits include The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain, so he’s very experienced. I worked with him before on I’m Not There, and he’s a real artist and very sensitive. The best VFX shots in period pieces are the ones where you don’t fully rely on them; we did as much as possible in camera and practically, and then finished them with digital work by Alchemy 24 and Framestore. It’s a very close relationship between your production designer and VFX supervisor, and there’s always a lot of removal of contemporary stuff and cosmetic work and clean-up.

Given this is partly a silent film, can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important, it’s hard to overstate. My sound designer Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since Far From Heaven. This is the fourth collaboration with Carter Burwell, and like the sound designer and my sound recorder Drew Kunin he was involved from preproduction on.

So we’d all discuss sound and we recorded everything — all the dialogue for the B&W bits, all the ambiance, so we had it, even if it was just an indication of what we’d eventually do. We didn’t know how much marking with rhythm and percussion we’d use for the dialogue, and how effective it’d be — and I found that it wasn’t effective, and that every time we marked dialogue it just didn’t work. But we marked for gesture and that worked.

What’s next?
I’ve got a bunch of projects, including a documentary about The Velvet Underground. I’ve never done a documentary before and I’m excited about all the period research.


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 A-List: Director Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


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.


Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

We reached out to Big Block’s Paul and VFX supervisor John Cherniack to find out more…

How early did Big Block get involved in this F-150 campaign?
We worked with Detroit agency GTB starting in May 2017.

How much creative input did you have on the campaign? In terms of both original concept and execution?
Trillo: What was so original about this pitch was that they gave us a blank canvas and VO script to work with, and that’s it. I was building off a campaign that had been running for nearly 10 years and I knew what the creatives were looking for in terms of some sort of kinetic, constantly transitioning energy. However, it was essentially up to me to design each moment of the spot and how we get from A to B to C.

Typically, car commercials can be pretty prescriptive and sensitive to how the car is depicted. This campaign functions a lot differently than your typical car commercial. There was a laundry list of techniques, concepts, tricks and toys I’ve wanted to implement, so we seized the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at this. Then, by breaking down the script and pairing it with the different tricks I wanted to try out, I sort of formed the piece. It was through the development of the scripts, boards and animatics that certain ideas fell to the wayside and the best rose to the top.

Cherniack: Paul had some great ideas from the very beginning, and the whole team got to help contribute to the brainstorming. We took the best ideas and started to put them all together in a previz to see which ones would stitch together seamlessly.

Paul, Justin Trask (production designer) and I all spent a very long together going through each board and shot, determining which elements we could build, and what we would make in CG. As much as we wanted to build a giant gantry to raise the bar, some elements were cost-prohibitive. This is where we were able to get creative on what we would be able to achieve between practical and CG elements.

How much creative input did you have on set?
Trillo: The only creative decisions we were let to make on set were coming up with creative solutions for logistical challenges. We’d done all the pre-production work, mapping out the camera moves and transitions down to the frame, so the heavy lifting was finished. Of course, you always look to make it better on set and find the right energy in the moment, but that’s all icing.

Cherniack: By the time we started shooting, we had gone through a good amount of planning, and I had a good feeling about everything that Paul was trying to achieve. One area that we both worked together on set was to get the most creative shot, while also maintaining our plans for combining the shots in post.

What challenges did you face?
Trillo: I think I have a sort of addictive personality when it comes to logistical and creative challenges. Before this thing was fully locked in, before we had any storyboards or a single location, I knew what I had written out was going to be super challenging if not impossible. Especially because I wanted to shot as much as we could practically. However, what you write down on a piece of paper and what you animate in a 3D environment doesn’t always align with the physics of the real world. Each shot provided its own unique challenge, whether it’s an art department build or deciding which type of camera rig to use to move the camera in an unusual way. Fortunately, I had a top-notch crew both in camera (DP Dan Mindel) and production design (Justin Trask) that there were always a couple ways to solve each problem.

Cherniack: In order to have all of the measurements, HDRI, set surveys and reference photography, I had to always be on the move, while being close enough should any VFX questions come up. Doing this in 110+ degree heat, in the quarry, during three of the hottest days of the summer was quite a challenge. We also had very little control of lake currents, and had to modify the way we shot the boat scene in Brainiac on the fly. We had a great crew who was able to change directions quickly.

What was your favorite part of working on this campaign? What aspect are you most proud of?
Trillo: It was pretty spectacular to see each of these pieces evolve from chicken scratch into a fully-realized image. There was little creative compromise in that entire process. But I have to say I think I’m proudest of dropping 400lbs of french fries out of a shipping container.

Any major differences between automotive campaigns and ads for other industries?
The main difference is there aren’t any rules here. The only thing you need to keep in mind when doing this campaign is stay true to the F-150’s brand and ethos. As long as you remain true to the spirit, there are no other guidelines to follow in terms of how a car commercial needs to function. What appeals to me about this campaign is it combines a few of my interests of design, technical camera work and a dash of humor.

What tools did you use?
Cherniack: We used the software Maya, 3ds Max, Nuke, Flame, PFTrack for post-production.


Mother! director Darren Aronofsky

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/producer Darren Aronofsky made a big splash when his debut feature Pi won the prestigious Director’s Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He then quickly followed that up with 2000’s acclaimed drama Requiem for a Dream.

But his hot streak and momentum came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Brad Pitt dropped out of his expensive and ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain just weeks before shooting was due to start. Aronofsky scrambled to completely rewrite and retool The Fountain, this time starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Since then, Aronofsky has regained his momentum and continued to make visually audacious films as 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan (he got a directing Oscar nom, and star Natalie Portman took home the gold) and 2014’s Noah.

His latest film, Mother!, is another hard-to-categorize film — part horror story, part comedy, part fable, part psychological thriller — that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple whose relationship is severely tested when uninvited guests suddenly arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence and ultimately turning it into a literal war zone.

I recently talked to Aronofsky about making the film, and why he ditched the score.

This isn’t just a horror film. What sort of film did you set out to make?
After Black Swan I wanted to return to the horror genre, and I felt the home invasion genre hadn’t been used well in a while — and we can all relate to having house guests that overstay their welcome. So I felt that was a great starting point, and I also wanted to deal with larger issues — the planet we all live on, as guests in a sense. But I’m not really a genre filmmaker. For me, Pi was a thriller at its core, but I added lots of stuff and it became something else. I think I always do that. When I pitched Black Swan they felt it wasn’t enough of a ballet movie or horror film. It didn’t fit into any one genre. I just do what I think is cool and interesting, and then I start adding stuff.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning comedy and the increasingly dark, serious nature of the film?
It was tricky, but I think I was just truthful to what I’d written, and the intent of the characters does not change. They’re all very bad guests, and the level of the badness is what shifts, and the pitch changes. It’s like speeding up an old vinyl record — it just gets crazier and crazier, and more and more intense.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Technically, it was one of the hardest things me and my team have ever tried to do, because the last 25 minutes — the fever dream — were so demanding to choreograph and to maintain that nightmare fever-pitch for that long and have it build and build needed every department to work together in perfect sync.

The house is like another character. How did you deal with that?
It was vital to me that the film felt realistic and grounded for the first half, at least. I don’t think we could have pulled that off just shooting it on a stage, and we couldn’t find a real house that worked, so we went to great expense and effort to actually build the house up in Montreal where we shot. We actually built the house twice — the first time with just the first floor out in this beautiful field, which allowed us to do all the daylight sequences in natural light, and we shot those all in order. Then we built the full three-story house in a soundstage in Montreal for all the interior and night sequences, and as the house is like another character that morphs and changes, it really had to be a real house with all the plumbing and wiring, so that when it starts coming apart, it feels very real.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, and we did it all in New York at Sixteen 19. This post was very difficult and it ended up being 53 weeks – by far the longest I’ve ever done.

You cut this film with editor Andrew Weisblum, who collaborated with you on Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. How did that relationship work?
Editing was very tricky, because I wanted to pull the audience into Jen’s experience and not give them a chance to breathe, so we shot the film exclusively from her point of view, with hardly any wide shots, which usually allow you to get out of any sticky situations. Basically, the film is either shot over her shoulder, on her face or at what she’s looking at. This gives you incredibly limited coverage to work with in the edit, and Andy was forced to work with that. He began in preproduction, and we did three months of rehearsal which DP Matty Libatique, who’s shot most of my films, shot as a test. We then cut it together so we were able to look at a 100-minute rough version and get a sense of the camera movements and placement and how it would all look and learn from it. That was very helpful.

One of the biggest shocks of the film is that there’s no music. Can you talk about that decision and the importance of the sound design in the film?
It was a shock to me too! I’d hired composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s done films like Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and he wrote a wonderful score, and we worked on it for five months, but it was really weird — every time we played it to picture, it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then he said to me, “The score’s actually taking away from Jen’s performance, and pushing the film in another direction.” He was right. So we decided that the best score for the film was no score at all, which was pretty tough after all that work — and it scared the hell out of me, since I’ve always relied on music to be a major part of my films.

So I then turned to my longtime sound designer Craig Henighan and told him to just go for it, and that then became a huge part of the film. We actually kept some music cues all the way up to the mix stage, which we did at Warners, but ultimately realized we didn’t even need that because they suddenly stuck out.

Can you talk about the VFX, and working again with VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker.
Dan and I were roommates at college, and he’s done all my films. We had a huge number of shots — over 1,200, more than we had in Noah, although not so complex. We had a lot of different houses working on them, including ILM, Hybride, Raynault, and it was a mad rush at the end because the studio changed our release date, so we had to do two months of VFX work in just one month.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan who’s done all my films, and we worked very hard on the look to get this great, warm, lightly burnt butter look, so the DI was crucial.

Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
It’s always a constant evolution, and the colors a film takes on constantly shift and change, depending on the cast and production design and so on, but I’m very happy with it.

All Photos: Niko Tavernise


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 Philippe Falardeau takes on boxing with Chuck

By Iain Blair

On the surface, French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau — whose drama Monsieur Lazhar was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards — might appear to be an unusual choice to helm a boxing film. But in his inspired hands, Chuck, the true story of Chuck Wepner, the first man to knock Muhammad Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title, lands a lot of impressive punches. Wepner was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning Rocky franchise.

Director Philippe Falardeau

Set in the early ‘70s, Chuck tells the unlikely story of Wepner, who was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey and also sold liquor on the mean streets when he got his big shot to fight Ali. Ultimately, he didn’t win the fight, but he found instant fame as the underdog who lasted 15 rounds in the ring with Ali. That was nothing compared to when Rocky came out. Wepner quickly attained hero status as the real-life inspiration for Stallone’s script and was quickly anointed King of the Jersey shore.

However, just when Wepner thought he was invincible, life set him up for the ultimate K.O. The aftermath of that fight triggered a series of events and numerous legal struggles that led to Wepner grasping to stay in the limelight. These obstacles led to sobriety and redemption after serving five years in prison for cocaine possession.

Liev Schreiber stars as the flawed but charismatic boxer opposite Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan. The IFC Films release is also on Blu-ray presented in 1080p HD with English 5.1 DTS HD master audio, and on DVD and digital HD from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

I recently talked to Falardeau — whose films include The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge, which won Best Canadian First Feature at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival; the Warner Bros. release The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon; and My Internship in Canada — about making the film.

Were you always a big boxing fan?
I was neither a fan or not, but I remember watching boxing at the 1984 LA Olympics and thinking there was something noble to it, and in sports I like duels between two people, like tennis. I don’t know a lot about boxing, and the script first caught my eye because I felt it’s not a typical boxing film at all. The big fight is in the middle of the film, and then there’s no big redemption fight at the end as usual.

Is it true you initially turned this down?
Well, I questioned if I was the right person for it. But as I read it the first time, I realized there was all this stuff I didn’t know about it, and it was a real page turner. It was more about the mythology of boxing and a cautionary tale about fame, which seemed very relevant in our era of social media when everyone wants to be famous.

There have been so many films about boxers, so what sort of film did you set out to make?
I was fascinated watching the actual fight on YouTube, and then I looked at a lot of archival footage since the script allowed for us to use some of that alongside what we had shot. All that really excited me, but the actual fighting sort of scared me. The thing is, the boxing you see in movies isn’t like reality, where it’s slow and messy, and nothing happens and then boom! Something happens.

So I wanted to make a film that showed the reality of boxing, not the movie version. After the whole fun ride of the first act, I think the story gets even more interesting when Chuck gets caught up in his whole new image and all the attention. Chuck really enjoys life. He’s a fun, playful, optimistic guy, sure of himself — really the opposite of Rocky Balboa. So the film had to be very playful — a drama that also didn’t take itself too seriously. So I tried to craft a movie where the rhythms, the editing, the archival footage and the tone all contributed to that feeling.

You got an amazing cast, with Liev Schreiber as Chuck, and Naomi Watts and Elisabeth Moss as his wives. What did Liev bring to the role, considering he looks nothing like the real man?
He brought so much, and he really agreed with my approach — let’s make it messy, not spectacular and just real. He spars a lot and really likes the sport, and he trained hard, so he was a great collaborator on this and he was very into it. And, of course, he’s a great actor, so we were able to explore a lot of levels.

Do you feel more of a responsibility when a film is about real people?
I do. I come from a documentary background, and I left documentary filmmaking because of the difficulty with that moral contract you have with the people you film. You want to make the best film possible, and that might mean making it more dramatic in the edit. That’s why I migrated to fiction.

With this, I met Chuck and his second wife, who are still together, and we all became friends. Chuck still calls me at home and keeps in touch. So it’s tough sitting next to him in a theater watching this, because at the same time you need to tell the truth of his story and shoot him in his underwear, snorting cocaine. But he knows he was no angel and we had to show that side.

Did you talk to Stallone at all about Chuck being the real-life inspiration for Rocky?
No, but the production needed his approval, and we got a few notes from him. We did get his direct help with the statue of Rocky at the end. It’s in his personal memorabilia collection, which he keeps at his LA office.

You shot this on location in New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria. Why Sofia?
That’s exactly what I asked when the producers told me, but in hindsight it was the right decision considering our budget. I ended up having double the time to shoot the Ali fight, three cameras, four times the extras for the crowd scene at the fight and a very competent technical team over there. So in all fairness, when producer Avi Lerner said we’d shoot in Bulgaria, he made the right call. I had to find solutions for the particular constraints, but half our job is always to find a way around new constraints. And, as it’s a period piece, that was a major challenge. For instance, finding old typewriters for some scenes.

Where did you post and do you like the post process?
We did all the post in Montreal at Technicolor, including the color correction. The sound was done partly in Sofia and partly in Montreal. The VFX was done in LA. I love post and always have. I also think people don’t have a clue just how much the success of a film depends on good post production, how much of a story you can build during the editing, and how much you can enhance your film in mixing and color timing.

The color and sound is vital in conveying a sense of intimacy, humanity and emotions. To get it right you need to work with artists in post. That’s why I love it so much. For me, the worst part of post is that first assembly. I always hate it! You can really measure the gap between your vision and your talent. I get really depressed and start looking for a new job outside film.

Can you talk about working with editor Richard Comeau, who’s cut over 60 films. Was he on the set?
No, he doesn’t care about your best takes, and he’s right because that’s completely irrelevant. So he’d start cutting as I shot, and we’d start the assembly. But an editor is not in your head, and to get the right POV and tone on a film you have to get in the room yourself. An editor can really help with restructuring and moving scenes around, but to get that specific tone you have in mind, you have to work on it with the editor.

Can you talk about using all the archival footage and making it seamless.
It wasn’t too tricky because I knew I’d be using archival stuff, and we also used a real 35mm grain in both the color and B&W bits, which also helped. The colorist, Nico Illies at Technicolor, did a great job on the DI. He used Filmlight’s Baselight.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, it’s a period piece, so you must have needed some VFX?
Quite a few, like the bear he fights, and then we had crowd enhancement at the fight. But all the hits we see on Liev’s face are real. They’re not enhanced.

What’s next?
I’ve got a couple of projects. One is a gold rush film, and the other is My Salinger Year, which I hope to start shooting early next 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.

My Passion Project: We Call Her Yolanda

By Anthony Bari Jr.

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

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

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

Just one of Bari’s shooting setups.

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

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

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

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

Street view of San Joaquin.

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Veteran director Michael Apted on his latest film, Unlocked

By Iain Blair

Acclaimed British director Michael Apted is that rarity in today’s cinema — an extraordinarily versatile filmmaker who is comfortable in any genre and equally at home making big-budget tent poles or micro-budget documentaries.

His movies range from Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning dramas (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist) to films dealing with medical ethics (Extreme Measures), corporate whistleblowers (Class Action) and matters of faith (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). He has also directed political thrillers (Gorky Park), spy thrillers (Enigma), comedies (Continental Divide), music documentaries (Sting’s Bring on the Night) and a blockbuster Bond movie (The World Is Not Enough).

(L-R) Writer Iain Blair and Michael Apted.

Apted even made a feature film and a documentary about the same event (Thunderheart and Incident at Oglala). He has also directed many TV projects, including Ray Donovan, Rome and Masters of Sex. That is one diverse resume.

In fact, the only constant in an eclectic career that stretches back to the 1960s is the “Up Series,” which he first worked on as a researcher back in 1964, and which he returns to every seven years like clockwork (56 Up came out in 2012).

His latest film, Unlocked, is a pulpy, fast-moving spy thriller which, like many of Apted’s films, stars a woman in the lead role — Noomi Rapace plays a CIA agent undercover in London and on a mission to save the city from biological terrorism. She’s joined by an all-star cast, including Michael Douglas as her handler, Orlando Bloom as her unlikely helper, John Malkovich as the CIA spy chief at Langley and Toni Collette as his MI5 counterpart.

I recently met with Apted to talk about his process on this film along with his long career and what’s next for him.

You’ve made a lot of thrillers. What’s the secret to a good one?
On a trivial level, you always need a good pace. Then you look for lots of twists and turns and a script that isn’t quite what it appears to be. This allows you to keep the audience unsettled and never comfortable. The element of surprise is key.

You’ve made a lot of films with women in the leads. What did Noomi bring to the role?
She was already on board before me, so the idea was to have a woman organically at the heart of it; we met and I thought she was perfect for this. I’ve made a lot of dramas with women, as I find their lives are fundamentally more dramatic than most men’s. They have to make major life choices — having kids, marriage, jobs and so on — and men don’t have the same pressures, at least not in thrillers.

Look at a remarkable woman like Gorillas’ Dian Fossey, who pretty much sacrificed her personal life and any chance of romance and children to do what she did. I find those situations very dramatic, while men tend to follow a more routine life. There’s always far more emotion with the women playing the lead in dramas and thrillers. While women can seem more vulnerable, they often overcome that and so there’s more at stake. That’s another key element to a good thriller or drama.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Pretty early, though this only has about 200 VFX shots, compared to the Bond film, where the VFX are the main piece of the pie, and Narnia that had close to 1,400 VFX shots. My early films, like Coal Miner’s Daughter, had no VFX at all, but now almost every movie has some.

Is it true you shot most of it in Prague? How did you make that work?
Yes, we could only shoot six days in London due to the budget, so the rest was Prague. The key to doing it was the Czech production designer, a very clever guy who told me, “When you choose your key locations in London, don’t use the familiar classic sights as I won’t be able to match them. But if you go more modern, I can probably match it far better.” So that’s what I did. I avoided all the well-known locations, and it worked out great.

Do you like the post process?
I do, a lot. It allows you to fix things. It’s the last draft of a film, and as long as you know what you’re doing while you shoot and what scenes you may be vulnerable in — so you have the necessary coverage — you can then play around with it in post. The more films you do, the more experience you have about what scenes are truly important and which ones are not as you shoot. You have to give each one a value, and the crucial ones are where you want to spend the most time and money, so you can then shape them in the edit.

Where did you post?
I worked with editor Andrew MacRitchie. We cut as we shot and then did the first cut and most of the post in London, including all the VFX at Lipsync. But we had a problem with the ending. From the very start of the edit we knew we’d have to reshoot the end, but we ran into more budget problems.

Ultimately, we reshot the end in Munich and did the final post at Arri Post there for about three weeks. It was a bit hair-raising since we had to ship all the final post elements we’d already done in London, like the music and mix, but they did a great job. Arri also did any needed adjustments to the VFX because of the changes. The big VFX sequence was the big football game at the end, which we shot in Prague, and then made it more like Wembley stadium in London.

Talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker.
It’s beyond important — it’s crucial. The composer, Stephen Barton, was very savvy about combining a real orchestra with computers and synths, so we could keep chopping and changing it and do rough scores as we felt our way through it all. All the sound design was done in London with some extra work at Arri Sound in Munich.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did most of it at Lipsync in London, and then went to Arri Post to re-grade and finish it off after the reshoot. The DI was key in getting the film’s overall look, a palette of cool grays and blues.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s got some nice twists and great characters, and once we figured out the right end, it came together really well I feel.

Michael Apted on set with Noomi Rapace.

What’s next?
I’m working on a film that we’re casting now. It’s a very emotional story about a father and son, set in Naples, about the son finding his long-lost father. I’ll be doing 63 Up at the end of next year, which will come out in spring 2019.

Do you think of yourself ultimately as a documentary filmmaker?
Yes, I think that’s true because I approach material and all my films in a documentary way. I remember when we did Coal Miner’s Daughter, I insisted on shooting it in the real locations with the local people in it. There’s only three professional actors in the whole film, so that was my documentary voice speaking.


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.

Millennium Digital XL camera: development to delivery

By Lance Holte and Daniel Restuccio

Panavision’s Millennium DXL 8K may be one of today’s best digital cinema cameras, but it might also be one of the most misunderstood. Conceived and crafted to the exacting tradition of the company whose cameras captured such films as Lawrence of Arabia and Inception, the Millennium DXL challenges expectations. We recently sat down with Panavision to examine the history, workflow, some new features and how that all fits into a 2017 moviemaking ecosystem.

Announced at Cine Gear 2016, and released for rent through Panavision in January 2017, the Millennium DXL stepped into the digital large format field as, at first impression, a competitor to the Arri Alexa 65. The DXL was the collaborative result of a partnership of three companies: Panavision developed the optics, accessories and some of the electronics; Red Digital Cinema designed the 8K VV (VistaVision) sensor; and Light Iron provided the features, color science and general workflow for the camera system.

