Category Archives: on-set

AJA intros new 2TB Pak 2000 SSD recording media

AJA has expanded its line of Pak SSD media with the new 2TB Pak 2000 for Ki Pro Ultra and Ki Pro Ultra Plus recording and playback systems. The company also announced new ordering options for the entire Pak drive family, including HFS+ formatting for Mac OS users and exFAT for PC and universal use.

“With productions embracing high resolution, high frame rate and multi-cam workflows, media storage is a key concern. Pak 2000 introduces a high capacity recording option at a lower cost per GB,” says AJA president Nick Rashby. “Our new HFS+ and exFat options give customers greater flexibility with formatting upon ordering that fits their workflow demands.”

Pak 2000 offers longer recording capacity required for documentaries, news, sports programming and live events, making it suitable for multi-camera HD workflows with the Ki Pro Ultra Plus’s multi-channel HD recording capabilities. The high capacity drive can hold more than four hours of 4K/UltraHD ProRes (HQ), three hours of ProRes 4444 at 30p and up to two hours ProRes (HQ) or 90 minutes of ProRes 4444 at 60p.

Users can get double that length with two Pak drives and rollover support in Ki Pro Ultra and Ki Pro Ultra Plus.

The Pak 2000, and all Pak SSD media modules are now available for order in the following formats and prices:
– Pak 2000-R0 2TB HFS+: $1,795
– Pak 2000-X0 2TB exFAT: $1,795
– Pak 1000-R0 1TB HFS+: $1,495
– Pak 1000-X0 1TB exFAT: $1,495
– Pak 512-R1 512GB HFS+: $995
– Pak 512-X1 512GB exFAT: $995
– Pak 256-R1 256GB HFS+: $495
– Pak 256-X1 256GB exFAT: $495

(For HFS+ and X models for exFAT, order R models.)

Dee Rees talks about directing Netflix’s Mudbound

By Iain Blair

Change is good, and while there are only a handful of young, successful, black female directors shooting features these days, the tide is starting to turn. Case in point: Dee Rees, who is helping lead the charge with her powerful new feature Mudbound, which was nominated for two Golden Globes.

Set in the rural American South during World War II, it’s an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Writer Iain Blair and director Dee Rees.

On one side is the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture.

On the other side are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations and who also struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

The film was co-written by Rees, who made her feature film debut with Pariah, which won a ton of awards. She went on to direct the Emmy-Award-winning HBO film Bessie.

I talked recently with Rees about making the film and the push for more diversity in the industry.

What was your vision for this film?
A good old-fashioned sprawling Hollywood epic that they don’t make anymore, with tons of characters and drama and emotion.

This is a period piece, but there are a lot of the issues you deal with — racism, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues. These are all particularly timely now.
Yes, and I think it’s become more timely because our consciousness has changed. I think it would have been timely five or 10 years ago, but audiences might not have recognized it as such, and attitudes have changed and are still changing about all these issues — and others. Look at all the sex scandal stuff coming to light in Hollywood and other places.

Is it true you absolutely wanted to shoot this in the South, but then found it wasn’t so easy in terms of finding the right locations?
Yes, I’m from the South — Nashville, Tennessee — and I hate seeing Southerners and the South not depicted correctly and accurately, and the locations were vital as they function like another character in the story. So we scouted all over the South — Mississippi, where it’s actually set, and Georgia and Louisiana — and we ended up shooting on a working sugar plantation near New Orleans. The landscape and farmland was perfect. It really gave you the sense of unrelenting nature, and the way the furrows went in the field was a big artistic choice… deciding how the lines were going to go.

It’s interesting that Louisiana has preserved a lot of their slave history. You can see the original sharecroppers’ cabins, and I think it’s right to preserve stuff like that so you can see it actually happened. In Mississippi, a lot of that’s gone. So we used real sharecroppers’ cabins, and convinced the owners to let us move these historical buildings deeper into the fields, as we wanted to have these 360-degree shots where you feel that the characters are all dwarfed by the landscape. All that has an accumulative effect in creating this world. We didn’t use any soundstages at all because I wanted it to look and feel authentic. You just can’t fake all the mud and dust and that landscape.

