Tag Archives: Company 3

Color grading IT Chapter Two’s terrifying return

In IT Chapter Two, the kids of the Losers’ Club are all grown up and find themselves lured back to their hometown of Derry. Still haunted both by the trauma that monstrous clown Pennywise let loose on the community and by each one’s own unique insecurities, the group (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader) find themselves up against even more terrifying forces than they faced in the first film, IT.

Stephen Nakamura

IT Chapter Two director Andy Muschietti called on cinematographer Checco Varese and colorist Stephen Nakamura of Company 3. Nakamura returned to the franchise, performing the final color grade at Efilm in Hollywood. “I felt the first one was going to be a big hit when we were working on it, because these kids’ stories were so compelling and the performances were so strong. It was more than just a regular horror movie. This second one, in my opinion, is just as powerful in terms of telling these characters’ stories. And, not surprisingly, it also takes the scary parts even further.”

According to Nakamura, Muschietti “is a very visually oriented director. When we were coloring both of the films, he was very aware of the kinds of things we can do in the DI to enhance the imagery and make things even more scary. He pushed me to take some scenes in Chapter Two in directions I’ve never gone with color. I think it’s always important, whether you’re a colorist or a chef or a doctor, to always push yourself and explore new aspects of your work. Andy’s enthusiasm encouraged me to try new approaches to working in DaVinci Resolve. I think the results are very effective.”

For one thing, the technique he used to bring up just the light level in the eyes of the shapeshifting clown Pennywise got even more use here because there were more frightening characters to use it on. In many cases, the companies that created the visual effects also provided mattes that let Nakamura easily isolate and adjust the luminance of each individual eye in Resolve. When such mattes weren’t available, he used Resolve to track each eyeball a frame at a time.

“Resolve has excellent tracking capabilities, but we were looking to isolate just the tiny whites of the characters’ eyes,” Nakamura explains, “and there just wasn’t enough information to track.” It was meticulous work, he recalls, “but it’s very effective. The audience doesn’t consciously know we’re doing anything, but it makes the eyes brighter in a very strange way, kind of like a cat’s eyes when they catch the light. It really enhances the eerie feeling.”

In addition, Nakamura and the filmmakers made use of Resolve’s Flicker tool in the OpenFX panel to enhance the flickering effect in a scene involving flashing lights, taking the throbbing light effects further than they did on set. Not long ago, this type of enhancement would have been a more involved process in which the shots would likely be sent to a visual effects house. “We were able to do it as part of the grading, and we all thought it looked completely realistic. They definitely appreciated the ability to make little enhancements like that in the final grade, when everyone can see the scenes with the grade in context and on a big screen.”

Portions of the film involve scenes of the Losers’ Club as children, which were comprised of newly shot material (not cut in from the production of the first It). Nakamura applied a very subtle amount of Resolve’s mid-tone detail tool over them primarily to help immediately and subliminally orient the audience in time.

But the most elaborate use of the color corrector involved one short sequence in which Hader’s character, walking in a local park on a pleasant, sunny day, has a sudden, terrifying interaction with a very frightening character. The shots involved a significant amount of CGI and compositing work, which was completed at several effects houses. Muschietti was pleased with the effects work, but he wanted Nakamura to bring in an overall quality to the look of the scene that made it feel a bit more otherworldly.

Says Nakamura, “Andy described something that reminded me of the old-school, two-strip color process, where essentially anything red would get pushed into being a kind of magenta, and something blue or green would become a kind of cyan.”

Nakamura, who colored Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (shot by Robert Richardson, ASC), had designed something at that point to create more of a three-strip look, but this process was more challenging, as it involved constraining the color palette to an even greater degree — without, of course, losing definition in the imagery.

With a bit of trial and error, Nakamura came up with the notion of using the splitter/combiner node and recombined some nodes in the output, forcing the information from the green channel into the red and blue channels. He then used a second splitter/combiner node to control the output. “It’s almost like painting a scene with just two colors,” he explains. “Green grass and blue sky both become shades of cyan, while skin and anything with red in it goes into the magenta area.”

