Tag Archives: Netflix

GLOW’s DP and colorist adapt look of new season for Vegas setting

By Adrian Pennington

Netflix’s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) are back in the ring for a third round of the dramatic comedy, but this time the girls are in Las Vegas. The glitz and glamour of Sin City seems tailor-made for the 1980s-set GLOW and provided the main creative challenge for Season 3 cinematographer Chris Teague (Russian Doll, Broad City).

DP Chris Teague

“Early on, I met with Christian Sprenger, who shot the first season and designed the initial look,” says Teague, who was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Russian Doll. “We still want GLOW to feel like GLOW, but the story and character arc of Season 3 and the new setting led us to build on the look and evolve elements like lighting and dynamic range.”

The GLOW team is headlining the Fan-Tan Hotel & Casino, one of two main sets along with a hotel built for the series and featuring the distinctive Vegas skyline as a backdrop.

“We discussed compositing actors against greenscreen, but that would have turned every shot into a VFX shot and would have been too costly, not to mention time-intensive on a TV schedule like ours,” he says. “Plus, working with a backdrop just felt aesthetically right.”

In that vein, production designer Todd Fjelsted built a skyline using miniatures, a creative decision in keeping with the handcrafted look of the show. That decision, though, required extensive testing of lenses, lighting and look prior to shooting. This testing was done in partnership with post house Light Iron.

“There was no overall shift in the look of the show, but together with Light Iron, we felt the baseline LUT needed to be built on, particularly in terms of how we lit the sets,” explains Teague.

“Chris was clear early on that he wanted to build upon the look of the first two seasons,” says Light Iron colorist Ian Vertovec. “We adjusted the LUT to hold a little more color in the highlights than in past seasons. Originally, the LUT was based on a film emulation and adjusted for HDR. In Season 1, we created a period film look and transformed it for HDR to get a hybrid film emulation LUT. For Season 3, for HDR and standard viewing, we made tweaks to the LUT so that some of the colors would pop more.”

The show was also finished in Dolby Vision HDR. “There was some initial concern about working with backdrops and stages in HDR,” Teague says. “We are used to the way film treats color over its exposure range — it tends to desaturate as it gets more overexposed — whereas HDR holds a lot more color information in overexposure. However, Ian showed how it can be a creative tool.”

Colorist Ian Vertovec

“The goal was to get the 1980s buildings in the background and out the hotel windows to look real — emulating marquees with flashing lights,” adds Vertovec. “We also needed it to be a believable Nevada sky and skyline. Skies and clouds look different in HDR. So, when dialing this in, we discussed how they wanted it to look. Did it feel real? Is the sky in this scene too blue? Information from testing informed production, so everything was geared toward these looks.”

“Ian has been on the first two seasons, so he knows the look inside and out and has a great eye,” Teague continues. “It’s nice to come into a room and have his point of view. Sometimes when you are staring at images all day, it’s easy to lose your objectivity, so I relied on Ian’s insight.” Vertovec grades the show on FilmLight’s Baselight.

As with Season 2, GLOW Season 3 was a Red Helium shoot using Red’s IPP2 color pipeline in conjunction with Vertovec’s custom LUTs all the way to post. Teague shot full 8K resolution to accommodate his choice of Cooke anamorphic lenses, desqueezed and finished in a 2:1 ratio.

“For dailies I used an iPad with Moxion, which is perhaps the best dailies viewing platform I’ve ever worked with. I feel like the color is more accurate than other platforms, which is extremely useful for checking out contrast and shadow level. Too many times with dailies you get blacks washed out and highlights blown and you can’t judge anything critical.”

Teague sat in on the grade of the first three of the 10 episodes and then used the app to pull stills and make notes remotely. “With Ian I felt like we were both on the same page. We also had a great DIT [Peter Brunet] who was doing on-set grading for reference and was able to dial in things at a much higher level than I’ve been able to do in the past.”

The most challenging but also rewarding work was shooting the wrestling performances. “We wanted to do something that felt a little bigger, more polished, more theatrical,” Teague says. “The performance space had tiered seating, which gave us challenges and options in terms of moving the cameras. For example, we could use telescoping crane work to reach across the room and draw characters in as they enter the wrestling ring.”

He commends gaffer Eric Sagot for inspiring lighting cues and building them into the performance. “The wrestling scenes were the hardest to shoot but they’re exciting to watch — dynamic, cinematic and deliberately a little hokey in true ‘80s Vegas style.”


Adrian Pennington is a UK-based journalist, editor and commentator in the film and TV production space. He has co-written a book on stereoscopic 3D and edited several publications.

The Umbrella Academy‘s Emmy-nominated VFX supe Everett Burrell

By Iain Blair

If all ambitious TV shows with a ton of visual effects aspire to be cinematic, then Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has to be the gold standard. The acclaimed sci-fi, superhero, adventure mash-up was just Emmy-nominated for its season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased a full range of spectacular VFX. This included everything from the fully-CG Dr. Pogo to blowing up the moon and a mansion to the characters’ varied superpowers. Those VFX, mainly created by movie powerhouse Weta Digital in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto, indeed rival anything in cinema. This is partly thanks to Netflix’s 4K pipeline.

The Umbrella Academy is based on the popular, Eisner Award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (“My Chemical Romance”), illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story starts when, on the same day in 1989, 43 infants are born to unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who creates The Umbrella Academy and prepares his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now, six of the surviving members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves’ death. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya and Number Five work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death. But the estranged family once again begins to come apart due to divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse.

The live-action series stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige. It is produced by Universal Content Productions for Netflix. Steve Blackman (Fargo, Altered Carbon) is the executive producer and showrunner, with additional executive producers Jeff F. King, Bluegrass Television, and Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg from Dark Horse Entertainment.

Everett Burrell

I spoke with senior visual effects supervisor and co-producer Everett Burrell (Pan’s Labyrinth, Altered Carbon), who has an Emmy for his work on Babylon 5, about creating the VFX and the 4K pipeline.

Congratulations on being nominated for the first season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased so many impressive visual effects.
Thanks. We’re all really proud of the work.

Have you started season two?
Yes, and we’re already knee-deep in the shooting up in Canada. We shoot in Toronto, where we’re based, as well as Hamilton, which has this great period look. So we’re up there quite a bit. We’re just back here in LA for a couple of weeks working on editorial with Steve Blackman, the executive producer and showrunner. Our offices are in Encino, in a merchant bank building. I’m a co-producer as well, so I also deal a lot with editorial — more than normal.

Have you planned out all the VFX for the new season?
To a certain extent. We’re working on the scripts and have a good jump on them. We definitely plan to blow the first season out of the water in terms of what we come up with.

What are the biggest challenges of creating all the VFX on the show?
The big one is the sheer variety of VFX, which are all over the map in terms of the various types. They go from a completely animated talking CG chimpanzee Dr. Pogo to creating a very unusual apocalyptic world, with scenes like blowing up the moon and, of course, all the superpowers. One of the hardest things we had to do — which no one will ever know just watching it — was a ton of leaf replacement on trees.

Digital leaves via Montreal’s Folks.

When we began shooting, it was winter and there were no leaves on the trees. When we got to editorial we realized that the story spans just eight days, so it wouldn’t make any sense if in one scene we had no leaves and in the next we had leaves. So we had to add every single leaf to the trees for all of the first five episodes, which was a huge amount of work. The way we did it was to go back to all the locations and re-shoot all the trees from the same angles once they were in bloom. Then we had to composite all that in. Folks in Montreal did all of it, and it was very complicated. Lola did a lot of great work on Hargreeves, getting his young look for the early 1900s and cleaning up the hair and wrinkles and making it all look totally realistic. That was very tricky too.

Netflix is ahead of the curve thanks to its 4K policy. Tell us about the pipeline.
For a start, we shoot with the ARRI Alexa 65, which is a very robust cinema camera that was used on The Revenant. With its 65mm sensor, it’s meant for big-scope, epic movies, and we decided to go with it to give our show that great cinema look. The depth of field is like film, and it can also emulate film grain for this fantastic look. That camera shoots natively at 5K — it won’t go any lower. That means we’re at a much higher resolution than any other show out there.

And you’re right, Netflix requires a 4K master as future-proofing for streaming and so on. Those very high standards then trickle down to us and all the VFX. We also use a very unique system developed by Deluxe and Efilm called Portal, which basically stores the entire show in the cloud on a server somewhere, and we can get background plates to the vendors within 10 minutes. It’s amazing. Back in the old days, you’d have to make a request and maybe within 24 or 48 hours, you’d get those plates. So this system makes it almost instantaneous, and that’s a lifesaver.

   
Method blows up the moon.

How closely do you work with Steve Blackman and the editors?
I think Steve said it best:”There’s no daylight between the two of us” We’re linked at the hip pretty much all the time. He comes to my office if he has issues, and I go to his if we have complications; we resolve all of it together in probably the best creative relationship I’ve ever had. He relies on me and counts on me, and I trust him completely. Bottom line, if we need to write ourselves out of a sticky situation, he’s also the head writer, so he’ll just go off and rewrite a scene to help us out.

How many VFX do you average for each show?
We average between 150 and 200 per episode. Last season we did nearly 2,000 in total, so it’s a huge amount for a TV show, and there’s a lot of data being pushed. Luckily, I have an amazing team, including my production manager Misato Shinohara. She’s just the best and really takes care of all the databases, and manages all the shot data, reference, slates and so on. All that stuff we take on set has to go into this massive database, and just maintaining that is a huge job.

Who are the main VFX vendors?
The VFX are mainly created by Weta in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto. Weta did all the Pogo stuff. Then we have Folks, Lola, Marz, Deluxe Toronto, DigitalFilm Tree in LA… and then Method Studios in Vancouver did great work on our end-of-the-world apocalyptic sequence. They blew up the moon and had a chunk of it hitting the Earth, along with all the surrounding imagery. We started R&D on that pretty early to get a jump on it. We gave them storyboards and they did previz. We used that as a cut to get iterations of it all. There were a lot of particle simulations, which was pretty intense.

Weta created Dr. Pogo

What have been the most difficult VFX sequences to create?
Just dealing with Pogo is obviously very demanding, and we had to come up with a fast shortcut to dealing with the photo-real look as we just don’t have the time or budget they have for the Planet of the Apes movies. The big thing is integrating him in the room as an actor with the live actors, and that was a huge challenge. We used just two witness cameras to capture our Pogo body performer. All the apocalyptic scenes were also very challenging because of the scale, and then those leaves were very hard to do and make look real. That alone took us a couple of months. And we might have the same problem this year, as we’re shooting in the summer through fall, and I’m praying that the leaves don’t start falling before we wrap.

What have been the main advances in technology that have really helped you pull off some of the show’s VFX?
I think the rendering and the graphics cards are the big ones, and the hardware talks together much more efficiently now. Even just a few years ago, and it might have taken weeks and weeks to render a Pogo. Now we can do it in a day. Weta developed new software for creating the texture and fabric of Pogo’s clothes. They also refined their hair programs.

 

I assume as co-producer that you’re very involved with the DI?
I am… and keeping track of all that and making sure we keep pushing the envelope. We do the DI at Company 3 with colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who’s a partner in all of this. She brings so much to the show, and her work is a big part of why it looks so good. I love the DI. It’s where all the magic happens, and I get in there early with Jill and take care of the VFX tweaks. Then Steve comes in and works on contrast and color tweaks.By the time Steve gets there, we’re probably 80% of the way there already.

What can fans expect from season two?
Bigger, better visual effects. We definitely pay attention to the fans. They love the graphic novel, so we’re getting more of that into the show.


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.

Quick Chat: Robert Ryang on editing Netflix’s Zion doc

Back in May, Cut+Run’s Robert Ryang took home a Sports Emmy in the Outstanding Editing category for the short film Zion. The documentary, which premiered at Sundance and was released on Netflix, tells the story of Zion Clark, a young man who was born without legs, grew up in foster care and found community and hope in wrestling.

Robert Ryang and his Emmy for his work on Zion.

Clark began wrestling in second grade against his able-bodied peers. The physical challenge became a therapeutic outlet and gave him a sense of family. Moving from foster home to foster home, wrestling became the one constant in his childhood.

Editor Ryang and Zion’s director, Floyd Russ, had worked together previously — on the Ad Council’s Fans of Love and SK-II’s Marriage Market Takeover, among other projects — and developed a creative shorthand that helped tell this compelling, feel-good story.

We spoke with Ryang about the film, his process and working with the director

How and when did you become involved in this project?
In the spring of 2017, my good friend director Floyd Russ asked me to edit his passion project. Initially, I was hesitant, since it was just after the birth of my second child. Two years later, both the film and my kid have turned out great.

You’ve worked him before. What defines the way you work together?
I think Floyd and I work really well together because we’re such good friends; we don’t have to be polite. He’ll text me ideas any time of day, and I feel comfortable enough to tell him if I don’t like something. He wins most of the fights, but I think this dialectic probably makes the work better.

How did you approach the edit on the film? How did you hone the story structure?
At first, Floyd had a basic outline that I followed just to get something on the timeline. But from there, it was a pretty intense process of shuffling and reshaping. At one point, we tried to map the beats onto a whiteboard, and it looked like a Richter scale. Editor Adam Bazadona helped cut some of these iterations while I was on paternity leave.

How does working on a short film like this differ — hats worn, people involved, etc. — from advertising projects?
The editing process was a lot different from most commercial projects in that it was only Floyd and me in the room. Friends floated a few thoughts here and there, but we were only working toward a director’s cut.

What tools did you use?
Avid Media Composer for editing, some Adobe After Effects for rough comps.

What are the biggest creative and technical challenges you faced in the process?
With docs, there are usually infinite ways to put it together, so we did a lot of exploration. Floyd definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in prescribing the more abstract scenes, but I think those touches ultimately made the film stand out.

From Sundance, to Netflix, to Sports Emmy awards. Did you ever imagine it would take this journey?
There wasn’t much precedent for a studio or network acquiring a 10-minute short, so our biggest hope was that it would get into Sundance then live on Vimeo. It really exceeded everyone’s expectations. And I would have never imagined receiving an Emm, but am really honored I did.

DP Chat: Good Omens cinematographer Gavin Finney

By Randi Altman

London-born cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC, has a wealth of television series and film experience under his belt, including Wolf Hall, The Fear and the upcoming series based on the film of the same name, Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral. One of his most recent projects was the six-episode Amazon series Good Omens, starring Michael Sheen (Aziraphale) and David Tennant (Crowley) as an angel and a demon with a very long history, who are tasked with saving the world. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Finney was drawn to cinematography by his love of still photography and telling stories. He followed that passion to film school and fell in love with what could be done with moving images.

Let’s find out more about Finney and his work on Good Omens.

How would you describe the look of Good Omens? How did you work with the director/s/producers to achieve the look they wanted?
There is a progression through the story where things get increasingly strange as Adam (who our main characters believe is the antichrist) comes into his powers, and things in his head start manifesting themselves. It is also a 6,000-year-long buddy movie between an angel and a demon! There is Adam’s world — where everything is heightened and strangely perfect — and Aziraphale and Crowley’s world of heaven and hell. At some point, all these worlds intersect. I had to keep a lot of balls in the air in regard to giving each section its own look, but also making sure that when these worlds collide, it still makes sense.

Each era depicted in the series had a different design treatment — obviously in the case of costume and production design — but also in the way we shot each scene and the way they were lit. For instance, Neil Gaiman had always imagined the scene in the church in the blitz in Episode 3 to be an homage to the film noir style of the time, and we lit and photographed it in that style. Ancient Rome was given the patina of an Alma-Tadema oil painting, and we shot Elizabethan London in an exact recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The ‘60s were shot mainly on our Soho set, but redressed with posters from that time, and we changed the lighting to use more neon and used bare bulbs for signage.

I also graded the dailies throughout production on DaVinci Resolve, adding film grain and different looks to different time periods to help anchor where we were in the story. Neil wanted heaven and hell to feel like two parts of the same celestial building, so heaven occupied the best penthouse offices, and hell was stuck in the damp, moldy basement where nothing works properly.

We found a huge empty building for the heaven set that had shiny metal flooring and white walls. I frosted all the windows and lit them from outside using 77 ARRI Skypanels linked to a dimmer desk so we could control the light over the day. We also used extremely wide-angle lenses such as the Zeiss rectilinear 8mm lens to make the space look even bigger. The hell set used a lot of old, slightly greenish fluorescent fittings, some of them flickering on and off. Slimy dark walls and leaking pipes were added into the mix.

For another sequence Neil and Douglas wanted an old-film look. To do this, ARRI Media in London constructed a hand-cranked digital camera out of an old ARRI D21 camera and connected it to an ARRI 435 hand-crank wheel and then to a Codex recorder. This gave us a realistic, organic varis-peed/vari-exposure look. I added a Lensbaby in a deliberately loose mount to emulate film weave and vignetting. In this way I was able to reproduce very accurately the old-style, hand-cranked black and white look of the first days of cinema.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’d worked with the director Douglas Mackinnon a few times before (on Gentlemen’s Relish and The Flying Scotsman), and I’d wanted to work with him again a number of times but was never available. When I heard he was doing this project, I was extremely keen to get involved, as I loved the book and especially the kind of world that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett were so good at creating. Fortunately, he asked me to join the team, and I dropped everything I was doing to come on board. I joined the show quite late and had to fly from London to Cape Town on an early scout the day after getting the job!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
We shot on Leica Summilux Primes and ARRI Alura zooms (15.5-45mm and 45-
250mm) and ARRI Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini cameras outputting UHD 4K files. The Alexa camera is very reliable, easy to work with, looks great and has very low noise in the color channels, which is useful for green/bluescreen work. It can also shoot at 120fps without cutting into the sensor size. We also had to make sure that both cameras and lenses were easily available in Cape Town, where we filmed after the
UK section.

The Alexa output is also very flexible in the grade, and we knew we were going to be pushing the look in a number of directions in post. We also shot with the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera at 1,000fps for some scenes requiring ultra-slo motion, and for one particular sequence, a specially modified ARRI D-21 that could be “hand-cranked” like an old movie camera.

You mentioned using Resolve on set. Is this how you usually work? What benefit did you get from doing this?
We graded the dailies on Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve with our DIT Rich
Simpson. We applied different looks to each period of the story, often using a modified film emulation plugin. It’s very important to me that the dailies look great and that we start to establish a look early on that can inform the grade later.

Rich would bring me a variety of looks each day and we’d pick the one we liked for that day’s work. Rich was also able to export our selected looks and workflow to the South African DIT in Cape Town. This formed the starting point of the online grade done at Molinare on FilmLight Baselight under the hugely capable hands of Gareth Spensley. Gareth had a big influence on the look of the series and did some fantastic work balancing all the different day exteriors and adding some magic.

Any challenging scenes you are particularly proud of?
We had some very big sets and locations to light, and the constantly moving style of photography we employed is always a challenge to light — you have to keep all the fixtures out of shot, but also look after the actors and make sure the tone is right for the scene. A complicated rig was the Soho street set that Michael Ralph designed and built on a disused airbase. This involved four intersecting streets with additional alleyways, many shops and a main set — the bookshop belonging to Aziraphale.

This was a two-story composite set (the interior led directly to the exterior). Not only did we have to execute big crane moves that began looking down at the whole street section and then flew down and “through” the windows of the bookshop and into an interior scene. We also had to rig the set knowing that we were going to burn the whole thing down.

Another challenge was that we were filming in the winter and losing daylight at 3:30pm but needing to shoot day exterior scenes to 8pm or later. My gaffer (Andy Bailey) and I designed a rig that covered the whole set (involving eight cranes, four 18Kw HMIs and six six-meter helium hybrid balloons) so that we could seamlessly continue filming daylight scenes as it got dark and went to full night without losing any time. We also had four 20×20-foot mobile self-lighting greenscreens that we could move about the set to allow for the CGI extensions being added later.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
The script inspires me artistically. If I don’t love the story and can’t immediately “see” how it might look, I don’t do it. After that, I’m inspired by real life and the way changing light utterly transforms a scene, be it a landscape or an interior. I also visit art galleries regularly to understand how other people see, imagine and communicate.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years)?
Obviously, digital cinematography has had a huge impact. I trained in film and spent the first 16 years of my career shooting film exclusively, but I was happy to embrace digital when it came in. I love keeping up with all the advances.

Lighting is also going digital with the advent of LED fixtures with on-board computers. I can now dial any gel color or mix my own at any dimmer level from an app on my phone and send it to dozens of fixtures. There is an incredible array of tools now at our disposal, and I find that very exciting and creatively liberating.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I tend to work on quite long jobs — my last two shows shot for 109 and 105 days, respectively. So keeping to sensible hours is critical. Experienced producers who are concerned with the welfare, health and safety of their crew keep to 10 hours on camera, a one-hour lunch and five-days weeks only. Anything in excess of that results in diminishing returns and an exhausted and demoralized crew.

I also think prep time is incredibly important, and this is another area that’s getting squeezed by inexperienced producers to the detriment of the production. Prep time is a comparatively cheap part of the process but one that reaps huge dividends on the shoot. Being fully prepared, making the right location and set design choices, and having enough to time to choose equipment and crew and work out lighting designs all make for a smooth-running shoot.

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
This goes back to having enough prep time. The more time there is to visit possible locations and simply talk through all the options for looks, style, movement and general approach the better. I love working with visual directors who can communicate their ideas but who welcome input. I also like being able to ditch the plan on the day and go with something better if it suddenly presents itself. I like being pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged to come up with something wonderful and fresh.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
I always start a new production from scratch, and I like to test everything that’s available and proven in the field. I like to use a selection of equipment — often different cameras and lenses that I feel suit the aesthetic of the show. That said, I think
ARRI Alexa cameras are reliable and flexible and produce very “easy to work with” images.

I’ve been using the Letus Helix Double and Infinity (provided by Riz at Mr Helix) with an Exhauss exoskeleton support vest quite a lot. It’s a very flexible tool that I can operate myself and it produces great results. The Easyrig is also a great back-saver when doing a lot of handheld-work, as the best cameras aren’t getting any lighter.

Apart from that, comfortable footwear and warm, waterproof clothing are essential!


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

DP Chat: Brandon Trost on the Ted Bundy film Extremely Wicked

By Randi Altman

To say that cinematographer Brandon Trost was born to work in the entertainment industry might not be hyperbole. This fourth-generation Angeleno has family roots in the industry — from his dad who did visual/physical effects, to his great uncle, actor Victor French (Little House on the Prairie).

Channeling his innate creativity, Trost studied cinematography at The Los Angeles Film School. His career kicked into high gear after winning the Best Cinematography award at the Newport Beach Film Festival for He Was a Quiet Man.

He has collaborated with Seth Rogen on several films, including The Interview, Neighbors and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The Night Before and This Is the End. Additional credits include The Diary of a Teenage Girl, The Disaster Artist and Can You Ever Forgive Me? His most recent project — now streaming on Netflix — Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the story of serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron) but this time told from his girlfriend’s perspective.

We reached out to Trost to find out about his process and his work on Extremely Wicked.

You’ve worked on a range of interesting projects from different genres. What attracts you to a story?
A movie can be told 100 different ways, so I ask myself where a movie can go — what’s the potential for doing something different? Especially if it is a genre I haven’t done. I really love jumping around.

And, of course, it all starts with the script and who the filmmakers are on a project — and synergy among us all during the interview process.

Tell us about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. How would you describe the general look of the film?
It’s a period movie first and foremost, but we wanted to elevate the production value as much as possible – on a tight budget. The director, Joe Berlinger, is a prolific documentarian. He really wanted to preserve his documentary sensibilities but with a cinematic, nostalgic quality to our approach. A lot of the film is shot handheld because we wanted to create an intimate portrait of the scenario, as horrifying as it is!

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses to achieve the look?
I chose Alexa Mini because of its size — I knew I’d be operating a lot, and Joe wanted a lot handheld. I also wanted to be able to make decisions on the fly and follow the actors as they tell this story. We had two cameras and mounted them with Panavision C Series anamorphics. I love these lenses. Each one has a specific characteristic. Plus, they are the same lenses of the era (made in 1968 and upgraded for today’s cameras), which matches the 1970s period we are depicting on screen.

Is there a challenging scene that you are particularly proud of how it turned out?
There is an extensive sequence covering the Miami trial, which was the first one ever televised. It was a phenomenon back then, and we wanted to capture some of that energy. We were strapped for time and lighting was built into a courtroom set. We also used a courtroom location that was augmented to mimic set. We had so many pages to shoot, so I chose not to bring in any additional lights.

Plus, the execution was challenging. With so many long courtroom scenes back to back, we didn’t want it to feel monotonous. With the cameras and lighting set up, I could stand in the courtroom with the freedom to follow a character. I was like an invisible fly on the wall. That helped get us through all the material and infused some energy into the shots.

The sequence ends with Ted Bundy’s statement after firing all his lawyers and ultimately representing himself. We did that shot as a slow zoom, capturing this emotional, impactful speech — even though he’s lying! We zoomed all the way to just Zac’s eyes. His performance was so great, and the results are very satisfying, knowing we could have used twice as many days to shoot these scenes.

I’m glad I had the freedom to make bold choices, and that closing zoom is the only time we broke from shooting handheld. It has a very ‘70s, voyeuristic feel.

How did you become interested in cinematography?
As a kid, I always thought I’d do effects like my dad, but he saw my creative side and encouraged me to explore it. When I went to film school, I learned I had a knack for cinematography. I loved movies, and coming from a family who has worked in all sectors of the industry for four generations, I grew up with film.
Finding a frame feels innate to me, but it’s taken a lot of practice to get to where I am now.

What inspires you artistically?
I love the challenge of finding the right image to tell the story and using the right light to achieve that image. As a crew, we all have a different job, but we are all building the same house. We all bring a piece of ourselves to what we do, and it becomes like solving a puzzle to tell the director’s story and create it collaboratively with everyone. Imagery can be so powerful; you can use it to push a scene and evoke a feeling, whether it’s loneliness, strength, optimism or sadness. Camera and lens choices, movement, lighting… it all feeds into completing the puzzle.

I also find cinematography to be very instinctive. If I design a rulebook with the director early on a film, I know it’s just the foundation, something to build from. I like to be reactive – and lean into what feels right in the moment.

How do you stay on top of advancing tools that serve your vision?
I read industry mags, but also through the DITs on set, or the camera houses. I get shown new things and how they work. Or I’ll ask if they have heard about something. This builds my awareness for understanding fundamentals of the tool in case I want to use it.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I’m a big lens guy. For me, the lenses make the movie, and I’m loving using vintage glass. Cameras are being designed with more and more resolution, and I’m always trying to add an analog softness. With every advancement in sharpness and noise reduction, I’m usually trying to take the electric edge off. I rely on lenses to help do that — or I’ll “stress” the camera at a higher ISO or do something in post with texture and grain. I’m usually trying to tear the image apart a little bit.

Panavision has even taken old lenses and customized them optically for me to create a more “shattered” look when it was right for the story.

And everything could go out the window if it serves the purpose of the story. It’s important as a DP to leave your artistic baggage behind if the story guides you to do something different. The story dictates how I work, and as a DP. I have to be flexible in my approaches. That’s what makes this work fun!

Has any recent or new technology changed the way you work?
The tool I use the most is my iPhone. I’ve got the Artemis app with the Director’s Viewfinder and the Cinescope app for adjusting aspect ratios, etc. I haven’t held a light meter in years.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Sydney’s Fin creates CG robot for Netflix film I Am Mother

Fin Design + Effects, an Australian-based post production house with studios in Melbourne and Sydney, brings its VFX and visual storytelling expertise to the upcoming Netflix film I Am Mother. Directed by Grant Sputore, the post-apocalyptic film stars Hilary Swank, Rose Byrne and Clara Rugaard.

In I Am Mother, a teenage girl (Rugaard) is raised underground by the robot “Mother” (voiced by Byrne), designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger (Swank) arrives with alarming news.

Working closely with the director, Fin Design’s Sydney office built a CG version of the AI robot Mother to be used interchangeably with the practical robot suit built by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop. Fin was involved from the early stages of the process to help develop the look of Mother, completing extensive design work and testing, which then fed back into the practical suit.

In total, Fin produced over 220 VFX shots, including the creation of a menacing droid army as well as general enhancements to the environments and bunker where this post-apocalyptic story takes place.

According to Fin Australia’s managing director, Chris Spry, “Grant was keen on creating an homage of sorts to old-school science-fiction films and embracing practical filmmaking techniques, so we worked with him to formulate the best approach that would still achieve the wow factor — seamlessly combining CG and practical effects. We created an exact CG copy of the suit, visualizing high-action moments such as running, or big stunt scenes that the suit couldn’t perform in real life, which ultimately accounted for around 80 shots.”

Director Sputore on working with Fin: “They offer suggestions and bust expectations. In particular, they delivered visual effects magic with our CG Mother, one minute having her thunder down bunker corridors and in the next moment speed-folding intricate origami creations. For the most part, the robot at the center of our film was achieved practically. But in those handful of moments where a practical solution wasn’t possible, it was paramount that the audience was not be bumped from the film by a sudden transition to a VFX version of one of our central characters. In the end, even I can’t tell which shots of Mother are CG and which are practical, and, crucially, neither can the audience.”

To create the CG replica, the Fin team paid meticulous attention to detail, ensuring the material, shaders and textures perfectly matched photographs and laser scans of the practical suit. The real challenge, however, was in interpreting the nuances of the movements.

“Precision was key,” explains VFX supervisor Jonathan Dearing. “There are many shots cutting rapidly between the real suit and CG suit, so any inconsistencies would be under a spotlight. It wasn’t just about creating a perfect CG replica but also interpreting the limitations of the suit. CG can actually depict a more seamless movement, but to make it truly identical, we needed to mimic the body language and nuances of the actor in the suit [Luke Hawker]. We did a character study of Luke and rigged it to build a CG version of the suit that could mimic him precisely.”

Fin finessed its robust automation pipeline for this project. Built to ensure greater efficiency, the system allows animators to push their work through lighting and comp at the click of a button. For example, if a shot didn’t have a specific light rig made for it, animators could automatically apply a generic light rig that suits the whole film. This tightly controlled system meant that Fin could have one lighter and one animator working on 200 shots without compromising on quality.

The studio used Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Foundry Nuke and Redshift on this project.

I Am Mother premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is set to stream on Netflix on June 7.