The collaboration for the camera first began when Light Iron was acquired by Panavision in 2015. According to Michael Cioni, Light Iron president/Millennium DXL product manager, the increase in 4K and HDR television and theatrical formats like Dolby Vision and Barco Escape created the perfect environment for the three-company partnership. “When Panavision bought Light Iron, our idea was to create a way for Panavision to integrate a production ecosystem into the post world. The DXL rests atop Red’s best tenets, Panavision’s best tenets and Light Iron’s best tenets. We’re partners in this — information can flow freely between post, workflow, color, electronics and data management into cameras, color science, ergonomics, accessories and lenses.”

HDR OLED viewfinder

Now, one year after the first announcement, with projects like the Lionsgate feature adventure Robin Hood, the Fox Searchlight drama Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the CBS crime drama S.W.A.T. and a Samsung campaign shot by Oscar-winner Linus Sandgren under the DXL’s belt, the camera sports an array of new upgrades, features and advanced tools. They include an HDR OLED viewfinder (which they say is the first), wireless control software for iOS, and a new series of lenses. According to Panavision, the new DXL offers “unprecedented development in full production-to-post workflow.”

Preproduction Considerations
With so many high-resolution cameras on the market, why pick the DXL? According to Cioni, cinematographers and their camera crew are no longer the only people that directly interact with cameras. Panavision examined the impact a camera had on each production department — camera assistants, operators, data managers, DITs, editors, and visual effects supervisors. In response to this feedback, they designed DXL to offer custom toolsets for every department. In addition, Panavision wanted to leverage the benefits of their heritage lenses and enable the same glass that photographed ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ to be available for a wider range of today’s filmmakers on DXL.

When Arri first debuted the Alexa 65 in 2014, there were questions about whether such a high-resolution, data-heavy image was necessary or beneficial. But cinematographers jumped on it and have leaned on large format sensors and glass-to-lens pictures — ranging from Doctor Strange to Rogue One — to deliver greater immersiveness, detail and range. It seems that the large format trend is only accelerating, particularly among filmmakers who are interested in the optical magnification, depth of field and field-of-view characteristics that only large format photography offers.

Kramer Morgenthau

“I think large format is the future of cinematography for the big screen,” says cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, who shot with the DXL in 2016. “[Large format cinematography] gives more of a feeling of the way human vision is. And so, it’s more cinematic. Same thing with anamorphic glass — anamorphic does a similar thing, and that’s one of the reasons why people love it. The most important thing is the glass, and then the support, and then the user-friendliness of the camera to move quickly. But these are all important.”

The DXL comes to market offering a myriad of creative choice for filmmakers. Among the large format cameras, the Millennium DXL aims to be the crème de la crème — it’s built around an 46mm 8192×4320 Red VV sensor, custom Panavision large format spherical and anamorphic lenses, wrapped in camera department-friendly electronics, using proprietary color science — all of which complements a mixed camera environment.

“The beauty of digital, and this camera in particular, is that DXL actually stands for ‘digital extra light.’ With a core body weight of only 10 pounds, and with its small form factor, I’ve seen DXL used in the back seat of a car as well as to capture the most incredible helicopter scenes,” Cioni notes.

With the help of Light Iron, Panavision developed a tool to match DXL footage to Panavised Red Weapon cameras. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 used Red Weapon 8K VV Cameras with Panavision Primo 70 lenses. “There are shows like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why [Season Two] that combined this special matching of the DXL and the Red Helium sensor based on the workflow of the show,” Cioni notes. “They’re shooting [the second season] with two DXLs as their primary camera, and they have two 8K Red cameras with Helium sensors, and they match each other.”

If you are thinking the Millennium DXL will bust your budget, think again. Like many Panavision cameras, the DXL is exclusively leasable through Panavision, but Cioni says they’re happy to help filmmakers to build the right package and workflow. “A lot of budgetary expense can be avoided with a more efficient workflow. Once customers learn how DXL streamlines the entire imaging chain, a DXL package might not be out of reach. We always work with customers to build the right package at a competitive price,” he says.

Using the DXL in Production
The DXL could be perceived as a classic dolly Panavision camera, especially with the large format moniker. “Not true,” says Morgenthau, who shot test footage with the camera slung over his shoulder in the back seat of a car.

He continues, “I sat in the back of a car and handheld it — in the back of a convertible. It’s very ergonomic and user-friendly. I think what’s exciting about the Millennium: its size and integration with technology, and the choice of lenses that you get with the Panavision lens family.”

Panavision’s fleet of large format lenses, many of which date back to the 1950s, made the company uniquely equipped to begin development on the new series of large format optics. To be available by the end of 2017, the Primo Artiste lenses are a full series of T/1.8 Primes — the fastest optics available for large format cinematography — with a completely internalized motor and included metadata capture. Additionally, the Primo Artiste lenses can be outfitted with an anamorphic glass attachment that retains the spherical nature of the base lens, yet induces anamorphic artifacts like directional flares and distorted bokeh.

Another new addition to the DXL is the earlier mentioned Panavision’s HDR OLED Primo viewfinder. Offering 600-nit brightness, image smoothing and optics to limit eye fatigue, the viewfinder also boasts a theoretical contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. Like other elements on the camera, the Primo viewfinder was the result of extensive polling and camera operator feedback. “Spearheaded by Panavision’s Haluki Sadahiro and Dominick Aiello, we went to operators and asked them everything we could about what makes a good viewfinder,” notes Cioni. “Guiding an industry game-changing product meant we went through multiple iterations. We showed the first Primo HDR prototype version in November 2016, and after six months of field testing, the final version is both better and simpler, and it’s all thanks to user feedback.”

Michael Cioni

In response to the growing popularity of HDR delivery, Light Iron also provides a powerful on-set HDR viewing solution. The HDR Village cart is built with a 4K HDR Sony monitor with numerous video inputs. The system can simultaneously display A and B camera feeds in high dynamic range and standard dynamic range on four different split quadrants. This enables cinematographers to evaluate their images and better prepare for multi-format color grading in post, given that most HDR projects are also required to deliver in SDR.

Post Production
The camera captures R3D files, the same as any other Red camera, but does have metadata that is unique to the DXL, ranging from color science to lens information. It also uses Light Iron’s set of color matrices designed specifically for the DXL: Light Iron Color.

Designed by Light Iron supervising colorist Ian Vertovec, Light Iron Color deviates from traditional digital color matrices by following in the footsteps of film stock philosophy instead of direct replication of how colors look in nature. Cioni likens Light Iron Color to Kodak’s approach to film. “Kodak tried to make different film stocks for different intentions. Since one film stock cannot satisfy every creative intention, DXL is designed to allow look transforms that users can choose, export and integrate into the post process. They come in the form of cube lookup tables and are all non-destructive.”

Light Iron Color can be adjusted and tweaked by the user or by Light Iron, which Cioni says has been done on many shows. The ability to adjust Light Iron Color to fit a particular project is also useful on shows that shoot with multiple camera types. Though Light Iron Color was designed specifically for the Millennium DXL, Light Iron has used it on other cameras — including the Sony A7, and Reds with Helium and Dragon sensors — to ensure that all the footage matches as closely as possible.

While it’s possible to cut with high-resolution media online with a blazing fast workstation and storage solution, it’s a lot trickier to edit online with 8K media in a post production environment that often requires multiple editors, assistants, VFX editors, post PAs and more. The good news is that the DXL records onboard low-bitrate proxy media (ProRes or DNx) for offline editorial while simultaneously recording R3Ds without requiring the use of an external recorder.

Cioni’s optimal camera recording setup for editorial is 5:1 compression for the R3Ds alongside 2K ProRes LT files. He explains, “My rule of thumb is to record super high and super low. And if I have high-res and low-res and I need to make something else, I can generate that somewhere in the middle from the R3Ds. But as long as I have the bottom and the top, I’m good.”

Storage is also a major post consideration. An hour of 8192×4320 R3Ds at 23.976fps runs in the 1TB/hour range — that number may vary, depending on the R3D compression, but when compared to an hour of 6560×3100 Arriraw footage, which lands at 2.6TB an hour, the Millennium DXL’s lighter R3D workflow can be very attractive.

Conform and Delivery
One significant aspect of the Millennium DXL workflow is that even though the camera’s sensor, body, glass and other pipeline tools are all recently developed, R3D conform and delivery workflows remain tried and true. The onboard proxy media exactly matches the R3Ds by name and timecode, and since Light Iron Color is non-destructive, the conform and color-prep process is simple and adjustable, whether the conform is done with Adobe, Blackmagic, Avid or other software.

Additionally, since Red media can be imported into almost all major visual effects applications, it’s possible to work with the raw R3Ds as VFX plates. This retains the lens and camera metadata for better camera tracking and optical effects, as well as providing the flexibility of working with Light Iron Color turned on or off, and the 8K R3Ds are still lighter than working with 4K (as is the VFX trend) DPX or EXR plates. The resolution also affords enormous space for opticals and stabilization in a 4K master.

4K is the increasingly common delivery resolution among studios, networks and over-the-top content distributors, but in a world of constant remastering and an exponential increase in television and display resolutions, the benefit in future-proofing a picture is easily apparent. Baselight, Resolve, Rio and other grading and finishing applications can handle 8K resolutions, and even if the final project is only rendered at 4K now, conforming and grading in 8K ensures the picture will be future-proofed for some time. It’s a simple task to re-export a 6K or 8K master when those resolutions become the standard years down the line.

After having played with DXL footage provided by Light Iron, it was surprising how straightforward the workflow seems. For a very small production, the trickiest part is the requirement of a powerful workstation — or sets of workstations — to conform and play 8K Red media, with a mix of (likely) 4K VFX shots, graphics and overlays. Michael Cioni notes, “[Everyone] already knows a RedCode workflow. They don’t have to learn it, I could show the DXL to anyone who has a Red Raven and in 30 seconds they’ll confidently say, ‘I got this.’”

Baby Driver editors — Syncing cuts to music

By Mel Lambert

Writer/director Edgar Wright’s latest outing is a major departure from his normal offering of dark comedies. Unlike his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy — Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End — and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, TriStar Pictures’ Baby Driver has been best described as a romantic musical disguised as a car-chase thriller.

Wright’s regular pair of London-based picture editors, Paul Machliss, ACE, and Jonathan Amos, ACE, also brought a special brand of magic to the production. Machliss, who had worked with Wright on Scott Pilgrim, The World’s End and his TV series Spaced for Channel 4, recalls that, “very early on, Edgar decided that I should come along on the shoot in Atlanta to ensure that we had the material he’d already storyboarded in a series of complex animatics for the film [using animator Steve Markowski and editor Evan Schiff]. Jon Amos joined us when we returned to London for sound and picture post production, primarily handling the action sequences, at which he excels.”

Developed by Wright over the past two decades, Baby Driver tells the story of an eponymous getaway driver (Ansel Elgort), who uses earphones to drown out the “hum-in-the-drum” of tinnitus — the result of a childhood car accident — and to orchestrate his life to carefully chosen music. But now indebted to a sinister kingpin named Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby becomes part of a seriously focused gang of bank robbers, including Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Griff (Jon Bernthal). Debora, Baby’s love interest (Lily James), dreams of heading west “in a car I can’t afford, with a plan I don’t have.” Imagine, in a sense, Jim McBride’s Breathless rubbing metaphorical shoulders with Tony Scott’s True Romance.

The film also is indebted to Wright’s 2003 music video for Mint Royale’s Blue Song, during which UK comedian/actor Noel Fielding danced in a stationery getaway car. In that same vein, Baby Driver comprises a sequence of linked songs that tightly choreograph the action and underpin the dramatic arcs being played out, often keying off the songs’ lyrics.

The film’s opener, for example, features Elgort partly lipsyncing to “Bellbottoms,” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, as the villains commit their first robbery. In subsequent scenes, our hero’s movements follow the opening bass riffs of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat,” then later to Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” before Queen’s “Brighton Rock” adds complex guitar cacophony to a key encounter scene.

Even the film’s opening titles are accompanied by Baby performing a casual coffee run in a continuous three-minute take to Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” — a scene that reportedly took 28 takes on the first day of practical photography in Atlanta. And the percussion and horns of “Tequila” provide syncopation for a protracted gunfight. Fold in “Egyptian Reggae,” “Unsquare Dance,” and “Easy,” followed by “Debora,” and it’s easy to appreciate that Wright is using music as a key and underpinning component of this film. The director also brought in music video choreographer Ryan Heffington to achieve the timing precision he needed.

The swift action is reflected in a fast style of editing, including whip pans and crash zooms, with cuts that are tightly synchronized to the music. “Whereas the majority of Edgar’s previous TV series and films have been parodies, for Baby Driver he had a very different idea,” explains Machliss. Wright had accumulated a playlist of over 30 songs that would inspire various scenes in his script. “It’s something that’s very much a part of my previous films,” says director Wright, “and I thought of this idea of how to take that a stage further by having a character who listens to music the entire time.”

“Edgar had organized a table read of his script in the spring of 2012 in Los Angeles, at which he recorded all of the dialog,” says Machliss. “Taking that recording, some sound effects and the music tracks, I put together a 100-minute ‘radio play’ that was effectively the whole film in audio-only form that Edgar could then use as a selling tool to convince the studios that he had a viable idea. Remember, Baby Driver was a very different format for him and not what he is traditionally known for.”

Australia-native Machliss was on set to ensure that the gunshots, lighting effects, actors and camera movements, plus car hits, all happened to the beat of the accompanying music. “We were working with music that we could not alter or speed up or slow down,” he says. “We were challenged to make sure that each sequence fit in the time frame of the song, as well as following the cadence of the music.”

Almost 95% of music included in the first draft of Wright’s script made it into the final movie according to Machliss. “I laid up the relevant animatic as a video layer in my Avid Media Composer and then confirmed how each take worked against the choreographed timeline. This way I always had a reference to it as we were filming. It was a very useful guide to see if we were staying on track.”

Editing On Location
During the Atlanta shoot, Machliss used Apple ProRes digital files captured by an In2Core QTake video assist that was recording taps from the production’s 35mm cameras. “I connected to my Mac via Ethernet so I could create a network to the video assist’s storage. I had access to his QuickTime files the instant he stopped recording. I could use Avid’s AMA function to place the clip in the timeline without the need for transcoding. This allowed almost instantaneous feedback to Edgar as the sequence was built up.”

Paul Machliss on set.

While on location, Machliss used a 15-inch MacBook Pro, Avid Mojo DX and a JVC video monitor “which could double as a second screen for the Media Composer or show full-screen video output via the Mojo DX.” He also had a Wacom tablet, an 8TB Thunderbolt drive, a LaCie 500GB rugged drive — “which would shuttle my media between set and editorial” — and an APU “so that I wouldn’t lose power if the supply was shut down by the sparks!”

LA’s Fotokem handled film processing, with negative scanning by Efilm. DNX files were sent to Company 3 in Atlanta for picture editorial, “where we would also review rushes in 2K sent down the line from Efilm,” says Machliss. “All DI on-lining and grading took place at Molinare in London.” Bill Pope, ASC, was the film’s director of photography.

Picture and Sound Editorial in London
Instead of hiring out editorial suites at a commercial facility in London, Wright and his post teams opted for a different approach. Like an increasing number of London-based productions, they elected to rent an entire floor in an office building.

They located a suitable location on Berners Street, north of the Soho-based film community. As Machliss recalls: “That allowed us to have the picture editorial team in the same space as the sound crew,” which was headed up by Wright’s long-time collaborator Julian Slater, who served as sound designer, supervising sound editor and re-recording engineer on Baby Driver. “Having ready access to Julian and his team meant that we could collaborate very closely — as we had on Edgar’s other films — and share ideas on a regular basis,” as the 10-week Director’s Cut progressed.

British-born Slater then moved across Soho to Goldcrest Films for sound effects pre-dubs, while his co-mixer, Tim Cavagin, worked on dialog and Foley pre-mixes at Twickenham Studios. Print mastering of the Dolby Atmos soundtrack occurred in February 2017 at Goldcrest, with Slater handling music and SFX, while Cavagin oversaw dialog and Foley. “Following Edgar’s concept of threading together the highly choreographed songs with linking scenes, Jon and I began the cut in London against the pre-assembled material from Atlanta,” says Machliss.

To assist Machliss during his picture cut, the film’s sound designer had provided a series of audio stems for his Avid. “Julian [Slater] had been working on his sound effects and dialog elements since principal photography ended in Atlanta. He had prepared separate, color-coded left-center-right stems of the music, dialog and SFX elements he was working on. I laid these [high-quality tracks] into Media Composer so I could better appreciate the intricacies of Julian’s evolving soundtrack. It worked a lot better than a normal rough mix of production dialog, rough sound effects and guide music.”

“From its inception, this was a movie for which music and sound design worked together as a whole piece,” Slater recalls. “There is a large amount of syncopation of the diegetic sounds [implied by the film’s action] to the music track Baby is listening to. Sometimes it’s obvious because the action was filmed with that purpose in mind. For example, walking in tempo to the music track or guns being fired in tempo. But many times it’s more subtle, including police sirens or distant trains that have been pitched and timed to the music,” and hence blend into the overall musical journey. “We strived to always do this to support the story, and to never distract from it.”

Because of the lead character’s tinnitus, Slater worked with pitch changes to interweave elements of the film’s soundtrack. “Whenever Baby is not listening to music, his tinnitus is present to some degree. But it became apparent very soon in our design process that strident, high-pitched ‘whistle tones’ would not work for a sustained period of time. Working closely with composer Steven Price, we developed a varied set of methods to convey the tinnitus — it’s rarely the same sound twice. Much of the time, the tinnitus is pitched according to either the outgoing or incoming music track. This then enabled us to use more of it, yet at the same time be quite subtle.”

Meticulous Planning for Set Pieces and Car Chases
Picture editor Amos joined the project at the start of the Director’s Cut to handle the film’s set pieces. He says, “These set pieces were conceptually very different from the vast majority of action scenes in that they were literally built up around the music and then visualized. Meticulous development and planning went into these sequences before the shoot even began, which was decisive in making the action become musical. For example, the ‘Tequila’ gunfight started as a piece of music by Button Down Brass. It was then laced with gunfire and SFX pitched to the music, and in time with the drum hits — this was done at the script stage by Mark Nicholson (aka, Osymyso, a UK musician/DJ) who specializes in mashup/bastard pop and breakbeat.”

Storyboards then grew around this scripted sound collage, which became a precise shot list for the filmed sequences. “Guns were rigged to go off in time with the music; it was all a very deliberate thing,” adds Amos. “Clearly, there was a lot of editing still to be done, but this approach illustrates that there’s a huge difference between something that is shot and edited to music, and something that is built around the music.”

“All the car chases for Baby Driver were meticulously planned, and either prevised or storyboarded,” Amos explains. “This ensured that the action would always fit into the time slot permitted within the music. The first car chase [against the song ‘Bellbottoms’] is divided into 13 sections, to align to different progressions in the music. One of the challenges resulted from the decision to never edit the music, which meant that none of these could overrun. Stunts were tested and filmed by second unit director Darrin Prescott, and the footage passed back to editorial to test against the timing allowed in the animatic. If a stunt couldn’t be achieved in the time allowed, it was revised and tweaked until it worked. This detailed planning gave the perfect backbone to the sequences.”

Amos worked on the sequences sequentially, “using the animatic and Paul’s on-set assembly as reference,” and began to break down all the footage into rolls that aligned to specific passages of the music. “There was a vast amount of footage for all the set pieces, and things are not always shot in order. So generally I spent a lot of time breaking the material down very methodically. I then began to make selects and started to build the sequences from scratch, section by section. Once I completed a pass, I spent some time building up my sound layers. I find this helps evolve the cut, generating another level of picture ideas that further tighten the syncopation of sound and picture.”

Amos’ biggest challenge, despite all the planning, was finding ways to condense the material into its pre-determined time slot. “The real world never moves quite like animatics and boards. We had very specific points in every track where certain actions had to take place; we called these anchor points. When working on a section, we would often work backwards from the anchor point knowing, for instance, that we only had 20 seconds to tell a particular part of the story. Initially, it can seem quite restrictive, but the edits become so precise.

Jonathan Amos

“The time restriction led to a level of kineticism and syncopation that became a defining feature of the movie. While the music may be the driving force of the action scenes, editorial choices were always rooted in the story and the characters. If you lose sight of the characters, the audience will disengage with the sequence, and you’ll lose all the tension you’ve worked so hard to create. Every shot choice was therefore very considered, and we worked incredibly hard to ensure we never wasted a frame, telling the story in the most compelling, rhythmic and entertaining way we could.”

“Once we had our cut,” Machliss summarizes, “we could return the tracks to Julian for re-conforming,” to accommodate edit changes. “It was an excellent way of working, with full-sounding edit mixes.”

Summing up his experience in Baby Driver, Machliss considers the film to be “the hardest job I’ve ever done, but the most fun I’ve ever had. Ultimately, our task was to create a film that on one level could be purely enjoyed as an exciting/dramatic piece of cinema, but, on repeated viewing, would reveal all the little elements ‘under the surface’ that interlock together — which makes the film unique. It’s a testament to Edgar’s singular vision and, in that regard, he is a tremendously exciting director to work with.”


Mel Lambert has been involved with production industries on both sides of the Atlantic for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content Creators, a LA-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.

Doing more with Thunderbolt 3

Streamlined speed on set or in the studio

By Beth Marchant

It was only six years ago that Thunderbolt, the high-speed data transfer and display port standard co-developed by Apple and Intel, first appeared in Apple’s MacBook Pros and iMacs. Since then, the blended PCI Express, DisplayPort and power plug cable has jolted its way toward ubiquity, giving computers and peripherals increased speed and functionality with every iteration.

Content creators were the first to discover its potential, and gamers quickly followed. Intel, which now owns the sole rights to the spec, announced in late May it would put Thunderbolt 3 into all of its future CPUs and release the spec to the industry in 2018. In a related blog post, Intel VP Chris Walker called Thunderbolt 3 “one of the most significant cable I/O updates since the advent of USB.” The company envisions not just a faster port, but “a simpler and more versatile port, available for everyone, coming to approximately 150 different PCs, Macs and peripherals by the end of this year,” said Walker.

So what can it do for you on set or in the studio? First, some thumbnail facts about what it does: with double the video bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2 and eight times faster than USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3 clocks 40Gbps transfer speeds, twice as fast as the previous version. T3 also includes USB-C connectivity, which finally makes it usable with Windows-based workstations as well as with Macs. On top of those gains, a T3 port now lets you daisy-chain up to six devices and two 4K monitors — or one 5K monitor — to a laptop through a single connection. According to Intel’s Walker, “We envision a future where high-performance single-cable docks, stunning photos and 4K video, lifelike VR, and faster-than-ever storage are commonplace.” That’s an important piece of the puzzle for filmmakers who want their VR projects and 4K+ content to reach the widest possible audience.

