Tag Archives: indie film

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.

Indie film Hoax calls on ACES

By Debra Kaufman

Shot in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado, Hoax follows a brilliant primate specialist and ruthless TV producer as they investigate the site of a camping trip gone terribly wrong. They soon find themselves fighting to survive — and coming to grips with the fact that Big Foot may not be a legend after all. The movie, which will complete post production in mid-June, is the brainchild of Matt Allen, who wrote and directed it. His friend, freelance editor and colorist Peder Morgenthaler wore many hats, starting with multiple readings of the script. “As Matt was pulling the production together, he asked if I’d like to edit and color grade,” says Morgenthaler. “I ended up post supervising too.”

Peder Morgenthaler

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) was already on Morgenthaler’s radar. He’d followed its early development and began experimenting with it as soon as he could. As a result, he immediately thought ACES would be ideal for the Hoax, which would be shot with Red Helium and Monstro cameras. “We wanted to work with the Red RAW data instead of baking in a look,” he says. “The challenge would be how to maintain the full dynamic range present in the camera originals all the way through every step of post production — from dailies to visual effects — so that when the footage came to the color grade none of the information would have been flattened out or lost.”

He also was aware that High Dynamic Range was being discussed as a new display format. “In my research about ACES it became clear that it was a really good way to be able to make an HDR master down the road,” says Morgenthaler. “That would be a big advantage for an indie film. We don’t have access to image scientists or an advanced image processing pipeline. ACES offers us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have because of our limited resources.”

Because the production was going to take place in a remote area, with no opportunity for a DIT station, Allen and Morgenthaler made the decision that ACES would only be implemented in post. “We weren’t doing all the on-set color grading and look previewing that you would do in a full ACES pipeline,” notes Morgenthaler. Cinematographer Scott Park shot at 6K and 8K resolution, framing for a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio while shooting 1.78:1 to give enough room for reframing in post. “In addition, we shot segments on ENG and Flir infrared and night vision cameras, so we had several codecs and color spaces in the workflow,” Morgenthaler says. “We also had 120 VFX shots — mostly invisible ones — planned, so we needed a color pipeline that could handle that component as well.”

In post, Morgenthaler used Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, Adobe After Effects with the OpenColorIO plug-in for visual effects and Blackmagic Resolve for dailies, color grading and finishing. “All this software can work in an ACES environment,” he says. “Our goals were to enable a responsive and efficient editorial workflow; maintain image quality, resolution and dynamic range; simplify color management between VFX artists and the colorist; and generate deliverables for multiple display standards with minimal additional grading.”

For dailies, assistant editor Ricardo Cozzolino worked in Resolve, syncing dual-system sound to picture and performing a quick color balance using the Red RAW controls, then exporting the shots as Rec. 709 HD ProRes 422 proxies. “During the edit, I’d apply temp color correction, compositing and stabilization in the Premiere timeline for preview purposes, knowing I would likely have to rebuild those effects in Resolve during the finishing process,” Morgenthaler says. “There were no ACES operations required during editorial; we just worked with the color corrected dailies in Rec. 709 space.”

One unexpected challenge was getting the After Effects compositors up to speed working in ACES scene linear space. “It wasn’t familiar to them,” he says. “They’re used to working in Rec. 709, and since After Effects doesn’t support an ACES pipeline natively you have to use a third-party plug in like OpenColorIO, which has been developed for a number of platforms including AE to enable the ACES color transformations.” The plug-in allows the user to disable AE’s internal color management functions and replace them with the proper ACES color transforms.

Using Resolve, the editorial team exported each plate at 4K as an ACES 16-bit OpenEXR image sequence in linear space. The visual effect artists then executed their shots in After Effects, using the OpenColorIO (OCIO) plugin. In the end, the ACES process worked for VFX exactly like he hoped it would. “All the dynamic range is there,” Morgenthaler says. “I just conformed the completed VFX shots into my color timeline and it worked perfectly, seamlessly replacing the original footage. The shots look wonderful, and they grade exactly like the camera-original R3D files.”

In color grading, Morgenthaler conformed back to the original 6K and 8K Red files inside Resolve, targeting a DCI Scope 4K finish. “After the master grade is completed, we’ll create additional versions targeting various display technologies simply by switching the ACES Output Transform,” he explains. “We can easily create versions for digital cinema, HDR and streaming, which is one of the huge benefits of the ACES process.”