Showrunner: Eric Newman of Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico

By Iain Blair

Much like the drugs that form the dark heart of Narcos: Mexico, the hit Netflix crime drama is full of danger, chills and thrills — and is highly addictive. It explores the origins of the modern, ultra-violent drug war by going back to its roots, beginning at a time when the Mexican trafficking world was a loose and disorganized confederation of independent growers and dealers. But that all changed with the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s as Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) — the real-life former Sinaloan police-officer-turned-drug lord — takes the helm, unifying traffickers in order to build an empire.

L-R: Director José Padilha and producer Chris Brancato bookend Eric Newman on the set of Narcos, Season 1.

The show also follows DEA agent Kiki Camarena (Michael Peña), who moves his wife and young son from California to Guadalajara to take on a new post. He quickly learns that his assignment will be more challenging than he ever could have imagined. As Kiki garners intelligence on Félix and becomes more entangled in his mission, a tragic chain of events unfold, affecting the drug trade and the war against it for years to come.

Narcos showrunner, writer and executive producer Eric Newman is a film and television veteran whose resume includes the Academy Award-nominated Children of Men, as well as The Dawn of the Dead, The Last Exorcism and Bright. After over 20 years in the movie industry, Newman transitioned into television as an executive producer on Hemlock Grove for Netflix. It was his curiosity about the international drug trade that led him to develop and executive produce his passion project Narcos, and Newman assumed showrunning responsibilities at the end of its first season. Narcos: Mexico initially started out as the fourth season of Narcos before Netflix decided to make it a stand-alone series.

I recently spoke with Newman about making the show, his involvement in post and another war that’s grabbed a lot of headlines — the one between streaming platforms and traditional cinema.

Do you like being a showrunner?
Yeah! There are aspects of it I really love. I began toward the end of the first season and there was this brief period where I tried not to be the showrunner, even though it was my show. I wasn’t really a writer — I wasn’t in the WGA — so I had a lot of collaborators, but I still felt alone in the driver’s seat. It’s a huge amount of work, from the writing to the shoot and then post, and it never really ends. It’s exhausting but incredibly rewarding.

What are the big challenges of running this show?
If I’d known more about TV at the time, I might have been far more frightened than I was (laughs).The big one is dealing with all the people and personalities involved. We have anywhere between 200 and 400 people working on the show at any given time, so it’s tricky. But I love working with actors, I think I’m a good listener, and any major problems are usually human-oriented. And then there’s all the logistics and moving parts. We began the series shooting in Colombia and then moved the whole thing to Mexico, so that was a big challenge. But the cast and crew are so great, we’re like a big family at this point, and it runs pretty smoothly now.

How far along are you with the second season of Narcos: Mexico?
We’re well into it, and while it’s called Season Two, the reality for us is that it’s the fifth season of a long, hard slog.

This show obviously deals with a lot of locations. How difficult is it when you shoot in Mexico?
It can be hard and grueling. We’re shooting entirely in Mexico — nothing in the States. We shot in Colombia for three years and we went to Panama once, and now we’re all over Mexico — from Mexico City to Jalisco, Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Durango and so on.

It’s also very dangerous subject matter, and one of your location scouts was murdered. Do you worry about your safety?
That was a terrible incident, and I’m not sure whoever shot him even knew he was a location scout on our show. The reality is that a number of incredibly brave journalists, who had nowhere near the protection we have, had already shared these stories — and many were killed for it. So in many ways we’re late to the party.

Of course, you have to be careful anywhere you go, but that’s true of every city. You can find trouble in LA or New York if you are in the wrong place. I don’t worry about the traffickers we depict, as they’re mainly all dead now or in jail, and they seem OK with the way they’re depicted… that it’s pretty truthful. I worry a little bit more about the police and politicians.

Where do you post and do you like the post process?
I absolutely love post, and I think it’s a deeply underrated and under-appreciated aspect of the show. We’ve pulled off far more miracles in post than in any of the writing and shooting. We do all the post at Lantana in LA with the same great team that we’ve had from the start, including post producer Tim King and associate post producer Tanner King.

When we began the series in Colombia, we were told that Netflix didn’t feel comfortable having the footage down there for editing because of piracy issues, and that worked for me. I like coming back to edit and then going back down to Mexico to shoot. We shoot two episodes at a time and cut two at a time. I’m in the middle of doing fixes on Episode 2 and we’re about to lock Episode 3.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have four full-time editors — Iain Erskine, Garret Donnelly, Monty DeGraff and Jon Otazua — who each take separate episodes, plus we have one editor dedicated to the archival package, which is a big part of the show. We’ve also promoted two assistant editors, which I’m very proud of. That’s a nice part of being on a show that’s run for five years; you can watch people grow and move them up the ladder.

You have a huge cast and a lot of moving pieces in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
We have a fair amount of coverage to sort through, and it’s always about telling the story and the pacing — finding the right rhythm for each scene.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Where do you mix, and can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
We do all the mixing at Technicolor, and we have a great team that includes supervising sound editor Randle Akerson and supervising ADR editor Thomas Whiting. (The team also includes sound effects editors Dino R. DiMuro and Troy Prehmus, dialogue editor David Padilla, music editor Chris Tergesen, re-recording mixers Pete Elia and Kevin Roache and ADR mixer Judah Getz.)

It’s all so crucial. All you have to do is look at a rough edit without any sound of music and it’s just so depressing. I come from a family of composers, so I really appreciate this part of post, and composer Gustavo Santaolalla has done a fantastic job, and the music’s changed a bit since we moved to Mexico. I’m fairly involved with all of it. I get a final playback and maybe I’ll have a few notes, but generally the team has got it right.

In 2017, you formed Screen Arcade with producer Bryan Unkeless, a production company based at Netflix with deals for features and television. I heard you have a new movie you’re producing for Netflix, PWR with Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
It’s all shot, and we’re just headed into the Director’s Cut. We’re posting in New York and have our editorial offices there. Netflix is so great to partner with. They care as much about the quality of image and sound as any studio I’ve ever worked with — and I’ve worked with everyone. In terms of the whole process and deliverables, there’s no difference.

It’s interesting because there’s been a lot of pushback against Netflix and other streaming platforms from the studios, purists and directors like Steven Spielberg. Where do you see the war for cinema’s future going?
I think it’ll be driven entirely by audience viewing habits, as it should be. Some of my all-time favorite movies — The Bridge on the River Kwai, Taxi Driver, Sunset Boulevard, Barry Lyndon — weren’t viewed in a movie house.

Cinema exhibition is a business. They want Black Panther and Star Wars, so it’s a commerce argument not a creative one. With all due respect to Spielberg, no one can dictate viewing habits, and maybe for now they can deny Netflix and streaming platforms Academy awards, but not forever.


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.

Idris Elba and Gary Reich talk about creating Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie

By Iain Blair

Idris Elba has always excelled at playing uber-cool, uber-controlled characters — often villains and troubled souls, such as drug lord Stringer Bell on HBO’s The Wire, detective John Luther on the BBC’s Luther, and the war lord in the harrowing feature film Beasts of No Nation. No wonder everyone thinks he’d be perfect as the next uber-sexy Bond.

But there’s another, hidden side to the charismatic star. The actor has long been heavily involved in post production. Additionally, he moonlights as a DJ, the inspiration for his new Netflix show Turn Up Charlie. He trashes his super-cool image by starring as the titular Charlie, a decidedly uncool, struggling DJ and eternal bachelor, who finally gets a shot at success when he reluctantly becomes a “manny” to his famous best friend’s problem-child daughter.

The show also serves as a showcase for Elba’s self-described “nerdy” side behind the camera, his love of producing and his hands-on involvement in every aspect of post. The eight-part series is co-produced by Elba’s Green Door Pictures and Gary Reich’s Brown Eyed Boy Productions, with Elba and Reich serving as executive producers alongside Tristram Shapeero, who directs the series with Matt Lipsey.

And in a serious show of support for the show and its star, Netflix (which for the first time beat HBO in Emmy noms last year) officially launched an Emmy “For Your Consideration” campaign, with a screening and panel discussion featuring Elba.

Prior to the event, I spoke with the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated Elba (whose credits also include the Avengers and Thor franchises, American Gangster, Star Trek Beyond, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Office and The Jungle Book) about his latest project, his real-life moonlighting gig as a DJ, his love of post and his upcoming role in Cats. We also spoke with his Turn Up Charlie co-creator Reich.

Let’s talk about post production on the show. How involved are you, considering you’re also starring and co-producing?
Idris Elba: We did it at The Farm in London, and I’m pretty involved in every aspect of post, though I’m not sitting in the edit suite all day long looking at every frame. But I really love the whole process, especially editing and, of course, the sound and music because of my background as a DJ. So I’ll be there checking the edits and how it’s being put together.

Then I’ll be there for all the sound mix stuff and also for the final grade, which I love too. I’m super-nerdy in that way, and I find it very satisfying to be involved in post. For most actors, post is this whole hidden, secret world that you never see or get involved in, but I’ve always been fascinated by how it all comes together… how you can manipulate a performance or the sound to totally change a scene and how it works and affects the audience. It’s really the most creative part of making a TV show or a movie, and hopefully I’ll be more and more involved in it all.

People think of you as an actor first and foremost, but you’ve been involved in producing and post for quite a while.
Elba: Yeah, I’ve always been interested in it, learning stuff as I go, and watching directors and how post works. When I directed my first film, Yardie, a couple of years ago, it was a real education, and I loved every minute of it — being involved in all the editing and working on all the elements that go into the sound mix and music. I’ve been involved in production with a lot of the shows I’ve done, like Luther and Five by Five and now this one, and I really enjoy it.

Gary, any surprises working with Idris? And what was the schedule like?
Gary Reich: For someone so busy across so many different mediums, it was amazing how he was always able to give 100% in the moment. He’s like a powerful lighthouse — when he shines on you and your production, you get a dazzling 150% of him. As a co-executive producer, he was involved across many surprisingly small details, as well as the larger picture. We edited at The Farm, and the offline was what you’d expect — a week for each half-hour episode. The music was extremely complex, so once the pictures were locked, there was a long process of auditioning tracks.

Who edited, and what were the main challenges?
Reich: Gary Dollner edited block 1 (Episodes 1-4) with the block 1 director, Tristram Shapeero. Pete Drinkwater edited block 2 (Episodes 5-8) with the block 2 director, Matt Lipsey. The main challenges were that Idris wanted us to approach the edit like a DJ, where the rhythm of each episode’s scene-to-scene transitions would be similar to what a DJ achieves mixing between tracks. Luckily, our editors more than rose to that challenge.

Talk about the importance of sound and music for you and Idris on this. Where did you mix?
Reich: We also mixed at The Farm. Sound and music were extremely key to the show as it is, after all, a show about, created by and scored by a DJ. The score was composed by DJ James Lavelle, so Idris and he had various meetings in the edit where it was clear they spoke the same language. It was important to Idris that the character themes were all electronic rather than acoustic, even the very emotional beats. James and his team adapted accordingly, and we have some amazing new sounds in the show.

Also, one of the key series arcs was a track that Idris’ character Charlie had had a big one-off hit with in the ’90s, that then gets remixed across three episodes by our female Calvin Harris character, played by Piper Perabo, and then gets dropped at the Latitude Festival. It was key that we were authentic, as we showed the track coming together at different stages across different scenes. The mix was all done at The Farm.

I noticed some VFX credits. What was involved, who did them?
Reich: We had a lot of mobile phone and some Skype screens that needed shots compositing in, and some posters too, as well as needing to build a nightclub onto the back of a beach bar. They were all done by The Farm.

Who was the colorist and what was involved?
Reich: Perry Gibbs was the colorist. Because we shot on anamorphic lenses, but also had to use the Red cameras in order to meet certain Netflix technical requirements, there were challenges in the grade, but they were worth it, as the end result was particularly deep.

Idris, Charlie is a major U-turn from your usual self-assured characters. You co-created this show with Gary for yourself, so is this actually the real you?
Elba: (Laughs). Yeah, it is the closest to the real me. I’m not anything like Luther or the other characters I’m best known for. I’m closer to Charlie than anything else. I really wanted to show what the real world of DJs is like, and we spent a lot of time in post working on the music. But the truth is, no one really cares about what DJs go through as long as the music’s good, so I needed to add some heart and other elements to it, and it gradually became more about parenting and all those challenges. I’m a parent, so I brought all those experiences and stories to it and merged the two worlds. It ended up being a bit about the world of music and a lot about people.

Many people probably don’t know that you actually started out as a DJ in London before you got into acting.
Elba: Right, and partly thanks to this, I seem to be getting a lot more exposure for my DJ’ing these days, especially after doing “the wedding” [Elba was asked by Prince Harry to DJ at his wedding to Meghan Markle], and now I’ll be DJ’ing at Coachella, and then I’m doing the Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas and some other gigs. So if the acting thing falls apart, I’m all set!

DJ’ing was really my first love, and by the time I was 13, 14, I was DJ’ing for house parties and whatnot, and then I met my drama teacher, and DJ’ing went out the window. But the truth is, I kept DJ’ing alongside my acting career, and I just love doing it. It grounds me, and I love music. What I chose not to do is market my DJ’ing as part of my acting career, but recently it’s become this crazy crossroads of all this stuff happening, what with this show and Coachella and so on. It all looks like a brilliant marketing plan, but it’s not. I’m just not that clever!

When you get back to London, you’ll keep filming Tom Hooper’s movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, which is due out later this year. What can you tell us about it?
Elba: I can’t reveal too much, but it’s going great. I get to play another villain, Macavity, which is always fun for me. Tom’s got a really interesting look and take on it, and he’s assembled this amazing cast: Taylor Swift, who I got on great with, and Jennifer Hudson and James Corden. He’s so funny. And Ian McKellen. It’s going to be pretty special.

Aren’t you playing another villain in Hobbs & Shaw, the Fast & Furious spinoff due out in August?
Elba: Yeah, I play Brixton Lore, this cyber-enhanced criminal mastermind who’s going at it with Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Director David Leitch did Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, and we did some really wild stuff. I’m really excited about it. It’s been a busy year.


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.

Cobalt Digital’s card-based solution for 4K/HDR conversions

Cobalt Digital was at NAB showing with card-based solutions for openGear frames for 4K and HDR workflows. Cobalt’s 9904-UDX-4K up/down/cross converter and image processor offers an economical SDR-to-HDR and HDR-to-SDR conversion for 4K.

John Stevens, director of engineering at Burbank post house The Foundation, calls it “a swiss army knife” for a post facility.

The 9904-UDX-4K upconverts 12G/6G/3G/HD/SD to either UHD1 3840×2160 square division multiplex (SDM) or two-sample interleave (2SI) quad 3G-SDI-based formats, or it can output SMPTE ST 2082 12G-SDI for single-wire 4K transport. With both 12G-SDI and quad 3G-SDI inputs, the 9904-UDX-4K can downconvert 12G and quad UHD. The 9904-UDX-4K provides an HDMI 2.0 output for economical 4K video monitoring and offers numerous options, including SDR-to-HDR conversion and color correction.

The 9904-UDX-4K-IP model offers the same functionality as the 9904-UDX-4K SDI-based model, plus it also provides dual 10GigE ports to support for the emerging uncompressed video/audio/data over IP standards.

The 9904-UDX-4K-DSP model provides the same functionality as the 9904-UDX-4K model, and additionally also offers a DSP-based platform that supports multiple audio DSP options, including Dolby realtime loudness leveling (automatic loudness processing), Dolby E/D/D+ encode/decode and Linear Acoustic Upmax automatic upmixing. Embedded audio and metadata are properly delayed and re-embedded to match any video processing delay, with full adjustment available for audio/video offset.

The product’s high-density openGear design allows for up to five 9904-UDX-4K cards to be installed in one 2RU openGear frame. Card control/monitoring is available via the DashBoard user interface, integrated HTML5 web interface, SNMP or Cobalt’s RESTful-based Reflex protocol.

“I have been looking for a de-embedder that will work with SMPTE ST-2048 raster sizes — specifically 2048×1080 and 4096×2160,” explains Stevens. “The reason this is important is Netflix deliverables require these rasters. We use all embedded audio and I need to de-embed for monitoring. The same Cobalt Digital card will take almost every SDI input from quad link to 12G and output HDMI. There are other converters that will do some of the same things, but I haven’t seen anything that does what this product does.”

The Kominsky Method‘s post brain trust: Ross Cavanaugh and Ethan Henderson

By Iain Blair

As Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies!” But Netflix’s The Kominsky Method proves that in the hands of veteran sitcom creator Chuck Lorre — The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men and many others — there’s plenty of laughs to be mined from old age… and disease, loneliness and incontinence.

The show stars Michael Douglas as divorced, has-been actor and respected acting coach Sandy Kominsky and Alan Arkin as his longtime agent Norman Newlander. The story follows these bickering best friends as they tackle life’s inevitable curveballs while navigating their later years in Los Angeles, a city that values youth and beauty above all. Both comedic and emotional, The Kominsky Method won Douglas a Golden Globe.

Ethan Henderson and Ross Cavanaugh

The single-camera show is written by Al Higgins, David Javerbaum and Lorre, who also directed the first episode. Lorre, Higgins and Douglas executive produce the series, which is produced by Chuck Lorre Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television.

I recently spoke with associate producer Ross Cavanaugh and post coordinator Ethan Henderson about posting the show.

You are currently working on Season 2?
Ross Cavanaugh: Yes, and we’re moving along quite quickly. We’re already about three-quarters of the way through the season shooting-wise, out of the eight-show arc.

Where do you shoot, and what’s the schedule like?
Cavanaugh: We shoot mainly on the lot at Warner Bros. and then at various locations around LA. We start prepping each show one week before we start shooting, and then we get dailies the day after the first shooting day.

Our dailies lab is Picture Shop, which is right up the street in Burbank and very convenient for us. So getting footage from the set to them is quick, and they’re very fast at turning the dailies around. We usually get them by midnight the same day we drop them off,  then our editors start cutting fairly quickly after that.

Where do you do all the post?
Cavanaugh: Mainly at Picture Shop, who are very experienced in TV post work. They do all the post finishing and some of the VFX stuff — usually the smaller things, like beauty fixes and cleanup. They also do all the final color correction since DP Anette Haellmigk really wanted to work with colorist George Manno. They’ve been really great.

Ethan Henderson: We’re back and forth from the lot to Picture Shop, and once we get more heavily involved in all the post, I spend a lot of time there while we are onlining the show, coloring and doing the VFX drop-ins, and when we start the final deliverables process, since everything for Netflix comes out of there.

What are the big challenges of post production on this show, and how closely do you work with Chuck Lorre?
Cavanaugh: As with any TV show, you’re always on a very tight deadline, and there are a lot of moving parts to deal with very quickly. While our prolific showrunner Chuck Lorre is busy with all the projects he has going — especially with all the writing — he always makes time for us. He’s very passionate about the cut and is extremely on top of things.

I’d say the challenges on this show are actually fairly minimal. Basically, we ran a pretty tight ship on the first season, and now I’d say it’s a well-oiled machine. We haven’t had any big problems or surprises in post, which can happen.

Let’s talk about editing. You had two editors for Season 1 in Matthew Barbato and Gina Sansom. I assume that’s because of the time factor. How does that work?
Cavanaugh: Each editor has their own assistant editor — that was true in Season One (Matthew with Jack Cunningham and Gina with Barb Steele) and in Season two (Steven Lang with Romeo Rubio and Gina with Rahul Das). They cut separately and work on an odds-and-evens schedule, each doing every other episode. We all get together to watch screenings of the Director’s Cut, usually in the editorial bay.

What are the big editing challenges?
Cavanaugh: We have a pretty big cast, and there’s a ton of jokes and stuff going on all the time. In addition to Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin, the actors are so experienced. They give such great performances — there’s a lot of material for the editors to cut from. To be honest, the scripts are all so tight that I think one of the challenges is knowing when to cut out a joke, to serve the pacing of an episode.

This isn’t a VFX-driven show, but there are some visual effects shots. Can you explain?
Cavanaugh: We do a lot of driving scenes and use 24frame.com, who have this really good wraparound HD projection technology, so we pretty much shoot all our car scenes on the stage.

Henderson: Once in a while, we’ll pick up some exterior or establishing shots on a freeway using doubles in the cars. All the plates are picked ahead of time. Occasionally, for the sake of continuity, we’ll have to replace a plate in the background and put a different section of the plate in because too many cars ran by, and it didn’t match up in the edit.

That’s one of the things that comes up every so often. The other big thing is that both of the leads wear glasses, so reflections of crew and equipment can become an issue; we have to deal with all that and clean it up.

Cavanaugh: We don’t use many big VFX shots, and we can’t reveal much about what happens in the new season, but sometimes there’s stuff like the scene in season one where one of the characters threw some firecrackers at Michael Douglas’ feet. We obviously weren’t going to throw real ones at Michael Douglas, although I think he’d have sucked it up if we’d done it that way! We were shooting in a residential neighborhood at night and we couldn’t set off real ones because they are very loud, so we ended up doing it all with VFX. FuseFx handled the workload for the heavier VFX work.

Henderson: There was a big shot in the pilot where we did a lot of shot extensions in a restaurant where Sandy Kominsky (Douglas) and Nancy Travis’ character are having coffee. It was this big sweeping pan down over the city.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
Cavanaugh: They both play a key role, and we have a great team that includes music editor Joe Deveau, supervising sound editor Lou Thomas, and sound mixers Yuri Reese and Bill Smith. The sound recording quality we get on set is always great, so that means we only need very minimal ADR. The whole sound mix is done here on the lot at Warners.

Our composer, Jeff Cardoni, worked with Chuck on Young Sheldon, and he’s really on top of getting all the new cues for the show. We basically have two versions of our main title sequence music cues — one is very bombastic and in-your-face, and the other is a bit more subtle — and it’s funny how it broke down in the first season. The guy who cut the pilot and the odd episodes went with the more bombastic version, while the second editor on the even episodes preferred the softer cues, so I’ll be curious to see how all that breaks down in the new season.

How important is all the coloring on this?
Cavanaugh: Very important. After we do all the online, we ship it over to George at Picture Shop and spend about a day and a half on it. The DP either comes in or gets a file, and she gives her notes. Then we’ll play it for Chuck. We’re in the HDR world with Dolby Vision, and it makes it look so beautiful — but then we have to do the standard pass on it as well.

I know you can’t reveal too much about the new season, but what can fans expect?
Henderson: They’re getting a continuation of these two characters’ journey together — growing old and everything that comes with that. I think it feels like a very natural extension of the first season.

Cavanaugh: In terms of the post process, I feel like we’re a Swiss watch now. We’re ticking along very smoothly. Sometimes post can be a nightmare and full of problems, so it’s great to have it all under control.


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.

Netflix hires Leon Silverman to enhance global post operation

By Adrian Pennington

Veteran postproduction executive Leon Silverman was pondering the future when Netflix came calling. The former president of Laser Pacific has spent the last decade building up Disney’s in-house digital post production wing as general manager, but will be taking on what is arguably one of the biggest jobs in the industry — director, post operations and creative services at Netflix.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t looking for a new job. I was looking to explore the next chapter of my life,” said Silverman, announcing the news at the HPA Tech Retreat last month.

“The fact is, if there is any organization or group of people anywhere that can bring content creators together with creative technology innovation in service of global storytelling, it is Netflix. This is a real opportunity to work closely with the creative community and with partners to create a future industry worthy of its past.”

That final point is telling. Indeed, Silverman’s move from one of the titans of Hollywood to the powerhouse of digital is symbolic of an industry passing the baton of innovation.

“In some ways, moving to Netflix is a culmination of everything I have been trying to achieve throughout my career,” says Silverman. “It’s about the intersection of technology and creativity, that nexus where art and science meet in order to innovate new forms of storytelling. Netflix has the resources, the vision and the talent to align these goals.”

L-R: Leon Silverman and Sean Cooney

Silverman will report to Sean Cooney, Netflix, director worldwide post production. During his keynote at the HPA Tech Retreat, Cooney introduced Silverman and his new role. He noted that the former president of the HPA (2008-2016) had built and run some of the most cutting-edge facilities on the planet.

“We know that there is work to be done on our part to better serve our talent,” says Cooney. “We were looking for someone with a deep understanding of the industry’s long and storied history of entertainment creation. Someone who knows the importance of working closely with creatives and has a vision for where things are going in the future.”

Netflix global post operation is centered in LA where it employs the majority of its 250 staff and will oversee delivery of 1,000 original pieces of programming this year. But with regional content increasingly important to the growth of the organization, Cooney and Silverman’s tricky task is to streamline core functions like localization, QC, asset management and archive while increasing output from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“One of the challenges is making sure that the talent we work with feel they are creatively supported even while we operate on a such a large scale,” explains Cooney. “We want to continue to provide a boutique experience even as we expand.”

There’s recognition of the importance to Netflix of its relationship with dozens of third-party post houses, freelance artists and tech vendors.

“Netflix has spent a lot of time cultivating deep relationships in the post community, but as we get more and more involved in upstream production we want to focus on reducing the friction between the creative side of production and the delivery side,” says Silverman. “We need to redesign our internal workflows to really try to take as much as friction out of the process as possible.”

Netflix: Black Mirror – Bandersnatch

While this makes sense from a business point of view, there’s a creative intent too. Bandersnatch, the breakthrough interactive drama from the Black Mirror team, could not have been realized without close collaboration from editorial all the way to user interface design.

“We developed special technology to enable audience interaction but that had to work in concert with our engineering and product teams and with editorial and post teams,” says Cooney.

Silverman likens this collapse of the traditional role of post into the act of production itself as “Post Post.” It’s an industry-wide trend that will enable companies like Netflix to innovate new formats spanning film, TV and immersive media.

“We are at a time and a place where the very notion of a serial progression from content inception to production to editorial then finish to distribution is anachronistic,” says Silverman. “It’s not that post is dead, it’s just that ‘post’ is not ‘after’ anything as much as it has become the underlying fabric of content creation, production and distribution. There are some real opportunities to create a more expansive, elegant and global ability to enable storytellers of all kinds to make stories of all kinds — wherever they are.”


UK-based Adrian Pennington is a professional journalist and editor specializing in the production, the technology and the business of moving image media.

VFX editor Warren Mazutinec on life, work and Altered Carbon

By Jeremy Presner

Long-time assistant editor Warren Mazutinec’s love for filming began when he saw Star Wars as an eight-year-old in a small town in Edmonton, Alberta. Unlike many other Lucas-heads, however, this one got to live out his dream grinding away in cutting rooms from Vancouver to LA working with some of the biggest editors in the galaxy.

We met back in 1998 when he assisted me on the editing of the Martin Sheen “classic” Voyage of Terror. We remain friends to this day. One of Warren’s more recent projects was Netflix’s VFX-heavy Altered Carbon, which got a lot of love from critics and audiences alike.

My old friend, who is now based in Vancouver, has an interesting story to tell, moving from assistant editor to VFX editor working on films like Underworld 4, Tomorrowland, Elysium and Chappie, so I threw some questions at him. Enjoy!

Warren Mazutinec

How did you get into the business?
I always wanted to work in the entertainment industry, but that was hard to find in Alberta. No film school-type programs were even offered, so I took the closest thing at a local college: audiovisual communications. While there, I studied photography, audio and video, but nothing like actual filmmaking. After that I attended Vancouver Film School. After film school, and with the help of some good friends, I got an opportunity to be a trainee at Shavick Entertainment.

What was it like working at a “film factory” that cranked out five to six pictures a year?
It was fun, but the product ultimately became intolerable. Movies for nine-year-olds can only be so interesting… especially low-budget ones.

What do your parents think of your career option?
Being from Alberta, everyone thought it wasn’t a real job — just a Hollywood dream. It took some convincing; my dad still tells me to look for work between gigs.

How did you learn Avid? Were you self-taught?
I was handed the manual by a post supervisor on day one. I never read it. I just asked questions and played around on any machine available. So I did have a lot of help, but I also went into work during my free time and on weekends to sit and learn what I needed to do.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have cool people to work with and to learn with and from. I did six movies before I had an email address, more before I even owned a computer.

As media strayed away from film into digital, how did your role change in the cutting room? How did you refine your techniques with a changing workflow?
My first non-film movie was Underworld 4. It was shot with a Red One camera. I pretty much lied and said I knew how to deal with it. There was no difference really; just had to say goodbye to lab rolls, Keykode, etc. It was also a 3D stereo project, so that was a pickle, but not too hard to figure out.

How did you figure out the 3D stereo post?
It was basically learning to do everything twice. During production we really only played back in 3D for the novelty. I think most shows are 3D-ified in post. I’m not sure though, I’ve only done the one.

Do you think VR/AR will be something you work with in the future?
Yes, I want to be involved in VR at some point. It’s going to be big. Even just doing sound design would be cool. I think it’s the next step, and I want in.

Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
David Lynch is my number one, by far. I love his work in all forms. A real treasure tor sure. David Fincher is great too. Scorsese, Christopher Nolan. There are so many great filmmakers working right now.

Is post in your world constantly changing, or have things more or less leveled off?
Both. But usually someone has dailies figured out, so Avid is pretty much the same. We cut in DNx115 or DnX36, so nothing like 4K-type stuff. Conform at the end is always fun, but there are tests we do at the start to figure it all out. We are rarely treading in new water.

What was it like transitioning to VFX editor? What tools did you need to learn to do that role?
FileMaker. And Jesus, son, I didn’t learn it. It’s a tough beast but it can do a lot. I managed to wrangle it to do what I was asked for, but it’s a hugely powerful piece of software. I picked up a few things on Tomorrowland and went from there.

I like the pace of the VFX editor. It’s different than assisting and is a nice change. I’d like to do more of it. I’d like to learn and use After Effects more. On the film I was VFX editor for, I was able to just use the Avid, as it wasn’t that complex. Mostly set extensions, etc.

How many VFX shot revisions would a typical shot go through on Elysium?
On Elysium, the shot version numbers got quite high, but part of that would be internal versioning by the vendor. Director Neil Blomkamp is a VFX guy himself, so he was pretty involved and knew what he wanted. The robots kept looking cooler and cooler as the show went on. Same for Chappie. That robot was almost perfect, but it took a while to get there.

You’ve worked with a vast array of editors, from, including Walter Murch, Lee Smith, Julian Clarke, Nancy Richardson and Bill Steinkamp. Can you talk about that, and have any of them let you cut material?
I’ll assemble scenes if asked to, just to help the editor out so he isn’t starting from scratch. If I get bored, I start cutting scenes as well. On Altered Carbon, when Julian (Clark) was busy with Episodes 2 and 3, I’d try to at least string together a scene or two for Episode 8. Not fine-cutting, mind you, just laying out the framework.

