Tag Archives: 20th Century Fox

Color grading The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos’ historical comedy, The Favourite, has become an awards show darling. In addition to winning 10 British Independent Film Awards, it also dominated the BAFTA nominations with 12 nods, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Cinematography for Robbie Ryan, BSC, ISC, who scored an ASC Award nom as well.

Final picture post on the black comedy was completed by Goldcrest Post in London using DaVinci Resolve Studio. The Century Fox film’s DI was overseen by Goldcrest producer Jonathan Collard, with senior colorist Rob Pizzey providing the grade. He was assisted by Maria Chamberlain, while Russell White completed the online edit.

The film stars Olivia Colman (who one a Golden Globe for her role), Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

Lensed by Ryan, The Favourite was shot on a mixture of Kodak 500T 5219 and 200T 5207 film stocks with Timothy Jones of Digital Film Bureau scanning the 35mm film negative for the grade at Goldcrest. To capture the full dynamic range of modern film stock, the 2K ARRI scanner was set to 2.5 density range with drama scanning beginning once the edit was locked.

According to colorist Pizzey, once scanned almost everything seen on-screen exposure-wise is what came straight out of the camera. “Robbie did such an amazing job; there were only a handful of shots where I had to tweak the film grain back a little bit.

“In some respects, grading on film can be harder,” he continues. “It does take a lot more balancing because of variations in the scanning process and film stocks. Conversely, with digital capture you have a pretty good balance to begin with, if you start with the CDL values from the digital rushes process.”

Rob Pizzey

He says the way the director worked was very interesting. “Basically, we kept the images very natural and didn’t rely on too many secondaries. Instead, we focused on manipulating the palette using primary color correction to achieve an organic, naturalistic look. It sounds easy, but in truth, it is quite difficult. We started early testing on some of the dailies, a mix of interior and exterior shots, both day and night, to get an idea of where the director and DP wanted to go. We then pushed on with that into the DI.”

DP Ryan wasn’t able to attend the grade, so it was just Pizzey and the director.

“There was a lot of colorization going on in the bottom end of the picture, whether it’s in the shadows and deep blacks or playing with the highlights to create something that looked interesting,” says Pizzey. “We were ultimately still creating a look, it is just a lot more subtle, which is where the challenge lies.”

Most of the film was shot relying on available light only. “There was hardly any artificial lighting used at all during principal photography,” he reports. “The candlelit scenes at night relied solely on the candles themselves and, as you can imagine, there were a lot of candles. The blacks in those scenes are really inky.”

The night scenes were especially tough to complete, with Pizzey relying on Resolve’s primary grading toolset. “Those scenes are very rich and very warm, so we automatically backed off the warmth and tried to dial it down by adding some desaturation. However, it just didn’t look right,” he explains. “We then stripped the grade back and tried to stay as close to what had come out of the camera as we could, with only a few subtle tweaks here and there.”

Looking to embrace the contrast of the film stock, everything about the grade was all very natural and subtle. “For the first couple of weeks everything was about the primaries, and it was only toward the end of the DI that we began to use window shapes and keys on shots that we couldn’t otherwise get to work using primaries alone.

“There was one scene in particular where Yorgos and Robbie had to go back and shoot it five weeks later. Coming into the grade, there were a number of notable differences between the trees, moving from winter into spring, which meant the trees were beginning to bud.”

The Favourite is in theaters now.

Steve McQueen on directing Widows

By Iain Blair

British director/writer/producer Steve McQueen burst onto the international scene in 2013 when his harrowing 12 Years a Slave dominated awards season, winning as Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and a host of others. His directing was also recognized with many nominations and awards.

Now McQueen, who also helmed the 2011 feature Shame (Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan) is back with the film Widows.

A taut thriller, 20th Century Fox’s Widows is set in contemporary Chicago in a time of political and societal turmoil. When four armed robbers are killed in a botched heist, their widows — with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities — take fate into their own hands to forge a future on their own terms.

With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen himself — and based on the old UK television miniseries of the same name — the film stars, among others, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

The production team includes Academy Award-nominated editor Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave), Academy Award-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and director of photography Sean Bobbit (12 Years a Slave).

I spoke with McQueen, whose credits also include 2008’s Hunger, about making the film and his love of post.

