Tag Archives: Directing

Quick Chat: M&C Saatchi LA’s Dan Roman on Time Scouts campaign

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another place and time? To walk the Roman ruins before they were, well, ruined? If so, you might want to join the Time Scouts.

What is Time Scouts? Well, according to the website, it is a “multiverse-spanning organization dedicated to the growth of its members through the travel of space and time. It seeks to document the past, cultivate the present and build a better future through the empowerment of Scouts young and old.” In essence, it’s the name of a program created by 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students and teachers across Los Angeles through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school programs and more. The Time Scouts program helps people explore their imaginations. Being a Time Scout comes with very real perks, like an actual handbook, membership cards and badges (a la Boy Scouts, but with an absurdist time travel twist).

Dan Roman

Inspired by 826LA’s Time Travel Mart storefronts — actual stores that lead to the organization’s drop-in education centers — the campaign is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi LA’s associate creative director, Stephen Reidmiller, and a team of the agency’s content creators, producers, writers and artists. Previously, M&C Saatchi LA collaborated with 826LA and its students on a series of Time Travel Mart product posters. This time, the agency is back to highlight the wide-reaching, future-changing effect of 826LA with a fundraising campaign that includes a promo video directed and edited by Dan Roman. The agency also created the website, handbook, all of the swag — print promotion images, and give aways like the badges — and the video.

We talked with M&C Saatchi LA director/editor Dan Roman about that video, which is a centerpiece of the project that explains what Time Scouts may or may not make possible, and how anyone can join the organization via Kickstarter

We assume this isn’t your typical M&C Saatchi LA project Can you give us a little background on the film and the campaign as a whole?
M&C Saatchi LA has been working with 826LA for a number of years now in different capacities, but this was the first time we really got to blow out a whole campaign for them. Our creative director for this project, Stephen Reidmiller, came up with the idea for Time Scouts as a way to engage students at 826LA and give them a fun way to create and expand their imagination. He and his lovely wife Beth wrote and illustrated the book, then asked if I would be interested in directing the video. The agency built out an entire website for Time Scouts as well. Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation) makes the perfect Time Scouts host.

How did his participation come about, and what was it like to direct him in this piece?
Marc was incredible to work with on the piece. He’s actually been involved with 826LA for a long time as well and I believe was one of the co-hosts of their early vaudeville shows, starring as Mr. Barnacle. So when we were thinking of who would fit the Time Scouts aura the best, he immediately sprang to mind.

Marc graciously signed on, and once we were able to tailor aspects of the script around his voice and mannerisms, he really bought in. He even brought his own space blazer the day of the shoot. It’s always really fun to work with people who are invested because they end up adding a lot of personal touches, like the dab at the end…all him. It makes it that much more fun.

In the end, we got in a really great groove with Marc and he had the whole set laughing. We took it pretty easy and tried our best to keep it fun, and he was a joy to direct in the piece. He brought a little extra to every line, even cracking himself up from time to time. Can’t think of a better time traveler.

Who wrote the script? Was any of it improvised? What was the biggest creative challenge?
Our illustrious creative director Stephen Reidmiller not only wrote the entire Time Scouts Handbook, but the script for this video as well. He’s a wonderful creative and I can’t say enough about his vision to bring this whole thing together. Marc is, of course, an amazing improviser, and I think we put his talents to good use. My favorite moment from set is when we were trying to figure out what city would sound the silliest if it were a fictitious location.

Originally we had the Time Scouts from New Jersey, but we thought we could beat it. We tried everything from Philadelphia (too many syllables) to the Inland Empire (too local). Marc came up with “Even in made-up places, like Orlando.” And the way he sounded out each syllable was too perfect. Had to go with that.

As far as creative challenges went, we tried to keep things relatively small given the nature of our day. However, we spent nearly two hours art directing the shelves behind Marc, and it’s safe to say that every piece of Time Travel Mart merch is intentionally placed. The Roman helmet gave us the hardest time though. We must have placed that unsuccessfully in about eight different spots. We all feel pretty good about where it ended up.