The specification for Thunderbolt 3, first released in 2015, gave rise to a smattering of products in 2016, most importantly the MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3. At NAB this year, many more flexible RAID storage and improved T3 devices that connect directly to Mac and Windows computers joined their ranks. In June, Apple released iMacs with TB3.

For directors Jason and Josh Diamond, a.k.a. The Diamond Brothers, upgrading to new TB3-enabled laptops is their first priority. “When we look at the data we’re pushing around, be it 24 cameras from a VR shoot, or many TBs of 8K R3Ds from a Red Helium multicam shoot, one of the most important things in the end is data transfer speed. As we move into new computers, drives and peripherals, USB-C and TB3 finally have ubiquity across our Mac and PC systems that we either own or are looking to upgrade to. This makes for much easier integrations and less headaches as we design workflows and pathways for our projects,” says Jason Diamond, The Diamond Bros./Supersphere.

If you are also ready to upgrade, here are a sampling of recently released products that can add Thunderbolt 3 performance to your workflow.

CalDigit docking station

Clean Up the Clutter
CalDigit was one of the first to adopt the Thunderbolt interface when it came out in 2011, so it’s no surprise that the first shipment of the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 (TS3) docking station introduced at NAB 2017 sold out quickly. The preorders taken at the show are expected to ship soon. TS3 is designed to be a streamlined, central charging hub for MacBook Pro, delivering 85W of laptop charging via USB 3.1 Type-A (plus audio in and out), along with two Thunderbolt ports, two eSATA ports, two USB 3.1 Type A ports, Gigabit Ethernet and a DisplayPort. DisplayPort lets users connect to a range of monitors with a DisplayPort to HDMI, DVI or VGA cable.

CalDigit also introduced the TS3 Lite, shipping now, which will work with any Thunderbolt 3 computer from PCs to iMacs or MacBook Pros and features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in and out, an AC power adapter and DisplayPort. It includes two USB 3.1 Type-A ports — one on the back and one on its face — that let you charge your iPhone even when the dock isn’t connected to your computer.

The Need for Speed
Like the other new T3 products on the market, LaCie‘s 6big and 12big Thunderbolt 3 RAID arrays feature both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 interfaces for Mac- or Windows-based connections.

LaCie 12Big

But as their names imply, the relatively compact “big” line ramps up to 120TB in the 12big desktop tower. The hardware RAID controller and 7200RPM drives inside the12big will give you speeds of up to 2600MB/s, and even 2400MB/s in RAID 5. This will significantly ramp up how quickly you ingest footage or move through an edit or grade in the course of your day (or late night!). Thanks to Thunderbolt 3, multiple streams of ProRes 422 (HQ), ProRes 4444 XQ and uncompressed HD 10-bit and 12-bit video are now much easier to handle at once. Preview render rates also get a welcome boost.

The new Pegasus3 R4, R6 and R8 RAIDs from Promise debuted at Apple’s WWDC 2017 in early June and were designed to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s latest Thunderbolt 3-enabled offerings, which will include the upcoming iMac Pro coming in December. They will deliver 16TB to 80TB of desktop storage and can also sync with the company’s Apollo Cloud personal storage device, which lets you share small clips or low-res review files with a group via mobile devices while in transit. When used with Promise’s SANLink Series, the new Pegasus3 models can also be shared over a LAN.

Lighten the Load on Set
If you regularly work with large media files on set, more than one G-Technology G-Drive ev series drives are likely on your cart. The latest version of the series so popular with DITs has a Thunderbolt 3-enabled drive for improved transfer speeds and an HDMI input so you can daisy-chain the drive and a monitor through a single connection on a laptop. Users of G-Tech ev series drives who need even more robust Thunderbolt 3 RAID on location — say to support multistream 8K and VR — now have another option: the 8-bay G|Speed Shuttle XL with ev Series Bay Adapters that G-Tech introduced at NAB. Shipping this month, it comes in RAID-0, -1, -5, -6 and -10 configurations, includes two T3 ports and ranges in price from $3,999.95 (24TB) to $6,599.95 (60TB).

Sonnet Cfast 2.0 Pro card reader

Transfer Faster on Location
One of the first card readers with a Thunderbolt interface is the SF3 Series — Cfast 2.0 Pro launched in May by Sonnet Technologies. Dual card slots let the reader ingest files simultaneously from Canon, Arri and Blackmagic cameras at concurrent data transfer speeds up to 1,000 MB/s, twice as fast as you can from a USB 3.0 reader. The lightweight, extruded aluminum shell is made to handle as much abuse as you can throw at it.

Stereoscopic-Ready
The Thunderbolt 3 version of Blackmagic’s UltraStudio 4K Extreme resolved two critical obstacles when it began shipping last year: it was finally fast enough to support RGB and stereoscopic footage while working in 4K and it could

Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K Extreme

be connected directly to color correction systems like DaVinci Resolve via its new Thunderbolt 3 port. The 40 Gbps transfer speeds are “fast enough for the most extreme, high bit-depth uncompressed RGB 4K and stereoscopic formats,” says Blackmagic’s Grant Petty.

Blackmagic introduced the UltraStudio HD Mini with Thunderbolt 3 at NAB this year. It adds 3G-SDI and HDMI along with analog connections for 10-bit recording up to 1080p60 and 2K DCI, likely making it the first of its kind. It’s aimed at the live broadcast graphics editing and archiving.

Connect Back to PCI-E and Be Eco-Friendly
OWC makes little black boxes that do two very important things: retrieve your PCI-Express card options, while also helping the planet. The zero emissions Mac and PC technology company began shipping the updated OWC Mercury Helios with Thunderbolt 3 expansion chassis in May. The box includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a PCI-E post, and a Mini DisplayPort, which lets you connect to high-bandwidth NIC cards, HBAs and RAID controllers and add video capture and processing cards and audio production PCIe cards. An energy saver mode also powers it on and off with your computer.

Dailies and post for IFC’s Brockmire

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

Michael Levy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Koon

Now for James Koon…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris Can Wait director Eleanor Coppola

By Iain Blair

There are famous Hollywood dynasties, and then there’s the Coppolas, with such giant talents as Francis, Sofia, Roman, Nic Cage and the late Carmine.

While Eleanor, the matriarch of the clan and Francis’ wife, has long been recognized as a multi-talented artist in her own right, thanks to her acclaimed documentaries and books (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Notes on the Making of Apocalypse Now, Notes on a Life), it’s only recently — at the grand age of 81 — that she’s written, produced and directed her feature film debut, Paris Can Wait.

Eleanor Coppola on set in France.

It stars Oscar-nominee Diane Lane as a woman who unexpectedly takes a trip through France, which reawakens her sense of self and her joie de vivre. At a crossroads in her life, and long married to an inattentive movie producer (Alec Baldwin), she finds herself taking a car trip from Cannes to Paris with a garrulous business associate of her husband. What should be a seven-hour drive turns into a journey of discovery involving mouthwatering meals, spectacular wines and picturesque sights.

Maybe it’s something in the water — or the famed Coppola wine, or her genes — but like her many family members, Eleanor Coppola seems to have a natural gift for capturing visual magic, and the French road trip unfolds like a sun-drenched adventure that makes you want to pack your bags and join the couple immediately.

I recently spoke with Coppola about making the film.

You began directing feature films at an age when most directors have long since retired. What took you so long?
I made documentaries, and my nature is to be an observer, so I never thought about doing a fiction film. But I had this true story, this trip I took with a Frenchman, and it felt like a really good basis for a road movie — and I love road movies — so I began writing it and included all these wonderful, picturesque places we stopped at, and someone suggested that we break down. Then my son said, “You should fix it,” so I gradually added all these textures and colors and flavors that would make it as rich as possible.

I heard it took a long time to write?
I began writing, and once I had the script together I began looking for a director, but I couldn’t quite find the right person. Then one morning at breakfast (my husband) Francis said, “You should direct it.” I’d never thought of directing it myself, so I took classes in directing and acting to prepare, but it ended up taking six years to bring all the elements together.

I assume getting financing was hard?
It was, especially as I’m not only a first-time feature director, but my movie has no aliens, explosions, kidnappings, guns, train wrecks — and nobody dies. It doesn’t have any of the usual elements that bankers want to invest in, so it took a long time to patch together the money — a bit here, a bit there. That was probably the hardest part of the whole thing. You can’t get the actors until you have the financing, and you can’t get the financing until you have the actors. It’s like Catch-22, and you’re caught in this limbo between the two while you try and get it all lined up.

After Francis persuaded you to direct it, did he give you a lot of encouragement and advice?
I asked him a lot about working with actors. I’ve been on so many sets with him and watched him directing, and he was very helpful and supportive, especially when we ran into the usual problems every film has.

I heard that just two weeks into shooting, the actor originally set to play Michael was unable to get out of another project?
Yes, and I was desperate to find a replacement, and it was such short notice. But by some miracle, Alec Baldwin called Francis about something, and he was able to fly over to France at the last moment and fill in. And other things happened. We were going to shoot the opening at the Hotel Majestic in Cannes, but a Saudi Arabian prince arrived and took over the entire hotel, so we had to scramble to find another location.

How long was the shoot?
Just 28 days, so it was a mad dash all over France, especially as we had so many locations I wanted to fit in. Pretty much every day, the AD and the production manager would come over to me after lunch and say, “Okay, you had 20 shots scheduled for today, but we’re going to have to lose four or five of them. Which ones would you like to cut?” So you’re in a constant state of anxiety and wondering if the shots you are getting will even cut together.Since we had so little time and money, we knew that we could never come back to a location if we missed something and that we’d have to cut some stuff out altogether, and there’s the daily race to finish before you lose light, so it was very difficult at times.

Where did you do the post?
All back at our home in Napa Valley, where we have editing and post production facilities all set up at the winery.

You worked with editor Glen Scantlebury, whose credits include Godfather III and Bram Stoker’s Dracula for Francis, Michael Bay’s The Rock, Armageddon and Transformers, Conair, The General’s Daughter and Tomb Raider. What did he bring to the project?
What happened was, I had a French editor who assembled the film while we were there, but it didn’t make financial sense to then bring her back to Napa, so Francis put me together with Glen and we worked really well together. He’s so experienced, but not just cutting these huge films. He’s also cut a lot of indies and smaller films and documentaries, and he did Palo Alto for (my granddaughter) Gia, so he was perfect for this. He didn’t come to France.

What were the main editing challenges?As they say, there are three films you make: the one you wrote, the one you shot and the one you then edit and get onto the screen. It’s always the same challenge of finding the best way of telling the story, and then we screened versions for people to see where any weaknesses were, and then we would go back and try to correct them. Glen is very creative, and he’d come up with fresh ways of dealing with any problems. We ended up spending a couple of months working on it, after he spent an initial month at home doing his own assembly.

I must say, I really enjoyed the editing process more than anything, because you get to relax more and shape the material like clay and mold it in a way you just can’t see when you’re in the middle of shooting it. I love the way you can move scenes around and juxtapose things that suddenly work in a whole new way.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
They’re so important, and can radically alter a scene and the emotions an audience feels. I had the great pleasure of working with sound designer Richard Beggs, who won the Oscar for Apocalypse Now, and who’s done the sound for so many great films, including Rain Man and Harry Potter, and he’s worked with (my daughter) Sofia on some of her films like Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette.

He’s a master of his craft and helped bring the film alive. Also, he recommended the composer Laura Karpman, who’s won several Emmys and worked with Spielberg and John Legend and all sorts of people. Music is really the weakest part for me, because I just don’t know what to do, and like Glen, Laura was just a perfect match for me. The first things she wrote were a little too dark, I felt, as I wanted this to be fun and light, and she totally got it, and also used all these great finger-snaps, and the score just really captures the feeling I wanted. We mixed everything up in Napa as well.

Eleanor Coppola and writer Iain Blair.

Do you want to direct another feature now, or was once enough?
I don’t have anything cooking that I want to make, but I’ve recently made two short story films, and I really enjoyed doing that since I didn’t have to wait for years to get the financing. I shot them in Northern California, and they were a joy to do.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. What’s your advice to a woman who wants to direct?
Well, first off, it’s never too late! (Laughs) Look at me. I’m 81, and this is my first narrative film. Making any film is hard, finding the financing is even harder. Yes, it is a boy’s club, but if you have a story to tell never give up. Women should have a voice.


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.

1stAveMachine makes coffee for Nespresso

People take their coffee very seriously. They want it brewed and served in a certain way, and any aberration could ruin the entire experience. With this in mind, 1stAveMachine and director Roman Rütten showcased the intricate brewing process of the Nespresso VertuoPlus (for agency 360i) in a mysterious way that actually shows little of the machine itself.

“You’re taken on this really interesting journey, and in the end this complex structure collapses into the actual machine, which makes it feel quite slick and sophisticated,” says Rütten. “We’re making the complex, hidden art of coffee-making from the inside look simple.”

1stAveMachine got involved in the project early on. “We really collaborated with the agency to come up with a concept that deconstructs the Nespresso machine and shows coffee brewing in an artistic way,” explains Rütten. “We wanted to inspire and surprise people with visuals that are usually hidden inside a coffee machine.”

Highlighting the inner workings of Nespresso’s VertuoPlus required a bit of creativity since all parties agreed to shoot everything in-camera. “We had to basically create a rig to show something in a way it has never been seen before while working with the real coffee on a macro level in high-speed,” he explains. “It’s just a really fragile process of fine-tuning adjustments, which just adds a lot of variables to the shoot as we’re dealing with real physics. So, you need the patience to keep pushing for the perfect shot. It can come quick or take a little bit longer, but in the end, every shot looked really pretty and very classy when we walked away from it.”

Why not go the visual effects route?  “An in-camera approach may add complexity but also creates a warm and tactile feel,” explains Rütten. “There is something really intimate about working with the product on a macro level like this, which you might not get when strictly using post. A practical approach is more difficult to achieve and replicate which shows a certain level of expertise and craft. This works really well with the Nespresso brand and their level of craft that goes into the development of their products.

The spot was was developed over a period of weeks and shot in two days with a Phantom and Bolt rig. “These were really challenging and long days since we were dealing with real physics at a macro level and just a slight adjustment gives a complete different result,” reports Rütten.

According to the director, embracing the spontaneity and unpredictability of any shoot can lead to such an ultimately rewarding result. “With an interesting creative concept, some unconventional framing and the natural epic-ness of high-speed photography, you get some really stunning results that are quite mesmerizing,” he says. “Every time it’s slightly new and we always learn a lot about how certain rigs perform and physics react. You try to set up the stage with some interesting variables and embrace happy accidents. When no take looks the same, it’s a blessing and curse at the same time. But with the right patience and talented crew, we can push the boundaries, come in with some fresh ideas and try to have a little fun.”

The spot was edited in Adobe Premiere and color graded in Blackmagic Resolve.

Review: Zylight’s IS3 LED lights

By Brady Betzel

I see a lot of footage from all over the world captured on all sorts of cameras and shot in good and bad lighting conditions. Besides camera types and lenses, proper lighting is consistently an area that needs the most attention.

If you troll around YouTube, you will see all sorts of lighting tutorials (some awful, but some outstanding) — some tutorials offer rundowns on what lighting you can get for your budget, from the clamp-style garage lights with LED bulbs that can be purchased at your local Lowe’s, a standard three-piece lighting kit, or even the ever-trendy Kino Flo lights. There are so many choices it’s hard to know what you should be looking at or even why you are choosing things like LED over tungsten or fluorescent.

In this review, I am going to go over the Zylight IS3/c LED light. The “c” in IS3/c stands for the Chimera softbox, which can be purchased with the light.

Recently, I have really been interested in lighting, and a few months back Zylight sent me the IS3/c to try out. Admittedly, I am not a world-famous DP or photographer with extensive experience in lighting. I know my way around a mid-level lighting setup and can get my way through a decent-looking three-light setup, so my apologies if I don’t touch on the difference between the daylight and tungsten foot candle output. Not that footcandles are not interesting subjects, but those can take a while to figure out and are probably best left to a good Lynda.com tutorial, or better yet a physics class on optics and lighting like the one I took in college.

Diving In
The Zylight IS3/c comes with the light head itself, Yoke bar with 5/8-inch baby pin-adapter, some knobs and washers, AC adapter and hanging pouch, safety cable, guide and the Chimera softbox (if you purchased the IS3/c package). Before reading the manual, which would have been the proper thing to do, I immediately opened the box and plugged in the light. It lit up the whole interior of my house at night — think Christmas Vacation when Clark plugged in the Christmas lights (good movie). I saw, in one second, how I could immediately paint a wall (or all of my walls) with the IS3.

The beauty of LED lights is that they are typically lightweight and some can reproduce any color you can dream of while staying cool to the touch. So I wanted to see if I could paint a 15-foot wall chromakey green. With little effort I switched into color mode by flipping the rocker switch on the back of the light, turned the Hue knob until I hit green, and adjusted the saturation to 100% to try and literally paint my wall green with light. It was pretty incredible and dead simple.

The IS3 has a 90-degree beam angle on center with a 120-degree beam angle total (I found multiple specs on this like 95/115-degree beam angle, so this is approximate), has a power consumption of 220 watts max, can be purchased in black and white and is made in the USA. The IS3 has two presets for white light and two presets for color. In white mode the IS3 can output any color temperature between 2500K and 10,000K. The Kelvin range is adjusted in 50K steps. Because LEDs are known for giving off a green tint, there is an adjustment knob to lower or raise the green adjustment. There is also a dimmer knob that allows for dimming with little color shift. In color mode, there are three adjustments: hue, saturation and dimming.

One of the big features among IS3 lights, and Zylight lights in general, is the built-in wireless transmitter that can talk to the Zylink bridge and Zylink iOs app. You can link multiple lights together and control them simultaneously. With the iOs app you can set hue values and even color presets like crossfade, strobe, police and flame. You can run the Zylight by either the AC adapter or rechargeable battery. The outside of the light is built sturdy with a rubberized front and a metal back that doubles as heat dissipation as well. In addition to the Zylink wireless connection, you can use the DMX connection to connect to and control the Zylight.

In the end, the Zylight IS3/c is the soft light as well as wall wash light that I’ve been dreaming of. I was even thinking I could use the IS3 as Christmas lights. I could get a couple IS3s to paint the house red and green.

The Zylight is as easy to configure as any light I have ever used; unfortunately the price doesn’t match its ease of use. It’s pricey. The IS3/c is currently listed on Adorama.com for $2,699, and just the IS3 is $2,389. But you get what you pay for — it’s a professional light that will run 50,000 hours without needing calibration, it weighs 11 pounds and measures 18.5” x 10.75” x 1.9” — and you will most likely not need to replace this light.

If you run a stage show and need to control multiple lights with multiple color combinations quickly, the Zylink wireless bridge and iOs app may be just for you.


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.

David Michôd on directing Brad Pitt’s latest, War Machine

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director David Michôd first burst onto the scene with his 2010 feature film debut Animal Kingdom, a gritty crime drama that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and 10 Australian Film Institute awards. The film was also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver).

David Michôd

Michôd followed that up with his second feature film, The Rover, a dystopian drama set in near future Australia following a global economic collapse. It starred Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.

His new film, War Machine, was inspired by the book “The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” by the late journalist Michael Hastings. It stars Brad Pitt as Glen McMahon, a successful, charismatic four-star general who leaps in like a rock star to command coalition forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by the quagmire of war, his own hubris and a journalist’s no-holds-barred expose.

Joining Pitt in this cautionary tale of the rise and fall of a larger-than-life military hero is a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly.

Michôd also assembled an accomplished team behind the camera, including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, production designer Jo Ford, editor Peter Sciberras and sound designer Sam Petty. War Machine has premiered globally on Netflix and opened in select theaters on May 26.

I recently talked to Michôd, who began his career making short films, about making the film, working with Pitt and his love of post.

What was the type of film you were trying to make with War Machine?
Something that was bat-shit crazy! That’s kind of glib, but it’s true. I’d been looking for a way into a war film for a while, and given my natural sensibilities I thought it would be a dark and menacing rumination on the horrors of war. Then when Plan B gave me Hastings’ book and I just couldn’t put it down. I began to see the film as a much larger thing, although I never lost sight of that kernel of an idea I initially had for a war film.

Suddenly the world around that idea got bigger and wilder and more interesting. I began to see a movie about the entire war machine, a multi-layered story that spanned the sort of hubristic buffoonery at the top levels, and the real impact and grave consequences that had on the troops on the ground. There was this huge chasm between them. So, I wanted to make a film about that absurd delusion at the top, but also the real horrors of war.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning black comedy and the increasingly serious nature of the film?
It was very challenging, but the way to deal with it was to stay true to the tones we’d chosen to use, and to use them to show the huge disconnection between the upper and lower levels of the machine. So, I amplified those two tones — the black comedy and the seriousness of the situation. Where the movie starts to shift tonally is with the intimate scenes around Brad’s character, and that begins with the scenes with his wife, played by Meg Tilly. You start to see something underneath all the braggadocio for the first time. You see the ambitious little boy inside this man through her eyes, and around then the edifice starts to crumble.

What did Brad Pitt bring to his role?
He really got the character and the arc, from this vain, ambitious, comically-heightened general to a tragic figure. Today, these top generals often seem to be more academic, but this guy is more old school — the kind of guy who still thinks he’s like some great WWII general, like a MacArthur or a Patton. Brad loved that concept and really ran with it.

Any surprises working with him?
Not really. When I began writing this, it was under the assumption I’d be writing it for Brad, although it wasn’t guaranteed he’d play it. But that was the plan, and I was excited to write it in this comedic vein for him, as I think he’s been under-used in comedy roles. Usually, they’re just supporting roles here and there, like Burn After Reading and Inglourious Basterds, but this was a chance for him to use that skill set in a much larger way, as I wanted McMahon to be amplified and absurd, yet also sympathetic. I felt we should just swing for the fences and go big and go delusional. I knew he would do a great job with the character, and he did.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The big one was finding the right desert locations to stand in for Afghanistan, as we obviously couldn’t shoot there, and it’s not easy to recreate all its different terrains. We had to find somewhere in that part of the world to shoot, but so much of it now is very volatile. All the old go-to places like Jordan and Morocco are becoming tricky if you’re there for a long time with a high-profile cast. We also needed somewhere with access to all this military gear, and we knew we wouldn’t get any co-operation from the US military.