I imagine the shoot wasn’t easy?
It was pretty intense. We were supposed to have 28 days there, but we got rained out two days and had to make that up. Then we shot for two days in Budapest for the wartime scenes, including a big tank battle. We did that in the morning and then the liberation scenes the next day, and then later, during the edit, we shot the B52 plane scenes at a war museum on Long Island, and that was a big dance between special effects and VFX. So we ended up with 29 days for a big story that you’d normally need 60 days to do justice considering the sheer scope and scale involved.

You had a women DP (Rachel Morrison), who shot Fruitvale Station, and a woman editor (Mako Kamitsuna), who cut Pariah for you and who’s now cutting Johnny Depp’s LAbyrinth as well as a woman composer (Tamar-Kali). Was that deliberate?
Absolutely, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just tokenism. Too often hiring women can get conflated with tokenism, and they are women who are incredibly at what they do.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it reminds me of writing, which is solitary, contemplative and internal. Production is a frenzied rush, external and exhausting, and then you get to post which is where you recoup in a way, and was just me and Mako making the film. We did most of the editing in an artist’s loft in upstate New York, which was really cheap to rent. I like being away from all the noise and bustle of New York and just isolating for a bit and really focusing. Then Tama, our composer, came in, and then our sound team, and we had the space and time to really build it all up and elevate the raw material.

What were the main editing challenges?
The biggest one was figuring out when to move from one family story to the other. I was worried about staying with the McAllan’s too long, and then suddenly the Jacksons come out of nowhere, maybe too soon, and then having to explain some of the back story out of sequence. So do you break the chronology or trust that when you hand off to the Jacksons it’ll work for the audience? We kept starting with the burial, and then going into all the tensions between the families, with all the questions, like why do they hate each other so much?

In one version we went off with the Jacksons, but it didn’t quite work, and ultimately we started with Henry. He took us to the farm, which takes us to the war, and the war takes us to Ronsel and Jamie, and then it all flowed. But we had to make sure each family had its own trajectory, and one exercise we did was to edit just one family story as if it was its own film. Then we did the other family to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and where the natural intersections fell in their stories. That was so helpful.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in Mudbound?
It’s so important to me, and I always want the score to work seamlessly with the sound design so it feels like it comes out of the sound design. Like with the editing, I feel the music shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch, so once we had picture locked Tamar came in and then reacted to it with her score, and I didn’t have to say much to her.

She was inspired and wrote this beautiful orchestral score, which was perfect because I didn’t want to have the obvious 1940s thing with banjo, blues and harmonica. I wanted strings, and my sound team did a fantastic job. We did a Atmos mix at Harbor in New York, thanks to a Dolby grant, and it was so cool and exciting to do that.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there must have been a fair amount of visual effects?
Mr. X Gotham did them all, and we had quite a lot for the plane scenes, including the B52 formation and the tank battle scenes. They also added some explosions, and there was cleanup work, but all the farm stuff — the mud and water — was all real and in-camera. We used a lot of special effects — squibs and gore packs — for the war scenes.

What about the DI?
We did it at Harbor Post in New York, and the colorist was Joe Gawler (who worked on Blackmagic Resolve). He did a really great job.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did and I’m really happy with it.

Mudbound is making a lot of Oscar and other awards noise right now — deservedly so. What does that mean to you?
It’s very exciting for all the crafts people involved. I feel we made a great film, but without a huge budget, so the more attention the better.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in Hollywood. Are things improving?
Very slowly, but a lot of the problem is the pipeline. We need more creatives able to get in the door. The Academy is just a receptacle at the end of the pipeline. We can change its make up, but the bigger thing is changing what’s getting made.


