Tag Archives: Directing

Asahi beer spot gets the VFX treatment

A collaboration between The Monkeys Melbourne, In The Thicket and Alt, a newly released Asahi campaign takes viewers on a journey through landscapes built around surreal Japanese iconography. Watch Asahi Super Dry — Enter Asahi here.

From script to shoot — a huge operation that took place at Sydney’s Fox Studios — director Marco Prestini and his executive producer Genevieve Triquet (from production house In The Thicket) brought on the VFX team at Alt to help realize the creative vision.

The VFX team at Alt (which has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles) worked with Prestini to help design and build the complex “one shot” look, with everything from robotic geishas to a gigantic CG squid in the mix, alongside a seamless blend of CG set extensions and beautifully shot live-action plates.

“VFX supervisor Dave Edwards and the team at Alt, together with my EP Genevieve, have been there since the very beginning, and their creative input and expertise were key in every step of the way,” explains Prestini. “Everything we did on set was the results of weeks of endless back and forth on technical previz, a process that required pretty much everyone’s input on a daily basis and that was incredibly inspiring for me to be part of.”

Dave Edwards, VFX supervisor at Alt, shares: “Production designer Michael Iacono designed sets in 3D, with five huge sets built for the shoot. The team then worked out camera speeds for timings based on these five sets and seven plates. DP Stefan Duscio would suggest rigs and mounts, which our team was able to then test it in previs to see if it would work with the set. During previs, we worked out that we couldn’t get the resolution and the required frame rate to shoot the high frame rate samurais, so we had to use Alexa LF. Of course, that also helped Marco, who wanted minimal lens distortion as it allowed a wide field of view without the distortion of normal anamorphic lenses.”

One complex scene involves a character battling a gigantic underwater squid, which was done via a process known as “dry for wet” — a film technique in which smoke, colored filters and/or lighting effects are used to simulate a character being underwater while filming on a dry stage. The team at Alt did a rough animation of the squid to help drive the actions of the talent and the stunt team on the day, before spending the final weeks perfecting the look of the photoreal monster.

In terms of tools, for concept design/matte painting Alt used Adobe Photoshop while previs/modeling/texturing/animation was done in Autodesk Maya. All of the effects/lighting/look development was via Side Effects Houdini; the compositing pipeline was built around Foundry Nuke; final online was completed in Autodesk Flame; and for graphics, they used Adobe After Effects.
The final edit was done by The Butchery.

Here is the VFX breakdown:

Enter Asahi – VFX Breakdown from altvfx on Vimeo.

Inside the mind and workflow of a 14-year-old filmmaker

By Brady Betzel

From editing to directing, I have always loved how mentoring and teaching is a tradition that lives on in this industry. When I was an assistant editor, my hope was that the editors would let me watch them work, or give me a chance to edit. And a lot of the time I got that opportunity.

Years ago I worked with an editor named Robb McPeters, who edited The Real Housewives of New York City. I helped cut a few scenes, and Robb was kind enough to give me constructive feedback. This was the first time I edited a scene that ran on TV. I was very excited, and very appreciative of his feedback. Taking the time to show younger assistant editors who have their eye on advancement makes you feel good — something I’ve learned firsthand.

As I’ve become a “professional” editor I have been lucky enough to mentor assistant editors, machine room operators, production assistants and anyone else that was interested in learning post. I have found mentoring to be very satisfying, but also integral to the way post functions. Passing on our knowledge helps the community move forward.

Even with a couple of little scenes to cut for Robb, the direction I received helped make me the kind of editor I am today. Throughout the years I was lucky enough to encounter more editors like Robb and took all of the advice I could.

Last year, I heard that Robb’s son, Griffin, had made his first film at 13 years old, Calling The Shots. Then a few months ago I read an article about Griffin making a second film, at 14 years old, The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher. Griffin turns 15 in February and hopes to make a film a year until he turns 18.

It makes sense that someone who has been such a good mentor has produced a son with such a passion for filmmaking. I can see the connection between fatherhood and mentorship, especially between an editor and an assistant. And seeing Robb foster his son’s love for filmmaking, I realized I wanted to be able to do that with my sons. That’s when I decided to reach out to find out more.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is really a story of adventure, friendship and finding love. After learning that his best friend Jim (Sam Grossinger) has attempted suicide, Tom (Adam Simpson) enlists the help of the neighborhood kingpin, Granddaddy’ (Blake Borders). Their plan is to sneak Jim out of the hospital for one last adventure before his disconnected parents move him off to Memphis. On the way they encounter a washed up ‘90s boy-band star and try to win the hearts of their dream girls.

Tom realizes that this adventure will not fix his friend, but their last night together does evolve into the most defining experience of their lives.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is a feature film that I wrote while in 8th grade. I saved every penny I could earn and then begged my parents to let me use money from my college savings. They knew how important this film was to me so they agreed. This is my second feature and I wanted to do everything better, starting with the script to casting. I was able to cast professional actors and some of my schoolmates.

I shot in 4K UHD using my Sony A7riii. I then brought the footage into the iMac and transcoded into CineForm 720p files. This allowed me to natively edit them on the family iMac in Adobe Premiere. We have a cabin in Humboldt County, which is where I assemble my rough cuts.

I spent hours and hours this summer in my grandfather’s workshop editing the footage. Day after day my mom and sister would go swimming at the river, pick berries, all the lazy summer day stuff and I would walk down to the shop to cut, so that I could finish a version of my scene.

Once I finished my director’s cut, I would show the assembly to my parents, and they would start giving me ideas on what was working and what wasn’t. I am currently polishing the movie, adding visual effects (in After Effects), sound design, and doing a color grade in Adobe SpeedGrade. I’ll also add the final 5.1 surround sound mix in Adobe Audition to deliver for distribution.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THE FILM?
In 8th grade, a classmate attempted suicide and it affected me very deeply. I wondered if other kids were having this type of depression. After doing some research I realized that many kids suffer from deep depression. In fact, in 2016, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 13.15. That amazed and saddened me. I felt that I had to do something about it. I took my ideas and headed to our cabin in the woods to write the script over my winter break.

I was so obsessed with this story that I wrote a 120-page script.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PRODUCING?
It was a lot of scheduling, scheduling and scheduling. Locking locations, permits, insurance, and did I mention scheduling?

I think there was some begging in there too. “Please let us use. Please can we…” My school SCVi was extremely helpful with getting me insurance. It was heartwarming to see how many people wanted to help. Even support from companies, including Wooden Nickel who donated an entire lighting package.