In the end, we used the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which stands in for Afghanistan, and then we did most of the interiors on London soundstages. We also shot stuff in Paris, Berlin and LA. The great thing about the UAE was that we had access to all the military hardware we needed, and the moment we started shooting there you could just feel the scope of the movie opening up. You’re looking at all the tanks and the Black Hawk helicopters and the hardware, and you start to feel the frighteningly attractive pull of it all, its raw power. I could really understand how if you were in charge of all this machinery, how it could start to make you feel very powerful. It’s a bit like a drug. If any one of these elements had collapsed, we probably couldn’t have made the movie, but it all fell into place.

How tough was the shoot?
We shot over 55 days, and it was tough because you had the heat and dust and so on, but no tougher than usual. Despite its size, it honestly didn’t feel any harder than making any of my shorts. When you’re on set and the clock is ticking, it’s the same anxiety, adrenaline and sense of joy of creating something out of nothing.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, the editing and doing the sound — the whole thing. Like the shoot, we were all over the place doing post. We began cutting in Sydney for four months and then moved up the coast for a while so we could work alongside my sound designer, Sam Petty. Then we moved everything to Goldcrest in London for another four months. The plan was to finish post there, but this movie’s so complex, with so many colors and layers, that we decided to keep working on it and then moved to LA for another four months, and kept cutting there and then went back to London to finish off the music and VFX and other stuff. It ended up being about a year on post.

You cut this film with editor Peter Sciberras. How did that relationship work?
He wasn’t on set, as he feels redundant and in everyone’s way, but he followed us around while we shot so we could talk and I could have a look every day. But I don’t like to pore over my dailies while I’m shooting. We shot Sony CineAlta 4K digital with three cameras often, so there was more footage than he knew what to do with. The big challenge in editing was dealing with that complex, strange triangle between politics, information and tone. The essence of the movie didn’t really change over that year — just the way in which we were framing it. We spent a lot of time getting that framing right.

Can you talk about the importance of the film’s music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the sound design by Sam Petty?
Because we were making a movie about the insanity of war, I wanted it to have that schizophrenic tone, and that fed into how we dealt with all the sound design and music. Sam did an amazing job, and I just love the music that Nick and Warren did, as it really embodies the tone I wanted. Their music drifts in and out of tones and tunes and time with all these layers. Really, it makes no sense, yet it all hangs together. We did the mix at Goldcrest.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a role. Who did them?
BlueBolt in London, and we had a lot, mainly recreating the look of Afghanistan, set extensions, augmentations, clean-up and so on.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
Also at Goldcrest, and it’s so vital now, especially with this brave new world of streaming. The danger is you spend so long on your theatrical grade, yet this is a movie that’s largely going to be streamed. That applied to my last two movies; I spent two weeks doing a beautiful theatrical grade when they were mainly being seen on cable TV. The challenge is for me to pay as much attention in the DI to all the different platforms and formats out there now. It’s a bit mind-boggling.

What’s next?
Not sure. I always come out of a movie feeling like I never want to make another. I need a break to recharge.


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

Behind the Title: Broadcast Management Group’s Todd Mason

NAME: Todd Mason

COMPANY: Broadcast Management Group (BMG) with offices in DC, NYC and LA.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Broadcast Management Group (BMG) is a video production company that focuses on music, news and entertainment events. We work with networks, event companies and digital media companies on multi-camera productions live to air or live to the web. We handle all of the technical design, engineering and management for each production as well as all the crewing, transmissions and overall logistics.

Additionally, we provide creative and editorial solutions as well as broadcast consulting services. We like to think of ourselves as a one-stop-shop for live production.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
CEO and Executive in Charge of Production.

Live streaming for Mashable during SXSW was one recent job for BMG.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
As CEO, I’m involved in all of the day-to-day activity for the company as well as long-term strategic planning and client development. During our live productions, I serve as the executive in charge of production, in which I’m responsible for all aspects of the production. My job is to ensure that everything is running smoothly – from a technical, editorial and personnel perspective – and deal with any last-minute changes.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Like most CEOs, I’m involved in all facets of the company — business development, accounting, marketing, etc. I think people would be surprised by how much of the hands-on work I participate in.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
It’s hard to explain to people outside of the industry, but there’s an adrenaline rush that you get during a live production. That’s my favorite part of the job. At BMG, we like to say that we’re adrenaline junkies.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Being on the road constantly is a challenge for me and my family.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning before everyone else is in the office and there aren’t any distractions.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Growing up I wanted to be a truck driver. I don’t know what it was that drew me to that, but I always told my parents it was something I wanted to do. Luckily, I found television production instead.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
When I was growing up, the church I attended started to televise their weekly church services. I was fascinated by all of the technology and the live production aspect. I was able to negotiate my way into being on the production crew — even though I was younger than the required age limit — and I was immediately hooked.

The Oscars party for IMDb.


CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?

In February, Broadcast Management Group produced a live Oscars Watch Party for IMDb. The program consisted of a 30-minute pre-show, 30-minute post show and a three-hour second screen show that ran concurrent to the Oscars broadcast. The show streamed live on Twitter and Twitch and drew 13 million viewers. After that, we produced live programming for Mashable during SXSW in Austin. Our program streamed live on Twitter and featured interviews with actors, celebrities and musicians. Currently, we’re in the middle of two large consulting projects for TD Ameritrade and Verizon and will be producing some additional live programming at San Diego Comic-Con in July.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
About a year ago, we completed a consulting project for the International Center for Journalists. We built out a full production operation in Karachi, Pakistan at a local university. It was designed to train aspiring journalists and newsroom crews and allow them to hone their craft. It was great to be part of such an ambitious project, especially one that has a positive impact on people’s lives and contributes to the broadcast community as a whole.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone (since I’m always on it), my laptop and Google Drive (which I’ve just learned to love).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
LinkedIn and Facebook mostly.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I do. Mostly whatever comes up in my iTunes playlist.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Excersing and keeping up with my landscaping at home.

Review: Blackmagic’s Ursa Mini 4.6K camera

By David Hurd

I have already tested two of Blackmagic’s cameras, and I found both of them to be a great value for the money. This left me with great expectations for the Ursa Mini 4.6K camera.

The Ursa Mini 4.6K feels like a very solid, well-built camera. I spent 15 years on broadcast sports trucks, and this camera has that rock-solid feel to it, and for only a fraction of the price.

This camera has had some software updates since it was first released. The magenta cast issues with the sensor, which required additional color correction in the first run of cameras is gone, and everything looks great in the camera that I’ve been testing. Even without a global shutter, the rolling shutter on the camera looks great compared to DSLRs and delivers a usable shutter and smooth motion when I tweaked it in FCPX.

David with the Ursa Mini.

I used the flip-out screen outdoors in fairly bright sunlight in a park with some tree cover, and it worked fine for framing and focus. Since you need the screen to control the camera settings, you might want to consider a sun hood if you are in extremely bright locations. This will make the screen non-collapsible, but you really do need to see what you’re doing.

Blackmagic sent me the Ursa Mini 4.6K, EVF (Electric View Finder), along with the follow focus and shoulder pad kits. I used my set of Rokinon prime lenses and my Petroff matte box, rods and follow focus. The Ursa Mini 4.6K, with its solid magnesium body, is manageable for even us older guys. I like the weight and the feel of the camera without the matte box and follow focus for extended hand-held shoots. If I’m using a tripod or a slider, it’s nice to have a matte box and follow focus.

There’s really a lot of stuff going on with this little camera. The shoulder mount works better on tripods with small camera plates. My Miller plate digs into my shoulder a bit, but it’s easy to fix by simply unscrewing my tripod plate while doing handheld.

The rotatable side handle is really nicely done, and it’s easy to adjust it to fit your body. If you’re used to making your own rig, with parts hanging everywhere, the side handle and shoulder pad will give you a welcome feeling of tight control. It also has iris control and LANC control for stop/start.

On the backside of the LCD screen there are several handy controls. In addition to Record, Iris, Focus, and Playback controls, there are two programmable function buttons. These come in very handy and are easy to reach when the LCD screen is closed and you’re using the viewfinder.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the Ursa Mini 4.6K is a compact wonder. It’s small, yet easy to adjust for comfortable viewing. The HD display not only looks great but has a zoom and programmable function buttons on the top the unit, which come in very handy. I like to use the zoom and the peak buttons to check focus with my left hand, while my right hand is on the handle grip. It’s really easy to do without looking.

With my old BMD MFT Cinema camera, a T1.5 Rokinon lens and a Meta-bones speed adapter, I could practically shoot in the dark at 1600 ISO. The Ursa Mini 4.6K is not a great low-light camera; its native 800 ISO can be pushed to 1600 without too much noise in the image, but it really likes stop or two of light.

The Ursa Mini 4.6K has two XLR inputs mounted directly behind the handle on the top of the camera. These two channels of audio can use the onboard mics for scratch audio, or you can plug a microphone into the XLRs.

The nice thing about this camera is that it has phantom power to power your shotgun mics. I recorded a violin performance outdoors with a Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic plugged right into the camera. I used a blimp and dead cat to control the wind noise, and ended up with amazing audio. This camera has the best audio of any BMD camera that I’ve tested.

The controls for the audio levels are under the LCD monitor panel, which makes it kind of hard to adjust when you’re using the viewfinder and the LCD panel is closed, but since the menu, power buttons and media slots are under there as well, you get used to it.

Media Cards
So let’s talk a bit about media. Since my other two Blackmagic cameras use SSD media, I have a HighPoint Rocketstor 5212 Thunderbolt drive dock already installed on my Mac.

After doing some research, I decided to use the 256GB Lexar 3500x CFast cards and their Workflow CR2 Thunderbolt/USB3.0 CFast card reader. They are very reliable cards with a good reputation, which is everything when you’re talking data storage. The upside to these cards is that they are located safely inside the camera and are very small in size. The downside is how often you would have to change them when shooting full-blown 4.6K footage.

I shoot a lot of 4K ProRes HQ footage, which doesn’t create too large of a file; one 256GB card will record about 26 minutes of footage. If you have a DIT on set, it’s no problem, but if you’re a one-man band, you will need a bunch of cards. I’m sure the cards will continue to come down in price over time, making them more attractive cost wise.

There is another solution however, and it’s called the Atoch C2S. It mounts on a short arm and has two slots for SSDs. It has two short cables, which plug into your two CFast slots, and a power cable, which plugs into the base of your battery mount at the back of your camera.

Summing Up
The Ursa Mini 4.6K is as solid as a rock, and it really feels like a serious camera. There is a lot of information available on the LCD monitor, and the touchscreen feature let’s you change settings via touch rather than scrolling through a menu. It’s an outstanding value for the money.


David Hurd is a 40-year industry veteran. He owns David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida.

The A-List: Their Finest director Lone Scherfig

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Lone Scherfig is that rarest of creatives — a respected and prolific female director whose films have been both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Even more amazingly, the Danish-born Scherfig has managed to do that after making the tricky transition from her native tongue to English.

Her 2009 coming-of-age drama An Education won the Audience Award at Sundance and was nominated for three Oscars and eight BAFTAs. Scherfig has since directed another three English-language films: One Day (2011), The Riot Club (2014) and her latest film, Their Finest, which recently screened at the London Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.

Lone Scherfig

Based on Lissa Evans’ novel, “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” Their Finest is a romantic comedy set in wartime London in 1940, when the British ministry turns to propaganda films to boost morale at home. Realizing their films could use “a woman’s touch,” the ministry hires Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) as a scriptwriter in charge of writing the female dialogue. Although her artist husband looks down on her job, Catrin’s natural flair quickly gets her noticed by cynical, witty lead scriptwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin). Catrin and Buckley set out to make an epic feature film based on the Dunkirk rescue starring the gloriously vain, former matinee idol Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and their colorful cast and crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation.

I talked with Scherfig, whose credits also include a range of TV series, such as Taxa (1997), Quiet Waters (1999), Better Times (2004) and, most recently, The Astronaut Wives Club (2015), about making the film, her love of post, and her advice to women wanting to become directors in what is still essentially an all-boys club.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to do a film where all the different layers and all the details and complexities are there, but they’re not obvious. It’s about a time when films were never more important. They really made a difference, and people making them felt a big responsibility. It’s also about how their finest hour really brought out the best in people during wartime. So finding the right tone was very important. It was a matter of life and death, but you also have humor side by side with the horror and tragedy of war, and I love that mixture and I almost always use humor as a way of getting into serious themes and vice versa.

It’s partly a love letter to wartime British cinema. Did it help to have an outsider’s POV?
I don’t know if it helped — but maybe because I don’t have the same nostalgia for the period as many people in England do, I could take a different approach. I do know that all the films of that era have aged really well and still stand up today, and I think that the realism of today’s films is rooted in those movies. The films were honest, always with a strong message, but also subtle in their dialogue and acting. And, of course, some of the best British directors, like David Lean and Carol Reed, started out then. So it was fascinating to me, and this film has a combination of real documentary, fiction from that era, mock-up documentary, real propaganda films and Technicolor within the film, so there are so many stylistic elements and linguistic elements to enjoy. The film had to look really good too.

You have an amazing cast. What did Gemma, Bill and Sam bring to their roles?
They were all so hard working and dedicated. Gemma and Sam were perfectly matched, I felt, and then Bill is this very unusual mix of being a very kind and modest person, but also a great comedian, which is quite rare, because comedy is hard. He’s very experienced and he has great taste and timing. Bill is totally different from Ambrose, the actor he plays, and the Uncle Frank Ambrose he plays in the film-within-the-film. He was a delight.

You shot this partly on location in Wales. How tough was it?
Not at all, and the landscapes are so amazing there. Of course, the sea and locations aren’t the same as the real Dunkirk, but we all felt it didn’t matter as it’s a recreation anyway for the film they’re making.

Where did you do your post, and do you like the post process?
I love post, the calm after the storm, and the whole process of actually making the film. We did the post in Soho in London, which is such a fantastic community. You can just run between editing suites and so on, whereas in Hollywood you have to drive so far between facilities. And as our film takes place in Soho, it was perfect.

Can you talk about working for the first time with editor Lucia Zucchetti, whose many credits include Stephen Frears’ The Queen. Was she on the set?
I don’t like to have any editor on the set. I was trained on film, I edited and was a script supervisor, and it’s far better for the editor to get the raw material without all the influences you get on a set.

Where did you edit? How did that work?
We had offices in Soho. We sent her dailies and I’d drop by as I was shooting, but as a director you can’t get too obsessed with what you’ve already shot. You have to live with it. But you have the security of the editor telling you if something’s wrong or that you need an extra shot and so on. That first assembly is the worst moment! All you see are the mistakes. Then it gradually gets better each day, and then at the end of the edit, it’s small fine-tunings and tiny changes, and then the torch passes to sound and other departments.

As it’s a period piece, you must have needed some VFX?
They were all done by Filmgate in Gothenberg, Sweden, and we did a lot of that work online. It’s the first time I’d worked with them, and they did a very good job. Obviously, the VFX all had to be invisible, and we had a lot of removal and clean up, adding backgrounds, buildings and so on.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s so important, especially in a film like this, with bombs going off and battle scenes and so on. I did a lot of radio drama when I was very young, so I always loved sound. I had the same sound crew — supervising sound editors Glenn Freemantle and Ben Barker at Sound 24 at Pinewood — who did my last four films. I’m really grateful that they fit me in between all the really huge productions they do there, and I love working with them. We recorded all the music in Berlin with composer Rachel Portman.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Pinewood with Adam Inglis, who’s excellent. He’s also very fast, so that gave us more time to experiment a bit with stuff and refine things. I think the Technicolor look of the film is wonderful. For instance, we had two sets of costumes, and for the girls in the pink dresses we were able to make them a much darker pink for one set through the DI in the film-within-a-film scenes.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. What’s your take on the situation? Is it improving or still the same?
We’ll see if all the debate changes things, but it’ll take time. Maybe it’ll be like smoking, where gradually people decided to change their behavior. But for me, it’s more about stories. There should be more stories about women.

What’s your advice to a young woman who wants to direct?
Find your own voice. What can you do that no one else can do? Keep your expenses down, and get as technically good as you can, learn film language and choose your battles!

What’s next?
I’m currently in pre-production on my own script, Secrets from the Russian Tea Room, a contemporary drama with some comedy. I hope to start shooting in New York soon.


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.

Building a workflow for The Great Wall

Bling Digital, which is part of the SIM Group, was called on to help establish the workflow on Legendary/Universal’s The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon as a European mercenary imprisoned within the wall. While being held he sees exactly why the Chinese built this massive barrier in the first place — and it’s otherworldly. This VFX-heavy mystery/fantasy was directed by Yimou Zhang.

We reached out to Bling’s director of workflow services, Jesse Korosi, to talk us through the process on the film, including working with data from the Arri 65, which at that point hadn’t yet been used on a full-length feature film. Bling Digital is a post technology and services provider that specializes in on-set data management, digital dailies, editorial system rentals and data archiving

Jesse Korosi

When did you first get involved on The Great Wall and in what capacity?
Bling received our first call from the unit production manager Kwame Parker about providing on-set data management, dailies, VFX and stereo pulls, Avid rentals and a customized process for the digital workflow for The Great Wall in December of 2014.

At this time the information was pretty vague, but outlined some of the bigger challenges, like the film being shot in multiple locations within China, and that the Arri 65 camera may be used, which had not yet been used on a full-length feature. From this point on I worked with our internal team to figure out exactly how we would tackle such a challenge. This also required a lot of communication with the software developers to ensure that they would be ready to provide updated builds that could support this new camera.

After talks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, the studio and a few other members of production, a big part of my job and anyone on my workflow team is to get involved as early as possible. Therefore our role doesn’t necessarily start on day one of principal photography. We want to get in and start testing and communicating with the rest of the crew well ahead of time so that by the first day, the process runs like a well-oiled machine and the client never has to be concerned with “week-one kinks.”

Why did they opt for the Arri 65 camera and what were some of the challenges you encountered?
Many people who we work with love Arri. The cameras are known for recording beautiful images. For anyone who may not be a huge Arri fan, they might dislike the lower resolution in some of the cameras, but it is very uncommon that someone doesn’t like the final look of the recorded files. Enter the Arri 65, a new camera that can record 6.5K files (6560×3100) and every hour recorded is a whopping 2.8TB per hour.

When dealing with this kind of data consumption, you really need to re-evaluate your pipeline. The cards are not able to be downloaded by traditional card readers — you need to use vaults. Let’s say someone records three hours of footage in a day — that equals 8.7TB of data. If you’re sending that info to another facility even using a 500Mb/s Internet line, that would take 38 hours to send! LTO-ing this kind of media is also dreadfully slow. For The Great Wall we ended up setting up a dedicated LTO area that had eight decks running at any given time.

Aside from data consumption, we faced the challenge of having no dailies software that could even read the files. We worked with Colorfront to get a new build-out that could work, and luckily, after having been through this same ordeal recording Arri Open Gate on Warcraft, we knew how to make this happen and set the client at ease.

Were you on set? Near set? Remote?
Our lab was located in the production office, which also housed editorial. Considering all of the traveling this job entailed, from Beijing and Qingdao to Gansu, we were mostly working remotely. We wanted to be as close to production as possible, but still within a controlled environment.

The dailies set-up was right beside editor Craig Wood’s suite, making for a close-knit workflow with editorial, which was great. Craig would often pull our dailies team into his suite to view how the edit was coming along, which really helped when assessing how the dailies color was working and referencing scenes in the cut when timing pickup shots.

How did you work with the director and DP?
At the start of the show we established some looks with the DP Stuart Dryburgh, ASC. The idea was that we would handle all of the dailies color in the lab. The DIT/DMT would note as much valuable information on set about the conditions that day and we would use our best judgment to fulfill the intended look. During pre-production we used a theatre at the China Film Group studio to screen and review all the test materials and dial in this look.

With our team involved from the very beginning of these color talks, we were able to ensure that decisions made on color and data flow were going to track through each department, all the way to the end of the job. It’s very common for decisions to be made color wise at the start of a job that get lost in the shuffle once production has wrapped. Plus, sometimes there isn’t anyone available who recognizes why certain decisions were made up front when you‘re in the post stage.

Can you talk us through the workflow? 
In terms of workflow, the Arri 65 was recording media onto Codex cards, which were backed up onset with a VaultS. After this media was backed up, the Codex card would be forwarded onto the lab. Within the lab we had a VaultXL that would then be used to back this card up to the internal drive. Unfortunately, you can’t go directly from the card to your working drive, you need to do two separate passes on the card, a “Process” and a “Transfer.”

The Transfer moves the media off the card and onto an internal drive on the Vault. The Process then converts all the native camera files into .ARI files. Once this media is processed and on the internal drive, we were able to move it onto our SAN. From there we were able to run this footage through OSD and make LTO back-ups. We also made additional back-ups to G-Tech GSpeed Studio drives that would be sent back to LA. However, for security purposes as well as efficiency, we encrypted and shipped the bare drives, rather than the entire chassis. This meant that when the drives were received in LA, we were able to mount them into our dock and work directly off of them, i.e no need to wait on any copies.

Another thing that required a lot of back and forth with the DI facility was ensuring that our color pipeline was following the same path they would take once they hit final color. We ended up having input LUTs for any camera that recorded a non-LogC color space. In regards to my involvement, during production in China I had a few members of my team on the ground and I was overseeing things remotely. Once things came back to LA and we were working out of Legendary, I became much more hands-on.

What kind of challenges did providing offline editorial services in China bring, and how did that transition back to LA?
We sent a tech to China to handle the set-up of the offline editorial suites and also had local contacts to assist during the run of the project. Our dailies technicians also helped with certain questions or concerns that came up.

Shipping gear for the Avids is one thing, however shipping consoles (desks) for the editors would have been far too heavy. Therefore this was probably one of the bigger challenges — ensuring the editors were working with the same caliber of workspace they were used to in Los Angeles.

The transition of editorial from China to LA required Dave French, director of post engineering, and his team to mirror the China set-up in LA and have both up and running at the same time to streamline the process. Essentially, the editors needed to stop cutting in China and have the ability to jump on a plane and resume cutting in LA immediately.

Once back in LA, you continued to support VFX, stereo and editorial, correct?
Within the Legendary office we played a major role in building out the technology and workflow behind what was referred to as the Post Hub. This Post Hub was made up of a few different systems all KVM’d into one desk that acted as the control center for VFX and stereo reviews, VFX and stereo pulls and final stereo tweaks. All of this work was controlled by Rachel McIntire, our dailies, VFX and stereo management tech. She was a jack-of-all-trades who played a huge role in making the post workflow so successful.

For the VFX reviews, Rachel and I worked closely with ILM to develop a workflow to ensure that all of the original on set/dailies color metadata would carry into the offline edit from the VFX vendors. It was imperative that during this editing session we could add or remove the color, make adjustments and match exactly what they saw on set, in dailies and in the offline edit. Automating this process through values from the VFX Editors EDL was key.