Having the right storage is important to the ACES workflow, since 16-bit OpenEXR at 4K is around 45MB per frame, or just over 1,000MBps at 24 fps to play back in realtime, says Morgenthaler. “Not all storage can do that.” Morgenthaler, who consults with Seagate on their storage systems for post, relied on a Seagate RealStor shared storage system with 144TB of fibre channel storage. “The file sharing is based off of Tiger Technology’s Tigerstore, which enables simultaneous access for all users on the network at full quality and resolution,” he says “That greatly increased the efficiency of our workflow. It meant instant collaboration between team members, with no syncing of separate drives required to maintain collaboration.” In total, the production generated 44 hours of footage and ended up with 19.5TB of total data, not including visual effects.

“We may be on the front edge of using ACES in indie films, but it’ll be more important for indie filmmakers going forward,” he predicts. “There are real benefits to doing so. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining dynamic range and quality, and the pre-built color management pipeline simplifies complex VFX processes. It also increases the film’s desirability to distributors by enabling generation of additional versions such as HDR.

“I don’t know that we could have achieved what we did on this film without ACES,” concludes Morgenthaler. “Large films have access to color scientists and secret sauce, and ACES gives you that in a turnkey package, which is really powerful for a small film.”


Debra Kaufman has covered media and entertainment for 30 years for publications including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, International Cinematographer, Wired and others. She currently also writes for USC’s Entertainment Technology Center’s daily newsletter, ETCentric.

Quick Chat: Cut+Run’s Georgia Dodson on ‘Call of Duty’ film

Georgia Dodson has traveled a long way, literally and figuratively, to where she is today — a full-time editor at Cut+Run in New York City. This Bland, Virginia-native left home at 17 and hasn’t looked back. Now she spends her days in an edit suite helping tell stories, and one of those most recent stories is the short documentary film Call of Duty from director Matt Lenski.

The two have worked together before. Back in 2012 Dodson edited Lenski’s Meaning of Robots, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, won Best Short Doc at the Nashville Film Festival and screened at SXSW and MoMA’s New Directors/New Films. This year she reunited with the director once more, this time on his new short film Call of Duty, which also made the festival rounds. In Call of Duty, Manhattan jury duty clerk Walter Schretzman wants you to remember that you are the only thing standing between civilization and anarchy.

What was the original concept presented by director Matt Lenski?
Matt had filmed and interviewed three jury clerks working in Manhattan. They were each engaging, but Walter brought something a little more existential to the table. While the others tried to sell us on the merits of doing jury duty, Walter was self-aware. He spoke about what it was like to be in the same room, every day, with people who are constantly trying to get out of that room… and he likes it.  So I think the idea of Walter’s identity in relationship to the perceived monotony of his job was what Matt was going for with Call of Duty.

How did that evolve in the edit?
It took a long time. The ending and beginning came together quickly, but once we got into how to convey these feelings of waiting, boredom and peppering in Walter’s zingers at the right places… it was really tough. For the most part, we had all the best pieces picked out early on but had to figure out the right arc. Somehow, things fell into place magically. For me, the piece that finally pulled things together was Walter talking about being at the same job for 20 years, doing the same thing every day, while he’s counting hundreds of juror slips. He says, “It is what it is.”

You’ve collaborated with Matt before — give us a little background on your work together.
I met Matt when I was an assistant, and by chance helped him with a director’s cut when my editor was out of town. We became friends and have worked on projects together since. The first big one was Meaning of Robots, which evolved from a chance encounter Matt had with Mike Sullivan, a hoarder who makes Metropolis-inspired robot pornography. Our little portrait of him ended up in Sundance, which was a pleasant surprise for us. That project definitely has parallels to Call of Duty, in both subject and style.

CALLOFDUTY3

What were some interesting moments with Walter that ended up on the cutting room floor (or the digital trash bin)?
He talked about his love of avant-garde jazz that’s difficult to listen to but will “wake you up.” I tried for the longest time to work that moment into our edit, paired with an appropriate jazz track over sleeping jurors… but it didn’t work in context of the whole piece. Too bad. We could make a feature length film of Walter saying amazing things.

What piece of this exploration surprised you the most?
It’s really funny, but I also think it’s darker than I expected it to turn out. Early on, I cut together the part where the prospective jurors watch the jury duty film. (I saw the whole thing when I did jury duty. It’s ridiculous.) I quickly connected the man drowning with the ticking clock, Walter checking his watch and then the infinity loop of the screensaver behind him. It makes me laugh, but it also kind of helped set a dark tone for the whole thing. Also, sound. Sound is always important, but weirdly, it’s especially important in a film about nothing happening, where, theoretically, little sound is being made.

What are you hoping people take from the film?
I like Walter’s sentiment, toward the end of the film, that “people are more than what they do.” Walter is definitely more than what he does.

Have you been to any of the festival screenings?
I was able to go to Rooftop Films, and I met Walter there, finally. He retired a couple of weeks later, so the timing of the film is pretty perfect. It was amazing to hear people laughing so much throughout the entire piece, because after working on something for so long, it’s hard to see it.