WHAT ABOUT AS A DIRECTOR?
As the director I really wanted to push the fantastical and sometimes dark and lonely world these characters were living in. Of course, because I wrote the script I already had an idea of what I wanted to capture in the scene, but I put it to paper with shotlist’s and overhead camera placements. That way I had a visual reference to show of how I wanted to film from day one to the end.

Rehearsals with the actors were key with such a tight shooting schedule. Right from the start the cast responded to me as their director, which surprised me because I had just turned 14. Every question came to me for approval to represent my vision.

My dad was on set as my cinematographer, supporting me every step of the way. We have a great way of communicating. Most of the time we were on the same page, but if we were not, he deferred to me. I took my hits when I was wrong and then learned from them.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT MAKING THIS FILM?
This was a true, small-budget, independent film that I made at 14 years old. Our production office was my mom and dad and myself. Three people usually don’t make films. Even though I am young, my parents trusted the weight of the film to me. It is my film. This means I did a little of everything all of the time, from pulling costumes to stocking the make-up kit to building my own 4K editing system.

We had no grips, no electric, no PAs. If we needed water or craft service, it was me, my dad and my mom. If a scene needed to be lit, my dad and I lit everything ourselves, we were the last ones loading costumes, extension cords and equipment. In post was all the same ordeal.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART?
I really love everything about filmmaking. I love crafting a story, having to plan and think of how to capture a scene. How show something that isn’t necessarily in front of your eyes. I love talking out my ideas. My mom teases me that I even sleep moviemaking because she saw me in the hall going to the bathroom the other night and I mumbled, “Slow pan on Griffin going to bathroom.”

But post is really where the movie comes together. I like seeing what works for a scene. Which reaction is better? What music or sound effects help tell the story? Music design is also very personal to me. I listen to songs for hours to find the perfect one for a scene.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to cut some really great scenes that I know an actor is looking forward to seeing in that first screening. It is a really hard decision to remove good work. I even cut my grandmother from my first film. Now that’s hard!

WHAT CAMERAS AND PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT DO YOU USE?
For recording I use the Sony A7rIII with various lenses recording to a Ninja Flame at 10-bit 4K. For sound I use a Røde NG2 boom and three lav mics. For lighting we used a few Aputure LED lights and a Mole Richardson 2k Baby Junior.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I am not much of a night person. I get really tired around 9:30pm. In fact, I still have a bedtime of 10:00pm. I would say my best work is done at the time I have after school until my bedtime. I edit every chance I get. I do have to break for dinner and might watch one half of a episode of The Office. Other than that I am in the bay from 3:30-10:00pm every day.

CAN YOU THINK OF ANOTHER JOB YOU MIGHT WANT SOMEDAY?
No, not really. I enjoy taking people on emotional rides, creating a presentation that evokes personal feelings and using visuals to takes my audience somewhere else. With all that said, if I couldn’t do this I would probably build professional haunted houses. Is that a real job?

IT’S STILL VERY EARLY, BUT HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My parents have this video of me reaching for the camera on the way to my first day of pre-school saying, “I want the camera, I want to shoot.”

When I was younger, silent films mesmerized me. I grew up wanting to be Buster Keaton. The defining moment was seeing Jaws. I watched it at five and then realized what being a filmmaker was, making a mosaic of images (as mentioned by Hitchcock on editing). I began trying to create. At 11 and 12 I made shorts, at 13 I made my first full-length feature film. The stress and hard work did not even faze me; I was excited by it.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST FILM?
Calling the Shots, which is now available on Amazon Prime, was an experiment to see if I could make a full-length film. A test flight, if you will. With T.P. Man I really got to step behind the camera and an entirely different side of directing I didn’t get to experience with my first film since I was the lead actor in that.

I also love the fact that all the music and sound design and graphics were done with my hands and alone, most the time, in my editing suite. My dad designed it for me. I have two editing systems that I bounce back and forth between. I can set the lighting in the room, watch on a big 4K monitor and mix in 5.1 surround. Some kids have tree forts. I have my editing bay.

FINALLY, DO YOU GET STRESSED OUT FROM THE PROCESS?
I don’t allow myself to stress out about any of these things. The way I look at it is that I have a very fun and hard job. I try to keep things in perspective — there are no lives in danger here. I do my best work when I am relaxed. But, if there is a time, I walk away, take a bike ride or watch a movie. Watching others work inspires me to make my movies better.

Most importantly, I brainstorm about my next project. This helps me keep a perspective that this project will soon be over and I should enjoy it while I can and make it the best I possibly can.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Director Lee J. Ford joins Interrogate

Director Lee J. Ford has joined LA/NY/Sydney-based production house Interrogate. A British native, Ford worked as a creative in the advertising industry for years before pivoting to directing. Ford’s agency experience allows him to “understand the politics and daily struggles the creatives are facing throughout the process and will continue to face” long after he’s done directing the piece.

Ford’s interest in film started early. He grew up next to a video store and would stay up late re-watching The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, Exterminator and other banned-in-the-UK movies until he failed his classes. This led him to drop out and go to art school to study graphic design. Studying at The University of Brighton and the Central Saint Martins school of art helped inform Ford’s preferred minimalist aesthetic, and gave him his first hands-on experience with art direction.

After graduation, Ford worked his way through the advertising industry as a creative, with stints at various ad agencies, including 180 Amsterdam, Ogilvy London, TBWA London and Saatchi & Saatchi London, to name a few. While he ended up as a creative director, Ford never forgot his dream of directing, so when the opportunity to direct Top Gear came his way while working at an agency in Amsterdam, Ford jumped at the chance.

His work includes a New African Icons for SportsPesa, a spot for Audi, and a short film for fashion designer Roland Mouret based on Mouret’s childhood memories of watching his father, who was a butcher.

Ford, who was previously repped by Prettybird in the US and UK, knew Interrogate was the right home for him when he met executive producers and partners George Meeker and Jeff Miller. Their first project together was a spot for Blizzard Games’ Diablo III out of Omelet LA.

Steve McQueen on directing Widows

By Iain Blair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Merrick Morton


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

Tamara Jenkins talks writing, directing the Netflix film Private Life

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins has never been shy about mining her personal life for laughs and tears — or taking her time with a project. Her debut feature film, 1998’s semi-autobiographical dark comedy Slums of Beverly Hills, which she wrote and directed, was partly based on her own childhood growing up poor in the mega-wealthy city. The cult hit went on to score two Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Nearly a decade later, she premiered The Savages at Sundance. The comedy, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as neurotic siblings dealing with their dementia-afflicted father, went on to receive two Oscar noms — a Best Actress nod for Linney and a Best Original Screenplay nod for Jenkins.