Looking back on the work provided, what would you have done differently knowing what you know now?
I think the area I would focus on next time around would be upgrading the jobs database. With any job we manage at Bling, we always ensure we keep a log of every file recorded and any metadata that we track. At the time, this was a little weak. Since then, I have been working on overhauling this database and allowing creative to access all camera metadata, script metadata, location data, lens data, etc. in one centralized location. We have just used this on our first job in a client-facing capacity and I think it would have done wonders for our VFX and stereo crews on The Great Wall. It is all too often that people are digging around for information already captured by someone else. I want to make sure there is a central repository for that data.

The A-list — Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

By Iain Blair

Plucky explorers! Exotic locations! A giant ape! It can only mean one thing: King Kong is back… again. This time, the new Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origin of the mythic Kong in an original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

With an all-star cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-winner Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it follows a diverse team of explorers as they venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific — as beautiful as it is treacherous — unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

The legendary Kong was brought to life on a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar-winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.

To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts, his cast and filmmaking team shot across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii — where shooting commenced on October 2015 — on Australia’s Gold Coast and, finally, in Vietnam, where production took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film. Kong: Skull Island was released worldwide in 2D, 3D and IMAX beginning March 10.

I spoke with Vogt-Roberts about making the film and his love of post.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a King Kong movie?
He’s King Kong! But the appeal is also this burden, as you’re playing with film history and this cinematic icon of pop culture. Obviously, the 1933 film is this impeccable genre story, and I’m a huge fan of creature features and people like Ray Harryhausen. I liked the idea of taking my love for all that and then giving it my own point of view, my sense of style and my voice.

With just one feature film credit, you certainly jumped in the deep end with this — pun intended — monster production, full of complex moving parts and cutting-edge VFX. How scary was it?
Every movie is scary because I throw myself totally into it. I vanish from the world. If you asked my friends, they would tell you I completely disappear. Whether it’s big or small, any film’s daunting in that sense. When I began doing shorts and my own stuff, I did shooting, the lighting, the editing and so on, and I thrived off all that new knowledge, so even all the complex VFX stuff wasn’t that scary to me. The truly daunting part is that a film like this is two and a half years of your life! It’s a big sacrifice, but I love a big challenge like this was.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you prepare?
How do you make it special —and relevant in 2017? I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to a challenge, and when I made the jump to The Kings of Summer it really helped train me. But there are certain things that are the same as they always are, such as there’s never enough time or money or daylight. Then there are new things on a movie of this size, such as the sheer endurance you need and things you simply can’t prepare yourself for, like the politics involved, all the logistics and so on. The biggest thing for me was, how do I protect my voice and point of view and make sure my soul is present in the movie when there are so many competing demands? I’m proud of it, because I feel I was able to do that.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Very early on — even before we had the script ready. We had concept artists and began doing previs and discussing all the VFX.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not a huge fan of it. Third Floor did it and it’s a great tool for communicating what’s happening and how you’re going to execute it, but there’s also that danger of feeling like you’re already making the movie before you start shooting it. Think of all the great films like Blade Runner and the early Star Wars films, all shot before they even had previs, whereas now it’s very easy to become too reliant on it; you can see a movie sequence where it just feels like you’re watching previs come to life. It’s lost that sense of life and spontaneity. We only did three previs sequences — some only partially — and I really stressed with the crew that it was only a guide.

Where did you do the post?
It was all done at Pivotal in Burbank, and we began cutting as we shot. The sound mix was done at Skywalker and we did our score in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. I love all aspects of production, but post is where you write the film again and where it ceases being what was on the page and what you wanted it to be. Instead you have to embrace what it wants to be and what it needs to be. I love repurposing things and changing things around and having those 3am breakthroughs! If we moved this and use that shot instead, then we can cut all that.

You had three editors — Richard Pearson, Bob Murawski and Josh Schaeffer. How did that work?
Rick and Bob ran point, and Rick was the lead. Josh was the editor who had done The Kings of Summer with me, and my shorts. He really understands my montages and comedy. It was so great that Rick and Bob were willing to bring him on, and they’re all very different editors with different skills — and all masters of their craft. They weren’t on set, except for Hawaii. Once we were really globe-trotting, they were in LA cutting.

VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jeff White and ILM, who did the majority of the effects work?
He ran the team there, and they’re all amazing. It was a dream come true for me. They’re so good at taking kernels of ideas and turning them into reality. I was able to do revisions as I got new ideas. Creating Kong was the big one, and it was very tricky because the way he moves isn’t totally realistic. It’s very stylized, and Jeff really tapped into my animé and videogame sensibility for all that. We also used Hybride and Rodeo for some shots.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The helicopter sequence was really very difficult, juggling the geography of that, with this 100-foot creature and people spread all over the island, and also the final battle sequence. The VFX team and I constantly asked ourselves, “Have we seen this before? Is it derivative? Is it redundant?” The goal was to always keep it fresh and exciting.

Where did you do the DI?
At Fotokem with colorist Dave Cole who worked on The Lord of the Rings and so many others. I love color, and we did a lot of very unusual stuff for a movie like this, with a lot of saturation.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
A movie never quite turns out the way you hope or think it will, but I love the end result and I feel it represents my voice. I’m very proud of what we did.


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.

Switcher Studio multicam iOS app updated to Version 3.0

Switcher Studio, which makes apps for professional multi-camera productions using iPhones and iPads, has come out with Switcher Studio 3.0.

The new version offers precision control of advanced camera settings with a new menu system featuring sliders for each option. Version 3.0 also includes the addition of “Grey Card” features for quickly matching color between multiple cameras. New slider controls provide users with simple access and control, including zoom accelerator; depth of field, exposure, white-balance, color balance, ISO and shutter speed.

Together, Switcher Studio 3.0 and Switcher Go make up the Switcher Platform for mobile video creators who are actively producing wireless multicam and single-cam live or recorded video productions.

Using Switcher Studio and Switcher Go together, events and pre-planned productions with a fixed Switcher Studio setup can tap into individual creators using Switcher Go to share video from their perspective. Switcher Go’s connection creates a roaming cameraman effect for mobile productions when using the two products together.

Switcher Studio 3.0 is available immediately on a monthly subscription model, and is priced at $25 per month, or for an annual rate of $299. There is also a seven-day free trial available at www.switcherstudio.com.

Dog in the Night director/DP Fletcher Wolfe

By Cory Choy

Silver Sound Showdown Music + Video Festival is unique in two ways. First, it is both a music video festival and battle of the bands at the same time. Second, every year we pair up the Grand Prize-winners, director and band, and produce a music video with them. The budget is determined by the festival’s ticket sales.

I conceived of the festival, which is held each year at Brooklyn Bowl, as a way to both celebrate and promote artistic collaboration between the film and music communities — two crowds that just don’t seem to intersect often enough. One of the most exciting things for me is then working with extremely talented filmmakers and musicians who have more often than not met for the first time at our festival.

Dog in the Night (song written by winning band Side Saddle) was one of our most ambitious videos to date — using a combination of practical and post effects. It was meticulously planned and executed by director/cinematographer Fletcher Wolfe, who was not only a pleasure to work with, but was gracious enough to sit down with me for a discussion about her process and the experience of collaborating.

What was your favorite part of making Dog in the Night?
As a music video director I consider it my first responsibility to get to know the song and its meaning very intimately. This was a great opportunity to stretch that muscle, as it was the first time I was collaborating with musicians who weren’t already close friends. In fact, I hadn’t even met them before the Showdown. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.

What is Dog in the Night about?
The song Dog in the Night is, quite simply, about a time when the singer Ian (a.k.a. Angler Boy) is enamored with a good friend, but that friend doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Of course, anyone who has been in that position (all of us?) knows that it’s never that simple. You can hear him holding out hope, choosing to float between friendship and possibly dating, and torturing himself in the process.

I decided to use dusk in the city to convey that liminal space between relationship labels. I also wanted to play on the nervous and lonely tenor of the track with images of Angler Boy surrounded by darkness, isolated in the pool of light coming from the lure on his head. I had the notion of an anglerfish roaming aimlessly in an abyss, hoping that another angler would find his light and end his loneliness. The ghastly head also shows that he doesn’t feel like he has anything in common with anybody around him except the girl he’s pining after, who he envisions having the same unusual head.

What did you shoot on?
I am a DP by trade, and always shoot the music videos I direct. It’s all one visual storytelling job to me. I shot on my Alexa Mini with a set of Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We used the 16mm lens on the Snorricam in order to see the darkness around him and to distort him to accentuate his frantic wanderings. Every lens in the set weighed in at just 1.25lbs, which is amazing.

The camera and lenses were an ideal pairing, as I love the look of both, and their light weight allowed me to get the rig down to 11lbs in order to get the Snorricam shots. We didn’t have time to build our own custom Snorricam vest, so I found one that was ready to rent at Du-All Camera. The only caveats were that it could only handle up to 11lbs, and the vest was quite large, meaning we needed to find a way to hide the shoulders of the vest under Ian’s wardrobe. So, I took a cue from Requiem for a Dream and used winter clothing to hide the bulky vest. We chose a green and brown puffy vest that held its own shape over the rig-vest, and also suited the character.

I chose a non-standard 1.5:1 aspect ratio, because I felt it suited framing for the anglerfish head. To maximize resolution and minimize data, I shot 3.2K at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and cropped the sides. It’s easy to build custom framelines in the Alexa Mini for accurate framing on set. On the Mini, you can also dial in any frame rate between 0.75-60fps (at 3.2K). Thanks to digital cinema cameras, it’s standard these days to over-crank and have the ability to ramp to slow motion in post. We did do some of that; each time Angler Boy sees Angler Girl, his world turns into slow motion.

In contrast, I wanted his walking around alone to be more frantic, so I did something much less common and undercranked to get a jittery effect. The opening shot was shot at 6fps with a 45-degree shutter, and Ian walked in slow motion to a recording of the track slowed down to quarter-time, so his steps are on the beat. There are some Snorricam shots that were shot at 6fps with a standard 180-degree shutter. I then had Ian spin around to get long motion blur trails of lights around him. I knew exactly what frame rate I wanted for each shot, and we wound up shooting at 6fps, 12fps, 24fps, 48fps and 60fps, each for a different emotion that Angler Boy is having.

Why practical vs. CG for the head?
Even though the fish head is a metaphor for Angler Boy’s emotional state, and is not supposed to be real, I wanted it to absolutely feel real to both the actor and the audience. A practical, and slightly unwieldy, helmet/mask helped Ian find his character. His isolation needed to be tangible, and how much he is drawn to Angler Girl as a kindred spirit needed to be moving. It’s a very endearing and relatable song, and there’s something about homemade, practical effects that checks both those boxes. The lonely pool of light coming from the lure was also an important part of the visuals, and it needed to play naturally on their faces and the fish mask. I wired Lite Gear LEDs into the head, which was the easy part. Our incredibly talented fabricator, Lauren Genutis, had the tough job — fabricating the mask from scratch!

The remaining VFX hurdle then was duplicating the head. We only had the time and money to make one and fit it to both actors with foam inserts. I planned the shots so that you almost never see both actors in the same shot at the same time, which kept the number of composited shots to a minimum. It also served to maintain the emotional disconnect between his reality and hers. When you do see them in the same shot, it’s to punctuate when he almost tells her how he feels. To achieve this I did simple split screens, using the Pen Tool in Premiere to cut the mask around their actions, including when she touches his knee. To be safe, I shot takes where she doesn’t touch his knee, but none of them conveyed what she was trying to tell him. So, I did a little smooshing around of the two shots and some patching of the background to make it so the characters could connect.

Where did you do post?
We were on a very tight budget, so I edited at home, and I always use Adobe Premiere. I went to my usual colorist, Vladimir Kucherov, for the grade. He used Blackmagic Resolve, and I love working with him. He can always see how a frame could be strengthened by a little shaping with vignettes. I’ll finally figure out what nuance is missing, and when I tell him, he’s already started working on that exact thing. That kind of shaping was especially helpful on the day exteriors, since I had hoped for a strong sunset, but instead got two flat, overcast days.

The only place we didn’t see eye to eye on this project was saturation — I asked him to push saturation farther than he normally would advise. I wanted a cartoon-like heightening of Angler Boy’s world and emotions. He’s going through a period in which he’s feeling very deeply, but by the time of writing the song he is able to look back on it and see the humor in how dramatic he was being. I think we’ve all been there.

What did you use VFX for?
Besides having to composite shots of the two actors together, there were just a few other VFX shots, including dolly moves that I stabilized with the Warp Stabilizer plug-in within Premiere. We couldn’t afford a real dolly, so we put a two-foot riser on a Dana Dolly to achieve wide push-ins on Ian singing. We were rushing to catch dusk between rainstorms, and it was tough to level the track on grass.

The final shot is a cartoon night sky composited with a live shot. My very good friend, Julie Gratz of Kaleida Vision, made the sky and animated it. She worked in Adobe After Effects, which communicates seamlessly with Premiere. Julie and I share similar tastes for how unrealistic elements can coexist with a realistic world. She also helped me in prep, giving feedback on storyboards.

Do you like the post process?
I never used to like post. I’ve always loved being on set, in a new place every day, moving physical objects with my hands. But, with each video I direct and edit I get faster and improve my post working style. Now I can say that I really do enjoy spending time alone with my footage, finding all the ways it can convey my ideas. I have fun combining real people and practical effects with the powerful post tools we can access even at home these days. It’s wonderful when people connect with the story, and then ask where I got two anglerfish heads. That makes me feel like a wizard, and who doesn’t like that?! A love of movie magic is why we choose this medium to tell our tales.


Cory Choy, Silver Sound Showdown festival director and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios, produced the video.

A Conversation: Jungle Book’s Oscar-Winner Rob Legato

By Randi Altman

Rob Legato’s resume includes some titles that might be considered among the best visual effects films of all time: Titanic, Avatar, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Apollo 13 and, most recently, The Jungle Book. He has three Oscars to his credit (Titanic, Hugo, The Jungle Book) along with one other nomination (Apollo 13). And while Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator don’t scream effects, he worked on those as well.

While Legato might be one of the most prodigious visual effects supervisors of all time, he never intended for this to be his path. “The magic of movies, in general, was my fascination more than anything else,” he says, and that led to him studying cinematography and directing at Santa Barbara’s Brooks Institute. They provided intensive courses on the intricacies of working with cameras and film.

Rob Legato worked closely with Technicolor and MPC to realize Jon Favreau’s vision for The Jungle Book, which is nominated for a VFX Oscar this year.

It was this technical knowledge that came in handy at his first job, working as a producer at a commercials house. “I knew that bizarre, esoteric end of the business, and that became known among my colleagues.” So when a spot came in that had a visual effect in it, Legato stepped up. “No one knew how to do it, and this was before on-set visual effects supervisors worked on commercials. I grabbed the camera and I figured out a way of doing it.”

After working on commercials, Legato transitioned to longer-form work, specifically television. He started on the second season of The Twilight Zone series, where he got the opportunity to shoot some footage. He was hoping to direct an episode, but the show got cancelled before he had a chance.

Legato then took his experience to Star Trek at a time when they were switching from opticals to a digital post workflow. “There were very few people then who had any kind of visual effects and live-action experience in television. I became second-unit director and ultimately directed a few shows. It was while working on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine that I learned how to mass produce visual effects on as big a scale as television allows, and that led me to Digital Domain.”

It was at Digital Domain where Legato transitioned to films, starting with Interview With the Vampire. He served as visual effects supervisor on this one. “Director Neil Jordan asked me to do the second unit. I got along really well with DP Philippe Roussselot and was able to direct live-action scenes and personally direct and photograph anything that was not live-action related — including the Tom Cruise puppet that looked like he’s bleeding to death.” This led to Apollo 13 on which he was VFX supervisor.

On set for Hugo (L-R): Martin Scorsese, DP Bob Richardson and Rob Legato.

“I thought as a director did, and I thought as a cameraman, so I was able to answer my own questions. This made it easy to communicate with directors and cameramen, and that was my interest. I attacked everything from the perspective of, ‘If I were directing this scene, what would I do?’ It then became easy for me to work with directors who weren’t very fluent in the visual effects side. And because I shot second unit too, especially on Marty Scorsese’s movies, I could determine what the best way of getting that image was. I actually became quite a decent cameraman with all this practice emulating Bob Richardson’s extraordinary work, and I studied the masters (Marty and Bob) and learned how to emulate their work to blend into their sequences seamlessly. I was also able to maximize the smaller dollar amount I was given by designing both second unit direction and cinematography together to maximize my day.”

Ok, let’s dig in a bit deeper with Legato, a card-carrying member of the ASC, and find out how he works with directors, his workflow and his love for trying and helping to create new technology in order to help tell the story.

Over the years you started to embrace virtual production. How has that technology evolved over the years?
When I was working on Harry Potter, I had to previs a sequence for time purposes, and we used a computer. I would tell the CG animators where to put the camera and lights, but there was something missing — a lot of times you get inspired by what’s literally in front of you, which is ever-changing in realtime. We were able to click the mouse and move it where we needed, but it was still missing this other sense of life.

For example, when I did Aviator, I had to shoot the plane crash; something I’d never done before, and I was nervous. It was a Scorsese film, so it was a given that it was to be beautifully designed and photographed. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to blow my opportunity. On Harry Potter and Titanic we had a lot of resources, so we could fix a mistake pretty easily. Here, I had one crack at it, and it had to be a home run.

So I prevised it, but added a realtime live-action pan and tilt wheels so we could operate and react in realtime — so instead of using a mouse, I was basically using what we use on a stage. It was a great way of working. I was doing the entire scene from one vantage point. I then re-staged it, put a different lens on it and shot the same exact scene from another angle. Then I could edit it as you would a real sequence, just as if I had all the same angles I would have if I had photographed it conventionally and produced a full set of multi-angle live-action dailies.

You edit as well?
I love editing. I would operate the shot and then cut it in the Avid, instantly. All of a sudden I was able to build a sequence that had a certain photographic and editorial personality to it — it felt like there was someone quite specific shooting it.

Is that what you did for Avatar?
Yes. Cameron loves to shoot, operate and edit. He has no fear of technology. I told him what I did on Aviator and that I couldn’t afford to add the more expensive, but extremely flexible, motion capture to it. So on Avatar instead of only the camera having live pan and tilt wheels, it could also be hand-held — you could do Steadicam shots, you could do running shots, you could do hand-held things, anything you wanted, including adding a motion capture live performance by an actor. You could easily stage them, or a representation of that character, in any place or scale in the scene, because in Avatar the characters were nine feet tall. You could preview the entire movie in a very free form and analog way. Jim loved the fact he could impart his personality — the way he moves the camera, the way he frames, the way he cuts — and that the CG-created film would bear the unmistakable stamp of his distinctive live-action movies.

You used the “Avatar-way” on Jungle Book, yes?
Yes. It wasn’t until Jungle Book that I could afford the Avatar-way — a full-on stage with a lot of people to man it. I was able to take what I gave to Jim on Avatar and do it myself with the bells and whistles and some improvements that gave it a life-like sensibility of what could have been an animated film. Instead it became a live film because we used a live-action analog methodology of acquiring images and choosing which one was the right, exact moment per the cut.

The idea behind virtual cinematography is that you shoot it like you would a regular movie. All the editors, cameramen or directors who’ve never done this before are now sort of operating the way they would have if it were real. This very flavor and personality starts to rub off on the patina of the film and begins to feel like a real movie; not animated or computer generated one.

Our philosophy on Jungle Book was we would not make the computer camera do anything that a real camera could not do, so we limited the way we could move it and how fast we could move it, so it wouldn’t defy any kind of gravity. That went part and parcel with the animation and movement of the animals and the actor performing stunts that only a human can accomplish.

So you are in a sense limiting what you can do with the technology?
There was an operator behind the camera and behind the wheels, massaging and creating the various compositional choices that generally are not made in a computer. They’re not just setting keyframes, and because somebody’s behind the camera, this sense of live-action-derived movement is consistent from shot to shot to shot. It’s one person doing it, whereas normally on a CG film, there are as many as 50 people who are placing cameras on different characters within the same scene.

You have to come up with these analog methodologies that are all tied together without even really knowing it. Your choices at the end of the day end up being strictly artistic choices. We’d sort of tap into that for Jungle Book and it’s what Jim tapped into when he did Avatar. The only difference between Avatar and our film is that we set our film in an instantly recognizable place so everybody can judge whether it’s photorealistic or not.

When you start a film, do you create your own system or use something off the shelf?
With every film there is a technology advance. I typically take whatever is off-the-shelf and glue it together with something not necessarily designed to work in unison. Each year you perfect it. The only way to really keep on top of technology is by being on the forefront of it, as opposed to waiting for it to come out. Usually, we’re doing things that haven’t been done before, and invariably it causes something new and innovative.

We’re totally revamping what we did on Jungle Book to achieve the same end on my next film for Disney, but we hope to make it that much better, faster and more intuitive. We are also taking advantage of VR tools to make our job easier, more creative and faster. The faster you can create options, the more iterations you get. More iterations get you a better product sooner and help you elevate the art form by taking it to the next level.

Technology is always driven by the story. We ask ourselves what we want to achieve. What kind of shot do we want to create that creates a mood and a tone? Then once we decide what that is, we figure out what technology we need to invent, or coerce into being, to actually produce it. It’s always driven that way. For example, on Titanic, the only way I could tell that story and make these magic transitions from the Titanic to the wreck and from the wreck back to the Titanic, was by controlling the water, which was impossible. We needed to make computer-generated water that looked realistic, so we did.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) BAGHEERA and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CG water was a big problem back then.
But now that’s very commonplace. The water work in Jungle Book is extraordinary compared to the crudeness of what we did on Titanic, but we started on that path, and then over the years other people took over and developed it further.

Getting back to Marty Scorsese, and how you work with him. How does having his complete trust make you better at what you do?
Marty is not as interested in the technical side as Jim is. Jim loves all this stuff, and he likes to tinker and invent. Marty’s not like that. Marty likes to tinker with emotions and explore a performance editorially. His relationship with me is, “I’m not going to micro-manage you. I’m going to tell you what feeling I want to get.” It’s very much like how he would talk to an actor about what a particular scene is about. You then start using your own creativity to come up with the idea he wants, and you call on your own experience and interpretation to realize it. You are totally engaged, and the more engaged you are, the more creative you become in terms of what the director wants to tell his story. Tell me what you want, or even don’t want, and then I’ll fill in the blanks for you.

