Tag Archives: Company 3

Company 3 NY adds senior colorist Joseph Bicknell

Company 3 has added colorist Joseph Bicknell to its New York office. He has relocated following his time as co-director/founder of finishing house Cheat based in London where he worked on commercial campaigns and music videos, including campaigns for Nike, Mercedes and Audi and videos for A$AP Rocky and Skepta.

Bicknell started his career at age 15, working as a runner on London-based productions. After serving in nearly every aspect of production and post, he discovered his true passion lay in color grading, where artists can make creative choices quickly and sees results instantly. He honed his skills first freelancing and then at Cheat.

He will be working on Blackmagic Resolve. And as with all Company 3 colorists, Bicknell is available at locations globally via remote color session.

Company 3 to open Hollywood studio, adds Roma colorist Steve Scott

Company 3 has added Steve Scott as EVP/senior finishing artist. His long list of credits includes Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-nominated Roma and Gravity; 19 Marvel features, including The Avengers, Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises; and many Academy-Award-winning films, including The Jungle Book, Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and The Revenant (both took Oscars for director Alejandro Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki).

Roma

The addition of Scott comes at a time when Company 3 is completing work on a new location at 950 Lillian Way in Hollywood. This new space represents the first phase of a planned much larger footprint in that area of Los Angeles. This new space will enable the company to significantly expand its capacity while providing the level of artistry and personalized service the industry expects from Company 3. It will also enable them to service more East Side and Valley-based clients.

“Steve is someone I’ve always wanted to work with and I am beyond thrilled that he has agreed to work with us at Company 3,” says CEO Stefan Sonnenfeld. “As we continue the process of re-imagining the entire concept of what ‘post production’ means creatively and technically, it makes perfect sense to welcome a leading innovator and brilliant artist to our team.”

Sonnenfeld and Scott will oversee every facet of this new boutique-style space to ensure it offers the same flexible experience clients have come to expect when working at Company 3. Scott, a devoted student of art and architecture, with extensive professional experience as a painter and architectural illustrator, says, “The opportunity to help design a new cutting-edge facility in my Hollywood hometown was too great to pass up.”

Scott oversees a team of additional artists to offer filmmakers the significantly increased ability to augment and refine imagery as part of the finishing process.

“The industry is experiencing a renaissance of content,” says Sonnenfeld. “The old models of feature film vs. television, long- vs. short-form are changing rapidly. Workflows and delivery methods are undergoing revolutionary changes with more content, and innovative content, coming from a whole array of new sources. It’s a very exciting and challenging time and I think these major additions to our roster and infrastructure will go a long way towards our goal of continuing Company 3’s role as a major force in the industry.”

Main Image Credit: 2018 HPA Awards Ceremony/Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging


Company 3 adds television colorist Jeremy Sawyer 

Company 3 in Santa Monica has beefed up its team of colorists with Jeremy Sawyer (Hulu’s The First, Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here). He will be working on the studio’s expanding slate of TV projects — they currently have more than 20 series in the facility, including Lost in Space (Netflix), Insecure (HBO) and Jack Ryan (Amazon).

For Sawyer, who has also worked on The Walking Dead (AMC), this move brings him back to Company 3, where he had worked as an assistant and then colorist and where he learned a great deal about his craft from CEO/founder Stefan Sonnenfeld.

He returns to the company following a tenure at Light Iron, and was at MTI before that. Prior to his initial stint at Company 3, Sawyer worked at the now-defunct Syndicate. He started his career at Finish Post in his native Boston.

“We’re very excited to welcome Jeremy back,” Sonnenfeld says. “He is an excellent artist and he has a keen understanding of the unique challenges involved in coloring episodic programming. He’s a perfect addition to our team, especially as demand for top-notch TV post continues to explode.”

Sawyer will continue his work on the third season of Netflix series Easy, for which he’s colored every episode to date.

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.”

Company 3 colorist Tim Masick supplies dark DI for First Reformed

Tim Masick of Company 3 in New York worked on the DI for writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed. This film stars Ethan Hawke as a pastor of a small church in upstate New York who is tormented by the death of his son in the Iraq War. Amanda Seyfried also stars.

Masick had worked previously with Schrader on the director’s 2016 film, Dog Eat Dog, which was also shot by DP Alexander Dynan.