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

DG 7.9.18

Directing: My Top 10 career-ending mistakes

By Trevor McMahan

Okay, so this is probably a really bad idea… but I’m about to list the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a director. It’s ironic, because when I told my super-rep Susanne I was going to write a tips piece for postPerspective, she was all like, “Yeah, this will be a great opportunity for people to see what smart/insightful/great/awesome director you are!” So much for that plan.

The silver lining is that none of the following career-ending mistakes has actually ended my career, and even though it may sound like it here, I’m not ALWAYS making career-ending mistakes – just sometimes. And I’m lucky to be busy enough to provide myself ample opportunities to make them, which means I must be doing something right. Right?

Anyhow, here goes. I hope you enjoy these mistakes more than I did!

1. Thinking a mistake could be career ending
Boom. I could end the list here and I’d feel like it was worth it because this mistake is the greatest mistake of all. To be clear, there are, of course, massive mistakes one could make to actually bring your career to a halt, but most of us simply aren’t making those.

Once I freed myself of the fear of making mistakes, I was able to produce more creative work, to explore ideas and shots and scenes in more unexpected ways and generally push toward stronger storytelling. And when you inevitably do make a mistake, use that experience as a reminder that there’s always a better way to do something — it’s an incredible way to grow and learn and push forward. And if my words don’t ring true here, take it from the really cheesy motivational poster of mossy boulders dotting through a pond that declares, “Mistakes are the stepping stones to success.” Sage advice from the fantastic folks over at Successories.

2. Thinking one not-great project spells T-h-e  E-n-d
One “miss” used to feel like it was a death knell, so I avoided “missing” at all costs, and missed a handful of solid opportunities in the meantime. But I quickly realized just how much growth and learning can come from even the least expected places. I’ve swung to the opposite end of the spectrum – eager to shoot and learn and improve as much as I can. Some of the best work I’ve done has come as a result of those opportunities and relationships, and while not every project is going to be a grand slam, you’ve got to swing.

3. Aiming for perfection
There’s nothing worse than pressure associated with targeting perfection, and it has led to moments where a scene just doesn’t feel believable or a project falls flat and predictable. I’ve since learned to embrace the process of discovery and it has made for an incredibly expansive process. I even like to work with creatives and crew to embed a sense of imperfection and idiosyncrasy into our filmmaking — from little imperfect reflections of light and little flaws in the production design to wardrobe that feels unplanned and actors’ performances that feel unrehearsed. It’s when things start to feel like they’ve not been designed that I start to believe them.

4. Thinking an agency’s storyboards are what they want the commercial to look like
There are so many reasons agency boards look the way they do, but what they aren’t is a blueprint of the only predetermined way to tell a story or film sequence. But that didn’t stop me from leaning too heavily on them, and ending up in an excruciatingly awkward series of conversations about why I made those choices. Them wondering why I’d locked into their boarded angles, and me not really having a reason behind the choices. The aim, I’ve found, is to see the idea through the client-friendly illustrations — to “read between the boards” and gauge where a campaign wants to go. Once you have that core, translating it into shots becomes something you can stand behind.

5. Telling an agency what they want to hear
Tell the agency exactly what you think they want to hear to land a job? Wrong. Regurgitating an agency call in a treatment, or pitching them a film they’d already pitched me, just doesn’t win the job. I take great pride, now, in not going into a pitch aiming to win it, but aiming to make the film the best it can be (with the belief, of course, that they’ll agree). The most “creative” creatives I’ve met and worked with over the years have proved quite keen to be challenged and to be shown where and how the work can improve. It’s important to work with collaborators who are aiming for great, not just good enough. Architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I couldn’t have said it better.

6. Pushing way too far
Yep, guilty of that, too. And believe me, it’s not pretty. If you do push to far, those treatments end up in the bottom drawer.