Walter asked a lot of us — the workload was massive. Lee Smith didn’t ask for much. Everyone asks for scene cards that they never use, ha!

Walter hadn’t worked on the Avid for five years or so prior to Tomorrowland, so there was a lot of him walking out of his room asking, “How do I?” It was funny because a lot of the time I knew what he was asking, but I had to actually do it on my machine because it’s so second nature.

What is Walter Murch like in the cutting room? Was learning his organizational process something you carried over into future cutting rooms?
I was a bit intimidated prior to meeting him. He’s awesome though. We got along great and worked well together. There was Walter, a VFX editor and four assistants. We all shared in the process. Of course, Walter’s workflow is unlike any other so it was a huge adjustment, but within a few weeks we were a well-oiled machine.

I’d come in at 6:30am to get dailies sorted and would usually finish around lunch. Then we’d screen in our theater and make notes, all of us. I really enjoyed screening the dailies that way. Then he would go into his room and do his thing. I really wish all films followed his workflow. As tough as it is, it all makes sense and nothing gets lost.

I have seen photos with the colored boxes and triangles on the wall. What does all that mean, and how often was that board updated?
Ha. That’s Walter’s own version of scene cards. It makes way better sense. The colors and shapes mean a particular thing — the longer the card the longer the scene. He did all that himself, said it helps him see the picture. I would peek into his room and watch him do this. He seemed so happy doing it, like a little kid.

Do you always add descriptions and metadata to your shots in Avid Media Composer?
We add everything possible. Usually there is a codebook the studios want, so we generate that with FileMaker on almost all the bigger shows. Walter’s is the same just way bigger and better. It made the VFX database look like a toy.

What is your workflow for managing/organizing footage?
A lot of times you have to follow someone else’s procedure, but if left to my own devices I try to make it the simplest it can be so anyone can figure out what was done.

How do you organize your timeline?
It’s specific to the editor, but I like to use as many audio tracks as possible and as few video tracks as possible, but when it’s a VFX-heavy show, that isn’t possible due to stacking various shot versions.

What did you learn from Lee Smith and Julian Clarke?
Lee Smith is a suuuuuper nice guy. He always had great stories from past films and he’s a very good editor. I’m glad he got the Oscar for Dunkirk, he’s done a lot of great work.

Julian is also great to work with. I’ve worked with him on Elysium, Chappie and Altered Carbon. He likes to cut with a lot of sound, so it’s fun to work with him. I love cutting sound, and on Altered Carbon we had over 60 tracks. It was a alternating stereo setup and we used all the tracks possible.

Altered Carbon

It was such a fun world to create sound for. Everything that could make a sound we put in. We also invented signature sounds for the tech we hoped they’d use in the final. And they did for some things.

Was that a 5.1 temp mix?? Have you ever done one?
No. I want to do a 5.1 Avid mix. Looks fun.

What was the schedule like on Altered Carbon? How was that different than some of the features you’ve worked on?
It was six-day weeks and 12 hours a day. Usually one week per month I’d trade off with the 2nd assistant and she’d let me have an actual weekend. It was a bit of a grind. I worked on Episodes 2, 3 and 8, and the schedules for those were tight, but somehow we got through it all. We had a great team up here for Vancouver’s editorial. They were also cutting in LA as well. It was pretty much non-stop editing the whole way through.

How involved was Netflix in terms of the notes process? Were you working with the same editors on the episodes you assisted?
Yes, all episodes were with Julian. First it went through Skydance notes, then Netflix. Skydance usually had more as they were the first to see the cuts. There were many versions for sure.

What was it like working with Neil Blomkamp?
It was awesome. He makes cool films, and it’s great to see footage like that. I love shooting guns, explosions, swords and swearing. I beat him in ping-pong once. I danced around in victory and he demanded we play again. I retired. One of the best environments I’ve ever worked in. Elysium was my favorite gig.

What’s the largest your crew has gotten in post?
Usually one or two editors, up to four assistants, a PA, a post super — so eight or nine, depending.

Do you prefer working with a large team or do you like smaller films?
I like the larger team. It can all be pretty overwhelming and having others there to help out, the easier it can be to get through. The more the merrier!

Altered Carbon

How do you handle long-ass-days?
Long days aren’t bad when you have something to do. On Altered Carbon I kept a skateboard in my car for those times. I just skated around the studio waiting for a text. Recently I purchased a One-Wheel (skateboard with 1 wheel) and plan to use it to commute to work as much as possible.

How do you navigate the politics of a cutting room?
Politics can be tricky. I usually try to keep out of things unless I’m asked, but I do like to have a sit down or a discussion of what’s going on privately with the editor or post super. I like to be aware of what’s coming, so the rest of us are ready.

Do you prefer features to TV?
It doesn’t matter anymore because the good filmmakers work in both mediums. It used to be that features were one thing and TV was another, with less complex stories. Now that’s different and at times it’s the opposite. Features usually pay more though, but again that’s changing. I still think features are where it’s at, but that’s just vanity talking.

Sometimes your project posts in Vancouver but moves to LA for finishing. Why? Does it ever come back?
Mostly I think it’s because that’s where the director/producers/studio lives. After it’s shot everyone just goes back home. Home is usually LA or NY. I wish they’d stay here.

How long do you think you’ll continue being an AE? Until you retire? What age do you think that’ll be?
No idea; I just want to keep working on projects that excite me.

Would you ever want to be an editor or do you think you’d like to pivot to VFX, or are you happy where you are?
I only hope to keep learning and doing more. I like the VFX editing, I like assisting and I like being creative. As far as cutting goes, I’d like to get on a cool series as a junior editor or at least start doing a few scenes to get better. I just want to keep advancing, I’d love to do some VR stuff.

What’s next for you project wise?
I’m on a Disney Show called Timmy Failure. I can’t say anything more at this point.

What advice do you have for other assistant editors trying to come up?
It’s going to take a lot longer than you think to become good at the job. Being the only assistant does not make you a qualified first assistant. It took me 10 years to get there. Also you never stop learning, so always be open to another approach. Everyone does things differently. With Murch on Tomorrowland, it was a whole new way of doing things that I had never seen before, so it was interesting to learn, although it was very intimidating at the start.


Jeremy Presner is an Emmy-nominated film and television editor residing in New York City. Twenty years ago, Warren was AE on his first film. Since then he has cut such diverse projects as Carrie, Stargate Atlantis, Love & Hip Hop and Breaking Amish.

VFX Supervision: The Coens’ Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

By Randi Altman

The writing and directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen have taken on the American Western with their new Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. This offering features six different vignettes that follow outlaws and settlers on the American frontier.

It stars the Coen brothers’ favorite Tim Blake Nelson as Buster, along with Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brenden Gleeson and many other familiar faces, even Tom Waits! It’s got dark humor and a ton of Coen quirkiness.

Alex Lemke (middle) on set with the Coen brothers.

For their visual effects needs, the filmmakers turned to New York-based East Side Effects co-founders and VFX supervisors Alexander Lemke and Michael Huber to help make things look authentic.

We reached out to visual effects supervisors Lemke and Huber to find out more about their process on the film and how they worked with these acclaimed filmmakers. East Side Effects created two-thirds of the visual effects in-house, while other houses, such as The Mill and Method, provided shots as well.

How many VFX shots were there in total?
Alexander Lemke: In the end, 704 shots had digital effects in them. This has to be a new record for the Coens. Joel at one point jokingly called it their “Marvel movie.”

How early did you get involved? Can you talk about that process?
Michael Huber: Alex and myself were first approached in January 2017 and had our first meetings shortly thereafter. We went through the script with the Coens and designed what we call a “VFX bible,” which outlined how we thought certain effects could be achieved. We then started collecting references from other films or real-life footage.

Did you do previs? 
Lemke: The Coens have been doing movies for so long in their own way that previs never really became an issue. For the Indian battles, we tried to interest them in the Ncam virtual camera system in combination with pre-generated assets, but that is not their way of doing a film.

The whole project was storyboarded by J. Todd Anderson, who has been their go-to storyboard guy since Raising Arizona. These storyboards gave a pretty good indication of what to expect, but there were still a lot of changes due to the nature of the project, such as weather and shooting with animals.

What were some of the challenges of the process and can you talk about creating the digital characters that were needed?
Huber: Every story had its own challenge, ranging from straightforward paintouts and continuity fixes to CG animals and complex head replacements using motion control technology. In order to keep the work as close to the directors as possible, we assembled a group of artists to serve as an extended in-house team, creating the majority of shots while also acting as a hub for external vendor work.

In addition, a color workflow using ACES and FilmLight Baselight was established to match VFX shots seamlessly to the dailies look established by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and senior colorist Peter Doyle. All VFX pulls were handled in-house.

Lemke: The Coens like to keep things in-camera as much as possible, so animals like the owl in “All Gold Canyon” or the dog in “Gal” were real. Very early on it was clear that some horse falls wouldn’t be possible as a practical stunt, so Joel and Ethan had a reel compiled with various digital horse stunts — including the “Battle of the Bastards” from Game of Thrones, which was done by Iloura (now Method). We liked that so much that we decided to just go for it and reach out to these guys, and we were thrilled when we got them on board for this. They did the “dog-hole!” horse falls in the “The Gal Who Got Rattled” segment, as well as the carriage horses in “Mortal Remains.”

Huber: For the deer in “All Gold Canyon,” the long-time plan was to shoot a real deer against bluescreen, but it became clear that we might not get the very specific actions Joel and Ethan wanted to see. They were constantly referring to the opening of Shane, which has this great shot of the titular character appearing through the antlers of a deer. So, it became more and more clear it would have to be a digital solution, and we were very happy to get The Mill in New York to work on that for us. Eventually, they would also handle all the other critters in the opening sequence.

Can you talk about Meal Ticket’s “artist” character, who is missing limbs?
Lemke: The “Wingless Thrush” — as he is referred to on a poster in the film — was a combined effort of the art department, special effects, costume design, VFX and, of course, actor Harry Melling’s incredible stamina. He was performing this poetry while standing in a hole in the ground with his hands behind his back, and went for it take after take, sometimes in the freezing cold.

Huber: It was clear that 98% of all shots would be painting out his arms and legs, so SFX supervisor Steve Cremin had to devise a way to cut holes into the set and his chair to make it appear he was resting on his stumps. Our costume designer, Mary Zophres, had the great idea of having him wear a regular shirt where the longs sleeves were just folded up, which helped with hiding his arms. He wasn’t wearing any blue garment, just black, which helped with getting any unnecessary color spill in the set.

Alex was on set to make sure we would shoot clean plates after each setup. Luckily, the Coen brothers’ approach to these shots was really focusing on Harry’s performance in long locked-off takes, so we didn’t have to deal with a lot of camera motion. We also helped Harry’s look by warping his shoulders closer to his body in some shots.

Was there a particular scene with this character that was most challenging or that you are most proud of?
Lemke: While most of the paintout shots were pretty straightforward — we just had to deal with the sheer amount of shots and edit changes — the most challenging parts are when Liam Neeson carries Harry in a backpack up the stairs in a brothel. He then puts him on the ground and eventually turns him away from the “action” that is about to happen.

We talked about different approaches early on. At some point, a rig was considered to help with him being carried up the stairs, but this would have meant an enormous amount of paint work, not to mention the setup time on a very tight shooting schedule. A CG head might have worked for the stairs, but for the long close up shots of Harry — both over a minute long, and only with very subtle facial expressions — it would have been cost prohibitive and maybe not successful in the end. So a head replacement seemed like the best solution, which comes with its own set of problems. In our case, shooting a head element of Harry that would match exactly what the dummy on Liam’s back and on the ground was doing in the production plates.

We came up with a very elaborate set up, where we would track the backpack and a dummy in the live-action photography in 3D Equalizer. We then reengineered this data into Kuper move files that would drive a motion control motion base combo.

Basically, Harry would sit on a computerized motion base that would do the turning motion so he could react to being pushed around. This happened while the motion control camera would take care of all the translations. This also meant our DP Bruno had to create animated lighting for the staircase shot to make the head element really sit in the plate.

We worked with Pacific Motion for the motion control. Mike Leben was our operator. For the NAC effects for the motion base, Nic Nicholson took care of this. Special thanks goes out to Christoph Gaudl for his camera and object tracking, Stefan Galleithner for taking on the task of converting all that data into something the camera and base would understand, and Kelly Chang and Mike Viscione for on-set Maya support.

Of course, you only get an element that works 80% of the way — the rest was laborious compositing work. Since we put the motion base to its speed limits on the staircase shot, we actually had to shoot it half speed and then speed it up in post. This meant a lot of warping/tracking was needed to make sure there was no slippage.

Michael Huber

The dummy we used for the live-action photography didn’t have any breathing movement in it, so we used parts of Harry’s bluescreen plates as a guideline of how his chest should move. These tricky tasks were expertly performed mainly by Danica Parry, Euna Kho and Sabrina Tenore.

Can you talk about how valuable it is being on set?
Huber: It is just valuable to be on set when the call sheet calls for a greenscreen, while we really need a bluescreen! But joking aside, Joel and Ethan were very happy to have someone there all the time during the main shoot in case something came up, which happened a lot because we were shooting outdoors so much and we were dependent on the weather.

For the opening shot of Buster riding through Monument Valley, they were thinking of a very specific view — something they had seen on a picture on the Internet. Through Google Maps and research, Alex was able to find out the exact location that picture was taken. So, on a weekend when we weren’t shooting, he packed up his family and drove up to the Valley to shoot photographs that would serve as the basis for the matte painting for the first shot of the film — instead of going there with a whole crew.

Another instance being on set helped would be the scene with Tom Waits in the tree — the backgrounds for these bluescreen shots were a mixture of B camera and Alex’s location photography while in Colorado. Same goes for the owl tree backgrounds.

What tools did East Side use on the film?
Huber: For software we called on Foundry Nuke (X & Studio), Boris FX Mocha Pro and Side Effects Houdini. For hardware we used HP and SuperMicro workstations running Linux. There was also proprietary software such as using Houdini digital assets for blood simulations.

We were using Autodesk Shotgun with a proprietary connection to Nuke that handled all our artist interaction and versioning, including automatically applying the correct Baselight grade when creating a version. This also allowed us to use the RV-Shotgun integration for reviewing.

Can you talk about the turnaround times and deadlines?
Lemke: Working on a Coen brothers film means you don’t have a lot of things you normally have to deal with — studio screenings, trailers, and such. At the same time, they insisted on working through the stories chronologically, so that meant that the later segments would come in late in the schedule. But, it is always a great experience working with filmmakers who have a clear vision and know what they are doing.

DP Chat: Nightflyers’ Markus Förderer, BVK

For German DP Markus Förderer, BVK, quickly developed an impressive resume of visually unique and critically acclaimed feature films. His feature film debut, Hell, earned Förderer a number of awards. He went on to shoot Mike Cahill‘s sci-fi drama, I Origins, which was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. He followed that with I Remember, which premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and won the 2016 German Camera Award for Best Cinematography.

Markus Förderer on the Nightflyers set.

His early work got him earmarked as one of Variety’s 2015 Up Next cinematographers. Most recently, Förderer collaborated with director Roland Emmerich on Stonewall and Independence Day: Resurgence and shot the pilot for Rise. He also recently shot the pilot for the highly anticipated sci-fi series Nightflyers by Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, setting the look for the show’s DPs Gavin Struthers and Peter Robertson.

We reached out to him about his work…

How did you become interested in cinematography?
I was always fascinated by cinema and visual storytelling, watching movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott’s Alien. David Fincher’s early films had a big influence on me. When I learned how to use Photoshop during my time in high school in Germany, a new world of possibilities opened up. I experimented with how to manipulate the mood of images by adjusting colors, brightness and contrast.

This was still in the early days of the Internet and access to digital images online was quite limited then. There were simply not many images in decent resolution and quality on the web for me to play with. This is why I started taking my own stills with an early digital camera. It was a Fujifilm camera that had a 1.3-megapixel sensor. Hard to believe from today’s perspective, but this camera opened my eyes to the world of photography, lighting and composition.

Nightflyers

I felt limited, though, by still images and became determined to become a filmmaker to tell visual stories. Before going to film school, I started reading about filmmaking techniques and interviews with famous DPs and directors and realized that it was the DP’s role that interested me the most — the creation of a certain mood and tone that helps to tell the story and puts the audience in the character’s shoes.

What inspires you artistically?
I am most inspired by reading the scripts and talking to the director. I think each project has to have its own visual identity, and for me it all comes from the script and the director’s initial ideas. Sometimes they come with crazy ambitious ideas, and I see it as the DP’s responsibility to figure out a way to make it work. I believe in naturalism; using single sources and available light whenever possible to create cinematic images that don’t feel overly stylized. New technologies sometimes spark ideas for new or more efficient ways to create interesting shots.

You’ve shot Meridian for Netflix as a test film for 4K and Megan as a concept film for 8K. What new technology has had the most impact on the way you work?
Shooting for HDR with high dynamic range sensors has a big impact on the way I light a scene. I think you can be more extreme and explore low-light photography with very rich detail in the blacks, for example. It is tricky, though, to shoot for SDR and HDR distribution at the same time. The viewing experience is vastly different, especially in extreme lighting scenarios, like very low light or very bright scenes.

Nightflyers

Exploring larger, high-resolution sensors, gives me more freedom when capturing extreme lighting conditions and preserving natural detail the way my eyes see it. Shooting with the right combination of low-contrast lenses with a high-resolution sensor gives me very natural detail in actors’ eyes. It is amazing how much of the performance can be seen in the eyes, when projected properly in 4K.

What are some of your best practices or rules you try to follow on each job?
I think it is most important to create an environment of respectful and polite collaboration between all departments and crewmembers. Filmmaking is a team discipline and it shows if you listen to your crew’s input. I always try to listen closely to the director’s vision and find the right cinematic techniques to realize that vision.

However, following a storyboard or preplanned ideas step by step leads to a sterile movie, in my opinion. It is important to be prepared, but it is crucial to watch the actors carefully on the day and react to the rehearsal. The best days are the ones on which I was surprised by the performance of the actors in a way that inspired me to change the planned blocking and get to the core of the scene in a simple and elegant way.

I like to be surprised (in a good way) by the end results. There’s nothing more boring to me than watching dailies and having the images turn out exactly the way I imagined it beforehand. There is a richness in life that is hard to create in front of the camera, but it is always my goal to strive for that.

Nightflyers

Explain your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project.
It is great to get involved early on and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the director. Each collaboration is different, and it’s great to work with a director who trusts you and values your input, but I also love working with directors who have a very strong vision and have developed their own visual style over the years.

Tell us about Nightflyers. How would you describe the overarching look of the series pilot? Is there an example of a scene in the pilot that emphasizes this?
Nightflyers is a story about a spaceship and its crew on a very exciting mission to the edge of the solar system. The ship has very dark secrets that are revealed bit by bit. Director Mike Cahill and I focused on creating a specific atmosphere that is scary and leaves room for the audience’s imagination. It was important to us to avoid sci-fi clichés and rather focus on the characters and the way they experience the events on the ship.

The memory suite is an interesting example. It is a room that allows the crew to relive memories in a very visual way. The room by its design looks almost hostile. The first memory we experience, however, is very emotional, portraying the main character’s daughter. Mike was very specific with composition of these shots to create a sense of visual déjà vu, something we explored on a previous feature.

The framing of D’Branin’s character inside the memory suite and inside his memory is exactly the same. We replicated camera moves and used the same focal lengths. Every movement of the actors in the memory was staged, so we could recreate the same shots inside the spherical memory suite. At some point, the barrier between memory and reality starts to dissolve, and the contrast of the cold ship and the content of the memory start to collide in an interesting and scary way.

Nightflyers

How early did you get involved in the production?
Mike Cahill brought up the project quite early, and we flew to Ireland for an initial scout. The team there was fantastic, and everyone from the producers and network’s side wanted to create something really special. Production designer David Sandefur and his team designed amazing sets that gave us great flexibility to come up with interesting shots. This collaboration early on was crucial, as we integrated all the lighting into the ship. It had to be versatile enough to allow for different lighting scenarios for multiple episodes. My gaffer James McGuire did a fantastic job integrating miles of LED light strips. In the end, we could control it from his iPad, which would allow for last-minute tweaks without slowing down the shooting day for the actors and director.

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for Nightflyers?
For me, it usually starts with the lens. Mike and I love the claustrophobic look you can achieve with anamorphic lenses in small contained spaces, like a spaceship. We tested a small number of lenses that would give us the desired qualities, and we decided that Panavision’s C-Series lenses would be the right choice for this. Also, I have shot many projects on Red cameras over the years, starting back on the Red-MX sensor. I had tested the Monstro 8K VV sensor from Red and felt it would open up many opportunities with its larger sensor size and incredible sensitivity.

Panavision’s Michael Cioni showed me the latest advances in the DXL camera, and I was sold when I saw how well it sits on your shoulder. We shot a lot of handheld on the pilot and contrasted it with some smooth Steadicam and gimbal shots. The ability to shoot large format and capture amazing images in low light were key for us. We employed Panavision’s DXL and a Red DSMC2 camera with the Monstro 8K VV sensor for tight spaces and lightweight rigs.

Nightflyers

Any challenging scenes that you are particularly proud of?
Shooting the scenes in the biodome was quite challenging. The spaceship is carrying several cargo domes — one of them is a biodome with living trees and a small forest inside. The domes are spinning around the ship’s center to create artificial gravity. We shot the majority in a nearby forest and some shots on stage. To connect the biodome structure with the forest, our art department built an elevator exit and airlock in the forest. The scenes in the dome take place during the day close to earth. We tested many options for lighting, but I found it most interesting to shoot the scenes at night and light them with strong daylight sources to convey the illusion of being in space during the day.

The little atmosphere in the biodome would make the sky outside the windows appear black, yet the inside would be flooded with light. In order to convey the spinning motion of the domes, we mounted a 9K HMI on a telescopic crane and moved it constantly in a circular pattern. This caused the shadows in the forest to move around. It was quite an astonishing experience to be in that forest at night and hear all the birds chirping because they must have thought it was day all of the sudden.

What’s your go-to gear that you can’t live without?
I try to be open to new gear, and I like to mix things up quite a bit from project to project. I find it hard though to go back to shooting Super 35-sized sensors, after working with the Red DSMC2 Monstro; it hits quite a sweet spot between sensor size, resolution and compact size.

DP Chat: No Activity cinematographer Judd Overton

By Randi Altman

Judd Overton, who grew up in the Australian Outback, knew he wanted to be a DP before he even knew exactly what that was, spending a lot of his time watching and re-watching movies on VHS tapes. When he was young, a documentary film crew came to his town. “I watched as the camera operator was hanging off the side of my motorbike filming as we charged over sand dunes. I thought that was a pretty cool job!”

No Activity

The rest, as they say, is history. Overton’s recent work includes the Netflix comedy series The Letdown and No Activity, which is a remake of the Australian comedy series of the same name. It stars Patrick Brammall and Tim Meadows and is produced by CBS Television Studios in association with Funny or Die, Jungle and Gary Sanchez Productions. It streams on CBS All Access.

We recently reached out to Overton, who also just completed the documentary Lessons from Joan, about one of the first female British theater directors, Joan Littlewood.

What inspires you artistically? And how do you simultaneously stay on top of advancing technology that serves your vision?
What I love about what I do is being able to see things, and show the world to audiences in a way people haven’t seen before. I always keep abreast of technology, but for me the technology really needs to service the story. I choose particular equipment in order to capture the emotion of the piece.

What new technology has changed the way you work (looking back over the past few years?
The greatest change in my world is the high-quality, high-ISO cameras now on the market. This has meant being able to shoot in a much less obtrusive way, shooting and lighting to create footage that is far closer to reality.

The use of great-quality LED lighting is something I’m really enjoying. The ability to create and capture any color and control it from your iPhone opens the floodgates for some really creative lighting.

 

Judd Overton

Can you describe your ideal collaboration with the director when setting the look of a project?
Every director is different, it’s a role and relationship I fill as required. Some directors like to operate the camera themselves. In that case, I oversee the lighting. Some directors just want to work with the actors, so my job then involves more responsibilities for coverage, camera movement and selecting locations.

I try to be open to each new experience and make creative guidelines for a project in collaboration with the director and producers, trying to preempt obstacles before they strike.

Tell us about the CBS All Access show No Activity. Can you describe the overall look of the show and what you and the director/producers wanted to achieve?
I shot the pilot for the original No Activity five years ago. Trent O’Donnell (writer/director, co-creator) wanted to make a series out of simple two hander (two actor) scenes.

We decided to use the police procedural drama genre because we knew the audience would fill in gaps with their own knowledge. In a show where very little happens, the mood and style become far more important.

How early did you get involved in the production?
I’ve been involved since the show was conceptualized. We shot the pilot in a parking lot in one of Sydney’s seedier areas. We fought off a lot of rats.

No Activity

How did you go about choosing the right camera and lenses for this project?
I had to shoot three cameras, as the show is heavily improvised. Other than my main cameras with zoom lenses, I chose the best cameras for each sequence. We used Blackmagic cameras Ursa Pro and Micro for a lot of our rigged positions. I also used Panasonic cameras for our available light work, and even an Arri 65 for some projection plates.

Were there any scenes that you are particularly proud of?
The scene I had the most fun with was the siege, which plays over the last two episodes of Season 2. We dusted off and fired up two 1930s Arc lights. Carbon Arc lights are what all the old Hollywood films used before HMIs. They are a true 5600 Kelvin, daylight source.

My gaffer’s father actually made these units, and they were refurbished for Quentin Tarantino’s film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We used them as searchlights for our nighttime siege, and the bright beams and plumes of smoke rising really gave the scene an epic scale.

What’s your go-to gear — things you can’t live without?
Communication is everything, and the latest toy in my toy box is HME headsets. They allow me to have constant communications with my camera operators, grips and electrics, essential when you’re running five cameras across multiple units.

House of Cards showrunners Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese

By Iain Blair

Since it first premiered back in 2013, Netflix’s oh-so-timely political thriller House of Cards has been a big hit, delivering provocative, twisty plot lines peppered with surprises and shocks. It has also racked up dozens of awards, including 33 Primetime Emmys and fistfuls of Golden Globes along the way. But the biggest shocker of all was probably the real-life firing of star Kevin Spacey last year by Netflix, following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Writer Iain Blair (left) with Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese.

With Spacey — and power-hungry Frank Underwood — suddenly MIA, the upside is that girls now rule the world. This is great news for Robin Wright fans as the Golden Globe-winner and Emmy-nominee returns as President of the United States in Season 6, the final season of the series, which is now streaming on Netflix.

The show has added Oscar-nominees Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear to the cast, in addition to American Horror Story-alum Cody Fern. They join existing players Michael Kelly, Jayne Atkinson, Patricia Clarkson, Constance Zimmer, Derek Cecil, Campbell Scott and Boris McGiver.

Behind the scenes, Melissa James Gibson and Frank Pugliese continue as showrunners for Season 6, and serve as executive producers along with Robin Wright, David Fincher, Joshua Donen, Dana Brunetti, Eric Roth, Michael Dobbs and Andrew Davies. Created for television by Beau Willimon, House of Cards is produced by Donen/Fincher/Roth and Trigger Street Productions, in association with Media Rights Capital for Netflix.

I recently spoke with Gibson and Pugliese about making the show and awards season.

When Kevin Spacey was fired, and you lost the show’s star, did you consider ending the series early?
Frank Pugliese: Yes, it was a huge thing, a big shock, and I think it had to be considered.

Melissa James Gibson: Everything was on the table as we wanted to make sure our way forward was the right one. We needed to regroup and carefully go through every possibility.

Pugliese: But pretty quickly we figured out that the best response was to try and tell the story without Francis on screen. So within a day or so, we were back at work, writing out ideas and discussing how to do it.

What can you tell us about the new season? Robin has said that it’ll be “a real shocker.”
Pugliese: Our hope is that it’s shocking but also feels inevitable at the same time, and we’re trying our best to give the show its most satisfying ending that has integrity and also serves a story that’s been told over many years.

Gibson: We tried to forge a brave way forward that would also be a reckoning for all of the characters We both knew that this season “reckoning” would be a key word, along with “complicity.”

Robin’s directed quite a few episodes over the years. Is it true she also directed the big finale?
Pugliese: Yes, and it seemed so appropriate. Remember, Season 5 ended with her saying, “My turn,” so even as we began exploring what to do this season, it seemed unacceptable to not have that examined and dramatized. It just seemed right that she would direct the last one, and the last scene of the whole story was actually done on the last day of shooting. So her as the lead and also directing just seemed right.

Gibson: It kind of all led up to that, and the focus was always going to be on her in Season 6.

Pugliese: So much had been set up at the end of the last season, and we’d talked so much during the planning of that season about how Season 6 would go, and about who really owns the White House. Pile on the power. And Francis says he’ll own the White House by owning her. No matter what, it was going to be all about her and the powers that be trying to own her — one of them being her husband.

Maybe it’s a very prescient arc, and America will elect a woman president next?
Gibson: Wouldn’t that be nice!

Do you like being a showrunners?
Gibson: We both love it. We came on as writers on Season 3 when Beau hired us, worked as writers on Season 4, and then began showrunning last season.

Pugliese: I really like it.

Gibson: It’s because I feel that a lot of the challenges Claire faces this season are the same ones you face as a showrunner (laughs). When you’re making decisions and setting priorities it says a lot about what you value.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
Gibson: I’d say establishing all the priorities, both micro and macro.

Pugliese: We work very closely, and it probably goes back to our days in theater, but for me it’s establishing a collective communal work atmosphere. Your hope is that you can delegate a lot of the responsibility and then do the best work possible. If you can do that successfully, then the show’s successful. Helping establish all that really helped us with the new season, because in dealing with [the Spacey firing] we all felt that the best way to deal with it was to get to work and focus on telling the best story we could. Everyone agreed on that.

Where do you post?
Pugliese: We shoot in Baltimore, but all the post is done here in LA, and we do remote sessions using Pix.

Is that weird?
Pugliese: It’s weird until it’s not weird. If you think about it, it is, but you quickly get used to it and we can go over sequences in great detail.

Do you like the post process?
Gibson: We love it. It’s the third part of the entire storytelling, and I’ve learned so much dealing with post and editing and visual effects and so on. Our post supervisor, Hameed Shaukat, has been with the show since the very start.

You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
Gibson: We have about four at any one time, and many have been with the show for years, and they’ll hop-scotch around. We give notes, they’ll re-cut stuff, and we’ll have robust conversations about scenes and the tone and pacing and so on.

