Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: TV Series

Creating and mixing authentic sounds for HBO’s Deadwood movie

By Jennifer Walden

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

Deadwood: The Movie

The Deadwood: The Movie sound team.

The film picked up multiple 2019 Emmy nominations in the categories of sound editing and sound mixing for a limited series or movie as well as for best television movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Creating Foley for FX’s Fosse/Verdon

Alchemy Post Sound created Foley for Fosse/Verdon, FX’s miniseries about choreographer Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his collaborator and wife, the singer/dancer Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams). Working under the direction of supervising sound editors Daniel Timmons and Tony Volante, Foley artist Leslie Bloome and his team performed and recorded hundreds of custom sound effects to support the show’s dance sequences and add realistic ambience to its historic settings.

Spanning five decades, Fosse/Verdon focuses on the romantic and creative partnership between Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. The former was a visionary filmmaker and one of the theater’s most influential choreographers and directors, while the latter was one of the greatest Broadway dancers of all time.

Given the subject matter, it’s hardly surprising that post production sound was a crucial element in the series. For its many musical scenes, Timmons and Volante were tasked with conjuring intricate sound beds to match the choreography and meld seamlessly with the score. They also created dense soundscapes to back the very distinctive environments of film sets and Broadway stages, as well as a myriad of other exterior and interior locations.

For Timmons, the project’s mix of music and drama posed significant creative challenges but also a unique opportunity. “I grew up in upstate New York and originally hoped to work in live sound, potentially on Broadway,” he recalls. “With this show, I got to work with artists who perform in that world at the highest level. It was not so much a television show as a blend of Broadway music, Broadway acting and television. It was fun to collaborate with people who were working at the top of their game.”

The crew drew on an incredible mix of sources in assembling the sound. Timmons notes that to recreate Fosse’s hacking cough (a symptom of his overuse of prescription medicine), they poured through audio stems from the classic 1979 film All That Jazz. “Roy Scheider, who played Bob Fosse’s alter ego in the film, was unable to cough like him, so Bob went into a recording studio and did some of the coughing himself,” Timmons says. “We ended up using those old recordings along with ADR of Sam Rockwell. When Bob’s health starts to go south, some of the coughing you hear is actually him. Maybe I’m superstitious, but for me it helped to capture his identity. I felt like the spirit of Bob Fosse was there on the set.”

A large portion of the post sound effects were created by Alchemy Post Sound. Most notably, Foley artists meticulously reproduced the footsteps of dancers. Foley tap dancing can be heard throughout the series, not only in musical sequences, but also in certain transitions. “Bob Fosse got his start as a tap dancer, so we used tap sounds as a motif,” explains Timmons. “You hear them when we go into and out of flashbacks and interior monologues.”Along with Bloome, Alchemy’s team included Foley artist Joanna Fang, Foley mixers Ryan Collison and Nick Seaman, and Foley assistant Laura Heinzinger.

Ironically, Alchemy had to avoid delivering sounds that were “too perfect.”  Fang points out that scenes depicting musical performances from films were meant to represent the production of those scenes rather than the final product. “We were careful to include natural background sounds that would have been edited out before the film was delivered to theaters,” she explains, adding that those scenes also required Foley to match the dancers’ body motion and costuming. “We spent a lot of time watching old footage of Bob Fosse talking about his work, and how conscious he was not just of the dancers’ footwork, but their shuffling and body language. That’s part of what made his art unique.”

Foley production was unusually collaborative. Alchemy’s team maintained a regular dialogue with the sound editors and were continually exchanging and refining sound elements. “We knew going into the series that we needed to bring out the magic in the dance sequences,” recalls production Foley editor Jonathan Fuhrer. “I spoke with Alchemy every day. I talked with Ryan and Nick about the tonalities we were aiming for and how they would play in the mix. Leslie and Joanna had so many interesting ideas and approaches; I was ceaselessly amazed by the thought they put into performances, props, shoes and surfaces.”

Alchemy also worked hard to achieve realism in creating sounds for non-musical scenes. That included tracking down props to match the series’ different time periods. For a scene set in a film editing room in the 1950s, the crew located a 70-year-old Steenbeck flatbed editor to capture its unique sounds. As musical sequences involved more than tap dancing, the crew assembled a collection of hundreds of pairs of shoes to match the footwear worn by individual performers in specific scenes.

Some sounds undergo subtle changes over the course of the series relative to the passage of time. “Bob Fosse struggled with addictions and he is often seen taking anti-depression medication,” notes Seaman. “In early scenes, we recorded pills in a glass vial, but for scenes in later decades, we switched to plastic.”

Such subtleties add richness to the soundtrack and help cement the character of the era, says Timmons. “Alchemy fulfilled every request we made, no matter how far-fetched,” he recalls. “The number of shoes that they used was incredible. Broadway performers tend to wear shoes with softer soles during rehearsals and shoes with harder soles when they get close to the show. The harder soles are more strenuous. So the Foley team was always careful to choose the right shoes depending on the point in rehearsal depicted in the scene. That’s accuracy.”

The extra effort also resulted in Foley that blended easily with other sound elements, dialogue and music. “I like Alchemy’s work because it has a real, natural and open sound; nothing sounds augmented,” concludes Timmons. “It sounds like the room. It enhances the story even if the audience doesn’t realize it’s there. That’s good Foley.”

Alchemy used Neumann KMR 81 and U 87 mics, Millennia mic pres, Apogee converters, and C24 mixer into Avid Pro Tools.

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

DP Chat: Good Omens cinematographer Gavin Finney

By Randi Altman

London-born cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC, has a wealth of television series and film experience under his belt, including Wolf Hall, The Fear and the upcoming series based on the film of the same name, Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. One of his most recent projects was the six-episode Amazon series Good Omens, starring Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) as an angel and a demon with a very long history, who are tasked with saving the world. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Finney was drawn to cinematography by his love of still photography and telling stories. He followed that passion to film school and fell in love with what could be done with moving images.

Let’s find out more about Finney and his work on Good Omens.

How would you describe the look of Good Omens? How did you work with the director/s/producers to achieve the look they wanted?
There is a progression through the story where things get increasingly strange as Adam (who our main characters believe is the antichrist) comes into his powers, and things in his head start manifesting themselves. It is also a 6,000-year-long buddy movie between an angel and a demon! There is Adam’s world — where everything is heightened and strangely perfect — and Aziraphale and Crowley’s world of heaven and hell. At some point, all these worlds intersect. I had to keep a lot of balls in the air in regard to giving each section its own look, but also making sure that when these worlds collide, it still makes sense.

Each era depicted in the series had a different design treatment — obviously in the case of costume and production design — but also in the way we shot each scene and the way they were lit. For instance, Neil Gaiman had always imagined the scene in the church in the blitz in Episode 3 to be an homage to the film noir style of the time, and we lit and photographed it in that style. Ancient Rome was given the patina of an Alma-Tadema oil painting, and we shot Elizabethan London in an exact recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The ‘60s were shot mainly on our Soho set, but redressed with posters from that time, and we changed the lighting to use more neon and used bare bulbs for signage.

I also graded the dailies throughout production on DaVinci Resolve, adding film grain and different looks to different time periods to help anchor where we were in the story. Neil wanted heaven and hell to feel like two parts of the same celestial building, so heaven occupied the best penthouse offices, and hell was stuck in the damp, moldy basement where nothing works properly.

We found a huge empty building for the heaven set that had shiny metal flooring and white walls. I frosted all the windows and lit them from outside using 77 ARRI Skypanels linked to a dimmer desk so we could control the light over the day. We also used extremely wide-angle lenses such as the Zeiss rectilinear 8mm lens to make the space look even bigger. The hell set used a lot of old, slightly greenish fluorescent fittings, some of them flickering on and off. Slimy dark walls and leaking pipes were added into the mix.

For another sequence Neil and Douglas wanted an old-film look. To do this, ARRI Media in London constructed a hand-cranked digital camera out of an old ARRI D21 camera and connected it to an ARRI 435 hand-crank wheel and then to a Codex recorder. This gave us a realistic, organic varis-peed/vari-exposure look. I added a Lensbaby in a deliberately loose mount to emulate film weave and vignetting. In this way I was able to reproduce very accurately the old-style, hand-cranked black and white look of the first days of cinema.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’d worked with the director Douglas Mackinnon a few times before (on Gentlemen’s Relish and The Flying Scotsman), and I’d wanted to work with him again a number of times but was never available. When I heard he was doing this project, I was extremely keen to get involved, as I loved the book and especially the kind of world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were so good at creating. Fortunately, he asked me to join the team, and I dropped everything I was doing to come on board. I joined the show quite late and had to fly from London to Cape Town on an early scout the day after getting the job!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We shot on Leica Summilux Primes and ARRI Alura zooms (15.5-45mm and 45-
250mm) and ARRI Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini cameras outputting UHD 4K files. The Alexa camera is very reliable, easy to work with, looks great and has very low noise in the color channels, which is useful for green/bluescreen work. It can also shoot at 120fps without cutting into the sensor size. We also had to make sure that both cameras and lenses were easily available in Cape Town, where we filmed after the
UK section.

The Alexa output is also very flexible in the grade, and we knew we were going to be pushing the look in a number of directions in post. We also shot with the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera at 1,000fps for some scenes requiring ultra-slo motion, and for one particular sequence, a specially modified ARRI D-21 that could be “hand-cranked” like an old movie camera.

You mentioned using Resolve on set. Is this how you usually work? What benefit did you get from doing this?
We graded the dailies on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve with our DIT Rich
Simpson. We applied different looks to each period of the story, often using a modified film emulation plugin. It’s very important to me that the dailies look great and that we start to establish a look early on that can inform the grade later.

Rich would bring me a variety of looks each day and we’d pick the one we liked for that day’s work. Rich was also able to export our selected looks and workflow to the South African DIT in Cape Town. This formed the starting point of the online grade done at Molinare on FilmLight Baselight under the hugely capable hands of Gareth Spensley. Gareth had a big influence on the look of the series and did some fantastic work balancing all the different day exteriors and adding some magic.

Any challenging scenes you are particularly proud of?
We had some very big sets and locations to light, and the constantly moving style of photography we employed is always a challenge to light — you have to keep all the fixtures out of shot, but also look after the actors and make sure the tone is right for the scene. A complicated rig was the Soho street set that Michael Ralph designed and built on a disused airbase. This involved four intersecting streets with additional alleyways, many shops and a main set — the bookshop belonging to Aziraphale.

This was a two-story composite set (the interior led directly to the exterior). Not only did we have to execute big crane moves that began looking down at the whole street section and then flew down and “through” the windows of the bookshop and into an interior scene. We also had to rig the set knowing that we were going to burn the whole thing down.

Another challenge was that we were filming in the winter and losing daylight at 3:30pm but needing to shoot day exterior scenes to 8pm or later. My gaffer (Andy Bailey) and I designed a rig that covered the whole set (involving eight cranes, four 18Kw HMIs and six six-meter helium hybrid balloons) so that we could seamlessly continue filming daylight scenes as it got dark and went to full night without losing any time. We also had four 20×20-foot mobile self-lighting greenscreens that we could move about the set to allow for the CGI extensions being added later.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
The script inspires me artistically. If I don’t love the story and can’t immediately “see” how it might look, I don’t do it. After that, I’m inspired by real life and the way changing light utterly transforms a scene, be it a landscape or an interior. I also visit art galleries regularly to understand how other people see, imagine and communicate.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
Obviously, digital cinematography has had a huge impact. I trained in film and spent the first 16 years of my career shooting film exclusively, but I was happy to embrace digital when it came in. I love keeping up with all the advances.

Lighting is also going digital with the advent of LED fixtures with on-board computers. I can now dial any gel color or mix my own at any dimmer level from an app on my phone and send it to dozens of fixtures. There is an incredible array of tools now at our disposal, and I find that very exciting and creatively liberating.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I tend to work on quite long jobs — my last two shows shot for 109 and 105 days, respectively. So keeping to sensible hours is critical. Experienced producers who are concerned with the welfare, health and safety of their crew keep to 10 hours on camera, a one-hour lunch and five-days weeks only. Anything in excess of that results in diminishing returns and an exhausted and demoralized crew.

I also think prep time is incredibly important, and this is another area that’s getting squeezed by inexperienced producers to the detriment of the production. Prep time is a comparatively cheap part of the process but one that reaps huge dividends on the shoot. Being fully prepared, making the right location and set design choices, and having enough to time to choose equipment and crew and work out lighting designs all make for a smooth-running shoot.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
This goes back to having enough prep time. The more time there is to visit possible locations and simply talk through all the options for looks, style, movement and general approach the better. I love working with visual directors who can communicate their ideas but who welcome input. I also like being able to ditch the plan on the day and go with something better if it suddenly presents itself. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to come up with something wonderful and fresh.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I always start a new production from scratch, and I like to test everything that’s available and proven in the field. I like to use a selection of equipment — often different cameras and lenses that I feel suit the aesthetic of the show. That said, I think
ARRI Alexa cameras are reliable and flexible and produce very “easy to work with” images.

I’ve been using the Letus Helix Double and Infinity (provided by Riz at Mr Helix) with an Exhauss exoskeleton support vest quite a lot. It’s a very flexible tool that I can operate myself and it produces great results. The Easyrig is also a great back-saver when doing a lot of handheld-work, as the best cameras aren’t getting any lighter.

Apart from that, comfortable footwear and warm, waterproof clothing are essential!


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


Editing for Episodics

By Karen Moltenbrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nena Erb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cindy Mollo

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

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

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

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

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

Heather Goodwin Floyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


DP Chat: Catch-22’s Martin Ruhe, ASC

By Randi Altman

For the bibliophiles out there, you know Catch-22 as the 1961 book by Joseph Heller. Cinephiles might remember the 1970 film of the same name starring Alan Arkin. And for those who are familiar with the saying, but not its origins, a Catch-22 is essentially a no-win situation. The famous idiom comes from the book — specifically the main character, Captain John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who finds himself needing to escape the war, but rules and regulations hold him back.

Martin Ruhe (right) on-set with George Clooney.

Now there is yet another Catch-22 to point to: Hulu’s miniseries, which stars Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie and George Clooney. Clooney is also an executive producer, alongside Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, David Michôd, Richard Brown, Steve Golin and Ellen Kuras. The series was written by Davies and Michôd and directed by Clooney, Heslov and Kuras, who each directed two episodes. It was shot entirely in Italy.

We recently reached out to the show’s German-born DP, Martin Ruhe, ASC, to find out about his workflow on the series and how he became a cinematographer.

Tell us about Catch-22. How would you describe the look of the film that you and the directors wanted to achieve?
George was very clear — he wanted to push the look of the show toward something we don’t see very often these days in TV or films. He wanted to feel the heat of the Italian summer.

We also wanted to contrast the absurdity of what happens on the ground with the claustrophobic and panic of the aerial work. We ended up with a strong warm tone and a lot of natural light. And we move the camera as if we‘re always with our hero (Abbott). Very often we travel with him in fluent camera moves, and then we contrast that with shaky hand-held camera work in the air. It was good fun to be able to have such a range to work with.

Were you given examples of the look that was wanted?
We looked at newsreel footage from the period and at stills and benefitted from production designer David Gropman‘s research. Then I took stills when we did camera tests with our actors in costume. I worked on those on my computer until we got to a place we all liked.

Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 did the grading for the show and loved it. He gave us a LUT that we used for our dailies. Later, when we did the final grade, we added film grain and refined our look to what it is now.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I spoke with George Clooney and Grant Heslov for the first time four months before we started to shoot. I had eight weeks of prep.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
A lot of the scenes were happening in very small spaces. I did a lot of research on smaller cameras, and since we would have a lot of action scenes in those planes, I did not want to use any cameras with a rolling shutter.

I ended up using Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke S4 lenses and also some Flare cameras by IO industries, which could record 4K raw to Q7 Odyssey recorders. We mounted those little ones on the planes whenever they were flying for real. We also used it for the parachute jump.

This is a period piece. How did that affect your choices?
The main effect was the choice of light sources when we shot interiors and night scenes. I love fluorescents, and they existed in the period, but just not in those camps and not in the streets of Rome at night. We used a lot of practicals and smaller sources, which we spread out in the little streets of a small town where we shot, called Viterbo (standing in for Rome).

Another thing I learned was that in those camps at night, lights were blacked out. That meant we were stuck with moonlight and general ambience for night scenes, which we created with HMI sources — sometimes direct if we needed to cover big areas, like when the air base gets attacked at night in Episode 5.

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of or found most challenging? 
In the end of Episode 5, Yossarian’s plane loses both engines in combat and goes down. We see YoYo and others escape the plane, while the pilot takes the plane over water and tries to land it. It’s a very dramatic scene.

We shot some exteriors of the real B25 Mitchell over Sardinia. We mounted camera systems in a DC3 and our second Mitchell to get the shots with the real planes. The destruction on the engines and the additional planes were added in post. The interiors of our actors in the plane were shot at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. We had a fuselage of a real B-25 on a gimbal. The studio was equipped with a 360-degree screen and a giant top light.

In the plane, we shot with a hand-held ARRI Alexa Mini camera. It was only the actors, myself and my focus puller inside. We never altered the physical space of the plane but instead embraced the claustrophobia. We see all of the crew members getting out — only the pilot stays on board. There was so little physical space for our actors since the fuselage was rigged to the gimbal, and then we also had to create the lighting for them to jump into within a couple of feet of space.

Then, when Yossarian leaves the plane, we actually put a small camera on a stuntman while another stuntman in Yossarian’s wardrobe did a real jump. We combined that with some plate shots from a helicopter (with a 3D plane in it) and some shots of our actor on a rig on the backlot of Cinecitta.

It all worked out. It was always our goal to shoot as many real elements as we could and leave the rest with post.

Stepping away from Catch-22. How did you become interested in cinematography?
I grew up in a small town in western Germany. No one in my family had anything to do with film. I loved movies and wanted to work on them as a director. After a little journey, I got an internship at a camera rental in London. It was then I saw for the first time what cinematographers do. I loved it and knew that was it. Then I studied in Berlin, became a focus puller for a couple of years and started working as a DP on music videos, then commercials and then, a little later, films.

What inspires you artistically?
Photography and movies. There is a lot of good work out there by a lot of talented DPs. I love to look at photographers I like as well as some documentary stills like the ones you see in the World Press Photo contest once a year. I love it when it is real. There are so many images around us every day, but if I don’t believe them (where they seem real to me), they are just annoying.

Looking back over the last few years, what new technology has changed the way you work?
Maybe LED lighting and maybe the high sensitivity of today’s digital cameras. You are so much more free in your choice of locations, days and, especially, night work because you can work with fewer lights.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
Keep it as simple as you can, and stay true to your vision.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
I’m not sure there is just one way to go. After reading the script, you have an idea of what it can be, and then you start getting the information of the where and in what frame you will work.

Martin Ruhe behind the ARRI Alexa.

I love to spend time with my directors in prep — going to the locations, seeing them in different light, like mornings, noon or during night. Then I love to work with stills and sometimes also reference pictures to show what I think it can be and present a way we can get there. It’s always very important to leave some space for things to develop.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I look for the right gear for each project. I like ARRI cameras, but I’ve also shot two movies with Panavision cameras.

I have shot movies in various countries, and the early ones didn’t have big budgets, so I tried to work with local crew and gear that was available. The thing I like about that is you get to know different ways of doing things, and also you might work with gear you would have never picked yourself. It keeps you flexible. When I start a project, I am trying to develop a feel for the story and the places it lives. Once I have that feel, I start into how and decide what tools I’ll use.

Photo Credit: Philippe Antonello


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


Amazon’s Sneaky Pete: DP Arthur Albert on the look of Season 3

By Karen Moltenbrey

Crime has a way of finding Pete Murphy, or should we say Marius Josipovic (Giovanni Ribisi). Marius is a con man who assumed his cellmate’s identity when he was paroled from prison. His plan was twofold: first, pretend to be the still-incarcerated Pete, from whom the family has been estranged for the past 20 years, and hide out on their farm in Connecticut. Second, con the family out of money so he can pay back a brutal mobster (Bryan Cranston, who also produces).

Arthur Albert

Marius’s plan, however, is flawed. The family is lovable, \ quirky and broke. Furthermore, they are in the bail bond business and one of his “cousins” is a police officer — not ideal for a criminal. Ultimately, Marius starts to really care for the family while also discovering that his cover is not that safe.

Similar to how Marius’ plans on Sneaky Pete have changed, so has the show’s production on the current and final Season 3, which is streaming on Amazon now. This season, the story shifts from New York to California, in tandem with the storylines. Blake Masters also took over as showrunner, and cinematographer Arthur Albert (ER, The Blacklist, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) came on as director of photography, infusing his own aesthetic into the series.

“I asked Blake if he wanted me to maintain the look they had used previously, and he said he wanted to put his own stamp on it and raise the bar in every department. So, I had free rein to change the look,” notes Albert.

The initial look established for Sneaky Pete had a naturalistic feel, and the family’s bail office was lit with fluorescent lighting. Albert, in contrast, opted for a more cinematic look with portrait-style lighting. “It’s just an aesthetic choice,” he says. “The sets, designed by (Jonathan) Carlson, are absolutely brilliant, and I tried to keep them as rich and layered as possible.”