7. Not listening
With all that said… it can be tempting to go whole hog in a particular direction, and I have! But if that’s not the direction they’re headed, there’s only pain and anguish. So, really listening and hearing out an agency and client is invaluable to unearthing the reason they’re spending all this money, and how to best direct those resources.

8. Thinking I needed to do other people’s jobs
In my mind, there used to be an expectation that the director should know (and often do) all. But to be honest, I found that I’d get stretched thin dealing with budget issues, wrinkles in the calendar or the how the on-set effects team was working out a rig… and to a degree that the storytelling would suffer. I still am involved with all of those things (and always will be), but I do find relief realizing I’m working with an incredible crew of filmmakers and craftsmen, who kick ass at their jobs and whose art I respect. Simply letting them do their jobs, then, frees me up to do mine — part of which is to bug them about their work. So, I probably didn’t lay off long, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

9. Waiting around for boards
Waiting around for boards won’t help more boards to come in, and I’ve never felt so close to the guillotine than when I was just waiting. As soon as I stopped waiting and started producing — shorts, music videos, even video tests and experiments, all of a sudden I was busier than ever. Work certainly begets work, and the more you do the more will come.

10. Writing an article about all the worst mistakes I ever made
Then there was that one. Let’s hope it’s not the last.


Trevor McMahan is a director at Rocket Film. This commercial and film production house has offices in New York and Los Angeles.


A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but for Lady Bird, another editor was actually on during dailies, for various reasons. I came on after dailies, which is unusual, but it worked out. Plus, they were shooting in California and editorial was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. But what I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during the shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.


Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography 2017

By Amy Leland

After EditFest NY moved to London, Manhattan Edit Workshop picked up the reins with its Sight, Sound & Story (SS&S) conferences. The first post production event premiered in June of 2013. The format was similar — top-of-their-craft editors and post specialists participating in panels focusing on specific areas of the industry. Over the years there have been great panels on TV editing, sound effects and audio editing, VFX and virtual reality. I have attended these events since they began. They are a great chance to get inspired, learn more about my industry and meet great people.

In September of 2015, SS&S created a new event that focused on the part of the process before we post folks get involved: the shoot. I recently I attended the latest Sight, Sound & Story: The Art of Cinematography. Even though cinematography is not my department, I was as entertained and educated. Here is a recap of some of the best moments of the panels.

The Art of Cinematography in Documentary Filmmaking
As a first-time documentary filmmaker myself, this panel was of particular interest to me. Moderator Hugo Perez (Neither Memory Nor Magic, Lights Camera Uganda) spoke with panelists Joan Churchill, ASC,(Shut Up & Sing, Kurt & Courtney, Last Days in Vietnam) and Buddy Squires, ASC, (The Vietnam War, The Statue of Liberty, The Central Park Five) about their view of documentary filmmaking from behind the lens.

The most common theme throughout the panel was the emphasis both panelists put on listening. Cinematography is a visual art, but the panelists repeated the importance of listening carefully throughout the process in order to get the right shots. Squires included it as part of an overall sense of observation. He described his job as, “capturing the unexpected.” He said in order to do this, you have to carefully observe everything that is going on around you. When you sense something is going a particular way, you have to follow it. “It’s a calculated gamble that things will move a particular way.”

L-R: Joan Churchill, Buddy Squires and moderator Hugo Perez.

A particularly poignant moment was when he showed a clip from the documentary, The Last Dalai Lama? In it, he is filming a line of people getting a momentary audience with the Dalai Lama. Even though he didn’t understand what was being said in these moments, something compelled him to follow two particular people as they walked away from the Dalai Lama, clearly very moved by their experience. He ultimately found out that these two young women were homeless and with no resources to speak of. After hearing their story, the Dalai Lama instructed one of his helpers to make sure these young women were taken care of and given a place to live. All of that was clear once translations and subtitles were in place, but it was a moment of instinct that caused Squires to follow them and capture that magical moment. It was an incredible example of what he was describing.