What tools were used on this project?
My favorite question! I almost wish this was a bit more exciting, but we had to keep it pretty down and dirty, so we shot this on my Sony FS7 with Zeiss CP.2s and a bit of glimmer glass. It’s lit very simply with daylight and bounce/fill, a bit of kick from quasar tubes, and more than a healthy amount of haze. We cut in Adobe Premiere and colored in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

The video was shot with a Sony FS7.

Increasingly, agencies have in-house content creators. Describe what you do for and with M&C Saatchi LA.
At M&C Saatchi LA, I’m the lead director and DP. Our director of content Tara Poynter and I have been working our way through building out a production arm for the agency. We work largely like any production company would work: concepting, prepping and leading shoots, end-to-end editorial and finishing.

However, we also have a full-service agency at our back with access to great creative and strategic minds. The hope is to build an arm of this company that can mold quickly to clients’ needs and scale creative, production and editorial without any lapse in quality.

We obviously play in a giant sandbox here in LA, and we want to make sure that what we put out is up to snuff with the rest of our industry, especially if it’s got talent like Marc Evan Jackson in it. Overall, It’s just been fun trying to forge some new ground in the agency world.

What’s your background, and how did you become a director/editor/content creator?
I came up in production in Boston. About 10 years ago, I left film school to work as an editor for an animation company, eventually finding my way into indie films, music videos and documentaries. I freelanced my way into more commercial productions and ended up working as a senior producer and editor at Weber Shandwick.

There, I really got the space to hone what I do as a director and DP, working on longer-form branded content, commercials and documentaries while getting the chance to help build a successful production department from the ground floor. About a year ago, I decided that I was ready for the jump to LA and packed up the camera, the car, and our ridiculously fat cat and headed out this way. It’s been a fun ride so far.

Director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull signs with 1stAvenueMachine, Gotham Group

London-based director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull is now being repped by 1stAveMachine and The Gotham Group. Dulull recently directed the pilot for Disney’s action comedy miniseries Fast Layne, was also credited as creative consultant on the entire series and directed three additional episodes when he wowed Disney Channel executives with his vision for the eight-part series. See our interview with him here.

Dulull is known for his breakout sci-fi indie feature film The Beyond, which was released by Gravitas Ventures, and premiered at #2 on the iTunes charts before trending on Netflix. His second feature film 2036: Origin Unknown, which starred Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) earned a theatrical release in the US.

Dulull began his career as a VFX artist on films such as The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2, as well as shows like America: The Story of the US.

Dulull is also repped by APA and Darren Trattner at Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein, and is the co-founder of production company Haz Film.

Behind the Title: Partizan director Jonathan Klein

Name: Jonathan Klein

Company: Partizan

Can you describe your company?
Partizan is a production company with a collective of content creators. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I like awesome alliteration apparently.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title of director?
People think of directing as barking orders at people, bending people to your will, to your vision. That’s not how I operate. What I try to do is maybe counterintuitive, but it’s about finding ways to maximize everyone’s potential, eliminating barriers for them and doing things to earn their trust and respect. For me, it’s probably more akin to Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership.

Steve Sabol tribute

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Working with skilled, motivated people to transfer the sight and sound from the mind into reality. Well, that and craft services, assuming they have beef jerky (teriyaki flavor, preferably).

What’s your least favorite?
How fast time seems to elapse when you’re shooting — it’s like the clock moves at 20 times normal speed. I have to stop and count to 10 a few times during the day while looking at a watch just to make sure the space-time continuum hasn’t been irrevocably altered. Wouldn’t that suck if I accidentally accelerated time for everyone just because I was having fun?

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Trying to get this job! Hey, I get to do what I love. Or maybe volunteering at a local animal shelter?! Wait, does that sound too Miss America?

Why did you choose this profession? 
It’s probably corny, but Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Actually, that’s not corny at all. You can’t beat that, right?

My father was a photographer. My brother and I made little movies with him as kids, and he’d even let us get behind and operate the cameras. That showed me that you could take people with you on emotional journeys anywhere your imagination could go.