The work became even more complex because the red-haired Pennywise also makes an appearance; it was important for him to retain his color, despite the rest of the scene going two-tone. Nakamura treated this element as a complex chroma key, using a second splitter/combiner node and significantly boosting the saturation just to isolate Pennywise while preventing the two-tone correction from affecting him.

When it came time to complete the pass for HDR Dolby Cinema — designed for specialty projectors capable essentially of displaying brighter whites and darker blacks than normal cinema projectors — Muschietti was particularly interested in the format’s treatment of dark areas of the frame.

“Just like in the first one,” Nakamura explains, “we were able to make use of Dolby Cinema to enhance suspense. People usually talk about how bright the highlights can be in HDR. But, when you push more light through the picture than you do for the P3 version, we also have the ability to make shadowy areas of the image appear even darker while keeping the details in those really dark areas very clear. This can be very effective in a movie like this, where you have scary characters lurking in the shadows.

“The color grade always plays some kind of role in a movie’s storytelling,” Nakamura sums up, “but this was a fun example of how work we did in the color grade really helped scare the audience.”

You can check out our Q&A with Nakamura about his work on the original IT.

Perpetual Grace’s DPs, colorist weigh in on show’s gritty look

You don’t have to get very far into watching the Epix series Perpetual Grace LTD to realize just how ominous this show feels. It begins with the opening shots, and by the time you’ve spent a few minutes with the dark, mysterious characters who populate this world — and gathered hints of the many schemes within schemes that perpetuate the story — the show’s tone is clear. With its black-and-white flashbacks and the occasional, gritty flash-forwards, Perpetual Grace gets pretty dark, and the action goes in directions you won’t see coming.

This bizarre show revolves around James (Westworld’s Jimmi Simpson), who gets caught up in what initially seems like a simple con that quickly gets out of control. Sir Ben Kingsley, Jacki Weaver, Chris Conrad and Luis Guzmán also star as an assortment of strange and volatile characters.

The series comes from the minds of executive producer Steve Conrad, who also served in that role on Amazon’s quirky drama Patriot, and Bruce Terris, who was both a writer and a first AD on that show.

These showrunners developed the look with other Patriot veterans: cinematographers James Whitaker and Nicole Hirsch Whitaker, who incorporated colorist Sean Coleman’s input before commencing principal photography.

Coleman left his grading suite at Company 3 in Santa Monica to spend several days at the series’ New Mexico location. While there he worked with the DPs to build customized LUTs for them to use during production. This meant that everyone on set could get a strong sense of how lighting, costumes, sets and locations would read with the show’s signature looks applied.

The Whitakers on set

“I’ve never been able to work with the final colorist this way,” says Whitaker, who also alternated directing duties with Conrad. “It was great having him there on set where we could talk about the subtleties of color. What should the sky look like? What should blood look like? Faces? Clothes? Using Resolve, he made two LUTs — “the main one for the color portions and a different one specifically for the black-and-white parts.”

The main look of the show is inspired by film noir and western movie tropes, and all with a tip of the hat to Roger Deakins’ outstanding work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. “For me,” says Whitaker, “it’s about strong contrast, deep blacks and desert colors … the moodier the better. I don’t love very blue skies, but we wanted to keep some tonality there.”

“It’s real sweaty, gritty, warm, nicotine-stained kind of thing,” Coleman elaborates.

“When we showed up in New Mexico,” Whitaker recalls, “all these colors did exist at various times of the day, and we just leaned into them. When you have landscapes with big, blue skies, strong greens and browns, you can lean in the other way and make it overly saturated. We leaned into it the other way, holding the brown earth tones but pulling out some of the color, which is always better for skin tones.”

The LUTs, Whitaker notes, offer a lot more flexibility than the DPs would have if they used optical filters. Beyond the nondestructive aspect of a LUT, it also allows for a lot more complexity. “If you think about a ‘sepia’ or ‘tobacco’ filter or something like that, you think of an overall wash that goes across the entire frame, and I get immediately bored by that. It’s tricky to do something that feels like it’s from a film a long time ago without dating the project you’re working on now; you want a lot of flexibility to get [the imagery] where you want it to go.”