Discussions about films that influenced First Reformed — Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest — were primarily filtered through Dynan, but Masick was aware of the influences of those as well as the inspiration of the recent Polish film, Ida.

According to Masick, Schrader “set the table in terms of the look, from costumes to production design and the minimal camera movement and constricted scenes. It’s not set in a pleasant place.”

Schrader, also wanted it dark and cold. “It was shot in January in upstate New York, so everything was on the cool side and everything was intentionally kept devoid of a lot of color,” explains Masick, who used Blackmagic Resolve. “Night interiors might have a bit of warmth from a practical, but everything in the grade was kept dark, even in an exterior if a patch of sunlight hit something we still held it down into what you’d call gray.”

On the specific cold tones, Masick says, “It’s set in an old empty church on its last legs, and it’s the middle of winter. We didn’t go super blue. It’s a mixture of colors of tones. I’ve read reviews that used the term ‘bruising’ in relation to the film, and that’s very interesting because that’s actually something we talked about in terms of his character — bruised. And so there are yellow and purple undertones —similar to the colors of an actual bruise.”

Tim Masick

Masick has been using Resolve for much of his career, and rreally like the way the nodes are set up. “I’m known to use a lot of nodes and quite a few layer nodes specifically,” he explains. “I think it gives me a lot of control. There are a lot of ways to do things in Resolve, but when I was mixing colors like the yellow and purple, I’d use a node for each of those colors and adjust their strength to affect how each one affects the image as a whole. I like to build up layers that I can fine tune individually. It’s the way I’ve always worked.”

Masick started coloring on the show Beavis and Butthead, which he says required using a lot of keys to isolate portions of the frame and nodes to have the control to fine tune shots. You might think, ‘That was animated. Why did you need to do so much refining to the look?’ But the animation wasn’t always consistent, they didn’t always factor in the number of animation cels being used in a shot, and how that affects the overall look. So there was always plenty to do to isolate a character’s face or his shorts or shirt or the background. So I had to get good at keying and layering and I’ve always been able to work the way I like to work in Resolve.”

First Reformed is in theaters now.

Colorist Stephen Nakamura on grading Stephen King’s It

By Randi Altman

A scary clown can be thanked for helping boost what had been a lackluster summer box office. In its first weekend, Stephen King’s It opened with an impressive $125 million. Not bad!

Stephen Nakamura

This horror film takes place in a seemingly normal small town, but of course things aren’t what they seem. And while most horror films set most of the action in shadowy darkness, the filmmakers decided to let a lot of this story unfold in the bright glow of daylight in order to make the most of the darkness that eventually takes over. That presented some interesting opportunities for Deluxe’s Company 3 veteran colorist Stephen Nakamura.

How early did you get involved on It?
We came onboard early to do the first trailer. The response on YouTube and other places was enormous. I can’t speak for the filmmakers, but that was when I first realized how much excitement there was out there for this movie.

Had you worked with director Andy Muschietti before? What kind of direction were you given and how did he explain the look he wanted?
One of the concepts about the look that evolved during production, and we continued it in the DI, was this idea that a lot of the film takes place in fairly high-key situations, not the kind of dark, shadowy world some horror films exist in. It’s a period piece. It’s set in a small town that sort of looks like this pleasant place to be, but all this wild stuff is happening! You see these scary movies and everything’s creepy and it’s overcast outside and it’s clearly a horror movie from the outset. Naturally, that can work, but it can be even scarier when you play against that. The violence and everything feels more shocking.

How would you describe the look of the film?
You have the parts that are like I just described and then it does get very dark and shadowy as the action goes into dark spaces and into the sewer. And all that is particularly effective because we’ve kind of gotten to know all the kids who are in what’s called the Losers’ Club, and we’re rooting for them and scared about what might happen to them.

Can you talk about the Dolby Cinema pass? People generally talk about how bright you can get something with HDR, but I understand you were more interested in how dark the image can look.
Right. When you’re working in HDR, like Dolby lets you do, you have a lot more contrast to work with than you do in the normal digital cinema version. I worked on some of the earliest movies to do a Dolby Cinema version, and when I was working with Brad Bird and Claudio Miranda on Tomorrowland, we experimented with how much brighter we could make portions of the frame than what would be possible with normal digital cinema projection, without making the image into something that had a completely different feel from the P3 version. But when you’re in that space, you can also make things appear much much darker too. So the overall level in the theater can get really dark but because of that contrast you can actually see more detail on a person’s face, or a killer clown’s face, even when the overall level is so low. It’s more like you’re really in that dark space.