Churchill also stated emphatically that, “Documentaries are nothing without good sound.” She talked about how you can cut around bad picture, but you can’t cut around bad sound. She makes sure she is constantly hearing, through her earpiece, whatever is being recorded by the sound person. This lets her know if sound isn’t being captured, but it also means that she may hear something, from her vantage point, she couldn’t see. That lets her know to move and capture what is happening.

Related to this, she talked about how sometimes you simply have to sacrifice picture to get the moment. Even if all you can get is a badly framed shot, or a shot with a low-quality camera; as long as you have the sound to go with it, you may have the moment you need. To illustrate this, Churchill showed a clip from the documentary Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Their interviews with Aileen Wuornos took place in small visiting rooms at the prison where she was on death row. In one of those interviews, when Wuornos saw that the interview was over and equipment was being put away, she started speaking more frankly about her crimes, and whether she had committed them in self defense. As a cinematographer, Churchill could have taken her camera back out, and tried to frame a perfect shot of Wuornos talking. But by listening to what was happening, she knew that her camera would become a distraction to the emotional moment that was happening, and might even cause Wuornos to stop talking. Rather than finding that shot and stopping the moment, she stayed crouched by her camera bag, and got a side shot of Nick Broomfield, her co-director, talking to Wuornos. Wuornos isn’t even in the shot. She made a choice as a cinematographer to sacrifice image to make sure the moment was protected.

Of course as cinematographers, and especially with Squires being a long-time collaborator with Ken Burns, both are incredibly skilled at capturing beautiful images, but what most struck me about this panel was how much each was more focused on story and truth, rather than image, in order to serve the needs of their projects.

The New Age of TV: Bringing the Look of Cinema to the Small Screen
For this offering, moderator David Leitner spoke with panelists Martin Ahlgren (Daredevil, House of Cards, Blindspot) and Igor Martinović (House of Cards, The Night Of) about the changing art of cinematography in television. Much of the conversation focused on how their work was being affected by the increasingly film look or cinema style of television.

L-R: Martin Ahlgren and Igor Martinović.

One thing they addressed was the popular idea that film is a director’s medium and TV is a producer’s or writer’s medium. Martinović pointed out that with a lot of these new media shows, from companies like Netflix and Hulu, they had not just a head writer/showrunner, but also a director auteur driving the creative process. For example, they brought up David Fincher and his House of Cards and Mindhunter. Though he didn’t direct the entire series in either case, he did establish the visual world and rules for the shows. And there are certainly other examples, such as Reed Morano and The Handmaid’s Tale or Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, which airs on FX. Both panelists spoke about how there is a trend toward creating a specific look that they, as cinematographers, are working within.

They also both talked about how this cinematic aesthetic is changing what they are allowed to do as television cinematographers. For a long time, television was “radio with pictures.” TV shows were meant to be watched without needing to pay close visual attention. The focus was hearing dialogue, but now there is more freedom to tell visual stories. Martinović showed a series of clips from The Night Of and pointed out that there is almost no dialogue in the scenes he showed. He was able to tell story and advance character through specific visual images, a freedom television cinematographers didn’t always have.

Both also spoke about low light being a more acceptable look in television now than it used to be. Ahlgren showed a clip from House of Cards that he lit almost entirely with candlelight. He spoke of this difference in lighting aesthetic as being partly about changing standards in television, but also made possible by digital cinematography. While many cinematographers talk about the advantages of film, one thing most will say is that digital cameras can shoot more effectively at much lower light levels. They both talked about the expanded range of creative choices this gives them.

Martinović concluded by showing us some incredible images from a look book he put together for a new show he is going to be shooting. This is a technique used often for film, but not as often for television, which really speaks to the shift in how television is being created. For his look book, he compiled an incredible collection of images to show ideas of framing, tone, and even light and color. This book gave him a better “language” for showing the director what he thought they could do in telling their stories.