Pugliese: Some days we’ll get on the phone right away and they’ll cut some things to see if they’re even working or not. There’s a lot of back and forth.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
Gibson: It’s always about trying to balance the various competing elements and characters, and then this season we have a number of new characters and cast members, like Diane Lane and Greg Kinnear, so it’s all about calibration and the rhythm.

Pugliese: We work really hard to get the scripts in the best place possible, and we have really intensive and extensive tonal meetings where we go line by line and explain the intent to everyone involved. So if everyone’s on the same page when it comes to tone and intent, then they can go off and just do their jobs. That means less work for us, so we can then just focus on the overall storyline.

Gibson: It helps that there was a rigorous vocabulary established right at the start by David Fincher, so we had a great template to follow.

Pugliese: It also helped us in knowing when it was time to move away from that.

This show has a great score and great sound design. Talk about the importance of sound and music.
Gibson: It’s a vital part, and like Hameed, composer Jeff Beal has been with the show since day one, and he wrote that famous theme. He knows exactly what is needed. We also have a great sound team, with guys like supervising sound editor Jeremy Molod and sound designer Ren Klyce, who’ve also been there since day one. It’s a pretty well-oiled machine by now.

How important are awards to a show like this?
Pugliese: I get so excited when I see people in the show get recognized by their peers. Everyone works so hard.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
Gibson: It’s so good that people are now talking openly about the problems, and I think the industry as a whole is trying to make adjustments and make sure there are more women in the room, more people of color. But it’s not just that it’s the right thing to do ethically — it’s also about being good for the work. It needs to change.

Pugliese: Yes, it does need to change, and a correction is long overdue.


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.

Behind the Camera: Television DPs

By Karen Moltenbrey

Directors of photography on television series have their work cut out for them. Most collaborate early on with the director on a signature “look.” Then they have to make sure that aesthetic is maintained with each episode and through each season, should they continue on the series past the pilot. Like film cinematographers, their job entails a wide range of responsibilities aside from the camera work. Once shooting is done, they are often found collaborating with the colorists to ensure that the chosen look is maintained throughout the post process.

Here we focus on two DPs working on two popular television series — one drama, one sitcom — both facing unique challenges inherent in their current projects as they detail their workflows and equipment choices.

Ben Kutchins: Ozark
Lighting is a vital aspect in the look of the Netflix family crime drama Ozark. Or perhaps more accurate, the lack of lighting.

Ben Kutchins (left) on set with actor/director Jason Bateman.

“I’m going for a really naturalistic feel,” says DP Ben Kutchins. “My hope is that it never feels like there’s a light or any kind of artificial lighting on the actors or lighting the space. Rather, it’s something that feels more organic, like sunlight or a lamp that’s on in the room, but still offers a level of being stylized and really leans into the darkness… mining the shadows for the terror that goes along with Ozark.”

Ozark, which just kicked off its second season, focuses on financial planner Marty Byrde, who relocates his family from the Chicago suburbs to a summer resort area in the Missouri Ozarks. After a money laundering scheme goes awry, he must pay off a debt to a Mexican drug lord by moving millions of the cartel’s money from this seemingly quiet place, or die. But, trouble is waiting for them in the Ozarks, as Marty is not the only criminal operating there, and he soon finds himself in much deeper than he ever imagined.

“It’s a story about a family up against impossible odds, who constantly fear for their safety. There is always this feeling of imminent threat. We’re trying to invoke a heightened sense of terror and fear in the audience, similar to what the characters might be feeling,” explains Kutchins. “That’s why a look that creates a vibe of fear and danger is so important. We want it to feel like there is danger lurking around every corner — in the shadows, in the trees behind the characters, in the dark corners of the room.”

In summary, the look of the show is dark — literally and figuratively.

“It is pretty extreme by typical television standards,” Kutchins concedes. “We’ve embraced an aesthetic and are having fun pushing its boundaries, and we’re thrilled that it stands out from a pretty crowded market.”

According to Kutchins, there are numerous examples where the actor disappears into the shadows and then reappears moments later in a pool of light, falling in and out of shadow. For instance, a character may turn off a light and plunge the room into complete darkness, and you do not see that character again until they reappear, until they’re lit by moonlight coming through a window or silhouetted against a window.

“We’re not spending a lot of time trying to fill in the shadows. In fact, we spend most of our time creating more shadows than exist naturally,” he points out.

Jason Bateman, who plays Marty, is also an executive producer and directed the first two and last two episodes of Season 1. Early on, he, along with Kutchins and Pepe Avila del Pino, who shot the pilot, hashed out the desired look for the show, leaning into a very cyan and dark color palette — and leaning in pretty strongly. “Most people think of [this area as] the South, where it’s warm and bright, sweaty and hot. We just wanted to lean into something more nuanced, like a storm was constantly brewing,” Kutchins explains. “Jason really pushed that aesthetic hard across every department.”

Alas, that was made even more difficult since the show was mainly shot outdoors in the Atlanta area, and a good deal of work went into reacting to Mother Nature and transforming the locations to reflect the show’s Ozark mountain setting. “I spent an immense amount of time and effort killing direct sunlight, using a lot of negative fill and huge overheads, and trying to get rid of that direct, harsh sun,” says Kutchins. “Also, there are so many windows inside the Byrde house that it’s essentially like shooting an exterior location; there’s not a lot of controlled light, so you again are reacting and adapting.”

Kutchins shoots the series on a Panasonic VariCam, which he typically underexposes by a stop or two, mining the darker part of the sensor, “the toe of the exposure curve.” And by doing so, he is able to bring out the dirtier, more naturalistic, grimy parts of the image, rather than something that looks clean and polished. “Something that has a little bit of texture to it, some grit and grain, something that’s evocative of a memory, rather than something that looks like an advertisement,” he says.

To further achieve the look, Kutchins uses an in-camera LUT that mimics old Fuji film stock. “Then we take that into post,” he says, giving kudos to his colorist, Company 3’s Tim Stipan, who he says has been invaluable in helping to develop the “vibe” of the show. “As we moved along through Season 1 and into Season 2, he’s been instrumental in enhancing the footage.”

A lot of Kutchins’ work occurs in post, as the raw images captured on set are so different from the finals. Insofar as the digital intermediate is concerned, significant time is spent darkening parts of the frame, brightening small sections of the frame and working to draw the viewer into the frame. “I want people to be leaning on the edge of their seat, kind of wanting to look inside of the screen and poke their head in for a look around,” Kutchins says. “So I do a lot of vignetting and darkening of the edges, and darkening specific things that I think are distracting.”

Nevertheless, there is a delicate balance he must maintain. “I talk about the darkness of Ozark, but I am trying to ride that fine line of how dark it can be but still be something that’s pleasant to watch. You know, where you’re not straining to see the actor’s face, where there’s just enough information there and the frame is just balanced enough so your eyes feel comfortable looking at it,” he explains. “I spend a lot of time creating a focal point in the frame for your eyes to settle on — highlighting certain areas and letting some areas go black, leaving room for mystery in every frame.”

When filming, Kutchins and his crew use Steadicams, cranes, dollies and handheld. He also uses Cooke Optics’ S4 lenses, which he tends to shoot wide open, “to let the flaws and character of the lenses shine through.”

Before selecting the Panasonic VariCam, Kutchins and his group tested other cameras. Because of Netflix’s requirement for 4K, that immediately ruled out the ARRI Alexa, which is Kutchins’ preferred camera. “But the Panasonic ended up shining,” he adds.

In Ozark, the urban family is pitted against nature, and thus, the natural elements around them need to feel dangerous, Kutchins points out. “There’s a line in the first season about how people drown in the lake all the time. The audience should always feel that; when we are at the water’s edge, that someone could just slip in and disappear forever,” he says. “So, the natural elements play a huge role in the inspiration for the lighting and the feel of the show.”

Jason Blount:The Goldbergs
A polar opposite to Ozark in almost every way, The Goldbergs is a single-camera comedy sitcom set in the ’80s about a caring but grumpy dad, an overbearing mother and three teens — the oldest, a popular girl; the middle one, who fancies himself a gifted athlete and strives to be popular; and the youngest, a geek who is obsessed with filmmaking, as he chronicles his life and that of his family on film. The series is created and executive-produced by Adam F. Goldberg and is based on his own life and childhood, which he indeed captured on film while growing up.

The series is filmed mostly on stage, with the action taking place within the family home or at the kids’ schools. For the most part, The Goldbergs is an up-lit, broad comedy. The colors are rich, with a definite nod to the vibrant palette of the ’80s. “Our colorist, Scott Ostrowsky [from Level 3], has been grading the show from day one. He knows the look of the show so well that by the time I sit with him, there are very few changes that have to be made,” says Blount.

The Goldbergs began airing in 2013 and is now entering its sixth season. And the series’ current cinematographer, Jason Blount, has been involved since the start, first serving as the A camera/Steadicam operator before assuming the role of DP for the Season 1 finale — for a total of 92 episodes now and counting.

As this was a Sony show for ABC, the plan was to shoot with a Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K digital camera, but at the time, it did not record at a fast enough frame rate for some of the high-speed work the production wanted. So, they ended up using the ARRI Alexa for Season 1. Blount took over as DP full time from Season 2 onward, and the decision was made to switch to the F55 for Season 2, as the frame rate issue had been resolved.

“The look of the show had already been established, and I wanted to make sure that the transition between cameras was seamless,” says Blount. “Our show is all about faces and seeing the comedy. From the onset, I was very happy with the Sony F55. The way the camera renders skin tone, the lack of noise in the deep shadows and the overall user-friendly nature of the camera impressed me from the beginning.”

Blount points to one particular episode where the F55 really shined. “The main character was filming a black-and-white noir-style home movie. The F55 handled the contrast beautifully. The blacks were rich and the highlights held onto detail very well,” he says. “We had a lot of smoke, hard light directly into the lens, and really pushed the limits of the sensor. I couldn’t have been happier with the results.”

In fact, the camera has proved its mettle winter, spring, summer and fall. “We’ve used it in the dead of winter, at night in the rain and during day exterior [shots] at the height of summer when it’s been over 100 degrees. It’s never skipped a beat.”

Blount also commends Keslow Camera in Los Angeles, which services The Goldbergs’ cameras. In addition, the rental house has accessorized the F55 camera body with extra bracketry and integrated power ports for more ease of use.

Due to the fast pace at which the show is filmed — often covering 10-plus pages of script a day — Blount uses Angenieux Optimo zoom lenses. “The A camera has a full set of lightweight zooms covering 15mm to 120mm, and the B camera always has the [Optimo] 24-290,” he says. “The Optimo lenses and F55 are a great combination, making it easy to move fast and capture beautiful images.”

Blount points out that he also does all the Steadicam work on the show, and with the F55 being so lightweight, compact and versatile, it makes for a “very comfortable camera in Steadicam mode. It’s perfect to use in all shooting modes.”

The Goldbergs’ DP always shoots with two cameras, sometimes three depending on the scene or action. And, there is never an issue of the cameras not matching, according to Blount. “I’m not a big fan of the GoPro image in the narrative world, and I own a Sony a7S. It’s become my go-to camera for mounts or tight space work on the show, and works perfectly with the F55.”

And, there is something to say for consistency, too. “Having used the same camera and lens package for the past five seasons has made it easy to keep the look consistent for The Goldbergs,” says Blount. “At the beginning of this season, I looked at shooting with the new Sony Venice. It’s a fantastic-looking camera, and I love the options, like the variable ND filters, more color temperature options and the dual ISO, but the limit of 60fps at this stage was a deal-breaker for me; we do a fair amount of 72fps and 120fps.”

“If only the F55 had image stabilization to take out the camera shake when the camera operators are laughing so hard at the actors’ performances during some scenes. Then it would be the perfect camera!” he says with a laugh himself.


Karen Moltenbrey is a longtime writer and editor in the CG and post industries.

Showrunner/EP Robert Carlock talks Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

By Iain Blair

When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt first premiered back in 2015, the sitcom seemed quite shocking — and not just because NBC sold it off to Netflix so quickly. While at the streaming service, it has been a big hit with audiences and critics alike, racking up dozens of industry awards and nominations, including 18 Primetime Emmy nominations.

Robert Carlock

Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, the sunny comedy with a dark premise stars Ellie Kemper as the title character. She moves to New York City after being rescued from an underground bunker where she and three other women were held captive for 15 years by a doomsday cult leader (Jon Hamm).

Alone in the Big Apple, and armed only with her unbreakable sense of optimism, Kimmy soon forges a new life that includes her colorful landlady Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane), her struggling actor roommate (Tituss Burgess) and her socialite employer (Jane Krakowski). The strong cast also boasts recurring talent and A-list guests, such as Tina Fey, Martin Short, Fred Armisen, Jeff Goldblum, Amy Sedaris and Lisa Kudrow.

Last year Netflix renewed the show for a final season, with the first six episodes premiering in May 2018.

I recently spoke with Carlock about making the show, the Emmys and the planned movie version.

When Kimmy Schmidt first came out, its premise seemed bizarre and shocking — a young woman who was kidnapped, abused and held captive in an underground bunker. But looking back today, it seems ahead of its time.
Unfortunately, I think you’re right. At the time we felt strongly it was a way to get people talking about things and issues they didn’t necessarily want to talk about, such as how women are really treated in this society. And with the #MeToo movement it’s more timely than ever. Tina would say, “It keeps happening, it’s in the news all the time, and at this level,” and it’s really sad that it’s true. The last two seasons we’ve been dealing more and more with issues like this, and now people really are talking about sexual harassment in the workplace. But we have the added burden of also trying to make it funny.

Is Season 4 definitely the final one?
I think so, and the second half will stream sometime early next year. In the meantime, we’re talking about the movie deal that Netflix wants and what that will entail. We kind of thought about it as, “Let’s give our characters endings since there’s still so much to talk about,” but you also have to bear in mind the topicality of it all in a year or so. So it gave us the luxury of being able to finish the show in a way that felt right, and Season 5 — the second half of Season 4 — will satisfy fans, I think. We’re also very happy that Netflix is so enthusiastic about doing it this way.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, and I love it better than not being in charge. The beauty of TV is that, unlike in movies, and for a variety of reasons, writers get to be in charge. I love the fact that when you’re a showrunner, you get to learn so much about everything, including all the post production. You work with all these really skilled artisans and get to oversee the entire process from start to finish, including picking out what shade of blue the dress should be (laughs). It’s much better than watching other people make all the key decisions.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
The big one is trying to think outside of the writer’s room. You have all that ambition on the page, but then you have to deal with the reality of actually shooting it and making it work. It’s a lot easier to type it than execute it. Then you have to be really objective about what’s working and what isn’t, because you fall in love with what you write. So you have to realize, “Maybe this needs a little insert, or more jokes here to get the point across,” and you have to put that producer hat on — and that can be really tricky. It’s a challenge for sure, but we’ve also been fortunate in having a great crew that’s been with us a while, so there’s that shorthand, and things move quickly on the set and we get a lot done.

Where do you shoot and post?
We do the shooting at the Broadway Stages in Brooklyn, and have all the editing setup there as well. Then we have Tina’s production offices at Columbus Circle, and we do all the sound at Sync Sound in midtown Manhattan.

Do you like the post process?
I love post and the whole process of seeing a script come alive as you edit.  You find ways of telling the story that you maybe didn’t expect.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
One of the big creative challenges of a single-camera show — which ultimately also gives you so many more tools in writing, shooting and editing — is that you don’t get to see rehearsals. So one of the reasons our episodes are going into post and often coming out of post so stuffed with story and jokes is that we don’t get so many opportunities to see exactly what’s making the scene tick. We’re hitting the story, hitting the jokes and hitting the characters too many times, and  a lot of the challenge is scraping all those away. Our episodes come in around the mid-30s often, and we think they live and play best around 26 or 27 minutes. That’s where I think the sweet spot is. So you can feel, “Oh, I love that joke,” but the hard reality is that the scene plays so much better without it.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
I think it’s so important in comedy, and it can totally change the feel of a scene. Jeff Richmond — Tina’s husband and one of our producers — does all the music. He’s also fantastic in the edit. So if I’m not available or Tina isn’t, then he or Sam Means, another producer, can take our edit notes and interpret them. We’ll type up 15 pages on a Director’s Cut, and then we hone the show until it’s a lock for the network, and we go through it all frame by frame.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
Increasingly now, with all the noise and static out there, and so many other good shows, it’s really important. I think it helps cut through the clutter. When you’re working hard on a show like this, with your head down all the time, you don’t really know where you stand sometimes. So to be nominated by your peers means a lot. (Laughs) I wish it didn’t, but we’re small-minded people who only really care about other people’s opinions.

What’s the latest on talk about a movie? Will it be a theatrical release or just Netflix, or both?
That’s a great question. Who knows? We’re in the middle of trying to figure out the budget. I imagined it would be just streaming, but maybe it will be theatrical as well. One thing’s for sure. We won’t be one of those TV shows that gets a whole new cast for the movie version. Lightning struck with our first cast, and we’re not looking to replace anyone.

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
I can only speak for us, but we like shows where there’s a lot of diversity and different voices, and sometimes we step in a bear trap we didn’t even know was there because we’re trying to write for so many different voices. For us, it just makes sense to embrace diversity, but it’s such a complicated and thorny issue. I’m just glad we’re talking about it more now. It’s what interests us. When Tina and I first sat down to write this, we didn’t want to do something salacious and exploitive. We were thinking about a really startling way to get people talking about gender and class. It’s been a fun challenge.


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.

Emmy Season: Audio post for Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country

By Jennifer Walden

A community based on peace and love, acceptance and non-judgment, where everyone has a job and a purpose. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that, right? Or, is there a part of you that thinks this all sounds a bit utopian and is dubious?

Wild Wild Country, the six-part docu-series created by brothers Chapman and Maclain Way — its executive producers include two more sets of brothers: Mark and Jay Duplass and Josh and Dan Braun — tells the true story of what happened to a small town in Oregon after a religious cult set up their “utopian” city on a nearby ranch. This seven-hour documentary premiered in its entirety at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available to stream on Netflix. It was also nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning in the category of Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Series.

The Unbridled sound team at Sundance.

Wild Wild Country is a mix of archival news footage from the ‘80s — when the Rajneesh cult’s influence was on the rise in Oregon — and footage shot by the Rajneeshees, particularly in their own camp. It also draws from other documentaries and news specials on the Rajneesh movement that was created over the years. The Way brothers conduct extensive interviews with former Rajneeshees — including Ma Anand Sheela, who was personal secretary to cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. They also interview a list of other interesting characters, from FBI agents who helped to bring down the cult to Oregonians (including the former mayor of Antelope) who lived near the cult’s camp.

The result is a story that’s almost too twisted to be true. “This could’ve been a narrative feature that someone scripted and produced… a film that’s well thought out and well played instead of a story that was stumbled upon,” says Emmy award-winning supervising sound editor Brent Kiser of LA’s Unbridled Sound. He and his sound editing team are recipients of one of the show’s five Emmy noms for their work on Wild Wild Country.

“Creatively, we didn’t see Wild Wild Country as a documentary per se,” explains Kiser. “We wanted it to be cinematic so that, in a way, you couldn’t believe this was real life because it was too crazy. The sound needed to reflect that.”

The Dialog
One way they achieved a feature film feel was by processing the interview dialog so that it didn’t sound like a stereotypical talking-head documentary. “We didn’t want the dialog to have that very dry, close sound you get with lavalier microphones,” says Kiser.

Years ago, while working on a documentary called Tiny: A Story About Living Small (2013), dialog editor Elliot Thompson discovered that stripping all the noise from the production dialog also stripped out all the character and nuances of a location. It made the dialog feel impersonal, as though it was talking at the audience instead of to them.

“That worked well on Tiny because you’re in small, close spaces, but on Wild Wild Country we wanted to do the opposite,” says Kiser. “We wanted to give the interview dialog a little bit of life, so we added in reverb using Audio Ease’s Altiverb. This gave the dialog a smoother, softer feel that helps the audience to feel the room to feel the environment and to feel like they’re there. Subsequently, this polish gave the dialog a cinematic feel. It felt more like a story being told and less like news.”

For the news footage from the ‘80s, which includes segments by former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, Kiser went for an unpolished approach. “The material hadn’t been maintained, and there were these weird VHS bleeds; the audio had a huge hum. Initially, we tried to clean it up a bit, but in the end we decided to just let it roll because that’s how it is,” he says.

Replacing Some Sound
The sound of the news footage set the tone for the rest of the archival material. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound for the B-roll shots that didn’t have someone talking on-camera. They did the same for footage from the Rajneeshees, who shot tons of footage for their promotional videos. “Every footstep, every gunshot, we covered all that. We basically replaced it all.”

For example, there’s footage of the Rajneeshees all dressed in red, walking through the town of Antelope, Oregon. Kiser and his team replaced all the sound there, adding in wind, footsteps and other elements you’d expect to hear. “We wanted to keep those moments feeling very real and very voyeuristic,” says Kiser. “By ‘real,’ I mean our idea of what archival material should sound like.”

In order for the sound to feel “real” it had to sound dirty, just like the archival news footage. Sound effects editors Jacob Flack and Danielle Price mined the libraries at Unbridled Sound in search of effects that were old, noisy and poorly recorded — effects that wouldn’t normally be useful today. Kiser says, “The old Hollywood Edge and BBC libraries were perfect! The wind sounds that are rumbly and distorted — those were just perfect.”

They also recorded new sounds when needed, but those fresh, clean recordings had to match the gritty archival material. Kiser tried adding futz processing via Audio Ease’s Speakerphone, but ultimately it wasn’t giving him the desired result. “So we tried cranking the Pro Tools SansAmp PSA-1 plug-in on it, and we also used the Waves Cobalt Saphira harmonic shaper plug-in. This helped the new recordings to feel warm and analog in the right way. We would bus all the ‘archival’ sound through an AUX channel with those two plug-ins for overall processing.

Some sounds couldn’t be replaced, specifically the Rajneeshee chants and singing. Those were pulled from already-published sources, like other documentaries, due to rights issues. Kiser explains, “That was important because the Rajneeshees, a.k.a. sannyasins, are still around. You can still go to India and find them. And Osho (Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) is the yoga guy. If you dive into any hardcore yoga philosophy or theology, he’s written all about it and he’s quoted all the time.”

Knowing Wild Wild Country was going to play theatrically at Sundance, Kiser and his team were able to work with the 5.1 surround field — a rare opportunity in the documentary world. They chose to keep the sound on the front wall to maintain that archival feel, but when they wanted to kick up the excitement — for example, during the helicopter flyovers of Rajneeshpuram — they pulled the sound into the surrounds. “We used whooshes and sound design elements to make that feel bigger, more cinematic than the other archival material.”

The Music
Another prominent feature in the soundtrack was the music, composed by musician Brocker Way (brother to the filmmakers). “It’s basically wall-to-wall, and it’s amazing. You can watch all seven hours and not be annoyed by the music,” says Kiser. Interestingly, the music wasn’t composed to picture. Brocker Way wrote four- to five-minute cues that were later edited to picture. “We’d get the edited music tracks and make some adjustments, too. The result was a soundtrack that was perfect for this project.”

The biggest thing Kiser was worried about (knowing the film festival audience was going to watch a seven-hour documentary in its entirety) was boredom. That turned out to be a non-issue. The story itself is exciting. “And as far as the sound goes, the dialog feels warm and accessible through the whole film, so it feels like a story. A lot of times you’ll hear the sound design and music ramping up towards the end of each part, so that it would tease and build into the next one. It worked. At Sundance, they kept the theater at 40 to 50 people for all seven hours,” reports Kiser.

What’s most amazing about the post sound process on Wild Wild Country is that Unbridled Sound had just three weeks to get it all done, from edit to final mix. “We’re only a five-person crew here,” says Kiser. “Not only were we working on Wild Wild Country, but we had another Sundance film too, called An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn. And we were working on a series for Adult Swim called Dream Corp, LLC. So, it was intense.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer.

DP Patrick Stewart’s path and workflow on Netflix’s Arrested Development

With its handheld doc-style camerawork, voiceover narration and quirky humor, Arrested Development helped revolutionize the look of TV sitcoms. Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, with Ron Howard serving as one of its executive producers, the half-hour comedy series follows the once-rich Bluth family, that continues to live beyond their means in Southern California. At the center of the family is the mostly sane Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), who does his best to keep his dysfunctional family intact.

Patrick Stewart

The series first aired for three seasons on the Fox TV network (2003-2006) but was canceled due to low ratings. Because the series was so beloved, in 2013, Netflix brought it back to life with its original cast in place. In May 2018, the fifth season began streaming, shot by cinematographer Patrick Stewart (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The League, Flight of the Conchords). He called on VariCam LT cinema cameras.

Stewart’s path to becoming a cinematographer wasn’t traditional. Growing up in Los Angeles and graduating with a degree in finance from the University of Santa Clara, he got his start in the industry when a friend called him up and asked if he’d work on a commercial as a dolly grip. “I did it well enough where they called me for more and more jobs,” explains Stewart. “I started as a dolly grip but then I did sound, worked as a tape op and then started in the camera department. I also worked with the best gaffers in San Francisco, who showed me how to look at the light, understand it and either augment it or recreate it. It was the best practical film school I could have ever attended.”

Not wanting to stay “in a small pond with big fish” Stewart decided to move back to LA and started working for MTV, which brought him into the low-budget handheld world. It also introduced him to “interview lighting” where he lit celebrities like Barbara Streisand, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney. “At that point I got to light every single amazing musician, actor, famous person you could imagine,” he says. “This practice afforded me the opportunity to understand how to light people who were getting older, and how to make them look their best on camera.”

In 1999, Stewart received an offer to shoot Mike Figgis’ film Time Code (2000), which was one of the landmark films of the DV/film revolution. “It was groundbreaking not only in the digital realm but the fact that Time Code was shot with four cameras from beginning to end, 93 minutes, without stopping, shown in a quad split with no edits — all handheld,” explains Stewart. “It was an amazingly difficult project, because having no edits meant you couldn’t make mistakes. I was very fortunate to work with a brilliant renegade director like Mike Figgis.”

Triple Coverage
When hired for Arrested Development, the first request Stewart approached Hurwitz with was to add a third camera. Shooting with three cameras with multiple characters can be a logistical challenge, but Stewart felt he could get through scenes more quickly and effectively, in order to get the actors out on time. “I call the C camera the center camera and the A and the B are screen left and screen right,” Stewart explains. “C covers the center POV, while A and B cover the scene from their left and right side POV, which usually starts with overs. As we continue to shoot the scene, each camera will get tighter and tighter. If there are three or more actors in the scene, C will get tighter on whoever is in the center. After that, C camera might cover the scene following the dialogue with ‘swinging’ singles. If no swinging singles are appropriate, then the center camera can move over and help out coverage on the right or left side.

“I’m on a walkie — either adjusting the shots during a scene for either of their framing or exposure, or I’m planning ahead,” he continues. “You give me three cameras and I’ll shoot a show really well for you and get it done efficiently, and with cinematic style.”

Because it is primarily a handheld show, Stewart needed lenses that would not weigh down his operators during long takes. He employed Fujinon Cabrio zooms (15-35mm, 19-90mm, and 85-300mm), which are all f/2.8 lenses.

For camera settings, Stewart captures 10-bit 422 UHD (3840×2160) AVC Intra files at 23.98-fps. He also captures in V-Log but uses the V-709 LUT. “To me, you can create all the LUTs you want,” he says, “but more than likely you get to color correction and end up changing things. I think the basic 709 LUT is really nice and gentle on all the colors.”

Light from Above
Much of Arrested Development is shot on a stage, so lighting can get complicated, especially when there are multiple characters in a scene. To makes things less complicated, Stewart provided a gentle soft light from softboxes covering the top of each stage set, using 4-by-8 wooden frames with Tungsten-balanced Quasar tubes dimmed down to 50%. His motivated lighting explanation is that the unseen source could basically be a skylight. If characters are close to windows, he uses HMIs creating “natural sunlight” punching through to light the scene. “The nice thing about the VariCam is that you don’t need as many photons, and I did pretty extensive tests during pre-production on how to do it.”

On stage, Stewart sets his ISO to 5000 base and dials down to 2500 and generally shoots at an f/2.8 and ½. He even uses one level of ND on top of that. “You can imagine 27-foot candles at one level of ND at a 2.8 and 1/2 — that’s a pretty sensitive camera, and I noticed very little noise. My biggest concern was mid-tones, so I did a lot of testing — shooting at 5000, shooting at 2500, 800, 800 pushed up to 1600 and 2500.

“Sometimes with certain cameras, you can develop this mid-tone noise that you don’t really notice until you’re in post. I felt like shooting at 5000 knocked down to 2500 was giving me the benefit of lighting the stage at these beautifully low-lit levels where we would never be hot. I could also easily put 5Ks outside the windows to have enough sunlight to make it look like it’s overexposed a bit. I felt that the 5000 base knocked down to 2500, the noise level was negligible. At native 5000 ISO, there was a little bit more mid-tone noise, even though it was still acceptable. For daytime exteriors, we usually shot at ISO 800, dialing down to 500 or below.”

Stewart and Arrested Development director Troy Miller have known each other for many years since working together on the HBO’s Flight of the Conchords. “There was a shorthand between director and DP that really came in handy,” says Stewart. “Troy knows that I know what I’m doing, and I know on his end that he’s trying to figure out this really complicated script and have us shoot it. Hand in hand, we were really able to support Mitch.”

Netflix’s Lost in Space: mastering for Dolby Vision HDR, Rec.709

There is a world of difference between Netflix’s ambitious science-fiction series Lost in Space (recently renewed for another 10 episodes) and the beloved but rather low-tech, tongue-in-cheek 1960s show most fondly remembered for the repartee between persnickety Dr. Smith and the rather tinny-looking Robot. This series, starring Molly Parker, Toby Stevens and Parker Posey (in a very different take on Dr. Smith), is a very modern, VFX-intensive adventure show with more deeply wrought characters and elaborate action sequences.

Siggy Ferstl

Colorist Siggy Ferstl of Company 3 devoted a significant amount of his time and creative energy to the 10-episode release over the five-and-a-half-month period the group of 10 episodes was in the facility. While Netflix’s approach to dropping all 10 episodes at once, rather than the traditional series schedule of an episode a week, fuels excitement and binge-watching among viewers, it also requires a different kind of workflow, with cross-boarded shoots across multiple episodes and different parts of episodes coming out of editorial for color grading throughout the story arc. “We started on episode one,” Ferstl explains, “but then we’d get three and portions of six and back to four, and so on.”

Additionally, the series was mastered both for Dolby Vision HDR and Rec.709, which added additional facets to the grading process over shows delivered exclusively for Rec.709.