What was it about directing that attracted you?
I always really liked the chair. Even though I rarely (if ever) sit on shoot day. You have to admit those director’s chairs with their canvas slip-on backs and elegant fold-up engineering are cool.

Ok! Well, what is it about directing that continues to keep you interested?
It’s always new. Every day, there are new techniques and shots to try, new crew to meet and learn from, new toys and new ways of playing with them.

How do you pick the people you work with on a particular project?
I was never the smartest one at the dinner table, but that’s been by choice — I want to be surrounded by brilliant people who inspire with their ideas. The notion of sharing a meal with someone is actually a great filter for choosing collaborators: Is this a person whose input I value and who will have lasting appeal through our time together? Of course, they are certainly entitled to ask themselves the same questions about me!

How do you work with your DP?
Before we shoot, we talk. Usually, we talk on the phone, but I prefer that it’s in-person or on video chat. We exchange ideas and references. I tend not to refer to other movies (or music videos or commercials) because I don’t want things to be too prescriptive or derivative. I ask them if there’s anything they want to try.

On each project, I try to do one or two things that I haven’t done before. On-set, my domain is the frame; their domain is how we achieve it, so I don’t demand they use a 21mm lens or anything. Instead, I explain how I think the particular shot should feel. If it feels off, I’ll suggest that maybe we should be a little looser, and it’s up to them if that means they want to back up or if they want to swap to a wider lens. Yet, I’m also open to them challenging me… about the shot, not in Scrabble. DPs are scandalously good at Scrabble.

Do you get involved with the post at all?
Yes. To paraphrase the famous quote, “Every time you make a movie, you actually make three movies: the one you see in your head when you read the script, the one you shoot and the one you edit. The only one other people ever judge you on is the last one,” so, naturally, I want to be involved in the edit.

Hyundai

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I shot some killer driving footage for Hyundai’s new Palisade on the Pacific Coast Highway. I did a crazy ode to the sports fan for William Hill with Anomaly. Travis Kelce told me that he couldn’t believe how well we’d recreated Arrowhead Stadium in LA when I shot him for McDonald’s with We Are Unlimited.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I directed the NFL’s tribute video to Steve Sabol, the trailblazing leader of NFL Films and one of my heroes. It was a oner, a single take that watched Steve’s actual film camera roll its final frames before a lone star in the night sky brightened. I believe Steve would have liked it.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Contact lenses, matches and lighters. My distance vision is weak, and I’m not great with flint.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I listen to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. I also have a limited edition Big Box of 96 Crayola crayons and some good coloring books. I find coloring to be surprisingly soul-soothing (couldn’t resist one last alliteration).

Duo teams up to shoot, post Upside Down music video

The Gracie and Rachel music video Upside Down, a collaboration between the grand prize-winners of Silver Sound Showdown, was written, directed and edited by Ace Salisbury and Adam Khan. Showdown is one-part music video film festival, one-part battle of the bands. In a rare occurrence, Salisbury and Khan, both directors in competition, tied for grand prize with their music videos (RhodoraStairwell My Love). Showdown is held annually at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley and venue in Brooklyn, New York.

Ace Salisbury

We reached out to the directors and the band to find out more about this Silver Sound-produced four-minute offering about a girl slowly unraveling emotionally, which was shot with a Red camera.

What did you actually win? What resources were available to you?
Salisbury: Winning the grand prize got me teamed up with the winning band Gracie and Rachel, and with Adam, to make a music video, with Silver Sound stepping in to offer their team to help shoot and edit, and giving time at their partner’s studio space at Parlay Studios in New Jersey.

Khan: Silver Sound offered a DP, editor and colorist, but Ace and I decided to do of all that ourselves. Parlay Studios graced us with three days in one of their spaces, as well as access to any equipment available. I was a kid in a candy store.

What was it like collaborating with a co-director and a band you had never met before?
Salisbury: Working with a co-director can be great — you can balance the workload, benefit from your differing skillsets and shake up your usual comfort zone for how you go about making work.