Marty is an incredible cinema master — it’s not just the performance, it’s not just the camera, it’s not just the edit, it’s all those things working in concert to create something new. His encouragement for somebody like me is to do the same and then only show him something that’s working. He can then put his own creative stamp on it as well once he sees the possibilities properly presented. If it’s good, he’s going to use it. If it’s not good, he’ll tell you why, but he won’t tell you how to if fix it. He’ll tell you why it doesn’t feel right for the scene or what would make it more eloquent. It’s a very soft, artistic push in his direction of the film. I love working with him for this very reason.

You too surround yourself with people you can trust. Can you talk about this for just a second?
I learned early on to surround myself with geniuses. You can’t be afraid of hiring people that are smarter than you are because they bring more to the party. I want to be the lowest common denominator, not the highest. I’ll start with my idea, but if someone else can do it better, I want it to be better. I can show them what I did and tell them to make it better, and they’ll go off and come up with something that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of, or the collusion between you and them creates a new gem.

When I was doing Titanic someone asked me how I did what I did. My answer was that I hired geniuses and told them what I wanted to accomplish creatively. I hire the best I can find, the smartest, and I listen. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the mistake of somebody literally misunderstanding what you meant delivers something that you never thought of. It’s like, “Wow, you completely misunderstood what I said, but I like that better, so we’re going to do that.”

Part and parcel of doing this is that you’re a little fearless. It’s like, “Well, that sounds good. There’s no proof to it, but we’re going to go for it,” as opposed to saying, “Well, no one has done it before so we better not try it. That’s what I learned from Cameron and Marty and Bob Zemeckis. They’re fearless.

Can you mention what you’re working on now, or no?
I’m working on Lion King.

The A-List: The Founder director John Lee Hancock

By Iain Blair

Director, writer and producer John Lee Hancock has carved out a successful career with his ability to tell unlikely but true stories and bring them to life on screen. In 2013, he directed Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, about the prickly relationship between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers and the former’s quest to adapt Travers’ Mary Poppins into a film.

John Lee Hancock on set

In 2009 he made The Blind Side, based on another true story, which he both wrote and directed. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and garnered Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar.

Now Hancock has tackled another true story, albeit one with a far darker protagonist. The Founder is about the birth of McDonald’s and its rise to an international multi-billion-dollar fast food brand. The film tells the true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential, and the film details how Kroc maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.

The film also stars Laura Dern as Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel, John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald, Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s second wife, Joan Smith, and B.J. Novak as Harry Sonneborn, the financial whiz whose franchising innovations led to Kroc being able to wrest control of McDonald’s from the founding brothers.

Based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), the film’s behind-the-camera team includes longtime Hancock collaborators led by Oscar-nominated DP John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, Saving Mr. Banks), production designer Michael Corenblith (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side) and editor Robert Frazen (Enough Said, Synecdoche, New York).

I talked to Hancock about making the film and his workflow.

What do you look for in a project?
I like unusual stories, and this seemed unlikely to me when I first came across it, but Rob Siegel’s a very good writer. I was very intrigued by the character of Ray Kroc and the fact that I was pulling for him for the first half of the script. Then I began to feel confused by his behavior and then actively resenting some of his actions. That’s a tricky thing to pull off in a film, but I felt it was worthwhile doing.

His motivations and character are a lot darker than the protagonists in your last films. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s interesting because it’s the story of McDonald’s first, but it starts out with Kroc and it’s told largely from his end. It’s really the flip side of Banks, in that Travers starts out as someone you’re not sure you like, and is even kind of offensive, but then as you get to know her, you realize the source of her actions and why she is who she is. It’s bittersweet at the end, but it has closure. This ends without that sort of closure and is far more ambiguous. Some people will say Kroc did what he had to do, while others will say he’s a monster.

Either way, Kroc’s another juicy role for Keaton. What did he bring to the ethically challenged Kroc?
He was the first actor I thought of for the role because Michael’s a natural born salesman himself. When he’s excited about an idea, it’s electric and infectious. He has this boyish enthusiasm, and I felt that they both shared that. He’s also a Midwesterner and values hard work, and he’s so good at going to the dark places when needed. We talked a lot about the journey the character takes, in terms of everything from dialogue and behavior to the wardrobe. Michael got it all.

The shoot must have been challenging as you didn’t have a big budget, but it required a ton of locations.
Yes, we shot mainly in Atlanta, with a day in Albuquerque, and we had to build two different McDonald’s locations — the original octagonal one in San Bernardino, California, and a Golden Arches one, and they had to not just serve as different sets but as kitchens, as we were actually cooking in them. That was a lot to deal with for production designer Michael Corenblith, but he figured it all out.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I’ve been blessed to work with really good editors and post crews on all my films.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Frazen.
We edited at Pivotal Post in Burbank. On every film I’m always asked, “Do you want your editor on set with you?” I always say no, because I value their opinion and objectivity, and I think sometimes you’re influenced if you’re on a location watching how the sausage is made. If it’s a really tough shot to get, there’s that sense of maybe I should keep it, even if it doesn’t work or push the story forward.

So I prefer to just talk to them a lot during the shoot, send dailies and they’ll send me cut scenes back. I don’t get too detailed in my notes either. That way, after the shoot, I can come in and watch a complete version of the film with fresh eyes, and then we start the real work. We start working on the pacing and rhythms, the order of the scenes and so on. I’d always admired Rob’s work with Nicole Holofcener, the way he digs deeper into the footage and finds little key bits of behavior, or some mistake he uses in a different way. He brought all that and more to this.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece but it is a period piece. How big a role did VFX play in the film?
A big role. Our VFX were done by a company called Moving Target. There’s always a lot of clean-up and removal of modern stuff. We did some of it with flashback photography, creating old photos and that feel, and there was a lot of background replacement for all the myriad restaurants, as we only had the budget to build one Golden Arches and then had to change parking, foliage, foreground and background for every different city.

We had this leaning telephone pole out front that blocked a lot of our shots, but it was going to cost $30,000 to move it and rewire it underground. Other films probably wouldn’t have blinked, but I decided to erase it in post out of the other shots and embrace it for the first location. I liked the idea that it wasn’t the best piece of property anyway, and Kroc would have to live with it the same way we were.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to a film, and I really love all the minutia of it. I know some directors who are not so involved in all that, but I love all the detail work. I feel that when you’re there for all the little tweaks, when you play it all back in the final mix, your brain isn’t looking for all the tiny details — you can just focus on the overall effect. We mixed at King Soundworks in Van Nuys and did the final mix at Ross 424 Inc.

Where did you do the DI?
At Company 3, with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who does all Schwartzi’s films. I’m pretty involved and John and I discussed the look at length before the shoot. Then, as he was off shooting another movie, we talked more as I did a pass, and then he’d look at it. We wanted it to have a very sunny look to start off, and then get a little darker as it went.

What’s next?
I have three different projects ready to go, so whichever one comes together first.


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 A-List: La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Damien Chazelle may only have three feature films on his short resume, but the 32-year-old is already viewed by Hollywood as an acclaimed auteur and major talent. His latest film, the retro-glamorous musical La La Land, is a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash. That film received five Oscar nominations — including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle — and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

Now officially crowned as this year’s Oscar frontrunner, Lionsgate’s La La Land just scored a stunning total of 14 nominations (including Best Director), matching the record held by All About Eve and Titanic. It also recently scooped up seven Golden Globes, a record for a single movie, as well as a ton of other awards and nominations.

Damien Chazelle

Set in the present, but paying homage to the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who meets aspiring actress, playwright and fan of old movies Mia (Emma Stone). They initially ignore each other, they talk, they fight — but mainly they break out of the conventions of everyday life as they break into song and dance at the drop of a hat and take us on an exuberant journey through their love affair in a movie that’s also an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics. It’s also a love letter to the Los Angeles of Technicolor dreams.

To bring La La Land to life, Chazelle collaborated with a creative team that included director of photography Linus Sandgren (known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy), choreographer Mandy Moore, composer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and editor Tom Cross who cut Whiplash for him.

I recently talked to Chazelle about making the film and his workflow.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the musical is dead have been greatly exaggerated. You obviously love them.
I do, and I also don’t think they’re just escapist fantasies. They usually tell you something about their era, and the idea was to match the tropes of those great old movies — the Fred and Ginger musicals — with modern life and all its demands. I’m a huge fan of all those old musicals, and I drew my inspiration from a wide mix of all the MGM musicals, the Technicolor and CinemaScope ones especially, and then all the films of Jacques Demy. He’s the French New Wave director who made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room in Town. But I was also inspired by ‘90s films about LA that really captured the grandeur of the city, like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Pulp Fiction.

It’s interesting that all your films are so music-driven.
I used to be a jazz drummer — or a wannabe — so a lot of it comes from that. Probably frustrated ambition (laughs).

Is it true that you never used a hand double for Ryan Gosling when he was playing piano?
Completely true. He could play a little bit of basic piano stuff, and he’s definitely musical, but he was adamant right from the start that he would learn all the pieces and play them himself — and he did. He practiced intensely for four months before the shoot, and by the time we shot he could play. There’s no cheating. They’re his hands, even on the close-ups. That’s how committed he was.

The dancing must have been equally demanding for both Ryan and Emma?
It was. They both had a little dance experience — him more than her, I think, but fairly minimal and in different styles than this. So they had to do a lot of rehearsal and training, and Mandy Moore is a great dance instructor as well as a choreographer, so she did both at the same time — training them and building the choreography out of that and what suited each actor and each character. It was all very organic and tailored specifically for them.

The big opening dance sequence with all the cars is such a tour-de-force. Just how tough was that to pull off?
It was very tough. I had an amazing crew, and once we’d found this overpass ramp we had to figure out exactly how to shoot it for real with all these cars of different colors and eras, so there was a ton of insane logistics to deal with. That was going on while Mandy was working on all the choreography, either in the studio or in parking lots, since we couldn’t rehearse that much on location. The last thing to add was the crane. I’d storyboarded the whole sequence and shot a lot of the rehearsals on my iPhone so we could study them and see how we wanted to move the camera with the crane.

There’s been a lot of talk about it being one long uncut sequence. Is it?
No. We designed it to look like one shot but it’s actually three, stitched together invisibly, and we shot it over a weekend.

Talk about working with Linus Sandgren, who used anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to get that glamour look.
We had a great relationship, as every time I had an idea he’d one-up it, and vice-versa. So he really embraced all the challenges and set the tone with his enthusiasm. There was a lot of back and forth before and during the shoot. We wanted the camera to feel like a dancer, to become part of the choreography, to be very energetic, and we had this great Steadicam guy, Ari Robbins. He did amazing work executing these very difficult, fluid shots. I wanted the film to be very anamorphic, and today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1, but Linus thought it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give it the extra scope of those classic films. We talked to Panavision about it, and they actually custom-fit some lenses for us.

Do you like post?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Tell us about working with editor Tom Cross. Was he on the set?
He visited a couple of times, but I think it’s better when editors are not there so they are more objective when they first see the coverage. He starts cutting while I shoot, and then we start. I like to be in the editing room every day, and the big challenge on this was finding the right tone.

While Whiplash was all about punctuated editing so it reflected the tempos and rhythms of the drumming, La La Land is the polar opposite. It’s all about lush curves, and Whiplash is a movie about hard right angles. So on this, it was all about calibrating a lot of details. We had a mass of footage — a lot ended up on the cutting room floor — and while some is heightened fantasy, some is like a realist drama. So we had to find a way for both to coexist, and that involved everything from minute tweaks to total overhauls. We actually cut the whole opening number at one point, then later put it back and dropped other scenes around it. There’s probably no number we didn’t cut at some point, so we tried all possibilities, and it took a while to get the tone and pacing right.

Where did you do the post?
At EPS-Cineworks in Burbank; then on the Fox lot. Justin, the composer, was also there working on score cues next door, and we had our sound team with us for a bit, way before the mix, doing sound design, so it was very collaborative. It was like a mini-factory. Crafty Apes did all the VFX, such as the planetarium sequence and flying through space sequence, as well as the more invisible stuff throughout the film.

Obviously, all the music and sound was crucial?
Yes, and it helped that we had a lot of the score done before we shot. Justin was with us for the edit, and we’d do temp stuff for screenings and then tweak things. I had a great sound team led by Andy Nelson, who were phenomenal. Just like with the VFX, it had to somehow be small and intimate while also being huge and epic. It couldn’t be too glossy, so all the music was recorded acoustically and the vocals are all dry with very little reverb or compression, and we mixed in Atmos at Fox.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did Whiplash for me and she’s very experienced. The DP and her set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot, and then Linus and I’d go in for the DI and alternate on sessions. Our final session was literally 48 hours long non-stop — no sleep, no trips outdoors — as we were so under the wire to finish. But it all turned out great, and I’m very pleased with the look and the final film. It’s the film I wanted to make.

The A-List: Elle director Paul Verhoeven

By Iain Blair

Director Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid to go where most other directors fear to tread, especially in the thorny areas of sex, violence and gender politics. Happy to shock and outrage audiences, and adept at moving effortlessly between genres — and blurring the lines between high and low culture, dreams and reality — Verhoeven has also always possessed a sly sense of humor that percolates just below the surface, even as those audiences are horrified, and mesmerized, by what they see.

After first making a name for himself with 1973’s Oscar-nominated Turkish Delight, Verhoeven became a major Hollywood and international player with such blockbusters as RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. His resume also includes Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Dutch-born Verhoeven returned to European filmmaking in 2006 with Black Book — a fast-paced World War II resistance thriller — and then disappeared. But he’s now back with the acclaimed revenge thriller Elle, which stars Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, middle-aged mother and ruthless CEO of a leading video game company who, in the very opening scene, is violently raped by a masked intruder in her Paris home. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a perverse and thrilling game. Huppert picked up a Golden Globe this year for her performance in the film.

I talked to Verhoeven about making the film and his workflow.

It’s been 10 long years since your last film. What happened?
I just couldn’t find anything that excited me. I tried, but several projects I liked fell apart. In general, the scripts I read weren’t on the level of Black Book, plus I wanted to try something different, so I wrote several books and kept looking.

This film seems at first to be a rape-revenge thriller, but it isn’t just that, is it?
No, certainly not. It was originally going to be set and shot in America and would have been more of a straightforward rape-revenge thriller, but I wanted to make something far more politically incorrect and controversial. Something that examines the strengths of the heroine who lives by her own rules and ultimately gets what she wants. She refuses to be a victim, and in the novel it’s based on she doesn’t go into revenge mode, which would have been a cliché and boring. It goes in another direction, which I found intriguing and liberating, and that’s why I made it. It was unknown territory for me, as it leans so much on the social relationships and the characters themselves. I’d never done that in my whole career.

Is it true you tried to get an American actress, but no one wanted to take it on?
Yes, we tried about six A-list actresses, and they all refused to do it.

So what did Isabelle Huppert bring to the role?
She’s fearless and brings absolute authenticity. We actually met at the start of the project and she was very keen to do the movie. But we thought it’d be set in America, and later my producer said to me, “Why are we fighting to do it in the US? It’s based on a French novel and Isabelle really wants to do it — let’s get her and shoot in Paris.” And he was right. I realize now that I couldn’t have made this movie in America, and that without her in the role the movie would have been a very hard sell. Although you might not sympathize completely with her, you believe her. She made the third act work and be acceptable artistically.

You shot digitally, right?
Yes, on Red Dragons, which I loved. I always had two running, very close together, with a slightly different angle so in the edit you could cut to either since it’s the same movement from the actors. I even used another DP for the “B” camera, so they worked like two “A” cameras.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing in Amsterdam, Holland. Job ter Burg, who cut Black Book for me, worked with me for several months, and then we did the rest of post — the sound mixing, color correction and so on — in Paris, with some stuff in Brussels. We recorded the score in London, so post was very spread out.

Do you like post?
I love it. You’re glad the shoot’s over, with all the stress over budget and schedule, and you can finally relax and make your film. You’re completely free to discuss structure and change anything you want, although we didn’t change much in terms of the scenes and order. The first cut came in at two and a half hours. We eventually cut about 25 minutes because certain scenes didn’t fit with the drama as they were too slow and interrupted the narrative flow and pace. So we did a bit of compression, but we didn’t re-order it.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Right. They were done by Mikros Image in Paris, and there were a lot of small things.  We used VFX to change backgrounds and so on, and VFX were really useful in all the scenes with the cat, because a cat is very difficult to direct (laughs). They do what they want. So some of the shots, like the cat with the bird, are composites with bluescreen. So it was all about improving what we’d shot on the day, and little touches, nothing like the big VFX sequences in RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both so important in film, and you’re trying to find the best atmosphere for each scene. Sometime when you shoot in the street, the traffic’s so loud you have to fix all the dialogue in post. Then finding the right music was crucial, and I had very long talks with Anne Dudley, the English composer who scored Black Book for me, about what we wanted to express, what would work and why. I’m a big fan of Stravinsky, and the unusual way he composed his symphonies, which subverted the norm. I wanted to use both modern electronic music and sounds along with symphonic music.

I prefer to listen to music, like classical, that you don’t necessarily go out and copy, but you understand what it adds to the images. So Anne and I’d listen to Janacek and Stravinsky and others, and slowly it becomes obvious what the score should be. Then she began writing her own music. So during post I would go to London a lot to work on all that with her. For me, once you have the right score, it elevates the movie into a whole new level that the visuals alone can never match.

This is France’s official Oscar entry, and we’re starting awards season. How important are awards to you?
Important, but not as important as the movie. It’s great to get recognition, but I never made a movie thinking about Oscars or awards, and I made this because it’s audacious and different from any other movie.

What’s next? Do we have to wait another 10 years?
(Laughs) No, no! Please, I feel very guilty about that. I should have made at least one, but time passed and suddenly it’s a decade later. Now I’m very aware of my age. I’ll probably be dead if I wait that long again, so I have several projects lined up, some French projects, an American film, and some Dutch ones, and I promise you I’ll say “yes” to one of them soon.


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 A-List: Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan

By Iain Blair

It’s been 16 years since filmmaker and playwright Kenneth Lonergan made his prize-winning debut at Sundance with You Can Count on Me, which he wrote and directed. The film won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and was an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Screenplay.

Lonergan’s most recent film is also garnering award attention. Directed by one of the most distinctive writing talents on the American indie scene today, Manchester by the Sea, fulfills that earlier promise and extends Lonergan’s artistic vision.

Kenneth Lonergan

Both an ensemble piece and an intense character study, Manchester by the Sea tells the story of how the life of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a grieving and solitary Boston janitor, is transformed when he reluctantly returns to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after the sudden death of his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). It’s also the story of the Chandlers, a working-class family living in a Massachusetts fishing village for generations, and a deeply poignant, unexpectedly funny exploration of the power of familial love, community, sacrifice and hope.

Co-produced by Matt Damon, the film from Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios — which received four SAG nominations, a crucial Oscars barometer — has a stellar behind-the-scenes list of collaborators, including DP Jody Lee Lipes (Trainwreck, Martha Marcy May Marlene), editor Jennifer Lame (Mistress America, Paper Towns), composer Lesley Barber (You Can Count on Me) and production designer Ruth De Jong (The Master, The Tree of Life).

I recently spoke with Lonergan about making the film and his workflow.

I heard Matt Damon was very involved in the genesis of this. How did this project come about?
Matt, his producer Chris Moore and John Krasinski were talking on the set of this film they were shooting about ideas for Matt’s directing debut. Matt and John brought me the basic idea and asked me to write it. So, I took some of their suggestions and went off and spent a couple of years working on it and expanding it. I don’t really start off with themes when I write. I always start with characters and stories that seem compelling, and then let the themes emerge as I go, and with this it became about people dealing with terrible loss, with the story of this man who’s carrying a weight that’s just too much to bear. It’s about loss, family and how people cope.

Is it true that Damon was going to star in it originally?
Yes, but what actually happened was that John was going to star and Matt was going to direct it, but then John’s schedule got too busy and then Matt was going to star and direct it, and then he also got too busy, so then I came onboard to also direct.

You ended up with a terrific cast. What did Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges bring to their roles?
Casey’s a truly wonderful actor who brings tremendous emotional depth even without saying much in a scene. He’s very hard working, never has a false moment and really has the ability to navigate through the complicated relationships and in the way he deals with people.

Michelle has a tremendous sense of character and is just brilliant, I think. She brings a beautiful characterization to the film and has to go through some pretty intense emotions. They’re both very generous actors, as there are a lot of people they have to interact with. They’re not show-boaters who just want to get up there and emote. And Lucas is this real find, a very talented young actor just starting out who really captured this character.

You shot this on location all over Cape Ann. How tough was it?
It was a bit grueling, as we shot from March until April and it was pretty cold a lot of the time, especially during prep and scouting in February. We had some schedule and budget pressures, but nothing out of the ordinary. I loved shooting around Cape Ann — the locals were great, and the place really seeped into the film in a way that I’m very happy about.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because of the quiet and the chance to really concentrate on making the film. I also like the lack of administrative duties and the sudden drop in the large number of people I’m responsible for on a set. It’s just you, the editor and editorial staff. Some of the technical finishing procedures can be a bit tiring after you’ve seen the film so many times, but overall post is very enjoyable for me.

I loved my editor, and doing all the sound mixing; it was so much fun putting it all together and seeing the story work, all without the stress of the shoot. You still have pressures, but not on the same scale. We did all the post in New York at Technicolor Postworks, and we worked from May through September so it was a pretty relaxed schedule. We had our basic template done by October, and then we did a bunch of little fixes from that point on so it would be ready for Sundance. Then we did a bit more work on it, but didn’t change much — we added four minutes.

Talk about working with editor Jennifer Lame. Was she on the set?
No, we sent her dailies in New York and we never actually met face-to-face until after the shoot. I had to interview her on the phone when she was in LA working on another job, and we got along right away. She’s a wonderful editor. We began cutting on Avid Media Composer at Technicolor Postworks and then did some over the summer at my rental house in Long Island, where she’d come over and set up. Then we finished up back in New York.

How challenging were all the flashbacks to cut, as they’re quite abrupt?
All the flashbacks were very interesting to put together, but they didn’t really present more of a challenge than anything else because they’re such an intrinsic part of the whole story. We didn’t want to telegraph them and warn the audience by doing them differently. We discussed them a lot. Should they be color-timed differently? Should they be shot differently? Look and sound different?