Tamara Jenkins

Now, another decade later, Jenkins and her husband’s own real-life struggle to have a child has provided fertile material for her new film, Private Life, which stars Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged married couple who have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. Just as the possibilities of conception seem to get further away with each passing attempt, an unexpected Hail Mary arrives in the form of a recent college dropout who might just prove to be the last, unconventional piece of their fertility puzzle.

I talked recently with Jenkins about making the film and her advice for aspiring women directors.

So just how autobiographical is this new film?
Quite a bit. The experience of dealing with infertility and IVF is something me and my husband went through for years. I’d discuss it all with a friend who kept telling me, “You should write all this stuff down because it’s so hilarious and so heartbreaking. You should make a movie about this.” But I didn’t quite see it that way at the time (laughs). So the emotional core of the story is true, and I felt like quite an expert on the subject and it informed it all, but then the demands of fiction take over and invention comes in and stuff is made up. So it’s a combination of both fact and fiction.

It’s been over a decade since Savages, partly because of your battle to get pregnant. I assume this can’t have been easy to get greenlit?
No kidding! Infertility is a tough sell. I actually had notes for this back in ’08, right on the heels of The Savages, and I remember going back to them years later and wondering why I hadn’t carried on writing it. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I had a baby in 2009!” I’d forgotten that little detail. And then deals fell through until Netflix got involved, so it was a long process.

It’s about infertility, but it’s also really about a marriage, right?
Exactly. I always thought of it as a portrait of a marriage, but one that takes place in the land of IVF and doctors. I had this guiding principle: that it’s like a road movie, and these two characters are in a car and they’re off to infertility land. The key thing was, ‘How do they handle it and endure it, and how does it affect the marriage?’ I was also interested in writing about middle-aged marriage, and how they’re almost having a mutual mid-life crisis together — when you find yourself hitting your head up against what your expectations were for your life and dreams, and what the reality actually is. I think everyone can relate to that.

You assembled a great cast that’s so believable. No one’s super-rich or super-beautiful. What did Paul and Kathryn bring to the roles?
I wanted to make a film about a real couple, not a movie couple, set in a New York that also feels real and not like a movie version of it. They’re so great and grounded in the roles, and have such great chemistry. What’s funny is that you assume actors like Paul and Kathryn know each other having been in the business for a long time, but they’d never even met before. So I ended up organizing a dinner for them at Paul’s house, and I cooked, and they did the dishes together and then we had a read-through. Then a couple of months later we had a few days rehearsal when they both got back to town from other projects.

How long was the shoot?
Just 30 days, which wasn’t long enough. We shot in a real apartment and had to work very fast, but it was pretty smooth.

Where did you do the post?
At Sim Post New York, which used to be Post Factory.

Do you like post?
I absolutely love it. I feel like you always learn so much about filmmaking in post. It’s probably the best way to teach people about what a movie really is, and how it comes together and gets cut and made. For me, post is very exciting but also terrifying. Every movie has this plasticity and you’re trying to find your way. Do you have all the pieces you need? Are they the right stuff for it? But then I love when you start to drop music in and work on all the sound design, and things start to emerge. It’s truly amazing how it takes on a life of its own, like some science experiment.

You worked with The Savages editor Brian Kates. What did he bring to the project, and was he on set?
He visited once, just to check it out, but he then began to do his assembly while I shot. He’s a great collaborator. There was one scene we shot in the apartment that I was a bit worried about, so he cut that early on and then showed me so I could get a sense of how it was working, in case I needed to go back to it. That was very helpful.

What were the main editing challenges?
Tone and pacing are always crucial, but I felt like the tone was pretty well established with the writing and the performances. I suppose the big challenge was finding the right takes, the best performances, but there were tonal things. Maybe it was a bit too broad here, it needed to be a bit more subtle there, that sort of thing.

Can you talk about the VFX in this film?
We had a bit of seasonal stuff, adding snow where there wasn’t enough, doing signage, cleanup, and we used a few fluid morphs, which Brian is really good at on the Avid, and I loved those.

What about the DI?
We also did that at Sim, with colorist Alex Bickel, who is this brilliant artist. I love the DI process, and I think he gave it this beautiful look. We were actually the first people to use their brand new DI stage, so that was a thrill.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. Are things improving?
I think the idealism for the improvement is there, but it just takes so long for that to translate into real action and bear fruit. There’s a lot of talk and thinking, but it hasn’t hit the ground yet. It’s still tough for women.

Tamara Jenkins on set.

What’s your advice to a woman who wants to direct?
The best thing I can say is you should probably write and learn to make your own material, so you actually have something to bring to the table. You also have to stick to your guns. I remember years ago going to a writing workshop when I was working on Slums of Beverly Hills, and this big Hollywood screenwriter said, “You can’t open a movie with five pages on a girl getting fitted for a bra!” And I felt like an idiot. It took a while for me to reclaim my sense of self. So if someone tells you something like that, just don’t listen to them.

We’re already heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar. How important are awards to you and your films?
They’re so important for smaller films like mine because they bring attention they probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

What’s next?
I have an idea I’m developing. I just hope people don’t have to wait another decade for it to arrive (laughs).


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 Little Stranger director Lenny Abrahamson

By Iain Blair

Lenny Abrahamson, the Irish director who helmed the cult indies Frank, Garage, What Richard Did and Adam & Paul, burst onto the international scene in 2015 with the harrowing drama Room. The claustrophobic tale — of a woman and her young son kept prisoner in a 10×10-foot garden shed — picked up four Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and won the Best Actress Oscar and BAFTA for lead Brie Larson.

Now Abrahamson is back with a new film, Focus Features’ The Little Stranger, which swaps the tight confines of The Room for the sprawling, light and airy expanses of a huge English country home.

But don’t be fooled by appearances. Abrahamson begins to twist the screws from the very start of the story, which is part ghost story, part murder mystery. The film follows Dr. Faraday (Domnhall Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, but it is now in decline. Its inhabitants — mother, son and daughter — are haunted by something more ominous than dying. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own. It also stars Ruth Wilson (Showtime’s The Affair).

I spoke with Abrahamson about making the film.

Last time we talked, you had been offered a lot of high-profile projects after the huge success of Room. Instead you made this smaller film, which you had been developing. What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of this new film?
I did this for the same reason I did all my other films — I felt compelled to do it, and I connected to it. I’d been thinking about it for the past 10 years. I’m not really strategic about my career. I did consider other projects, but this just felt ready to go, and I was worried that if I didn’t do it just then, I’d never get to do it. So the timing was right.