This isn’t just a simple heist movie, is it?
No, it isn’t. I wanted to make an all-encompassing movie, an epic in a way, about how we live our daily lives and how they’re affected by politics, race, gender, religion and corruption, and do it through this story. I remember watching the TV series as a kid and how it affected me — how strong all these women were — and I decided to change the location from London to Chicago, which is really an under-used city in movies, and make it a more contemporary view of all these issues.

You assembled a great cast, led by Oscar-winner Viola Davis. What did she bring to the table?
So much weight and gravitas. She’s like an iceberg. There’s so much hidden depth in everything she does, and there’s this well of meaning and emotion she brings to the role, and then everyone has to step up to that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big one was logistics and dealing with all the Chicago locations. We had over 60 locations, all over the city, and 81 speaking parts. So there was a lot of planning, and if one thing got stuck it threw off the whole schedule. It would have been almost impossible to reschedule some of the scenes.

How tough was the shoot?
Pretty tough. They’re always grueling, and when you’re writing a script you don’t always think about how many night shoots you’re going to face, and you forget about this big machine you have to bring with you to all the locations. Trying to make any quick change or adjustment is like trying to turn the Titanic. It takes a while.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
From day one. You have to when you have a big production with a set release date, so we began cutting and assembling while I shot.

Where did you post?
In Amsterdam, where I live, and then we finished it off in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s my favorite part as you have civilized hours — 9 till 5 or whatever —and you’re in total control. You’re not having to deal with 40 or 50 people. It’s just you and the editor in a dark room, actually making the film.

Joe Walker has cut all of your films, including Hunger and Shame, as well Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario. Can you talk about working with him?
He wasn’t on set, and we had someone else assembling stuff as Joe was still finishing up Blade Runner. He came in when I got back to Amsterdam. Joe and I go way back to 2007, when we did Hunger, and we always work very closely together. I sit right next to him, and I’m there for every single cut, dissolve, whatever. I’m very present. I’m not one of those directors who comes in, gives some notes and then disappears. I don’t know how you do that. I love editing and finding the pace and rhythm. What makes Joes such a great editor is that he started off in music, so he has a great sense of how to work with sound.

What were the big editing challenges?
There are all these intertwined stories and characters, so it’s about finding the right balance and tone and rhythm. The whole opening sequence is all about pulling the audience in and then grabbing them with a caress and then a slap — and another caress and slap — as we set up the story and the main characters. Then there are so many parts to the story that it’s like this big Swiss watch: all these moving parts and different functions. But you always go back to the widows. A script isn’t a film, it’s a guide, so you’re feeling your way in the edit, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. The whole thing has to be cohesive, one thing. That’s your goal.

What about the visual effects?
They were all done by One Of Us and Outpost VFX (both in the UK), but the VFX were all about enhancing stuff, not dazzling the audience. The aim was always for realism, not fantasy.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
They’re huge for me, and it’s interesting as a lot of the movie has no sound or music. At the beginning, there’s just this one chord on a violin when we get to the title card, and that’s it. There’s no sound for 2/3 of the movie, and then we only have some ambient music and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and a Van Morrison song. That’s why all the sound design is so important. When the women lose their husbands, I didn’t want it to be hammy and tug at your heartstrings. I wanted you to feel that pain and that grief and that journey. When they start to act and take control of their lives, that’s when the music and sound kick in, almost like this muscular drive. Our supervising sound editor James Harrison did a great job with all that. We did all the mixing in Atmos at De Lane Lea in London.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at Company 3 London with colorist Tom Poole, and it’s very important. We shot on film, and our DP Sean and I spent a lot of time just talking about the palette and the look. When you’re shooting in over 60 locations, it’s not so much about putting your own stamp and look on them, but about embracing what they offer you visually and then tweaking it.

For the warehouse scenes, there was a certain mood and it had crappy tungsten lighting, so we changed it a bit to feel more tactile, and it was the same with most of the locations. We’d play with the palette and the visual mood, which the DI allows you to do so well.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
(Laughs) I always hope it turns out better than I hoped or imagined, as your imagination can only take you so far. What’s great is when you go beyond that and come up with something cooler than you could have imagined. That’s what I always want.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things cooking on the stove, and I should finish writing something in the next few months and then start it next year.

All Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Merrick Morton


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.