In the end, we decided they should be indistinguishable from the rest, and it’s mainly only because of the content and behavior that you know they’re flashbacks. They were fun to weave into the story, and the more seamless they were the better we liked it. Jennifer actually pointed out that it was almost like telling two stories, not just one, because that’s how Lee experiences the world. He’s always dealing with memories which pop up when they’re least wanted, and when he returns home to Manchester he’s flooded by memories — for him the past and present are almost the same.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter scenes, so you must have needed some visual effects?
Some, but not that much. Hectic Electric in Amsterdam did them all. We had some snow enhancement, we added some smoke, clean-up and did some adjustments for light and weather, but scenes like the house fire were all real.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s hard to overstate. For me, music has the biggest influence on the feeling of a scene after the acting — even more than the cinematography in how it can instantly change the tone and feeling. You can make it cheerful or sad or ominous or peaceful just with the right music, and it adds all these new layers to the story and goes right to your emotions. So I love working with my composer and finding the right music.

Then I asked [supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer] Jacob Ribicoff to record sounds up in Cape Ann at all our locations — the particular sound of the marina, the woods, the bars — so it was all grounded in reality. The whole idea of post sound, which we did at Technicolor Postworks with Jacob, was to support that verisimilitude. He used Avid Pro Tools. There’s no stylization, and it was also about the ocean and that feeling of never being far from water. So the sound design was all about placing you in this specific environment.

Where did you do the DI?
We did the color correction with Jack Lewars, also at Technicolor Postworks. He did the final grade on Autodesk Flame. We shot digitally but I think the film looks very filmic. They did a great job.

Did it turn out the way you first envisioned it?
Pretty much, but it always changes from the script to the screen, and once you bring in your team and all their contributions and the locations and so on, it just expands in every direction. That’s the magic of movies.


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 A-List: Director Garth Davis on the Oscar-nominated Lion

By Iain Blair

The plot of Lion, the new awards-buzzy Weinstein film, sounds like an over-the-top, completely made-up Hollywood tearjerker — a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) wanders onto a train, falls asleep and wakes up thousands of miles away from his home and family. Frightened, he ends up in chaotic Kolkata. Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls, before ending up in an orphanage.

Eventually, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. As an adult, not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, Saroo (Dev Patel) suppresses his past and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother, but a chance meeting with some fellow Indians re-awakens his buried yearning. Armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination and Google Earth, Saroo sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and Garth Davis.

This true story, adapted from the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, was directed by Emmy Award-nominated Garth Davis (Top of the Lake). The screenplay was by Luke Davies (Candy, Life). The film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category.

I talked to Davis about making the film and his workflow.

This is your first film. What were you looking for in a project?
I’d read a lot of stuff, but I only wanted to make something I was very moved by, scared by, where there was something I could explore and question. I was just so moved by this story and felt there was a lot that I could bring to it. Producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning of See-Saw Films, who did the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, offered it to me at Sundance in 2013. We were there for the world premiere of the TV series Top of the Lake, which I co-directed with Jane Campion for See-Saw. I just had to do it. We got the rights and I began doing research very early on — even before the book came out — and digging into the story in a deeper way, and retracing all the steps in India and Australia.

When you first read this, did you think, ‘No one’s going to believe this. It’s just too Hollywood’?
Yes. That was the big risk of doing it. So the task for me was to make a movie that was a lot more complicated, with a lot more detail, because the basic story was very simple. Luke did a great job with his script in expanding it all. But when I began, I didn’t really have the end game in mind. I was very excited by the story, curious about the characters and also curious about how the miracle came about. It was a great spiritual story as well, which really attracted me.

Photo: Mark RogersYou’ve had successful career directing commercials. How did that prepare you?
They’re great preparation in terms of your practical skills, shooting in lots of complicated situations, dealing with tons of problems — so you get very experienced on set, but also in telling stories succinctly, paring things down to what works and what doesn’t.

You assembled a stellar cast — along with co-star Google Earth — but one of the great challenges must have been finding an Indian boy to play Saroo as a five-year-old?
It was, and we screen-tested thousands of children before we found Sunny. He’s a natural and we got lucky, because children can be good actors from about the age of eight but it’s very difficult to find a five year old capable of acting. But I knew it was important to have a small boy, as it’s visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the big, wide world, and he had this great look behind his eyes; he turned into an actor before our very eyes. And then Nicole and Dev and everyone just got called in by the story — that was the hook.

You shot on location in Kolkata. Was that tough?
Very tough. Absolutely. I enjoy complicated locations, but shooting there’s not for the faint-hearted as you’re dealing with all the crowds, the heat, the pollution, the dust. We kept it as agile as possible, and there’s glory there if you can get it right. But you run into so many problems, like you’re allowed to shoot on this railway platform for three hours, and then you get there, the train arrives, and there are padlocks on every door, so your three hours turn into 40 minutes.

Do you like post?
Love it, as you’re crafting all the way to the end. We did it all in Melbourne at Digital Pictures and Iloura, who did all the VFX. Then we did all the sound at Sound Firm with sound designer Robert Mackenzie. Sound design was very important in this film to the story, and we established a lot of audio maps, all the sounds of nature, and we had a lot of subtle stuff going on.

Tell us about working with editor Alexandre de Franceschi, who’s a frequent collaborator with Jane Campion, and who cut John Curran’s The Painted Veil.
He never came to the set. He was in Sydney while we were shooting and then when I got back, he came up to Melbourne and we began cutting. We watched the assembly and then all the rushes together. This had a special emotional alchemy, so the challenge was to not move too quickly through a sequence or something got lost. We had to honor the emotional arc of the story, so it was a very artistic thing. On the one hand, you had to structure the story, but on the other we had to really pay attention to that arc and it was a very detailed edit. It took us about six months in the end.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Yes, and the main VFX stuff was the butterflies, and the matte painting of the guard running beside the train on the embankment. We had a big problem when we shot that, as they wouldn’t let us take the train out again, and we ended up shooting that scene in the railway yard which was really depressing. But the matte painting worked very well, And then during the edit we decided to combine two Google searches into one, but they were shot at different times in different locations, and Dev was wearing a t-shirt in one and long-sleeved shirt in the other, and Iloura changed the tee to a long-sleeved shirt, which was pretty amazing.

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara star in LIONCan you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love sound because it creates this immersive experience. You can have an interior scene and have sound from 100 meters away, and you may not consciously notice it, but it places it in context. So I decided very early on that the sound design would be crucial on this. So, for instance, when Saroo first wakes up alone on the platform, there’s no sound to create that sense of peril — just the cicadas, which becomes overbearing. And I love music and didn’t want to be afraid of using it.

Where did you do the DI?
At Digital Pictures with colorist Olivier Fontenay. I’ve done so many for the commercials, so I’m pretty experienced. The difference is you’re working with the cinema screen a lot more, doing the sound mix with Dolby Surround, and working with far higher image resolution, which I loved. I’m completely in the world of the movie and I don’t want to leave.

What’s next?
I’ve shot my second film, Mary Magdalene, and we’ll be doing all the post back in Melbourne again where I’m based — the same set up basically. I’m so excited about it.

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 A-List: Collateral Beauty director David Frankel

By Iain Blair

Oscar-winner David Frankel is probably best known for his enormously successful films The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, but the writer/director has an eclectic slate of films under his belt, including The Big Year, Hope Springs and One Chance.

Frankel owns a “Best Short” Oscar for his film Dear Diary, an Emmy for his direction of the miniseries Band of Brothers, and an Emmy nom for the Entourage pilot. In addition, he directed several episodes of Sex and the City, and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

David Frankel

Frankel’s new film, Collateral Beauty, is a drama about a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.  Frankel assembled an all-star cast, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren..

The drama’s behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Maryse Alberti (Creed), editor Andrew Marcus (American Ultra) and composer Theodore Shapiro (Trumbo).

I spoke with Frankel about making the film.

There’s been a lot of mystery about this film and the plot?
Will plays this advertising guy who loses his six-year-old daughter to cancer and he spirals into a deep hole. He’s devastated, he’s divorced, he’s not functioning at work anymore, and everyone tries to help him reconnect, but nothing really works. Then they come up with this wacky scheme, which involves hiring some actors to help him answer the questions he’s asking of the universe. I saw it as this screwball drama — a little crazy — but also very grounded and emotional. There’s a lot of moving moments and tragedy, but I think it’s quite uplifting and hopeful.

useYou got an amazing cast. Any surprises with Will Smith?
He was everything I expected and more. He’s such a risk-taker and keeps challenging himself as an actor. He took on stuff here he’s never done before, and Jacob Latimore was very impressive, really able to hold his own with the others, and there was a very unlikely pairing of actors — Helen Mirren and Michael Peña — that was unexpected and which worked out so well.

You shot this on location all over New York. How tough was it?
People complain about it a lot, but I never do. We shot it in eight weeks. It was great and wherever you go, people would help decorate the streets with Christmas lights and the street vendors would come out, and neighbors would help keep the streets quiet while we shot, so there was all this enthusiasm and great support. And you can’t really fake New York, and I love the fact that wherever you point a camera, it looks amazing.

You shot digitally, but it has a very filmic look.
Right, and I really struggle to see the difference between film and digital now, because digital’s so good. Maryse did a great job. She shot Dear Diary for me 20 years ago, and we quickly picked up where we left off. The goal was to make some very beautiful images and focus on composition and the performances.

Do you enjoy the post process?
I love post because it’s the time of discovery. When you’re shooting, it’s a time of wonder — when you’re scratching your heads for weeks on end and trying to deal with the schedule and budget and all that. Once you’re in post, you finally sit down to start telling the story you want, and when you start solving the puzzles that are in front of you in the cutting room, it’s just so satisfying. We did all the post in New York, and all the cutting at The Post Factory in Tribeca, and then we did all the sound work at the Warner Bros. mixing stage. We also recorded the music and orchestra in New York, so it was very much a New York production.

Talk about working for the first time with editor Andrew Marcus. Was he on the set?
He was on set a lot, and he actually lived just down the street from one of the locations, so he’d stop by a lot and we’d discuss stuff every day. He was so enthusiastic right from the start, and I think he’s quite brilliant. The way I work with editors is to tell them at the wrap party, ‘Pretend I got hit by a bus on the way home and you have to now finish the movie. Don’t just do an assembly and string scenes together.’ The big challenge on this was getting the tone right, as it’s such a strange mix of humor and really heavy drama, and sometimes all in the same scene.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter, so you must have needed some VFX?
Right. We used VFX to add some Christmas decorations, lights, some snow, and we had to do clean-up. Mr. X in New York did all that.

You’ve collaborated with composer Theodore Shapiro a lot. How important is sound and music to you?
It’s huge. I’ve worked with just one composer my whole career, and Ted wrote this beautiful score that’s perfect, because it’s such an emotional movie but it also needed a very restrained score that doesn’t tell you how to feel, and I had the most fun being in the studio with him and trying stuff out. And all the sound design is so crucial to it too —capturing the sounds of New York, the subway trains.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did the DI at Company 3 in Chelsea, with Tim Stipan, who’s a genius. He just did Silence with Scorsese and he has this fantastic eye for storytelling through color. I’m always involved with the DI, but even more so this time as Maryse had to go off to shoot Chappaquiddick, so I did a lot of the sessions with Tim, and it probably ended up a little warmer with me in there.

This is releasing at the same time as this new little film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are you nervous?
No, not at all. It’s good counter-programming. The Devil Wears Prada opened against Superman and did great. I like to think people want choices.


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.

VR Production: A roadmap for stereo 360, AR, VR and beyond

By Beth Marchant

It may still be the Wild West in the emerging virtual reality market, but adapting new and existing tools to recreate production workflows is nothing new for the curious and innovative filmmakers hungry for expanding ways to tell stories.

We asked directors at a large VR studio and at a nimble startup how they are navigating the formats, gear and new pipelines that come with the territory.

Patrick Meegan

Jaunt
Patrick Meegan was the first VR-centric filmmaker hired by Jaunt, a prolific producer of immersive content based in Los Angeles. Now a creative director and director of key content for the company, he will also be helping Jaunt refine and revamp its virtual reality app in the coming months. “I came straight from my MFA at USC’s interactive media program to Jaunt, so I’ve been doing VR since day one there. The nice thing about USC is it has a very robust research lab associated with the film school. I worked with a lot of prototype VR technology while completing my degree and shooting my thesis. I pretty much had a hacker mentality in graduate school but I wanted to work with an engineering and content company that was streamlining the VR process, and I found it here.”

Meegan shot with a custom camera system built with GoPro cameras on those first Jaunt shoots. “They had developed a really nice automated VR stitching and post workflow early on,” he says, “but I’d built my own 360 camera from 16 GoPros in grad school, so it wasn’t so dissimilar from what I was used to.” He’s since been shooting with the company’s purpose-built Jaunt One camera, a ground-up, modular design that includes a set of individual modules optimized with desirable features like global shutter, gunlock for frame sync and improved dynamic range.

Focusing primarily on live-action 3D spherical video but publishing across platforms, Jaunt has produced a range of VR experiences to date that include Doug Limon’s longer-form cinematic serial Invisible, (see VR Post) and short documentaries like Greenpeace’s A Journey to the Arctic and Camp4 Collective’s Home Turf: Iceland. The content is stored in the cloud, mostly to take advantage of scalable cloud-based rendering. “We’re always supporting every platform that’s out there but within the last year, to an increasing degree, we’re focusing more on the more fully immersive Oculus, HTC Vive, Gear VR and Google Daydream experiences,” says Meegan. “We’re increasingly looking at the specs and capabilities of those more robust headsets and will do more of that in 2017. But right now, we’re focused on the core market, which is 360 video.”

invisible

Invisible

When out on the VR directing jobs he bids on through Jaunt’s studios, Meegan typically shoots with a Jaunt One as his primary tool and rotates in other bespoke camera arrays as needed. “We’re still in a place where there is no one camera but many terrific options,” he says. “Jaunt One is a great baseline. But if you want to shoot at night or do aerial, you’ll need to consider any number of custom rigs that blend off-the-shelf cameras and components in different types of arrays. Volumetric and light field video are also on the horizon, as the headsets enable more interaction with the audience. So we’ll continue to work with a range of camera systems here at Jaunt to achieve those things.”

Meegan recently took the Jaunt One and a GoPro drone array to the Amazon Rain Forest to shoot a 10-minute 360-degree film for Conservation International, a non-profit organization with a trifold community, corporate partnership and research approach to saving our planet’s natural resources. An early version of the film screened this November in Marrakech during the UN’s Climate Change Conference and will be in wide release through the Jaunt app in January. “I’ve been impressed that there are real budgets out there for cause-based VR documentaries,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing to infuse in the medium early on, as many did with HD and then 4K. Escaping into a nature-based experience is not an isolating thing — it’s very therapeutic, and most people will never have the means or inclination to go to these places in the first place.”

Pitched as a six-minute documentary, the piece showcases a number of difficult VR camera moves that ended up extending its run. “When we submitted 10-minute cuts to the clients, no one complained about length,” says Meegan. “They just wanted more. Probably half the piece is in motion. We did a lot of cable cams through the jungle, as if you are walking with the indigenous people who live there and encountering wildlife, and also a number of VR firsts, like vertical ascending and descending shots up along these massive trees.”

Tree climbing veterans from shows like Planet Earth were on hand to help set the rigs on high. “These were shots that would take three days to rig into a tree so we could deliver that magical float down through the layers of the forest with the camera. Plus, everything we had to bring into the jungle for the shoot had to fit on tiny planes and canoes. Due to weight limits, we had to cut back on some of the grip equipment we’d originally planned on bringing, like custom cases and riggings to carry and protect the gear from wildlife and the elements. We had to measure everything out to the gram.” Jaunt also customized the cable cam motors to slow down the action of the rigs. “In VR you want to move a lot slower than with a traditional camera so you get a comfortable feel of movement,” says Meegan. “Because people are looking around within the environment, you want to give them time to soak it all in.”

An example of the Jaunt camera at work – Let’s Go Mets!

The isolated nature of the shoot posed an additional challenge: how to keep the cameras rolling, with charging stations, for eight hours at a time. “We did a lot on the front end to determine the best batteries and data storage systems to make that happen,” he says. “And there were many lessons learned that we will start to apply to upcoming work. The post production was more about rig removal and compositing and less about stitching, so for these kinds of documentary shoots, that helps us put more of our resources into the production.”

The future of narrative VR, on the other hand, may have an even steeper learning curve. “What ‘Invisible’ starts to delve into,” explains Meegan, “is how do we tell a more elaborate, longer-form story in VR? Flash back to a year or so ago, when all we thought people could handle in the headset at one time was five or six minutes. At least as headsets get more comfortable — and eventually become untethered — people will become more engaged.” That wire, he believes, is one of VR’s biggest current drawbacks. “Once it goes away, and viewers are no longer reminded they are actually wearing technology, we can finally start to envision longer-form stories.”

As VR production technology matures, Meegan also sees an opening for less tech-savvy filmmakers to join the party. “This field still requires healthy hybrids of creative and technical people, but I think we are starting to see a shift in priorities more toward defining the grammar of storytelling in VR, not just the workflows. These questions are every bit as challenging as the technology, but we need all kinds of filmmakers to engage with them. Coming from a game-design program where you do a lot of iterations, like in visual effects and animation, I think now we can begin to similarly iterate with content.”

The clues to the future may already be in plain sight. “In VR, you can’t cut around performances the way you do when shooting traditional cinema,” says Meegan. “But there’s a lot we can learn from ambient performances in theater, like what the folks at Punchdrunk are doing in Sleep No More immersive live theater experience in New York.” The same goes for the students he worked with recently at USC’s new VR lab, which officially opened this semester.

“I’m really impressed by how young people are able to think around stories in new ways, especially when they come to it without any preconceived notions about the traditional structure of filmmaker-driven perspectives. If we can engage the existing community of cinematic and video game storytellers and get them talking to these new voices, we’ll get the best of both worlds. Our Amazon project reflected that; it was a true blend of veteran nature filmmakers and young kid VR hackers all coming together to tell this beautiful story. That’s when you start to get a really nice dialog of what’s possible in the space.”

Wairua
A former pro skateboarder, director of photography and post pro Jim Geduldick thrives on high-stakes obstacles on the course and on set. He combined both passions as the marketing manager of GoPro’s professional division until this summer, when he returned to his filmmaking roots and co-founded the creative production and technology company Wairua. “In the Maori tradition, the term wairua means a spirit not bound to one body or vessel,” he explains. “It fits the company perfectly because we want to pivot and shape shift. While we’re doing traditional 2D, mixed reality and full-on immersive production, we didn’t want to be called just another VR studio or just a technology studio. If we want to work on robotics and AI for a project, we’ll do that. If we’re doing VR or camera tech, it gives us leeway to do that without being pegged as a service, post or editorial house. We didn’t want to get pigeonholed into a single vertical.”

With his twinned background in camera development and post, Geduldick takes a big-picture approach to every job. “My partner and I both come from working for camera manufacturers, so we know the process that it takes to create the right builds,” he says. “A lot of times we have to build custom solutions for different jobs, whether that be high-speed Phantom set-ups or spherical multicam capture. It leaves us open to experiment with a blend of all the new technology out there, from VR to AR to mixed reality to AI to robotics. But we’re not just one piece of the puzzle; knowing capture through the post pipeline to delivery, we can scale to fit whatever the project needs. And it’s inevitable — the way people are telling stories and will want to tell them will drastically change in the next 10 years.”

Jim Geduldick with a spherical GoPro rig.

Early clients like Ford Motors are already fans of Wairua’s process. One of the new company’s first projects was to bring rally cross racer Ken Block of the Hoonigan Racing Division and his viral Gymkhana video series to VR. The series features Block driving against the clock the Ford Focus RS RX rallycross car he helped design and drove in the 2016 FIA World Rallycross Championship on a racing obstacle course, explaining how he performs extreme stunts like the “insane” and the “train drift” along the way. Part one of Gymkhana Nine VR is now available via the Ford VR app for iOS and Android.

“Those brands that are focused on a younger market are a little more willing to take risks with new content like VR,” Geduldick says. ‘We’re doing our own projects to test our theories and own internal pipelines, and some of those we will pitch to our partners in the future. But the clients who are already reaching out to us are doing so through word of mouth, partly because of our technical reputations but mostly because they’ve seen some of our successful VR work.” Guiding clients during the transition to VR begins with the concept, he says. “Often they are not sure what they want and often you have to consult with them and say, ‘This is what’s available. Are they going for a social reach? Or do you want to push the technology as far as it will go?’ Budgets, of course, determine most of that. If it’s not for a headset experience, it’s usually going to a platform or a custom app.”

Wairua’s kit, as you might expect, is a mix of custom tools and off-the-shelf camera gear and software. “We’re using GoPro cameras and the GoPro Odyssey, which is a Google Jump-ready rig, as well as the Nokia Ozo and other cameras and making different rigs,” he says. “If you’re shooting an interview, maybe you can get away with shooting it single camera on a panohead with one Red Epic with a fisheye lens or a Sony A7s ii. I choose camera systems based on what is the best for the project I’m working on at that moment.”

His advice for seasoned producers and directors — and even film students — transitioning to VR is try before you buy. “Go ahead and purchase the prosumer-level cameras, but don’t worry about buying the bigger spherical capture stuff. Go rent them or borrow them, and test, test, test. So many of the rental houses have great education nights to get you started.”

The shot of NYC was captured by a spherical array shoot on the top of the Empire State Building.

Once you know where your VR business is headed, he suggests, it’s time to invest. “Because of the level that we’re at, we’ve purchased a number of different camera systems, such as Red Epic, Phantom, tons of GoPros and even a Ricoh Theta S camera, which is the perfect small spherical camera for scouting locations. That one is with me in my backpack every time I’m out.”

Geduldick is also using The Foundry’s Cara VR plug-in with Nuke, Kolor’s Autopan Video Pro and Chris Bobotis’s Mettle plug-in for Adobe After Effects. “If you’re serious about VR post and doing your own stitching, and you already use After Effects, Mettle is a terrific thing to have,” he says. A few custom tetrahedral and ambisonic microphones made by the company’s sound design partners and used in elaborate audio arrays, as well as the more affordable Sennheiser Ambeo VR mic, are among Wairua’s go-to audio recording gear. “The latter is one of the more cost-effective tools for spatial audio capture,” says Geduldick.

The idea of always mastering to the best high-resolution archival format available to you still holds true for VR production, he adds. “Do you shoot in 4K just to future-proof it, even if it’s more expensive? That’s still the case for 360 VR and immersive today. Your baseline should always be 4K and you should avoid shooting any resolution less than that. The headsets may not be at 4K resolution per eye yet, but it’s coming soon enough.”