This is based on Sarah Waters’ novel “The Little Stranger,” and translating any novel to cinema is always tricky, especially this book with all its flashbacks. How difficult was it?
It was very tough, because in a novel you’ve got space to work and digress and build up atmosphere and shift focus. But films are so demanding in terms of unfolding narrative, and it was hard maintaining forward motion while keeping it subtle and ambiguous and dealing with multiple timelines. I also focused on doing it elegantly, not mechanically. It took all the combined efforts of everyone involved — editing, production design, music and sound — to deal with those challenges and also keep it true to the novel.

It’s quite a mixture of genres, tones and themes. Was that your intent?
Finding the right balance and the right tone is always crucial, and in this case we had to find that sense of disquiet and uneasiness, which permeates everything. We also had to keep that sense of ambiguity about everything that happens. I wanted a sort of mash-up of genres — drama, psychological thriller, ghost story, period romance and gothic chiller — and to keep the audience off balance all the time.

Obviously, casting the right actors was crucial. Is it true you originally cast Domnhall Gleeson as another character, not Faraday?
Yes, I’d worked with him on Frank, and he’s got such a range and is so clever. I’d actually started talking to him about this three, four years ago, and I sent him the script with another character in mind for him, but he said he so loved Faraday that he wanted to play him instead. It just made sense, so I cast around him.

It’s beautifully shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland, the DP who also just shot the Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renee Zellweger for director Rupert Goold. What was your approach?
We didn’t have any hard and fast rules. I always think that’s a mistake. So we watched a lot of films and talked a lot, and tried to go against the usual assumptions about making a film like this. We avoided the obvious dark look, and in some of the more sinister scenes the lighting is very even and bright, which I think makes it creepier. It’s a bright interior, maybe not what you expect for violence.

He did a great job, very subtle work, and he created great atmosphere without using any of the obvious lighting tropes. We tested a lot, which was very useful, and Ole didn’t use any direct light. All the light is bounced and soft, which was a very smart decision by him. We shot in a real 18th Century country house near London, and then used another in better repair for all the exterior flashbacks.

Where did you post?
I’m based in Dublin, so I always do all the post there, and we have great facilities and great people. We posted and did most of the cutting at Screen Scene in Dublin, where I’ve posted my last four films. We had a big room with a big screen and projector, which was great, and they also did all the VFX.

Ed Bruce was the VFX supervisor and is very experienced. They do such subtle work. For instance, the house didn’t have the beautiful skylight you see quite a lot, so they added all that, and there are a lot of invisible things they did that you’d never notice. They do shows like Game of Thrones, so they’re very experienced and very good at what they do, and it’s a close collaborative relationship.

Do you like the post process?
I love post after the stress of the shoot and the instant decisions and deadlines you have to deal with on the set. It’s such a big contrast, and it’s where you can take your time to actually make the film.

I love sitting there with the editor and slowly building the movie. And unlike the shoot, where the meter’s ticking away, it’s relaxing and also the cheapest part of the whole filmmaking process. It’s where all the magic happens and you begin to discover what the film is.

The film was cut by your go-to editor Nathan Nugent. Can you tell us about that relationship and how it worked?
He was on the set and also shot 2nd unit for me, so he was very involved during the shoot. He began cutting in Soho during the shoot, and then did most of the editing back in Dublin after we got back.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It’s so important and we began all the sound design and sound work at the same time we began the offline editing, instead of the usual waiting until picture’s locked. I always insist on doing it this way now as there are so many advantages. As you work, you can really see the effect of sound, and that helps with the picture cut.

Our sound editors Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady were also on set and recorded tons of material. Then Steve designed for seven months while we cut, assembling this very rich soundscape. The sound was done at Screen Scene and partly at Ardmore, with some ADR at Goldcrest in London. The music mix was by Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley, ex-Abbey Road, now with their own studio called Sweet Thunder. They did incredibly delicate and beautiful work.

How important was the DI on this?
It’s so important, and we did all the grading and picture finishing at Outer Limits in Dublin, with my regular colorist, Gary Curran, who started early on developing looks. We also did an HDR grade, which I hadn’t really delved into before, and it was very beautiful.

What’s next? A big Hollywood movie?
(Laughs) I do get offered projects, but it would have to be something original that really excites me. Next, I’ll probably shoot this boxing film called A Man’s World, based on the true story of Emile Griffith. It’s a fascinating life, and I’ll shoot it in the US next year… hopefully.

We’re heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar for Room, which won a ton of awards. How important are awards to you and your films?
Very important. They bring a lot of attention to smaller films like mine, and this one is very unusual. It looks like it falls into a genre, but it doesn’t really, so awards and recognition really help.


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

Behind the Title: WIG director/DP Daniel Hall

NAME: Daniel Hall

COMPANY: LA-based Where It’s Greater (@whereitsgreater)

Dan on set for Flyknit Hyperdunk project.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Where It’s Greater is a nimble creative studio. We sit somewhere between the traditional production company and age-old advertising agency, meaning we are a small team of creatives who are able to work with brands and other agencies alike. It doesn’t matter where they are in the spectrum of their campaign; we help bring their projects to life from concept to camera to final delivery. We like getting our hands dirty. We have a physical studio space with various production capabilities and in-house equipment that affords us some unique opportunities from both and efficiency and creative standpoint.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Along with being the founder, I am director and lead cinematographer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
That entails pretty much everything and then some. Where It’s Greater is my baby, so everything from physically lighting and capturing the photos on shoots to making sure we’re headed in the right direction as a company to securing new clients and jobs on a consistent basis. I take out the trash sometimes, too.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think what may surprise people the most is that we work mostly client-direct. A lot of agencies or cinematographers have agents or reps that go out and get them work, but I’ve been fortunate enough to personally establish long-lasting, fruitful relationships with clients like Nike and Beats By Dre and MeUndies.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
By far, my favorite part is creating beautiful advertising work for great brands. It’s really special when you get to connect with clients who not only share the same values as you, but also align and speak the same language in terms of taste and preferences. Those projects always come out memorable.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
All the other mundane tasks I take on during a day-to-day basis solely so that I can create some truly great work every now and then. But it’s apart of the process; you can’t have one without the other.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Anytime a client calls me with an exciting new opportunity (smiles).