Ferstl’s grading theater also served as a hub where the filmmakers, including co-producer Scott Schofield, executive producer Zack Estrin and VFX supervisor Jabbar Raisani could see iterations of the many effects sequences as they came in from vendors (Cinesite, Important Looking Pirates and Image Engine, among others).

Ferstl himself made use of some new tools within Resolve to create a number of effects that might once have been sent out of house or completed during the online conform. “The process was layered and very collaborative,” says Ferstl. “That is always a positive thing when it happens but it was particularly important because of this series’ complexity.”

The Look
Shot by Sam McCurdy, the show’s aesthetic was designed, “to have a richness and realness to the look,” Ferstl explains. “It’s a family show but it doesn’t have that vibrant and saturated style you might associate with that. It has a more sophisticated kind of look.”

One significant alteration to the look involves changes to the environment of the planet onto which the characters crash land. The filmmakers wanted the exteriors to look less Earthlike with foliage a bit reddish, less verdant than the actual locations. The visual effects companies handled some of the more pronounced changes, especially as the look becomes more extreme in later episodes, but for a significant amount of this work, Ferstl was able to affect the look in his grading sessions — something that until recently would likely not have been achievable.

Ferstl, who has always sought out and embraced new technology to help him do his job, made use of some features that were then brand new to Resolve 14. In the case of the planet’s foliage, he made use of the Color Compressor tool within the OpenFX tab on the color corrector. “This allowed me take a range of colors and collapse that into a single vector of color,” he explains. “This lets you take your selected range of colors, say yellows and greens in this case, and compress them in terms of hue, saturation and luminance.” Sometimes touted as a tool to give colorists more ability to even out flesh tones, Ferstl applied the tool to the foliage and compressed the many shades of green into a narrower range prior to shifting the resulting colors to the more orange look.

“With foliage you have light greens and darker greens and many different ranges within the color green,” Ferstl explains. “If we’d just isolated those ranges and turned them orange individually, it wouldn’t give us the same feel. But by limiting the range and latitude of those greens in the Color Compressor and then changing the hue we were able to get much more desirable results.” Of course, Ferstl also used multiple keys and windows to isolate the foliage that needed to change from the elements of the scenes that didn’t.

He also made use of the Camera Shake function, which was particularly useful in a scene in the second episode in which an extremely heavy storm of sharp hail-like objects hits the planet, endangering many characters. The storm itself was created at the VFX houses, but the additional effect of camera shake on top of that was introduced and fine-tuned in the grade. “I suggested that we could add the vibration, and it worked very well,” he recalls. By doing the work during color grading sessions, Ferstl and the filmmakers in the session could see that effect as it was being created, in context and on the big screen, and could fine-tune the “camera movement” right then and there.

Fortunately, the colorist notes, the production afforded the time to go back and revise color decisions as more episodes came into Company 3. “The environment of the planet changes throughout. But we weren’t coloring episodes one after the other. It was really like working on a 10-hour feature.

“If we start at episode one and jump to episode six,” Ferstl notes, “exactly how much should the environment have changed in-between? So it was a process of estimating where the look should land but knowing we could go back and refine those decisions if it proved necessary once we had the surrounding episodes for context.”

Dolby Vision Workflow
As most people reading this know, mastering in high dynamic range (Dolby Vision in this case) opens up the possibility of working within a significantly expanded contrast range and wider color gamut over Rec.709 standard for traditional HD. Lost in Space was mastered concurrently for both, which required Ferstl to use Dolby’s workflow. And this involves making all corrections for the HDR version and then allowing the Dolby hardware/software to analyze the images to bring them into the Rec.709 space for the colorist to do a standard-def pass.

Ferstl, who worked with two Sony X-300 monitors, one calibrated for Rec.709 and the other for HDR, explains, “Everyone is used to looking at Rec. 709. Most viewers today will see the show in Rec.709 and that’s really what the clients are most concerned with. At some point, if HDR becomes the dominant way people watch television, then that will probably change. But we had to make corrections in HDR and then wait for the analysis to show us what the revised image looked like for standard dynamic range.”

He elaborates that while the Dolby Vision spec allows the brightest whites to read at 4000 nits, he and the filmmakers preferred to limit that to 1000 nits. “If you let highlights go much further than we did,” he says, “some things can become hard to watch. They become so bright that visual fatigue sets in after too long. So we’d sometimes take the brightest portions of the frame and slightly clamp them,” he says of the technique of holding the brightest areas of the frame to levels below the maximum the spec allows.

“Sometimes HDR can be challenging to work with and sometimes it can be amazing,” he allows. Take the vast vistas and snowcapped mountains we first see when the family starts exploring the planet. “You have so much more detail in the snow and an amazing range in the highlights than you could ever display in Rec.709,” he says.

“In HDR, the show conveys the power and majesty of these vast spaces beyond what viewers are used to seeing. There are quite a few sections that lend themselves to HDR,” he continues. But as with all such tools, it’s not always appropriate to the story to use the extremes of that dynamic range. Some highlights in HDR can pull the viewer’s attention to a portion of the frame in a way that simply can’t be replicated in Rec. 709 and, likewise, a bright highlight from a practical or a reflection in HDR can completely overpower an image that tells the story perfectly in standard dynamic range. “The tools can re-map an image mathematically,” Ferstl notes, “but it still requires artists to interpret an image’s meaning and feel from one space to the other.”

That brings up another question: How close do you want the HDR and the Rec.709 to look to each other when they can look very different? Overall, the conclusion of all involved on the series was to constrain the levels in the HDR pass a bit in order to keep the two versions in the same ballpark aesthetically. “The more you let the highlights go in HDR,” he explains, “the harder it is to compress all that information for the 100-nit version. If you look at scenes with the characters in space suits, for example, they have these small lights that are part of their helmets and if you just let those go in HDR, those lights become so distracting that it becomes hard to look at the people’s faces.”

Such decisions were made in the grading theater on a case by case basis. “It’s not like we looked at a waveform monitor and just said, ‘let’s clamp everything above this level,’” he explains, “it was ultimately about the feeling we’d get from each shot.”

Creator Justin Simien talks Netflix’s Dear White People

By Iain Blair

The TV graveyard is bursting at the seams with failed adaptations of hit movies. But there are rare exceptions, such as Netflix’s acclaimed hit comedy Dear White People, which creator Justin Simien adapted from his 2014 indie movie of the same name. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent. Simien went on to also win Best First Screenplay and a nomination for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Justin Simien (Photo by Rick Proctor).

Now a series on Netflix and enjoying its second season (it was just picked up for its third!), this college dramedy is set at Winchester University, a fictional, predominantly white Ivy League college, where racial tensions bubble just below the surface. It stars a large, charismatic ensemble cast (most of whom appeared in the film) that includes Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, Antoinette Robertson, DeRon Horton, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson, Marque Richardson and Giancarlo Esposito (as the narrator), dealing with such timely and timeless issues as racism, inclusion, social injustice, politics, abortion, body image, cultural bias, political correctness (or lack thereof), activism and, of course, romance in the millennial age.

Through an absurdist lens, Dear White People uses sharp, quick-fire dialogue, biting irony, self-deprecation and brutal honesty to hold up a mirror to some of the problems plaguing society today. It also makes the medicine go down easy by leading with big laughs.

The show is also a master class in how to successfully make that tricky transition from the big to small screen, and tellingly it has retained a coveted and rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes for both seasons (take note, Emmy voters!).

I recently spoke with Simien about making the show, the changing TV landscape, the Emmys and his next movie.

The TV landscape is full of the corpses of failed movie adaptations. How did you avoid that fate when you adapted your film for TV?
(Laughs) You’re so right. Movies often don’t translate very well to TV, but I felt my film was in the great tradition of multi-protagonist ensemble films I love so much. I also felt that in the confines of 90 minutes or so, you can never really truly get into the hearts of all the characters. By the end, the audience wanted more from them, so it lent itself to the longer format. And I felt it would be much more interesting than the typical show if we [borrowed] a bit of that cinematic tradition — like films by Robert Altman and Spike Lee — where you really get a strong point-of-view and multiple stories are carefully woven together, and then apply it to TV.

It seems that in many ways, the film’s concerns and issues work even better in an extended TV series. What were the big themes you wanted to explore?
As with the film, it’s really a conversation about identity and self, and the roles that you play in society. We all do it in order to navigate society, but for people of color, those identities have been chosen for them, so it often takes us a lot longer to get to the heart of who we really are and what the self is. We’re taught from a very early age to always be aware that you’re different, and that people see you differently. We deal with all that through comedy and satire. It has a lot on its mind.

Where do you shoot?
All in LA. Most of the interiors are done at Tamarack Studios in Sun Valley, and then we shoot our exteriors at UCLA and at a former school in Alhambra.

Do you direct a lot of the episodes?
I direct some. I did three in the first season, and four in the second, but since I run the show along with Yvette Lee Bowser, I’m just too busy to direct them all. So I handpick other directors who come in, such as Barry Jenkins, Charlie McDowell, Tina Mabry and others. But they don’t come into this world to paint by numbers. It’s more a case of them riffing off of what I did, like a jazz musician. It’s a very cohesive and collaborative process, and I’m very involved in all the episodes.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I do, but to be honest I like directing and writing more. The storytelling is the part of the gig that I’m in it for. But it is satisfying to run the larger operation and work closely with all these fantastic writers, directors and actors, and creating this environment where they can all do their best work.

Where do you post?
All at Tamarack, and it’s very convenient since it’s important for me to be able to bounce between the set and the edit bay on each episode. We did all the sound at Warners, and the DI at Universal with colorist Scott Gregory.

Do you like the post process?
I love post because it’s where you figure out if what you shot really works, and it’s your last chance to write the show. It’s the final rewrite, and a chance to fix the things that don’t work, so it’s scary and challenging. Post is also where you get to see the arc of the whole season and see all the episodes as like a five-hour movie. It’s where I get to apply all my final ideas. When I’m writing the show, we’re in a process of discovery, and it’s not until post that you really get a sense of how the beginning fits with the end, and that what you’re trying to say is there and working.

Justin Simien

Can you talk about the editing? You have several editors on the show, yes?
We use two editors per season. Phil Bartell, who cut the film for me, is always one of them. Steve Edwards was the other one on Season 1, and Omar Hassan-Reep was on Season 2. Post schedules are so jammed in TV that using two editors helps speed it all up. We allot a certain amount of time for each episode, so I can spend time with it. Same with the director and the editor.

You have a big cast and a lot of storylines. What are the big editing challenges?
The big one is that none of the show is turnkey. Directors don’t paint by numbers and the scripts are not written to any kind of format or formula — other than we stay with one point of view at a time. So that means that editing each episode is like editing its own mini-movie. One episode is film noir, another’s about mushrooms and hallucinations, so each one requires different styles, techniques, and different approaches work for different points of view. Each time we have to reinvent the wheel.

VFX play a big role in some episodes. Can you talk about working on them?
There’s far more than normal for a show like this, and mostly because social media is such an integral part of the characters’ lives. So we really try and use all that in a cinematic way and give you the feeling of what they’re going through instead of just cutting to the cell phone or computer every time. We really work hard to integrate all that.

Ingenuity does all the overlay VFX and it can take a while to figure it all out and get it right.

Unlike movies, sound in television has arguably always played second fiddle to the images, but this has a great score by Kris Bowers and great sound design. Please talk about the importance of sound and music to you.
Sound in movies has always gotten more attention, but TV’s changing and getting more cinematic. Music is so important to me, and I make sure the score isn’t just filler or interstitial — it has to be able to operate independently of the visuals, like it does with the movies of my favorite filmmakers, like Stanley Kubrick. It’s not just supplemental, and Kris is brilliant — just as adept at jazz as classical — and we have recurring themes and motifs and thematic hooks, and it’s very multi-layered.

How important are the Emmys to a show like this?
Very. We live in a world where there’s so much to watch now, and I don’t think there’s anything like it out there. But it can take effort to get people to watch and give the show and the characters a shot. So the Emmys can really help shine a light.

What’s next?
I’ll be directing my second film, which I wrote and is titled Bad Hair. It’s a horror satire that’s set in the late ‘80s about an ambitious young woman who wants to be a DJ but who doesn’t have the right look, so she gets a weave that may or may not have a mind of its own. I’m casting right now and hope to start shooting this summer.


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.

Netflix’s Lost in Space: New sounds for a classic series

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s Lost in Space series, a remake of the 1965 television show, is a playground for sound. In the first two episodes alone, the series introduces at least five unique environments, including an alien planet, a whole world of new tech — from wristband communication systems to medical analysis devices — new modes of transportation, an organic-based robot lifeform and its correlating technologies, a massive explosion in space and so much more.

It was a mission not easily undertaken, but if anyone could manage it, it was four-time Emmy Award-winning supervising sound editor Benjamin Cook of 424 Post in Culver City. He’s led the sound teams on series like Starz’s Black Sails, Counterpart and Magic City, as well as HBO’s The Pacific, Rome and Deadwood, to name a few.

Benjamin Cook

Lost in Space was a reunion of sorts for members of the Black Sails post sound team. Making the jump from pirate ships to spaceships were sound effects editors Jeffrey Pitts, Shaughnessy Hare, Charles Maynes, Hector Gika and Trevor Metz; Foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit; Foley mixer Brett Voss; and re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters.

“I really enjoyed the crew on Lost in Space. I had great editors and mixers — really super-creative, top-notch people,” says Cook, who also had help from co-supervising sound editor Branden Spencer. “Sound effects-wise there was an enormous amount of elements to create and record. Everyone involved contributed. You’re establishing a lot of sounds in those first two episodes that are carried on throughout the rest of the season.”

Soundscapes
So where does one begin on such a sound-intensive show? The initial focus was on the soundscapes, such as the sound of the alien planet’s different biomes, and the sound of different areas on the ships. “Before I saw any visuals, the showrunners wanted me to send them some ‘alien planet sounds,’ but there is a huge difference between Mars and Dagobah,” explains Cook. “After talking with them for a bit, we narrowed down some areas to focus on, like the glacier, the badlands and the forest area.”

For the forest area, Cook began by finding interesting snippets of animal, bird and insect recordings, like a single chirp or little song phrase that he could treat with pitching or other processing to create something new. Then he took those new sounds and positioned them in the sound field to build up beds of creatures to populate the alien forest. In that initial creation phase, Cook designed several tracks, which he could use for the rest of the season. “The show itself was shot in Canada, so that was one of the things they were fighting against — the showrunners were pretty conscious of not making the crash planet sound too Earthly. They really wanted it to sound alien.”

Another huge aspect of the series’ sound is the communication systems. The characters talk to each other through the headsets in their spacesuit helmets, and through wristband communications. Each family has their own personal ship, called a Jupiter, which can contact other Jupiter ships through shortwave radios. They use the same radios to communicate with their all-terrain vehicles called rovers. Cook notes these ham radios had an intentional retro feel. The Jupiters can send/receive long-distance transmissions from the planet’s surface to the main ship, called Resolute, in space. The families can also communicate with their Jupiters ship’s systems.

Each mode of communication sounds different and was handled differently in post. Some processing was handled by the re-recording mixers, and some was created by the sound editorial team. For example, in Episode 1 Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is frozen underwater in a glacial lake. Whenever the shot cuts to Judy’s face inside her helmet, the sound is very close and claustrophobic.

Judy’s voice bounces off the helmet’s face-shield. She hears her sister through the headset and it’s a small, slightly futzed speaker sound. The processing on both Judy’s voice and her sister’s voice sounds very distinct, yet natural. “That was all Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters,” says Cook. “They mixed this show, and they both bring so much to the table creatively. They’ll do additional futzing and treatments, like on the helmets. That was something that Onna wanted to do, to make it really sound like an ‘inside a helmet’ sound. It has that special quality to it.”

On the flipside, the ship’s voice was a process that Cook created. Co-supervisor Spencer recorded the voice actor’s lines in ADR and then Cook added vocoding, EQ futz and reverb to sell the idea that the voice was coming through the ship’s speakers. “Sometimes we worldized the lines by playing them through a speaker and recording them. I really tried to avoid too much reverb or heavy futzing knowing that on the stage the mixers may do additional processing,” he says.

In Episode 1, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) finds himself alone in the forest. He tries to call his father, John Robinson (Toby Stephens — a Black Sails alumni as well) via his wristband comm system but the transmission is interrupted by a strange, undulating, vocal-like sound. It’s interference from an alien ship that had crashed nearby. Cook notes that the interference sound required thorough experimentation. “That was a difficult one. The showrunners wanted something organic and very eerie, but it also needed to be jarring. We did quite a few versions of that.”

For the main element in that sound, Cook chose whale sounds for their innate pitchy quality. He manipulated and processed the whale recordings using Symbolic Sound’s Kyma sound design workstation.

The Robot
Another challenging set of sounds were those created for Will Robinson’s Robot (Brian Steele). The Robot makes dying sounds, movement sounds and face-light sounds when it’s processing information. It can transform its body to look more human. It can use its hands to fire energy blasts or as a tool to create heat. It says, “Danger, Will Robinson,” and “Danger, Dr. Smith.” The Robot is sometimes a good guy and sometimes a bad guy, and the sound needed to cover all of that. “The Robot was a job in itself,” says Cook. “One thing we had to do was to sell emotion, especially for his dying sounds and his interactions with Will and the family.”

One of Cook’s trickiest feats was to create the proper sense of weight and movement for the Robot, and to portray the idea that the Robot was alive and organic but still metallic. “It couldn’t be earthly technology. Traditionally for robot movement you will hear people use servo sounds, but I didn’t want to use any kind of servos. So, we had to create a sound with a similar aesthetic to a servo,” says Cook. He turned to the Robot’s Foley sounds, and devised a processing chain to heavily treat those movement tracks. “That generated the basic body movement for the Robot and then we sweetened its feet with heavier sound effects, like heavy metal clanking and deeper impact booms. We had a lot of textures for the different surfaces like rock and foliage that we used for its feet.”

The Robot’s face lights change color to let everyone know if it’s in good-mode or bad-mode. But there isn’t any overt sound to emphasize the lights as they move and change. If the camera is extremely close-up on the lights, then there’s a faint chiming or tinkling sound that accentuates their movement. Overall though, there is a “presence” sound for the Robot, an undulating tone that’s reminiscent of purring when it’s in good-mode. “The showrunners wanted a kind of purring sound, so I used my cat purring as one of the building block elements for that,” says Cook. When the Robot is in bad-mode, the sound is anxious, like a pulsing heartbeat, to set the audience on edge.

It wouldn’t be Lost in Space without the Robot’s iconic line, “Danger, Will Robinson.” Initially, the showrunners wanted that line to sound as close to the original 1960’s delivery as possible. “But then they wanted it to sound unique too,” says Cook. “One comment was that they wanted it to sound like the Robot had metallic vocal cords. So we had to figure out ways to incorporate that into the treatment.” The vocal processing chain used several tools, from EQ, pitching and filtering to modulation plug-ins like Waves Morphoder and Dehumaniser by Krotos. “It was an extensive chain. It wasn’t just one particular tool; there were several of them,” he notes.

There are other sound elements that tie into the original 1960’s series. For example, when Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker) and husband John are exploring the wreckage of the alien ship they discover a virtual map room that lets them see into the solar system where they’ve crashed and into the galaxy beyond. The sound design during that sequence features sound material from the original show. “We treated and processed those original elements until they’re virtually unrecognizable, but they’re in there. We tried to pay tribute to the original when we could, when it was possible,” says Cook.

Other sound highlights include the Resolute exploding in space, which caused massive sections of the ship to break apart and collide. For that, Cook says contact microphones were used to capture the sound of tin cans being ripped apart. “There were so many fun things in the show for sound. From the first episode with the ship crash and it sinking into the glacier to the black hole sequence and the Robot fight in the season finale. The show had a lot of different challenges and a lot of opportunities for sound.”

Lost in Space was mixed in the Anthony Quinn Theater at Sony Pictures in 7.1 surround. Interestingly, the show was delivered in Dolby’s Home Atmos format. Cook explains, “When they booked the stage, the producer’s weren’t sure if we were going to do the show in Atmos or not. That was something they decided to do later so we had to figure out a way to do it.”

They mixed the show in Atmos while referencing the 7.1 mix and then played those mixes back in a Dolby Home Atmos room to check them, making any necessary adjustments and creating the Atmos deliverables. “Between updates for visual effects and music as well as the Atmos mixes, we spent roughly 80 days on the dub stage for the 10 episodes,” concludes Cook.

Netflix’s Godless offers big skies and big sounds

By Jennifer Walden

One of the great storytelling advantages of non-commercial television is that content creators are not restricted by program lengths or episode numbers. The total number of episodes in a show’s season can be 13 or 10 or less. An episode can run 75 minutes or 33 minutes. This certainly was the case for writer/director/producer Scott Frank when creating his series Godless for Netflix.

Award-winning sound designer, Wylie Stateman, of Twenty Four Seven Sound explains why this worked to their advantage. “Godless at its core is a story-driven ‘big-sky’ Western. The American Western is often as environmentally beautiful as it is emotionally brutal. Scott Frank’s goal for Godless was to create a conflict between good and evil set around a town of mostly female disaster survivors and their complex and intertwined pasts. The Godless series is built like a seven and a half hour feature film.”

Without the constraints of having to squeeze everything into a two-hour film, Frank could make the most of his ensemble of characters and still include the ride-up/ride-away beauty shots that show off the landscape. “That’s where Carlos Rafael Rivera’s terrific orchestral music and elements of atmospheric sound design really came together,” explains Stateman.

Stateman has created sound for several Westerns in his prodigious career. His first was The Long Riders back in 1980. Most recently, he designed and supervised the sound on writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (which earned a 2013 Oscar nom for sound, an MPSE nom and a BAFTA film nom for sound) and The Hateful Eight (nominated for a 2016 Association of Motion Picture Sound Award).

For Godless, Stateman, co-supervisor/re-recording mixer Eric Hoehn and their sound team have already won a 2018 MPSE Award for Sound Editing for their effects and Foley work, as well as a nomination for editing the dialogue and ADR. And don’t be surprised if you see them acknowledged with an Emmy nom this fall.

Capturing authentic sounds: L-R) Jackie Zhou, Wylie Stateman and Eric Hoehn.

Capturing Sounds On Set
Since program length wasn’t a major consideration, Godless takes time to explore the story’s setting and allows the audience to live with the characters in this space that Frank had purpose-built for the show. In New Mexico, Frank had practical sets constructed for the town of La Belle and for Alice Fletcher’s ranch. Stateman, Hoehn and sound team members Jackie Zhou and Leo Marcil camped out at the set locations for a couple weeks, capturing recordings of everything from environmental ambience to gunfire echoes to horse hooves on dirt.

To avoid the craziness that is inherent to a production, the sound team would set up camp in a location where the camera crew was not. This allowed them to capture clean, high-quality recordings at various times of the day. “We would record at sunrise, sunset and the middle of the night — each recording geared toward capturing a range of authentic and ambient sounds,” says Stateman. “Essentially, our goal was to sonically map each location. Our field recordings were wide in terms of channel count, and broad in terms of how we captured the sound of each particular environment. We had multiple independent recording setups, each capable of recording up to eight channels of high bandwidth audio.”

Near the end of the season, there is a big shootout in the town of La Belle, so Stateman and Hoehn wanted to capture the sounds of gunfire and the resulting echoes at that location. They used live rounds, shooting the same caliber of guns used in the show. “We used live rounds to achieve the projectile sounds. A live round sounds very different than a blank round. Blanks just go pop-pop. With live rounds you can literally feel the bullet slicing through the air,” says Stateman.

Eric Hoehn

Recording on location not only supplied the team with a wealth of material to draw from back in the studio, it also gave them an intensive working knowledge of the actual environments. Says Hoehn, “It was helpful to have real-world references when building the textures of the sound design for these various locations and to know firsthand what was happening acoustically, like how the wind was interacting with those structures.”

Stateman notes how quiet and lifeless the location was, particularly at Alice’s ranch. “Part of the sound design’s purpose was to support the desolate dust bowl backdrop. Living there, eating breakfast in the quiet without anybody from the production around was really a wonderful opportunity. In fact, Scott Frank encouraged us to look deep and listen for that feel.”

From Big Skies to Big City
Sound editorial for Godless took place at Light Iron in New York, which is also where the show got its picture editing — by Michelle Tesoro, who was assisted by Hilary Peabody and Charlie Greene. There, Hoehn had a Pro Tools HDX 3 system connected to the picture department’s Avid Media Composer via the Avid Nexis. They could quickly pull in the picture editorial mix, balance out the dialog and add properly leveled sound design, sending that mix back to Tesoro.

“Because there were so many scenes and so much material to get through, we really developed a creative process that centered around rapid prototype mixing,” says Hoehn. “We wanted to get scenes from Michelle and her team as soon as possible and rapidly prototype dialogue mixing and that first layer of sound design. Through the prototyping process, we could start to understand what the really important sounds were for those scenes.”

Using this prototyping audio workflow allowed the sound team to very quickly share concepts with the other creative departments, including the music and VFX teams. This workflow was enhanced through a cloud-based film management/collaboration tool called Pix. Pix let the showrunners, VFX supervisor, composer, sound team and picture team share content and share notes.

“The notes feature in Pix was so important,” explains Hoehn. “Sometimes there were conversations between the director and editor that we could intuitively glean information from, like notes on aesthetic or pace or performance. That created a breadcrumb trail for us to follow while we were prototyping. It was important for us to get as much information as we could so we could be on the same page and have our compass pointed in the right direction when we were doing our first pass prototype.”

Often their first pass prototype was simply refined throughout the post process to become the final sound. “Rarely were we faced with the situation of having to re-cut a whole scene,” he continues. “It was very much in the spirit of the rolling mix and the rolling sound design process.”

Stateman shares an example of how the process worked. “When Michelle first cut a scene, she might cut to a beauty shot that would benefit from wind gusts and/or enhanced VFX and maybe additional dust blowing. We could then rapidly prototype that scene with leveled dialog and sound design before it went to composer Carlos Rafael Rivera. Carlos could hear where/when we were possibly leveraging high-density sound. This insight could influence his musical thinking — if he needed to come in before, on or after the sound effects. Early prototyping informed what became a highly collaborative creative process.”

The Shootout
Another example of the usefulness of Pix was shootout in La Belle in Episode 7. The people of the town position themselves in the windows and doorways of the buildings lining the street, essentially surrounding Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his gang. There is a lot of gunfire, much of it bridging action on and off camera, and that needed to be represented well through sound.

Hoehn says they found it best to approach the gun battle like a piece of music by playing with repeated rhythms. Breaking the anticipated rhythm helped to make the audience feel off-guard. They built a sound prototype for the scene and shared it via Pix, which gave the VFX department access to it.

“A lot of what we did with sound helped the visual effects team by allowing them to understand the density of what we were doing with the ambient sounds,” says Hoehn. “If we found that rhythmically it was interesting to have a wind gust go by, we would eventually see a visual effect for that wind going by.”

It was a back-and-forth collaboration. “There are visual rhythms and sound rhythms and the fact that we could prototype scenes early led us to a very efficient way of doing long-form,” says Stateman. “It’s funny that features used to be considered long-form but now ‘long-form’ is this new, time-unrestrained storytelling. It’s like we were making a long-form feature, but one that was seven and a half hours. That’s really the beauty of Netflix. Because the shows aren’t tethered to a theatrical release timeframe, we can make stories that linger a little bit and explore the wider eccentricities of character and the time period. It’s really a wonderful time for this particular type of filmmaking.”

While program length may be less of an issue, production schedule lengths still need to be kept in line. With the help of Pix, editorial was able to post the entire show with one team. “Everyone on our small team understood and could participate in the mission,” says Stateman. Additionally, the sound design rapid prototype mixing process allowed everyone in editorial to carry all their work forward, from day one until the last day. The Pro Tools session that they started with on day one was the same Pro Tools session that they used for print mastering seven months later.

“Our sound design process was built around convenient creative approval and continuous refinement of the complete soundtrack. At the end of the day, the thing that we heard most often was that this was a wonderful and fantastic way to work, and why would we ever do it any other way,” Stateman says.

Creating a long-form feature like Godless in an efficient manner required a fluid, collaborative process. “We enjoyed a great team effort,” says Stateman. “It’s always people over devices. What we’ve come to say is, ‘It’s not the devices. It’s people left to their own devices who will discover really novel ways to solve creative problems.’”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. Follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.

Creating the look for Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World

By Adrian Pennington

Content in 8K UHD won’t be transmitting or streaming its way to a screen anytime soon, but the ultra-high-resolution format is already making its mark in production and post. Remarkably, it is high-end TV drama, rather than feature films, that is leading the way. The End of The F***ing World is the latest series to pioneer a workflow that gives its filmmakers a creative edge.

Adapted from the award-winning graphic novels of Charles Forsman, the dark comedy is an eight-part co-production between Netflix and UK broadcaster Channel 4. The series invites viewers into the confused lives of teen outsiders James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), as they decide to escape from their families and embark on a road trip to find Alyssa’s estranged father.

Executive producer and director Jonathan Entwistle and cinematographer Justin Brown were looking for something special stylistically to bring the chilling yet humorous tale to life. With Netflix specifying a 4K deliverable, the first critical choice was to use 8K as the dominant format. Brown selected the Red Weapon 8K S35 with the Helium sensor.

In parallel, the filmmakers turned to colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of East London grading and finishing boutique studio Cheat, to devise a look and a workflow that would maximize the rich, detailed color, as well as the light information from the Red rushes.

“I’ve worked with Justin for about 10 years, since film school,” explains Tomkins. “Four years ago he shot the pilot for The End of The F***ing World with Jon, which is how I first became involved with the show. Because we’d worked together for so long, I kind of already knew what type of thing they were looking for. Justin shot tests on the Red Weapon, and our first job was to create a 3D LUT for the on-set team to refer to throughout shooting.”

Expert at grading commercials, and with feature-length narrative Sixteen (also shot by Justin Brown) under his belt, this was Tomkins’ first responsibility for an episodic TV drama, and he relished the challenge. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to work completely RAW at 7K/8K the whole way through and final output at 4K,” he explains. “We conformed to the R3D rushes, which were stored on our SSD NAS. This delivered 10Gbps bandwidth to the suite.”

With just 10 days to grade all the episodes, Tomkins needed to develop a rich “Americana” look that would not only complement the dark narrative but would also work across a range of locations and timescales.

