Tag Archives: CBS

How CBS’ All Rise went remote for season finale

By Daniel Restuccio

When the coronavirus forced just about everything to shut down back in mid-March, many broadcast television series had no choice but to make their last-shot episodes their season finales. Others got creative.

Producer Dantonio Alvarez

While NBC’s The Blacklist opted for a CG/live-action hybrid to end its season, CBS’ courtroom drama, All Rise, chose to address the shutdown head-on with a show that was shot remotely. When CBS/Warner Bros. shut down production on All Rise, EPs Michael M. Robin and Len Goldstein — along with EP/co-showrunners Greg Spottiswood and Dee Harris-Lawrence — began brainstorming the idea of creating an episode that reflected the current pandemic crisis applied to the justice system.

Co-producer Dantonio Alvarez was deep into remote post on the already-shot episodes 19 and 20 when Robin called him. He and consultant Gil Garcetti had looked into how the court system was handling the pandemic and decided to pitch an idea to Warner Bros.: a remote episode of All Rise done via a Zoom-like setup. Alvarez was relieved; it meant a lot of the crew — 50 from the usual 90-person team — could keep working.

In a week’s time, Spottiswood and co-executive producer Greg Nelson wrote the 64-page script that focused on the complications around a virtual bench trial and the virus-jammed court system.

The Logistics
Producer Ronnie Chong reached out to Jargon Entertainment’s Lucas Solomon to see how he could help. Jargon, which provides on-set playback and computer graphics, had been working with network solutions company Straight Up Technologies (SUT) on other projects. Solomon brought SUT into the mix. “We figured out a way to do everything online and to get it to a point where Mike Robin could be at home directing everybody,” he explains.

Straight Up Technologies offers a secure and proprietary broadband network with a broadcast-quality ISP backbone that can accommodate up to 200 simultaneous video feeds at 1920×1080 at 30fps and do 4K (3840×2160 or 4096×2160). For All Rise to record at 1920×1080, each actor needed a network upload speed of 5Mb/s for no lag or packet loss. If the producers had decided to go 4K, it would have needed to be triple that.

Prep started the week of April 10, with Solomon, Alvarez, DP David Harp, Robin and the SUT IT team doing Zoom or WebEx scouts of the actors’ homes for suitable locations. They also evaluated each home’s bandwidth, making a list of what computers and mobile devices everyone had.

“You’re only as good as the connection out of your house and the traffic around your house,” explains SUT’s John Grindley. They used what was in the actors’ houses and enhanced the connection to their network when necessary. This included upgrading the basic download/upload data plan, going from 4G to 5G, putting in signal boosters, adding hard lines to computers and installing “cradle points” — high-end Wi-Fi hotspots — if needed.

The cast got small battery-powered ring lights for their devices.

Cinematographer Harp set out to find what area of the casts’ houses helped tell the story. He asked things like, “What was the architecture? What kind of lights did they have in the room? Were they on dimmers? Where were the windows, and what are the window treatments like?” The answers to those questions determined Harp’s lighting package. He sent small battery-powered ring lights to the cast along with tripods for their iPhones, but mostly they worked with what they had. “We decided that we’re not going to get cameras out to anybody,” explains Alvarez. “We were going to use people’s phones and their home computers for capture.”

As a result, all 22 cast members became camera operators, grips and essentially one-person guerrilla film crews. Their gear was MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, iPhones, and Cisco DX70s. Harp controlled exposure on the computers by moving lights around and positioning the actors.

Solomon set up his video assist system, QTake, at his shop in Valencia. It was equipped with a bandwidth of 400Mb/s download and 20Mb/s upload to record all the feeds. “We set up two other recording locations — one in Hollywood and one in Chatsworth — as redundancy.”

Production Begins
On Friday, April 17, day one of the six-day shoot, a five-person engineering crew at the COVID-safe SUT offices in San Francisco, Seattle and El Segundo fired up the network, checked the call sheet and connected to the crew.