For Manhattan scenes, Masters wanted a mid-century, modern look. “I made New York moody and as interesting as I could — cooler, more contrasty,” says Albert. When the story shifts to Southern California, Masters asked for a bright, more vibrant look. “There’s a big location change. For this season, you want to feel that change. It’s a big decision for the whole family to pick up their operation and move it, so I wanted the overall look of the show to feel new and different.”

The edginess and feeling of danger, though, comes less from the lighting in this show and more from the camera movement. The use of Steadicam gives it a bit of a stalking feel, serving as a moving viewpoint.

When Albert first met with Masters, they discussed what they thought worked in previous episodes. They liked the ones that used handheld and close-up shots that were wide and close to the actor, but in the end they went with a more traditional approach used by Jon Avnet, who directed four of the 10 episodes this season.

Season 3 was primarily shot with two cameras (Albert’s son, Nick, served as second-unit DP and A-camera operator, and Jordan Keslow, B-camera/Steadicam operator). A fan of Red cameras — Albert used an early incarnation for the last six episodes of ER – he employed Red’s DSMC2 with the new Gemini 5K S35 sensor for Season 3. The Gemini leverages dual sensitivity modes to provide greater flexibility for a variety of shooting environments.

The DP also likes the way it renders skin tones without requiring diffusion. “The color is really true and good, and the dynamic range is great. It held for really bright window areas and really dark areas, both with amazing range,” he says. The interiors of the sets were filmed on a stage in Los Angeles, and the exteriors were shot on location afterward. With the Gemini’s two settings (standard mode for well-lit conditions and a low-light setting), “You can shoot a room where you can barely see anyone, and it looks fully lit, or if it’s a night exterior where you don’t have enough time, money or space to light it, or in a big set space where suddenly you want to shoot high speed and you need more light. You just flip a switch, and you’ve got it. It was very clean with no noise.”

This capability came in handy for a shoot in Central Park at night. The area was heavily restricted in terms of using lights. Albert used the 3200 ISO setting and the entire skyline of 59th Street was visible — the clouds and how they reflected the light of the buildings, the detail of the night sky, the silhouettes of the buildings. In another similar situation, he used the low-light setting of the camera for a night sequence filmed in Grand Central Terminal. “It looked great, warm and beautiful; there is no way we could have lit that vast space at night to accommodate a standard ISO,” says Albert.

As far as lenses on Sneaky Pete, they used the Angenieux short zooms because they are lightweight and compact, can be put on a Steadicam and are easy to hold. “And I like the way they look,” Albert says. He also used the new Sigma prime lenses, especially when an extreme wide angle was needed, and was impressed with their sharpness and lack of distortion.

Throughout filming, the cinematographer relied on Red’s IPP2 (image processing pipeline) in-camera, which resulted in a more effective post process, as it is designed for an HDR workflow, like Sneaky Pete — which is required by Amazon.

The color grade for the series was done at Level 3 Post by Scott Ostrowsky, who had also handled all the previous seasons of Sneaky Pete and with whom Albert had worked with on The Night Shift and other projects. “He shoots a very cinematic look and negative. I know his style and was able to give him that look before he came into the suite. And when we did the reviews together, it was smooth and fast,” Ostrowsky says. “At times Sneaky Pete has a very moody look, and at times it has a very open look, depending on the environment we were shooting in. Some of the dramatic scenes are moody and low-light. Imagine an old film noir movie, only with color. It’s that kind of feel, where you can see through the shadows. It’s kind of inky and adds suspense and anticipation.”

Ostrowsky worked with the camera’s original negative — “we never created a separate stream,” he notes. “It was always from the camera neg, unless we had to send a shot out for a visual effects treatment.”

Sneaky Pete was shot in 5K, from which a 3840×2160 UHD image was extracted, and that is what Ostrowsky color graded. “So, if I needed to use some kind of window or key, it was all there for me,” he says. Arthur or Nick Albert would then watch the second pass with Ostrowsky, who would make any further changes, and then the producers would watch it, adding their notes. Ostrowsky worked used the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“I want to make the color work for the show. I don’t want the color to distract from the show. The color should tell the story and help the story,” adds Ostrowsky.

While not every change has been for the best for Pete himself since Season 1, the production changes on Sneaky Pete’s last season appear to be working just fine.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.


Whiskey Cavalier DPs weigh in on the show’s look, DITs

While ABC recently cancelled freshman series Whiskey Cavalier, their on-set workflow is an interesting story to tell. The will-they-won’t-they drama featured FBI agent Will Chase (Scott Foley) and CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan) — his codename is Whiskey Cavalier and hers is Fiery Tribune. The two lead an inter-agency team of spies who travel all over the world, periodically saving the world and each other, all while navigating friendship, romance and office politics.

David “Moxy” Moxness

Like many episodic television shows, Whiskey Cavalier used two cinematographers who alternated episodes so that the directors could work side-by-side with a cinematographer while prepping. David “Moxy” Moxness, CSC, ASC, shot the pilot. Moxness had previously worked on shows like Lethal Weapon, Fringe and Smallville and was just finishing another show when Warner Bros. sent him the pilot script.

“I liked it and took a meeting with director Peter Atencio,” explains Moxness. “We had a great meeting and seemed to be on the same page creatively. For me, it’s so much about collaborating on good shows with great people. Whiskey gave me that feeling.” Sid Sidell, ASC, a friend and colleague of Moxness’, was brought on as the second DP.

While Whiskey Cavalier’s plot has its two main characters traveling all over the world, principal photography took place in Prague. Neither cinematographer had worked there previously, although Moxness had passed through on vacation years before. While prepping and shooting the pilot, Moxness developed the look of the show with director Atencio. “Peter and I had the idea of using the color red when our lead character Will Chase was conflicted emotionally to trigger an emotional response for him,” he explains. “This was a combo platter of set dressing, costumes and lighting. We were very precise about not having the color red in frame other than these times. Also, when the team was on a mission, we kept to a cooler palette while their home base, New York, used warmer tones.”

This didn’t always prove to be straightforward. “You still have to adjust to location surroundings — when scouting for the pilot, I realized Prague still had mostly sodium vapor streetlights, which are not often seen in America anymore,” explains Moxness. “This color was completely opposite to what Peter and I had discussed regarding our nighttime palette, and we had a big car chase over a few nights and in different areas. I knew time and resources would in no way allow us to change or adjust this, and that I would have to work backwards from the existing tones. Peter agreed and we reworked that into our game. For our flashbacks, I shot 35mm 4-perf film with an ARRI IIC hand-cranked camera and Kowa lenses. That was fun! We continued all of these techniques and looks during the series.”

DITs
Mission, a UK-based DIT/digital services provider serving Europe, was brought on to work beside the cinematographers. Mission has an ever-expanding roster of DITs and digital dailies lab operators and works with cinematographers from preproduction onward, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Moxness and Sidell hadn’t worked with Mission before, but a colleague of Moxness’ had spoken to him about the experience of working with Mission on a project the year before. This intrigued Moxness, so he was waiting for a chance to work with them.

“When Whiskey chose to shoot in Prague I immediately reached out to Mission’s managing director, Mark Purvis,” explains Moxness. “Mark was enthusiastic about setting us up on Whiskey. After a few conversations to get to know each other, Mark suggested DIT Nick Everett. Nick couldn’t have been a better match for me and our show.”

Interestingly, Sidell had often worked without a DIT before his time on Whiskey Cavalier. He says, “My thoughts on the DP/DIT relationship changed drastically on Whiskey Cavalier. By choice, before Whiskey, I did the majority of my work without a DIT. The opportunity to work alongside Nick Everett and his Mission system changed my view of the creative possibilities of working with a DIT.”

Gear
Whiskey Cavalier was shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and primarily ARRI Master Prime lenses with a few Angenieux zooms. Both Moxness and Sidell had worked with the Mini numerous times before, finding it ideal for episodic television. The post workflow was simple. On set, Everett used Pomfort’s LiveGrade to set the look desired by the cinematographers. Final color was done at Picture Shop in Los Angeles by senior colorist George Manno.

Moxy (behind camera) and director/EP Peter Atencio (to his right) on the Prague set.

“There are a few inherent factors shooting episodic television that can, and often do, handcuff the DP with regards to maintaining their intended look,” says Moxness. “The shooting pace is very fast, and it is not uncommon for editorial, final color and sometimes even dailies to happen far away from the shooting location. Working with a properly trained and knowledgeable DIT allows the DP to create a desired look and get it into and down the post pipeline to maintain that look. Without a proper solid roadmap, others start to input their subjective vision, which likely doesn’t match that of the DP. When shooting, I feel a strong responsibility to put my thumbprint on the work as I was hired to do. If not, then why was I chosen over others?”

Since successfully working on Whiskey Cavalier in Prague, Mission has set up a local office in Prague, led by Mirek Sochor and dedicated to Mission’s expansion into Central Europe.

And Moxness will be heading back to Prague to shoot Amazon’s The Wheel of Time.

 


Showrunner and EP Peter Gould on AMC’s Better Call Saul

By Iain Blair

Having a legal issue? Thinking of calling someone who has a questionable relationship with the rule of law? Jimmy McGill? Saul Goodman? Or, maybe, Gene, the lonely Cinnabon store manager? The slippery, shady, shape-shifting character — played beautifully by multiple Emmy-nominee Bob Odenkirk — is at the heart of Better Call Saul, the spin-off prequel to AMC’s Breaking Bad. But if you want to know what’s going on under the hood of the show, you better call writer/showrunner Peter Gould.

L-R: Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan

A Sony Pictures Television and AMC Studios co-production, Better Call Saul is executive produced by co-creators Gould and Vince Gilligan, as well as Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Diner, Rain Man), Melissa Bernstein (Breaking Bad, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire) and Breaking Bad alums Thomas Schnauz and Gennifer Hutchison. The show recently won a Peabody Award in the Entertainment category and has racked up wins and nominations from pretty much every organization that hands them out, including Primetime Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, AFI and the WGA.

For those of you who are champing at the bit for a new season this summer, you must be patient. The new season isn’t set to premiere until 2020, so maybe binge watch some Saul or even Breaking Bad to get you through!

I recently spoke with Gould about making the show and the latest on the Breaking Bad movie.

Do you enjoy being a showrunner?
I love it. In my opinion it’s the greatest job in show business. It’s a privilege to get to work with all the people on this, and it’s a fantastic situation. If the show falls short I only have myself to blame, as the cast and crew are all extraordinary.

What are the big challenges of showrunning Better Call Saul?
The number one challenge is always figuring out the story and how to tell the story in the most interesting and engaging way… while being as true as possible to the characters we’ve created, and then how to create the most cinematic experience that we can. By that, I mean using every tool we have available in production and post.

How far along are you Season 5?
Today we’re shooting the last day of Episode 3. Episode 4 starts next week, and we’re breaking the last episode, which is number 10.  We’re also in the middle of cutting the first three episodes, so there’s a lot going on.

What can fans expect? Will we see more of Gene Takovic, the man Jimmy McGill becomes after he becomes Saul Goodman?
I think it’s safe to say that we’re very interested in Gene. There’s a lot more to be said about him, and fans can expect that. One of the fun things about Gene is that his scenes are in black-and-white, so it gives us a very different space to play in visually.

Why such a long wait from season four until five airs next year?
There’s a lot of moving parts, and we do our best each season to craft the best show we can. So the time is actually spent more in the writing than in the production or post, which are more predictable in terms of schedules. Then there’s the matter of scheduling with the network and other outlets. But I think it’s about the same, month to month. It takes us about 14 months to do a season from start to finish; that seems to be how it works on this. I’m not proud of that, as there are a lot of other TV shows that make a lot more episodes in a lot less time, but we can’t seem to do it much faster and keep up the high quality we all aim for.

Are you still shooting in Albuquerque?
Absolutely. That setting and all the locations are a very important part of the show.

Where do you post, and do you like the post process?
I love working on all the post, and I work closely with our post EP Diane Mercer and the people at our post facility, Keep Me Posted, which is our partner and part of Fotokem in Burbank. We do the audio mix at Wildtracks in Hollywood. Phillip Palmer does our production sound mixing, and Kevin Valentine and Larry Benjamin do all our re-recording mixing. They’re just the best there is.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Our editors — Skip Macdonald and Chris McCaleb — cut the show here at our LA offices, where we also have our writers’ room. So at the start of a season, it’s very quiet because nothing much is happening there, but once production starts, every part of our offices are very busy. Then once the writers go home, all the post comes in and it’s really bustling.

What are the big editing challenges?
We have a very big cast and a lot of moving pieces in each episode. Plus there are a lot of time jumps, so we alternate with the editors. So this year Skip is on the odds and Chris is on the evens. They do their cuts and then the directors come in to do their cut. As they’re so heavily booked these days, some of them end up giving notes remotely, and we use Pix to distribute our cuts and dailies.

One of the eccentricities of the way this show’s evolved — and it’s really based on the way Vince Gilligan ran Breaking Bad, and where I learned everything I know about showrunning — is that we don’t really do a producer’s cut until fairly late in the process. There are cuts of pretty much every episode before we close production, but we don’t fully address post until after production has closed, especially on a season like number three.

When I direct the season finale, that creates a big hole in the production schedule, and as soon as I get back we start working on the producer’s cut. Generally, I’ll give notes on the director’s cut and editor’s cut, and the editors will execute those on their own. Then I’ll end up spending about a week with the editor on each episode. Usually, the writer and maybe another producer will sit in too. And often an EP like Tom Schnauz will sit in as he has a great eye for editing, and we’ll do the producer’s cut together in that week.

You mention directing a few of the shows. Do you like directing?
I do, but I find it very stressful. I haven’t done it enough of it to lower my stress level, but I find it very creative. I think it’s very useful for the show to have a showrunner come and direct and episode now and again, as it keeps my humility level going as directing is a hard battle. It’s wonderful to be able to work with the cast and crew in such a hands-on way.

Peter Gould (center) on set

I’ve always loved every aspect of filmmaking, and I’m fascinated by it all — from the chip sensors we use to the dollies, lights and so on. I have such respect for the craft and artistry of everyone making the show, and what I’ve learned about directing is that success or failure is about the situation you’re in as much as it is about your own talent. This is a great situation.

This show has a great score, and great sound design. Where do you mix and talk about the importance of sound and music.
Nick Forshager is our sound supervisor over at Wildtracks. I’m pretty involved in all the sound, but we do things a bit different from most shows. For a start, we use almost no temp music on the cuts, for various reasons. One, it can be a bit of a crutch, and second, you get used to it, so anything new then sounds strange. We’ve trained ourselves to cut without it, and our composer Dave Porter is brilliant at spotting where music can be useful and where it’s not necessary. So we spend time spotting each episode and talk a lot about the music and sound, and I believe sound and music are the way to get to an audience’s emotion by bypassing the logical brain.

You can really enhance the drama and clue-in the audience on how to read a scene through sound design and ambient shifts. I can’t tell you how often we’ve had a scene that sort of played okay, but which just came alive when we found the right sound. There’s a great example of that in a scene at the end of Season 1 where Jimmy’s running the bingo game, and he has this nervous breakdown. We kept making the speakers worse and worse, and added some delay and we had the pops in the mic when he got too close — and it went from being a really interesting scene to one that was funnier, more public and more psychological. So we put in so much detail and it really pays off.

Where do you do the grading, and who’s the colorist?
It’s all done at Keep Me Posted and our colorist is Ted Brady. You asked earlier why it all takes so long, and one big reason is that I’m at every producer’s color session. Our DP Marshall Adams is usually there too, and we’ll go through the whole show together. It takes about a day to do one episode and make sure we’re happy with the look.

It definitely has a different look from Breaking Bad, and even from season to season.
You’re right. That was shot on film, and it was a very different process in post. Now we’re shooting digitally, there’s almost too many possibilities. We also switched cameras this season, from Reds to an ARRI LF, and it has a different look from the Red. And we began shooting night exteriors on Season Three with the Panasonic VariCam, which gave us a very interesting look — neither filmic nor digital. The other thing is that as the characters evolve and change, it just made sense to change the look too.

How long do you see the show running?
Great question! This is a show with a beginning, middle and end, and I can say we’re closer to the end than the beginning. I just hope we can stick the ending the way Vince stuck it on Breaking Bad.

What’s the latest on the Breaking Bad movie?
You tell me! Vince knows.


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.


Amazon’s Good Omens: VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara

By Randi Altman

Good versus evil. It’s a story that’s been told time and time again, but Amazon’s Good Omens turns that trope on its head a bit. With Armageddon approaching, two unlikely heroes and centuries-long frenemies— an angel (Michael Sheen) and demon (David Tennant) — team up to try to fight off the end of the world. Think buddy movie, but with the fate of the world at stake.

In addition to Tennant and Sheen, the Good Omens cast is enviable — featuring Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Benedict Cumberbatch and Nick Offerman, just to name a few. The series is based on the 1990 book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Jean-Claude Degaura

As you can imagine, this six-part end-of-days story features a variety of visual effects, from creatures to environments to particle effects and fire. London’s Milk was called on to provide 650 visual effects shots, and its co-founder Jean-Claude Deguara supervised all.

He was also able to talk directly with Gaiman, which he says was a huge help. “Having access to Neil Gaiman as the author of Good Omens was just brilliant, as it meant we were able to ask detailed questions to get a more detailed brief when creating the VFX and receive such insightful creative feedback on our work. There was never a question that couldn’t be answered. You don’t often get that level of detail when you’re developing the VFX.”

Let’s find out more about Deguara’s process and the shots in the show as he walks us through his collaboration and creating some very distinctive characters.

Can you talk about how early you got involved on Good Omens?
We were involved right at the beginning, pre-script. It’s always the best scenario for VFX to be involved at the start, to maximize planning time. We spent time with director Douglas Mackinnon, breaking down all six scripts to plan the VFX methodology — working out and refining how to best use VFX to support the storytelling. In fact, we stuck to most of what we envisioned and we continued to work closely with him throughout the project.

How did getting involved when you did help the process?
With the sheer volume and variety of work — 650 shots, a five-month post production turnaround and a crew of 60 — the planning and development time in preproduction was essential. The incredibly wide range of work spanned multiple creatures, environments and effects work.

Having constant access to Neil as author and showrunner was brilliant as we could ask for clarification and more details from him directly when creating the VFX and receive immediate creative feedback. And it was invaluable to have Douglas working with us to translate Neil’s vision in words onto the screen and plan out what was workable. It also meant I was able to show them concepts the team were developing back in the studio while we were on set in South Africa. It was a very collaborative process.

It was important to have strong crew across all VFX disciplines as they worked together on multiple sequences at the same time. So you’re starting in tracking on one, in effects on another and compositing and finishing everything off on another. It was a big logistical challenge, but certainly the kind that we relish and are well versed in at Milk.

Did you do previs? If so, how did that help and what did you use?
We only used previs to work out how to technically achieve certain shots or to sell an idea to Douglas and Neil. It was generally very simple, using gray scale animation with basic geometry. We used it to do a quick layout of how to rescale the dog to be a bigger hellhound, for example.

You were on set supervising… can you talk about how that helped?
It was a fast-moving production with multiple locations in the UK over about six months, followed by three months in South Africa. It was crucial for the volume and variety of VFX work required on Good Omens that I was across all the planning and execution of filming for our shots.

Being on set allowed me to help solve various problems as we went along. I could also show Neil and Douglas various concepts that were being developed back in the studio, so that we could move forward more quickly with creative development of the key sequences, particularly the challenging ones such as Satan and the Bentley.

What were the crucial things to ensure during the shoot?
Making sure all the preparation was done meticulously for each shot — given the large volume and variety of the environments and sets. I worked very closely with Douglas on the shoot so we could have discussions to problem-solve where needed and find creative solutions.

Can you point to an example?
We had multiple options for shots involving the Bentley, so our advance planning and discussions with Douglas involved pulling out all the car sequences in the series scripts and creating a “mini script” specifically for the Bentley. This enabled us to plan which assets (the real car, the art department’s interior car shell or the CG car) were required and when.

You provided 650 VFX shots. Can you describe the types of effects?
We created everything from creatures (Satan exploding up out of the ground; a kraken; the hellhound; a demon and a snake) to environments (heaven – a penthouse with views of major world landmarks, a busy Soho street); feathered wings for Michael Sheen’s angel Aziraphale and David Tennant’s demon Crowley, and a CG Bentley in which Tennant’s Crowley hurtles around London.

We also had a large effects team working on a whole range of effects over the six episodes — from setting the M25 and the Bentley on fire to a flaming sword to a call center filled with maggots to a sequence in which Crowley (Tennant) travels through the internet at high speed.

Despite the fantasy nature of the subject matter, it was important to Gaiman that the CG elements did not stand out too much. We needed to ensure the worlds and characters were always kept grounded in reality. A good example is how we approached heaven and hell. These key locations are essentially based around an office block. Nothing too fantastical, but they are, as you would expect, completely different and deliberately so.

Hell is the basement, which was shot in a disused abattoir in South Africa, whilst heaven is a full CG environment located in the penthouse with a panoramic view over a cityscape featuring landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, The Shard and the Pyramids.

You created many CG creatures. Can you talk about the challenges of that and how you accomplished them?
Many of the main VFX features, such as Satan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), appear only once in the six-part series as the story moves swiftly toward the apocalypse. So we had to strike a careful balance between delivering impact yet ensuring they were immediately recognizable and grounded in reality. Given our fast five-month post- turnaround, we had our key teams working concurrently on creatures such as a kraken; the hellhound; a small, portly demon called Usher who meets his demise in a bath of holy water; and the infamous snake in the Garden of Eden.