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I could see myself doing a few different things, but they are all in the creative/production field. So I would most likely be doing what I’m doing, but just not for myself.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always remember having a creative eye from a young age. I get that naturally from my dad who was a camera operator, but it wasn’t until my cousin put a camera in my hand around 18 or 19 that I really fell in love with photography. But even then I didn’t exactly know what to do with it. I just followed the flow of life. I took advantage of the opportunities in front of me and worked my ass off to maximize them and, in turn, set myself for the next opportunity.

After 10 years, I have a 4,000-square-foot studio space in Los Angeles with a bunch of toys and equipment that I love to use on projects with some of the top brands in the world. I’m very grateful and fortunate in that way. I’m excited to look up again in the next 10 years.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We most recently worked with Beats By Dre on their global ‘Made Defiant’ campaign. We were commissioned to direct and produce a series of product films and still-life imagery to showcase their product line of headphones and earbuds in new colors that resemble their original headphone in order to pay homage and celebrate the brand’s 10-year anniversary. We took advantage of this opportunity to use our six-axis robotic arm, which we own and operate in-house. The arm gave us the ability to capture a series of beauty shots in motion that wouldn’t be possible with any other tech on the market. I think that is what made this job special.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really loved what we did last summer for Nike Basketball and Dick’s Sporting Goods. We directed and produced a 30-second live-action spot centered around one of the most popular basketball shoes of the summer, the Flyknit Hyperdunk. Again, we were able to produce this completely in-house, building out a stylize basketball court in our studio space and harnessing our six-axis robot yet again to make a simple yet compelling advert for the sportswear giant.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Chemex — I’m by no means a coffee snob, but I definitely have to have a cup to start my day. There is something therapeutic about it.

Color meter — I can live without my light meter. I rarely, if ever, shoot film for commercial jobs, at least at this phase in my career, but I love my Sekonic C-700R color meter. It allows me to balance all my images and films to taste.

Hyperice foam roller — In the last year I’ve been a lot more active and more into health and fitness. It’s really changed my life in a lot of ways for the better. This vibrating foam roller is a major key to keeping my muscles loose and stretched so I can recover a lot faster.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Of course. I got my start growing up in Atlanta directing music videos for some pretty noteworthy artists, so there is frequently some form of southern hip-hop playing throughout the studio. From the iconic duo of Outkast to the newer generation of artists like Future and 2 Chainz, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I always have something playing in the background.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I do some of the typical things on a regular basis: exercise, massage therapy, vacation time. Nothing special really as of yet, but if I crack the code and find a new technique I’ll be sure to share!

Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

The independent feature film Miss Arizona is a sort of fish out of water tale that focuses on Rose Raynes, former beauty queen and current bored wife and mother who accepts an invitation to teach a life skills class at a women’s shelter. As you might imagine, the four women who she meets there don’t feel they have much in common. While Rose is “teaching,” the women are told that one of their abusers is on his way to the shelter. The women escape and set out on an all-night adventure through LA and, ultimately, to a club where the women enter Rose into a drag queen beauty pageant — and, of course, along the way they form a bond that changes them all.

L-R: Camera operator Eitan Almagor, DP Jordan McKittrick and Autumn McAlpin.

Autumn McAlpin wrote and directed the film, which has been making its way through the film festival circuit. She hired a crew made up of 70 percent women to help tell this tale of female empowerment. We reached out to her, her colorist Mars Williamson and her visual effects/finishing artist John Davidson to find out more.

Why did you choose the Alexa Mini? And why did you shoot mostly handheld?
Autumn McAlpin: The Alexa Mini was the first choice of our DP Jordan McKittrick, with whom I frequently collaborate. We were lucky enough to be able to score two Alexa Mini cameras on this shoot, which really helped us achieve the coverage needed for an ensemble piece in which five-plus key actors were in almost every shot. We love the image quality and dynamic range of the Alexas, and the compact and lightweight nature of the Mini helped us achieve an aggressive shooting schedule in just 14 days.

We felt handheld would achieve the intimate yet at times erratic look we were going for following an ensemble of five women from very different backgrounds who were learning to get along while trying to survive. We wanted the audience to feel as if they were going on the journey along with the women, and thus felt handheld would be a wise approach to accomplish this goal.

How early did post — edit, color — get involved?
McAlpin: We met with our editor Carmen Morrow before the shoot, and she and her assistant editor Dustin Fleischmann were integral in delivering a completed rough cut just five weeks after we wrapped. We needed to make key festival deadlines. Each day Dustin would drive footage from set over to Carmen’s bay, where she could assemble while we were shooting so we could make sure we weren’t missing anything crucial. This was amazing, as we’d often be able to see a rough assembly of a scene we had shot in the morning by the end of day. They cut on Avid Media Composer.

My DP Jordan and I agreed on the overall look of the film and how we wanted the color to feel rich and saturated. We were really excited about what we saw in our colorist’s reel. We didn’t meet our colorist Mars Williamson until after we had wrapped production. Mars had moved from LA to Melbourne, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to work in close quarters, but we were confident we’d be able to accomplish the desired workflow in the time needed. Mars was extremely flexible to work with.

Can you talk more about the look of the film.
McAlpin: Due to the nature of our film, we sought to create a rich, saturated look color wise. Our film follows a former pageant queen on an all-night adventure through LA with four unlikely friends she meets at a women’s shelter. In a way, we tried to channel an Oz-like world as our ensemble embarks into the unknown. We deliberately used color to represent the various realities the women inhabit. In the film’s open, our production design (by Gabriel Gonzales) and wardrobe (by Cat Velosa) helped achieve a stark, cold world — filled with blues and whites — to represent our protagonist Rose’s loneliness.

As Rose moves into the shelter, we went with warmer tones and a more eclectic production design. A good portion of Act II takes place in a drag club, which we asked Gabe to design to be rich and vibrant, using reds and purples. Toward the end of the film as Rose finds resolution, we went with more naturalistic lighting, primarily outdoor shots and golden hues. Before production, Jordan and I pulled stills from films such as Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Black Swan and Short Term 12, which provided strong templates for the looks we were trying to achieve.

Is there a particular scene or look that stands out for you?
McAlpin: There is a scene when our lead Rose (Johanna Braddy) performs a ventriloquist act onstage with a puppet and they sing Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”  Both Rose and the puppet wore matching cowgirl wardrobe and braids, and this scene was lit to be particularly vibrant with hot pinks and purples. I remember watching the monitors on set and feeling like we had really nailed the rich, saturated look we were going for in this offbeat pageant world we had created.

L-R: Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Shoniqua Shandai, producer De Cooper, Johanna Brady, Autumn McAlpin, Otmara Marrero and Robyn Lively.