What is it about editing longform/short films, as opposed to commercials, that resonates with you?
I come from a writing background. I was an English major in college. I love documentary editing, because I become the writer. My favorite thing is getting an interview and cutting it up to create some emotion or humor.

What are some other recent projects you’ve edited?
This is my latest short film. I’ve been doing a lot of commercials. I just finished a documentary style commercial for Hershey, directed by Jonty Toosey, that will be out soon.

Kodak, Cinelab London initiative helps preserve indie films

Kodak is launching an archival program in collaboration with Cinelab London focused on independent filmmakers in the UK. The Kodak Archive Package offers flat-rate pricing for film, digital recording and processing, allowing Kodak to work with independent content owners to deliver an archive master on film regardless of the original production format.

Through the Kodak Archive Package, filmmakers can get a single, affordable price for any title shot on digital or analog. The package includes film stock from Kodak along with Arrilaser recording, optical sound recording and lab-processing services from Cinelab London.

As the main point of contact, Kodak will provide a quote and single invoice to independent producers and content owners, saving them from the time-consuming process of pursuing competitive rates in the market. Filmmakers seeking to preserve content simply deliver the data drive (image and sound) of their final cut, and in return, they receive 35mm images and audio as separate elements for preservation.

Kodak plans to expand the Archive Package to other regions soon.

Checking in with ‘A Better Place’ director, post vet Dennis Ho

By Randi Altman

Change is good. That’s what people say, right? Well Dennis Ho, president of Hollywood-based post house Digital Jungle recently proved that point by helming his first film, the indie offering A Better Place.

Ho also conceived the story, which follows a shy young man with a mysterious and scary power that has led him to live as a virtual shut-in for most of his life.

Of course he brought the film to Digital Jungle, which provided the DI, 100 visual effects shots, audio post, editing and other services.

What better time than now to reach out to Ho and ask him about his directorial debut.

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ThenewBlank creates title sequence for ‘Big in Japan’ film

Design and production company thenewBlank created the title sequence for the feature film Big in Japan, a semi-fictionalized comedy featuring the Seattle rock band Tennis Pro. It’s currently making the rounds at film festivals across the country.

ThenewBlank creative team joined forces with director John Jeffcoat, a longtime friend, to produce the titles, which blend performance footage of the band Tennis Pro and highly stylized motion graphics. In Big in Japan, things are looking bleak for the members of Tennis Pro. They’ve been struggling to connect to an audience in the Seattle music scene and are saddled with uninspiring day jobs. So when an offer to take their act on the road to Japan comes up, they jump on it, ready for a new start.

“The opening title sequence was developed to make the band appear like larger-than-life rock gods, but when we pull wide the humor of the movie is augmented by the reveal of a small, empty venue,” says thenewBlank executive creative director Bobby Hougham. “That rock god sequence was inspired by laser and high-end light displays as well as the colors found in some of the film’s Tokyo montages. Bringing aspects of the whole film into the opening sequence makes it feel like a true introduction.”

Director Jeffcoat is also a frequent collaborator with thenewBlank, having shot and edited a number of projects for the company.  “Working with Bobby and the team at thenewBlank was an absolute pleasure,” comments Jeffcoat. “I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness that went into the concepts they pitched us for the title credits, taking my initial idea and expanding it beyond what I could have imagined yet staying completely true to the film and its story. It’s an amazing sequence that I’m very proud of it and really sets the tone for the film.”

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“The project was interesting not only from a conceptual point of view but also considering workflow for a long form project. The edit was still in progress while we were working on building the concepts and treatments, we worked hand in hand with John Jeffcoat  to come up with ways to augment his story for the opening sequence as well as solutions to help brand the film,” explains Hougham. “It was a comedy, and we knew the basic gag for the open but we didn’t necessarily have all the scenes, John was really great in taking our concepts and treatment and finding shots for the edit that would make our efforts the most successful.

“This film was shot on a DSLR and our scene was in a dark club without any additional lighting so resolution and color space was definitely a concern,” he continues. “There are a lot of tricks we employed to hide any artifacting that may occur due to retouching and color correcting that made this scene look as fantastic as it did. Ultimately though, I feel that 90% of the success was due directly to the great eye and sense of humor of the director — we just put some polish on an already great movie.”

Thenewblank called on new Mac Pros all running the Adobe CC suite and Maya 2015. The majority of the work was actually done in After Effects with type set using Illustrator for font customization. “We used Boujou 5 to 3D track all the shots and Maya to build our 3D lighting streaks,” reports Hougham. “After Effects CC was used to build out some scenes and augment camera moves as well as compositing all the 3D and 2.5 D assets. Color correction was with Magic Bullet in After Effects.”