Actors, Jessica Camacho (Emily Lopez) and Lindsay Mendez (Sara Castillo) logged into the join.sutvideo.com on their MacBook Pro laptop and iPhone, respectively. Their signal strength was good, so they shot their scene.

According to Straight Up Technologies CTO Reinier Nissen, the engineers set up virtual spaces, or “talent rooms,” for each actor and a “main stage” room where “talent rooms” were nested and scenes were played out. Every actor’s camera and mic feeds were married and recorded as individual signals. The “main stage” could be configured into a split-screen “Zoom-like” grid with inputs from any of the actors’ feeds. Some of the virtual spaces were control rooms, like a video village, where crew and IT could see all the actors, give technical and creative direction, monitor the signals, manage network traffic and control whose video and audio were on or muted.

The Cisco DX70s natively output 1920×1080 at 30fps. The MacBook Pro and Air 1280×720 camera feeds were upscaled in the sutvideo.com system to 1920×1080 30fps. The iPhones, 4K capable, were set to 1920×1080 30fps. Solomon recorded both the split-screen main stage and individual actor talent room streams to his QTake system in QuickTime ProRes 1920×1080, recalibrated the frame rate to 23.97 and added timecode.

DP David Harp

Each take was slated just like a normal shoot. From his LA home, director Robin could see everyone in the scene on the main stage and decide how to arrange them in the grid, set their eyelines and even pop into the grid during rehearsal and between takes to give notes.

Staging the scene, you would think that the actor should look straight at the camera so you could see their eyes. However, they noticed that there was “less of a connection when looking at the lens,” says Harp. “When they’re looking around the screen, you can feel a connection because they’re looking at each other.”

In addition to the virtual first unit footage, Harp shot eight days of second unit footage of Los Angeles streets during COVID. With four suction cups, he attached his Sony A7 to the roof of his son’s car and drove around for four or five hours a day shooting essentially a stock library of Los Angeles during a pandemic.

Post Production
Alvarez used the remote post infrastructure he set up for Episodes 19 and 20 for the new show. All of the editors, assistant editors, visual effects artists and audio team were working from home on their own systems or ones provided by Warner Bros. Since there was no Avid Unity shared storage, they did old-school shuttling of drives from location to location.

“We had three teams tackling this thing because our schedule was ridiculously short,” says Alvarez. “Every single day, feeding everybody material, we were able to get everyone cutting. We’d send live feeds or links to producers to get their eyes on editorial approvals on scenes in real time. We just moved.”

MTI Film EP Barbara Marshall reports that all the footage was ingested into the post house’s Signiant server system. From those masters, they made DNxHD 36 dailies using the MTI Cortex v5 software and sent them to the editors and assistant editors.

The edit team included Craig Bench, Leah Breuer and Chetin Chabuk, who worked with three assistants: Bradford Obie, Diana Santana and Douglas Staffield. They edited from home on six Avid Media Composers. They worked 13-hour days for 14 days in a row, says Bench.

Everyone on the editorial team got the same pool of dailies and started editing Saturday morning, April 18. Once they reviewed the footage, the team decided to rebuild the split-screen grids from scratch to get the pace of the show right. They wanted to retain, as much as possible, both the cadence of the dialog and the syncopated cutting style that Spottiswood and Bench had set in the pilot.

Rebuilding the grids, explains Bench, “gave us the freedom to treat everyone’s coverage separately. Even though the grid appears to be one take, it’s really not. We were creating our own world.” Rough cuts were sent every night to Robin.

During the first couple of production days, all three teams would jump on cutting the dailies as well as working through the previous day’s notes. As the show came together, Bench worked on the teaser and Act 1, Chabuk did Acts 2 and 3, and Breuer did Act 4 and the party scene at the end.

“There was a lot of experimenting,” explains Bench. “In the grid, should the actors be side by side or one on top of the other? There was also a lot of back and forth about grid background colors and textures.”

The assistants had their bins full setting up grid templates. This would allow them to drop an iso shot on a track so it would go to that spot on the grid and keep it consistent. They also built all the sound effects of the frames animating on and off.