Geduldick does not believe any one segment of expanded reality with take the ultimate prize. “I think it’s silly to create a horse race between augmented reality and virtual reality,” he says. “It’s all going to eventually meld together into immersive storytelling and immersive technology. The headsets are a stopgap. 360 video is a stopgap. They are gateways into what will be and can come in the next five to 10 years, even two years. Yes, some companies will disappear and others will be leaders. Facebook and Google have a lot of money behind it, and the game engine companies also have an advantage. But there is no king yet. There is no one camera or or no single software that will solve all of our problems, and in my opinion, it’s way too soon to be labeling this a movement at all.”

Jim with a GoPro Omni on the Mantis Rover for Gymkhana.

That doesn’t mean that Wairua isn’t already looking well beyond the traditional entertainment marketing and social media space at the VR apps of tomorrow. “We are very excited about industrial, education and health applications,” Geduldick says. “Those are going to be huge, but the money is in advertising and entertainment right now, and the marketing dollars are paying for these new VR experiences. We’re using that income to go right back into R&D and to build these other projects that have the potential to really help people — like cancer patients, veterans and burn victims — and not just dazzle them.”

Geduldick’s advice for early adopters? Embrace failure, absorb everything and get on with it. “The takeaway for every single production you do, whether it be for VR or SD, you should be learning something new and taking that lesson with you to your next project,” he says. “With VR, there’s so much to learn — how the technology can benefit you, how it can hurt you, how it can slow you down as a storyteller and a filmmaker? Don’t listen to everybody; just go out and find out for yourself what works. What works for me won’t necessarily work for someone like Ridley Scott. Just get out there and experiment, learn and collaborate.”

Main Image: A Ford project via Wairua.


Beth Marchant has been covering the production and post industry for 21 years. She was the founding editor-in-chief of Studio/monthly magazine and the co-editor of StudioDaily.com. She continues to write about the industry.

catherine orchard

Derby picks director Catherine Orchard for roster

New York-based production company Derby has added Catherine Orchard to its directorial roster. Formerly a graphic designer and art director, Orchard’s work in the creative departments of various brands and magazines has helped her to develop an eye for strong imagery in combination with humor and lyrical storytelling.

She has worked with a variety of brands and magazines, including Bobbi Brown, Alice + Olivia, Jane, Travel + Leisure and Vibe. Most recently, she has been directing for Loft and Teen Vogue.

We checked in with Brooklyn-based Orchard to find out how she works and what her process is like: “Whenever I start a project, I look at what the existing elements are and break them down to what’s key and what needs to be said or shown. Then I let my imagination wander and take inventory on the many ways to put those particulars into a story. I like having a starting point of knowing the character (so cliché, but how else?!) and then the tone and look follows.”

That goes for any project, she says, whether it be commercial, narrative or experimental. “I’m interested in trying out some of the technical things, like practical lighting tricks, VFX and camera movements if it makes sense for the story’s look and tone. I also do research to sort out what the story might actually look and feel like. Then I revise. That’s usually the way I start each and every one of my projects.”

When asked about a recent job, Orchard talked about working with the kids from Netflix’s Stranger Things for Teen Vogue. “We had less than one hour to film, so I thought playing a game of charades would be fun — they made up their own dreams and nightmares. I should mention that serving candy to kids at 9am is a very cheap trick, but it worked!”

While Orchard hasn’t yet helmed a job for Derby, future projects can be expected to come from her in early 2017.  Orchard joins Derby’s directorial roster, which includes Lucas Borrás, Nickolas Duarte, The Bozzwicks and John Poliquin. Since the company launched in the fall of 2015, Derby has produced campaigns with its agency and brand partners for Listerine, Lucky Charms, Johnson & Johnson, Sauza, Erno Laszlo and others.

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.


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.

AJA’s Ki Pro Ultra v2.0 supports Avid DNxHD

AJA has released 2.0 firmware for its Ki Pro Ultra — a portable, file-based 4K/UltraHD/2K/HD video recorder and player with a built-in LCD monitor — adding Avid DNxHD support to the device.

Available now as a free software download, Ki Pro Ultra v2.0 allows users to record and playback Avid DNxHD .mov files, which helps expand production workflows.

Ki Pro Ultra v2.0 software now supports Avid DNxHD codecs — DNxHD HQX (220x); DNxHD SQ (145); and DNxHD LB (36), and these video frame rates — 1080p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97; 1080i 25, 29.97; 1080PsF 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97; and 720p 50, 59.94.

“This latest free firmware release ensures compatibility between files recorded by Ki Pro Ultra, Ki Pro Rack and Ki Pro Mini products for Avid workflows, offering customers expanded flexibility and support across video and audio production workflows,” says Nick Rashby, president of AJA.

Additionally, Ki Pro Ultra, Ki Pro Rack and Ki Pro Quad all also now include Ki Protect, a feature that helps ensure data integrity if a media drive is accidentally removed or loses power during recording. The Ki Protect feature automatically pre-allocates recording space on the media drive for video, audio and timecode when the record button is pressed. While recording, the file header is continuously updated every time new data is written, minimizing any potential data loss if operations are interrupted. Frames already recorded will be preserved and are recoverable, providing greater piece of mind on set and in the studio.

Quick Chat: Josh Haynie Light Iron’s VP of US operations

Post services company Light Iron has named veteran post pro Josh Haynie to VP of US operations, a newly created position. Based in Light Iron’s Hollywood facility, Haynie will be responsible for leveraging the company’s resources across Los Angeles, New York, New Orleans and future locations.

Haynie joins Light Iron after 13 years at Efilm, where, as managing director, he maintained direct responsibility for all aspects of the company’s operations, including EC3 (on-location services), facility dailies, trailers, digital intermediate, home video and restoration. He managed a team of 100-plus employees. Previously, Haynie held positions at Sunset Digital, Octane/Lightning Dubs and other production and post companies. Haynie is an associate member of the ASC and is also actively involved in the HPA, SMPTE, and VES.

“From the expansion of Light Iron’s episodic services and New York facilities to the development of the color science in the new Millennium DXL camera, it is clear that the integration of Panavision and Light Iron brings significant benefits to clients,” says Haynie.

He was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some of our questions…

Your title hints Light Iron opening up in new territories. Can you talk about this ? What is happening in the industry that this makes sense?
We want to be strategically located near the multiple Panavision locations. Productions and filmmakers need the expertise and familiarity of Light Iron resources in the region with the security and stability of a solid infrastructure. Projects often have splinter and multiple units in various locations, and they demand a workflow continuity in these disparate locations. We can help facilitate projects working in those various regions and offer unparalleled support and guidance.

What do you hope to accomplish in your first 6 to 12 months? What are your goals for Light Iron?
I want to learn from this very agile team of professionals and bring in operational and workflow options to the rapidly changing production/post production convergence we are all encountering. We have a very solid footing in LA, NY and NOLA. I want to ensure that each unit is working together using effective skills and technology to collaborate and allow filmmakers creative freedom. My goal is to help navigate this team though the traditional growth patterns as well as the unpredictable challenges that lie ahead in the emerging market.

You have a wealth of DI experience and knowledge. How has DI changed over the years?
The change depends on the elevation. From a very high level, it was the same simple process for many years: shoot, edit, scan, VFX, color — and our hero was always a film print. Flying lower, we have seen massive shifts in technology that have re-written the play books. The DI really starts in the camera testing phase and begins to mature during the production photography stage. The importance of look setting, dailies and VFX collaboration take on a whole new meaning with each day of shooting.

The image data that is captured needs to be available for near set cutting while VFX elements are being pulled within a few short days of photography. This image data needs to be light and nimble, albeit massive in file size and run time. The turnarounds are shrinking in the feature space exponentially. We are experiencing international collaboration on the finish and color of each project, and the final render dates are increasingly close to worldwide release dates. We are now seeing a tipping point like we encountered a few years back when we asked ourselves, “Is the hero a print or DCP?” Today, we are at the next hero question, DCP or HDR?

Do you have any advice for younger DI artists based on your history?
I think it is always good to learn from the past and understand how we got here. I would say younger artists need to aggressively educate themselves on workflow, technology, and collaboration. Each craft in the journey has experienced rapid evolvement in the last few years. There are many outlets to learn about the latest capture, edit, VFX, sound and distribution techniques being offered, and that research time needs to be on everyone’s daily task list. Seeking out new emerging creative talent is critical learning at this stage as well. Everyday a filmmaker is formulating a vision that is new to the world. We are fortunate here at Light Iron to work with these emerging filmmakers who share the same passion for taking that bold next step in storytelling.

The A-List — Director Ed Zwick talks Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Iain Blair

Director, screenwriter and producer Ed Zwick got his start in television as co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning series Thirtysomething. His feature film career kicked off when he directed the Rob Lowe/Demi Moore vehicle, About Last Night. Zwick went on to direct the Academy Award-winning films Glory and Legends of the Fall. 

Zwick also produced the Oscar-nominated I Am Sam, as well as Traffic — winner of two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards — directed by Steven Soderbergh. He won an Academy Award as a producer of 1999’s Best Picture, Shakespeare in Love.

Ed Zwick

His latest film, Paramount’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, reunites him with his The Last Samurai star Tom Cruise. It’s an action-packed follow-up to 2012’s Jack Reacher hit that grossed over $200 million in worldwide box office.

The set-up? Years after resigning command of an elite military police unit, the nomadic, righter-of-wrongs Reacher is drawn back into the life he left behind when his friend and successor, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), is framed for espionage. Naturally, Reacher will stop at nothing to prove her innocence and to expose the real perpetrators behind the killings of his former soldiers. Mayhem quickly ensues, helped along with plenty of crazy stunts and cutting-edge VFX.

I recently chatted with Zwick about making the film.

You’ve worked in so many genres, but this is your first crime thriller. 
I’ve always loved crime thrillers — especially films like Three Days of the Condor and Bullitt where the characters and their relationships are far more important than the action. That’s where I tried to take this.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackTom Cruise is famous for being a perfectionist and doing all his own stunts when possible. Any surprises re-teaming with him?
Yeah, I always say the most boring job on set is being Tom’s stunt double. Tom is a perfectionist and he loves to be involved in every aspect of the production, so no surprises there. He has such a great love for all the different genres, but a particular love for action films and thrillers. It was very important for him that he didn’t do something that was like all the other films out there. I think we all felt that superhero fatigue has been setting in, so the idea was to do things on a more human scale, and make it more realistic and authentic, both with the characters and with the action.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
We shot it all in New Orleans, and it’s a road movie. So we had to shoot Washington, DC, there too, and create a cross-country journey with different airports and so on. We did all of that with some sleight of hand and extensions and VFX. I think it’s also a challenge to come up with new settings for action pieces we haven’t seen before, and that’s where the parade and rooftop sequences in New Orleans come in, along with the fight on the plane. The book it’s based on is set in LA and DC, but they’re both tough to shoot in, and with the great tax breaks in Louisiana and all the great locations, it made sense to shoot there.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackEvery shoot is tough, but it was pretty straightforward on this, though shutting down the whole French Quarter took some doing —  but all the city officials were so helpful. The rooftop stuff was very challenging to do, and we did a lot of prep and began on post right away, on day one.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I can sit there with a cup of coffee and my editor and rewrite the entire script as much as I can. It’s the best part and most creative part of the whole process.

Where did you post?
We did it all in LA. We just set up some offices in Santa Monica where I live and did all the editorial there.

You’ve typically worked with Steve Rosenblum, but you edited this film with Billy Weber, who’s been nominated twice for Oscars (Top Gun, The Thin Red Line) and whose credits include The Warriors, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beverly Hills Cop II, Midnight Run and The Tree of Life, among others. How did that relationship work?
Steve wasn’t available so I asked him, ‘Who can I hire that you’d be jealous of?’ He said, ‘There’s only one person — Billy Weber. He’s your guy.’ He was right. Billy’s legendary and has cut so many great movies for directors like Terrence Malik, Tony Scott, Walter Hill, Martin Brest, Tim Burton, and he’s a prince. I love editing, and I loved working with him. He’s a great collaborator, and I was very open to all his ideas.Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

He came to New Orleans and we set up a cutting room there and he did the assembly there as we shot. Then we moved back to LA. Billy lives on the other side of town, so to beat the traffic we’d start every day at 6am and wrap at 3pm. It was a great system.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love working with the audio, and Henry Jackman did a great, classic-modern score. It was crucial, not just for all the action, but for some of the quieter moments. Then we mixed the sound at Fox, with Andy Nelson who’s now done 10 of my movies.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a big role.
You’re right, and we didn’t want it to look like there was a ton of CG work. In the end, we had well over 200 shots, including stuff like the Capitol Dome in DC in the background and tons of bullet hits on cars and enhancements. But I didn’t want all the VFX to be at all noticeable. Lola and Flash Film Works did the work, and often today where you need bullet hits on a car, it’s far cheaper and more time-effective to add them in post, so there was a lot of that.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
We did it at Company 3 in Santa Monica with colorist Stephen Nakamura, who is brilliant. We went for a natural look but also enhanced some of the dramatic scenes [via Resolve]. It’s remarkable what you can do now in the DI, and as we shot on film I wanted to preserve some of that real film look, so I think it’s a light touch, but also a sophisticated one in the DI.

What’s next?
I don’t have anything lined up, so I’m taking a break.


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.

Rotolight Anova Pro LEDs shipping with updated feature set

The Anova Pro, from British LED lighting company Rotolight, is now shipping with an enhanced feature set for use in studios and on location. Featuring five patented effects, the Anova Pro includes CineSFX, which provides customizable cinematic lighting, including common effects like fire, lightning, TV, film, neon and spark simulation, and more novel effects, such as police, paparazzi and gunshot visual effects. CineSFX can now be used with a wired remote trigger for wireless as well.

The light also includes FX Slave, enabling CineSFX effects to be slaved to up to 512 third-party light sources in realtime with zero latency; True Aperture Dimming, which calculates and displays F-stop for a subject at a given distance; Designer Fade, which provides custom fade up/down production effects; and High Speed Sync Flash, providing a powerful HSS flash with zero recycle time at 150 percent of the maximum continuous light output for traditional photographic workflows.

DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, on set, with the Rotolight, and his dog!

Recently, DP Roy H. Wagner, ASC, (Ray Donovan, Elementary, House) met a long-term goal using a Rotolight system. “I’ve often spoken of simplicity of image creation and had wished to do a feature with just one light and one lens. Of course, this seldom happens, but I was given the encouragement to do just that on an independent feature, Trouble Sleeping. I chose the Rotolight system to pursue this goal for it had proven to me that it could accurately reproduce the color and power that I needed.

“It survived the rough handling of the everyday professional production crews who have very little time to ‘baby’ any equipment, and it was easily controllable from the back of the unit or from my iPhone,” he continues. “LED lighting is also very tough on actors’ eyes, but Rotolight has found a way of filtering that notch of blue wavelength that is harsh and difficult on the eyes. My crew was also pleased with how easily controlled and mounted the units are.”

Hands of Stone DP and colorist weigh in on film’s look and feel

By Randi Altman

“No mas! No mas!” Those famous words were uttered in desperation by legendary fighter Roberto Durán, putting an end to his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard. But before that, Durán had impressively defeated the charismatic Sugar Ray, capturing the WBC welterweight title. Durán’s story — along with that of his trainer Ray Arcel — was recently told in The Weinstein Company’s feature Hands of Stone.

Written and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film’s DP was Miguel Ioan Littin Menz. He worked very closely with director Jakubowicz and FotoKem colorist Kostas Theodosiou to develop several different looks for the film, including for the different decades in which the story takes place, boxing versus training scenes in different locations (New York, Panama, Las Vegas) and flashback scenes.

Robert De Niro and Edgar Ramírez star in HANDS OF STONEThe film stars Édgar Ramírez as Duran, Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel.

We were lucky enough to get some time from both Littin Menz and Theodosiou, albeit separately, for questions. First we caught up with Theodosiou.
Enjoy.

How early did you get involved with the film?
Theodosiou: Prior to my involvement in the project, FotoKem’s nextLAB was on location and involved in dailies acquisition and management. However, I started working with the filmmakers at the editorial stage, after the shoot was finished.

What kind of overall look/looks did the director and DP have in mind for the film, and how did they share that vision with you?
Theodosiou: Both the director Jonathan Jakubowicz and the director of photography Miguel Ioan Litten Menz were very hands-on. They supervised each session to make sure we created looks that best suited all the different time periods, as well as the variety of locations used in the production. The story involved multiple locations, including Panama, New York and Las Vegas.

Nearly every scene was shot on location to maintain authenticity, and it was important that we were true to the look and feel of each location. Jonathan and Miguel explained in detail what they wanted to achieve visually, so we created a unique look for each location.

kostas

Kostas Theodosiou

In addition, the story took us through many different time periods that spanned Roberto Duran’s life — from childhood through his entire career. Each time period also required a different treatment to establish its place in time. Every look we created had a purpose and is in the film for a reason. As a result, there are many different looks in this movie, but they all worked together to help tell the story.

You called on Resolve for this film. Can you talk about the tool and how it helps you in your work?
Theodosiou: Resolve is a great platform and allowed me to mix footage that was shot using a variety of different cameras, lenses and aspect ratios. The tools in Resolve helped me blend the footage seamlessly to enhance the filmmakers’ vision, and the results surpassed their expectations.

You mentioned that both the director and DP were in the room with you?
Theodosiou: Yes, Miguel and Jonathan were supervising the color correction from beginning to end. We all had great chemistry and worked together as a team. This was Jonathan’s passion project and he was very invested in the film, so he was deeply involved in the finishing process. And Miguel flew in from Chile to make sure he was here with us.

In the final stages of making the film, additional scenes were added and both filmmakers returned to FotoKem to work with me to make sure the new extended scenes fit in with the mood they were trying to portray. It was a very hands-on experience.

Now let’s hear from DP Miguel Ioan Litten Menz:

What were your first meetings like with Kostas?
Littin Menz: I was very pleased to hear that the color correction was to be done at FotoKem in Los Angeles. We chose Kostas because of his background — he’s worked for Paul Thomas Anderson; Robert Elswit, ASC; Christopher Nolan; and Hoyte van Hoytema, ASC. Since the first meeting, the connection and conversation about aesthetic was immediately understood. Our ideas and feelings about how to adjust the palette of colors for the final look of the film were in sync. He did marvelous work.

director-and-dp

Jonathan Jakubowicz and Miguel Ioan Littin Menz.

What was the general overall look the director had in mind for the film and how did he communicate that to you?
Littin Menz: In general, Jonathan talked about creating different looks between Panama and New York, and at the same time creating a look where you can feel an epic and intimate story at the same time. We want the audience to feel the wild, powerful and sensual colors around Roberto Durán’s life in Panama, and more plain, elegant and sober colors around Ray Arcel’s life in New York. In our research, we looked at thousands of photographs from sports magazines from that period, and also many documentaries.

And for my personal research, I again read Norman Mailer’s book “The Fight” and Jack London’s “The Mexican.”

How would you describe the different looks and feel of the film — decade by decade, location by location?
Littin Menz: I worked very closely with Tomás Voth, the production designer, who did amazing work. We described two very different worlds — Duran’s life in Panama and Ray Arcel’s in New York — so as a general concept we tried to create eclectic and powerful palates of colors for Duran’s life, to mimic his real personality.

For Ray Arcel, we used colors that were more serene and elegant, like he was throughout his entire life. Sometimes I used warm colors to evoke nostalgic times for Ray Arcel, and sometimes cool colors appeared in the sad times for both Duran and Arcel. Decade by decade, from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, we created different looks for timeline reasons but also as part of the intimate space for each character.

What cameras did you use, and why did you opt for three different ones? How did that affect the look and the grade?
Littin Menz: We relied on two Alexa XTs, one Alexa M and three Blackmagic cameras for VFX purposes. One of the Alexas, the B camera, was always prepared for the Steadicam. The C camera and the Alexa M were used for the fights. Also, we used Anamorphic Hawk V Lite Lenses. Kostas was thorough in making sure everything from the different shoots matched.

Can you talk about the shoot? Was there a DIT? If so, what role did they play? And what kind of on-set monitors were you using?
Littin Menz: The DIT was there mostly for making the back-ups and dailies. It was a lot of material every day. We also created LUTs for some scenes. The monitors were Asus VS197D-P 18.5-inch for video assist and a Flanders Scientific for the DIT station.

Was there anything unique or challenging about it that you are particularly proud of?
Littin Menz: On the technical side, it was very challenging to reproduce the big spaces and fights, in places like the Madison Square Garden in New York through three decades, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal and the Superdome in New Orleans, but I think we did it successfully.

Some of my favorite scenes were those of Durán when he was a kid in “El Chorrillo,” the poor neighborhood where he lived. We never forgot that the principal idea for the film was to tell the story through the clear and transparent eyes of that child — the story of a child who came from one of poorest neighborhoods of Latin America and became a world champion. I’m very proud to have been a part of this project.

Timecode’s :Pulse for multicamera sync and control now available

Timecode Systems, which makes wireless technologies for sharing timecode and metadata, has made its :Pulse multi camera sync and control product available for purchase.

Powered by the company’s robust Blink RF protocol, the :Pulse offers wireless sync and remote device control capability in one product. Used in its simplest form, the :Pulse is a highly accurate timecode, genlock and word clock generator with an integrated RF transceiver to ensure solid synchronization with zero drift between timecode sources.

As well as being a hub for timecode and metadata exchange, it’s also a center for wirelessly controlling devices on multicamera shoots. With a :Pulse set as the timecode master unit, users can activate the device’s integral Wi-Fi or add a wired connection to the Ethernet port to open the free, multiplatform Blink Hub app on their smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Enabled by the Blink RF protocol, the Blink Hub app allows users to not only centrally monitor and control all Timecode Systems timecode sources on set, but also any compatible camera and audio equipment to which they are connected.

Timecode Systems has already developed a bespoke remote device control solution for Sound Devices 6-Series mixer/recorders and is working on adding to the :Pulse the capability to control GoPro, Arri and Red cameras remotely via the Blink Hub app.

“With the production of the SyncBac Pro, our embedded timecode sync accessory for GoPro cameras, now in full flow, we’re very close to launching remote control of Hero4 Silver and Black cameras,” says CEO Paul Scurrell. “Using either the :Pulse’s Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection into the :Pulse, SyncBac Pro users will be able to connect their GoPro Hero4 Black and Silver cameras to the Blink Hub app. This, among other things, unlocks the capability to put a GoPro to sleep remotely and then start recording again from the app when the action starts again. It’s a great way to save the camera’s battery life when it’s gear-mounted or rigged somewhere inaccessible.”