We have incorporated Ziva VFX into our pipeline, which ensured our rigging and modeling teams maximized the development and build phases in the timeframe. For example, the muscle, fat and skin simulations are all solved on the renderfarm; the animators can publish a scene and then review the creature effects in dailies the next day.

We use our proprietary software CreatureTools for rigging all our creatures. It is a modular rigging package, which allows us to very quickly build animation rigs for previs or blocking and we build our deformation muscle and fat rigs in Ziva VFX. It means the animators can start work quickly and there is a lot of consistency between the rigs.

Can you talk about the kraken?
The kraken pays homage to Ray Harryhausen and his work on Clash of the Titans. Our team worked to create the immense scale of the kraken and take water simulations to the next level. The top half of the kraken body comes up out of the water and we used a complex ocean/water simulation system that was originally developed for our ocean work on the feature film Adrift.

Can you dig in a bit more about Satan?
Near the climax of Good Omens, Aziraphale, Crowley and Adam witness the arrival of Satan. In the early development phase, we were briefed to highlight Satan’s enormous size (about 400 feet) without making him too comical. He needed to have instant impact given that he appears on screen for just this one long sequence and we don’t see him again.

Our first concept was pretty scary, but Neil wanted him simpler and more immediately recognizable. Our concept artist created a horned crown, which along with his large, muscled, red body delivered the look Neil had envisioned.

We built the basic model, and when Cumberbatch was cast, the modeling team introduced some of his facial characteristics into Satan’s FACS-based blend shape set. Video reference of the actor’s voice performance, captured on a camera phone, helped inform the final keyframe animation. The final Satan was a full Ziva VFX build, complete with skeleton, muscles, fat and skin. The team set up the muscle scene and fat scene in a path to an Alembic cache of the skeleton so that they ended up with a blended mesh of Satan with all the muscle detail on it.

We then did another skin pass on the face to add extra wrinkles and loosen things up. A key challenge for our animation team — lead by Joe Tarrant — lay in animating a creature of the immense scale of Satan. They needed to ensure the balance and timing of his movements felt absolutely realistic.

Our effects team — lead by James Reid — layered multiple effects simulations to shatter the airfield tarmac and generate clouds of smoke and dust, optimizing setups so that only those particles visible on camera were simulated. The challenge was maintaining a focus on the enormous size and impact of Satan while still showing the explosion of the concrete, smoke and rubble as he emerges.

Extrapolating from live-action plates shot at an airbase, the VFX team built a CG environment and inserted live action of the performers into otherwise fully digital shots of the gigantic red-skinned devil bursting out of the ground.

And the hellhound?
Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin) sends the antichrist (a boy named Adam) a giant hellhound. By giving the giant beast a scary name, Adam will set Armageddon in motion. In reality, Adam really just wants a loveable pet and transforms the hellhound into a miniature hound called, simply, Dog.

A Great Dane performed as the hellhound, photographed in a forest location while a grip kept pace with a small square of bluescreen. The Milk team tracked the live action and performed a digital head and neck replacement. Sam Lucas modeled the head in Autodesk Maya, matching the real dog’s anatomy before stretching its features into grotesquery. A final round of sculpting followed in Pixologic ZBrush, with artists refining 40-odd blend shapes for facial expression.

Once our rigging team got the first iteration of the blend shapes, they passed the asset off to animation for feedback. They then added an extra level of tweaking around the lips. In the creature effects phase, they used Ziva VFX to add soft body jiggle around the bottom of the lips and jowls.

What about creating the demon Usher?
One of our favorite characters was the small, rotund, quirky demon creature called Usher. He is a fully rigged CG character. Our team took a fully concepted image and adapted it to the performance and physicality of the actor. To get the weight of Usher’s rotund body, the rigging team — lead by Neil Roche — used Ziva VFX to run a soft body simulation on the fatty parts of the creature, which gave him a realistic jiggle. They then added a skin simulation using Ziva’s cloth solver to give an extra layer of wrinkling across Usher’s skin. Finally they used nCloth in Maya to simulate his sash and medals.

Was one more challenging/rewarding than the others?
Satan, because of his huge scale and the integrated effects.

Out of all of the effects, can you talk about your favorite?
The CG Bentley without a doubt! The digital Bentley featured in scenes showing the car tearing around London and the countryside at 90 miles per hour. Ultimately, Crowley drives through hell fire on the M25, it catches fire and burns continuously as he heads toward the site of Armageddon. The production located a real Bentley 3.5 Derby Coupe Thrupp & Maberly 1934, which we photo scanned and modeled in intricate detail. We introduced subtle imperfections to the body panels, ensuring the CG Bentley had the same handcrafted appearance as the real thing and would hold up in full-screen shots, including continuous transitions from the street through a window to the actors in an interior replica car.

In order to get the high speed required, we shot plates on location from multiple cameras, including on a motorbike to achieve the high-speed bursts. Later, production filled the car with smoke and our effects team added CG fire and burning textures to the exterior of our CG car, which intensified as he continued his journey.

You’ve talked about the tight post turnaround? How did you show the client shots for approval?
Given the volume and wide range of work required, we were working on a range of sequences concurrently to maximize the short post window — and align our teams when they were working on similar types of shot.

We had constant access to Neil and Douglas throughout the post period, which was crucial for approvals and feedback as we developed key assets and delivered key sequences. Neil and Douglas would visit Milk regularly for reviews toward delivery of the project.

What tools did you use for the VFX?
Amazon (AWS) for cloud rendering, Ziva for creature rigging, Maya, Nuke, Houdini for effects and Arnold for rendering.

What haven’t I asked that is important to touch on?
Our work on Soho, in which Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale bookshop is situated. Production designer Michael Ralph created a set based on Soho’s Berwick Street, comprising a two-block street exterior constructed up to the top of the first story, with the complete bookshop — inside and out — standing on the corner.

Four 20-x-20-foot mobile greenscreens helped our environment team complete the upper levels of the buildings and extend the road into the far distance. We photo scanned both the set and the original Berwick Street location, combining the reference to build digital assets capturing the district’s unique flavor for scenes during both day and nighttime.


Before and After: Soho

Mackinnon wanted crowds of people moving around constantly, so on shooting days crowds of extras thronged the main section of street and a steady stream of vehicles turned in from a junction part way down. Areas outside this central zone remained empty, enabling us to drop in digital people and traffic without having to do takeovers from live-action performers and cars. Milk had a 1,000-frame cycle of cars and people that it dropped into every scene. We kept the real cars always pulling in round the corner and devised it so there was always a bit of gridlock going on at the back.

And finally, we relished the opportunity to bring to life Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon’s awesome apocalyptic vision for Good Omens. It’s not often you get to create VFX in a comedy context. For example, the stuff inside the antichrist’s head: whatever he thinks of becomes reality. However, for a 12-year-old child, this means reality is rather offbeat.


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

The editing and tech behind Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

This interactive film’s editor talks challenges as well as how Netflix’s Branch Manager tech made it all possible.

By Karen Moltenbrey

In any film, or web/television series for that matter, the final presentation is the culmination of many choices. The director’s, the scriptwriter’s, the editor’s… just about everyone’s but the viewers. However, Netflix changed that with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a special interactive TV movie during which viewers are prompted to make selections that affect the decision-making and, ultimately, determine the fate of the main character: a young video game programmer.

Alas, while the viewer is tasked with making certain decisions at various intervals in the movie, that certainly did not mean the workload was any less for those on the project. In fact, they had to devise a plethora of paths that could be selected — so many, in fact, that a new tool, called Branch Manager, was devised and integrated into the workflow to maintain order and elegance to what could easily have become a tangled web on so many fronts.

Black Mirror, a British science-fiction series of stand-alone stories, mostly focuses on the consequences of new technologies. It was created by Charlie Brooker, who serves as showrunner along with Annabel Jones. The very first episode debuted in late 2011, and after four “series,” the pair introduced the interactive movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on December 28, 2018, in which reality and fantasy merge together for programmer Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) as he adapts a choose-your-own-adventure type novel into a video game. Soon Butler’s life begins to resemble that of the tragic author, and he begins to break down mentally, slipping further down the rabbit hole as he tries to make a seemingly impossible release date for the game.

Within this storyline, viewers are tasked with making certain decisions, each leading them along various paths in the narrative. In addition, there are a number of possible story endings. Viewers have 10 seconds to make decisions or one is made for them. But, once a play-through ends, viewers can go back and make a different choice. According to Netflix, the average viewing time for the movie is 90 minutes.

Tony Kearns

With 150 minutes of unique footage divided into 250 segments, just about every aspect of production was impacted in some way, perhaps none more so than editing. And that task was given to Tony Kearns, a veteran editor who calls Bandersnatch “the biggest challenge of my editing career” thus far. In terms of production, Kearns estimates the shoot to have been two to three weeks longer than a regular Black Mirror episode, and the edit took five to seven weeks longer than a show of similar duration, lasting 17 weeks.

“When we started working on Bandersnatch, we realized we were doing something that none of us had done before by making an interactive movie — especially one of such complexity,” says Kearns. “I think everyone who had a major role in the production grasped quite early on the need to be very organized and to get our heads around the structure of the script and the segments, as well as the implications of a nonlinear storytelling based on viewers’ choices at every choice point.”

Then, as the group worked through the movie and began getting more footage in the can, “it was obviously clear we had to work out a way of keeping track of things and getting the right results from the edit and how we were constructing it,” he continues. “Having the Branch Manager software [developed in-house by Netflix] enabled us to watch the movie with the various choices, and while making them, seeing the implications for editing — particularly at the end of a segment and when starting another. That’s because you weren’t moving to just one thing; you were going to two things, and both had to work. Some of the segments had six variations, so you had to make sure they all worked. It was a novel experience and very intense. We had to be on our toes all the time.”

Bandersnatch is not Netflix’s first interactive show. In fact, the company has experimented with more simplified interactive, or “branching narrative,” children’s shows since 2017. However, Bandersnatch marked the first time it has done so for live action and for an adult audience — and to resounding success based on audience reaction. On the heels of that success, Netflix has followed up with the live-action interactive show You vs. Wild, putting viewers into the tracks of adventurer Bear Grylls as they make decisions for him while he tries to survive an adventure in the wilderness.

For Kearns, though, Bandersnatch was his first interactive “adventure.” (He is currently editing the Netflix drama The End of the F***ing World, Season 2.) He found the process “very, very different from a linear experience.” Making things even more daunting was the level of interactive complexity that was introduced in Bandersnatch. “We had no idea how it was going to be received. Would people become too frustrated, or would the emotional aspects of the story come through within all the choices?”

One of the biggest considerations was in terms of structure — making sure there weren’t too many recaps and that they balanced out with the story’s complexity, lest viewers give up on the movie. Another big focus was ensuring that the performances within this structure maintained the empathy, or humanity, that would keep viewers engaged and invested in the characters and story.

As a result, the nonlinear process fostered closer communication among the group, with script supervisor Marilyn Kirby and assistant director Jay Author invaluable on set, and a particularly crowded editing room. “That prevented us from going mad while trying to get our heads around things,” says Kearns.

While the editor and director always work closely on projects, at times director David Slade, executive producers Brooker and Jones, producer Russell McLean, assistant editor John Weeks and VFX editor Will Howden were all working together in the cutting room. “Everyone was contributing. It wasn’t that it made things difficult; it was essential and made things more interesting and exciting,” says Kearns.

New Workflow
As Kearns points out, a typical TV show, drama or film has a main cut and that’s it. Not so for Bandersnatch, which had segments that at times had upward of 14 cuts, all of which had to be tracked and organized.

The script was divided into eight sections, and each segment in those sections was assigned a four-character alphanumeric number, along with the corresponding variant. “The workflow was based on keeping track of the segments. We knew by the number which section of the script it belonged to,” Kearns explains. “The workflow was dependent on us keeping a record, spreadsheets. While editing, we had to know which was the latest version, or cut, because they were constantly being reworked. And the latest one went into Branch Manager to be viewed on our laptops. That was an important part of the workflow.”

Using Branch Manager, however, required some technical savvy, and helping the editing team navigate the software was assistant editor John Weeks, who just happened to be an experienced coder and worked his magic with the QuickTime files for each segment and ingested them into Branch Manager. “He was able to be so proactive and communicate with the engineers and developers at Netflix. He really took to this like a duck to water,” Kearns says. “I know it took up a lot of his time, but it ended up being essential for us in terms of making decisions for the edit and structure.”

Kearns would receive footage to a particular segment after each day of filming, do an assembly and then integrate it into the system. Then he would work on further edits as the segment progressed and as the structure was reworked and aspects re-aligned. “The numbering system for each segment was kind of the spine of the process and helped us keep track of what we were doing,” he adds. “You have to be prepared to pull things apart and reassemble them because the experience is different.”

For the movie, Kearns edited on Adobe Premiere, since it allowed him to open more than one sequence at a time. “It was essential to have more than one segment edit up at a time and switch between them just to see how [the segments] flowed,” he says. He also used Adobe Premiere for the VFX work.

Branch Manager
The big star in terms of software on the project, though, was Branch Manager, developed by Netflix, which enabled the editing team to play with various options, choice points and timing, to ensure that the viewer was presented with the correct next segment based on the selection he or she had made. “You have a viewer’s experience, rather than looking at it on the edit system,” Kearns says of using the software. “We could view the movie in an interactive way on our laptops. We could see how the segments were working with each other, which was very useful.”

Carla Engelbrecht

He explains: “We’d basically do a pass and watch it, make notes and adjust the edit accordingly, because sometimes you see things in isolation and think, ‘Oh, they’re working,’ and then using Branch Manager, we were able to see that, well, maybe they aren’t working so well. It was an essential platform. It made the process more fluid and creative, and easy to understand the structural and editorial aspects. We wouldn’t have been able to do this movie without it.”

According to Carla Engelbrecht, Netflix director of product innovation, her team met with Brooker and Jones in May 2017 and introduced them to the interactive storytelling technology, which, at the time, enabled Netflix to tell various interactive stories. A few months later, the pair returned with what would be the beginnings of Bandersnatch, “and we could see this was going to be a much more complex story than what we had previously done for our interactive titles for kids, which contained simple maps with just 15 or so choices, and each often led to maybe three different endings,” she says.

Not so with the plans for Bandersnatch. “The complexity of the stories Charlie [Brooker] wanted to tell, as well as the complexity of the stories adults can tackle in general, was partly what really drove us to create Branch Manager.”

Initially, the Bandersnatch scriptwriters began their process using Twine, an open-source interactive fiction engine, but it was easy to see that would not be sufficient for the planned complexity of Bandersnatch. This prompted Engelbrecht’s group to begin developing its own software. Moreover, production teams were developing their own mapping systems, often using spreadsheets for the interactive content. “We knew we could smooth this out and make the process easier for everyone by creating a common language so we could all be on the same page,” she explains.

As Engelbrecht notes, Branch Manager is a visualization tool that is used throughout the production process, from viewing an outline to creating a flowchart of the story structure, within which pieces of the outline are embedded as a script is formed. During the shoot, rough (or even fine) cuts are added to the software. “Then you can start watching it and experiencing all of the pieces, whether for continuity or choices.”

After a few months, the software was up and running and ready to be migrated over for use on the project. “That become the ongoing tool, as we used it during the rest of scriptwriting through the actual production and even into post production,” she says. “We were sort of beta-testing it on the fly [with Bandersnatch]. As we got script deliveries, we would also get notes on Branch Manager and on other features they wanted us to add.”

Engelbrecht points out that for some in production and post, the new workflow was seamless, involving “just more” — in essence, one big linear file. (She estimates that the final file ingested into the system is approximately five hours long due to the various options.) But for others, like the DP and actors, scenes had to be reshot with slightly different takes, and editing had to track and assemble those different options. “Throughout development and beyond, we had conversations and tried to be mindful of where problems could occur at the various stages. We wanted the software to be as minimally disruptive [to the production workflow] as possible, given what we were doing.”

While Netflix hasn’t specifically quantified the time-savings that Branch Manager brought to Bandersnatch, Engelbrecht notes that it was significant and allows for the telling of much more complex interactive stories.


Listen to Netflix and Black Mirror execs discuss how Branch Manager helped drive Bandersnatch’s production and innovation.

An Interactive Future
Kearns attributes the project’s success to the group carefully considering how it would approach the movie and managing to avoid major “teething” problems by making the right decisions along the way. He notes it was important, as well, to stay on top of what was going on at any given moment in terms of how a particular segments of story. “There were so many dimensions that, mentally, it was really taxing, but exciting as well,” he says. “I had to be able to recalibrate my editing brain to not think of the story overall, but rather from the point of view of individual segments, and keep them coherent.”

Looking to the future, Kearns expects an uptick in interactive projects but believes the key to their success — as evidenced with Bandersnatch — is to develop good scripts that suit the format, rather than trying to do it as a gimmick. He warns: “You really need people in important roles to be at the top of their game. It’s not for the faint of heart. And, you have to be prepared to make those tough decisions, which are made even tougher due to the nature of the interactive structure.”

He adds, “No matter how difficult your next job is, it is going to be so easy after Bandersnatch.”

Meanwhile, Engelbrecht’s team is working on improvements to Branch Manager. “On Bandersnatch, we were building the airplane as we were flying it,” she says. “We’re now moving into Version 2, better integrating the software with external tools to make the work even more seamless. We’re also looking to improve the onboarding experience to make the learning curve shorter, so it’s not like learning a new programming language. We want it to feel more drag-and-drop.”

For instance, the group has made Branch Manager compatible with Final Draft screenwriting software, enabling a script to be imported directly into Netflix’s tool. The team is still working on the interface. “We have a long wish list just pertaining to the visualization experience with the tools. And, we’re working on how to better integrate it on the other end, so when we ingest files into the system, the metadata flows from Branch Manager directly into our [production] system, whereas right now we still have to create a spreadsheet to negotiate part of the process.”

Thanks to Branch Manager, the team on Bandersnatch was able to negotiate a complex web of shifting directions. So, too, for the executives at Netflix, who are able to explore and more easily navigate new directions for content.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.

Hobo Films’ Howard Bowler on new series The System

By Randi Altman

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

Howard Bowler’s many faces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Randi Altman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gonzalo Amat on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

Ethan Henderson and Ross Cavanaugh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DP Chat: The Village cinematographer William Rexer

By Randi Altman

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

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

The set of The Village. Photo: Peter Kramer

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

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

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

NBC’s The Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

DP Tom Curran on Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo

By Iain Blair

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

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

Tom Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Hulu’s PEN15: Helping middle school sound funny

By Jennifer Walden

Being 13 years old once was hard enough, but the creators of the Hulu series PEN15 have relived that uncomfortable age — braces and all — a second time for the sake of comedy.

James Parnell

Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle might be in their 30s, but they convincingly play two 13-year-old BFFs journeying through the perils of 7th grade. And although they’re acting alongside actual teenagers, it’s not Strangers With Candy grown-up-interfacing-with-kids kind of weird — not even during the “first kiss” scene. The awkwardness comes from just being 13 and having those first-time experiences of drinking, boyfriends, awkward school dances and even masturbation (the topic of focus in Episode 3). Erskine, Konkle and co-showrunner Sam Zvibleman hilariously capture all of that cringe-worthy coming-of-age content in their writing on PEN15.

The show is set in the early 2000s, a time when dial-up Internet and the Sony Discman were prevailing technology. The location is a non-descript American suburb that is relatable in many ways to many people, and that is one way the show transports the audience back to their early teenage years.

At Monkeyland Audio in Glendale, California, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer James Parnell and his team worked hard to capture that almost indescribable nostalgic essence that the showrunners were seeking. Monkeyland was responsible for all post sound editorial, including Foley, ADR, final 5.1 surround mixing and stereo fold-downs for each episode. Let’s find out more from Parnell.

I happened to watch Episode 3, “Ojichan,” with my mom, and it was completely awkward. It epitomized the growing pains of the teenage years, which is what this series captures so well.
Well, that was an awkward one to mix as well. Maya (Erskine) and Anna (Konkle) were in the room with me while I was mixing that scene! Obviously, the show is an adult comedy that targets adults. We all ended up joking about it during the mix — especially about the added Foley sound that was recorded.

The beauty of this show is that it has the power to take something that might otherwise be thought of as, perhaps, inappropriate for some, and humanize it. All of us went through that period in our lives and I would agree that the show captures that awkwardness in a perfect and humorous way.

The writers/showrunners also star. I’m sure they were equally involved with post as well as other aspects of the show. How were they planning to use sound to help tell their story?
Parnell: In terms of the post schedule, I was brought on very early. We were doing spotting sessions to pre-locked picture, for Episode 1 and Episode 3. From the get-go, they were very specific about how they wanted the show to sound. I got the vibe that they were going for that Degrassi/Afterschool Special feeling but kept in the year 2000 — not the original Degrassi of the early ‘90s.

For example, they had a very specific goal for what they wanted the school to sound like. The first episode takes place on the first day of 7th grade and they asked if we could pitch down the school bell so it sounds clunky and have the hallways sound sparse. When class lets out, the hallway should sound almost like a relief.

Their direction was more complex than “see a school hallway, hear a school hallway.” They were really specific about what the school should sound like and specific about what the girls’ neighborhoods should sound like — Anna’s family in the show is a bit better off than Maya’s family so the neighborhood ambiences reflect that.