“We wanted the show to have richness and a denseness to it, with skin tones almost a leathery red, adding some warmth to the characters,” he says. “Despite being shot at British locations — with British weather — we wanted to emulate something filmic and American in style. To do this we wanted quite a dense film print look, using skin tones you would find on celluloid film and a shadow and highlight roll-off that you would find in films, as opposed to British TV.”

Cheat used its proprietary film emulation to create the look. With virtually the whole series shot in 8K, the Cheat team invested in a Quad GPU Linux Resolve workstation, with dual Xeon processors, to handle the additional processing requirements once in the DaVinci Resolve finishing suite.

“The creative benefits of working in 8K from the Red RAW images are huge,” says Tomkins. “The workstation gave us the ability to use post-shoot exposure and color temperature settings to photorealistically adjust and match shots and, consequently, more freedom to focus on the finer details of the grade.

“At 8K the noise was so fine in size that we could push the image further. It also let us get cleaner keys due to the over-sample, better tracking, and access to high-frequency detail that we could choose to change or adapt as necessary for texture.”

Cheat had to conform more than 50 days of rushes and 100TBs of 7K and 8K RAW material spread across 40 drives, a process that was completed by Cheat junior colorist Caroline Morin in Resolve.

“After the first episode, the series becomes a road movie, so almost each new scene is a new location and lighting setup,” Tomkins explains. “I tried to approach each episode as though it was its own short film and to establish a range of material and emotion for each scene and character, while also trying to maintain a consistent look that flowed throughout the series.”

Tomkins primarily adjusted the RAW settings of the material in Resolve and used lift, gamma and gain to adjust the look depending on the lighting ratios and mood of the scenes. “It’s very easy to talk about workflow, tools and approach, but the real magic comes from creative discussions and experimentation with the director and cinematographer. This process was especially wonderful on this show because we had all worked together several times before and had developed a short hand for our creative discussion.

“The boundaries are changing,” he adds. “The creative looks that you get to work and play with are so much stronger on television now than they ever used to be.”

Netflix’s Altered Carbon: the look, the feel, the post

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set in a dystopian future where people are immortal thanks to something called “stacks,” which contain their entire essence — their personalities, their memories, everything. The one setback is that unless you are a Meth (one of the rich and powerful), you need to buy a “sleeve” (a body) for your stack, and it might not have any resemblance to your former self. It could be a different color, a different sex, a different age, a different everything. You have to take what you can get.

Based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, it stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman.

Jill Bogdanowicz

We reached out to the show’s colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, as well as post producer Allen Marshall Palmer to find out more about the show’s varied and distinctive looks.

The look has a very Blade Runner-type feel. Was that in homage to the films?
Bogdanowicz: The creators wanted a film noir look. Blade Runner is the same genre, but the show isn’t specifically an homage to Blade Runner.

Palmer: I’ll leave that for fans to dissect.

Jill, can you talk about your process? What tools did you use?
Bogdanowicz: I designed a LUT to create that film noir look before shooting. I actually provided a few options, and they chose my favorite one and used it throughout. After they shot everything and I had all 10 episodes in my bay, I got familiar with the content, wrapped my head around the story and came up with ideas to tell that story with color.

The show covers many different times and places so scenes needed to be treated visually to show audiences where the story is and what’s happened. I colored both HDR (Dolby Vision) and SDR passes using DaVinci Resolve.

I worked very closely with both DPs — Martin Ahlgren and Neville Kidd — in pre-timing the show, and they gave me a nice idea of what they were looking for so I had a great starting point. They were very close knit. The entire team on this project was an absolute pleasure, and it was a great creative collaboration, which comes through in the final product of the show.

The show is shot and posted like a feature and has a feature feel. Was that part of your marching orders?
Bogdanowicz: I’m primarily a features colorist, so I’m very familiar with the film noir look and heavy VFX, and that’s one reason I was included on this project. It was right up my alley.

Palmer: We approached Altered Carbon as a 10-part feature rather than a television series. I coined the term “feature episodic entertainment,” which describes what we were aspiring to — destination viewing instead of something merely disposable. In a world with so many viewing options, we wanted to command the viewer’s full attention, and fans are rewarded for that attention.

We were very concerned about how images, especially VFX, were going to look in HDR so we had weekly VFX approval sessions with Jill, our mastering colorist, in her color timing bay.

Executive producers and studio along with the VFX and post teams were able to sit together — adjusting color corrections if needed before giving final approval on shots. This gave us really good technical and creative quality control. Despite our initial concerns about VFX shots in HDR, we found that with vendors like Double Negative and Milk with their robust 16-bit EXR pipelines we weren’t “breaking” VFX shots when color correcting for HDR.

How did the VFX affect the workflow?
Bogdanowicz: Because I was brought on so early, the LUT I created was shared with the VFX vendors so they had a good estimation of the show’s contrast. That really helped them visualize the look of the show so that the look of the shots was pretty darn close by the time I got them in my bay.

Was there a favorite scene or scenes?
Bogdanowicz: There are so many spectacular moments, but the emotional core for me is in episode 104 when we see the beginning of the Kovacs and Quell love story in the past and how that love gives Kovacs the strength to survive in the present day.

Palmer: That’s a tough question! There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I think the episode that really jumps out is the one in which Joel Kinnaman’s character is being tortured and the content skips back and forth in time, changes and alternates between VR and reality. It was fun to create a different visual language for each space.

Can you talk about challenges in the process and how you overcame them?
Bogdanowicz: The show features a lot of VFX and they all need to look as real as possible, so I had to make sure they felt part of the worlds. Fortunately, VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his team are amazing and the VFX is top notch. Coming up with different ideas and collaborating with producers James Middleton and Laeta Kalogridis on those ideas was a really fun creative challenge. I used the Sapphire VFX plugin for Resolve to heavily treat and texture VR looks in different ways.

Palmer: In addition to the data management challenges on the picture side, we were dealing with mixing in Dolby Atmos. It was very easy to get distracted with how great the Atmos mix sounds — the downmixes generally translated very well, but monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0 did reveal some small details that we wanted to adjust. Generally, we’re very happy with how both the picture and sound is translating into viewer’s homes.

Dolby Vision HDR is great at taking what’s in the color bay into the home viewing environment, but there are still so many variables in viewing set-ups that you can still end up chasing your own tail. It was great to see the behind the scenes of Netflix’s dedication to providing the best picture and sound quality through the service.

The look of the AI hotel was so warm. I wanted to live there. Can you talk about that look?
Bogdanowicz: The AI hotel look was mostly done in design and lighting. I saw the warm practical lights and rich details in the architecture and throughout the hotel and ran with it. I just aimed to keep the look filmic and inviting.

What about the look of where the wealthy people lived?
Bogdanowicz: The Meth houses are above the clouds, so we kept the look very clean and cool with a lot of true whites and elegant color separation.

Seems like there were a few different looks within the show?
Bogdanowicz: The same LUT for the film noir look is used throughout the show, but the VR looks are very different. I used Sapphire to come up with different concepts and textures for the different VR looks, from rich quality of the high-end VR to the cheap VR found underneath a noodle bar.

Allen, can you walk us through the workflow from production to post?
Palmer: With the exception of specialty shots, the show was photographed on Alexa 65 — mostly in 5K mode, but occasionally in 6.5K and 4K for certain lenses. The camera is beautiful and a large part of the show’s cinematic look, but it generates a lot of data (about 1.9TB/hour for 5K) so this was the first challenge. The camera dictates using the Codex Vault system, and Encore Vancouver was up to the task for handling this material. We wanted to get the amount of data down for post, so we generated 4096×2304 ProRes 4444XQ “mezzanine” files, which we used for almost all of the show assembly and VFX pulls.

During production and post, all of our 4K files were kept online at Efilm using their portal system. This allowed us fast, automated access to the material so we could quickly do VFX pulls, manage color, generate 16-bit EXR frames and send those off to VFX vendors. We knew that time saved there was going to give us more time on the back end to work creatively on the shots so the Portal was a very valuable tool.

How many VFX shots did you average per episode? Seems like a ton, especially with the AI characters. Who provided those and what were those turnarounds like?
Palmer: There were around 2,300 visual effects shots during this season — probably less than most people would think because we built a large Bay City street inside a former newspaper printing facility outside of Vancouver. The shot turnaround varied depending on the complexity and where we were in the schedule. We were lucky that something like episode 1’s “limo ride” sequence was started very early on because it gave us a lot of time to refine our first grand views of Bay City. Our VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX producer Tony Meagher were able to get us out in front of a lot of challenges like the amount of 3D work in the last two episodes by starting that work early on since we knew we would need those shots from the script and prep phase.

The sound of Netflix’s The Defenders

By Jennifer Walden

Netflix’s The Defenders combines the stories of four different Marvel shows already on the streaming service: Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. In the new show, the previously independent superheroes find themselves all wanting to battle the same foe —a cultish organization called The Hand, which plans to destroy New York City. Putting their differences aside, the superheroes band together to protect their beloved city.

Supervising sound editor Lauren Stephens, who works at Technicolor at Paramount, has earned two Emmy nominations for her sound editing work on Daredevil. And she supervised the sound for each of the aforementioned Marvel series, with the exception of Jessica Jones. So when it came to designing The Defenders she was very conscious of maintaining the specific sonic characteristics they had already established.

“We were dedicated to preserving the palette of each of the previous Marvel characters’ neighborhoods and sound effects,” she explains. “In The Defenders, we wanted viewers of the individual series to recognize the sound of Luke’s Harlem and Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen, for example. In addition, we kept continuity for all of the fight material and design work established in the previous four series. I can’t think of another series besides Better Call Saul that borrows directly from its predecessors’ sound work.”

But it wasn’t all borrowed material. Eventually, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Iron Fist (Finn Jones) and Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) come together to fight The Hand’s leader Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver). “We experience new locations, and new fighting techniques and styles,” says Stephens. “Not to mention that half the city gets destroyed by The Hand. We haven’t had that happen in the previous series.”

Even though these Netflix/Marvel series are based on superheroes, the sound isn’t overly sci-fi. It’s as though the superheroes have more practical superhuman abilities. Stephens says their fight sounds are all real punches and impacts, with some design elements added only when needed, such as when Iron Fist’s iron fist is activated. “At the heart of our punches, for instance, is the sound of a real fist striking a side of beef,” she says. “It sounds like you’d expect, and then we amp it up when we mix. We record a ton of cloth movement and bodies scraping and sliding and tumbling in Foley. Those elements connect us to the humans on-screen.”

Since most of the violence plays out in hand-to-hand combat, it takes a lot of editing to make those fight scenes, and it involves contributions from several sound departments. Stephens has her hard effects team — led by sound designer Jordon Wilby (who has worked on all the Netflix/Marvel series) cut sound effects for every single punch, grab, flip, throw and land. In addition, they cut metal shings and whooshes, impacts and drops for weapons, crashes and bumps into walls and furniture, and all the gunshot material.

Stephens then has the Technicolor Foley team — Foley artists Zane Bruce and Lindsay Pepper and mixer Antony Zeller —cover all the footsteps, cloth “scuffle,” wall bumps, body falls and grabs. Additionally, she has dialogue editor Christian Buenaventura clean up any dialogue that occurs within or around the fight scenes. With group ADR, they replace every grunt and effort for each individual in the fight so that they have ultimate control over every element during the mix.

Stephens finds Gallery’s SpotStudio to be very helpful for cueing all the group ADR. “I shoot a lot of group ADR for the fights and to help create the right populated feel for NYC. SpotStudio is a slick program that interfaces well with Avid’s Pro Tools. It grabs timecode location of ADR cues and can then output that to many word processing programs. Personally, I use FileMaker Pro. I can make great cuesheets that are easy to format and use for engineers and talent.”

All that effort results in fight scenes that feel “relentless and painful,” says Stephens. “I want them to have movement, tons of detail and a wide range of dynamics. I want the fights to sound great wherever our fans are listening.”

The most challenging fight in The Defenders happens in the season finale, when the superheroes fight The Hand in the sublevels of a building. “That underground fight was the toughest simply because it was endless and shot with a 360-degree turn. I focused on what was on-screen and continued those sounds just until the action passed out of frame. This kept our tracks from getting too cluttered but still gives us the right idea that 60 people are going at it,” concludes Stephens

DP David Tattersall on shooting Netflix’s Death Note

Based on the manga series of the same name by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note stars Nat Wolff as Light Turner, a man who obtains a supernatural notebook that gives him the power to exterminate any living person by writing his or her name in the notebook. Willem Dafoe plays Ryuk, a demonic god of death and the creator of the Death Note. The stylized Netflix feature film was directed by Adam Wingard (V/H/S/, You’re Next) and shot by cinematographer David Tattersall (The Green Mile, Star Wars: Episode I, II and III) with VariCam 35s in 4K RAW with Codex VRAW recorders.

Tattersall had previously worked with Wingard on the horror television series, Outcast. Per Tattersall, he wasn’t aware of the manga series of books but during pre-production, he was able to go through a visual treasure trove of manga material that the art department compiled.

Instead of creating a “cartoony” look, Tattersall and Wingard were more influenced by classic horror films, as well as well-crafted movies by David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick. “Adam is a maestro of the horror genre, and he is very familiar with constructing scenes around scary moments and keeping tension,” explains Tattersall. “It wasn’t necessarily whole movies that influenced us — it was more about taking odd sequences that we thought might be relevant to what we were doing. We had a very cool extended foot chase that we referred to The French Connection and Se7en, both of which have a mix of handheld, extreme wides and long lens shots. Also, because of Adam’s love of Kubrick movies, we had compositions with composure and symmetry that are reminiscent of The Shining, or crazy wide-angle stuff from A Clockwork Orange. It sounds like a mish-mash, but we did have rules.”

Dialogue scenes were covered in a realistic non-flashy way and for Tattersall, one of his biggest challenges was dealing with the demon character, Ryuk, both physically and photographically. The team started with a huge puppet character with puppeteers operating it, but it wasn’t a practical approach since many of the scenes were shot in small spaces such as Light’s bedroom.

“Eventually, the practical issue led to us using a mime artist in full costume with the intention of doing face replacement later,” explains Tattersall. “From our testing, the approach of ‘less is more’ became a thing — less light, more shadow and mystery, less visible, more effective. It worked well for this character who is mostly seen hiding in the shadows. It’s similar to the first Jaws movie. The shark is strangely more scary and ominous when you only get a few glimpses in the frame here and there — a suggestion. And that was our approach for the first 75% of the film. You might get a brief lean out of the shadows and a quick lean back in. Often, we would just shoot him out of focus. We’d keep the focus in the foreground for the Light character and Ryuk would be an out-of-focus blob in the background. It’s not until the very end — the final murder sequence — that you get to see him in full head-to-toe clarity.”

Tattersall shot the film with two VariCam 35s as his A and B cameras and had a VariCam LT for backup. He shot in 4K DCI (4096 x 2160) capturing VRAW files to Codex VRAW recorders. For lensing, he shot with Zeiss Master primes with a 2:39:1 extraction. “This set has become a favorite of mine for the past few years and I’ve grown to love them,” says Tattersall. “They are a bit big and heavy, but they open to a T1.3 and they’re so velvety smooth. With this show having so much night work, that extra speed was very useful.”

In terms of RAW capture, Tattersall tried to keep it simple, using Fotokem’s nextLAB for on-set workflow. “It was almost like using a one light printing process,” he explains. “We had three basic looks — a fairly cool dingy look, one that sometimes falls back on the saturation or leans in the cold direction. I have a set of rules, but I occasionally break them. We tried as much as possible to shoot only in the shade — bringing in butterfly nets or shooting on the shady side of buildings during the day. It was Adam’s wish to keep this heavy, moody atmosphere.”

Tattersall used a few tools to capture unique visuals. To capture low angle shots, he used a P+S Skater Scope that lets you shoot low to the ground. “You can also incorporate floating Dutch angles with its motorized internal prism, so this was something we did throughout,” he says. “The horizon line would lean over to one side or the other.” He also used a remote rollover rig, which allowed the camera to roll 180-degrees when on a crane, giving Tattersall a dizzying visual.

“We also shot with a Phantom Flex to shoot 500fps,” continues Tattersall. “We would have low Dutch angles, an 8mm fish eye look and a Lensbaby to degrade the focus even more. The image could get quite wonky on occasion, which is counterpoint to the more classic coverage of the calmer dialogue moments.”

Although he did a lot of night work, Tattersall did not use the native 5,000 ISO. “I have warmed to a new range of LED lights — the Cineo Maverick, Matchbox and Matchstix. They’re all color balanced and they’re all multi-varied Daylight or Tungsten so it’s quick and easy to change the color temperature without the use of gels. We also made use of Arri Skypanels. Outside, we used tried and tested old school HMIs or 9-light or 12-light MaxiBrutes. There’s nothing quite like them in terms of powerful source lights.”

Death Note was finished at Technicolor by colorist Skip Kimball on Blackmagic Resolve. “The grade was mostly about smoothing out the bumps and tweaking the contrast” explains Tattersall. “Since it’s a dark feature, there was an emphasis on a heavy mood — keeping the blacks, with good contrast and saturated colors. But in the end, the photographic stylization came from the camera placement and lens choices working together with the action choreography.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

By Iain Blair

Director/producer/showrunner Barry Sonnenfeld has a gift for combining killer visuals with off-kilter, broad and often dark comedy, as showcased in such monster hits as the Men in Black and The Addams Family franchises.

He did learn from the modern masters of black comedy, the Coen brothers, beginning his prolific career as their DP on their first feature film, Blood Simple and then shooting such classics as Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing. He continued his comedy training as the DP on such films as Penny Marshall’s Big, Danny Devito’s Throw Momma from the Train and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally.

So maybe it was just a matter of time before Sonnenfeld — whose directing credits include Get Shorty, Wild Wild West, RV and Nine Lives — gravitated toward helming the acclaimed new Netflix show A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the beloved and best-selling “Lemony Snicket” children’s series by Daniel Handler. After all, with the series’ rat-a-tat dialogue, bizarre humor and dark comedy, it’s a perfect fit for the director’s own strengths and sensibilities.

I spoke with Sonnenfeld, who won a 2007 Primetime Emmy and a DGA Award for his directorial achievement on Pushing Daisies, about making the series, the new golden age of TV, his love of post — and the real story behind why he never directed the film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Weren’t you originally set to direct the 2004 film, and you even hired Handler to write the screenplay?
That’s true. I was working with producer Scott Rudin, who had done the Addams Family films with me, and Paramount decided they needed more money, so they brought in another studio, DreamWorks. But the DreamWorks producer — who had done the Men in Black films with me — and I don’t really get along. So when they came on board, Daniel and I were let go. I’d been very involved with it for a long time. I’d already hired a crew, sets were all designed, and it was very disappointing as I loved the books.

But there’s a happy ending. You are doing Netflix TV series, which seems much closer to the original books than the movie version. How important was finding the right tone?
The single most important job of a director is both finding and maintaining the right tone. Luckily, the tone of the books is exactly in my wheelhouse — creating worlds that are real, but also with some artifice in them, like the Men in Black and Addams Family movies, and Pushing Daisies. I tend to like things that are a bit dark, slightly quirky.

What did you think of the film version?
I thought it was slightly too big and loud, and I wanted to do something more like a children’s book, for adults.

The film version had to stuff Handler’s first three novels into a single movie, but the TV format, with its added length, must work far better for the books?
Far better, and the other great thing is that once Netflix hired me — and it was a long auditioning process — they totally committed. They take a long time finding the right material and pairing it with the right filmmaker but once they do, they really trust their judgment.

I really wanted to shoot it all on stages, so I could control everything. I didn’t want sun or rain. I wanted gloomy overhead. So we shot it all in Vancouver, and Netflix totally bought into that vision. I have an amazing team — the great production designer Bo Welch, who did Men in Black and other films with me, and DP Bernard Couture.

Patrick Warburton’s deadpan delivery as Lemony Snicket, the books’ unreliable narrator, is a great move compared with having just the film’s voiceover. How early on did you make that change?
When I first met with Netflix, I told them that Lemony should be an on-screen character. That was my goal. Patrick’s just perfect for the role. He’s the sort of Rod Serling/Twilight Zone presence — only more so, as he’s involved in the actual visual style of the show.

How early on do you deal with post and CG for each episode?
Even before we’re shooting. You don’t want to wait until you lock picture to start all that work, or you’ll never finish in time. I’m directing most of it — half the first season and over a third of the second. Bo’s doing some episodes, and we bring in the directors at least a month before the shoot, which is long for TV, to do a shot list. These shows, both creatively and in terms of budget, are made in prep. There should be very few decisions being made in the shoot or surprises in post because basically every two episodes equal one book, and they’re like feature films but on one-tenth of the budget and a quarter of the schedule.

We only have 24 days to do two hours worth of feature film. Our goal is to make it look as good as any feature, and I think we’ve done that. So once we have sequences we’re happy with, we show them to Netflix and start post, as we have a lot of greenscreen. We do some CGI, but not as much as we expected.

Do you also post in Vancouver?
No. We began doing post there for the first season, but we discovered that with our TV budget and my feature film demands and standards, it wasn’t working out. So now we work with several post vendors in LA and San Francisco. All the editorial is in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I’ve always loved it. As Truffaut said, the day you finish filming is the worst it’ll ever be, and then in post you get to make it great again, separating the wheat from the chaff, adding all the VFX and sound. I love prep and post — especially post as it’s the least stress and you have the most time to just think. Production is really tough. Things go wrong constantly.

You used two editors?
Yes, Stuart Bass and Skip MacDonald, and each edits two episodes/one book as we go. I’m very involved, but in TV the director gets a very short time to do their cut, and I like to give notes and then leave. My problem is I’m a micro-manager, so it’s best if I leave because I drive everyone crazy! Then the showrunner — which is also me — takes over. I’m very comfortable in post, with all the editing and VFX, and I represent the whole team and end up making all the post decisions.

Where did you mix the sound?
We did all the mixing on the Sony lot with the great Paul Ottosson who won Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. We go way back, as he did Men in Black 3 and other shows for me, and what’s so great about him is that he both designs the sound and then also mixes.

The show uses a lot of VFX. Who did them?
We used three main houses — Shade and Digital Sandbox in LA and Tippett in San Francisco. We also used EDI, an Italian company, who came in late to do some wire removal and clean up.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
We did it all at Encore LA, and the colorist on the first season was Laura Jans Fazio, who was fantastic. It’s the equivalent to a movie DI, where you do all the final color timing, and getting the right look was crucial. The DP created very good LUTs, and our rough cut was very close to where we wanted it, and then the DP and myself piggy-backed sessions with the colorist. It’s a painful experience for me as it’s so slow, and like editing, I micro-manage. So I set looks for scenes and then leave.

Barry Sonnefeld directs Joan Cusack.

Is it a golden age for TV?
Very much so. The writing’s a very high standard, and now everyone has wide-screen TVs there’s no more protecting the 3:4 image, which is almost square. When I began doing TV, there was no such thing as a wide shot. Executives would look at my cut, and the first thing they’d always say was, “Do you have a close-up of so and so?” Now it’s all changed. But TV is so different from movies. I look back fondly at movie schedules!

How important are the Emmys and other awards?
They’re very important for Netflix and all the new platforms. If you have critical success, then they get more subscribers, more money and then they develop more projects. And it’s great to be acknowledged by your peers.

What’s next?
I’ll finish season two and we’re hopeful about season three, which would keep us busy through fall 2018. And Vancouver’s a perfect place to be as long as you’re shooting on stage and don’t have to deal with the weather.

Will there be a fourth Men in Black?
If there is, I don’t think Will or I will be involved. I suspect there won’t be one, as it might be just too expensive to make now, with all the back-end deals for Spielberg and Amblin and so on. But I hope there’s one.

Images: Joe Lederer/Netflix


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.

Harbor’s Bobby Johanson discusses ADR for TV and film

By Jennifer Walden

A lot of work comes in and out of the ADR department at New York City’s Harbor Picture Company. A lot.

Over the past year alone, ADR mixer Bobby Johanson has been cranking out ADR and loop group for films such as Beauty and the Beast, The Light Between Oceans, Patriots Day, The Girl on the Train, Triple 9, Hail, Caesar! and more.

His expertise goes beyond film though. Johanson also does ADR for series, for shows like Amazon’s Red Oaks and their upcoming series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Netflix’s Master of None, which we will touch on lightly in a bit. First, let’s talk the art of ADR.

According to Johanson, “Last week, I did full days on three different films. Some weeks we record full days, nights and weekends, depending on the season, film festivals, what’s in post, actor availability and everything else that goes on with scheduling. Some sessions will book for two hours out of a day, while another client will want eight hours because of actor availability.”

With so many projects passing through his studio, efficiency is essential, but not at the cost of a job well done. “You have an actor on the stage and the director in the room, and you have to make things efficient,” says Johanson. “You have to play lines back as they are going to be in the show. You want to play the line and hear, ‘Was that ADR?’ Instantly, it’s a whole new world. People have been burned by not so good ADR in the past, and I feel like that compromises the performance. It’s very important for the talent to feel like they’re in good hands, so they forget about the technical side and just focus on their acting.”

Johanson got his start in ADR at New York’s Sound One facility, first as a messenger running reels around, and then moving up to the machine room when there was an opening for Sound One’s new ADR stage. “We didn’t really have anyone teaching us. The job was shown to us once; then we just had to figure out how to thread the dubbers and the projector. Once we got those hung, we would sit in the ADR studio and watch. I picked up a lot of my skills old-school. I’ve learned to incorporate those techniques into current technology and that works well for us.”

Tools
Gear-wise, one staple of his ADR career has been the Soundmaster ADR control system. Johanson calls it an “old-school tool,” probably 25 years old at this point, but he hasn’t found anything faster for recording ADR. “I used it at Sound One, and I used it at Digital Cinema, and now I use it here at Harbor. Until someone can invent another ADR synchronizer, this is the best for me.”

Johanson integrates the Soundmaster system with Avid Pro Tools 12 and works as a two-man team with ADR recordist Mike Rivera. “You can’t beat the efficiency and the attention to detail that you can get with the two-man team.”

Rivera tags the takes and makes minor edits while Johanson focuses on the director and the talent. “Because we are working on a synchronizer, the ADR recordist can do things that you couldn’t do if you were just shooting straight to Pro Tools,” explains Johanson. “We can actually edit on the fly and instantly playback the line in sync. I have the time to get the reverb on it and sweeten it. I can mix the line in because I’m not cutting it or pulling it into the track. That is being done while the system is moving on the pre-roll for a playback.”

For reverb, Johanson chooses an outboard Lexicon PCM80. This puts the controls easily within reach, and he can quickly add or change the reverb on the fly, helping the clean ADR line to sync into the scene. “The reverb unit is pretty old, but it is single-handedly the easiest reverb unit that you can use. There are four room sizes, and then you can adjust the delay of the reverb four times. I have been using this reverb for so many years now that I can match any reverb from any movie or TV show because I know this unit so well.”

Another key piece of gear in his set-up is an outboard Eventide H3000 SE sampler, which Johanson uses to sample the dialogue line they need to replace and play it back over and over for the actor to re-perform. “We offer a variety of ways to do ADR, like using beeps and having the actor perform to picture, but many actors prefer an older method that goes back to ‘looping.’ Back in the day, you would just run a line over and over again and the actor would emulate it. Then we put the select take of that line to picture. It’s a method that 60 percent of our actors who come in here love to do, and I can do that using the sampler.”

He also uses the sampler for playback. By sampling background noise from the scene, he can play that under the ADR line during playback and it helps the ADR to sit in the scene. “I keep the sampler and reverb as outboard gear because I can control them quickly. I’m doing things freestyle and we don’t have to stop the session. We don’t have to stop the system and wait for a playback or wait to do a record pass. Because we are a two-man operation, I can focus on these pieces of gear while Mike is tagging the takes with their cue numbers and managing them in the Pro Tools session for delivery. I can’t find an easier or quicker way to do what I do.”

While Johanson’s set-up may lack the luster of newly minted audio tools, it’s hard to argue with results. It’s not a case of “if it’s not broke then don’t fix it,” but rather a case of “don’t mess with perfection.”

Master of None
The set-up served them well while recording ADR and loop group for Netflix’s Emmy-winning comedy series Master of None. “Kudos to production sound mixer Michael Barosky because there wasn’t too much dialogue that we needed to replace with ADR for Season 2,” says Johanson. “But we did do a lot of loop group — sweetening backgrounds and walla, and things like that.”

For the Italian episodes, they brought in bilingual actors to record Italian language loop group. One scene that stood out for Johanson was the wedding scene in Italy, where the guests start jumping into the swimming pool. “We have a nice-sized ADR stage and so that frees us up to do a lot of movement. We were directing the actors to jump in front of the mic and run by the mic, to give us the effect of people jumping into the pool. That worked quite nicely in the track.”

Netflix’s The Last Kingdom puts Foley to good use

By Jennifer Walden

What is it about long-haired dudes strapped with leather, wielding swords and riding horses alongside equally fierce female warriors charging into bloody battles? There is a magic to this bygone era that has transfixed TV audiences, as evident by the success of HBO’s Game of Thrones, History Channel’s Vikings series and one of my favorites, The Last Kingdom, now on Netflix.

The Last Kingdom, based on a series of historical fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, is set in late 9th century England. It tells the tale of Saxon-born Uhtred of Bebbanburg who is captured as a child by Danish invaders and raised as one of their own. Uhtred gets tangled up in King Alfred of Wessex’s vision to unite the three separate kingdoms (Wessex, Northumbria and East Anglia) into one country called England. He helps King Alfred battle the invading Danish, but Uhtred’s real desire is to reclaim his rightful home of Bebbanburg from his duplicitous uncle.

Mahoney Audio Post
The sound of the series is gritty and rich with leather, iron and wood elements. The soundtrack’s tactile quality is the result of extensive Foley work by Mahoney Audio Post, who has been with the series since the first season. “That’s great for us because we were able to establish all the sound for each character, village, environment and more, right from the first episode,” says Foley recordist/editor/sound designer Arran Mahoney.

Mahoney Audio Post is a family-operated audio facility in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, UK. Arran Mahoney explains the studio’s family ties. “Clare Mahoney (mum) and Jason Swanscott (cousin) are our Foley artists, with over 30 years of experience working on high-end TV shows and feature films. My brother Billy Mahoney and I are the Foley recordists and editors/sound designers. Billy Mahoney, Sr. (dad) is the founder of the company and has been a dubbing mixer for over 40 years.”