The series was shot in November through February, often in brutally cold environments. Almost the entire series (the present-day scenes and black-and-white flashbacks) was shot on ARRI Alexa cameras in a 2.0:1 aspect ratio. A frequent Whitaker/Hirsch Whitaker collaborator, DIT Ryan Kunkleman applied and controlled the LUTs so the set monitors reflected their effect on the look.

The flash forwards, which usually occur in very quick spurts, were shot on a 16mm Bolex camera using Kodak’s 7203 (50D) and 7207 (250D) color negative film, which was pushed two stops in processing to enhance grain in post by Coleman.

Final color was done at Company 3’s Santa Monica facility, working primarily alongside the Whitakers. “We enhanced the noir look with the strong, detailed blacks,” says Coleman. Even though a lot of the show exudes the dry desert heat, it was actually shot over a particularly cold winter in New Mexico. “Things were sometimes kind of cold-looking, so sometimes we’d twist things a bit. We also added some digital ‘grain’ to sort of muck it up a little.”

For the black and white, Coleman took the color material in Resolve and isolated just the blue channel in order to manipulate it independent of the red and green, “to make it more inky,” he says. “Normally, you might just drain the color out, but you can really go further than that if you want a strong black-and-white look. When you adjust the individual channel, you affect the image in a way that’s similar to the effect of shooting black-and-white film through a yellow filter. It helps us make darker skies and richer blacks.”

Sean Coleman

“We’ve booked a whole lot of hours together, and that provides a level of comfort,” says Hirsch Whitaker about her and Whitaker’s work with Coleman. “He does some wonderful painting [in Resolve] that helps make a character pop in the frame or direct the viewer’s eye to a specific part of the frame. He really enjoys the collaborative element of color grading.”

Whitaker seconds that emotion: “As a cinematographer, I look at color grading a bit like working on set. It’s not a one-person job. It takes a lot of people to make these images.”

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.

 

 

Agency producer Kitty Snyder heads to Beast, Company 3, Method in Atlanta

Post vet Kitty Snyder has been named director of creative partnerships for the Atlanta branches of Beast, Company 3 and Method Studios, all Deluxe Creative Services companies. Snyder will work with existing clients, establish new ones, and match projects with the right artists and solutions.

She comes to Deluxe Georgia from ad agency Huge Inc., where she was a commercial producer for clients like Airheads Candy. She often brought her projects to Beast, Company 3 and Method for post. She also spent more than a decade at post facility Crawford Media Services collaborating with a large team of artists and the production company now known as Chorus Films. Snyder got her start in the post industry as a coordinating producer and writer for HGTV and GPTV shows, and for various freelance producers.

She is also a singer/songwriter with her band called The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants, and can be seen playing in clubs around Atlanta.

We reached out to Snyder with some questions following her hire:

Why was now the right time to jump back into the post world from the agency
My career has always been highly focused in post production, so the question should actually be, “Why did you jump over to the agency side for a little while?” At the time, I had worked at a post house for almost 10 years, and was a production coordinator before that, so the tangent I took as a producer for agency Huge, Inc, was three-fold: I was ready for a change at that time, they have very impressive work and clients, and I wanted to experience the energy of an agency.

So it was a great move, but I quickly realized that I missed my true passion, which is being around editors, colorists, VFX artists, sound designers and music composers. I like to see the spots come together in the final stages — that’s what gives me the most inspiration. I also enjoy the process of meeting with creatives and clients — those who develop the concept, create the storyboard and want to see their vision brought to life — and then sharing with them the work of my talented colleagues, who not only accomplish that goal, but make it even better than they imagined.
Why these three companies? 
Because I have been in the post business long enough to know who the best of the best is. I know that I will be proud to represent these teams, as both individual artists and as a full-service post solution. And, when I walk in those doors, I feel like I’m home.

Quick Chat: CO3’s Stephen Nakamura on grading ‘The Martian’

Ridley Scott’s The Martian tells the story of an astronaut left behind on Mars. The director, who created that world, called on Company 3’s Stephen Nakamura for the color grade, which he completed in London to be closer to Scott and the production.