It’s important to stop being precious about your vision for the project, and be game to compromise on every idea you bring, but you learn a lot. Having never met Adam before made the whole experience more exciting. I had no ability to predict what he would bring to the project in terms of personality and work style from looking at his reel.

Adam Khan

Making a video with a production company is like having a well-connected producer on your project; once you get them onboard with your idea, all of the resources at their disposal come out of the woodwork, and things like studio space and high-power DPs come into the mix if you want them.

Pitching a music video to a band you’ve never met is interesting. You look at their music, aesthetics and previous music videos and try to predict what direction they’ll want to move in. You want to make them something they’ll embrace and want to promote the hell out of, not sweep under the rug. With Gracie and Rachel, they have such an established aesthetic, the key was figuring out how to take what they had and make it look polished.

Khan: At first I was wary of co-directing, I was concerned our ideas/egos would clash. But after meeting with Ace all worry vanished. Sure both of us had to compromise but there was never any friction; ideas and concepts flowed. Working with a new band requires looking back at their previous work and getting a feel for the aesthetic.

Gracie and Rachel: Collaborating with people you haven’t yet worked with is always a unique experience. You really get to hone your skills when it comes to thinking on your feet and practicing the art of give-and-take. Compromise is important, and so is staying true to your artistic values. If you can learn from others how to expand on what you already know, you’re gaining something powerful.

What is Upside Down about?
Salisbury: Upside Down is a video about emotional unraveling. Gracie portrays a girl whose world literally turns upside down as her mental state deteriorates. She is attached via a long rope to her shadow self, portrayed by Rachel, who takes control of her, pulling her across the floor and suspending her in the air. I co-authored the concept, co-directed and co-edited the video with Adam.

The original concept involved the fabrication of a complicated camera rig that would rotate both the actor and camera together. Imagine a giant rotisserie with the actor strapped in on one side and the camera on another, all rotating together. Just three days before our shoot date, the machine fabricator let us know that there were safety and liability issues which meant they couldn’t give us a finished rig. Adam and I scrambled to put together a modified concept using rope rigging in place of this ill-fated machine.

Khan: Upside Down is abstract; it was our job to make it tangible.

Gracie, you actually performed in upside down. What was that like, and what did you learn from that experience?
Yes, I really was suspended upside down! I trained for that for only about an hour or two prior to the actual shoot with some really lovely aerialist professionals. It was surprising to learn what your body feels like after doing dozens of takes upside down!

Can you talk about the digital glitches in the video?
Salisbury: On set, one of the monitors was seriously glitching out. I took a video of the glitched monitor with my phone and showed it to Adam, saying, “This is what our video needs to look like!”

We tried to match the footage of the glitching monitor on set, manipulating our footage in After Effects. We developed a scrambling technique for randomly generating white blocks on screen. As much as we liked those effects, the original phone video of the glitched monitor ended up making it into the final video.

People might be surprised by how much animation goes into a live-action project that they would never notice. For a project like Upside Down, a lot of invisible animation goes into it, like matting the edges of the spotlight’s spill on the stage floor. Not all animation jobs look like Steamboat Willie.

This video had a few invisible animated elements, like removing stunt wire, removing a spot on the stage, and cleaning up the black portions of the frame.

What did you shoot on?
Khan: This video was shot with a Red Epic Dragon rocking the Fujinon 19-90.

What tools were used for post?
Salisbury: The software used on this video was Adobe Premiere and After Effects—Premiere for the basic assembly of the footage, and After Effects for the heavy graphical lifting and color correct. Everything looks better coming out of After Effects.

Are there tools that you wish you had access to?
Salisbury: Personally, I was pretty happy with the tools we had access to. For this concept, we had everything we needed, tool-wise.

Khan: Faster computers.

How much of what you do is music video work? Do you work differently depending on the genre?
Khan: My focus is music videos, though you can find me working on all types of projects. From the production standpoint, things are the same. The real difference comes from what can be done in front of the camera. In a music video, one does not need to follow the rules. In fact, it is encouraged to break the rules.