Can you talk about the workflow from set to post?
McAlpin: As a low-budget indie, many of our team work from home offices, which made collaboration friendly and flexible. For the four months following production, I floated between the workspaces of our talented and efficient editor Carmen Morrow, brilliant composer Nami Melumad, dedicated sound designer Yu-Ting Su, VFX and online extraordinaire John Davidson, and we used Frame.io to work with our amazing colorist Mars Williamson. Everyone worked so hard to help achieve our vision in our timeframe. Using Frame.io and Box helped immensely with file delivery, and I remember many careful drives around LA, toting our two RAID drives between departments. Postmates food delivery service helped us power through! Everyone worked hard together to deliver the final product, and for that I’m so grateful.

Can you talk about the type of film you were trying to make, and did it turn out as you hoped?
McAlpin: I volunteered in a women’s shelter for several years teaching a life skills class, and this was an experience that introduced me to strong, vibrant women whose stories I longed to tell. I wrote this script very quickly, in just three weeks, though really, the story seemed to write itself. It was the fall of 2016, at a time where I was agitated by the way women were being portrayed in the media. This was shortly before the #metoo movement, and during the election and women’s march. The time felt right to tell a story about women and other marginalized groups coming together to help each other find their voices and a safe community in a rapidly divisive world.

I’m not going to lie, with our budget, all facets of production and post were quite challenging, but I was so overwhelmed by the fastidious efforts of everyone on our team to create something powerful. I feel we were all aligned in vision, which kept everyone fueled to create a finished product I am very proud of. The crowning moment of the experience was after our world premiere at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Fest, when a few women from the audience approached and confided that they, too, had lived in shelters and felt our film spoke to the truths they had experienced. This certainly made the whole process worthwhile.

Autumn, you wrote as well as directed. Did the story change or evolve once you started shooting or did you stick to the original script?
McAlpin: As a director who is very open to improv and creative play on set, I was quite surprised by how little we deviated from the script. Conceptually, we stuck to the story as written. We did have a few actors who definitely punched up scenes by making certain lines more their own (and much more humorous, i.e. the drag queens). And there were moments when location challenges forced last-minute rewrites, but hey, I guess that’s one advantage to having the writer in the director’s chair! This story seemed to flow from the moment it first arrived in my head, telling me what it wanted to be, so we kind of just trusted that, and I think we achieved our narrative goals.

You used a 70 percent female crew. Can you talk about why that was important to you?
McAlpin: For this film, our producer DeAnna Cooper and I wanted to flip the traditional gender ratios found on sets, as ours was indeed a story rooted in female empowerment. We wanted our set to feel like a compatible, safe environment for characters seeking safety and trusted female friendships. So many of the cast and crew who joined our team expressed delight in joining a largely female team, and I think/hope we created a safe space for all to create!

Also, as women, we tend to get each other — and there were times when those on our production team (all mothers) were able to support each other’s familial needs when emergencies at home arose. We also want to give a shout-out to the numerous woman-supporting men we had on our team, who were equally wonderful to work with!

What was everyone’s favorite scene and why?
McAlpin: There’s a moment when Rose has a candid conversation with a drag queen performer named Luscious (played by Johnathan Wallace) in a green room during which each opens up about who they are and how they got there. Ours is a fish out of water story as Rose tries to achieve her goal in a world quite new to her, but in this scene, two very different people bond in a sincere and heartfelt way. The performances in this scene were just dynamite, thanks to the talents of Johanna and Johnathan. We are frequently told this scene really affects viewers and changes perspectives.

I also have a personal favorite moment toward the end of the film in which a circle of women from very different backgrounds come together to help out a character named Leslie, played by the dynamic Robyn Lively, who is searching for her kids. One of the women helping Leslie says, “I’m a mama, too,” and I love the strength felt in this group hug moment as the village comes together to defend each other.

If you all had to do it again, what would you do differently?
McAlpin: This was one fast-moving train, and I know, as is the case in every film, there are little shots or scenes we’d all love to tweak just a little if given the chance to start over from scratch. But at this point, we are focusing on the positives and what lies in store for Miss Arizona. Since our Bentonville premiere and LA premiere at Dances With Films, we have been thrilled to receive numerous distribution offers, and it’s looking like a fall worldwide release may be in store. We look forward to connecting with audiences everywhere as we share the message of this film.

Mars Williamson

Mars, can you talk about your process and how you worked with the team? 
Williamson: Autumn put us in touch, and John and I touched based a little bit before I was going to start color. We all had a pretty good idea of where we were taking it from the offline and discussed little tweaks here and there, so it was fairly straightforward. There were a couple of things like changing a wall color and the last scene needing more sunset than was shot. Autumn and John are super easy and great to work with. We found out pretty early that we’d be able to collaborate pretty easily since John has DaVinci Resolve on his end in the states as well.  I moved to Melbourne permanently right before I really got into the grade.

Unbeknownst to me, Melbourne was/is in the process of upgrading their Internet, which is currently painfully slow. We did a couple of reviews via Frame.io and eventually moved to me just emailing John my project. He could relink to the media on his end and all of my color grading would come across for sessions in LA with Autumn. It was the best solution to contend with the snail pace uploads of large files. From there it was just going through it reel by reel and getting notes from the stateside team. I couldn’t have worked on this with a better group of people.

What types of projects do you work on most often?
Williamson: My bread and butter has always been TV commercials, but I’ve worked hard to make sure I work on all sort of formats across different genres. I like to make sure I’ve got a wide range of stuff under my belt. The pool is smaller here in Australia than it is in LA (where I moved from) so TV commercials are still the bill payers, but I’m also still dipping into the indie scene here and trying to diversify what I work on. Still working on a lot of indie projects and music videos from the states as well so thank you stateside clients! Thankfully the difference in time hasn’t hindered most of them (smiles). It has led to an all-nighter here and there for me, but I’m happy to lose sleep for the right projects.

How did you work with the DP and director on the look of the film? What look did you want and how did you work to achieve that look or looks?
John Davidson: Magic Feather is a production company and creative agency that I started back in 2004. We provide theatrical marketing and creative services for a wide variety of productions. From the 3D atomic transitions in Big Bang Theory to the recent Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom week-long event on Discovery, we have a pretty great body of work. I came onboard Miss Arizona very much by accident. Last year, after working with Weta in New Zealand, we moved to Laguna Niguel and connected with Autumn and her husband Michael via some mutual friends. I was intrigued that they had just finished shooting this movie on their own and offered to replace a few license plates and a billboard. Somehow I turned that into coordinating the post-Avid workflow across the planet and creating 100-plus visual effects shots. It was a fantastic opportunity to use every tool in our arsenal to help a film with a nice message and a family we have come to adore.