It doesn’t make it a whole different movie or anything, but it’s a good example of where Dolby can add something to the experience. I’d tell people to see it in Dolby Cinema if they could.

There was obviously a lot of VFX work that helped the terrifying shapeshifting clown, Pennywise, do what he does, but you also did some work on him in the DI, correct?
Yes. We had alpha channel mattes cut around his eyes for every shot he’s in and we used the color corrector to make changes to his eyes. Sometimes the changes were very subtle — making them brighter or pushing the color around — and sometimes we went more extreme, but I don’t want to talk about that too much. People can see for themselves when they see the movie.

What system do you use, and why? How does that tool allow you to be more creative?
I use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. I’ve been a colorist since the ‘90s and I’ve used Resolve pretty much my whole career. There are other systems out there that are also very good, but for the kinds of projects I do and the way I like to work, I find it the fastest and most intuitive and every time there’s a new upgrade, I find some new tool that helps me be even more efficient.

The A-List: The Founder director John Lee Hancock

By Iain Blair

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

John Lee Hancock on set

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The A-List: Collateral Beauty director David Frankel

By Iain Blair

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

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

David Frankel

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

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

I spoke with Frankel about making the film.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Company 3’s Heydar Adel: The role of today’s online editor

Workflows for episodic TV have changed a lot over the last several years, sometimes daily. A role that has gone largely underappreciated in the process is online editor. Senior online editor Heydar Adel is no stranger to the process, having served in that role for over 17 years. While he has only been with Deluxe’s Company 3 in Santa Monica since last year, he is no stranger to Deluxe itself — he held a similar role at the company’s Encore facility for seven years prior to this recent move.

In describing his current role at Company 3, which provides high-end post services to feature film, commercial, music video and television clients, he says, “I primarily do conforming, which is essentially recreating what the picture editors are doing using smaller, more user-friendly files like Avid DNX-36, but with the larger and more robust files that our colorists works with. That could be a camera-original file format like r3d or ArriRaw, or it could be DPX or EXR, depending on the client’s requirements.”

In addition to the actual conforming of the files, he says, the process almost always involves creating some visual effects. “Elaborate effects and CGI work will go to an effects facility, but I do quite a lot of wire and mic removal, reframing, compositing and those kinds of effects. So that can be clean-up, stabilizations, laptop comps, cell phone comps, gunplay — like sparks and smoke — and those types of things.”

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is just one of the shows that Adel lends his talents to.

Adel makes it clear that he’s not changing the story or making creative decisions, “but the level of polish on a show is quite different when I’m done with it than when it first get it.”

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Adel to find out more about his role and his workflow…

What tools do you use?
I can work in any of the “online” tools, such as Autodesk Flame, which used to be Smoke. We’ve also started doing some work in Blackmagic Resolve, but I’ve worked most often in Avid since it became possible last year to use Avid Symphony for 4K finishing.

Picture editors mostly work in Avid, so that helps with efficiency. We’re finishing a lot of shows for Netflix and Amazon and other companies who want 4K, and now HDR. I’ve found that working in Avid requires a bit less guesswork in recreating some of the effects the picture editor created so I can focus on bigger issues like compositing.

Can you walk us through an average session?
We get the offline edit in whatever format they use — often DNX36 — and all the raw camera footage. Company 3’s data department handles any transcoding that might be required and then we archive everything. My assistant editor puts the entire project online and I watch a split, with the offline version playing back in one monitor and the larger files assembled on a timeline chasing that version. First I check and make sure that there are no discrepancies between the versions and then I start on the bells and whistles.

What determines what effects you do and what gets sent out to a VFX vendor?
Their editorial department prepares lists of work that needs to be done. I’m part of that conversation and I’ll bid specific effects. So I’ll determine it might take two hours to do the shot and they generally pay a certain hourly rate. Some effects shots require many hours. Then they determine whether they want to do it here or send it out based on any number of factors. For the last pilot I worked on, I did 1,200 Avid visual effects shots for one 80-minute piece.