SMPTE 2015: the impact of immersive audio formats

By Mel Lambert

“In the very near future, immersive audio will be everywhere,” stated William Redmann, Technicolor’s director of standards for immersive media technologies. “It will enhance our dramas, seat us in sports venues and put us on the field [for outdoor events]. Now it’s just a matter of making it happen!”

Technicolor’s technologist was chairing a fascinating session during the SMPTE Technical Conference & Exhibition, held at Loews Hotel in the heart of Hollywood in late October, focusing on new sound capture and production techniques for cinema and broadcast that will be crucial for the effective authoring of object-based immersive audio.

“Support of these premium experiences requires new mixing skills, tools, tests, monitors and a pervasive respect for the artist’s intent at all levels of presentation… and that includes legacy formats,” Redmann stressed. “Nobody is predicting that stereo will disappear!”

Steven Silva

Steven Silva

Steven Silva, VP of technology and strategy at Twentieth Century Fox, provided a succinct overview of “Object-Based Audio for Live TV Production,” with a focus on the development of the new ATSC 3.0 specification for terrestrial TV broadcasting, which is expected to include multichannel immersive opportunities, using object-based and scene-based audio to enhance the consumer experience.

“The new format will offer qualitative improvements over the current ATSC standard,” Silva stressed, “with more than the current six-channel configuration at lower bit rates, yet with enhanced loudness and dynamic-range capabilities.”

Focusing on scene-based audio, Dr. Nils Peters (pictured in our main image) — a staff research engineer at Qualcomm and co-chair of the AES technical committee on spatial audio — presented an interesting overview of Higher Order Ambisonics (HOA), a technology that can be used to create “holistic descriptions of captured sound scenes, independent from particular loudspeaker layouts.”

As Peters explained, immersive sound is carried by a series of compressed/uncompressed digital channels that contain predominant sounds and companion ambiences. “This is different from conventional channel-based formats, which send one signal for each loudspeaker output; up- or down-mixing would be needed if another speaker configuration is used.” Scene-based audio is said to enable immersive sound with objects at bit rates comparable to current formats.

Nuno Fonseca, a professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Leiria, Portugal, and an invited professor at the Lisbon School of Music, described his ongoing research into enhanced sound design and 3D mixing, including a proprietary Sound Particles app which, reportedly, is being evaluated at several Hollywood studios. As Fosenca stressed, VFX graphics software is used to generate moving 3D objects within a virtual space, with a moving virtual camera being responsible for rendering that scene. “Unfortunately, the same concept is not used for audio post production,” he stated. Instead of using a conventional DAW — in reality, the audio equivalent of video editing software — Fonseca is developing a particle-based program for creating virtual 3D audio scenes.

Brian Claypool

Brian Claypool

The “Listening Test Methodology for Object-Based Audio Rendering Interoperability” session comprised a three-way presentation from current innovators of immersive sound systems. As Brian Claypool, senior director of strategic business development at Barco Audio Technologies, explained, work is progressing on the development of listening tests that will ensure the “preservation and representation of artistic intent.” These criteria are the basic focus of SMPTE Technology Committee 25CSS, which is developing an interoperative audio-creation workflow and a single DCP that can be used regardless of which playback configuration — Dolby Atmos, Barco Auro 3D or DTS MDA — has been installed in the exhibition space.

Other participants included Dr. Markus Mehnert, head of technology at Barco Audio Technologies, which markets the Auro 3D format to the motion picture community, and Bert Van Daele, chief technology officer with Auro Technologies NV, which, like Barco, is based in Belgium. “These subjective, objective and combined tests will check the render compatibility of competitive immersive sound systems replaying the proposed SMPTE single-file [interoperable] format,” Van Daele stressed. “We are working on test procedures that will check object size/spread, object positions and other parameters to retain the director’s artistic intent.”

“Monitoring and Authoring of 3D Immersive Next-Generation Audio Formats,” presented by Peter Poers, managing director of marketing and sales at Junger Audio, Germany, stressed that the importance of key functions to ensuring easy adoption of next-generation immersive audio formats will necessitate changes in audio production workflow to accommodate additional audio channels and object-based formats. “Monitoring the audio material, along with authoring and verification of dynamic metadata will become a new challenge,” Poers emphasized. New procedures for managing object-based content need to be established, along with personalization services that will enable the selection, for example, of alternative audio objects – such as commentator languages — as well as loudness control.

Mel Lambert is principal of LA-based Content Creators. He can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com, and follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.