What were some specific sounds you used to capture the feel of middle school?
The show is set in 2000, and they had some great visual cues as throwbacks. In Episode 4 “Solo,” Maya is getting ready for the school band recital and she and her dad (a musician who’s on tour) are sending faxes back and forth about it. So we have the sound of the fax machine.

We tried to support the amazing recordings captured by the production sound team on-set by adding in sounds that lent a non-specific feeling to the school. This doesn’t feel like a California middle school; it could be anywhere in America. The same goes for the ambiences. We weren’t using California-specific birds. We wanted it to sound like Any Town, USA so the audience could connect with the location and the story. Our backgrounds editor G.W. Pope did a great job of crafting those.

For Episode 7, “AIM,” the whole thing revolves around Maya and Anna’s AOL instant messenger experience. The creatives on the show were dreading that episode because all they were working with was temp sound. They had sourced recordings of the AOL sound pack to drop into the video edit. The concern was how some of the Hulu execs would take it because the episode mostly takes place in front of a computer, while they’re on AOL chatting with boys and with each other. Adding that final layer of sound and then processing on the mix stage helped what might otherwise feel like a slow edit and a lagging episode.

The dial-up sounds, AOL sign-on sounds and instant messenger sounds we pulled from library. This series had a limited budget, so we didn’t do any field recordings. I’ve done custom recordings for higher-budget shows, but on this one we were supplementing the production sound. Our sound designer on PEN15 was Xiang Li, and she did a great job of building these scenes. We had discussions with the showrunners about how exactly the fax and dial-up should sound. This sound design is a mixture of Xiang Li’s sound effects editorial with composer Leo Birenberg’s score. The song is a needle drop called “Computer Dunk.” Pretty cool, eh?

For Episode 4, “Solo,” was the middle school band captured on-set? Or was that recorded in the studio?
There was production sound recorded but, ultimately, the music was recorded by the composer Leo Birenberg. In the production recording, the middle school kids were actually playing their parts but it was poorer than you’d expect. The song wasn’t rehearsed so it was like they were playing random notes. That sounded a bit too bad. We had to hit that right level of “bad” to sell the scene. So Leo played individual instruments to make it sound like a class orchestra.

In terms of sound design, that was one of the more challenging episodes. I got a day to mix the show before the execs came in for playback. When I mixed it initially, I mixed in all of Leo’s stems — the brass, percussion, woodwinds, etc.

Anna pointed out that the band needed to sound worse than how Leo played it, more detuned and discordant. We ended up stripping out instruments and pitching down parts, like the flute part, so that it was in the wrong key. It made the whole scene feel much more like an awkward band recital.

During the performance, Maya improvises a timpani solo. In real life, Maya’s father is a professional percussionist here in LA, and he hooked us up with a timpani player who re-recorded that part note-for-note what she played on-screen. It sounded really good, but we ended up sticking with production sound because it was Maya’s unique performance that made that scene work. So even though we went to the extremes of hiring a professional percussionist to re-perform the part, we ultimately decided to stick with production sound.

What were some of the unique challenges you had in terms of sound on PEN15?
On Episode 3, “Ojichan,” Maya is going through this process of “self-discovery” and she’s disconnecting her friendship from Anna. There’s a scene where they’re watching a video in class and Anna asks Maya why she missed the carpool that morning. That scene was like mixing a movie inside a show. I had to mix the movie, then futz that, and then mix that into the scene. On the close-ups of the 4:3 old-school television the movie would be less futzed and more like you’re in the movie, and then we’d cut back to the girls and I’d have to futz it. Leo composed 20 different stems of music for that wild life video. Mixing that scene was challenging.

Then there was the Wild Things film in Episode 8, “Wild Things.” A group of kids go over to Anna’s boyfriend’s house to watch Wild Things on VHS. That movie was risqué, so if you had an older brother or older cousin, then you might have watched it in middle school. That was a challenging scene because everyone had a different idea of how the den should sound, how futzed the movie dialogue should be, how much of the actual film sound we could use, etc. There was a specific feel to the “movie night” that the producers were looking for. The key was mixing the movie into the background and bringing the awkward flirting/conversation between the kids forward.

Did you have a favorite scene for sound?
The season finale is one of the bigger episodes. There’s a middle school dance and so there’s a huge amount of needle-drop songs. Mixing the music was a lot of fun because it was a throwback to my youth.

Also, the “AIM” episode was fun because it ended up being fun to work on — even though everyone was initially worried about it. I think the sound really brought that episode to life. From a general standpoint, I feel like sound lent itself more so than any other aspect to that episode.

The first episode was fun too. It was the first day of school and we see the girls getting ready at their own houses, getting into the carpool and then taking their first step, literally, together toward the school. There we dropped out all the sound and just played the Lit song “My Own Worst Enemy,” which gets cut off abruptly when someone on rollerblades hops in front of the girls. Then they talk about one of their classmates who grew boobs over the summer, and we have a big sound design moment when that girl turns around and then there’s another needle-drop track “Get the Job Done.” It’s all specifically choreographed with sound.

The series music supervisor Tiffany Anders did an amazing job of picking out the big needle-drops. We have a Nelly song for the middle school dance, we have songs from The Cranberries, and Lit and a whole bunch more that fit the era and age group. Tiffany did fantastic work and was great to work with.

What were some helpful sound tools that you used on PEN15?
Our dialogue editor’s a huge fan of iZotope’s RX 7, as am I. Here at Monkeyland, we’re on the beta-testing team for iZotope. The products they make are amazing. It’s kind of like voodoo. You can take a noisy recording and with a click of a button pretty much erase the issues and save the dialogue. Within that tool palette, there are lot of ways to fix a whole host of problems.

I’m a huge fan of Audio Ease’s Altiverb, which came in handy on the season finale. In order to create the feeling of being in a middle school gymnasium, I ran the needle-drop songs through Altiverb. There are some amazing reverb settings that allow you to reverse the levels that are going to the surround speakers specifically. You can literally EQ the reverb, take out 200Hz, which would make the music sound more boomy than desired.

The lobby at Monkeyland is a large cinder-block room with super-high ceilings. It has acoustics similar to a middle school gymnasium. So, we captured a few impulse responses (IR), and I used those in Altiverb on a few lines of dialogue during the school dance in the season finale. I used that on a few of the songs as well. Like, when Anna’s boyfriend walks into the gym, there was supposed to be a Limp Bizkit needle-drop but that ended up getting scrapped at the last minute. So, instead there’s a heavy-metal song and the IR of our lobby really lent itself to that song.

The show was a simple single-card Pro Tools HD mix — 256 tracks max. I’m a huge fan of Avid and the new Pro Tools 2018. My dialogue chain features Avid’s Channel Strip; McDSP SA-2; Waves De-Esser (typically bypassed unless being used); McDSP 6030 Leveling Amplifier, which does a great job at handling extremely loud dialogue and preventing it from distorting, as well as Waves WNS.

On staff, we have a fabulous ADR mixer named Jacob Ortiz. The showrunners were really hesitant to record ADR, and whenever we could salvage the production dialogue we did. But when we needed ADR, Jacob did a great job of cueing that, and he uses the Sound In Sync toolkit, including EdiCue, EdiLoad and EdiMarker.

Any final thoughts you’d like to share on PEN15?
Yes! Watch the show. I think it’s awesome, but again, I’m biased. It’s unique and really funny. The showrunners Maya, Anna and Sam Zvibleman — who also directed four episodes — are three incredibly talented people. I was honored to be able to work with them and hope to be a part of anything they work on next.


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

Alkemy X: A VFX guide to pilot season

Pilot season is an important time for visual effects companies that work in television. Pilots offer an opportunity to establish the look of key aspects of a show and, if the show gets picked up, present the potential of a long-term gig. But pilots also offer unique challenges.

Time is always short and budgetary resources are often in even shorter supply, yet expectations may be sky high. Alkemy X, which operates visual effects studios in New York and Los Angeles, has experienced the trials as well as enjoyed the fruits of pilot season, delivering effects for shows that have gone onto successful runs, including Frequency, Time After Time, Do No Harm, The Leftovers, Flesh and Bone, Outcast, Mr. Robot, Deception and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Mark Miller

We recently reached out to Mark Miller, executive producer/business development, at Alkemy X to find out how his company overcomes the obstacles of time and budget to produce great effects for hopeful, new shows.

How does visual effects production for pilots differ from a regular series?
The biggest difference between a series and a pilot is that with a pilot you are establishing the look of the show. You work in concert with the director to implement his or her vision and offer ideas on how to get there.

Typically, we work on pilots with serious needs for VFX to drive the stories. We are not often told how to get there but simply listen to the producters, interpret their vision and do our best to give it to them on screen. The quality of the visuals we create is often the difference between a pick-up and a pass.

In the case of one show I was involved with, the time and budget available made it impossible to complete all the required visual effects. As a result, the VFX supervisor decided to put the time and money they had into the most important plot points in the script and use simple tests as placeholders for less important VFX. That sold the studio and the show went to series.

Had we attempted to complete the show in its entirety, it may not have seemed as viable by the studio. Again, that was a collaborative decision made by the director, studio, VFX supervisor and VFX company.

Mr. Robot

What should studios consider in selecting a visual effects provider for a pilot?
Often the deciding factors in choosing a VFX vendor are its cost and location within an incentivized region. Usually the final arbitrator is the VFX supervisor, occasionally with restrictions as to which company he or she may use. I find that good-quality VFX companies, shops with strong creative vision and the ability to deliver the shots with little pain, are unable to meet a production’s budgets, even if they are in a favorable region. That drives productions to smaller shops and results in less-polished shows.

Shots may not be delivered on time or may not have the desired creative impact. We are all aware that, even if a pilot you work on goes to series, there is no guarantee you will get the work. These days, many pilots employ feature directors and their crew. So, when one is picked up, it usually has a whole new crew.

The other issue with pilots is time. When the shoot runs longer than anticipated, it delays the director’s cut and VFX work can’t begin until that is done. Even a one-day delay in turnover can impact the quality of the visual effects. And it’s not a matter of throwing more artists at a shot. Many shots are not shareable among multiple artists so adding more artists won’t shorten the time to completion. Visual effects are like fine-art painting; one artist can’t create the sky while another works on the background. Under the best circumstances, it is hard to deliver polished work for pilots and such delays add to the problem. With pilots, our biggest enemy is time.

The Leftovers

How do you handle staffing and workflow issues in managing short-term projects like pilots?
You need to be very smart and nimble. A big issue for New York-based studios is infrastructure. Many buildings lack enough electricity to accommodate high power demands, high-speed connectivity and even the physical space required by visual effects studios.

New York studios therefore have to be as efficient as possible with streamlined pipelines built to push work through. We are addressing this issue by increasingly relying on cloud solutions for software and infrastructure. It helps us maximize flexibility.

Staffing is also an ongoing issue. Qualified artists are in short supply. More and more, we look to schools, designed by VFX supervisors, artists and producers, for junior artists with the skills to hit the ground running.

Disney Channel’s Fast Layne director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull

By Randi Altman

London-based Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a man with a rich industry background. He started out in this business as a visual effects artist (The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2) and VFX supervisor (America: The Story of the US), and has expanded his resume in recent years to include producer, screenwriter and feature film director of his own projects (The Beyond, 2036 Origin Unknown).

HaZ (left) on set directing Disney’s Fast Layne.

Even more recently, he added television series director to that long list, thanks to his work on Disney Channel’s action-comedy miniseries Fast Layne, where he directed Episodes 1, 2, 7 and 8. He is currently developing a slate of feature and TV projects with his next film being a sci-fi/horror offering called Lunar, which is scheduled to start shooting later in the year.

Fast Layne focuses on a very bright 12-year-old girl named Layne and her eccentric neighbor, who find V.I.N., a self-driving and talking car in an abandoned shed. The car, the girls and a classmate with experience fixing cars embark on high-speed adventures while trying to figure out why V.I.N. was created, all the while tangling with bad guys and secret agents. You can watch Fast Layne on Sundays at 7:00pm ET/PT on Disney Channel.

We reached out to Dulull to find out more about establishing the look of the show, as well as his process, and how he uses his post background to inform his directing.

As the pilot director, what was your process in establishing the look for the show?
My process was very similar to how I worked on my feature films, since I come from a filmmaking-style that is very visually driven and hands-on. As a director, I would usually do lots of look development on my end anyway, which for Fast Layne involved creating style frames in Photoshop with direction notes and ideas. These eventually became a look bible for the show.

I worked closely with the Disney Channel’s development team and the showrunners Matt Dearborn, Tom Burkhard and Travis Braun (the creator of the show). We would discuss the ideas from the early style frames I had created and developed further, along with a set of rules of what the color palette should be, the graphics and even the style of framing with the key sequences.

By the end of the process, we firmly set the tone and mood of the show as having a saturated and punchy look, while feeling slick and cinematic with a lot of energy. Since we were shooting in Vancouver during the time of year that it gets overcast/grey very quickly, we made sure the art department had many colorful objects in the environment/sets to help — including the cast’s wardrobes.

How did you work with the DP and colorist? Who did the color, and do you know the tools they used?
We had a great DP — Neil Cervin and his team of camera ninjas! They are super-fast and so collaborative in pushing the shots further.

During the prep stage, I worked closely with Neil on the look of the show, and he was really into what we wanted to do something punchy, so he made sure we retained that throughout.

Our A camera was always the ARRI Alexa during the pilot shoot. We had a DIT, Jay Rego, who would quickly apply looks on the frames we had shot using DaVinci Resolve. During this on-set color process, we would see how far we could push it with the grade and what additional lighting we would need to achieve the look we were after. This really helped us nail the look very quickly and get it approved by the showrunners and the Disney Channel team on set before we continued shooting.

We then saved those looks as DPX frames along with CDLs (color decision lists) and sent those over to colorist Lionel Barton over at Vancouver’s OmniFilm Entertainment to work from in Blackmagic Resolve. This saved time in the grading process since that was done early during the shoot. Larry and his team at Omnifilm were taking the look we had set and pushing it further with each shot across all the episodes.

Colorist Lionel Barton during grading session.

Can you talk about the car sequences? They are fun!
On the first days of prepping the show, I cut a mood reel of car chase action scenes, making clear that I love well-designed car chases and that we need to give the kids that cinematic experience they get in movies. Plus, Travis came from a NASCAR racing family, so he backed this up.

We designed the car action scenes to be fun and energetic with cool camera angles — not violent and frenetic (like the Bourne films). We were not doing crazy camera shake and motion blur action scenes; this is slick and cool action — we want the kids to experience those key action moments and go “wow.”

You are known for directing your own feature films. What was it like to direct your first TV series for a studio as big as Disney Channel?
Firstly, I’m incredibly grateful for Disney Channel giving me the opportunity to be on this journey. I have to thank Rafael Garcia at Disney Channel, who lobbied hard for me early in the process.

The first thing I quickly picked up and made sure stayed in my mind is that feature film is a director’s medium, whereas TV is a writer’s medium. So with that in mind, I ensured I collaborated very closely with Matt, Tom, and Travis on everything. Those guys were such a bundle of joy to work with. They were continually pushing the show with additional writing, and they supported me and the other directors (Joe Menendez, Rachel Leiterman) on our episodes throughout, making sure we hit those essential comedy and drama moments they wanted for the show. In fact, I would be in the same car as Matt (some days with Tom) to the shoot location every morning and back to our hotel every evening, going through things on the script, the shoot, etc. — this was a very tight collaboration, and I loved it.

The big difference between the feature films I had done and this TV series is the sheer amount of people involved from an executive and creative level. We had the writing team/execs/showrunners, then we had the executives at the Disney Channel, and we also had the team from the production company Omnifilm.

Therefore, we all had to be in sync with the vision and decisions taken. So once a decision was made, it was tough to go back and retract, so that ensured we were all making the right decisions throughout. I have to say the Fast Layne team were all very collaborative and respectful to each other, which made the “network studio” experience a very pleasant and creative one.

You are also credited as creative consultant on all the episodes? What did that entail?
I fell into that role almost automatically after shooting my first block (Episodes 1 and 2). I think it’s due to my filmmaking nature — being so hands-on technically and creatively and having that know-how from my previous projects on creating high-concept content (which usually involves a lot of visual effects) on a tight budget and schedule.

I had also done a lot of work in advance regarding how we would shoot stuff fast to allow things to be taken further in VFX. The network wanted to have someone that knew the show intimately to oversee that during the post production stage. So once production wrapped, I flew back home to London and continued working on the show by reviewing dailies, cuts and VFX shots and providing notes and creative solutions and being on conference calls with Disney and Omnifilm.

What tools were used for review and approval?
I used Evernote to keep all my notes neat and organized, and we would use Aspera for transferring files securely while Pix was the primary platform for reviewing cuts and shots.

Most of the time I would provide my notes visually rather than writing long emails, so a screen grab of the shot and then lots of arrows and annotations. I was in this role (while doing other stuff) right up to the end of the show’s post, so at the time of answering these questions I just signed off on the last episode grade (Episode 8) last week. I am now officially off the show.

You mostly shoot on Alexa, can you talk about what else you used during production?
Yes, we shot on Alexa with a variety of lenses at 3K to allow us to pan and scan later for HD deliverable. We also used GoPro and DJI Osmo’s (4K) for V.I.N.’s POV, and some DJI Drone shots too.

The biggest camera tech toy we had on the show was the Russian Arm! (It didn’t help that I keep quoting Micheal Bay during the prep of the car chase scenes). So somehow the production team managed to get us a Russian Arm for the day, and what we achieved with that was phenomenal.

We got so much bang for our buck. The team operating it, along with the stunt driving team, worked on films like Deadpool 2, so there was a moment during second unit when we almost forgot this was a kids’ show because it had the energy of an action feature film.

Russian Arm

Stylistically, we always kept the camera moving, even during drama scenes — a slow move helped give perspective and depth. All the camera moves had to be slick; there was no handheld-style in this show.

For earlier scenes in Episode 1 with Layne, we used the idea of a single camera move/take, which was choreographed slickly and timed with precision. This was to reflect the perfect nature of Layne’s character being super-organized like a planner. Most of these camera moves were simply achieved with a dolly/track and slider. Later on in the the show, as Layne’s character breaks out of her comfort zone of being safe and organized, she begins to be more spontaneous, so the camera language reflected that too with more loose shots and whip pans.

You are a post/VFX guy at heart, how did that affect the way you directed Fast Layne?
Oh yes, it had a massive influence on the way I directed my episodes, but only from a technical side of things, not creatively in the way I worked with the actors.

With my VFX background, I had the instinct to be sensible with things, such as how to frame the shots to make VFX life smoother, where to stage my actors to avoid them crossing over tracing markers (to save money on paint-outs) and, of course, to use minimal green/blue screen for the car scenes.

I knew the spill coming from the greenscreens would be a nightmare in VFX, so to avoid that as much as I could, we shot driving plates and then used a lot of rear/side projections playing them back.

Previs

The decision to go that route was partly based on my experience as a compositor back in the day, crying in the late hours de-spilling greenscreen on reflection and dealing with horrible hair mattes. The only time we shot greenscreen was for scenes where the camera was moving around areas we didn’t have screen projection space for. We did shoot car greenscreen for some generic interior plates to allow us to do things later in post if we needed to create an insert shot with a new background.

Did you use previs?
As you know from our conversations about my previous projects, I love previs and find that previs can save so much money later on in production if used right.

So the car chase sequences, along with a big action scene in the series finale, had to be prevised, mainly because we had to end big but only had limited time to shoot. The previs was also instrumental with getting first VFX budgets in for the sequences and helping the 1st AD create the schedule.

Vancouver’s Atmosphere VFX was kind enough to let me come in and work closely with one of the previs artists to map out these key scenes in 3D, while I also did some previs myself using the assets they generated for me. The previs also dictated what lens we needed and how much real estate we needed on the location.

Being a former VFX supervisor certainly helped when communicating with the show’s on-set VFX supervisors Andrew Karr and Greg Behrens. We had a shorthand with each other, which sped things up massively on set with decisions made quickly regarding shooting plates to work with VFX later.

Before and After

On set I would show the actors, via mockups and previs on my iPad, what was going to happen, why I wanted them to be staged in a certain way, and why they should look at this reference, etc. So I think that gave the actors (both the kids and adults) confidence in the scenes that involved VFX.

My personal approach to VFX is that it’s part of the arsenal of tools required to tell the story and, if possible, its best used in combination with the other crafts as opposed to just relying on it solely to achieve things.

Atmosphere created the visual effects?
Yes. I have been a fan of their work from the first season of The Expanse. They were the only main VFX house on the show and handled the CG V.I.N. shots, steering wheel transformation, and V.I.N.’s front grill, as well as other shots involving digital cloth, a robotic arm and a helicopter that appears in later episodes.

We also had a team of internal VFX artists (Mike Jackson and Richard Mintak) working for Omnifilm who were on throughout the post schedule. They handled the smaller VFX, compositing and graphics type shots, such as the windshield graphics, V.I.N.’s internal visual screen and other screen graphics as well as Layne’s Alonzo watch graphics.

How many VFX in total?
There were 1,197 VFX shots delivered, with Atmosphere VFX providing the main bulk of around 600, while the rest were graphics VFX shots done by our internal VFX team at Omnifilm.

Most of the visual effects involving CGI in the show involved V.I.N. doing cool things and his front grill communicating his emotion.

During my pitch for getting the job, I referenced my film 2036 Origin Unknown as an example of visual communication I had explored when it came to AI and characters.