We checked in with Nakamura to find out more about his process on The Martian.

You and Ridley have collaborated in the past. We assume you have developed a short hand of sorts?
There are definitely things I know he likes and doesn’t like, but each project is also a little bit different. Obviously, he is very interested in the visuals of every shot. The Martian was relatively straightforward. Something like Exodus: Gods and Kings was much more complex because of the kinds of things we were looking at, like the sea parting. On Prometheus, it was about helping to bring shape and definition to scenes that were really dark. Of course, he’s worked with [Dariusz Wolski, ASC], so a lot of the shaping has already happened between the two of them.

How early does he bring you on a film?

We speak very early on. I know before I see any images what kind of look he’s interested in.

Can you talk about the look of Mars? He referenced the terra cotta/orange look in our recent interview with him.
It was something that we all had a sense of conceptually but it took a lot of work with Ridley, the visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers and me in the DI theater to get it to all look the way it does in the final film. Quite a few shots involved a lot of sky replacements and the addition of mountains in the background. Richard’s team created these additional elements with a combination of CGI practical plates shot in Jordan and combined them with the first unit photography of Matt Damon.

So then when I added the heavy color correction Ridley wanted for that kind of orange look he talks about, it would have an effect on every element in the shot. It’s impossible to know in advance exactly how that correction for the planet’s surface is going to look in context and in a theater until you actually see it. I could get some elements of some shots where we needed them using Power Windows [in the DaVinci Resolve] but sometimes that heavy correction was too much and the effects elements would have to be altered. Maybe the sky needed to be darkened or we needed more separation in the mountains. We might make a change to the foreground, and the background would “break,” or vice versa.

So we had quite a few sessions where Richard would sit with Ridley and me and we would figure that out shot by shot.

You work with Resolve. What is it about that system helps your creative process?
I’ve worked in it as long as it’s been around. I like the way it’s laid out. I like the way I can work… the node-based corrections. I can get to the tools that most colorists use on a normal basis very quickly, and with very few keystrokes or buttons to push. That kind of time saving adds up to a really big deal when you’re coloring complicated movies.

I know there are other great color correctors out there too, but so far Resolve is just the most comfortable for me.

(from left) Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, and Aksel Hennie portray the crewmembers of the fateful mission to Mars.

Was there one particular scene that was more challenging than others, or a scene that you are most proud of?
There are a number of shots set outside the ship Jessica Chastain’s character commands where we see the ship and some characters in the foreground and the surface of Mars further away and then blackness and stars in the far background.

Here again, we all have a strong conceptual sense of the look, but ultimately it’s something you can’t get to without seeing it in a theater and in context. How saturated should the color of Mars be? How sharp should the focus be on the planet’s surface, on the distant stars? It’s not simply a question of having it look “real.” Ridley’s the kind of filmmaker who wants it feel right for the story. And so I might use Resolve’s aperture correction function to make the stars appear more vibrant, the way Ridley wants it, and that could “break” another part of the shot. And then it’s a question of whether I can use power windows to address that issue or if the VFX team needs to re-render and composite the element.

That kind of massaging of every shot takes a lot of time, but when it’s done you really see the results on the screen.

Can you talk about grading for the brighter Dolby Vision 3D?
It definitely gets rid of one of the major issues in 3D when you can effectively put a stereoscopic image onscreen at the traditional 2D spec of 14-foot lamberts. Previously, doing a stereoscopic pass always involved putting a darker image on screen, and when you have that much less light to work with it affects the whole image. That’s particularly true with highlights that might have plenty of detail at 14 but will blow out when you’re working at 3.5.

Of course, we still did a pass for traditional 3D, since there are very few theaters currently able to show Dolby Vision 3D.

Does that involve a whole different pass or a trim pass, or is it just a LUT that translates everything from the 14-foot lambert world to 3.5?
Company 3’s technology team is always building and updating LUTs that get us a lot of the way there. But when there’s never 100 percent “translation” from the one set of display parameters to the other, image characteristics change. The relative brightness of that practical in the background to the character in the shadows may not feel the same at 14 as it does at 3.5.