Listening to incredibly talented television cinematographers talk about their craft provided a lot of insight into why television seems so much more exciting these days. It was also a great reminder to all of us to pay better attention to the visual language of the shows we love, just as we do with films.

Behind the Lens: A Conversation With Cinematographer Julio Macat, ASC
The final panel of the evening was a special conversation with Julio Macat, ASC, the cinematographer of a wide range of great films, including Home Alone, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Crazy in Alabama and The Wedding Crashers. As often happens in conversations with people who have had such a big impact on their field, what struck me most was how unbelievably humble Macat was about the work he has done. He spoke about his rise to success as filled with luck, when the breadth and quality of his work make it obvious that there is clearly a lot of talent involved as well.

He discussed the numerous opportunities he has had to work with first-time directors. One common theme is that first-time directors come to him with extensive shot lists for every scene. His advice to them is to think about why the writer wrote the scene and what the point of the scene is. He asks the director, “If I have to place the camera in one spot to tell that entire scene, where would it go?” That guides them into knowing what is most important. It is especially vital when they find themselves running out of time, and they need to make sure they have what they need. He said that shot often becomes the master shot for the scene.

Julio Macat

In talking about Home Alone, one aspect of his work that I just loved was that he did a lot of his prep on his knees. He planned a lot of shots from this vantage point with a wide-angle lens to capture the viewpoint of a child. Compared to how an adult sees the world — everything is bigger to kids, and the lights are brighter. His approach, of making sure his camera saw the world the way the lead character would, was such an important aspect of the look of that film. It seems that ideas like this, the ability to see the world through different perspectives, is what separates the really talented cinematographers from all of the people who are just good with cameras. I loved seeing that insight into his approach.

Macat described his prep work for Home Alone, his first feature film, which he has carried forward to today. Rather than thinking of each scene on its own, he creates a summary version of the script. That summary —which may be as short as three pages — includes one-line descriptions of each scene and color coding to indicate things like location, interior/exterior, etc. Seeing the structure of the film laid out that way helps him to see how the work he is doing will eventually be edited together. He includes the editor in that prep work so they can truly collaborate on the vision of the final film. His description of this process made me wish it were far more common for cinematographers and editors to directly collaborate.

He also spoke about the importance of working musically. He started working on music videos and concerts, so he always thought of music and rhythm while operating cameras. He says now he can tell immediately if a camera operator is really good with a camera technically but doesn’t have that sense of musicality in the work. Every scene, every story has a rhythm. Finding that rhythm in the work before the scenes are edited together, and a score underneath, is one of the most important skills in his toolset.

Having shot so many comedies, he had an interesting insight into capturing those moments. First he said that working in comedy was how he learned to shoot multicamera, so that it looks natural. With so much overlapping dialogue and gags based entirely on timing, it is vital to capture every moment as it happens, rather than individual takes of each angle. He also encourages directors to do blocking rehearsals with the actors that he can film rather than off-camera rehearsals, after so many experiences of watching a rehearsal with great energy and timing that just wasn’t there anymore once the cameras were rolling.

My favorite element of his comedy technique was what he called “second-team theater.” When the lighting setups are being done, and the second team stand-ins are in place, he asks the director to have that second team do the lines. If the cast is watching, it’s a great moment that allows them to relax a bit before the scene. But he also said some great actors have come out of those “second-team theater” moments because the director gets a chance to see them act. I’m sure it also leads to a more relaxed and fun atmosphere on set for everyone.

Listening to him talk about the way he feels about actors was really moving. He spoke of the importance of building trust with actors. His job means putting cameras into their personal space as they do their work. He advocates for letting the actors know what he has in mind and what he is planning to do. “Actors are really smart people. They get it,” Macat said. By seeing the actors as his collaborators, rather than just the people on the other side of the camera, he is better able to achieve his vision.

One of the recurring themes of these Sight, Sound & Story events has been rare opportunities to sit in rooms with truly impressive artists at the top of their field, and being so touched by how kind and generous they are with their time and ideas.