From that we explored further and knew we wanted something with personality, but not with a face. We were very clear at the start that this was not going to be cartoony or gimmicky; it had to feel technologically cool, yet fresh and unique. We didn’t want to have the typical LED screen displaying graphics or emoji. Instead, we went for something resembling a pushpin cushion to give it a little organic touch — it showing that this was advanced tech, but used simple arrangements of pins moving in and out to create the shape of the eyes to communicate emotion.

It was important we went with a visual approach, which was simple to communicate with our core audience, for V.I.N. to come across visually as a personality with comedy beats. I remember being in my hotel room, drawing up emotive sketches on paper to see how simple we could get V.I.N. to be and then emailing them across to the writers for their thoughts.

Atmosphere spent some time developing R&D in Maya and Python scripting to create a system that could feed off the sound files to help generate the animation of the pins. The passes were rendered out of Maya and Vray and then composited with the final look established in Foundry Nuke.

To ensure we didn’t end up with a show where all the shots needed VFX, V.I.N.’s emotive visuals on the front grill can pop on and off when required. That meant that during the car chase sequences, V.I.N.’s face would only pop up when needed (like when it was angry as it was being chased or to show its competitive face during a race). Having this rule in place allowed us to stick with our budget and schedule as closely as possible without extreme overages (which tends to happen after editorial).

For the scenes that involved a CGI V.I.N., we shot the live-action plates with a special buggy developed exclusively for the show. This allowed our stunt driver to do cool car maneuvers and tricks, while also providing a body frame that had lots of space for rigging cameras to capturing the HDRI of the environment. It also had tracking markers across it to allow for full object tracking. (See before and after image of the buddy and CGI VIN).

The other big bulk of the VFX was all the UI/heads up display graphics on V.I.N.’s windshield, which was the way the car’s system displayed information. During Transformed mode, the windshield became a navigation system to help support Layne. It couldn’t be too crazy since we were dealing with pop-up windows overlaid so we can still see the driving action outside.

Most of those graphics were done by our internal team at Omnifilm, by graphic designers and compositors using Adobe After Effects with render passes such as wireframes of V.I.N. provided by Atmosphere. We wanted to show that the car was technologically cool without having to use any tech speak in the script. So we researched a lot into what automated cars are doing and what the developments are for the future and depicted this in the show.

Before and After

Can you provide an example?
In Episode 1, when the windshield presents a trajectory of the jump across the construction bridge, a wireframe of the bridge based on its LIDAR scan capabilities was shown as a safe jump option. Another example was during the first big motorway chase sequence. V.I.N. recognized the bad guys chasing them in the SUV, so we featured facial recognition tracking technology to show how V.I.N. was able to read their vitals from this scan as being hostile.

We used this same grounded-tech approach to create the POV of the car, using the graphics style we had created for the windshield, to show what V.I.N. was seeing and thinking and that it was essentially a sentient being. This also helped, editorially, to mix things up visually during the drama scenes inside the car.

The show was shot in Vancouver, what was that like?
I love Vancouver!! There is such a buzz in that city, and that’s because you can feel the filmmaking vibe every day, due to the fact there were like 30 other shows happening at the same time we were shooting Fast Layne! I can’t wait to go back and shoot there again.


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

Netflix hires Leon Silverman to enhance global post operation

By Adrian Pennington

Veteran postproduction executive Leon Silverman was pondering the future when Netflix came calling. The former president of Laser Pacific has spent the last decade building up Disney’s in-house digital post production wing as general manager, but will be taking on what is arguably one of the biggest jobs in the industry — director, post operations and creative services at Netflix.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t looking for a new job. I was looking to explore the next chapter of my life,” said Silverman, announcing the news at the HPA Tech Retreat last month.

“The fact is, if there is any organization or group of people anywhere that can bring content creators together with creative technology innovation in service of global storytelling, it is Netflix. This is a real opportunity to work closely with the creative community and with partners to create a future industry worthy of its past.”

That final point is telling. Indeed, Silverman’s move from one of the titans of Hollywood to the powerhouse of digital is symbolic of an industry passing the baton of innovation.

“In some ways, moving to Netflix is a culmination of everything I have been trying to achieve throughout my career,” says Silverman. “It’s about the intersection of technology and creativity, that nexus where art and science meet in order to innovate new forms of storytelling. Netflix has the resources, the vision and the talent to align these goals.”

L-R: Leon Silverman and Sean Cooney

Silverman will report to Sean Cooney, Netflix, director worldwide post production. During his keynote at the HPA Tech Retreat, Cooney introduced Silverman and his new role. He noted that the former president of the HPA (2008-2016) had built and run some of the most cutting-edge facilities on the planet.

“We know that there is work to be done on our part to better serve our talent,” says Cooney. “We were looking for someone with a deep understanding of the industry’s long and storied history of entertainment creation. Someone who knows the importance of working closely with creatives and has a vision for where things are going in the future.”

Netflix global post operation is centered in LA where it employs the majority of its 250 staff and will oversee delivery of 1,000 original pieces of programming this year. But with regional content increasingly important to the growth of the organization, Cooney and Silverman’s tricky task is to streamline core functions like localization, QC, asset management and archive while increasing output from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“One of the challenges is making sure that the talent we work with feel they are creatively supported even while we operate on a such a large scale,” explains Cooney. “We want to continue to provide a boutique experience even as we expand.”

There’s recognition of the importance to Netflix of its relationship with dozens of third-party post houses, freelance artists and tech vendors.

“Netflix has spent a lot of time cultivating deep relationships in the post community, but as we get more and more involved in upstream production we want to focus on reducing the friction between the creative side of production and the delivery side,” says Silverman. “We need to redesign our internal workflows to really try to take as much as friction out of the process as possible.”

Netflix: Black Mirror – Bandersnatch

While this makes sense from a business point of view, there’s a creative intent too. Bandersnatch, the breakthrough interactive drama from the Black Mirror team, could not have been realized without close collaboration from editorial all the way to user interface design.

“We developed special technology to enable audience interaction but that had to work in concert with our engineering and product teams and with editorial and post teams,” says Cooney.

Silverman likens this collapse of the traditional role of post into the act of production itself as “Post Post.” It’s an industry-wide trend that will enable companies like Netflix to innovate new formats spanning film, TV and immersive media.

“We are at a time and a place where the very notion of a serial progression from content inception to production to editorial then finish to distribution is anachronistic,” says Silverman. “It’s not that post is dead, it’s just that ‘post’ is not ‘after’ anything as much as it has become the underlying fabric of content creation, production and distribution. There are some real opportunities to create a more expansive, elegant and global ability to enable storytellers of all kinds to make stories of all kinds — wherever they are.”


UK-based Adrian Pennington is a professional journalist and editor specializing in the production, the technology and the business of moving image media.

Artifex provides VFX for Jordan Peele’s Weird City

Vancouver-based VFX house Artifex Studios was the primary visual effects vendor for Weird City, Oscar-winner Jordan Peele’s first foray into scripted OTT content. The dystopian sci-fi/comedy Weird City — from Peele and Charlie Sanders — premieres on YouTube Premium on  February 13. They have released a first trailer and it features a variety of Artifex’s visual effects work.

Artifex’s CG team created the trailer’s opening aerial shots of the futuristic city. Additionally, video/holographic screens, user interfaces, graphics, icons and other interactive surfaces that the characters interact with were tasked to Artifex.

Artifex’s team, led by VFX supervisor Rob Geddes, provided 250 visual effects shots in all, including Awkwafina’s and Yvette Nicole Brown’s outfit swapping (our main image), LeVar Burton’s tube traveling and a number of additional environment shots.

Artifex called on Autodesk Maya, V-ray, Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe Photoshop, along with a mix of Dell, HP, generic PC workstations and Dell and HP render nodes. They also used Side Effects Houdini for procedural generation of the “below the line” buildings in the opening city shot. Qumulo was called on for storage.

 

Behind the Title: Mr. Bronx sound designer/mixer Dave Wolfe

NAME: Dave Wolfe

COMPANY: NYC’s Mr. Bronx Audio Post

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Mr. Bronx is an audio post and sound design studio that works on everything from TV and film to commercials and installations.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE AND WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I am a partner and mixer. I do mostly sound design, dialogue editing and re-recording mixing. But I also have to manage the Bronx team, help create bids and get involved on the financial side.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER YOUR TITLE?
They would be surprised how often I change out old toilet paper rolls.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE IN YOUR WORK?
Avid Pro Tools, and a ton of our sound design is created with Native Instruments Komplete, specifically, Reaktor and Kontakt.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love helping to push the story further. Also, I like how fast the turnover is on sound jobs. We’re always getting to tackle new challenges — we come in toward the end of a project, do our job and move on.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Lunchtime. We’re blessed with a full-time in-house chef named Gen Sato. He’s been here maybe six or seven years. He makes great cold soba noodles in the summer and David Chang’s Bo Ssam in the winter. David Chang has a well-known NYC restaurant called Momofuku’s Ssam Bar. Bo Ssam is a slow-roasted pork shoulder with a sugary crust, placed in a lettuce wrap with rice and a ginger scallion sauce.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I was going to be a lawyer before I had this job. Now it’s hard to imagine what I would do without this gig, but if I had to choose, I would open a Jewish deli in Rhinebeck, New York. I could sell pastrami and lox.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I came to it late. I didn’t get my first apprenticeship until I was 25. A lot of kids tend to go to school for audio now.

I have a business degree, and I wanted to work for a record label. The first opening I found was in business affairs, so I started moving down that path. After the first two to three years there, however, I realized I was unhappy because I was creatively unfulfilled.

One day I went to MetLife Stadium for a football game and a girl asked what I would rather be doing instead. I said, “I’d rather be a mixer.” She said, “I know someone who is hiring.” Two weeks later, I had left my job and took on an apprenticeship at a mix house.

Random Acts of Flyness

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We finished a TV show for HBO this summer that aired at the end of August called Random Acts of Flyness. It was a super creative challenge. It’s a variety show with live-action shorts, some sketch work, animated pieces and stop-motion animation. We would turn around an episode a week. Sound design, dialogue edit, ADR, music edit. Take the project from soup to nuts, from an audio perspective.

The creator, Terence Nance, had a very specific vision for the project. HBO said it’s, “A fluid, stream-of-conscious response to the contemporary American mediascape.” Originally, I didn’t know what that meant, but after a couple minutes of watching, it made perfect sense.

We’ve also completed the first season of the comedy show 2 Dope Queens on HBO, with the second season coming up. We also did another as-of-yet untitled project for Hulu, and there are many more exciting works to come.

2 Dope Queens

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
This would also be Random Acts of Flyness. We were so proud to help bring this to life by supplying some heavy sound design.We love to lend a hand in order to tell really necessary stories.

It was also big for our company. We hired a new mixer, Geoff Strasser, who led the charge for us on this project. We knew that he was going to be a great fit, personality and skill set-wise.

One of our other mixers, Eric Hoffman, mixed and sound designed Lemonade almost single-handedly. Speaking as someone who helped start the company, I couldn’t be prouder of the people I get to work with.

NAME PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Like every other person who works in audio post, there’s something I heavily use called an iZotope RX Post Production Suite. It’s a set of audio restoration plugins, and you can’t live without it if you do our type of work.

When someone is making a movie, TV show or commercial, they tend to leave audio to the end. They don’t usually spend a lot of time on it in production — as the saying goes, “we’ll fix it in post,” and these tools are how we fix it.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I recently bought a 1966 Ford pickup truck, so right now I’m meditatively polishing the hubcaps. That and playing my PS4.

Assistant Editor’s Bootcamp coming up with focus on reality TV

The Assistant Editor’s Bootcamp returns on Saturday and Sunday, January 19-20 with their third installment of Bootcamp training. This month’s courses are geared to those interested in editing for reality television. Assistant Editing for Reality Television will be taught by founders Noah Chamow (The Voice) and Conor Burke (America’s Got Talent).

Day 1 of the class will cover the essential skills needed to be a reality television assistant editor. Topics covered will include project organization, importing, linking to media and transcoding, exporting cuts and a demo on how to use ScriptSync. Day 2 will give an in-depth overview and practice session on multi-grouping that will cover how to create a day stack, syncing and multi-grouping footage in Avid as well as troubleshooting multi-groups.

Students can take one or both classes. Those who sign up for the online webinar will have access to class videos for 10 days after the presentation. Pricing for each day is $149.99 in person, $124.99 via webinar. Both take place from 10am-4pm in Burbank.

The Assistant Editors’ Bootcamp was founded on the premise of giving students practical real-world experience with classes taught by professional working editors in a collaborative low-stakes environment. “Students walk away with knowledge they can apply immediately in the edit bay to become more efficient and better at their craft overall,” says Chamow. “Having worked as assistant editors, Conor and I understand the day-to-day pitfalls and challenges that can slow down workflows. It’s our goal to give our peers better knowledge of their work to give them the confidence they need to take their careers to the next level.”

Behind the Title: FuseFX VFX supervisor Marshall Krasser

Over the years, this visual effects veteran has worked with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, whose films helped inspire his career path.

NAME: Marshall Krasser

COMPANY: FuseFX 

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
FuseFX offers visual effects services for episodic television, feature films, commercials and VR productions. Founded in 2006, the company employs over 300 people across three studio locations in LA, NYC and Vancouver

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In general, a VFX supervisor is responsible for leading the creative team that brings the director’s vision to life. The role does vary from show to show depending on whether or not there is an on-set or studio-side VFX supervisor.

Here is a list of responsibilities across the board:
– Read and flag the required VFX shots in the script.
– Work with the producer and team to bid the VFX work.
– Attend the creative meetings and location scouts.
– Work with the studio creative team to determine what they want and what we need to achieve it.
– Be the on-set presence for VFX work — making sure the required data and information we need is shot, gathered and catalogued.
– Work with our in-house team to start developing assets and any pre-production concept art that will be needed.
– Once the VFX work is in post production, the VFX supervisor guides the team of in-house artists and technicians through the shot creation/completion phase, while working with the producer to keep the show within the budgets constraints.
– Keep the client happy!

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That the job is much more than pointing at the computer screen and making pretty images. Team management is critical. Since you are working with very talented and creative people, it takes a special skill set and understanding. Having worked up through the VFX ranks, it helps you understand the mind set since you have been in their shoes.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
My first job was creating computer graphic images for speaker support presentations on a Genigraphics workstation in 1984. I then transitioned into feature film in 1994.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD, WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
It’s changed a lot. In the early days at ILM, we were breaking ground by being asked to create imagery that had never been seen before. This involved creating new tools and approaches that had not been previously possible.

Today, VFX has less of the “man behind the curtain” mystique and has become more mainstream and familiar to most. The tools and computer power have evolved so there is less of the “heavy lifting” that was required in the past. This is all good, but the “bad” part is the fact that “tricking” people’s eyes is more difficult these days.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
A couple really focused my attention toward VFX. There is a whole generation that was enthralled with the first Star Wars movie. I will never forget the feeling I had upon first viewing it — it was magical.

The other was E.T., since it was more grounded on Earth and more plausible. I was blessed to be able to work directly with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg [and the artisans who created the VFX for these films] during the course of my career.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I did not. At the time, there was virtually no opportunity to attend a film school, or any school, that taught VFX. I took the route that made the most sense for me at the time — art major. I am a classically trained artist who focused on graphic design and illustration, but I also took computer programming.

On a typical Saturday, I would spend the morning in the computer lab programming and the afternoon on the potter’s wheel throwing pots. Always found that ironic – primitive to modern in the same day!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with the team and bringing the creative to life.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Numbers, no one told me there would be math! Re: bidding.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Maybe a fishing or outdoor adventure guide. Something far away from computers and an office.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
– the Vice movie
– the Waco miniseries
–  the Life Sentence TV series
– the Needle in a Timestack film
The 100 TV series

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few stand out, in no particular order. Pearl Harbor, Harry Potter, Galaxy Quest, Titanic, War of the Worlds and the last Indiana Jones movie.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I would have to say Nuke. I use it for shot and concept work when needed.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Everything around me. I am heavily into photography these days, and am always looking at putting a new spin on ordinary things and capturing the unique.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Head into the great British Columbian outdoors for camping and other outdoor activities.

VFX Supervision: The Coens’ Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

By Randi Altman

The writing and directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen have taken on the American Western with their new Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. This offering features six different vignettes that follow outlaws and settlers on the American frontier.

It stars the Coen brothers’ favorite Tim Blake Nelson as Buster, along with Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brenden Gleeson and many other familiar faces, even Tom Waits! It’s got dark humor and a ton of Coen quirkiness.

Alex Lemke (middle) on set with the Coen brothers.

For their visual effects needs, the filmmakers turned to New York-based East Side Effects co-founders and VFX supervisors Alexander Lemke and Michael Huber to help make things look authentic.

We reached out to visual effects supervisors Lemke and Huber to find out more about their process on the film and how they worked with these acclaimed filmmakers. East Side Effects created two-thirds of the visual effects in-house, while other houses, such as The Mill and Method, provided shots as well.

How many VFX shots were there in total?
Alexander Lemke: In the end, 704 shots had digital effects in them. This has to be a new record for the Coens. Joel at one point jokingly called it their “Marvel movie.”

How early did you get involved? Can you talk about that process?
Michael Huber: Alex and myself were first approached in January 2017 and had our first meetings shortly thereafter. We went through the script with the Coens and designed what we call a “VFX bible,” which outlined how we thought certain effects could be achieved. We then started collecting references from other films or real-life footage.

Did you do previs? 
Lemke: The Coens have been doing movies for so long in their own way that previs never really became an issue. For the Indian battles, we tried to interest them in the Ncam virtual camera system in combination with pre-generated assets, but that is not their way of doing a film.

The whole project was storyboarded by J. Todd Anderson, who has been their go-to storyboard guy since Raising Arizona. These storyboards gave a pretty good indication of what to expect, but there were still a lot of changes due to the nature of the project, such as weather and shooting with animals.

What were some of the challenges of the process and can you talk about creating the digital characters that were needed?
Huber: Every story had its own challenge, ranging from straightforward paintouts and continuity fixes to CG animals and complex head replacements using motion control technology. In order to keep the work as close to the directors as possible, we assembled a group of artists to serve as an extended in-house team, creating the majority of shots while also acting as a hub for external vendor work.

In addition, a color workflow using ACES and FilmLight Baselight was established to match VFX shots seamlessly to the dailies look established by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and senior colorist Peter Doyle. All VFX pulls were handled in-house.

Lemke: The Coens like to keep things in-camera as much as possible, so animals like the owl in “All Gold Canyon” or the dog in “Gal” were real. Very early on it was clear that some horse falls wouldn’t be possible as a practical stunt, so Joel and Ethan had a reel compiled with various digital horse stunts — including the “Battle of the Bastards” from Game of Thrones, which was done by Iloura (now Method). We liked that so much that we decided to just go for it and reach out to these guys, and we were thrilled when we got them on board for this. They did the “dog-hole!” horse falls in the “The Gal Who Got Rattled” segment, as well as the carriage horses in “Mortal Remains.”

Huber: For the deer in “All Gold Canyon,” the long-time plan was to shoot a real deer against bluescreen, but it became clear that we might not get the very specific actions Joel and Ethan wanted to see. They were constantly referring to the opening of Shane, which has this great shot of the titular character appearing through the antlers of a deer. So, it became more and more clear it would have to be a digital solution, and we were very happy to get The Mill in New York to work on that for us. Eventually, they would also handle all the other critters in the opening sequence.

Can you talk about Meal Ticket’s “artist” character, who is missing limbs?
Lemke: The “Wingless Thrush” — as he is referred to on a poster in the film — was a combined effort of the art department, special effects, costume design, VFX and, of course, actor Harry Melling’s incredible stamina. He was performing this poetry while standing in a hole in the ground with his hands behind his back, and went for it take after take, sometimes in the freezing cold.

Huber: It was clear that 98% of all shots would be painting out his arms and legs, so SFX supervisor Steve Cremin had to devise a way to cut holes into the set and his chair to make it appear he was resting on his stumps. Our costume designer, Mary Zophres, had the great idea of having him wear a regular shirt where the longs sleeves were just folded up, which helped with hiding his arms. He wasn’t wearing any blue garment, just black, which helped with getting any unnecessary color spill in the set.

Alex was on set to make sure we would shoot clean plates after each setup. Luckily, the Coen brothers’ approach to these shots was really focusing on Harry’s performance in long locked-off takes, so we didn’t have to deal with a lot of camera motion. We also helped Harry’s look by warping his shoulders closer to his body in some shots.

Was there a particular scene with this character that was most challenging or that you are most proud of?
Lemke: While most of the paintout shots were pretty straightforward — we just had to deal with the sheer amount of shots and edit changes — the most challenging parts are when Liam Neeson carries Harry in a backpack up the stairs in a brothel. He then puts him on the ground and eventually turns him away from the “action” that is about to happen.

We talked about different approaches early on. At some point, a rig was considered to help with him being carried up the stairs, but this would have meant an enormous amount of paint work, not to mention the setup time on a very tight shooting schedule. A CG head might have worked for the stairs, but for the long close up shots of Harry — both over a minute long, and only with very subtle facial expressions — it would have been cost prohibitive and maybe not successful in the end. So a head replacement seemed like the best solution, which comes with its own set of problems. In our case, shooting a head element of Harry that would match exactly what the dummy on Liam’s back and on the ground was doing in the production plates.