Editorial gave MTI online editor Andrew Miller a “soft lock” of the episode early on April 30. Miller got the Avid project file that was “a big stack of split screens” and a reference video from Bench.

MTI colorist Greg Strait

Miller worked over the weekend with post supervisor Cat Crimins putting the episode together remotely. They replaced all the proxies with the high-res masters in the timeline and made necessary last-minute adjustments.

MTI colorist Greg Strait got a baked, uncompressed 10-bit MXF mixdown of the Avid timeline from Miller. Strait, who graded virtually the entire season of All Rise in Digital Vision’s Nucoda, had a good idea where the look was going. “I tried to keep it as familiar as possible to the other 20 episodes,” he says. “Sharpening some things, adding contrast and putting a lot of power windows around things had the best result.”

After laying in the audio stems, post was wrapped Sunday night at 11pm. Alvarez did a quality-control review of the episode. On Monday, May 4, they output XDCAM as the network deliverable.

Despite the tight time crunch, things went pretty smoothly, which MTI Film’s Marshall attributes to the trust and longtime relationship MTI has with Robin and the show. “That’s the cool thing about Mike. He definitely likes to push the envelope,” she says.

All Rise has been renewed for Season 2, and the team promises the innovations will continue.

Behind the Title: Sound Lounge ADR mixer Pat Christensen

This ADR mixer was a musician as a kid and took engineering classes in college, making him perfect for this job.

Name: Pat Christensen

Company: Sound Lounge (@soundloungeny)

What’s your job title?
ADR mixer

What does Sound Lounge do?
Sound Lounge is a New York City-based audio post facility. We provide sound services for TV, commercials, feature films, television series, digital campaigns, games, podcasts and other media. Our services include sound design, editing and mixing; ADR recording and voice casting.

What does your job entail?
As an ADR mixer, I re-record dialogue for film and television. It is necessary when dialogue cannot be recorded properly on the set or for creative reasons or because additional dialogue is needed. My stage is set up differently from a standard mix stage as it includes a voiceover booth for actors.

We also have an ADR stage with a larger recording environment to support groups of talent. The stage also allows us to enhance sound quality and record performances with greater dynamics, high and low. The recording environment is designed to be “dead,” that is without ambient sound. That results in a clean recording so when it gets to the next stage, the mixer can add reverb or other processing to make it fit the environment of the finished soundtrack.

What would people find most surprising about your job?
People who aren’t familiar with ADR are often surprised how it’s possible to make an actor’s voice lipsync perfectly with the image on screen and indistinguishable from dialogue recorded on the day.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Interacting with people — the sound team, the director or the showrunner, and the actors. I enjoy helping directors in guiding the actors and being part of the creative process. I act as a liaison between the technical and creative sides. It’s fun and it’s different every day. There’s never a boring session.

What’s your least favorite?
I don’t know if there is one. I have a great studio and all the tools that I need. I work with good people. I love coming to work every day.

What’s your most productive time of the day?
Whenever I’m booked. It could be 9am. It could be 7a.m. I do night sessions. When the client needs the service, I am ready to go.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
In high school, I played bass in a punk rock band. I learned the ins and outs of being a musician while taking classes in engineering. I also took classes in automotive technology. If I’d gone that route, I wouldn’t be working in a muffler shop; I’d be fine-tuning Formula 1 engines.

How early on did you know that sound would be your path?
My mom bought me a four-string Washburn bass for Christmas when I was in the eighth grade, but even then I was drawn to the technical side. I was super interested in learning about audio consoles and other gear and how they were used to record music. Luckily, my high school offered a radio and television class, which I took during my senior year. I fell in love with it from day one.

Silicon Valley

What are some of your recent projects?
I worked on the last season of HBO’s Silicon Valley and the second season of CBS’ God Friended Me. We also did Starz’s Power and the new Adam Sandler movie Palm Springs. There are many more credits on my IMDB page. I try to keep it up-to-date.