So which pass would you do first?
The way I work when we’re doing multiple theatrical deliverables like this is to start with the most “constricted” version [the 3.5 fl 3D] and get that where we want it. Then we go and “open it up” for the wider space. It’s important to be consistent. Very often, it’s a question of building Power Windows around bright parts of the frame and bringing them down for the regular 3D version and then either taking them off or lessening the corrections for the brighter projection spec.


For more on The Martian, read our interview with director Ridley Scott.

Deluxe hires producer Joanna Woods for Beast, CO3, Method in Chicago

Deluxe Creative Services has brought on producer Joanna Woods, who will oversee projects in Chicago for co-located sister companies Beast, Company 3 and Method Studios.

Woods (pictured above) has worked on TV, radio, video and web content for brands including Allstate, Walmart, Coors Light, Sprint, KFC and more. She comes to the team from Music Dealers, where she worked closely with agency and post house producers, as well as in-house engineers. She has also held production roles at Another Country studios and Chicago Recording Company.

“It’s rare in Chicago for one facility to have centralized production encompassing editorial, finishing, color and graphics all under one roof. Beast, Company 3 and Method all have great standing in our community in terms of both caliber of work and client relations,” says Woods.

In other employee news, Kendall Fash (pictured right), who was previously in the producer role, has been named national director of marketing for Beast. She will remain based in Chicago.

Fash has been with Beast’s Chicago office for five years, most recently in the role of senior producer across Beast, Company 3 and Method. In her new position she will oversee marketing initiatives for all seven Beast facilities across the US. Fash has shepherded many projects through the Chicago office, working with brands such as Nike, McDonald’s, Michelob Ultra and Yelp, and top ad agencies in both the local market and nationwide.

Deluxe latest studio to get into VR, immersive entertainment offerings

Deluxe is the second studio this week to put their hat in the growing VR ring — Lucasfilm and ILM also announced ILMxLAB. Deluxe is now offering a new slate of technology and services to develop content for immersive entertainment and virtual reality experiences.

Drawing on talent at Deluxe companies including Method Studios and Company 3, the new suite of virtual reality services extends Deluxe’s digital post capabilities into this new, high-growth content arena and establishes a workflow for building high-res 360 content.

 one

The company’s first VR project, Neuro (above), was developed with creative VR studio Kite & Lightning for GE, and it debuted on June 16 at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles. Developed using AMD graphics technology, Neuro is a computer-generated five-minute immersive film shown on the latest VR headsets.

The video’s main character is a detailed photoreal digital model of Ladytron DJ/band member Reuben Wu, whose facial performance was captured and animated to match the narrated voiceover. Deluxe’s audio post department also provided ADR for the project. The Neuro VR experience will be featured again during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, June 21-27 in Cannes, France.

Main Image: Kite & Lightning working on Neuro.

Behind the Title: Colorist Mark Todd Osborne

NAME: Mark Todd Osborne (@marktoddosborne)

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE? Senior Digital Colorist

WHERE DO YOU WORK?
I perform color at several facilities in Los Angeles, and I have a side company called MTO ColorData, which helps keep me busy when I’m in between post house jobs.

WHAT DOES YOUR JOB ENTAIL?
As a color artist, I help bring out the production value of the digital neg and design a “look” that helps best tell the story through mood and tone.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER YOUR TITLE?
Client management and having to be a bit of a psychologist at times! Understanding the personalities of your clients and how to treat them is extremely important.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The satisfaction of seeing my client’s hard work coming to fruition and going beyond their imagined expectations in the final result.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to squeeze a three-week DI into a six-day DI schedule. Sometimes budgets don’t allow for all the days truly needed to do the work required, but I still have to find a way to make it work.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
When all the “heavy lifting” is done regarding getting the project roughly put together and matched. From there, it’s just fine tuning each shot creatively.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d be making films myself. Years ago, I wrote a few screenplays and spent some time directing music videos that aired on all the music video channels. I was still working as a colorist at the time, so it became a bit much. I decided to focus all my efforts on coloring.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve been a TV and movie junkie since I can remember. I always knew I wanted to be in the film business. I started in production and then quickly moved into post. That’s where I discovered there was such a thing as a “telecine colorist.” I went to work for Stefan Sonnenfeld two months after he opened Company 3 and he told me that I had an “eye” for color. That encouraged me to grow my craft from there.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS?
I’ve recently colored commercial spots for Nissan, Toyota and California Avocado, and a television pilot to air on Adult Swim for DJ Douggpound.