We came up with a very elaborate set up, where we would track the backpack and a dummy in the live-action photography in 3D Equalizer. We then reengineered this data into Kuper move files that would drive a motion control motion base combo.

Basically, Harry would sit on a computerized motion base that would do the turning motion so he could react to being pushed around. This happened while the motion control camera would take care of all the translations. This also meant our DP Bruno had to create animated lighting for the staircase shot to make the head element really sit in the plate.

We worked with Pacific Motion for the motion control. Mike Leben was our operator. For the NAC effects for the motion base, Nic Nicholson took care of this. Special thanks goes out to Christoph Gaudl for his camera and object tracking, Stefan Galleithner for taking on the task of converting all that data into something the camera and base would understand, and Kelly Chang and Mike Viscione for on-set Maya support.

Of course, you only get an element that works 80% of the way — the rest was laborious compositing work. Since we put the motion base to its speed limits on the staircase shot, we actually had to shoot it half speed and then speed it up in post. This meant a lot of warping/tracking was needed to make sure there was no slippage.

Michael Huber

The dummy we used for the live-action photography didn’t have any breathing movement in it, so we used parts of Harry’s bluescreen plates as a guideline of how his chest should move. These tricky tasks were expertly performed mainly by Danica Parry, Euna Kho and Sabrina Tenore.

Can you talk about how valuable it is being on set?
Huber: It is just valuable to be on set when the call sheet calls for a greenscreen, while we really need a bluescreen! But joking aside, Joel and Ethan were very happy to have someone there all the time during the main shoot in case something came up, which happened a lot because we were shooting outdoors so much and we were dependent on the weather.

For the opening shot of Buster riding through Monument Valley, they were thinking of a very specific view — something they had seen on a picture on the Internet. Through Google Maps and research, Alex was able to find out the exact location that picture was taken. So, on a weekend when we weren’t shooting, he packed up his family and drove up to the Valley to shoot photographs that would serve as the basis for the matte painting for the first shot of the film — instead of going there with a whole crew.

Another instance being on set helped would be the scene with Tom Waits in the tree — the backgrounds for these bluescreen shots were a mixture of B camera and Alex’s location photography while in Colorado. Same goes for the owl tree backgrounds.

What tools did East Side use on the film?
Huber: For software we called on Foundry Nuke (X & Studio), Boris FX Mocha Pro and Side Effects Houdini. For hardware we used HP and SuperMicro workstations running Linux. There was also proprietary software such as using Houdini digital assets for blood simulations.

We were using Autodesk Shotgun with a proprietary connection to Nuke that handled all our artist interaction and versioning, including automatically applying the correct Baselight grade when creating a version. This also allowed us to use the RV-Shotgun integration for reviewing.

Can you talk about the turnaround times and deadlines?
Lemke: Working on a Coen brothers film means you don’t have a lot of things you normally have to deal with — studio screenings, trailers, and such. At the same time, they insisted on working through the stories chronologically, so that meant that the later segments would come in late in the schedule. But, it is always a great experience working with filmmakers who have a clear vision and know what they are doing.

Behind the Title: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Dan Judy

This color vet finds inspiration for his work in everyday sights, such as sunsets, views of the city and even music.

NAME: Colorist Dan Judy

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree (DFT)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
DFT provides cloud post services and software that evolve file-based workflows, simplify the creative process, and dramatically reduce production cost.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
How creative the process is — it’s an amazing collaborative effort between the production team and color. Our attention to detail, both broad and minute, are almost surgical. It’s micro and macro. Oh, and having the right snacks available are absolutely critical!

Dan Judy

WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Blackmagic’s Resolve.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Nearly every project will have requests that are specific and non-color related. I was once asked to dry off an actress who was perspiring too much. At that time I didn’t have the towel function on my color corrector.

We are asked to help out with beauty fixes, add lens flares, light matches, remove footprints in sand . . . you get the idea.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
It is the satisfaction of the finished project, knowing that I got to contribute to the end result. It’s the confidence at the end of that process and putting the piece out there for people to enjoy.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
My first love was athletics, especially football. Would I have been a player? I had my shot and, well, I’m here. I’m sure my path would have continued in that direction.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I had no clue this position was even a thing. I got an internship at a post facility through my masters program in Florida. They offered me a position at the end of the internship and my career began. A lot of bumps and bruises later and, well, I feel blessed to be where this path has led me.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The 100, Last Man on Earth, the Roseanne relaunch, Falling Skies and a few years ago, The Walking Dead.

The 100

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I would say with a wink, the next one. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s like saying which of your children do you like better? I have been extraordinarily lucky that all my shows have given me a great deal of freedom to be really creative.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Honestly, from life. Watching amazing sunsets, experiencing great expanses of nature. I also like having uplifting music on while I work.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I would say electricity is a big one, big smile here. Professionally? A bitchin’ hero monitor, a great calibrated scope and Resolve.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Hanging with my family! They ground me every day and keep me honest. Their love is what keeps me wanting tomorrow to happen.

House of Cards showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese

By Iain Blair

Since it first premiered back in 2013, Netflix’s oh-so-timely political thriller House of Cards has been a big hit, delivering provocative, twisty plot lines peppered with surprises and shocks. It has also racked up dozens of awards, including 33 Primetime Emmys and fistfuls of Golden Globes along the way. But the biggest shocker of all was probably the real-life firing of star Kevin Spacey last year by Netflix, following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Writer Iain Blair (left) with Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese.

With Spacey — and power-hungry Frank Underwood — suddenly MIA, the upside is that girls now rule the world. This is great news for Robin Wright fans as the Golden Globe-winner and Emmy-nominee returns as President of the United States in Season 6, the final season of the series, which is now streaming on Netflix.

The show has added Oscar-nominees Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear to the cast, in addition to American Horror Story-alum Cody Fern. They join existing players Michael Kelly, Jayne Atkinson, Patricia Clarkson, Constance Zimmer, Derek Cecil, Campbell Scott and Boris McGiver.

Behind the scenes, Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese continue as showrunners for Season 6, and serve as executive producers along with Robin Wright, David Fincher, Joshua Donen, Dana Brunetti, Eric Roth, Michael Dobbs and Andrew Davies. Created for television by Beau Willimon, House of Cards is produced by Donen/Fincher/Roth and Trigger Street Productions, in association with Media Rights Capital for Netflix.

I recently spoke with Gibson and Pugliese about making the show and awards season.

When Kevin Spacey was fired, and you lost the show’s star, did you consider ending the series early?
Frank Pugliese: Yes, it was a huge thing, a big shock, and I think it had to be considered.

Melissa James Gibson: Everything was on the table as we wanted to make sure our way forward was the right one. We needed to regroup and carefully go through every possibility.

Pugliese: But pretty quickly we figured out that the best response was to try and tell the story without Francis on screen. So within a day or so, we were back at work, writing out ideas and discussing how to do it.

What can you tell us about the new season? Robin has said that it’ll be “a real shocker.”
Pugliese: Our hope is that it’s shocking but also feels inevitable at the same time, and we’re trying our best to give the show its most satisfying ending that has integrity and also serves a story that’s been told over many years.

Gibson: We tried to forge a brave way forward that would also be a reckoning for all of the characters We both knew that this season “reckoning” would be a key word, along with “complicity.”

Robin’s directed quite a few episodes over the years. Is it true she also directed the big finale?
Pugliese: Yes, and it seemed so appropriate. Remember, Season 5 ended with her saying, “My turn,” so even as we began exploring what to do this season, it seemed unacceptable to not have that examined and dramatized. It just seemed right that she would direct the last one, and the last scene of the whole story was actually done on the last day of shooting. So her as the lead and also directing just seemed right.

Gibson: It kind of all led up to that, and the focus was always going to be on her in Season 6.

Pugliese: So much had been set up at the end of the last season, and we’d talked so much during the planning of that season about how Season 6 would go, and about who really owns the White House. Pile on the power. And Francis says he’ll own the White House by owning her. No matter what, it was going to be all about her and the powers that be trying to own her — one of them being her husband.

Maybe it’s a very prescient arc, and America will elect a woman president next?
Gibson: Wouldn’t that be nice!

Do you like being a showrunners?
Gibson: We both love it. We came on as writers on Season 3 when Beau hired us, worked as writers on Season 4, and then began showrunning last season.

Pugliese: I really like it.

Gibson: It’s because I feel that a lot of the challenges Claire faces this season are the same ones you face as a showrunner (laughs). When you’re making decisions and setting priorities it says a lot about what you value.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
Gibson: I’d say establishing all the priorities, both micro and macro.

Pugliese: We work very closely, and it probably goes back to our days in theater, but for me it’s establishing a collective communal work atmosphere. Your hope is that you can delegate a lot of the responsibility and then do the best work possible. If you can do that successfully, then the show’s successful. Helping establish all that really helped us with the new season, because in dealing with [the Spacey firing] we all felt that the best way to deal with it was to get to work and focus on telling the best story we could. Everyone agreed on that.

Where do you post?
Pugliese: We shoot in Baltimore, but all the post is done here in LA, and we do remote sessions using Pix.

Is that weird?
Pugliese: It’s weird until it’s not weird. If you think about it, it is, but you quickly get used to it and we can go over sequences in great detail.

Do you like the post process?
Gibson: We love it. It’s the third part of the entire storytelling, and I’ve learned so much dealing with post and editing and visual effects and so on. Our post supervisor, Hameed Shaukat, has been with the show since the very start.

You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Gibson: We have about four at any one time, and many have been with the show for years, and they’ll hop-scotch around. We give notes, they’ll re-cut stuff, and we’ll have robust conversations about scenes and the tone and pacing and so on.

Pugliese: Some days we’ll get on the phone right away and they’ll cut some things to see if they’re even working or not. There’s a lot of back and forth.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
Gibson: It’s always about trying to balance the various competing elements and characters, and then this season we have a number of new characters and cast members, like Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear, so it’s all about calibration and the rhythm.

Pugliese: We work really hard to get the scripts in the best place possible, and we have really intensive and extensive tonal meetings where we go line by line and explain the intent to everyone involved. So if everyone’s on the same page when it comes to tone and intent, then they can go off and just do their jobs. That means less work for us, so we can then just focus on the overall storyline.

Gibson: It helps that there was a rigorous vocabulary established right at the start by David Fincher, so we had a great template to follow.

Pugliese: It also helped us in knowing when it was time to move away from that.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music.
Gibson: It’s a vital part, and like Hameed, composer Jeff Beal has been with the show since day one, and he wrote that famous theme. He knows exactly what is needed. We also have a great sound team, with guys like supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod and sound designer Ren Klyce, who’ve also been there since day one. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine by now.

How important are awards to a show like this?
Pugliese: I get so excited when I see people in the show get recognized by their peers. Everyone works so hard.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
Gibson: It’s so good that people are now talking openly about the problems, and I think the industry as a whole is trying to make adjustments and make sure there are more women in the room, more people of color. But it’s not just that it’s the right thing to do ethically — it’s also about being good for the work. It needs to change.

Pugliese: Yes, it does need to change, and a correction is long overdue.


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

 

DP Chat: Polly Morgan, ASC, BSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FX’s Legion, Season 2, Episode 2

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

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

Behind the Title: Post supervisor Chloe Blackwell

NAME: Chloe Blackwell

COMPANY: UK-based Click Post Production

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I provide bespoke post solutions, which include consultancy and development courses for production companies. I’m also currently working on an online TV series full time. More on that later!

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Post Production Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Each job that I take on is quite different, so my role will evolve to suit each company’s needs.

Usually my job starts at the early stages of production, so I will meet with the editorial team to work out what they are looking to achieve visually. From this I can ascertain how their post will work most effectively, and work back from their delivery dates to put an edit and finishing schedule together.

For every shoot I will oversee the rushes being ingested and investigate any technical issues that crop up. Once the post production phase starts, I will be in charge of managing the offline. This includes ensuring editors are aware of deadlines and working with executives and/or directors and producers to ensure smooth running of their show.

This also requires me to liaise with the post house, keeping them informed of production’s requirements and schedules, and trouble shooting any obstacles that inevitably crop up along the way.

I also deal directly with the broadcaster, ensuring delivery requirements are clear, ironing out any technical queries from both sides and ensuring the final masters are delivered in timely manner. This also means that I have to be meticulous about quality control of the final product, as any errors can cause huge delays. As the post supervisor managing the post production budget, efficiently is vital. I keep a constant eye on spending and keep the production team up to date with cost reports.

Alternatively, I also offer my services as a consultant, if all a production needs is some initial support. I’m also in the process of setting up courses for production teams that will help them gain a better understanding of the new 4KHDR world, and how they can work to realistic timing and budgets.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the amount of decisions I have to make on a daily basis. There are so many different ways of doing things, from converting frame rates, working with archive and creating the workflows for editorial to work with.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I think I have the best job in the world! I am one of the very few people on any production that sees the show from early development, right through to delivery. It’s a very privileged position.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My role can be quite intensive, so there is usually a real lack of downtime.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
As I have quite a long commute, I find that first thing in the morning is my most productive time. From about 6am I have a few hours of uninterrupted work I can do to set my day up to run smoothly.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would have joined the military!

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
As cheesy as it sounds, post production actually found me! I was working for a production company very early in my career, and I was going to be made redundant. Luckily, I was a valued member of the company and was re-drafted into their post production team. At first I thought it was a disaster, however with lots of help, I hit my stride and fell in love with the job.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
For the last three years I have been working on The Grand Tour for Amazon Prime.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a hard question as I have worked on so many.

But The Grand Tour has been the most technically challenging. It was the first ever 4K HDR factual entertainment show! Coupled with the fact that it was all shot at 23.98 with elements shot as live. It was one of those jobs where you couldn’t really ask people for advice because it just hadn’t been done.

However, I am also really proud of some of the documentaries I have made, including Born to be Different, Power and the Women’s World and VE day.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My coffee machine, my toaster and the Avid Media Composer.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
All of them…I have to! Part of being in post is being aware of all the new technologies, shows and channels/online platforms out there. You have to keep ahead of the times.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Yes, I love music! I have an eclectic, wide-ranging taste, which means I have a million playlists on Spotify! I love finding new music and playing it for Jess (Jessica Redman, my post production coordinator). We are often shimmying around the office. It keeps the job light, especially during the most demanding days.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I am fortunate enough to be able to take my dog Mouse with me to work. She keeps me sane and keeps me calm, whilst also providing those I work with, with a little joy too!

I am also an obsessive reader, so any down time I get I am often found curled up under a blanket with a good book.

My passion for television really knows no bounds, so I watch TV a lot too! I try to watch at least the first episode of all new TV programs. I rarely get to go to the cinema, but when I do it’s such a treat to watch films on the big screen.

Creating super sounds for Disney XD’s Marvel Rising: Initiation

By Jennifer Walden

Marvel revealed “the next generation of Marvel heroes for the next generation of Marvel fans” in a behind-the-scenes video back in December. Those characters stayed tightly under wraps until August 13, when a compilation of animated shorts called Marvel Rising: Initiation aired on Disney XD. Those shorts dive into the back story of the new heroes and give audiences a taste of what they can expect in the feature-length animated film Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors that aired for the first time on September 30 on both the Disney Channel and Disney XD simultaneously.

L-R: Pat Rodman and Eric P. Sherman

Handling audio post on both the animated shorts and the full-length feature is the Bang Zoom team led by sound supervisor Eric P. Sherman and chief sound engineer Pat Rodman. They worked on the project at the Bang Zoom Atomic Olive location in Burbank. The sounds they created for this new generation of Marvel heroes fit right in with the established Marvel universe but aren’t strictly limited to what already exists. “We love to keep it kind of close, unless Marvel tells us that we should match a specific sound. It really comes down to whether it’s a sound for a new tech or an old tech,” says Rodman.

Sherman adds, “When they are talking about this being for the next generation of fans, they’re creating a whole new collection of heroes, but they definitely want to use what works. The fans will not be disappointed.”

The shorts begin with a helicopter flyover of New York City at night. Blaring sirens mix with police radio chatter as searchlights sweep over a crime scene on the street below. A SWAT team moves in as a voice blasts over a bullhorn, “To the individual known as Ghost Spider, we’ve got you surrounded. Come out peacefully with your hands up and you will not be harmed.” Marvel Rising: Initiation wastes no time in painting a grim picture of New York City. “There is tension and chaos. You feel the oppressiveness of the city. It’s definitely the darker side of New York,” says Sherman.

The sound of the city throughout the series was created using a combination of sourced recordings of authentic New York City street ambience and custom recordings of bustling crowds that Rodman captured at street markets in Los Angeles. Mix-wise, Rodman says they chose to play the backgrounds of the city hotter than normal just to give the track a more immersive feel.

Ghost Spider
Not even 30 seconds into the shorts, the first new Marvel character makes her dramatic debut. Ghost Spider (Dove Cameron), who is also known as Spider Gwen, bursts from a third-story window, slinging webs at the waiting officers. Since she’s a new character, Rodman notes that she’s still finding her way and there’s a bit of awkwardness to her character. “We didn’t want her to sound too refined. Her tech is good, but it’s new. It’s kind of like Spider-Man first starting out as a kid and his tech was a little off,” he says.

Sound designer Gordon Hookailo spent a lot of time crafting the sound of Spider Gwen’s webs, which according to Sherman have more of a nylon, silky kind of sound than Spider-Man’s webs. There’s a subliminal ghostly wisp sound to her webs also. “It’s not very overt. There’s just a little hint of a wisp, so it’s not exactly like regular Spider-Man’s,” explains Rodman.

Initially, Spider Gwen seems to be a villain. She’s confronted by the young-yet-authoritative hero Patriot (Kamil McFadden), a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. who was trained by Captain America. Patriot carries a versatile, high-tech shield that can do lots of things, like become a hovercraft. It shoots lasers and rockets too. The hoverboard makes a subtle whooshy, humming sound that’s high-tech in a way that’s akin to the Goblin’s hovercraft. “It had to sound like Captain America too. We had to make it match with that,” notes Rodman.

Later on in the shorts, Spider Gwen’s story reveals that she’s actually one of the good guys. She joins forces with a crew of new heroes, starting with Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl.

Ms. Marvel (Kathreen Khavari) has the ability to stretch and grow. When she reaches out to grab Spider Gwen’s leg, there’s a rubbery, creaking sound. When she grows 50 feet tall she sounds 50 feet tall, complete with massive, ground shaking footsteps and a lower ranged voice that’s sweetened with big delays and reverbs. “When she’s large, she almost has a totally different voice. She’s sound like a large, forceful woman,” says Sherman.

Squirrel Girl
One of the favorites on the series so far is Squirrel Girl (Milana Vayntrub) and her squirrel sidekick Tippy Toe. Squirrel Girl has  the power to call a stampede of squirrels. Sound-wise, the team had fun with that, capturing recordings of animals small and large with their Zoom H6 field recorder. “We recorded horses and dogs mainly because we couldn’t find any squirrels in Burbank; none that would cooperate, anyway,” jokes Rodman. “We settled on a larger animal sound that we manipulated to sound like it had little feet. And we made it sound like there are huge numbers of them.”

Squirrel Girl is a fan of anime, and so she incorporates an anime style into her attacks, like calling out her moves before she makes them. Sherman shares, “Bang Zoom cut its teeth on anime; it’s still very much a part of our lifeblood. Pat and I worked on thousands of episodes of anime together, and we came up with all of these techniques for making powerful power moves.” For example, they add reverb to the power moves and choose “shings” that have an anime style sound.

What is an anime-style sound, you ask? “Diehard fans of anime will debate this to the death,” says Sherman. “It’s an intuitive thing, I think. I’ll tell Pat to do that thing on that line, and he does. We’re very much ‘go with the gut’ kind of people.

“As far as anime style sound effects, Gordon [Hookailo] specifically wanted to create new anime sound effects so we didn’t just take them from an existing library. He created these new, homegrown anime effects.”

Quake
The other hero briefly introduced in the shorts is Quake (Chloe Bennet), who is the same actress who plays Daisy Johnson, aka Quake, on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Sherman says, “Gordon is a big fan of that show and has watched every episode. He used that as a reference for the sound of Quake in the shorts.”

The villain in the shorts has so far remained nameless, but when she first battles Spider Gwen the audience sees her pair of super-daggers that pulse with a green glow. The daggers are somewhat “alive,” and when they cut someone they take some of that person’s life force. “We definitely had them sound as if the power was coming from the daggers and not from the person wielding them,” explains Rodman. “The sounds that Gordon used were specifically designed — not pulled from a library — and there is a subliminal vocal effect when the daggers make a cut. It’s like the blade is sentient. It’s pretty creepy.”

Voices
The character voices were recorded at Bang Zoom, either in the studio or via ISDN. The challenge was getting all the different voices to sound as though they were in the same space together on-screen. Also, some sessions were recorded with single mics on each actor while other sessions were recorded as an ensemble.

Sherman notes it was an interesting exercise in casting. Some of the actors were YouTube stars (who don’t have much formal voice acting experience) and some were experienced voice actors. When an actor without voiceover experience comes in to record, the Bang Zoom team likes to start with mic technique 101. “Mic technique was a big aspect and we worked on that. We are picky about mic technique,” says Sherman. “But, on the other side of that, we got interesting performances. There’s a realism, a naturalness, that makes the characters very relatable.”