Manhattan Edit Workshop streamed these panels, as they often do, via Facebook Live on their Sight Sound & Story page. If you would like a chance to see the panels for yourself, and hear all of the other amazing insights of these wonderful panelists, you can find it here.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.


Director and former agency EP Katya Bankowsky joins Strike Anywhere

Director Katya Bankowsky has been added to the roster at LA- and San Francisco-based production company Strike Anywhere. Bankowsky is a former agency executive producer and director. Working as an EP led to her directing campaigns in-house for ad agencies like Mcgarrybowen. Her signing is a strategic move for Strike Anywhere, as it continues to work in traditional and non-traditional media with a formal directorial roster.

Katya Bankowsky is a California native who became a New Yorker upon graduating from Yale. After college, she took a production job in advertising, where she learned the art of the 30-second movie. Bankowsky soon went freelance and began shooting her feature documentary Shadow Boxers, which follows the emergence of women in boxing and the rise of the first undefeated world champion Lucia Rijker. Bankowsky directed, edited and produced the film and also boxed in the first NYC Golden Gloves to allow female competitors. Shadow Boxers premiered at the Toronto and Berlin International Film Festivals, picking up awards across the festival circuit before obtaining worldwide distribution.

Bankowsky’s non-documentary work includes TV spots, branded entertainment and digital campaigns for clients including Reebok, NFL, WNBA, Verizon, the US Olympic Committee, Chase and Brazilian Brahma beer. She has worked with Maya Angelou, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and many top-tier athletes. Bankowsky recently directed a piece for The New York Times on French fashion icon Michele Lamy, which kicked off a web series she writes, directs and co-stars in alongside Lamy.

Bankowsky’s directorial style was evident in a campaign she directed for the NFL this past summer, a series called The Handoff, which is the league’s largest social media campaign to date.

A New Yorker through and through, Bankowsky will remain there, but travels back to LA often.


Craig Gillespie on directing I, Tonya

By Iain Blair

If you haven’t seen I, Tonya, the latest dark comedy from Aussie director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), get your skates on and rush over to the nearest cineplex for a real treat.

This festival fave, which is deservedly getting a lot of awards attention (it just earned three Golden Globe noms and a host of others), is based on the unbelievable but true events surrounding infamous American figure skater Tonya Harding and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever tarnished by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Craig Gillespie on set with Margot Robbie.

Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and a tour de force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, the film is a piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked –– and checkered –– glory.

Gillespie, who worked as an award-winning commercial director for 15 years before making his feature debut with 2007’s Mr. Woodcock, and whose credits include Million Dollar Arm and Fright Night, once again uses his irreverent, offbeat comedy sense to dramatize a cautionary tale about talent, ambition, celebrity, class, bad perms and domestic abuse — all stuffed with larger-than-life characters and wacky, unreliable narrators.

I recently talked with Gillespie about making the film and the surrounding awards buzz.

What was the appeal of this story for you? It seems like the perfect fit for your sensibility.
You’re right. The script by Steven Rogers, who did Stepmom, was just amazing. It felt like the most “me” project since Lars. In some ways it’s even more me, with so much dark humor in the script. And when I heard Margot was attached, I was really intrigued as she has the range to do all the comedy and drama. It was bizarre to read the script, because it was so tight and read like it was already edited, with all the scenes lined up.

Did it change much?
The main change was giving myself freedom editorially. The script had a very unconventional approach, and originally there was a lot more of the talking heads. I sat down with my DP (Nicolas Karakatsanis) and figured out how we could take every opportunity to shoot those scenes without the talking heads, so we could use voiceover and music instead to give it more energy. I designed specific camera moves so we could carry voiceover or music going into those scenes, or possibly leaving them.