It Follows4 It Follows8nice

I also graded the theatrical film It Follows (pictured above), Cooties for Lionsgate and Need for Speed for DreamWorks. Plus, I’ve done a decent amount of short films and a couple of music videos. It’s been a busy year!

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s hard to pick any one particular project. The first project that comes to mind is Capote (2005), because it won an Academy Award that year and it serves as a personal bench mark in my career — I’ve grown so much more as a colorist since then. I do things much differently now.

If I had to choose, I guess it would be It Follows, because I got a chance to be really creative on that project and do things that were a bit “off normal.”

it follows1 It Follows6
More from It Follows

WHAT IS YOUR TOOL OF CHOICE?
My tool of choice is DaVinci Resolve. I work on several color systems, but DaVinci is my favorite.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
I study the great painters and what they did in terms of light, shadow and texture. I look at lots of photographs from photographers I like, and see countless hours of television and cinema.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone, my iMac 5K and my iPod.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Any sites dedicated to film production and finishing — Shane Hurlbut’s “Hurlblog” for which I am a contributing writer (see link), LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Only at certain points do I listen to music while I work. Usually, once looks are set, and I’m in my quietly focused “matching mode,” I like to have some music in the background. I’ll play ‘40s- and ‘60s-era jazz, movie soundtracks, classical and a healthy dose of ‘80’s music when I need to stay awake. That includes B52’s, Depeche Mode, New Order and the Cure.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I hang out with my kids as much as I can and try to be outside as much as possible since I’m in a dark room most of the week.

I also like to play old-school video games on Atari and Intellivision and read ‘50s-era comics like Tales from the Crypt and other titles.

Helping color Kurt Cobain’s world for ‘Montage of Heck’

Company 3’s Shane Harris works with director Brett Morgen on this new documentary

Director Brett Morgen spent eight years putting together the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, which tells the fascinating and tragic story of the Nirvana front man in a very intimate way via never-before-heard recordings and animations based on his mostly unseen drawings. There are also very personal home movies and interviews Morgen did with the artist’s mother, band mates, friends and wife, Courtney Love. The film played at the Tribeca Film Festival, had a limited theatrical release and is currently on HBO.

For Company 3 (@company3) colorist Shane Harris, who also worked with Morgen on the director’s Rolling Stones doc, Crossfire Hurricane, the sessions were particularly fascinating and rewarding both because of his longtime interest in Nirvana’s music and because of Morgen’s strong appreciation of the role color can play in telling a story, even in a documentary.

Shane and Morgen

L-R: Director Brett Morgen and colorist Shane

There are so many elements to the film — interviews, the animations, Cobain’s personal audio diary. As a fan of the music, what did you think when you first saw the film?
I knew from working with Brett Morgen on Crossfire Hurricane that he wouldn’t approach anything about the film in a standard documentary fashion. When I saw the film, I found it fascinating like so many people who’ve seen it have. It’s very powerful the way he uses the audio and the animations and all the elements to tell the story.

I think it’s fair to say that people generally don’t think about color grading documentaries the way they do about narrative features. In a narrative the director and DP might have developed different looks based on the script but a documentary seems more straightforward. Brett is really into the look and the color of every shot. I can’t speak for every documentary filmmaker but Brett is pretty rare in that way. A lot of times I’ll work with the clients and set looks for different scenes and then match everything to that. We worked very differently.

He’s interested in the flow of music, the cut and color. We played the music much louder than we normally would. He wanted to hear it the way it would be heard in the theater and then we’d try different approaches for every shot, whether it went from old VHS to animation to a recent interview. The idea was to tell the story. It was almost like painting.