John Davidson

Working with Jordan and Autumn for VFX and final mastering was educational for all of us, but definitely so with me. As I mentioned to Jordan after the showing in Hollywood, if I did my job right you would never know. There were quite a few late nights, but I think that they are both very happy with the results.

John, I understand there were some challenges in the edit? Relinking the camera source footage? Can you talk about that and how you worked around it?
Davidson: The original Avid cut was edited off of the dailies at 1080p with embedded audio. The masters were 3.2k Arri Alexa Mini Log with no sync sound. There were timecode issues the first few days on set and because Mars was using DaVinci Resolve to color, we knew we had to get the footage from Avid to Resolve somehow. Once we got the footage into DaVinci via AAF, I realized it was going to be a challenge relinking sources from the dailies. Resolve was quite the utility knife, and after a bit of tweaking we were able to get the silent master video clips linked up. Because 12TB drives are expensive, we thought it best to trim media to 48-frame handles and ship a smaller drive to Australia for Mars to work with. With Mars’s direction we were able to get that handled and shipped.

While Mars was coloring in Australia, I went back into the sources and began the process of relinking the original separate audio to the video sources because I needed to be able to adjust/re-edit a few scenes that had technical issues we couldn’t fix with VFX. Resolve was fantastic here again. Any clip that couldn’t be automatically linked via timecode was connected with clap marks using the waveform. For safety, I batch-exported all of the footage out with embedded audio and then relinked the film to that. This was important for archival purposes as well as any potential fixes we might have to do before the film delivered.

At this point Mars was sharing her cuts on Frame.io with Jordan and Autumn. I felt like a little green shift was being introduced over H.264 so we would occasionally meet here to review a relinked XML that Mars would send for a full quality inspection. For VFX we used Adobe After Effects and worked in flat color. We then would upload shots to box.com for Mars to incorporate into her edit. There were also two re-cut scenes that were done this way as well which was a challenge because any changes had to be shared with the audio teams who were actively scoring and mixing.

Once Mars was done we put the final movie together here, and I spent about two weeks working on it. At this point I took the film from Resolve to FCP X. Because we were mastering at 1080p, we had the full 3.2K frame for flexibility. Using a 1080p timeline in FCP X, the first order of business was making final on-site color adjustments with Autumn.

Can you talk about the visual effects provided?
Davidson: For VFX, we focused on things like the license plates and billboards, but also took a bit of initiative and reviewed the whole movie for areas we could help. Like everyone else, I loved the look of the stage and club scenes, but wanted to add just a little flare to the backlights so the LED grids would be less visible. This was done in Final Cut Pro X using the MotionVFX plugin mFlare2. It made very quick work of using its internal Mocha engine to track the light sources and obscure them as needed when a light went behind a person’s head, for example. It would have been agony tracking so many lights in all those shots using anything else. We had struggled for a while getting replacement license plates to track using After Effects and Mocha. However, the six shots that gave us the most headaches were done as a test in FCP X in less than a day using CoreMelt’s TrackX. We also used Final Cut Pro X’s stabilization to smooth out any jagged camera shakes as well as added some shake using FCP X’s handheld effect on a few shots that needed it for consistency.

Another area we had to get creative with was with night driving shots that were just too bright even after color. By layering a few different Rampant Design overlays set to multiply, we were able to simulate lights in motion around the car at night with areas randomly increasing and decreasing in brightness. That had a big impact on smoothing out those scenes, and I think everyone was pretty happy with the result. For fun, Autumn also let me add in a few mostly digital shots, like the private jet. This was done in After Effects using Trapcode Particular for the contrails, and a combination of Maxon Cinema 4D and Element 3D for the jet.

Resolve’s face refinement and eye brightening were used in many scenes to give a little extra eye light. We also used Resolve for sky replacement on the final shot of the film. Resolve’s tracker is also pretty incredible, and was used to hide little things that needed to be masked or de-emphasized.

What about finishing?
Davidson: We finalized everything in FCP X and exported a full, clean ProRes cut of the film. We then re-imported that and added grain, unsharp masks and a light vignette for a touch of cinematic texture. The credits were an evolving process, so we created an Apple Numbers document that was shared with my internal Magic Feather team, as well as Autumn and the producers. As the final document was adjusted and tweaked we would edit an Affinity Photo file that my editor AJ Paschall and I shared. We would then export a huge PNG file of the credits into FCP X and set position keyframes to animate the scroll. Any time a change was made we would just relink to the new PNG export and FCP X would automatically update the credits. Luckily, that was easy because we did that probably 50 times.

Lastly, our final delivery to the DCP company was a HEVC 10-bit 2K encode. I am a huge fan of HEVC. It’s a fantastic codec, but it does have a few caveats in that it takes forever to encode. Using Apple Compressor and a 10-core iMac Pro, it took approximately 13 hours. That said, it was worth it because the colors were accurately represented and gave us a file that 5.52GB versus 18GB or 20GB. That’s a hefty savings on size while also being an improvement in quality over H.264.

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka

 

Director Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

After seeing some of her previous work, Humble director Sasha Levinson was approached by agency R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority with a vision of creating four short films of personal transformation, each set across one weekend in Las Vegas, where the city was the catalyst in each narrative. The spots play more like a film trailer than a commercial.

Initial scripts were already written, when Levinson won project. “Right out of the gate I started to develop ideas about how I would bring these stories to life in a way that created a human mystique around Las Vegas while showcasing how the city could have an authentically positive impact on each character’s life,” she says.

We reached out to Levinson to find out more about her process and the project.

Who did you work with the most from the agency?
R&R Partners’ Arnie DiGeorge (ECD), Scott Murray (CD) and Gerri Angelo (Producer) were the primary people I interacted with. Once I was officially on board, the collaboration stretched into a place I hadn’t seen in my commercial work thus far. The team stressed their desire to have a filmmaker that could truly bring the films to life, and I think I did just that. They trusted my process whole-heartedly.

Now and Then

Can you walk us through the production process?
While working on readying the scripts for production, I flew out to Las Vegas and spent several days location scouting in and around the city. It was very inspiring to start to feel the environment and begin to envision exactly how our scenes might play out.

We scouted many incredible spaces, both interior and exterior. My process was to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters and decide where they would want to spend their weekend.