What tools do you use for the effects work, or is it just Avid?
You can do some of the work in the actual online tool — Avid or one of the others. Beyond that I use Adobe After Effects for a lot of compositing and Mocha for tracking. Mocha (now a Boris FX product) is very effective, and the tracking information translates well into the editing tools. I’ve also done some work in Blackmagic Fusion when I’m using Resolve to conform because they talk well to each other.

What monitors do you use?
I use a big 4K UHD monitor (sometimes Sony, sometimes LG) as the primary display, an HD LCD HP DreamColor as a close-up monitor and an HD plasma for comparisons. I use a nice curved Dell monitor for UI, which has a super wide — 21:9 — aspect ratio. Avid and Resolve interfaces are dual monitor set-ups but you can fit the whole thing on this one screen, and I love it.

What are some industry trends you’ve noticed recently?
The speed at which things need to get done — it used to be 8-12 hours to conform and output a show, now maybe four or five and with a lot more visual effects. Of course, the machines are faster but then as the resolution of the files goes up things naturally slow down again. We’re also working with 16-bit files and HDR and that also slows things down. At Company 3 we’re always maneuvering through these technological changes.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Working on shows I like! Recently, because I’m doing more and more, I have a sense of ownership. My job has changed; I’m not just a conform editor. I’ve contributed to it on an artistic level and I’m embracing the shift. So I watch them again and I’m proud of it. I’ve worked on shows I love and have gotten friends to start watching.

Black Sails Season 3

Black Sails

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Cutnotes is an iPad app I love. When we play out a show with a client, you sync up timecode in the form of a text file. You can input parameters, like that it’s a 23.976 project, and it’s very effective. I really do love Mocha. It lets me do planar tracking in 3D space. It’s the core of most effects I do. And I use After Effects all the time.

Can you name some of those shows you’ve worked on?
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Last Ship, Narcos, Black Sails, and a lot of other shows and pilots.

What social media channels do you follow?
Mostly Instagram. I follow photographers and DPs.

If you listen to music while you work, care to share some of your favorites?
I listen to EDM; ‘90s electronica, like Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers; and Jazz. It’s the best music for VFX comps!

What do you do to de-stress?
I spend a lot of time outdoors with my two little boys!

The A-List: ‘Miles Ahead’ director/lead actor Don Cheadle

By Iain Blair

The multi-faceted Don Cheadle has starred in some 80 movies, both big (Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Ocean’s and Iron Man franchises) and small (Hotel Rwanda), and produced various TV shows and films.

Now he can add director to his resume, thanks to his passion project and labor of love, Miles Ahead, a wild — and wildly entertaining — free form biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis. Cheadle not only co-wrote, produced and directed the film, he also stars as the raspy-voiced pioneering musician whose improvisational approach and ambitious forays into rock-jazz fusion helped define modern jazz.

Set in the late ‘70s over the course of a five-year period, Miles Ahead paints a no-holds portrait of the mercurial Davis battling drug addiction and ghosts from the past as he embarks on an adventure with a music reporter (played by Ewan McGregor) to recover a stolen tape of his latest compositions.

Don Cheadle and Iain Blair

I recently met with Cheadle to talk about making the film, which was shot on a combination of film and digital formats.

You certainly jumped in the deep end for your first film as director — a period piece, about jazz, starring a black trumpeter. Financing must have been so easy (smiles).
So easy! No problem! We were very fortunate at the beginning… In 2006, we set it up at HBO — it was also going to get a theatrical release — but then the recession hit in 2008 and it was a disaster. That deal fell apart, the writers went away and we were back to square one with me playing Miles. That was it. But then I met (co-writer) Steve Baigelman, who co-wrote the James Brown biopic Get On Up, who understood what I wanted to do, and we got the script in shape. It was still years of stopping and starting, and deals falling apart, before it finally happened.

What did you envision for the film when you set out on this journey?
I wanted to make a film that really captures Miles’ raw energy and forward movement. I didn’t want to make the conventional biopic that tries to cover a whole life. The period we chose was this time when he was going through various personal and creative crises, and basically disappeared from view. That seemed like a great place to start and explore this very complicated man. I never met him, but I saw him perform and talked to everyone who worked with him. He was constantly looking for the next thing to say through his art, and that’s what drove him.