Which of the elements was the most challenging to work with?
Probably the new material: the interviews. The story of Kurt Cobain obviously gets darker, in a figurative sense, as it goes into his addiction. He had already shot the interviews, especially with Courtney Love and Kurt’s mother, in a way that they got darker and darker as they talk about more painful aspects of the story. In the grading theater, we tried all kinds of different looks to help this idea. He shot Courtney in a plain white room and let the images go darker and darker. I built a window around her to knock down the walls and make it seem as if her environment was getting darker and darker. He shot the mom in a room with daylight coming through windows.

It looks pretty straightforward. But by the end, Brett referenced the films of Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC, and we made the room dark, her face has a saturated orange-y look and it’s really about the only thing in the frame that you can see. We could have brightened it up if Brett wanted to but this is much more effective for telling the story.

Did you take the same approach with the animations?
Yes. You might think that in animation, the way the shots come in is the way they’re going to look. But that wasn’t the case. The animation (by artists Hisko Hulsing and Stefan Nadelman) was beautiful but we still went through and built some windows and made some corrections, primarily to guide the viewer’s attention to a particular portion of the frame.

What did you use for color grading, and how did that help get the looks you were after?
We use DaVinci Resolve for everything at Company 3. This was version 11. It’s not unique to this show by any means but I used a lot of Power Windows throughout the movie to track in changes — bring walls or windows down, drive your eye to one part of the frame, etc. A lot of times we’d track faces or just eyes, even within a lot of the material that wasn’t professionally shot like in home movies. There’s a super 8 movie of young Kurt riding in a little toy car and we wanted to give the whole shot an overall color to help tell the story but then I went back and tracked his face to pull back some of the more natural looking skin tone. These are things we do as colorists a lot but there was definitely quite a bit of it here. And it can be a little more challenging to keep it all organic looking when the original footage is Super 8 or VHS.

Was there one scene more challenging than others, or anything that you are most proud of on the piece?
I’m really very proud of the way we used color in the whole piece and that’s due in great part to Brett’s approach to every facet of the film. From a purely technical standpoint, I’d say the most challenging part was the interview with Krist Novoselic.

He wanted to do it in his house, and there’s glass everywhere. It was impossible to avoid catching a lot of distracting reflections. So I made a huge number of windows to keep it all natural looking while controlling the reflections. It’s not something you’d ever notice, but it was actually the biggest technical issue on the project.

It seems like this was a dream job for a colorist?
I feel very privileged to have worked with Brett on this as he is an amazing talent. It was an incredible opportunity to work on such a powerful film that blended so many different elements together so successfully.

——-

Images Courtesy of HBO

Company 3 Detroit adds colorist Robert Curreri

Company 3 Detroit, a Deluxe company, has hired colorist Robert Curreri to its facility in Royal Oak, Michigan. A prominent short-form colorist, Curreri has brought his talents to commercials for high-profile brands including Honda, Target, Ford, Sprint, Volkswagen, Budweiser, Yahoo and Reebok and to music videos for artists including Beyonce, Lady Gaga, All American Rejects, Weezer and Kid Rock.

Curreri’s work for My Chemical Romance earned him a Music Video Production Association Award for “Best Colorist.” Previously based in Los Angeles, Curreri relocated to the Motor City, where he will serve Company 3 clients in that region.

Curreri began his post production career as a music video colorist in the early ’90s. Over the subsequent two decades, he collaborated with some of the industry’s most talented directors and cinematographers while at Company 3, Riot and The Syndicate. Just before re-joining Company 3, Curreri worked as a freelance digital intermediate artist for feature films, music videos and commercials, most recently on the Foo Fighters’ HBO documentary series, Sonic Highways, directed by Dave Grohl.

“Robert is a uniquely talented colorist,” says Stefan Sonnenfeld, Deluxe Creative Services’ CEO. “He will be a great addition to our roster of artists in and around the Detroit area. And, of course, he can work remotely with Company 3 clients in any location.”