Salisbury: I get hired to direct music videos every so often. The budget tends to be what dictates the experience, whether it’s going to be a video of a band rocking out shot on a DSLR or a high-intensity animated spectacle. Music videos can be a chance to establish wild aesthetics without the burden of having to justify them in your film’s world. You can go nuts. It’s a music video!

Where do you find inspiration?
Khan: Inspiration comes from past filmmakers and artists alike. I also pay close attention to my peers, there is some incredible stuff coming out. For this project, we pulled from Gracie and Rachel’s previous songs and visuals.

Salisbury: I find that I’m usually most influenced by old video games, but that wasn’t going to be a good fit for this band. My initial intention was to combine Gracie and Rachel’s aesthetic with a Quay Brothers aesthetic, but things shifted a bit by the end of the project.

Big Block adds live-action director Rylee Jean Ebsen

LA’s Big Block, part design studio, part production studio and part post house, has added live-action commercial director Rylee Jean Ebsen. As an early Snapchat employee and its most recent director of creative media, Ebsen brings experience producing alternative content to Big Block, including AR, VR, AI, 360-video, vertical video and live-streaming across social and broadcast.

Ebsen ran Snapchat’s in-house creative agency for seven years, hiring and leading a team of 15 while reporting directly to CEO Evan Spiegel. Ebsen debuted Snap’s first vertical original content series on the Discover Platform, co-directed Snap’s very first broadcast TV spot and earned an official patent for her work creating Snapchat’s AR Geofilters. Ebsen was the lead creative artist behind the debuts of the Jeff Koons augmented reality project, Snappables, World Lenses, Custom Stories and Spectacles.

Rylee Ebsen on set.

“What drew me to Big Block is that they weren’t just another production company making commercials, they’re a go-to partner for brands and agencies to turn to for innovative ideas, unique activations and incredible artistic interpretations,” she says.

Big Block’s involvement with “Free the Bid” was another draw for Ebsen, as she’s an active member and passionate about encouraging other female creatives. She’s also an executive member of Women in Film and has spoken at USC’s “Own It” women’s leadership summit and “It’s Our Turn,” Brentwood School’s Young Women’s Conference.

At only 28 years old, she has already spent over 1,200 hours directing on set with equipment ranging from vertical rigs to high-end Alexa cameras. Ebsen has storytelling in her blood, growing up as the granddaughter of actor Buddy Ebsen and advertising creative director Stan Freberg, and later graduating from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Beautiful Boy director Felix Van Groeningen

By Iain Blair

Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen — director of Amazon’s Beautiful Boy — may not be a household name in America, yet, but among cineastes he’s already a force to be reckoned with. His last film, Belgica, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where he won the Directing Award (Dramatic World Cinema). His The Broken Circle Breakdown earned a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and a César for Best Foreign Film.

L-R: Felix van Groeningen and Timothée Chalamet on set.

For his first English language film, Van Groeningen jumped right into the deep end when he took on Beautiful Boy, a harrowing family drama about drug addiction. Based on two memoirs — one from journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and one from his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet) — it unsparingly chronicles the repeated relapses and the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time.

To tell the story, Van Groeningen reunited with his longtime collaborators, cinematographer Ruben Impens and editor Nico Leunen. It marks their fifth film with the director.

I spoke with Van Groeningen about making the film and his process.

Why did you choose this for your first English language film?
It just sort of happened. I’d been thinking about making an English language film for quite a while but took my time in choosing the right project. After The Broken Circle Breakdown got an Oscar nomination, I got a lot of offers but never found the right one. I read some scripts that were very good, but I always asked myself, ‘Am I the best director for this?’ And I never felt I was, until  Beautiful Boy.

I read both books and immediately fell in love with the family. I could really relate to the father figure and to Nic, and all their struggles. It was also a big plus that Plan B — Brad Pitt’s company with producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who did Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave — would be producing it. So it all came together.

So it all resonated with you?
It had a lot of elements and themes that really interest me, such as the passage of time, family dynamics and loss, as well as the illusion that we can control things. I’d explored these in my previous films, and I’d also dealt with addiction and substance abuse. Plus, the whole father-son element was also something I could really relate to — I lost my father when I was in my ‘20s, and in a way he still lives on in me through my movies.