The next step was casting, which was done in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We all took a collective breath when we found our actors because they became the characters that had only been living on the page for quite a while.

It took a dedicated team and the full support of Humble, our production company, to pull this off. Line producer Trevor Allen, AD Scott Murray, AD Todd Martin, costume designer Karmen Dann and location scout/manager Kim Houser-Amaral were a huge help during this two-week shoot.

Two weeks?
Yes, we shot for eight days over the course of two weeks, filming mostly at night in restaurants, nightclubs and suites both on and off The Strip. For interiors alone we shot at over nine different hotel properties, and then filmed various exteriors, driving shots and desert scenes.

Can you talk about each of the four spots?
For the Now and Then spot we used a handheld and Steadicam to stay intimate with the characters. The film lives in a dreamy, indie space, making the audience feel like they are inside the story, and as if the flashbacks are their own memories.

Party of One

The Anniversary was the flirtiest, most luxurious of the films. We were initially planning to film in a different bar, but I changed the schedule when I saw the personality of the final location. It was perfect.

To me, Party of One was a quirky romantic comedy, but the real romance is with herself. This film had a cleaner look with colors that really popped, a playful wardrobe and fun music. The Meetup has the most obvious references to the iconic Oceans and Bond films, and I wanted to do this genre justice.

Victor, the actor in The Meetup has a comedy background, so he was able to give us something different and great each take. We used cleaner lenses and slower-paced, more precise movements using a dolly.

What did you shoot on, and why did you (and assuming the DP) feel this was the best camera?
We shot on the Alexa Mini for its stunning Alexa image and the smaller body. The choice was due to all of the handheld and Steadicam we knew we would be working with. I really love the Alexa and of course we played with a lot of filtration and elements in front of the lens.

Where did you find the inspiration for this campaign?
I was really inspired by the film Paris, je t’aime, which became a reference we really stayed true to with this campaign. We kept saying, “If these four films feel like a love letter to Las Vegas, then we’ve done our job.”

After we finished casting in LA, I spent a weekend in Vegas visiting Valley of Fire State Park, seeing Elton John in concert, riding on the High Roller, eating at some amazing restaurants and overall experiencing the city in a new and inspiring way. I’ve always loved the desert, so there is a built-in romance for me about Vegas being a desert oasis that you just feel, looking out the windows wherever you are. I wanted to capture that essence in this campaign.

Sasha on set

What was the biggest obstacle in directing these four spots?
Las Vegas is all about tourism, so we had to keep the visitor experience in mind when planning our schedules and shooting. It was a constantly changing puzzle of a schedule, but each location had a filming liaison that worked with us. They helped us film across iconic Las Vegas locations like the High Roller at the LinQ Hotel & Casino and the Bellagio Fountains, where we even had an engineer help us control the fountains, starting them at just the right moment in the shot.

Where was this project edited, and how did you work with the editors?
I worked extremely closely with the editors Erin Nordstrom and Nick Pezillo at Spot Welders in Venice, California. They cut on Adobe Premiere, and during the edit process we cut in side-by-side rooms. As we were cutting the first cuts I would hop between rooms as the edits were evolving.

Music was a huge point of discussion. Josh Baron was our music supervisor, and Human created some original pieces. Early in the edit process there was a lot of conversation about tone and feel of the soundtracks. Getting the music to encourage the cinematic feeling was very important to all of us.

Can you talk about what you wanted from the color grade?
Las Vegas has so much light and spectacle, and most of the films took place at night, so I wanted to capture that essence and make sure we didn’t go too far. The idea was that the character of Las Vegas should be cohesive across all four films, but each of the storylines should feel visually dedicated to their respective characters.

Dave Hussey at Company 3 too the reigns on color and hit the perfect balance between fantasy and reality.

We’ve heard a lot about making the ad and production industries more inclusive. How do you see the industry changing? Do you think organizations like Free the Bid are doing their jobs to help female directors get the work they deserve?
I think that filmmaking and content creation is about telling stories that accurately reflect reality, but this isn’t possible without diverse creators showcasing their own unique realities. I’ve spent a lot of time on scouts and shoots where I am the only woman, but this is changing, and there are more and more times where the van is all women, and it’s amazing!

However, just when I think diversity is becoming the norm, I’ll be on set with a crew member or client who says they’ve never worked with a female director. Free the Bid has been an incredible initiative and because it’s so action oriented, you can feel the rumblings of change in realtime. That’s exciting.

Do you have any tips for aspiring female directors?
Being a filmmaker in film or advertising is an incredible career path. My best advice is to develop your authentic voice and find projects that resonate with it. Don’t get lost in what you think you should be doing, and don’t just follow the trends. Be authentic in your work and speak from the heart. And when it comes to starting a reel, donate your time. Find brands or projects that cover the costs and give them your creative skills in exchange for footage to build a reel.

There has been a trend around branded content and spots, that look and like films, like this campaign. Do you think this trend will continue?
I think this trend will continue and extend deeper into newer mediums like immersive storytelling and interactivity. Brands are constantly searching for ways to connect with consumers, and I believe the art of storytelling is an age-old unifier and connector. So it makes sense. Personally, I love the three-act structure and any opportunity to work with this, whether it be 90 seconds or 90 minutes, inspires me.

Are you working on any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently taking my recent film Welcome to Grandville through the festival circuit. It made its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Perspectives Exhibition, and more recently in New York City at the Soho International Film Festival.

I’ve also just completed a commercial project for Whirlpool, Google and Amazon’s Alexa. Currently, I’m writing a film called the The Discomfort of Skin, about the human discomfort with nudity and sexuality.

Eli Rotholz joins Alkemy X as VP of biz dev

Creative content company Alkemy X has added Eli Rotholz as VP of business development,. He will be based in the company’s New York headquarters.

Rotholz brings more than 12 years of sales/business development, strategy and production experience, having begun his career as an independent sales rep for Ziegler/Jakubowicz and Moustache NYC. From there, he worked in his first in-house position at Click3X, where he built and managed a diverse roster of directorial talent, as well as the company’s first integrated production offering focusing on live-action, VFX/design/animation and editorial.

Rotholz then founded Honor Society Films. He later joined Hone Production, a brand-direct-focused production company and consultancy, as director of business development/content EP.

“Very few companies in the industry can boast the strong directorial roster and VFX capabilities as Alkemy X,” says Rotholz. “In addition to the amazing entertainment work that Alkemy does, there’s definitely a trend in high-end ‘package’ productions where one company can do both live-action shoots with their directors, as well as editorial and VFX.”