Is there a project that you’re most proud of?
Power. We’ve done all seven seasons. It’s been exciting to watch how successful that show has become. It’s also been fun working with the actors and getting to know many of them on a personal level. I enjoy seeing them whenever they come it. They trust me to bridge the gap between the booth and the original performance and deliver something that will be seen, and heard, by millions of people. It’s very fulfilling.

Name three pieces of technology you cannot live without.
A good microphone, a good preamp and good speakers. The speakers in my studio are ADAM A7Xs.

What social media channels do you follow?
Instagram and Facebook.

What do you do to relax?
I play hockey. On weekends, I enjoy getting on the ice, expending energy and playing hard. It’s a lot of fun. I also love spending time with my family.

The Molecule: VFX for ‘The Affair’ and so much more

By Randi Altman

Luke DiTommaso, co-founder of New York City’s The Molecule, recalls “humble”
beginnings when he thinks about the visual effects, motion graphics and VR studio’s launch as a small compositing shop. When The Molecule opened in 2005, New York’s production landscape was quite a bit different than the tax-incentive-driven hotbed that exists today.

Rescue Me was our big break,” explains DiTommaso. “That show was the very beginning of this wave of production that started happening in New York. Then we got Damages and Royal Pains, but were still just starting to get our feet wet with real productions.”

The Molecule partners (L-R) Andrew Bly, Chris Healer and Luke DiTommaso.

Then, thanks to a healthy boost from New York’s production and post tax incentives, things exploded, and The Molecule was at the right place at the right time. They had an established infrastructure, talent and experience providing VFX for television series.

Since then DiTommaso and his partners Chris Healer and Andrew Bly have seen the company grow considerably, doing everything from shooting and editing to creating VFX and animation, all under one roof. With 35 full-time employees spread between their New York and LA offices — oh, yeah, they opened an office in LA! — they also average 30 freelance artists a day, but can seat 65 if needed.

While some of these artists work on commercials, many are called on to create visual effects for an impressive list of shows, including Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and Bloodline, Showtime’s The Affair, HBO’s Ballers (pictured below), FX’s The Americans, CBS’ Elementary and Limitless, VH1’s The Breaks, Hulu’s The Path (for NBC and starring Aaron Paul) and the final season of USA’s Royal Pains. Also completed are the miniseries Madoff and Behind the Magic, a special on Snow White, for ABC.

Ballers-before      Ballers-after

The Molecule’s reach goes beyond the small screen. In addition to having completed a few shots for Zoolander 2 and a big one involving a digital crowd for Barbershop 3, at the time of this interview the studio was gearing up for Jodie Foster’s Money Monster; they will be supplying titles, the trailer and a ton of visual effects.

There is so much for us to cover, but just not enough time, so for this article we are going to dig into The Molecule’s bread and butter: visual effects for TV series. In particular, the work they provided for Showtime’s The Affair, which had its season finale just a few weeks ago.

The Affair
Viewers of The Affair, a story of love, divorce and despair, might be surprised to know that each episode averages between 50 to 70 visual effects shots. The Molecule has provided shots that range from simple clean-ups to greenscreen driving and window shots — “We’ll shoot the plates and then composite a view of midtown Manhattan or Montauk Highway outside the car window scene,” says DiTommaso — to set extensions, location changes and digital fire and rain.

One big shot for this past season was burning down a cabin during a hurricane. “They had a burn stage so they could captFire-stageure an amount of practical fire on a stage, but we enhanced that, adding more fire to increase the feeling of peril. The scene then cuts to a wide shot showing the location, which is meant to be on the beach in Montauk during a raging hurricane. We went out to the beach and shot the house day for night — we had flicker lighting on the location so the dunes and surrounding grass got a sort of flickering light effect. Later on, we shot the stage from a similar angle and inserted the burning stage footage into the exterior wide location footage, and then added a hurricane on top of all of that. That was a fun challenge.”