To get the voices to match, Rodman spent a lot of time using Waves EQ, Pro Tools Legacy Pitch, and occasionally Waves UltraPitch for when an actor slipped out of character. “They did lots of takes on some of these lines, so an actor might lose focus on where they were, performance-wise. You either have to pull them back in with EQ, pitching or leveling,” Rodman explains.

One highlight of the voice recording process was working with voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, who did the squirrel voice for Tippy Toe. Most of Tippy Toe’s final track was Dee Bradley Baker’s natural voice. Rodman rarely had to tweak the pitch, and it needed no other processing or sound design enhancement. “He’s almost like a Frank Welker (who did the voice of Fred Jones on Scooby-Doo, the voice of Megatron starting with the ‘80s Transformers franchise and Nibbler on Futurama).

Marvel Rising: Initiation was like a training ground for the sound of the feature-length film. The ideas that Bang Zoom worked out there were expanded upon for the soon-to-be released Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors. Sherman concludes, “The shorts gave us the opportunity to get our arms around the property before we really dove into the meat of the film. They gave us a chance to explore these new characters.”


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

Montreal’s Real by Fake acquires LA’s Local Hero

Montréal-based post company Real by Fake has acquired Santa Monica’s Local Hero, whose credits include Mr. Robot, Captain Fantastic and Pitch Perfect. The acquisition creates an international post production and VFX entity that gives Real by Fake (C.R.A.Z.Y., Café de Flore, Dallas Buyers Club, Wild, Demolition) a significant presence in the Los Angeles area, while also bringing Local Hero’s established brand to Montréal. The two companies recently collaborated on all post and VFX for HBO’s popular limited series Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects. Check out our coverage of Sharp Objects here.

The companies will offer a full suite of services in both Montréal and Los Angeles, including: workflow consulting and look development; film and television tax credit-claiming services in Québec, California and Georgia; dailies; VFX; editorial suites; digital intermediates; full sound packages; mastering and deliverables (including 4K, VR and Dolby Vision HDR).

The companies will retain the Real by Fake brand for VFX and the Local Hero brand for all other post services. Marc Côté will continue to serve as the president of Real by Fake and run all Canadian operations. Steve Bannerman will continue as CEO of Local Hero and run all US operations. Leandro Marini will continue to manage all Local Hero creative services and customer support.

“I have collaborated closely with Marc Côté and Real by Fake on many projects, and they have become the trusted producing and post production partner for all my projects,” says director EP Jean-Marc Vallée. “I witnessed the teamwork between Real by Fake and Local Hero first-hand while working on Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects.”

“This acquisition is perfect for Local Hero for several reasons,” according to Steve Bannerman, CEO of Local Hero. “First, if gives us significant scale. Many of our best clients, like Lynette Howell and Matt Ross, are now taking on some of the biggest projects in Hollywood, and we need scale to work on those projects — particularly in VFX. We now have that. We can also offer our clients access to the lucrative tax incentives in Montreal and Georgia, so they can allocate more of their budget above the line. This is a crucial component in getting any project made in today’s climate. And, lastly, we get a fantastic partner in Marc Côté, and the team at Real by Fake. Marc brings a tremendous amount of cutting-edge VFX producing and on-set technical skill to the company. As more of our business trends toward VFX, this expertise is crucial in winning the big projects, while efficiently managing their VFX budgets. In short, we now have the complete package — world-class scale, skill and tax incentives.”

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

By Jennifer Walden

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

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

George Haddad

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

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

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

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

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

Karyn Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Crafting sound for Emmy-winning Atlanta

By Jennifer Walden

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

Trevor Gates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Digging into the dailies workflow for HBO’s Sharp Objects

By Randi Altman

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

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

Drew Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorist Bob Festa on Yellowstone’s modern Western look

Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, from creator, writer and director Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), is a 10-episode modern-day Western starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of the Duttons, owners of the largest ranch in the contiguous United States.

The Dutton family is in constant conflict with owners of the property surrounding their land, including developers, an Indian reservation and a national park. The series follows Costner’s character and his dysfunctional children as they navigate their bumpy road.

Cinematographer Ben Richardson and Efilm senior colorist Mitch Paulson already had a color lock on the pilot for Yellowstone, but brought on Encore senior colorist Bob Festa to work on the episodes. “As a Deluxe sister company, it was only natural to employ Encore Hollywood’s television resources,” explains Festa. “I was keen to collaborate with both Ben and Mitch. Mitch then served as supervising colorist.”

Let’s find out more from the veteran colorist.

How did you work with the director and DP?
Honestly, my first discussions with Ben were quite involved and fully articulated. For instance, while Ben’s work with Beasts of the Southern Wild and Wind River are wildly different looking projects —and shot on different formats — the fundamentals that he shared with me were fully in place in both of those projects, as well as with Yellowstone.

There is always a great deal of talking that goes on beforehand, but nothing replaces collaboration in the studio. I guess I auditioned for the job by spending a full day with Ben and Mitch at Encore. Talk is a cheap abstraction, and there is nothing like the feeling you get when you dim the lights, sit in the chair and communicate with pictures.

The only way I can describe it is it’s like improvising with another musician when you have never played together before. There’s this buildup of ideas and concepts that happens over a few shots, grades get thrown out or refined, layers are added, apprehension gives way to creativity, and a theme takes place. If you do this over 50 shots, you develop a language that is unique to a given project and a “look” is born.

What was your workflow for this project? What did you use tool-wise on Yellowstone?
ARRI RAW and Resolve were the foundation, but the major lifting came from using a Log Offset workflow, better known as the printer lights workflow. Although printer lights has its roots in a photochemical laboratory setting, it has tremendous real-world digital applications. Many feel this relationship to printer lights is very elementary, but the results can be scaled up very quickly to build an amazingly natural and beautiful grade.

The Resolve advanced panel can be remapped to use an additional fourth trackball as a fuel-injected printer light tool that is not only very fast and intuitive, but also exceptionally high quality. The quality angle comes from the fact that Log Offset grading works in a fashion that keeps all of the color channels moving together during a grade. All curves work in complete synchronicity, resulting in a very natural transition between the toe and the knee, and the shoulder and head of the grade.

This is all enhanced using pivot and contrast controls to establish the transfer characteristic of a scene. There is always a place for cross process, bleach bypass and other twisted aggressive grades, but this show demanded honest emotion and beauty from the outset. The Log Offset workflow delivered that.

What inspired the look of Yellowstone? Are there any specific film looks it is modeled after?
As a contemporary western, you can draw many correlations to cinematic looks from the past, from Sergio Leone to Deadwood, but the reality is the look is decidedly modern western.

In the classic film world, the look is very akin to a release print, or in the DI world it emulates a show print (generationally closer to the original negative). The look demands that the curves and saturation are very high quality. Ben has refined an ARRI LUT that really enhances the skies and flesh tones to create a very printy film laboratory look. We also use Livegrain for the most part using a 35mm 5219 emulation for night shots and a 5207 look for day exteriors to create texture. That is the Yellowstone recipe.

How did you approach the sweeping landscape shots?
Broad, cinematic and we let the corners bleed. Vignettes were never used on the wide vistas. The elements are simple: you have Kevin Costner on a horse in Montana. The best thing I can think of is to follow the medical credo of “do no harm.”

What was the most challenging aspect of coloring Yellowstone?
Really just the time constraints. Coordinating with the DP, the VFX teams and the post crew on a weekly basis for color review sessions is hard for everyone. The show is finished week by week, generally delivering just days before air. VFX shots are dropped in daily. Throw in the 150 promos, teasers and trailers, and scheduling that is a full-time job.

Other than color, did you perform any VFX shots?
Every VFX vendor supplied external mattes with their composites. We always color composite plates using a foreground and a background grade to serve the story. This is where the Resolves external matte node structure can be a lifesaver.

What is your favorite scene or scenes?
I have to go with episode one of the pilot. That opening shot sets the tone for the entire series. The first time I saw that opening shot, my jaw dropped both from a cinematography and story background. If you have seen the show, you know what I’m talking about.

Showrunner/EP Robert Carlock talks Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

By Iain Blair

When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt first premiered back in 2015, the sitcom seemed quite shocking — and not just because NBC sold it off to Netflix so quickly. While at the streaming service, it has been a big hit with audiences and critics alike, racking up dozens of industry awards and nominations, including 18 Primetime Emmy nominations.

Robert Carlock

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the sunny comedy with a dark premise stars Ellie Kemper as the title character. She moves to New York City after being rescued from an underground bunker where she and three other women were held captive for 15 years by a doomsday cult leader (Jon Hamm).

Alone in the Big Apple, and armed only with her unbreakable sense of optimism, Kimmy soon forges a new life that includes her colorful landlady Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), her struggling actor roommate (Tituss Burgess) and her socialite employer (Jane Krakowski). The strong cast also boasts recurring talent and A-list guests, such as Tina Fey, Martin Short, Fred Armisen, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris and Lisa Kudrow.

Last year Netflix renewed the show for a final season, with the first six episodes premiering in May 2018.

I recently spoke with Carlock about making the show, the Emmys and the planned movie version.

When Kimmy Schmidt first came out, its premise seemed bizarre and shocking — a young woman who was kidnapped, abused and held captive in an underground bunker. But looking back today, it seems ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right. At the time we felt strongly it was a way to get people talking about things and issues they didn’t necessarily want to talk about, such as how women are really treated in this society. And with the #MeToo movement it’s more timely than ever. Tina would say, “It keeps happening, it’s in the news all the time, and at this level,” and it’s really sad that it’s true. The last two seasons we’ve been dealing more and more with issues like this, and now people really are talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. But we have the added burden of also trying to make it funny.

Is Season 4 definitely the final one?
I think so, and the second half will stream sometime early next year. In the meantime, we’re talking about the movie deal that Netflix wants and what that will entail. We kind of thought about it as, “Let’s give our characters endings since there’s still so much to talk about,” but you also have to bear in mind the topicality of it all in a year or so. So it gave us the luxury of being able to finish the show in a way that felt right, and Season 5 — the second half of Season 4 — will satisfy fans, I think. We’re also very happy that Netflix is so enthusiastic about doing it this way.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, and I love it better than not being in charge. The beauty of TV is that, unlike in movies, and for a variety of reasons, writers get to be in charge. I love the fact that when you’re a showrunner, you get to learn so much about everything, including all the post production. You work with all these really skilled artisans and get to oversee the entire process from start to finish, including picking out what shade of blue the dress should be (laughs). It’s much better than watching other people make all the key decisions.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
The big one is trying to think outside of the writer’s room. You have all that ambition on the page, but then you have to deal with the reality of actually shooting it and making it work. It’s a lot easier to type it than execute it. Then you have to be really objective about what’s working and what isn’t, because you fall in love with what you write. So you have to realize, “Maybe this needs a little insert, or more jokes here to get the point across,” and you have to put that producer hat on — and that can be really tricky. It’s a challenge for sure, but we’ve also been fortunate in having a great crew that’s been with us a while, so there’s that shorthand, and things move quickly on the set and we get a lot done.

Where do you shoot and post?
We do the shooting at the Broadway Stages in Brooklyn, and have all the editing setup there as well. Then we have Tina’s production offices at Columbus Circle, and we do all the sound at Sync Sound in midtown Manhattan.

Do you like the post process?
I love post and the whole process of seeing a script come alive as you edit.  You find ways of telling the story that you maybe didn’t expect.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the big creative challenges of a single-camera show — which ultimately also gives you so many more tools in writing, shooting and editing — is that you don’t get to see rehearsals. So one of the reasons our episodes are going into post and often coming out of post so stuffed with story and jokes is that we don’t get so many opportunities to see exactly what’s making the scene tick. We’re hitting the story, hitting the jokes and hitting the characters too many times, and  a lot of the challenge is scraping all those away. Our episodes come in around the mid-30s often, and we think they live and play best around 26 or 27 minutes. That’s where I think the sweet spot is. So you can feel, “Oh, I love that joke,” but the hard reality is that the scene plays so much better without it.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
I think it’s so important in comedy, and it can totally change the feel of a scene. Jeff Richmond — Tina’s husband and one of our producers — does all the music. He’s also fantastic in the edit. So if I’m not available or Tina isn’t, then he or Sam Means, another producer, can take our edit notes and interpret them. We’ll type up 15 pages on a Director’s Cut, and then we hone the show until it’s a lock for the network, and we go through it all frame by frame.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
Increasingly now, with all the noise and static out there, and so many other good shows, it’s really important. I think it helps cut through the clutter. When you’re working hard on a show like this, with your head down all the time, you don’t really know where you stand sometimes. So to be nominated by your peers means a lot. (Laughs) I wish it didn’t, but we’re small-minded people who only really care about other people’s opinions.

What’s the latest on talk about a movie? Will it be a theatrical release or just Netflix, or both?
That’s a great question. Who knows? We’re in the middle of trying to figure out the budget. I imagined it would be just streaming, but maybe it will be theatrical as well. One thing’s for sure. We won’t be one of those TV shows that gets a whole new cast for the movie version. Lightning struck with our first cast, and we’re not looking to replace anyone.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I can only speak for us, but we like shows where there’s a lot of diversity and different voices, and sometimes we step in a bear trap we didn’t even know was there because we’re trying to write for so many different voices. For us, it just makes sense to embrace diversity, but it’s such a complicated and thorny issue. I’m just glad we’re talking about it more now. It’s what interests us. When Tina and I first sat down to write this, we didn’t want to do something salacious and exploitive. We were thinking about a really startling way to get people talking about gender and class. It’s been a fun challenge.


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: DigitalFilm Tree colorist Rick Dalby

NAME: Rick Dalby

COMPANY: DigitalFilm Tree

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I would describe DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) as a smaller, bleeding-edge, independently-owned post house that is capable of remote dailies, color and edit. I work with fellow colorists Dan Judy and Patrick Woodard.

AS A COLORIST, WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
What should fall under that title is that a Resolve colorist has become the creative gatekeeper for the producer’s, director’s and DP’s vision. You don’t just hand off a show and add some color. We have color tools that work akin to the way you work in Photoshop, using layer-mixers and alpha-mattes.

On-set, the DP and/or DIT that uses Resolve can send projects or custom LUTs or nodes that we can carry directly into the final color session. I would describe the colorist-driven post workflow as more holistic than ever before.

ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS? 
Yes, we are asked to stabilize shots and add OFX plug-in looks and effects, which will evolve further with Resolve 15’s addition of Fusion. It’s really show-dependent. On a larger scale, with 4K and HDR, our colorists are redesigning workflows on a continual basis. Our online conform artists are doing most of the editing, though with Resolve, any of us might make the deliverables.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Collaborating with everyone at DFT and working with the clients that depend on us is rewarding for me. I like the art of color correction. When I can just sit down and get to work on scene looks and matching, the day passes quickly, and I can feel the creativity flow. It’s fun. When the client comes in to view and I’m in sync with their vision, there’s a great sense of accomplishment.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Post facilities have few windows. Sometimes, I just like to open the door and see something alive and green. Seriously though, the business end and paperwork are the things that don’t interest me.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Park ranger, running an animal rescue, Buddhist monk or one of my previous jobs, like being a broadcast news technical director. That sounds like a silly answer, but it’s not meant to be.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
That’s a long and difficult question to answer. When I was small, I used to get up very early with my dad and wait for the engineer to turn on the transmitter, so I could see the test pattern and watch some cartoons. I was a computer science major in college, but I didn’t like it. My brother worked at Compact Video and urged me to change career paths. I trained in journalism and broadcast news and worked in Sacramento television in graphics, studio and ENG camera, editing, technical directing and, finally, directing.

Next, was film transfer of 35mm prints for syndication, then on to master control and transmitter operations requiring an FCC license. That was all by the time I was 24, when I moved to Los Angeles to work with my brother in post. Within a year I was running a Rank and transferring features for most of the majors.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The re-boot of Roseanne. Also Wrecked for TBS. I’ve been doing collaborative color with Dan and Patrick on NCIS: Los Angeles, Angie Tribeca, Great News and The 100.

The 100

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m very satisfied to have worked on iconic long-running shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond and developing looks for shows like Friday Night Lights with David Boyd and Todd McMullen. Recently, having a chance to work with the creative team on the Roseanne reboot was a great experience. DP Johnny Simmons and Sara Gilbert were a great pleasure to work with.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Inspiration comes from the people I meet and the challenges I face. I also love the changing exhibits at the Broad Museum and LACMA. I’m always looking at films and television to dissect what other people think and do. I don’t like the work when it seems copy-cat.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
DaVinci, which has been part of most of my career — with the exception of a few years on Lustre. The best quality hero monitor that can display the great color and resolution we need to do this job. Anything Apple. My iPad is in much need of replacement.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I like Theo Miesner’s YouTube posts and the rapid-fire way he delivers. Recently, there’s a slew of YouTube posts that are helping me with Fusion. I use Facebook to follow my fellow meditators.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I don’t take it too seriously after this many decades. The stress is there sometimes. I acknowledge it, meditate and even go on long silent meditation retreats once or twice a year.

I walk to work, hike and sometimes just walk outside and breathe deeply. Ultimately, the stress is up to me, and how I choose to respond. Equanimity has become a guiding concept with the worldly winds.

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

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kari Skogland on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Patrick Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The score for YouTube Red’s Cobra Kai pays tribute to original Karate Kid

By Jennifer Walden

In the YouTube Red comedy series Cobra Kai, Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), the young hero of the Karate Kid movies, has grown up to be a prosperous car salesman, while his nemesis Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) just can’t seem to shake that loser label he earned long ago. Johnny can’t hold down his handy-man job. He lives alone in a dingy apartment, and his personality hasn’t benefited from maturity at all. He lives a very sad reality until one day he finds himself sticking up for a kid being bullied, and that redeeming bit of character makes you root for him. It’s an interesting dynamic that the series writers/showrunners have crafted, and it works.

L-R: Composers Leo Birenberg and Zack Robinson

Fans of the 1980’s film franchise will appreciate the soundtrack of the new Cobra Kai series. Los Angeles-based composers Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson were tasked with capturing the essence of both composer Bill Conti’s original film scores and the popular music tracks that also defined the sound of the films.

To find that Karate Kid essence, Birenberg and Robinson listened to the original films and identified what audiences were likely latching onto sonically. “We concluded that it was mostly a color palette connection that people have. They hear a certain type of orchestral music with a Japanese flute sound, and they hear ‘80s rock,” says Birenberg. “It’s that palette of sounds that people connect with more so than any particular melody or theme from the original movies.”

Even though Conti’s themes and melodies for Karate Kid don’t provide the strongest sonic link to the films, Birenberg and Robinson did incorporate a few of them into their tracks at appropriate moments to create a feeling of continuity between the films and the series. “For example, there were a couple of specific Japanese flute phrases that we redid. And we found a recurring motif of a simple pizzicato string melody,” explains Birenberg. “It’s so simple that it was easy to find moments to insert it into our cues. We thought that was a really cool way to tie everything together and make it feel like it is all part of the same universe.”

Birenberg and Robinson needed to write a wide range of music for the show, which can be heard en masse on the Cobra Kai OST. There are the ’80s rock tracks that take over for licensed songs by bands like Poison and The Alan Parsons Project. This direction, as heard on the tracks “Strike First” and “Quiver,” covered the score for Johnny’s character.

The composers also needed to write orchestral tracks that incorporated Eastern influences, like the Japanese flutes, to cover Daniel as a karate teacher and to comment on his memories of Miyagi. A great example of this style is called, fittingly, “Miyagi Memories.”

There’s a third direction that Birenberg and Robinson covered for the new Cobra Kai students. “Their sound is a mixture of modern EDM and dance music with the heavier ‘80s rock and metal aesthetics that we used for Johnny,” explains Robinson. “So it’s like Johnny is imbuing the new students with his musical values. This style is best represented in the track ‘Slither.’”

Birenberg and Robinson typically work as separate composers, but they’ve collaborated on several projects before Cobra Kai. What makes their collaborations so successful is that their workflows and musical aesthetics are intrinsically similar. Both use Steinberg’s Cubase as their main DAW, while running Ableton Live in ReWire mode. Both like to work with MIDI notes while composing, as opposed to recording and cutting audio tracks.

Says Birenberg, “We don’t like working with audio from the get-go because TV and film are such a notes-driven process. You’re not writing music as much as you are re-writing it to specification and creative input. You want to be able to easily change every aspect of a track without having to dial in the same guitar sound or re-record the toms that you recorded yesterday.”

Virtual Instruments
For Cobra Kai, they first created demo songs using MIDI and virtual instruments. Drums and percussion sounds came from XLN Audio’s Addictive Drums. Spectrasonics Trilian was used for bass lines and Keyscape and Omnisphere 2 provided many soft-synth and keyboard sounds. Virtual guitar sounds came from MusicLab’s RealStrat and RealLPC, Orange Tree, and Ilya Efimov virtual instrument libraries. The orchestral sections were created using Native Instruments Kontakt, with samples coming from companies such as Spitfire, Cinesamples, Cinematic Strings, and Orchestral Tools.

“Both Zach and I put a high premium on virtual instruments that are very playable,” reports Birenberg. “When you’re in this line of work, you have to work superfast and you don’t want a virtual instrument that you have to spend forever tweaking. You want to be able to just play it in so that you can write quickly.”

For the final tracks, they recorded live guitar, bass and drums on every episode, as well as Japanese flute and small percussion parts. For the season finale, they recorded a live orchestra. “But,” says Birenberg, “all the orchestra and some Japanese percussion you hear earlier in the series, for the most part, are virtual instruments.”