Their facility, built in 2012, houses a mixing suite and two separate audio editing suites, each with Avid Pro Tools HD Native systems, Avid Artist mixing consoles and Genelec monitors. The facility also has a purpose-built soundproof Foley stage featuring 20 different surfaces including grass, gravel, marble, concrete, sand, pebbles and multiple variations of wood.

Foley artists Clare Mahoney and Jason Swanscott.

Their mic collection includes a Røde NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone and a Røde NTG3 supercardioid shotgun microphone, which they use individually for close-micing or in combination to create more distant perspectives when necessary. They also have two other studio staples: a Neumann U87 large-diaphragm condenser mic and a Sennheiser MKH-416 short shotgun mic.

Going Medieval
Over the years, the Mahoney Foley team has collected thousands of props. For The Last Kingdom specifically, they visited a medieval weapons maker and bought a whole armory of items: swords, shields, axes, daggers, spears, helmets, chainmail, armor, bridles and more. And it’s all put to good use on the series. Mahoney notes, “We cover every single thing that you see on-screen as well as everything you hear off of it.” That includes all the feet (human and horses), cloth, and practical effects like grabs, pick-ups/put downs, and touches. They also cover the battle sequences.

Mahoney says they use 20 to 30 tracks of Foley just to create the layers of detail that the battle scenes need. Starting with the cloth pass, they cover the Saxon chainmail and the Vikings leather and fur armor. Then they do basic cloth and leather movements to cover non-warrior characters and villagers. They record a general weapons track, played at low volume, to provide a base layer of sound.

Next they cover the horses from head to hoof, with bridles and saddles, and Foley for the horses’ feet. When asked what’s the best way to Foley horse hooves, Mahoney asserts that it is indeed with coconuts. “We’ve also purchased horseshoes to add to the stable atmospheres and spot FX when required,” he explains. “We record any abnormal horse movements, i.e. crossing a drawbridge or moving across multiple surfaces, and sound designers take care of the rest. Whenever muck or gravel is needed, we buy fresh material from the local DIY stores and work it into our grids/pits on the Foley stage.”

The battle scenes also require Foley for all the grabs, hits and bodyfalls. For the blood and gore, they use a variety of fruit and animal flesh.

Then there’s a multitude of feet to cover the storm of warriors rushing at each other. All the boots they used were wrapped in leather to create an authentic sound that’s true to the time. Mahoney notes that they didn’t want to capture “too much heel in the footsteps, while also trying to get a close match to the sync sound in the event of ADR.”

Surfaces include stone and marble for the Saxon castles of King Alfred and the other noble lords. For the wooden palisades and fort walls, Mahoney says they used a large wooden base accompanied by wooden crates, plinths, boxes and an added layer of controlled creaks to give an aged effect to everything. On each series, they used 20 rolls of fresh grass, lots of hay for the stables, leaves for the forest, and water for all the sea and river scenes. “There were many nights cleaning the studio after battle sequences,” he says.

In addition to the aforementioned props of medieval weapons, grass, mud, bridles and leather, Mahoney says they used an unexpected prop: “The Viking cloth tracks were actually done with samurai suits. They gave us the weight needed to distinguish the larger size of a Danish man compared to a Saxon.”

Their favorite scenes to Foley, and by far the most challenging, were the battle scenes. “Those need so much detail and attention. It gives us a chance to shine on the soundtrack. The way that they are shot/edited can be very fast paced, which lends itself well to micro details. It’s all action, very precise and in your face,” he says. But if they had to pick one favorite scene, Mahoney says it would be “Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold.”

Another challenging-yet-rewarding opportunity for Foley was during the slave ship scenes. Uhtred and his friend are sold into slavery as rowers on a Viking ship, which holds a crew of nearly 30 men. The Mahoney team brought the slave ship to life by building up layers of detail. “There were small wood creaks with small variations of wood and big creaks with larger variations of wood. For the big creaks, we used leather and a broomstick to work into the wood, creating a deep creak sound by twisting the three elements against each other. Then we would pitch shift or EQ to create size and weight. When you put the two together it gives detail and depth. Throw in a few tracks of rigging and pulleys for good measure and you’re halfway there,” says Mahoney.

For the sails, they used a two-mic setup to record huge canvas sheets to create a stereo wrap-around feel. For the rowing effects, they used sticks, brooms and wood rubbing, bouncing, or knocking against large wooden floors and solid boxes. They also covered all the characters’ shackles and chains.

Foley is a very effective way to draw the audience in close to a character or to help the audience feel closer to the action on-screen. For example, near the end of Season 2’s finale, a loyal subject of King Alfred has fallen out of favor. He’s eventually imprisoned and prepares to take his own life. The sound of his fingers running down the blade and the handling of his knife make the gravity of his decision palpable.

Mahoney shares another example of using Foley to draw the audience in — during the scene when Sven is eaten by Thyra’s wolves (following Uhtred and Ragnar storming Kjartan’s stronghold). “We used oranges and melons for Sven’s flesh being eaten and for the blood squirts. Then we created some tracks of cloth and leather being ripped. Specially manufactured claw props were used for the frantic, ravenous wolf feet,” he says. “All the action was off-screen so it was important for the audience to hear in detail what was going on, to give them a sense of what it would be like without actually seeing it. Also, Thyra’s reaction needed to reflect what was going on. Hopefully, we achieved that.”

David Michôd on directing Brad Pitt’s latest, War Machine

By Iain Blair

Aussie writer/director David Michôd first burst onto the scene with his 2010 feature film debut Animal Kingdom, a gritty crime drama that won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and 10 Australian Film Institute awards. The film was also earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver).

David Michôd

Michôd followed that up with his second feature film, The Rover, a dystopian drama set in near future Australia following a global economic collapse. It starred Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.

His new film, War Machine, was inspired by the book “The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” by the late journalist Michael Hastings. It stars Brad Pitt as Glen McMahon, a successful, charismatic four-star general who leaps in like a rock star to command coalition forces in Afghanistan, only to be taken down by the quagmire of war, his own hubris and a journalist’s no-holds-barred expose.

Joining Pitt in this cautionary tale of the rise and fall of a larger-than-life military hero is a cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Sir Ben Kingsley, Topher Grace, John Magaro, Alan Ruck and Meg Tilly.

Michôd also assembled an accomplished team behind the camera, including director of photography Dariusz Wolski, production designer Jo Ford, editor Peter Sciberras and sound designer Sam Petty. War Machine has premiered globally on Netflix and opened in select theaters on May 26.

I recently talked to Michôd, who began his career making short films, about making the film, working with Pitt and his love of post.

What was the type of film you were trying to make with War Machine?
Something that was bat-shit crazy! That’s kind of glib, but it’s true. I’d been looking for a way into a war film for a while, and given my natural sensibilities I thought it would be a dark and menacing rumination on the horrors of war. Then when Plan B gave me Hastings’ book and I just couldn’t put it down. I began to see the film as a much larger thing, although I never lost sight of that kernel of an idea I initially had for a war film.

Suddenly the world around that idea got bigger and wilder and more interesting. I began to see a movie about the entire war machine, a multi-layered story that spanned the sort of hubristic buffoonery at the top levels, and the real impact and grave consequences that had on the troops on the ground. There was this huge chasm between them. So, I wanted to make a film about that absurd delusion at the top, but also the real horrors of war.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning black comedy and the increasingly serious nature of the film?
It was very challenging, but the way to deal with it was to stay true to the tones we’d chosen to use, and to use them to show the huge disconnection between the upper and lower levels of the machine. So, I amplified those two tones — the black comedy and the seriousness of the situation. Where the movie starts to shift tonally is with the intimate scenes around Brad’s character, and that begins with the scenes with his wife, played by Meg Tilly. You start to see something underneath all the braggadocio for the first time. You see the ambitious little boy inside this man through her eyes, and around then the edifice starts to crumble.

What did Brad Pitt bring to his role?
He really got the character and the arc, from this vain, ambitious, comically-heightened general to a tragic figure. Today, these top generals often seem to be more academic, but this guy is more old school — the kind of guy who still thinks he’s like some great WWII general, like a MacArthur or a Patton. Brad loved that concept and really ran with it.

Any surprises working with him?
Not really. When I began writing this, it was under the assumption I’d be writing it for Brad, although it wasn’t guaranteed he’d play it. But that was the plan, and I was excited to write it in this comedic vein for him, as I think he’s been under-used in comedy roles. Usually, they’re just supporting roles here and there, like Burn After Reading and Inglourious Basterds, but this was a chance for him to use that skill set in a much larger way, as I wanted McMahon to be amplified and absurd, yet also sympathetic. I felt we should just swing for the fences and go big and go delusional. I knew he would do a great job with the character, and he did.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The big one was finding the right desert locations to stand in for Afghanistan, as we obviously couldn’t shoot there, and it’s not easy to recreate all its different terrains. We had to find somewhere in that part of the world to shoot, but so much of it now is very volatile. All the old go-to places like Jordan and Morocco are becoming tricky if you’re there for a long time with a high-profile cast. We also needed somewhere with access to all this military gear, and we knew we wouldn’t get any co-operation from the US military.

In the end, we used the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which stands in for Afghanistan, and then we did most of the interiors on London soundstages. We also shot stuff in Paris, Berlin and LA. The great thing about the UAE was that we had access to all the military hardware we needed, and the moment we started shooting there you could just feel the scope of the movie opening up. You’re looking at all the tanks and the Black Hawk helicopters and the hardware, and you start to feel the frighteningly attractive pull of it all, its raw power. I could really understand how if you were in charge of all this machinery, how it could start to make you feel very powerful. It’s a bit like a drug. If any one of these elements had collapsed, we probably couldn’t have made the movie, but it all fell into place.

How tough was the shoot?
We shot over 55 days, and it was tough because you had the heat and dust and so on, but no tougher than usual. Despite its size, it honestly didn’t feel any harder than making any of my shorts. When you’re on set and the clock is ticking, it’s the same anxiety, adrenaline and sense of joy of creating something out of nothing.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, the editing and doing the sound — the whole thing. Like the shoot, we were all over the place doing post. We began cutting in Sydney for four months and then moved up the coast for a while so we could work alongside my sound designer, Sam Petty. Then we moved everything to Goldcrest in London for another four months. The plan was to finish post there, but this movie’s so complex, with so many colors and layers, that we decided to keep working on it and then moved to LA for another four months, and kept cutting there and then went back to London to finish off the music and VFX and other stuff. It ended up being about a year on post.

You cut this film with editor Peter Sciberras. How did that relationship work?
He wasn’t on set, as he feels redundant and in everyone’s way, but he followed us around while we shot so we could talk and I could have a look every day. But I don’t like to pore over my dailies while I’m shooting. We shot Sony CineAlta 4K digital with three cameras often, so there was more footage than he knew what to do with. The big challenge in editing was dealing with that complex, strange triangle between politics, information and tone. The essence of the movie didn’t really change over that year — just the way in which we were framing it. We spent a lot of time getting that framing right.

Can you talk about the importance of the film’s music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and the sound design by Sam Petty?
Because we were making a movie about the insanity of war, I wanted it to have that schizophrenic tone, and that fed into how we dealt with all the sound design and music. Sam did an amazing job, and I just love the music that Nick and Warren did, as it really embodies the tone I wanted. Their music drifts in and out of tones and tunes and time with all these layers. Really, it makes no sense, yet it all hangs together. We did the mix at Goldcrest.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a role. Who did them?
BlueBolt in London, and we had a lot, mainly recreating the look of Afghanistan, set extensions, augmentations, clean-up and so on.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
Also at Goldcrest, and it’s so vital now, especially with this brave new world of streaming. The danger is you spend so long on your theatrical grade, yet this is a movie that’s largely going to be streamed. That applied to my last two movies; I spent two weeks doing a beautiful theatrical grade when they were mainly being seen on cable TV. The challenge is for me to pay as much attention in the DI to all the different platforms and formats out there now. It’s a bit mind-boggling.

What’s next?
Not sure. I always come out of a movie feeling like I never want to make another. I need a break to recharge.


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.

Recreating history for Netflix’s The Crown

By Randi Altman

If you, like me, binge-watched Netflix’s The Crown, you are now considerably better educated on the English monarchy, have a very different view of Queen Elizabeth, and were impressed with the show’s access to Buckingham Palace.

Well, it turns out they didn’t actually have access to the Palace. This is where London-based visual effects house One of Us came in. While the number of shots provided for the 10-part series varied, the average was 43 per episode.

In addition to Buckingham Palace, One of Us worked on photoreal digital set extensions, crowd replications and environments, including Downing Street and London Airport. The series follows a young Elizabeth who inherits the crown after her father, King George VI, dies. We see her transition from a vulnerable young married lady to a more mature woman who takes her role as head monarch very seriously.

We reached out to One of Us VFX supervisor Ben Turner to find out more.

How early did you join the production?
One of Us was heavily involved during an eight-month pre-production process, until shooting commenced in July 2015.

Ben Turner

Did they have clear vision of what they needed VFX vs. practical?
As we were involved from the pre-production stage, we were able to engage in discussions about how best to approach shooting the scenes with the VFX work in mind. It was important to us and the production that actors interacted with real set pieces and the VFX work would be “thrown away” in the background, not drawing attention to itself.

Were you on set?
I visited all relevant locations, assisted on set by Jon Pugh who gathered all VFX data required. I would attend all recces at these locations, and then supervise on the shoot days.

Did you do previs? If so, what software did you use?
We didn’t do much previs in the traditional sense. We did some tech-vis to help us figure out how best to film some things, such as the arrivals at the gates of Buckingham Palace and the Coronation sequence. We also did some concept images to help inform the shoot and design of some scenes. This work was all done in Autodesk Maya, The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe Photoshop.

Were there any challenges in working in 4K? Did your workflow change at all, and how much of your work currently is in 4K?
Working in 4K didn’t really change our workflow too much. At One of Us, we are used to working on film projects that come in all different shapes and sizes (we recently completed work on Terrance Mallick’s Voyage of Time in IMAX 5K), but for The Crown we invested in the infrastructure that enabled us to take it in our stride — larger and faster disks to hold the huge amounts of data, as well as a new 4K monitor to review all the work.

     

What were some of your favorite, or most challenging, VFX for the show?
The most challenging work was the kind of shots that many people are already very familiar with. So the Queen’s Coronation, for example, was watched by 20 million people in 1953, and with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street being two of the most famous and recognizable addresses in the world, there wasn’t really anywhere for us to hide!

Some of my favorite shots are the ones where we were recreating real events for which there are amazing archive references, such as the tilt down on the scaffolding at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the Coronation, or the unveiling of the statue of King George VI.

     

Can you talk about the tools you used, and did you create any propriety tools during the workflow?
We used Enwaii and Maya for photogrammetry, Photoshop for digital matte painting and Nuke for compositing. For crowd replication we created our own in-house 2.5D tool in Nuke, which was a card generator that gave the artist a choice of crowd elements, letting them choose the costume, angle, resolution and actions required.

What are you working on now?
We are currently hard at work on Season 2 of The Crown, which is going to be even bigger and more ambitious, so watch this space! Recent work also includes King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (Warner Bros.) and Assassin’s Creed (New Regency).

Netflix's Stranger Things

AES LA Section & SMPTE Hollywood: Stranger Things sound

By Mel Lambert

The most recent joint AES/SMPTE meeting at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City showcased the talents of the post production crew that worked on the recent Netflix series Stranger Things at Technicolor’s facilities in Hollywood.

Over 160 attendees came to hear how supervising sound editor Brad North, sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby, music editor David Klotz and dialog/music re-recording mixer Joe Barnett worked their magic on last year’s eight-episode Season One (Sadly, effects re-recording mixer Adam Jenkins was unable to attend the gathering.) Stranger Things, from co-creators Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, is scheduled to return in mid-year for Season 2.

L-R: Jordan Wilby, Brad North, Craig Henighan, Joe Barnett, David Klotz and Mel Lambert. Photo Credit: Steve Harvey.

Attendees heard how the crew developed each show’s unique 5.1-channel soundtrack, from editorial through re-recording — including an ‘80s-style, synth-based music score, from Austin-based composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, that is key to the show’s look and feel — courtesy of a full-range surround sound playback system supplied by Dolby Labs.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from sci-fi films like Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan explained. The designer also revealed how he developed a characteristic sound for the monster that appears in key scenes. “The basic sound is that of a seal,” he said. “But it wasn’t as simple as just using a seal vocal, although it did provide a hook — an identifiable sound around which I could center the rest of the monster sounds. It’s fantastic to take what is normally known as a nice, light, fun-loving sound and use it in a terrifying way!” Tim Prebble, a New Zealand-based sound designer, and owner of sound effects company Hiss and A Roar, offers a range of libraries, including SD003 Seal Vocals|Hiss and A Roar.

Gear used includes Avid Pro Tools DAWs — everybody works in the box — and Avid 64-fader, dual-operator S6 console at the Technicolor Seward Stage. The composers use Apple Logic Pro to record and edit their AAF-format music files.


Mel Lambert is principal of Content Creators, an LA-based copywriting and editorial service, and can be reached at mel.lambert@content-creators.com. Follow him on Twitter @MelLambertLA.

 

Stranger Things

Upcoming AES LA meeting features Netflix’s Stranger Things sound team

On January 31, the AES LA Section monthly meeting will showcase the sound editorial and re-recording of the Netflix series Stranger Things. Attendees will hear first-hand how the sound team creates the 5.1-channel soundtrack, including the eerie music that is key to the show’s look and feel. A second season from the Duffer Brothers is scheduled to start later this year, with its haunting ’80s-style, synth-based musical score.

For those of you not familiar with the show, it’s set in Indiana in 1983 and focuses on a 12-year-old boy gone missing and the resulting search for him by the police chief and his friends.

The editorial team for Stranger Things is headed up by supervising sound editor Brad North, who works closely with sound designer Craig Henighan, sound effects editor Jordan Wilby and music editor David Klotz. The re-recording crew, working at the Technicolor Seward stage, is Joe Barnett, who handles dialogue and music, and Adam Jenkins, who handles sound effects.

“We drew our inspiration — subconsciously, at least — from such sci-fi films as Alien, The Thing and Predator,” Henighan recalls. Part sci-fi, part horror and part family drama, Stranger Things is often considered an homage to 80’s movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET.

The joint AES/SMPTE January meeting, which will be held at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City on Tuesday, January 31, is open to both AES and SMPTE members and non-members.

Panelists will include Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Joe Barnett, David Klotz, Brad North and Craig Henighan.

catherine orchard

Derby picks director Catherine Orchard for roster

New York-based production company Derby has added Catherine Orchard to its directorial roster. Formerly a graphic designer and art director, Orchard’s work in the creative departments of various brands and magazines has helped her to develop an eye for strong imagery in combination with humor and lyrical storytelling.

She has worked with a variety of brands and magazines, including Bobbi Brown, Alice + Olivia, Jane, Travel + Leisure and Vibe. Most recently, she has been directing for Loft and Teen Vogue.

We checked in with Brooklyn-based Orchard to find out how she works and what her process is like: “Whenever I start a project, I look at what the existing elements are and break them down to what’s key and what needs to be said or shown. Then I let my imagination wander and take inventory on the many ways to put those particulars into a story. I like having a starting point of knowing the character (so cliché, but how else?!) and then the tone and look follows.”

That goes for any project, she says, whether it be commercial, narrative or experimental. “I’m interested in trying out some of the technical things, like practical lighting tricks, VFX and camera movements if it makes sense for the story’s look and tone. I also do research to sort out what the story might actually look and feel like. Then I revise. That’s usually the way I start each and every one of my projects.”

When asked about a recent job, Orchard talked about working with the kids from Netflix’s Stranger Things for Teen Vogue. “We had less than one hour to film, so I thought playing a game of charades would be fun — they made up their own dreams and nightmares. I should mention that serving candy to kids at 9am is a very cheap trick, but it worked!”

While Orchard hasn’t yet helmed a job for Derby, future projects can be expected to come from her in early 2017.  Orchard joins Derby’s directorial roster, which includes Lucas Borrás, Nickolas Duarte, The Bozzwicks and John Poliquin. Since the company launched in the fall of 2015, Derby has produced campaigns with its agency and brand partners for Listerine, Lucky Charms, Johnson & Johnson, Sauza, Erno Laszlo and others.

The color and sound of Netflix’s The Get Down

The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s new series for Netflix, tells the story of the birth of hip-hop in the late 1970s in New York’s South Bronx. The show depicts a world filled with colorful characters pulsating to the rhythms of an emerging musical form.

Shot on the Red Dragon and Weapon in 6K, sound and picture finishing for the full series was completed over several months at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Re-recording mixers Martin Czembor and Eric Hirsch, working under Luhrmann’s direction and alongside supervising sound designer Ruy Garcia, put the show’s dense soundtrack into its final form.

The Get Down

Colorist John Crowley, meanwhile, collaborated with Luhrmann, cinematographer William Rexer and executive producer Catherine Martin in polishing its look. “Every episode is like a movie,” says Czembor. “And the expectations, on all levels, were set accordingly. It was complex, challenging, unique… and super fascinating.”

The Get Down’s soundtrack features original music from composer Elliott Wheeler, along with classic hip-hop tracks and flashes of disco, new wave, salsa and even opera. And the music isn’t just ambiance; it is intricately woven into the story. To illustrate the creative process, a character’s attempt to work out a song lyric might seamlessly transform into a full-blown finished song.

According to Garcia, the show’s music team began working on the project from the writing stage. “Baz uses songs as plot devices — they become part of the story. The music works together with the sound effects, which are also very musical. We tuned the trains, the phones and other sounds and synced them to the music. When a door closes, it closes on the beat.”

Ruy Garcia

The blending of story, music, dialogue and sound came together in the mix. Hirsch, who mixed Foley and effects, recalls an intensive trial-and-error process to arrive at a layering that felt right. “There was more music in this show than anything I’ve previously worked on,” he says. “It was a challenge to find enough sound effects to fill out the world without stepping on the music. We looked for places where they could breathe.”

In terms of tools, they used Avid Pro Tools 12 HD for sound and music, ADR manager for ADR cueing and Sound Miner for Sound FX library management. For sound design they called on Altiverb, Speakerphone and SoundToys EchoBoy to create spaces, and iZotope Iris for sampling. “We mixed using two Avid Pro Tools HDX2 systems and a double operator Avid S6 control surface,” explains Garcia. “The mix sessions were identical to the editorial sessions, including plug-ins, to allow seamless exchange of material and elaborate conformations.”

Music plays a crucial role in the series’ numerous montage sequences, acting as a bridge as the action shifts between various interconnecting storylines. “In Episode 2, Cadillac interrogates two gang members about a nightclub shooting, as Shaolin and Zeke are trying to work out the ‘get down’ — finding the break for a hip-hop beat,” recalls Czembor. “The way those two scenes are cut together with the music is great! It has an amazing intensity.”

Czembor, who mixed dialogue and music, describes the mix as a collaborative process. During the early phases, he and Hirsch worked closely with Wheeler, Garcia and other members of the sound and picture editing teams. “We spent several days pre-mixing the dialogue, effects and music to get it into a basic shape that we all liked,” he explains. “Then Baz would come in and offer ideas on what to push and where to take it next. It was a fun process. With Baz, bigger and bolder is always better.”

The team mostly called on Garcia’s personal sound library, “plus a lot of vintage New York E train and subway recordings from some very generous fellow sound editors,” he says. “Shaolin Fantastic’s kung-fu effects come from an old British DJ’s effects record. We also recorded and edited extensive Foley, which was edited against the music reference guide.”

The Color of Hip-Hop
Bigger and bolder also applied to the picture finishing. Crowley notes that cinematographer William Rexer employed a palette of rich reddish brown, avocado and other colors popular during the ‘70s, all elevated to levels slightly above simple realism. During grading sessions with Rexer, Martin and Luhrmann, Crowley spent time enhancing the look within the FilmLight Baselight, sharpening details and using color to complement the tone of the narrative. “Baz uses color to tell the story,” he observes. “Each scene has its own look and emotion. Sometimes, individual characters have their own presence.”

ohn-crowley

John Crowley

Crowley points to a scene where Mylene gives an electrifying performance in a church (photo above). “We made her look like a superstar,” he recalls. “We darkened the edges and did some vignetting to make her the focus of attention. We softened her image and added diffusion so that she’s poppy and glows.”

The series uses archival news clips, documentary material and stock footage as a means of framing the story in the context of contemporary events. Crowley helped blend this old material with the new through the use of digital effects. “In transitioning from stock to digital, we emulated the gritty 16mm look,” he explains. “We used grain, camera shake, diffusion and a color palette of warm tones. Then, once we got into a scene that was shot digitally, we would gradually ride the grain out, leaving just a hint.”

Crowley says it’s unusual for a television series to employ such complex, nuanced color treatments. “This was a unique project created by a passionate group of artists who had a strong vision and knew how to achieve it,” he says.

Atomic Cartoons helps bring Beatles music to kids for Netflix’s ‘Beat Bugs’

Vancouver’s Atomic Cartoons was recently called on by Netflix to help introduce kids to the music of The Beatles via its show Beat Bugs.

Set in an overgrown suburban backyard, Beat Bugs focuses on five friends as they band together to explore their environment. Iconic Beatles songs, including Magical Mystery Tour, Come Together, Penny Lane and Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds are woven into the narrative of each episode, in versions recorded by such artists as Eddie Vedder, Sia and Pink.

Atomic Cartoons is creating the 3D animation for Beat Bugs in Autodesk Maya, with The Foundry’s Nuke being used to composite the render passes. The studio estimates that it has worked on over 10,000 shots for the series, comprising more than 100,000 individual frames — some taking only two hours to render.

To ensure that it made optimal use of resources during such intensive work, the studio relied on PipelineFX’s 400-node renderfarm Qube! to divide rendering for the show.

Rachit Singh, Atomic’s head of technology, says a big benefit of Qube! is the option to define custom job types — essential in a studio like Atomic, which uses its own proprietary asset-management system alongside off-the-shelf production tracking and playback tools like Shotgun and RV. The studio also uses Flash, Harmony and After Effects on its 2D animated productions, all of which require their own custom job types.

“Even the built-in job types are great out of the box,” says Singh. “But as these job types are constructed as open architecture scripts, they can be customized to fit the studio’s pipeline needs.”

Beat Bugs debuted on Netflix in early August. You can check out the show’s trailer here.

Editor Josh Beal on Netflix’s ‘Bloodline’

By Randi Altman

Looks are deceiving, and that familiar saying is at the heart of Netflix’s dramatic series Bloodline. The show focuses on the Rayburns, a respected family that runs a popular and long-standing beachfront hotel in the Florida Keys.

On the surface, they are pillars of the community and a perfect family, but when you dig below the surface they are a mess — long-standing family secrets, a black sheep with a criminal record, drug use, alcoholism. It’s all there.

Josh

Josh Beal at his stand-up desk.

So, if you are into intrigue, drug cartels, paranoia, gorgeous scenery and damn-good acting (Kyle Chandler was just nominated for a Lead Actor Emmy for his role as John, and Ben Mendelsohn got a nod for Supporting Actor for his role as Danny), the show’s first two seasons are available now for streaming.

Josh Beal joined the editing team of Bloodline around Episode 7 of Season 1 as the show’s only LA-based editor. The other three were in New York — Aaron Kuhn, Deborah Moran and Naomi Geraghty — working with East Coast-based show producers Daniel Zelman and Todd Kessler. Beal, at the time based at the Sony lot in Culver City, worked closely with producer Glenn Kessler, who was headquartered in Los Angeles.

Coming into Season 2, Glenn Kessler was the one who was going to be driving the episodes through editorial, so they moved the whole thing to LA. While Beal hesitates to be called the show’s main editor, he was the first one on and did cut the majority of episodes for Season 2, which is shot on a Sony F55 camera in 4K by DP Jaime Reynoso.

I reached out to editing veteran Beal, who uses the Avid Media Composer, to find out more about his process and the show’s workflow.

How many episodes would you say you cut for the second season?
I’m credited with four, but Bloodline is a unique show in that all of the editors — Lynne Willingham, Louise Innes, Sue Blainey and Michelle Tesoro — may end up working to some extent on episodes where they don’t get final credit. I’m credited as the primary editor on the second season’s last episode, but the other editors helped me out with it. That’s usually due to issues surrounding scheduling and the workload.

When did you start getting footage?
We received footage as soon as they started shooting. If they were shooting today I would be getting footage tomorrow morning, and it would just go like that through the production.

Camera files were uploaded to Sony’s 24p Dailies Lab from the shoot in Florida. The Avid media was then copied to a portable hard drive and delivered to our assistant editors each morning by our post assistant. Our assistant editors would then load the media onto our Avid ISIS and prep scenes for the editors.

Can you talk us through your workflow?
It followed a pretty typical workflow for episodic television. I would try to stay close to camera with the dailies and cut scenes as they were shot. Then I had a couple of days to put together my cut of the episode, which I would present to the director. The director would then get four days for the director’s cut, which would then be shown to producers. The producers then shared their cut with Sony and Netflix.

Often, in my case, the distinction between what was director cut and producer cut would start to break down because the majority of the episodes that I worked on for Season 2 were directed by one of the producers, with the exception of one. The typical division between those phases of the edit ceased to really apply and it all sort of became a long director’s cut, which was actually really great creatively to have that continuity.

The direction and feel of the show was established during season one. Can you talk about that?
One of the defining characteristics of the mood in Bloodline is a voyeuristic feel to the way a scene might be covered, and therefore the way a scene would be put together.

Sometimes there are behind-the-bushes kind of a shots that might pop up of in the middle of the scene in a way that is a little atypical. It gives the viewer a sense that they are always being watched, which is especially applicable thematically for Season 2. It heightens the sense of paranoia and unease. So editing-wise, it’s about finding a way to use that material and maximize that feeling while at the same time keeping the audience in the character’s perspective, keeping them in the scene.

As Season 2 progresses, John Rayburn’s world starts falling apart — you could feel his desperation. How did you handle that from an editing perspective?
At that stage, it’s trying to stay rooted in a character’s perspective and leaning into it and finding performance. Any decisions that you are making in terms of shot selection begin and end in large part with performance.

For example, with Kyle Chandler (John), I thought he was doing incredible work. Sometimes it was just about getting out of his way; it’s about watching the performance and trying to make that work first. It’s not so much a visual thing.

You edited the show on Media Composer. Do you use the script tool to help pick different takes?
I did for the first season, but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable with that tool. I did something else to help me with me with the sorts of problems that ScriptSync is intended to solve.