During that same hurricane, the lead character Noah gets his car stuck in the mud but they weren’t able to get the tires to spin practically, so The Molecule got the call. “The tires are spinning in liquid so it’s supposed to kick up a bunch of mud and water and stuff while rain is coming down on top of it, so we had our CG department create that in the computer.”

Another scene that features a good amount of VFX was one that involved a scene that took place on the patio outside of the fictitious Lobster Roll restaurant. “It was shot in Montauk in October and it wasn’t supposed to be cold in the scene, but it was about 30 degrees at 2:00am and Alison is in a dress. They just couldn’t shoot it there because it was just too cold. We shot plates, basically, of the location, without actors. Later we recreated that patio area and lined up the lighting and the angle and basically took the stage footage and inserted it into the location footage. We were able to provide a solution so they could tell the story without having the actors’ breath and their noses all red and shivering.”

Lobster_Roll-before      Lobster_Roll-after

Being on Set
While on-set VFX supervision is incredibly important, DiTommaso would argue “by the time you’re on set you’re managing decisions that have already been set into motion earlier in the process. The most important decisions are made on the tech scouts and in the production/VFX meetings.”

He offers up an example: “I was on a tech scout yesterday. They have a scene where a woman is supposed to walk onto a frozen lake and the ice starts to crack. They were going to build an elaborate catwalk into the water. I was like, ‘Whoa, aren’t we basically replacing the whole ground with ice? Then why does she need to be over water? Why don’t we find a lake that has a flat grassy area leading up to it?’ Now they’re building a much simpler catwalk — imagine an eight-foot-wide little platform. She’ll walk out on that with some blue screens and then we’ll extend the ice and dress the rest of the location with snow.

According to DiTommaso being there at the start saved a huge amount of time, money and effort. “By the time you’re on set they would have already built it into the water and all that stuff.”

But, he says, being on set for the shoot is also very important because you never know what might happen. “A problem will arise and the whole crew kind of turns and looks at you like, ‘You can fix this, right?’ Then we have to say, ‘Yeah. We’re going to shoot this plate. We’re going to get a clean plate, get the actors out, then put them back in.’ Whatever it is; you have to improvise sometimes. Hopefully that’s a rare instance and that varies from crew to crew. Some crews are very meticulous and others are more freewheeling.”

The Molecule is shooting more and more of their own plates these days, so they recently invested in a Ricoh S camera for shooting 360-degree HDR. “It has some limitations, but it’s perfect for CG HDRs,” explains DiTommaso. “It gives you a full 360-degree dome, instantly, and it’s tiny like a cell phone or a remote. We also have a Blackmagic 4K Cinema camera that we’ll shoot plates with. There are pros and cons to it, but I like the latitude and the simplicity of it. We use it for a quick run and gun to grab an element. If we need a blood spurt, we’ll set that up in the conference room and we’ll shoot a plate.”

The Molecule added John Hamm’s head to this scene for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

They call on a Canon 74 for stills. “We have a little VFX kit with little LED tracking points and charts that we bring with us on set. Then back at the shop we’re using Nuke to composite. Our CG department has been doing more and more stuff. We just submitted an airplane — a lot of vehicles, trains, planes and automobiles are created in Maya.”

They use Side Effects Houdini for simulations, like fire and rain; for rendering they called on Arnold, and crowds are created in Massive.

What’s Next?
Not ones to be sitting on the sidelines, The Molecule recently provided post on a few VR projects, but their interest doesn’t end there. Chris Healer is currently developing a single lens VR camera rig that DiTommaso describes as essentially “VR in a box.”

SMPTE elects Officers, Governors for 2015-2016

SMPTE (The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) has elected new officers and governors for 2015-16. Robert Seidel, VP of engineering and advanced technology at CBS, will take office as the Society’s new president on Jan. 1, 2015.

Seidel, who previously held SMPTE board roles including executive VP and finance VP, will serve a two-year term as SMPTE president. He succeeds outgoing president Wendy Aylsworth, senior VP of technology at Warner Bros. Technical Operations, who will now become the Society’s past president.