There’s a lot of comedy, but also some very serious stuff, like the domestic abuse and battery. That must have also been a bit of a tightrope to walk?
It was. In terms of dealing with the tone, it was one of the biggest challenges, and I didn’t want to judge the characters or just make fun of them, which would have been too easy. There’s comedy, but you also see that, with the domestic violence, Tonya’s kind of immune to it. She’s desensitized to it, and I felt that that also gave more insight into her character. I also shot those scenes both ways too, so I had a choice in the editing. And then it changes to Jeff’s point-of-view, and he breaks the fourth wall about half-way through the movie, so there was a lot to work with in the edit.

I would have never thought of Margot Robbie as Tonya. What did she bring to the role?
Everything. It’s such a tightrope to walk in terms of the tone, and she ages from 15 to 46, so there are all the different ages and scenes that are absurdly dark and funny, and scenes that are incredibly emotional. It was the whole kitchen sink, but I knew that Margot could navigate that tricky dance between the humor and the drama, and also keep it grounded and not wink at the audience, and she’s brilliant in the role.

How much skating did she do?
A lot. She trained so hard for five months, four days a week, and it was hard as she’d never figure skated before. In the end, she did a lot of the skating and then for the really difficult moves we used VFX to enhance them. I actually had no idea the huge amount of prep she did, studying every bit of footage out there to get her speech patterns and mannerisms, down to the different ages and the way she sounded at those different ages, and doing scenes with no make-up and bad hair and so on. There was nothing she wasn’t up for. We both met Tonya in person, so that helped too.

Allison Janney is equally phenomenal.
Steve actually wrote the role for her. She’s so ferocious and fearless when you consider some of her dialogue is so vile. There were days when she’d say, “Do I have to say the ‘c’ word again?” And I’d say, “Yeah, you do.” But she delivered it all in a way where you still like her.

I heard it was a very fast shoot. How tough was it?
Very. We did it in just 31 days, and the original script had 265 scenes, and we then added a few. It’s probably the fastest, most intense schedule I’ve ever had, but I was so lucky in that my cast was so well-prepared.

Do you like post?
I really love it. It’s the most fun part of the whole filmmaking process for me, and I love the first few weeks where you’re editing and finding the film and then the pace and tone and rhythm and so on. It’s the most creative part for me.

Where did you do the post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in New York.

The film was edited by your long-time editor Tatiana Riegel. What were the biggest editing challenges?
We cut for five or six months, and finding the right tone was key. But we’re so in tune that there are scenes I never touched after her first assembly. The scene between Tonya and her mother in the diner? I never changed anything, as she has such an instinctive balance of tone. We have an amazing shorthand now. I actually thought it might be a quite complicated edit, as the story jumps around so much, but we’d planned it all out so much that I did my first cut in under a month after we wrapped.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
We had about 120, mainly for the skating sequences, and Eight VFX did them all. I’ve used them a lot on my commercials, and they always have my back, and we had a very tight budget. We got lucky as our Steadicam operator could skate, but then we had to add in crowds to all the great shots, and we had about 60 stage replacements where we shot on bluescreen, so we ended up doubling the amount of VFX shots we needed.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
They’re crucial, and this is the first time I’ve posted a movie with a lot of stuff already in mind. I usually figure it out as I go in post. The closest things I could find in terms of structure were To Die For and Goodfellas, which goes through a lot of scenes very quickly — especially in the first half — with just voiceover and music. I designed a lot of shots around the music, such as “Devil Woman” and Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4,” and it was a really fun way to work. We mixed at Harbor.

The film has a great look. Talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Company 3 in New York with colorist Tom Poole. We shot on film, and Tom and the DP worked on it for a while and then I came in, and I love the look.

What’s next?
I’m looking for the right project. There’s nothing lined up.

Do you plan to keep shooting commercials?
Definitely. It’s a nice luxury to have because it’s something you can just jump into it for a short project. And you get to work with some of the greatest DPs in the whole business and try out different gear and experiment, and then bring that to the next movie. So I’ll keep doing both.


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.


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.

 

 

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.