“I’ve spent a great deal of time working closely with Detroit-based clients, particularly in the automotive industry,” Curreri notes. “I’ve grown extremely fond of the Detroit community, so I eagerly accepted the opportunity to join Company 3 Detroit. I’m excited to be part of the Company 3 family once again.”

Deluxe post companies unite in Creative Services division, Sonnenfeld now CEO

Deluxe has combined its post entities — Company 3, Beast, Deluxe New York, Encore, Efilm, Level 3 Post, Method Studios and Rushes — into a new Creative Services division that will centralize operations of color, editorial, visual effects and all other post services across multiple platforms, including feature-length movies; web, cable and network television programs; commercials; web content; and everything else Deluxe’s clients require. So, for example, you might see a feature colorist working on a television series or a spot colorist working on a feature.

All individual company names will remain.

Stefan Sonnenfeld, founder/president of Company 3, becomes CEO of the division while still continuing to do color work. In fact, he just completed Michael Mann’s upcoming Blackhat, and worked on The Imitation Game.

Bill Romeo will move up from his post as executive VP of Encore to become CMO, and Joshua Touber, who held a similar role at Ascent Media a decade ago before co-founding Xytech and Xymox, will serve as COO.

Bill Romeo

Bill Romeo

“As the division among different types of content continue to blur,” explains Sonnenfeld, “our new, centralized Creative Services division will offer clients greater efficiency and flexibility — and our incredibly talented artists will no longer be locked into working only on features, episodic TV or commercials.”

Additional staff changes include long-time Encore employee Jay Bodnar being named CTO, and Lawrence Kelly is now senior VP of finance. Bodnar served as SVP engineering, TV for over a decade. He spearheaded the television division’s transition to file-based workflows for all post and VFX work as well as the near-set dailies service (MobiLabs) pipeline. According to the company, he has been instrumental in unifying multiple engineering teams to maximize resources and efficiencies among multiple facilities. Kelly, who joined Deluxe in October as VP of finance for Method Studios, has 20 years of experience on the studio side of the business. He was at Warner Bros. Universal and Paramount Pictures.

Main Photo: CEO Stefan Sonnefeld.

 

Behind the Title: Company 3 Smoke artist Matthew Johnson

NAME: Matthew Johnson (@MattJ678​)

COMPANY: Los Angeles-based-Company 3 (@Company3)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Company 3 provides high-end post services to feature film, commercial, music video and television clients. Our services include all aspects of post production, including color correction, editorial finishing and some visual effects compositing.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Smoke Artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Continue reading

Meet the Artist: Company 3’s Siggy Ferstl

NAME: Siggy Ferstl

COMPANY: Company 3  (@Company3)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Company 3 is an international post production company offering services for feature films and commercials. We offer color grading and other finishing services such as conforming.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Colorist.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work in a digital grading suite or theater, where I run through a commercial or feature film and “color” the images. That runs the gamut from making small tweaks to help shots match, Continue reading

Company 3 offers color services in Prague via RUR

London — Company 3 is now offering feature film and commercial productions in the Czech Republic access to its entire roster of colorists and color technology through RUR, a post production company in Prague.

Like the 25 other Company 3 (@Company3) “virtual outposts” throughout the world, this one will allow commercial and feature film clients working in the region the ability to collaborate in realtime with any of the colorists based at Company 3’s Santa Monica, New York, Atlanta or London facilities.

“We’re delighted to be offering this service in the Czech Republic,” says Thatcher Peterson, Company 3’s director of Commercial and Interactive Services. “Production in the region is very healthy. This ‘virtual outpost’ allows us to bring the talents of our colorists to Prague, while widening our own client base.”

grading_02SMALL

The outposts are set up to ensure perfect calibration of displays in the two locations so that everyone involved in a session at both facilities sees the exact same images and image refinements in real time as though they were all in the same theater.

Says Jan Vseticek, managing director at RUR, “Prague and the entire Czech Republic is seeing a very healthy amount of world class production today and RUR is delighted to be able to expand our post offerings to include all that Company 3 has to offer.”