Robert Seidel

“Bob Seidel has been a tremendous asset to the Society in several key positions, and we are confident that he will continue and build on the good work done by Wendy during her successful tenure as president,” said SMPTE executive director Barbara Lange. “Bob and Wendy are among the many SMPTE members who have contributed a great deal to the Society’s growth. The officers and governors elected for 2015-16 — and those who continue on in their existing roles — bring extraordinary knowledge, experience, and energy to the Society and its advancement of the motion-imaging industry.”

Other incoming SMPTE officers elected for the two-year 2015-2016 term include Matthew S. Goldman, senior VP of TV compression technology at Ericsson, who will serve as executive VP; Patrick Griffis, executive director of the technology strategy in the office of the CTO at Dolby, will continue his service as education VP; and Peter Wharton, VP of technology and business development at BroadStream Solutions, who will continue to serve as secretary/treasurer. In January 2015, the board will elect an officer to fill the post vacated by Goldman.

Ten governors, eight of which are incumbents, were elected to serve in SMPTE posts around the world. The re-elected governors include Angelo D’Alessio, GM at the Center for Accessible Media, who will again serve as governor for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America. William T. Hayes, director of engineering and technology at Iowa Public Television, will again serve as governor for the central region and Sara J. Kudrle, product marketing manager of monitoring and control at Grass Valley will serve again as governor for the western region. KL Lam, past VP of broadcasting and engineering operations at Hong Kong Cable TV, will serve again as governor for the Asia-Australia region.

Pierre Marion, director of media engineering for French networks at CBC/Radio-Canada, will again serve as governor for the Canadian region. John McCoskey, executive VP/CTO at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), will serve again as governor for the Eastern US region. William C. Miller, president at Miltag Media Technology, will again serve as governor for the New York region. Clyde Smith, senior VP of new technology at Fox Networks Engineering and Operations, will again serve as a governor for the Hollywood region.

Newly elected are Steve Beres, VP of media and technology operations at HBO, who will serve as a governor for the Hollywood region, and Merrick Ackermans, engineering director of global technology and operations for US network operations at Turner, who will serve as a governor for the Southern US region.

The Society’s officers and governors elected for the 2015-2016 term will serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors along with other board officers, regional governors and directors of specific areas, including standards, education and membership.

Officers who were not up for re-election and who continue to serve on the SMPTE Board of Governors Executive Committee include SMPTE Standards VP Alan Lambshead, retired from Evertz, and SMPTE Membership VP Paul Stechly of Applied Electronics.

Governors who were not up for re-election and who continue on the SMPTE Board of Governors include Dan Burnett of Ericsson Television Inc. (Southern US region); Paul Chapman of FotoKem (Hollywood region); Randy Conrad of Imagine Communications (Canadian region); John Ferder of CBS (New York region); Karl Kuhn of Tektronix (Eastern U.S. region); John Maizels of Entropy Enterprises and Productions (Asia/Australia region); Mark Narveson of Patterson & Sheridan (Western US region); T.J. Scott Jr. of Grass Valley (Southern U.S. region); Leon Silverman of The Walt Disney Studios (Hollywood region); and Richard Welsh of Sundog Media Toolkit (Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Central and South America region).

SMPTE’s annual meeting takes place starting on October 20 in at the Loews Hollywood Hotel in Hollywood.


Creating Under the Dome’s sound experience

By Jennifer Walden

Imagine living your life under an invisible dome that offers no escape, seeing the same people in the same town day after day… oh, and the  “prison” you call home has supernatural powers that might or might not be evil. That’s what the residents of the fictional town of Under the Dome’s Chester’s Mill have to contend with every day on CBS’s sophomore offering based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. Then imagine what that would sound like. Would there be echoes? Would the sounds be magnified? Dulled?

Walter Newman, supervising sound editor at Burbank’s Warner Bros. Sound, is currently working on Season 2 of Under the Dome, which premieres June 30 on CBS with an episode written by King himself.

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