Live Musicians
For the live orchestra, Robinson says they wrote 35 minutes of music in six days and immediately sent that to get orchestrated and recorded across the world with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. The composing team didn’t even have to leave Los Angeles. “They sent us a link to a private live stream so we could listen to the session as it was going on, and we typed notes to them as we were listening. It sounds crazy but it’s pretty common. We’ve done that on numerous projects and it always turns out great.”

When it comes to dividing up the episodes — deciding who should score what scenes — the composing team likes to “go with gut and enthusiasm,” explains Birenberg. “We would leave the spotting session with the showrunners, and usually each of us would have a few ideas for particular spots.”

Since they don’t work in the same studio, the composers would split up and start work on the sections they chose. Once they had an idea down, they’d record a quick video of the track playing back to picture and share that with the other composer. Then they would trade tracks so they each got an opportunity to add in parts. Birenberg says, “We did a lot of sending iPhone videos back and forth. If it sounds good over an iPhone video, then it probably sounds pretty good!”

Both composers have different and diverse musical backgrounds, so they both feel comfortable diving right in and scoring orchestral parts or writing bass lines, for instance. “For the scope of this show, we felt at home in every aspect of the score,” says Birenberg. “That’s how we knew this show was for both of us. This score covers a lot of ground musically, and that ground happened to fit things that we understand and are excited about.” Luckily, they’re both excited about ‘80s rock (particularly Robinson) because writing music in that style effectively isn’t easy. “You can’t fake it,” he says.

Recreating ‘80s Rock
A big part of capturing the magic of ‘80s rock happened in the mix. On the track “King Cobra,” mix engineer Sean O’Brien harnessed the ‘80s hair metal style by crafting a drum sound that evoked Motley Crew and Bon Jovi. “I wanted to make the drums as bombastic and ‘80s as possible, with a really snappy kick drum and big reverbs on the kick and snare,” says O’Brien.

Using Massey DRT — a drum sample replacement plug-in for Avid Pro Tools, he swapped out the live drum parts with drum samples. Then on the snare, he added a gated reverb using Valhalla VintageVerb. He also used Valhalla Room to add a short plate sound to thicken up the kick and snare drums.

To get the toms to match the cavernous punchiness of the kick and snare, O’Brien augmented the live toms with compression and EQ. “I chopped up the toms so there wasn’t any noise in between each hit and then I sent those to the nonlinear short reverbs in Valhalla Room,” he says. “Next, I did parallel compression using the Waves SSL E-Channel plug-in to really squash the tom hits so they’re big and in your face. With EQ, I added more top end then I normally would to help the toms compete with the other elements in the mix. You can make the close mics sound really crispy with those SSL EQs.”

Next, he bussed all the drum tracks to a group aux track, which had a Neve 33609 plug-in by UAD and a Waves C4 multi-band compressor “to control the whole drum kit after the reverbs were laid in to make sure those tracks fit in with the other instruments.”

Sean O’Brien

On “Slither,” O’Brien also focused on the drums, but since this track is more ‘80s dance than ‘80s rock, O’Brien says he was careful to emphasize the composers’ ‘80s drum machine sounds (rather than the live drum kit), because that is where the character of the track was coming from. “My job on this track was to enhance the electric drum sounds; to give the drum machine focus. I used UAD’s Neve 1081 plug-in on the electronic drum elements to brighten them up.”

“Slither” also features Taiko drums, which make the track feel cinematic and big. O’Brien used Soundtoys Devil-Loc to make the taiko drums feel more aggressive, and added distortion using Decapitator from Soundtoys to help them cut through the other drums in the track. “I think the drums were the big thing that Zach [Robinson] and Leo [Birenberg] were looking to me for because the guitars and synths were already recorded the way the composers wanted them to sound.”

The Mix
Mix engineer Phil McGowan, who was responsible for mixing “Strike First,” agrees. He says, “The ‘80s sound for me was really based on drum sounds, effects and tape saturation. Most of the synth and guitar sounds that came from Zach and Leo were already very stylized so there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. Although I did use a Helios 69 EQ and Fairchild compressor on the bass along with a little Neve 1081 and Kramer PIE compression on the guitars, which are all models of gear that would have been used back then. I used some Lexicon 224 and EMT 250 on the synths, but otherwise there really wasn’t a whole lot of processing from me on those elements.”

Phil McGowan’s ‘Strike First’ Pro Tools session.

To get an ‘80s gated reverb sound for the snare and toms on “Strike First,” McGowan used an AMS RMX16 nonlinear reverb plug-in in Pro Tools. For bus processing, he mainly relied on a Pultec EQ, adding a bit of punch with the classic “Pultec Low End Trick” —which involves boosting and attenuating at the same frequency — plus adding a little bump at 8k for some extra snap. Next in line, he used an SSL G-Master buss compressor before going into UAD’s Studer A800 tape plug-in set to 456 tape at 30 ips and calibrated to +3 dB.

“I did end up using some parallel compression using a Distressor plug-in by Empirical Labs, which was not around back then, but it’s my go-to parallel compressor and it sounded fine, so I left it in my template. I also used a little channel EQ from FabFilter Pro-Q2 and the Neve 88RS Channel Strip,” concludes McGowan.


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

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

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

Siggy Ferstl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creator Justin Simien talks Netflix’s Dear White People

By Iain Blair

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

Justin Simien (Photo by Rick Proctor).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Simien

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Orville VFX supervisor on mixing practical and visual effects

By Barry Goch

What do you get when you mix Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane with science fiction? The most dysfunctional spaceship in the galaxy, that’s what. What is the Fox series The Orville? Well, it’s more Galaxy Quest/Space Balls than it is Star Trek/Star Wars.

Set 400 years in the future, The Orville is a spaceship captained by MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer, who has to work alongside his ex-wife as they wing their way through space on a science mission. As you might imagine with a show that is set in space, The Orville features a large amount of visual and practical effects shots, including real and CG models of The Orville.

Luke McDonald

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor Luke McDonald to find out more.

How did the practical model of The Orville come about?
Jon Favreau was directing the pilot, and he and Seth MacFarlane had been kidding around about doing a practical model of The Orville. I jumped at the chance. In this day and age, visual effects supervisors shooting models is an unheard of thing to do, but something I was absolutely thrilled about.

Favreau’s visual effects supervisor is Rob Legato. I have worked with Rob on many projects, including Martin Scorsese’s Aviator, Shine a Light and Shutter Island, so I was very familiar with how Rob works. The only other chance that I had had to shoot models was with Rob during Shutter Island and Aviator, so in a sense, whenever Rob Legato shows up it’s model time (he laughs). It’s so amazing because it’s just something that the industry shies away from, but given the opportunity it was absolutely fantastic.

Who built the practical model of The Orville?
Glenn Derry made it. He’s worked with Rob Legato on a few things, including Aviator. Glen is kind of a fantastic. He basically does motion controls, models and motion capture. Glen would also look at all the camera moves and all the previz that we did to make sure the camera moves were not doing something that the motion control rig could not do.

How were you able to seamlessly blend the practical model and the CG version of The Orville?
Once we had the design for The Orville, we would then previz out the ships flying by camera, doing whatever, and work out these specific moves. Any move that was too technical for the motion control rig, we would do a CG link-up instead— meaning that it would go from model to a CG ship or vice versa — to get the exact camera move that we wanted. We basically shot all of the miniatures of The Orville at three frames a second. It was kind of like shooting in slow-mo with the motion control rig, and we did about 16 passes per shot — lights on, lights off, key lights, field light, back light, ambient, etc. So, when we got all the passes back, we composited them just like we would any kind of full CG shot.

From the model shoot, we ended up with about 25 individual shots of The Orville. It’s a very time-consuming process, but it’s very rewarding because of how many times you’re going to have to reuse these elements to achieve completely new shots, even though it’s from the same original motion control shoot.

How did the shots of The Orville evolve over the length of the season?
We started to get into more dynamic things, such as big space battles and specific action patenting, where it really wasn’t feasible to continue shooting the model itself. But now we have a complete match for our CG version of The Orville that we can use for our big space battles, where the ship’s flying and whipping around. I need to emphasize that previz on this project was very crucial.

The Orville is a science vessel, but when it needs to throw down and fight, it has the capabilities to be quite maneuverable — it can barrel roll, flip and power slide around to get itself in position to get the best shot off. Seth was responding to these hybrid-type ship-to-ship shots and The Orville moving through space in a unique way when it’s in battle.
There was never a playbook. It was always, “Let’s explore, let’s figure out, and let’s see where we fit in this universe. Do we fit into the traditional Star Trek-y stuff, or do we fit into the Star Wars-type stuff. I’m so pleased that we fit into this really unique world.

How was working with Seth MacFarlane?
Working with Seth has been absolutely amazing. He’s such a dedicated storyteller, even down to the most minute things. He’s such an encyclopedia of sci-fi knowledge, be it Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica or the old-school Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. All of them are part of his creative repertoire. It’s very rare that he makes a reference that I don’t get, because I’m exactly the same way about sci-fi.

How different is creating VFX for TV versus film?
TV is not that new to me, but for the last 10 years I’ve been doing film work for Bad Robot and JJ Abrams. It was a strange awakening coming to TV, but it wasn’t horrifying. I had to approach things in a different way, especially from a budget standpoint.

Rachel Matchett brought on to lead Technicolor Visual Effects

Technicolor has hired on Rachel Matchett to head the post production group’s newly formed VFX brand, Technicolor Visual Effects. Working side-by-side within the same facilities where post services are offered, Technicolor Visual Effects is expanding to a global offering with an integrated pipeline. Technicolor is growing its namesake VFX team apart from the company’s other visual effects brands: MPC, The Mill, Mr. X and Mikros.

A full-service creative VFX house with local studios in Los Angeles, Toronto and London, Technicolor Visual Effects’ recent credits include the feature films Avengers: Infinity Wars, Black Panther, Paddington 2, and episodic series such as This is Us, Anne With an E and Black Mirror.

Matchett joins Technicolor from her long-tenured position at MPC Film. Her background at MPC London includes nearly a decade of senior management positions at the studio. She most recently served as MPC London’s global head of production. In that role, her divisions at MPC Film oversaw and carried out visual effects on a number of films each year, including director Jon Favreau’s Academy Award-winning The Jungle Book and the critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049.

“Technicolor Visual Effects is emerging from its position as one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. While continuing to support clients who do color finishing with us, we are excited to work with storytellers from script to screen,” says Matchett. “Having been at the heart of MPC Film’s rapid growth over the past decade, I feel that there is a great opportunity for Technicolor’s future role in VFX to forge a new path within the industry.”

Showtime’s Homeland: Producer/director Lesli Linka Glatter

By Iain Blair

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

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

Lesli Linka Glatter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Luke Scott to run newly created Ridley Scott Creative Group

Filmmaker Ridley Scott has brought together all of his RSA Films-affiliated companies together in a multi-business restructure to form the Ridley Scott Creative Group. The Ridley Scott Creative Group aims to strengthen the network across the related companies to take advantage of emerging opportunities across all entertainment genres as well as their existing work in film, television, branded entertainment, commercials, VR, short films, documentaries, music video, design and animation, and photography.

Ridley Scott

Luke Scott will assume the role of global CEO, working with founder Ridley Scott and partners Jake and Jordan Scott to oversee the future strategic direction of the newly formed group.

“We are in a new golden age of entertainment,” says Ridley Scott. “The world’s greatest brands, platforms, agencies, new entertainment players and studios are investing hugely in entertainment. We have brought together our talent, capabilities and creative resources under the Ridley Scott Creative Group, and I look forward to maximizing the creative opportunities we now see unfolding with our executive team.”

The companies that make up the RSCG will continue to operate autonomously but will now offer clients synergy under the group offering.

The group includes commercial production company RSA Films, which produced such ads such as Apple’s 1984, Budweiser’s Super Bowl favorite Lost Dog and more recently, Adidas Originals’ Original is Never Finished campaign, as well as branded content for Johnnie Walker, HBO, Jaguar, Ford, Nike and the BMW Films series; the music video production company founded by Jake Scott, Black Dog Films (Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Coldplay, Björk and Radiohead); the entertainment marketing company 3AM; commercial production company Hey Wonderful founded by Michael Di Girolamo; newly founded UK commercial production company Darling Films; and film and television production company Scott Free (Gladiator, Taboo, The Martian, The Good Wife), which continues to be led by David W. Zucker, president, US television; Kevin J. Walsh, president, US film; and Ed Rubin-Managing, director, UK television/film.

“Our Scott Free Films and Television divisions have an unprecedented number of movies and shows in production,” reports Luke Scott. “We are also seeing a huge appetite for branded entertainment from our brand and agency partners to run alongside high-quality commercials. Our entertainment marketing division 3AM is extending its capabilities to all our partners, while Black Dog is moving into short films and breaking new, world-class talent. It is a very exciting time to be working in entertainment.”

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix’s Lost in Space: New sounds for a classic series

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s Lost in Space series, a remake of the 1965 television show, is a playground for sound. In the first two episodes alone, the series introduces at least five unique environments, including an alien planet, a whole world of new tech — from wristband communication systems to medical analysis devices — new modes of transportation, an organic-based robot lifeform and its correlating technologies, a massive explosion in space and so much more.

It was a mission not easily undertaken, but if anyone could manage it, it was four-time Emmy Award-winning supervising sound editor Benjamin Cook of 424 Post in Culver City. He’s led the sound teams on series like Starz’s Black Sails, Counterpart and Magic City, as well as HBO’s The Pacific, Rome and Deadwood, to name a few.

Benjamin Cook

Lost in Space was a reunion of sorts for members of the Black Sails post sound team. Making the jump from pirate ships to spaceships were sound effects editors Jeffrey Pitts, Shaughnessy Hare, Charles Maynes, Hector Gika and Trevor Metz; Foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit; Foley mixer Brett Voss; and re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters.

“I really enjoyed the crew on Lost in Space. I had great editors and mixers — really super-creative, top-notch people,” says Cook, who also had help from co-supervising sound editor Branden Spencer. “Sound effects-wise there was an enormous amount of elements to create and record. Everyone involved contributed. You’re establishing a lot of sounds in those first two episodes that are carried on throughout the rest of the season.”

Soundscapes
So where does one begin on such a sound-intensive show? The initial focus was on the soundscapes, such as the sound of the alien planet’s different biomes, and the sound of different areas on the ships. “Before I saw any visuals, the showrunners wanted me to send them some ‘alien planet sounds,’ but there is a huge difference between Mars and Dagobah,” explains Cook. “After talking with them for a bit, we narrowed down some areas to focus on, like the glacier, the badlands and the forest area.”

For the forest area, Cook began by finding interesting snippets of animal, bird and insect recordings, like a single chirp or little song phrase that he could treat with pitching or other processing to create something new. Then he took those new sounds and positioned them in the sound field to build up beds of creatures to populate the alien forest. In that initial creation phase, Cook designed several tracks, which he could use for the rest of the season. “The show itself was shot in Canada, so that was one of the things they were fighting against — the showrunners were pretty conscious of not making the crash planet sound too Earthly. They really wanted it to sound alien.”

Another huge aspect of the series’ sound is the communication systems. The characters talk to each other through the headsets in their spacesuit helmets, and through wristband communications. Each family has their own personal ship, called a Jupiter, which can contact other Jupiter ships through shortwave radios. They use the same radios to communicate with their all-terrain vehicles called rovers. Cook notes these ham radios had an intentional retro feel. The Jupiters can send/receive long-distance transmissions from the planet’s surface to the main ship, called Resolute, in space. The families can also communicate with their Jupiters ship’s systems.

Each mode of communication sounds different and was handled differently in post. Some processing was handled by the re-recording mixers, and some was created by the sound editorial team. For example, in Episode 1 Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is frozen underwater in a glacial lake. Whenever the shot cuts to Judy’s face inside her helmet, the sound is very close and claustrophobic.

Judy’s voice bounces off the helmet’s face-shield. She hears her sister through the headset and it’s a small, slightly futzed speaker sound. The processing on both Judy’s voice and her sister’s voice sounds very distinct, yet natural. “That was all Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters,” says Cook. “They mixed this show, and they both bring so much to the table creatively. They’ll do additional futzing and treatments, like on the helmets. That was something that Onna wanted to do, to make it really sound like an ‘inside a helmet’ sound. It has that special quality to it.”

On the flipside, the ship’s voice was a process that Cook created. Co-supervisor Spencer recorded the voice actor’s lines in ADR and then Cook added vocoding, EQ futz and reverb to sell the idea that the voice was coming through the ship’s speakers. “Sometimes we worldized the lines by playing them through a speaker and recording them. I really tried to avoid too much reverb or heavy futzing knowing that on the stage the mixers may do additional processing,” he says.

In Episode 1, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) finds himself alone in the forest. He tries to call his father, John Robinson (Toby Stephens — a Black Sails alumni as well) via his wristband comm system but the transmission is interrupted by a strange, undulating, vocal-like sound. It’s interference from an alien ship that had crashed nearby. Cook notes that the interference sound required thorough experimentation. “That was a difficult one. The showrunners wanted something organic and very eerie, but it also needed to be jarring. We did quite a few versions of that.”

For the main element in that sound, Cook chose whale sounds for their innate pitchy quality. He manipulated and processed the whale recordings using Symbolic Sound’s Kyma sound design workstation.

The Robot
Another challenging set of sounds were those created for Will Robinson’s Robot (Brian Steele). The Robot makes dying sounds, movement sounds and face-light sounds when it’s processing information. It can transform its body to look more human. It can use its hands to fire energy blasts or as a tool to create heat. It says, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and “Danger, Dr. Smith.” The Robot is sometimes a good guy and sometimes a bad guy, and the sound needed to cover all of that. “The Robot was a job in itself,” says Cook. “One thing we had to do was to sell emotion, especially for his dying sounds and his interactions with Will and the family.”

One of Cook’s trickiest feats was to create the proper sense of weight and movement for the Robot, and to portray the idea that the Robot was alive and organic but still metallic. “It couldn’t be earthly technology. Traditionally for robot movement you will hear people use servo sounds, but I didn’t want to use any kind of servos. So, we had to create a sound with a similar aesthetic to a servo,” says Cook. He turned to the Robot’s Foley sounds, and devised a processing chain to heavily treat those movement tracks. “That generated the basic body movement for the Robot and then we sweetened its feet with heavier sound effects, like heavy metal clanking and deeper impact booms. We had a lot of textures for the different surfaces like rock and foliage that we used for its feet.”

The Robot’s face lights change color to let everyone know if it’s in good-mode or bad-mode. But there isn’t any overt sound to emphasize the lights as they move and change. If the camera is extremely close-up on the lights, then there’s a faint chiming or tinkling sound that accentuates their movement. Overall though, there is a “presence” sound for the Robot, an undulating tone that’s reminiscent of purring when it’s in good-mode. “The showrunners wanted a kind of purring sound, so I used my cat purring as one of the building block elements for that,” says Cook. When the Robot is in bad-mode, the sound is anxious, like a pulsing heartbeat, to set the audience on edge.

It wouldn’t be Lost in Space without the Robot’s iconic line, “Danger, Will Robinson.” Initially, the showrunners wanted that line to sound as close to the original 1960’s delivery as possible. “But then they wanted it to sound unique too,” says Cook. “One comment was that they wanted it to sound like the Robot had metallic vocal cords. So we had to figure out ways to incorporate that into the treatment.” The vocal processing chain used several tools, from EQ, pitching and filtering to modulation plug-ins like Waves Morphoder and Dehumaniser by Krotos. “It was an extensive chain. It wasn’t just one particular tool; there were several of them,” he notes.

There are other sound elements that tie into the original 1960’s series. For example, when Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) and husband John are exploring the wreckage of the alien ship they discover a virtual map room that lets them see into the solar system where they’ve crashed and into the galaxy beyond. The sound design during that sequence features sound material from the original show. “We treated and processed those original elements until they’re virtually unrecognizable, but they’re in there. We tried to pay tribute to the original when we could, when it was possible,” says Cook.

Other sound highlights include the Resolute exploding in space, which caused massive sections of the ship to break apart and collide. For that, Cook says contact microphones were used to capture the sound of tin cans being ripped apart. “There were so many fun things in the show for sound. From the first episode with the ship crash and it sinking into the glacier to the black hole sequence and the Robot fight in the season finale. The show had a lot of different challenges and a lot of opportunities for sound.”

Lost in Space was mixed in the Anthony Quinn Theater at Sony Pictures in 7.1 surround. Interestingly, the show was delivered in Dolby’s Home Atmos format. Cook explains, “When they booked the stage, the producer’s weren’t sure if we were going to do the show in Atmos or not. That was something they decided to do later so we had to figure out a way to do it.”

They mixed the show in Atmos while referencing the 7.1 mix and then played those mixes back in a Dolby Home Atmos room to check them, making any necessary adjustments and creating the Atmos deliverables. “Between updates for visual effects and music as well as the Atmos mixes, we spent roughly 80 days on the dub stage for the 10 episodes,” concludes Cook.

JoJo Whilden/Hulu

Color and audio post for Hulu’s The Looming Tower

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

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

L-R: colorist Jack Lewars and editor Jeff Cornell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L-R: Martin Czember and Ruy Garcia

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

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

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

Showrunner Dan Pyne — Amazon Studios’ Bosch

By Iain Blair

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

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

Dan Pyne

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

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

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

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

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

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