So even though my family was very different, I knew this was the perfect project for me to spend several years on, which is what it took, since this was an epic journey. It’s a father trying to understand his son, and I knew right away it would be a big challenge. I also knew it would take a lot of work to combine the two books into one story and one film. I learned just how easy it is to relapse and about the whole cycle of shame that pulls you down.

Do you feel there’s far more responsibility as a filmmaker when a film is based on real people and real events?
I do, and I don’t. I really love the Sheffs, and that first love is genuine and everything comes from that. I met them very early on and really liked them, and they got involved and it happened very organically. They were both very open and honest and let me into their lives. We became friends, they met with the actors and really trusted me. But I had to make this film my own. This is my sixth film, and I’ve learned that at some point you always have to betray the original story and material in order to get a grip on it. You can’t be afraid of that.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Timothee and Steve bring to the roles?
Steve has this great Everyman relatability and sincerity, and while people tend to see him mainly as a comedic actor, he has this huge range. This role needed all that — from rage to despair to laughter. And Timothee is so charming and open, and you needed that so you could follow him on this very dark journey. He was always true to the character.

Where did you shoot?
We did some of the exteriors in the real locations in Northern California, along with bits in LA. We shot around Marin County and San Francisco, and at the real beach where David and Nic surfed, as well in and around Inverness, where they lived. And then we used sets for the interiors and shot them on stages in Hollywood. I don’t usually like to shoot on stages, but it worked out really well as we designed the rooms so we could take them apart and then put them back together in different ways.

Where did you post?
All in LA at The Post Group Production Suites. We did all the editing there. Nico was busy on another project when we began, so we started with another editor on location but not on set. It makes me feel a little insecure to look at what I’ve done, as I don’t do reshoots, and I like to go with my gut.  Nico came on board a bit later.

Do you like the post process?
I love post, but it’s also really the hardest part of any project since it’s where it all comes together. There’s always a phase where you’re really happy and super-excited about it, and then there’s always a phase where you panic and start re-thinking things and feeling that nothing is working. You have to let go. For years you’ve dreamed about what the movie could be, and now you have to realize, “This is it.” That’s scary.

As they say, you make a movie three times, and I really embrace post and all that goes with it, but sometimes you just can’t let go and you’re just too close to the movie. This is when you have to step back and leave for a week or two, then come back.

What were the big editing challenges?
You have to find the right balance between the two stories and points of view, and that was the big one — and in the script too. How long do you spend with each character separately? How much time together? It was tricky, finding the right rhythm and the balance.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both vital. Nico lays stuff out and helps me shape ideas, and then we finish it all together with the sound editor and sound designer Elmo Weber, and the mixers. Elmo and the sound effects editor Marc Glassman recorded a lot of material at all the locations — things like insects and birds and the wind in the trees and the sound of waves, so it was very naturalistic and very detailed.

We actually had a whole score for the film, but the songs were always so important to the story and a key part of the movie, as David and Nic loved music, but the score just wasn’t working. So Nico suggested having no score and using songs instead, and that worked far better. So we ended up using a mix of weird electronic music, sort of half-way between sound design and music. The songs were great, like the scene where Steve is singing to Nic and it breaks away into John Lennon singing. We also used tracks by Nirvana, Neil Young and Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós.

Felix van Groeningen and Steve Carell on set.

Were there any VFX?
Not many. Shade VFX did them, and it was mainly clean up. I really don’t know much about VFX since I’m far more interested in actors.

Where did you do the DI?
At Efilm with colorist Tim Stipan, who’s fantastic. I love the DI. I was there with Tim and our DP Ruben. It’s so fascinating to see your film get to the next level, and being able to refine the look.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s been a long journey and I still need time to digest it.

What’s next?
I’ve got several projects I’m developing but I’ll take my time. I just became a father and I like to focus on one thing at a time.


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.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty busy.


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.

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.