Can you talk about that a bit?
One of the challenges with it is you’ll have exceptionally long dialogue scenes. For example, two people sitting in an interrogation room speaking to one another. That kind of scene offers very few visual cues as to where you are within the text of the scene, and this is often what an editor might be going off of when looking for a specific line. If you want to audition line readings, especially when you are working with the producer in the room, you are frequently going off of these visual cues, but you don’t have many when it’s just people at a table.

My solution was every time someone spoke in the script, I’d put a number next to that chunk of dialogue. If a character’s name was mentioned for dialogue within the script it got a number. Then I would put a locator in my clip at that point — “L01, L02, L03 — all the way through the script. Then I would throw all the clips into a KEM roll in the Avid and sort that by the marker name in the marker window. I can also make notes as to whether or not I like a given reading over another. I can just see it listed in my description of it.

In fact, KZK (producers Glenn, Daniel and Todd) do something that I don’t often run into on other shows. They will write alternative lines into the script, and they’ll shoot it both ways. Then the decision gets made later as to which way it’s going to go in editorial.

Season 2 has a ton of flashback sequences. Did you have to tackle that in a different way?
One of the things that I appreciate about the way that flashbacks are handled on Bloodline is that they don’t talk down to the audience. We aren’t throwing some sepia tone effect on the flashbacks. There aren’t any flashy visual transitions in and out of the flashbacks. We are assuming that the audience will know pretty quickly where they are at within the timeline based on context.

In watching Bloodline, it almost seems sweat and alcohol play characters on the show.
Yes, it’s deeply threaded throughout the world created for the show. The sweat, I suspect, is simply unavoidable when it comes to shooting in the Keys. It is an element, however, that really helps sell the sense of place. It feels real because it is. It’s part of the atmosphere and is also something that perfectly dovetails into John and his siblings’ growing feelings of stress and dread.

The drinking was something that came up in conversation with producers and directors when we were chatting in the cutting room. All reports I heard are that indeed there’s a real drinking culture down there.  It’s just another detail I think that adds to the strong sense of place the show excels at presenting.

Is there a particular scene that stands out to you as more challenging than others?
In Season 2, there is an episode where (Rayburn siblings) Kevin and Meg were being interrogated again by (police officer) Marco. They are very long scenes, just back and forth between Kevin and Marco and then between Meg and Marco.

The audience thinks that Kevin is going to blow it and that Meg has her shit together, but she is the one that steps in it and puts everything at risk. I really liked those sequences, but they are hard to cut because it’s just two people in a room talking and yet the scenes had to have a shape. They had to twist and turn based on subtleties of performance. I often find those to be among the more challenging scenes because they can begin in a very unruly state and it’ll take time to carve them out just right.

When Glenn first saw those scenes he wanted to put a slightly different emphasis and rhythm to some of the performance — a slightly different intent to come across in the interaction between the characters. These were scenes that we worked on and modified quite a bit for the better as we went along.

Do you have a general philosophy about editing?
I guess my philosophy is not to get lost in the weeds, and try to keep perspective on the story. Try to always keep the big picture in mind, because there is all the minutia of editing. How can I get this cut to match? Or, how can I cut out this section that I’m being asked to remove without making the whole thing seem clunky? That type of thing is important but it can’t be the only way you look at the cut.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new show starring Pierce Brosnan based on a novel called The Son. It’ll air on AMC next year. It’s like a great American history lesson that follows a South Texas family over the course of multiple generations. It begins with the story of the family patriarch who builds a financial empire first in the cattle industry and later in oil. The storyline goes all the way up to the present.

Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to emphasize how collaborative Bloodline was. Lynne and Louise and the other editors on the show are phenomenally talented. I was honored to be among them. I learned a lot working with them. That collaboration, for me, is one of the high points of working on the series. I’ve worked on shows where I hardly ever talked to the other editors, but we got to talk shop and bounce ideas off each other a bit. That was a really fun part of the show for me.

GenPop adds Patrick Brice to its directorial roster

Patrick Brice joins the directorial roster at LA-based content creation studio and production company GenPop. Also an actor, he brings with him experience writing, primarily for features, but he joins GenPop to focus on the advertising world.

Brice was first exposed to different ways to approach narrative storytelling while getting his BFA in Film and Video at the California Institute of the Arts. Creep, his first feature film as director/writer/actor (with Mark Duplass) premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival and was distributed by Netflix and iTunes. His second feature as director/writer, The Overnight (starring Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman) premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  The Overnight made the rounds on the festival circuit that year, winning Best Narrative Feature at the deadCenter Film Festival, and earning a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, as well as for an Audience Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

“Liberating” is how Patrick describes the opportunity to create commercial work with GenPop, “Being used to projects that take several years from conception to completion, the chance to focus on a very specific story and explore the narrative within the short format feels like the world is opening up.”

In addition to working with GenPop, Brice is currently writing a movie for Netflix — produced by the Duplass Brothers — which he will also direct. This marks Patrick’s third project with Mark Duplass, a long-term creative relationship that speaks to his collaborative spirit.

Netflix’s ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ gets crisper look via UHD

NYC’s Technicolor Postworks created a dedicated post workflow for the upgrade.

Having compiled seven Emmy Award nominations in its debut season, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returned in mid-April with 13 new episodes in a form that is, quite literally, bigger and better.

The sitcom, from co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, features the ever-cheerful and ever-hopeful Kimmy Schmidt, whose spirit refuses to be broken, even after being held captive during her formative years. This season the series has boosted its delivery format from standard HD to the crisper, clearer, more detailed look of Ultra High Definition (UHD).

L-R: Pat Kelleher and Roger Doran

As with the show’s first season, post finishing was done at Technicolor PostWorks New York. Online editor Pat Kelleher and colorist Roger Doran once again served as the finishing team, working under the direction of series producer Dara Schnapper, post supervisor Valerie Landesberg and director of photography John Inwood. Almost everything else, however, was different.

The first season had been shot by Inwood with Arri Alexa, capturing in 1080p, and finished in ProRes 4444. The new episodes were shot with Red Dragon, capturing in 5K, and needed to be finished in UHD. That meant that the hardware and workflow used by Kelleher and Doran had to be retooled to efficiently manage UHD files four times larger than ProRes.

“It was an eye opener,” recalls Kelleher of the change. “Obviously, the amount of drive space needed for storage is huge. Everyone from our data manager through to the people who did the digital deliveries had to contend with the higher volume of data. The actual hands-on work is not that different from an HD show, but you need the horses to do it.”

Before post work began, engineers from Technicolor PostWorks’ in-house research unit, The Test Lab, analyzed the workflow requirements of UHD and began making changes. They built an entirely new hardware Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtsystem for Kelleher to use, running Autodesk’s Flame Premium. It consisted of an HP Z820 workstation with Nvidia Quadro K6000 graphics, 64GB of RAM and dual Intel Xeon Processor E5-2687Ws (20M Cache, 3.10 GHz, 8.00 GT/s Intel QPI). Kelleher described its performance in handling UHD media as “flawless.”

Doran’s color grading suite got a similar overhaul. For him, engineers built a Linux-based workstation to run Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, V11, and set up a dual monitoring system. That included a Panasonic 300 series display to view media in 1080p and a Samsung 9500 series curved LED to view UHD. Doran could then review color decisions in both formats (while maintaining a UHD signal throughout) and spot details or noise issues in UHD that might not be apparent at lower resolution.

While the extra firepower enabled Kelleher and Doran to work with UHD as efficiently as HD, they faced new challenges. “We do a lot of visual effects for this show,” notes Kelleher. “And now that we’re working in UHD, everything has to be much more precise. My mattes have to be tight because you can see so much more.”

Doran’s work in the color suite similarly required greater finesse. “You have to be very, very aware,” he says. “Cosmetically, it’s different. The lighting is different. You have to pay close attention to how the stars look.”

Doran is quick to add that, while grading UHD might require closer scrutiny, it’s justified by the results. “I like the increased range and greater detail,” he says. “I enjoy the extra control. Once you move up, you never want to go back.”

Both Doran and Kelleher credited the Technicolor PostWorks engineering team of Eric Horwitz, Corey Stewart and Randy Main for their ability to “move up” with a minimum of strain. “The engineers were amazing,” Kelleher insists. “They got the workflow to where all I had to think about was editing and compositing. The transition was so smooth, you almost forgot you were working in UHD, except for the image quality. That was amazing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Sails Season 3

Black Sails

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

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

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

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

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

Bling Digital: proving the value of LTO data archiving

Bling Digital designs and manages digital workflows for film and television productions. They also provide digital lab services, edit systems and post services. Working with their parent company SIM Group, Bling has the ability to provide complete production packages — from the camera through final delivery — so they understand the importance of archiving. More on that later.

Bling provides services for film and television productions everywhere, and the company now has offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York. Additionally, Bling has virtual teams around the world and last year worked on jobs in 21 different cities. Their reach is long.

Bling’s workflow supervisors and workflow producers have come to play a major role in decision-making regarding metadata and color management for their clients — with the aim of maximizing production efficiency. Bling typically has about 30 scripted, long-format jobs running at any given time, split between television shows and feature films, and the goal is to safeguard its post customers against surprise bills after they begin their work.

To help meet that goal in terms of data archiving, Bling uses PreRoll Post from Imagine Products for all master media in its LTO archives. PreRoll Post automatically indexes camera originals — complete with thumbs, proxies and metadata — while backing up full-resolution media to local disk and long-term LTO tapes, a Sony Optical Disc Archive, or a local disk or server. PreRoll Post uses an LTFS system, which mounts a tape as a volume (hard disk) within OS X or Windows. This makes it possible to write and read from the tape as if it were a disk, without proprietary software or formatting.

Bling made the transition to PreRoll Post after its clients began asking for LTFS tapes, which have since become the standard for all of the studios Bling works with.

Jesse Korosi

For one thing, PreRoll Post lets Bling scale up or down quickly, which is hugely important when dealing with as many as 30 jobs at any given time, each with its own unique requirements. For example, one production might travel to a new city every couple of days, which necessitates backups every day at every location. Another production might be managed from an office that is always connected to local storage, while yet another might be run out of one of Bling’s facilities off of a SAN or NAS.

“With the number of remote jobs we do and how quickly we have expanded, we needed software that was easy for new crews to learn,” explains Jesse Korosi, director of workflow services at Bling. “We have found that one of the biggest benefits of using PreRoll Post is how easily we can roll it out. When you’re talking about servicing 30 shows at a time, all in different cities or countries, we’re constantly hiring new, local crews, and knowing that they will be able to learn the software easily is a huge relief.”

Narcos
Bling provides dailies, LTO archival and edit systems on the Netflix television series Narcos. The show has an on-set data manager who backs up the master files from the Red Epic camera to three hard drives that are part of a backup system on the camera truck. One of those hard drives is a rotation drive that gets sent to the Bling lab at both break and wrap, depending on that day’s production locations.

Once Bling’s dailies tech receives the drive, he mounts it and backs up the files to two LTFS tapes simultaneously using PreRoll Post. One of these copies will eventually be sent to the studio and the other will be held in Los Angeles at the finishing facility. When writing to the LTO tapes is complete, the Bling technician notifies the camera crew that the files are secure. Then, using Imagine’s ShotPut Pro automated offloading application, the camera crew can wipe the camera cards and put them back into rotation.

“After all of the money the production company spends on crew, locations, props, wardrobe, cameras — all of the millions of dollars — eventually everything is left only on these tapes. So it is very, very important that we trust the software writing them without a shadow of a doubt,” says Korosi.

The Molecule: VFX for ‘The Affair’ and so much more

By Randi Altman

Luke DiTommaso, co-founder of New York City’s The Molecule, recalls “humble”
beginnings when he thinks about the visual effects, motion graphics and VR studio’s launch as a small compositing shop. When The Molecule opened in 2005, New York’s production landscape was quite a bit different than the tax-incentive-driven hotbed that exists today.

Rescue Me was our big break,” explains DiTommaso. “That show was the very beginning of this wave of production that started happening in New York. Then we got Damages and Royal Pains, but were still just starting to get our feet wet with real productions.”

The Molecule partners (L-R) Andrew Bly, Chris Healer and Luke DiTommaso.

Then, thanks to a healthy boost from New York’s production and post tax incentives, things exploded, and The Molecule was at the right place at the right time. They had an established infrastructure, talent and experience providing VFX for television series.

Since then DiTommaso and his partners Chris Healer and Andrew Bly have seen the company grow considerably, doing everything from shooting and editing to creating VFX and animation, all under one roof. With 35 full-time employees spread between their New York and LA offices — oh, yeah, they opened an office in LA! — they also average 30 freelance artists a day, but can seat 65 if needed.

While some of these artists work on commercials, many are called on to create visual effects for an impressive list of shows, including Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, House of Cards and Bloodline, Showtime’s The Affair, HBO’s Ballers (pictured below), FX’s The Americans, CBS’ Elementary and Limitless, VH1’s The Breaks, Hulu’s The Path (for NBC and starring Aaron Paul) and the final season of USA’s Royal Pains. Also completed are the miniseries Madoff and Behind the Magic, a special on Snow White, for ABC.

Ballers-before      Ballers-after

The Molecule’s reach goes beyond the small screen. In addition to having completed a few shots for Zoolander 2 and a big one involving a digital crowd for Barbershop 3, at the time of this interview the studio was gearing up for Jodie Foster’s Money Monster; they will be supplying titles, the trailer and a ton of visual effects.

There is so much for us to cover, but just not enough time, so for this article we are going to dig into The Molecule’s bread and butter: visual effects for TV series. In particular, the work they provided for Showtime’s The Affair, which had its season finale just a few weeks ago.

The Affair
Viewers of The Affair, a story of love, divorce and despair, might be surprised to know that each episode averages between 50 to 70 visual effects shots. The Molecule has provided shots that range from simple clean-ups to greenscreen driving and window shots — “We’ll shoot the plates and then composite a view of midtown Manhattan or Montauk Highway outside the car window scene,” says DiTommaso — to set extensions, location changes and digital fire and rain.

One big shot for this past season was burning down a cabin during a hurricane. “They had a burn stage so they could captFire-stageure an amount of practical fire on a stage, but we enhanced that, adding more fire to increase the feeling of peril. The scene then cuts to a wide shot showing the location, which is meant to be on the beach in Montauk during a raging hurricane. We went out to the beach and shot the house day for night — we had flicker lighting on the location so the dunes and surrounding grass got a sort of flickering light effect. Later on, we shot the stage from a similar angle and inserted the burning stage footage into the exterior wide location footage, and then added a hurricane on top of all of that. That was a fun challenge.”

During that same hurricane, the lead character Noah gets his car stuck in the mud but they weren’t able to get the tires to spin practically, so The Molecule got the call. “The tires are spinning in liquid so it’s supposed to kick up a bunch of mud and water and stuff while rain is coming down on top of it, so we had our CG department create that in the computer.”

Another scene that features a good amount of VFX was one that involved a scene that took place on the patio outside of the fictitious Lobster Roll restaurant. “It was shot in Montauk in October and it wasn’t supposed to be cold in the scene, but it was about 30 degrees at 2:00am and Alison is in a dress. They just couldn’t shoot it there because it was just too cold. We shot plates, basically, of the location, without actors. Later we recreated that patio area and lined up the lighting and the angle and basically took the stage footage and inserted it into the location footage. We were able to provide a solution so they could tell the story without having the actors’ breath and their noses all red and shivering.”

Lobster_Roll-before      Lobster_Roll-after

Being on Set
While on-set VFX supervision is incredibly important, DiTommaso would argue “by the time you’re on set you’re managing decisions that have already been set into motion earlier in the process. The most important decisions are made on the tech scouts and in the production/VFX meetings.”

He offers up an example: “I was on a tech scout yesterday. They have a scene where a woman is supposed to walk onto a frozen lake and the ice starts to crack. They were going to build an elaborate catwalk into the water. I was like, ‘Whoa, aren’t we basically replacing the whole ground with ice? Then why does she need to be over water? Why don’t we find a lake that has a flat grassy area leading up to it?’ Now they’re building a much simpler catwalk — imagine an eight-foot-wide little platform. She’ll walk out on that with some blue screens and then we’ll extend the ice and dress the rest of the location with snow.

According to DiTommaso being there at the start saved a huge amount of time, money and effort. “By the time you’re on set they would have already built it into the water and all that stuff.”

But, he says, being on set for the shoot is also very important because you never know what might happen. “A problem will arise and the whole crew kind of turns and looks at you like, ‘You can fix this, right?’ Then we have to say, ‘Yeah. We’re going to shoot this plate. We’re going to get a clean plate, get the actors out, then put them back in.’ Whatever it is; you have to improvise sometimes. Hopefully that’s a rare instance and that varies from crew to crew. Some crews are very meticulous and others are more freewheeling.”

Tools
The Molecule is shooting more and more of their own plates these days, so they recently invested in a Ricoh S camera for shooting 360-degree HDR. “It has some limitations, but it’s perfect for CG HDRs,” explains DiTommaso. “It gives you a full 360-degree dome, instantly, and it’s tiny like a cell phone or a remote. We also have a Blackmagic 4K Cinema camera that we’ll shoot plates with. There are pros and cons to it, but I like the latitude and the simplicity of it. We use it for a quick run and gun to grab an element. If we need a blood spurt, we’ll set that up in the conference room and we’ll shoot a plate.”

The Molecule added John Hamm’s head to this scene for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

They call on a Canon 74 for stills. “We have a little VFX kit with little LED tracking points and charts that we bring with us on set. Then back at the shop we’re using Nuke to composite. Our CG department has been doing more and more stuff. We just submitted an airplane — a lot of vehicles, trains, planes and automobiles are created in Maya.”

They use Side Effects Houdini for simulations, like fire and rain; for rendering they called on Arnold, and crowds are created in Massive.

What’s Next?
Not ones to be sitting on the sidelines, The Molecule recently provided post on a few VR projects, but their interest doesn’t end there. Chris Healer is currently developing a single lens VR camera rig that DiTommaso describes as essentially “VR in a box.”

The A-List: Director Cary Fukunaga on posting ‘Beasts of No Nation’

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/camera operator/cinematographer Cary Fukunaga has literally been one of the hottest — and coldest — directors in the business, thanks to making shorts, docs and movies everywhere from the Arctic Circle to Haiti and East Africa.

Now he’s hot again, in every sense of the word, having written/directed/produced and shot the harrowing new war drama Beasts of No Nation, set in the sweltering lands of West Africa, and shot in Ghana. It tells the story of Agu (Abraham Attah), a young villager, whose happy family life and childhood are shattered when army troops from the capital city arrive to squelch a rebellion against the country’s corrupt regime.

After seeing his father and brother killed, he escapes to the forest where he’s discovered by a company of young rebels led by the charismatic Commandant (Idris Elba). There, he undergoes a gauntlet of harsh treatment, initiation rituals and fiery speeches from the Commandant, and as the ragtag army sets off on a series of battles, Agu is eventually promoted from ammo carrier to rifle-toting soldier, gaining respect but losing his innocence as he’s turned into a killing machine. The film is available exclusively on Netflix.

Writer Iain Blair and filmmaker Cary Fukunaga.

Writer Iain Blair and filmmaker Cary Fukunaga.

I spoke with Fukunaga — whose credits include his acclaimed feature-writing and directing debut Sin Nombre, Jayne Eyre and the first season of HBO’s crime drama True Detective (for which he won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series) — about making the film, post and his respect for film sound.

Did you have a vision for how this film would look?
Yes, and it’s the film I wrote (laughs), but I don’t really visualize my films ahead of time. I’m not even sure about the music, so I start off definitely from a writing perspective and when scouting locations I start getting visual ideas. Obviously, I do have some visual ideas in my head or I couldn’t write it, but it’s such a work in progress… every step of the way. It was such a hard, brutal shoot — the hardest I’ve ever done, anywhere, and I’ve shot in some very difficult places around the world.

So post must have been a very calm respite after the grueling locations of West Africa?
I like post. It’s where you really make and finish the film, but I’m so used to being very hands-on in all the other production departments — writing, directing, camera operating and so on — that by the time I get to post, it feels very strange to be relegated to the role of almost an observer. And the rhythm is always fits and starts. You get in there and it seems like nothing’s happening for weeks, and then finally you make some progress, and then that all repeats. So post is definitely not my favorite part of the whole process, just because of the sheer time it all takes and how much I’m not hands-on anymore.

Beasts of No Nation DSC_4260.jpg

How did it work in the editing room with two editors —Mikkel E.G. Nielsen (A Royal Affair) and Pete Beaudreau (All Is Lost, The Gambler)?
Originally, a third editor, Elliot Graham (Steve Jobs, Milk) was on the shoot with us, but he hurt his back and had to drop out. We had roughly 75 hours of raw footage from Ghana, so Mikkel took over and had to completely learn all that footage again and then started re-cutting and re-assembling the film a couple of months after we wrapped. That was at Outpost Digital in New York. Then after five months on it, he had to leave for another job, so Pete took over — and we thought it would just be clean up by that point, but he ended up working on it for another five months. If you think of Mikkel’s work as hammering out the shape of the sword, Pete put on the fine edge to every scene.

So post was pretty long?
Yes, we did it all at Outpost. We were there almost a year, and we started on post while we were shooting in Ghana. Our associate editor, Victoria Lesiw, started off as an assistant editor in Ghana and was there all the way through and completely invested, from production to the very last days of post. We lost people along the way, so post wasn’t at all easy; people had to bow out because of previous commitments. We lost our original sound designer just weeks before we started our mix, and we had to completely redo it all in a very short time — just five weeks, which wasn’t really enough for the film — but we were able to create something out of nothing.

Although the film feels like cinéma vérité, obviously you used VFX, especially in all the battles scenes. How many visual effects shots are there?
Quite a few. There was a lot of clean up, and a lot of artifacts of war — bullet hits on walls, blood squibs — which we didn’t have time to do as usual physical effects, as well as muzzle flashes and augmenting explosions and so on. Then we had the big infra-red sequence. I’d written the screenplay back in 2006, and I loved the infrared sequence Oliver Stone and Rodrigo Prieto had done in Alexander, so I always wanted to do it. I wanted to shoot some infrared in True Detective, but we just couldn’t find the film stock — we just did it as a VFX sequence for this. Siren Lab did most of them,  but The Artery also did some shots.Beasts of No Nation

Sound and music both play a huge role in this, right?
I actually think they’re more important than the visuals. I had this great video class teacher in high school, who said, “People will forgive bad visuals, but they’ll never forgive bad sound,” and that’s so true. If there’s something wrong with the sound, it can be the most grating part of watching any kind of media, but if you do it right you can really elevate the storytelling. Look at what Walter Murch did…  and Orson Welles, who came from radio. They really understood how much sound can tell a story, and have been a big influence for me. So when I do sound design, sometimes I’ll do entire sequences where that’s driving the entire story. We did all the mixing at Harbor Picture Company in New York. (The mix crew at Harbor included supervising sound editor Glenfield Payne, re-recording Mixer Martin Czembor, assistant sound re-recording mixer Josh Berger and re-recording mix technician Ian Gaffney Rosenfeld. The film was mixed using a Euphonix S5 Fusion console. The Euphonix was controlling 2 Pro Tools systems running Pro Tools 11.)

Where was the DI?
At Deluxe in New York with Steve Bodner (who uses DaVinci Resolve), the same colorist I used on True Detective. He’s the guy I go to for anything. We did some looks before I left, but more than anything we just get in the room and figure it all out. I love the DI, and by that stage I feel much more hands-on. We did a lot of work because the whole issue with digital is that you spend so much time trying to get back to a film look. So you sit there, massaging and massaging it, trying to get the color space right, and every film stock’s different.

Cary Fukunago shooting with the Arri Alexa.

Cary Fukunago shooting with the Arri Alexa.

I really love old photo journalism reversal stock. If I could have shot Sin Nombre on Kodachrome I would have — and part of that is the unforgiving nature of reversal stock. There’s no reciprocity there. Now, six, seven years later, shooting with the Arri Alexa, I was again looking how to approximate that slightly under-exposed reversal look for this film. I found that by shooting one stop under —and bringing in a lot of cyans and the blacks, but keeping the saturation up, and then figuring out how to make all the greens, yellows and browns really pop — it gave me the look I wanted.

There’s a lot of talk that you’ll do another TV project, a miniseries based on Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist. So what’s next?
I’m definitely involved with The Alienist, but I may do something else before then. It depends on the timing.

Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors and artists 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.

Talking with ‘House of Cards’ Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal

By Jennifer Walden

As the saying goes, “the third time’s the charm,” and that was certainly true for Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal. With two previous nominations for his score of Netflix’s House of Cards under his belt, this time Beal took home the statue for “Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.” The winning episode was “Chapter 32” (Season 3, Episode 6), in which President Frank Underwood and First Lady Claire visit Russian President Petrov to hash out a deal to release imprisoned American activist Michael Corrigan, who was arrested for advocating for LGBT rights in Russia.

Chapter 32 is a good example of how Beal has been able to grow his score alongside the show for the past three seasons. While his music still feels like it’s coming from the same musical world, the sonic palette has grown as the geography of the show has become wider. “Frank becomes president, and we go to Russia and there is a whole storyline about the Middle East,” explains Beal. “Each season we’ve had a lot of new themes that come in and help bring music into the storytelling and into those areas that we are exploring.”

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The Sound of Geography
Throughout the Russian scenes, Beal used a more Eastern European sense of melody and harmony, drawing inspiration from his favorite Russian composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich. “I always loved the way Russian composers wrote for orchestra. There’s a certain expressiveness to the way they write,” he says. When President Frank and First Lady Claire arrive at Moscow’s Red Square, Beal’s score is “almost this Shostakovich kind of march,” he explains. And for Russian president Petrov — whom Beal describes as a fictionalized version of Putin — he created several variations on Petrov’s theme using piano and strings.

But, Beal feels the real soul of the score was the scenes involving Michael Corrigan and Claire. “There is a wonderful scene where he talks to Claire about his relationship with his partner and he turns the tables on Claire about her relationship with Frank,” he explains. “Michael also talks about the hunger strike — that he failed to continue — and the Russian man who lasted to death’s door.” For those scenes, Beal wrote a simple duet for cello and viola. “It’s a very mournful tune and in that a little kernel of the theme eventually became the courage theme that we hear at the end of the show… when Michael makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes his own life rather than read the disparaging statement that is a condition of him being freed.”

Beal finds it’s always interesting to score the aftermath of an event. There is enough information on screen that he doesn’t need to nudge the audience toward one particular emotion. For example, during the tense news conference that follows Michael’s suicide, Claire speaks to reporters about what happened in the cell. Instead of reading the appropriate response that would maintain the relationship with Russia, Claire has a moment of courage and stands up for Michael and his cause. “I’m often interested in scenes where there are multiple layers going on, multiple emotional layers and story layers happening at the same time. I think music can help contain the complexities of those types of moments and bring it all together,” he says.

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All-Encompassing Workflow
From the first note to the final track, Beal always has his hands on his music. He writes it, orchestrates it, conducts it, records it and mixes it. “A lot of my workflow goes back to personality. I’m a classic introvert,” he admits. Coming from a music performance background, as a jazz trumpet player and pianist, Beal loves the music-making part of the job. “For me, music-making is a very proprietary and personal journey. It’s always been this way.”

In Beal’s approach, the compositional act doesn’t stop at music making; it involves orchestrating and conducting, because that ultimately affects the sound of the score. Beal likes being able to fine-tune every last little detail before it goes out the door. “It’s really hard to say that composing stops when we go into recording and even mixing. Those steps in the workflow allow me to have my hand on the creation, the creative aspects, to make sure I’m really getting across what I want to get across with the music,” he explains.

Jeff Beal mixing

Jeff Beal at his mixing board.

Beal loves conducting because it gives him a connection to the music. He can guide the musicians’ performances with visual cues. For example, for Chapter 32, Beal notes there is a style of string playing that is unlike what they usually do for the show. “It’s much more romantic, with a big sound and a big vibrato,” he explains. “I remember when we were doing those cues for the solo cello and the viola with the orchestra coming in over them, I was gesticulating with my right hand over to the cello, giving him the big gestures that said, ‘Don’t hold back.’ That was helpful to do because usually we’re a little cooler and more reserved — it’s a more contemporary type of playing that we typically do on the show.”

Beal’s workflow also cuts down on inefficiency. By keeping every aspect of creating, recording and mixing the score in his studio — large enough to accommodate a 26-member string section — he’s not losing time on moving his session to another studio, or wasting time on setting up a different recording space to his tastes. “I have it all set up and ready to go. It’s miked just the way I like, and I’ve tuned the room.”

Early on in his career, Beal’s workflow was a factor of economics, but that process has helped to shape a sound that’s unique to Beal. “It’s now a factor of style and the way I like to produce my scores. I like to think that my scores don’t sound like everybody else’s. Producing in my own way has helped me get to that place.”

The audio team at Sony Pictures Post takes on Netflix’s ‘Bloodline’

By Jennifer Walden

For many in the country, this past winter was a rough one. In fact, at times it felt never-ending. While spring now limps toward us just a little too slowly, you might want to imagine yourself in a tropical climate. May we recommend settling in with a refreshing drink and binge watching Netflix’s new drama series Bloodline. Shot on-location in Islamorada, a six-island section of the Florida Keys, Bloodline unravels the story of the locally renowned Rayburn family, whose children engage in a bit of Floridian fratricide.

Re-recording mixer Joe Barnett at Sony Pictures Post notes, unsurprisingly, that bug sounds Continue reading

Scoring Netflix’s ‘Marco Polo’ series

The original Netflix series Marco Polo, produced by The Weinstein Company, stars Lorenzo Richelmy as the Italian explorer Marco Polo and his early life in the court of Kublai Khan. There is worldly adventure, sex, violence and sweeping scores. Netflix has already ordered a second 10-episode season.

The music for the series, a seamless blend of East and West, combining traditional Silk Road instrumentation with a contemporary cinematic score, is created by Peter Nashel (of DuoTone Audio Group) and Eric V. Hachikian. Nashel, a composer and music producer who works in feature film, documentary, television, spots, and all forms of new media, is a co-founder of DuoTone, which also provided audio post production on the series. He was kind enough to Continue reading

Web Series: Having fun with ‘Fritz’s Funporium’

By Luke Harper

What happens on the set of an educational show once the cameras stop rolling? Trust us, it’s not pretty…. but it is pretty hilarious.
 And here’s a life lesson for you: When someone calls you to check whether or not you want to work on a puppet show with adult themes, there’s only one answer: let’s ride!

Fitz’s Funporium is the creation of E.B. Grzesiak, a veteran team writer for countless crime procedurals and, of all things, children’s television and theater. She is also an astrophysicist, which is, well, sorta neat.

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