How did you prepare to direct your first feature?
I had directed TV and commercials, and I told myself this would just be a bigger stage. No need to freak out. And I’ve never been the dude who goes back to the trailer. I always liked to hang out on sets, watch people work, talk to DPs about lighting and the sound mixer and so on. I was trying to learn as much as I could. I talked to all my director friends, like Warren Beatty and Carl Franklin, and they basically said the same thing: “It’s the same, just bigger.” And I’d ask, “Really?” And they would say, “No. It’s much more than that. It’s like dealing with an army. Shooting is so stressful and you never sleep — and on top of that, you’re playing the lead and are in nearly every scene. Good luck with that!”

George Clooney, who has also directed himself, had great advice: “Do your pushups.” Meaning, you trust your script, you’ve got a good team around you — but you have to stay healthy to get through it all. It was tough. We actually shot most of it in Cincinnati, where Todd Haynes had just shot Carol, so they were very welcoming.

Was post a steep learning curve?
I have been around post a bit and in the editing room, but when it’s your own project and all the decisions are now yours, it’s very daunting. When I saw the first rough assembly I was so shocked that I left. I told the editor, “I’m out. I can’t even watch this. All I can see is everything I wasn’t able to accomplish, all of the mistakes, my performance is terrible — I don’t ever want to see this again!” He said, “That’s a very normal reaction, it’s okay.” It was a couple of weeks before I could come back and get into the process again.

Do you like the post process?
By the end, once I got over myself and into it all, I loved it. I had to focus on what was there, not the missing stuff, and then the magic of post happened — where it’s your third chance to write your movie. It was really rewarding, especially when you can magically create a moment in post that wasn’t there on the day.

Where did you post?
We did post in two sections. We did it at Tribeca West, for two months, and also some back east at Warner Bros. Sound in New York on West 55th. That’s where we did our sound mix. We also shot the last concert scene in New York and finished it up there. We did have a few visual effects, like when Miles is shot in the hip, and VFX to just sweeten stuff and paint out lights, but nothing major. Lit Post in Burbank did the VFX.

John Axelrad (Crazy Heart, The Immigrant) edited the film with Kayla Emter. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
Kayla was his assistant, and as I was so focused on playing Miles I told them, “Take the reins, and don’t wait for me to dictate how to cut scenes.” It was like when Herbie Hancock first played with Miles — he was terrified and said to Miles, “I don’t know what to play.” And Miles just said, “Piano, motherf***er.” (Laughs hard) That’s exactly how I felt with them. I didn’t need them to explain it all, just show it to me. Kayla really took that on and she cut a couple of great sequences that were all hers. So when John told us he wanted to make her his co-editor and that she deserved it, I agreed immediately.

They didn’t come to the set. They got the dailies in LA and then New York, and cut as we shot. We didn’t waste any footage. Our first assembly was 104 minutes, and the final movie is 100! We only cut one scene in the whole thing.

Obviously, music and sound were crucial. Can you talk about the importance of it in the film, and working with sound designer/editor Skip Lievsay?
It was an interesting mix, especially the music, because we wanted to use source and Miles wherever we could, and not try to do “sounds-like.” So I’d play to playback of Miles and all his solos, but when we had to bridge or figure out ways to make the magic happen, we did different things. There’s a scene where Miles is upstairs and the band is playing in the basement, and I walk downstairs and you hear the music break apart. I tell them to start another song in another tempo, and the shot goes over and around all the musicians as I start playing.  They had to play over all that to picture and match every breath and bit of phrasing. That was very tricky to do, but it’s seamless.

Where did you mix the sound?
At Warners in New York, and Skip did a brilliant job.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important, and I did it with the DP at Company 3 with colorist Stephen Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). I wanted a look that echoed his music — brash, tender, moody, happy, the whole thing. It all turned out the way I pictured it in my head. [Says Nakamura, “Roberto and I based the look in the grade on the 16mm portions of the film by adding some grain to the digital images, just a subtle amount. And then we also wanted to give some scenes a bit of a ‘vintage’ feel. A lot of that comes from the costumes and hair styles and the older lenses he used but we also infused those images with a look inspired by photographs in magazines from the ’50s and ’60s that had more contrast than the pictures we’re used to seeing today.”]

Do you want to direct again?
After I go into a coffin for a while and recover. But it’s so hard directing and starring. Next time I don’t need to be in it. It’s too much.

What’s next?
More of my Showtime series House of Lies, then a big rest before I commit to anything.

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.